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Sunday, 27 February 2011

1957 August - December. Living in limbo

The Diarist, now of no fixed address but with a National Trust job in prospect. Year-end finds the Diarist with a serious attack of sciatica. Meanwhile HGS staff badly demoralised by new headmaster's arrival.
Monday, Aug 19th, Hollybush Farm
    Washed down the caravan in the morning and walked up to the May Hill post office in the p.m. Got a short space with Molly this morning top ask her what my food cost. Offered her £1-10s but she said she didn't think she could do it for under £2.
Tuesday, Aug 20th
    Spent the day in Gloucester mugging up on the Verneys and Claydon in the reference library. Had 3/6 lunch at Boots, ghastly it was! Gloucester has some good shops, but is an ugly sordid place with no trees.

Wednesday, Aug 21st
    Spent the morning painting the van roof and blocking holes with Sealastic and after tea did about half the holes. It will be much more exposed to the weather here than at Henley. It is beginning to show signs of age. Since it at present my only home I must look after it! At lunch today Molly talked of selling the farm this autumn. Milk prices are not going up, wages are. Even if she installed a milking machine and had no man it would, she said, be slavery. Tom called Ruth a "playboy". It is apt description. She always chooses the easier job. Molly digs, Ruth cuts the raspberry canes; Molly washes the dirty clothes, Ruth does the flowers. Molly and I wash up, Ruth lays the table.
It has been a funny summer holiday. No timetable to make, but constant business from the moment term ended. As soon as one thing cleaned out of the way something else has happened. I don't think I shall miss teaching and school very much. I always said it would be a good job if there were no children!
Thursday, Aug 22nd
    Finished painting the walls this morning. Mr Bowket, the local builder, came to make the rainwater tank tight. A rather Shakespearean type of country man in the stamp of Custard or Len Hayes, combined a good deal of natural stupidity with an immense amount of patience.
    Mary wrote: "I am always thinking of you, of your face and hands and all the things we like to do. I like having your possessions here and cherish everything of you as you are everything there is to me."

Saturday, Aug 24th
    Met Mary at Hereford. Arrived at Maewllwych Arms who should walk in to dinner but Sir Felix* and Lady Brunner! Did not enjoy mine as I expected that at any minute the voluble Mrs Derrick to rush in and greet me, but as it turned out my fears were not justified. They wanted as little to with us as me with them. In any case, Mary said, I had now left.
* Henley Grammar School governor
Monday, Aug 26th
    A poor day, cold and windy. Drove to the Elan reservoir, a marvellous sight with the water pouring over the great barrage.   
Saturday, Aug 29th
     We drove to the foot of the Brecon beacons but followed the directions in an old ed Guide. This was a mistake We were on the wrong side of a difficult valley. We reached the edge of the cliff below the beacons and had lunch. This initial mistake had made us too tired to go on. After this we referred to them as Beastly Beacons.
Friday, Aug 30th
    We went up to the Dedwyns, a lovely piece of moor above Paincastle. We visited Newchurch again.
Saturday, Aug 31st
    My last day as H.M. of Henley Grammar School. It was muggy, low cloud and rain.

Monday, Sept 2nd
Alas cloudy and dull so we had to go church hunting
Tuesday, Sep 3rd
    Overcast. Hay Bluff covered, but as forecast better made an act of faith and went up to the pass. We had to have lunch in the car, but then the cloud just lifted to clear the mountain top. Last year Mary wore her green spotted frock; this year an anorak!
Saturday, Sept 5th
    Had lunch with Molly solo. We had macaroni cheese and were offered water! After this took Mary into Oxford bus at Gloucester. Very low after lovely time together and hated to see her go.
Friday, Sept 6th
    Drove to Claydon and arrived about 5.30 after tea and shopping in Bicester. Lucky I did for nothing from the Bouchers and was famished next morning. They were waiting for me and old B immediately started on the electric polisher, the opening and shutting of windows, the cleaning. 
Then we went up to the flat and the finance was gone into and the keys handed over.
Saturday, Sep 7th
    Mr and Mrs B left at 9.30 after showing me the dustbins and the ladies & gents. I was also introduced to Mrs Middlemiss, a little Scot in curling pins, who was "to do" my lunch and help with the money and the visitors on Saturdays and Sundays. I went down the grand staircase and into the saloon, which was in sunshine and a dream of beauty. 
    We went into battle. At 2.39 electric polisher, the opening and shutting of windows. Sir Harry Verney and Lady Rachel drove up in their Daimler from the village. He was a large portly man of 76 with a loud laugh, she a frail wisp and much under the dominion of her Lord. He repaired to the Library where he held court with Florence Nightingale's letters. I trotted round the N. Hall and Saloon chatting to the visitors. By 6.01 I was quite tired out and my legs ached. I then crawled up to the flat and counted the money.
Sunday, Sept 8th
    Today much the same. When I had counted the money, I went round to the church and hearing a sermon in progress went in. It was an awful sermon and I was glad to have caught only the end of the service.  The Verneys were there in strength and one or two, but precious few, retainers. Like Sir Roger, Sir Harry noted my presence.
Tuesday, Sept 10th
    More insight into the public, the complaining, the dumb, the snobs. Told Mary I should in future have more understanding of her job and her difficulties!
Thursday, Sept 12th
    High tea with Sir Harry. After tea he took me into his library and told me Ralph Verney liked me and he hoped I would take the job. Clearly there is much feeling on the Verneys' part  about the use of the Grand Staircase for taking the public up to the Nightingale rooms. They don't like this but would not allow the use of another staircase. The more one learns, the more the wheels within wheels are disclosed between the Verneys, the Trust and Boucher. 
    Sir Harry loves spending from 2.30 - 4 in the Library talking to visitors. He has now learnt that Boucher has said his presence is bad for tips!
    Wrote to Mary to tell her I could have the job if I wanted it.
Sunday, Sept 15th
   Had to go to Matins because asked to a drink after church by young Verneys. Their flat is beautifully furnished  and drawing room contains two best pictures of Sir Edmund and Lady Mary Verney which they evidently intend to hang on to too. Found Mrs V very big with child, sang in Bach choir under Tom Armstrong. Very pleasant but more and more convinced Ralph is the iron first in the velvet glove.
Wednesday, Sept 18th
    Sir Harry took me up to the top of the house to show me his "muniments". He had made a collection of prime minister's signatures, but on writing to Macmillan he had drawn a blank. The secretary replied! We then went into the Library and some of the famous C17th "memoire" letters were produced. The old man said how nice it would be if I would sort his Victorian letters for him!
    A telegram from Hilary this afternoon. he had arrived unexpectedly early in a fast boat.  
Friday, Sept 20th
    The Bouchers came back at 6.0 so I handed over the money and went off to Reading. 
Tuesday, Sept 24th
    Back at Longhope. Molly very gloomy. Bank overdraft up £300 since last April, but if I were her I would have kept more track of it than she appears to have done and cut down on entertaining and building alterations.
Friday, Sept 27th
    Drove to Reading. Back, which seemed slightly better, much worse, query driving position, damp, worry or what.
Saturday, Sept 28th
        10.30 Mr Bohn, the surgeon. Right hernia needs repair. News very bad.
Sunday, Sept 29th
    Back leg very painful. It looks as if a really bad attack may develop. Oh curse it! Cyril said if I had to have an operation at Dunedin I might get some massage there and Kay said I must come and convalesce with them. I have good friends, such kind friends too, Cyril, Kay, Wilk, Cherry, Nora and then Mary.
    Hilary rang up from Wilk's before lunch and we arranged to meet tomorrow at the N.B.L.
    Told Kay and Cyril last night about Mary. They were very pleased and said if it had to be, they were glad it was she - such a charming and intelligent person. Suggested I should bring her round to coffee tomorrow evening so she could meet the cats.
Monday, Sept 30th
    Went to see the elusive Mr Wallace in Queen Anne's Gate. Told him I would start on Feb 8th and hope by then I shall be safely married to Mary.
    Lunch at N.B.L. where Hilary arrived about 4 and we had a leisurely tea. In the course of this he said that Con, with whom he had been staying, was "my evil genius". Mary had always maintained (by intuition?) that she was responsible for Molly's change of attitude. He confirmed it. Con apparently taking line that if I wanted to get a divorce ought to have had it long ago and not now when Nora older. This, as I pointed out to Hilary, all very well, but overlooks the fact that we did not take this course in order to give him a home and bring him up.
    Hilary brought some news of Henley. The new H.M. and his wife are "subtopians". "Hillcrest" and three piece suites and all that. Corporal punishment reintroduced! All out for three or four years in Sixth and scholarships etc. In fact a thoroughly conventional "payment by results" H.M. who will not perplex the inhabitants of Henley.
    Nora sent Hilary's army "character". It was jolly good. 
    "He has been in the Intelligence Section where has has used his high educational qualifications to some purpose. He is intelligent with a strong personality; he readily accepts responsibility out of all proportion to his rank and has not yet failed to carry out a task, whether it has required personal initiative or the organisation of other people. He also gets on well with the others and is easy to work with;"
Thursday, Oct 3rd
    Very pleased to hear from Mary that she had been to tea with Kay and Cyril yesterday to see the gardens and the school and had enjoyed it. 
    Sent Hilary £160 to get on with but his college dues will take £118. Wrote to Mr Bohn  to say I would go into Dunedin the weekend of Oct 18th
Friday, Oct 4th
    A pathetic letter from Marjorie Wilkinson. Tired and ill. The new H.M., who has been taken in by Hirons, has given her the duds to do examination biology while the bright people go to Hirons. He must be a nut if he can't see through Uncle Edgar. She says Cherry is in little better state. It sounds ominous. She says accidents to the girls have to reported to the H.M., not the senior mistress. Horrified to hear that one Wilson, certified by Child Guidance as about Modern School level, put in for 5 Matric subjects, including biology.
    This morning announced Brown [Ruth's brother] was coming. Don't want him in [caravan] with me.
Sunday, Oct 6th
    The two Browns and Molly went to church at 8.30 so I got breakfast.
    Golly! What a bore Brown is. No wonder no woman has been found to take him on! We had earth satellites at supper and shortage of clergy at breakfast! As we don't listen to the news much we had not heard that the Russians have launched an earth satellite. the Captain very taken up with it. On this the Russians ahead of the Americans.
Monday, Oct 7th
    Boucher sent the £12 for Claydon. Felt quite rich! The first money earned by something other than teaching.
 Tuesday, Oct 8th
    A dull day in every sense. Only bright spot two letters from Mary written on Saturday and Monday. "Isn't it strange and lovely", she wrote, "to think that in 4 months time we light be at Claydon together (that is if we are well up in the queue) instead of "sometime perhaps"."
    Molly and I had lunch together. Molly said wages and foodstuffs were continuously rising. Brown, the man, when she came £5, now £7=15=0. It is impossible to make any money and the only thing is to sell up next spring or preferably next autumn. Don't know what they will do then.
Friday, Oct 11th
    Yesterday Hilary went to Keble, just as I did 40 years ago in October 1917. Had a letter from him. To my great relief the county have given him a substantial grant of £237, of which £109 is maintenance. He says he is very much looking forward to going up and thanks me for making it possible. "I hope I shall make the best of the experience, though I do not think I will be emulating you in your degree."
Saturday, Oct 12th
     Read Gwen Raverat"s account of he childhood in Cambridge - Period Piece - full of amusing sidelight on manners, morals and dresses. Young ladies' wear: Woolen combinations; White cotton same; Stays; Black stockings; White woolen drawers; Petticoat bodice, cotton; Flannel petticoat; Alpaca petticoat; Flannel blouse; Starched collars; Tie; Blue skirt; Leather belt; High button boots. No wonder decent women did not take much trouble about their underclothes, which were apt to be rather "Jaeger" and patched!
Thursday, Oct 17th
    A letter arrived from Aunt's housekeeper to say Aunt's leg was swelling and doctor said it would be serious in a much younger person. Wondered whether to go in [to Dunedin nursing home] tomorrow. Of course wanted to go in and get it over, but felt I might be very selfish to do so. In the end started packing.
Friday Oct 18th
    Well here I am where I was nine years ago, though not in the same room. Hadn't been in very long before Mrs Target came in and claimed me as a long lost friend, the Mr Bohn came in, which was nice of him, finally Mary who stayed till 9.30.
    Read letter from Cherry. Poor dear, she sounds very miserable. Lipscombe is a twerp. Rude and tactless I knew from my own experience him to be, but he seems an intriguer. To say he'll have her removed is rot, but he has threatened to report her to the governors and has complained to Tom Luker and the nice Mr Dorrell. She says he is so stupid and hopeless with people. Now he has changed his tune and she is to be consulted. I guess he's been told he's bloody well got to get on with her and that's the reason. This what comes of appointing a man with no experience of a mixed staff to a co-educational school.
Sunday, Oct 20th
    Cherry arrived about dinner time and I heard more of that tic Lipscombe. he appears to have said that the school was in a bad state and he had been appointed to clean it up. How lucky we had a general inspection to nail that one to the counter!  He is not going to use my room because it is near what he calls "the girl's toilets" and is moving down to the prefects room. 
Tuesday, Oct 22nd
    Given a blockbuster last night. Nurses don't realize the effect on some one who never normally takes such a pill from one year to the next.
    A good batch of letters this morning. Miss Hunter says she has not fallen for my successor's  face or voice; however he seems quite pleased with both. Nor can she imagine what qualities made them choose him. In the morning I think it cannot do any harm if I write to Tom Luker about Lipscombe and Cherry, so do. Cherry in after tea. Told her I had written to Tom Luker. governors' meeting tomorrow so well timed. Cherry had asked Tom if the issue was coming up at the tomorrow and he said no intention of bringing them up, so Lipscombe is a liar - as I thought.
    Later Wilk arrived. She was full of school scandal,which was a bit tedious. About 8 Cyril and Kay arrived. Kay's chatter too much for me. Like a race horse, I started sweating and thought I should scream.
Friday, Oct 25th
    The British Isles fully represented at Dunedin. My nurse very calm, cold, dignified and efficient, English; Mrs Target, alias Auntie Bullseye, explosive, bustling, loud and rather vulgar, Welsh; my other nurse, dark, pretty, soft, feminine, Irish; the night nurse, tall, gaunt, sharp featured with large long hands, Scots.
    Cherry came in for an hour. More news of my incredible successor. He wanted the boys marched down to the  playing field in the lunch hour because "people in the town"  did not think they ought to scramble up and down the bank. The principles on which he the school is to be run are those of subtopia - keeping up with the Joneses, what do the people next door think?
    However, worse was to follow. Len has been told he must not sublet, so Raymond and family are to go. Meanwhile, his grandchild may not be wheeled down the front drive or in the school grounds, but must use the back entrance. Oh God! Oh Henley-on-Thames!
Sunday, Oct 27th
    Mr Bohn came in this morning to take the stitches out in person, a very great honour. Last time i was done by Mrs T, who tore my hair out in lumps.
    Cherry came in, but was in one of her dopey states. I asked her when Alfonso was leaving. She said she hoped he would never leave! But what the significance of that was I did not like to ask!
Tuesday, Oct 29th
    Today I got out. I am getting in need of total immersion. The American advertisement experts day some people cling to their B.O. as devotedly as skunks. It is  defence mechanism. "So nice not to have any friends." Left for St Edwards School in Cyril and Kay's car. Had supper in their study and then retired to bed in the garden bedroom  which was provided with roses and crysanthemums. "Jolly good," as the night nurse would have said.
Tuesday, Nov 5th
    Cyril and Kay are simple people and their lives, especially Cyril's, are punctuated by small happenings, an accident to the cook, the disappearance of a kitten, a single decker bus going by instead of a double decker, of which much is made and which are labelled "crazy, fantastic, would you believe it and well I never." A great deal of the day is spent with Cyril stretched out with his long legs on a cushion on a stool reading, like a good many elderly men, I suppose, he follows an exact timetable of glasses of sherry, pills, weather forecasts, news, whisky at five every evening. Kay drives him down to the town. He cannot be kept waiting a minute for his food, his drive or his bedtime.
        Cyril told me he likes to go out on Saturday to avoid housework! I observed last night that he wears a clean pair of socks every day. Besides being his wife, Kay is also secretary, chauffeuse, accountant, cook and housemaid. A more than full time job.
Thursday, November 7th
    Went down to the flat and bought some fruit, 4 bananas, a box of dates and a pound of grapes cost 6/7. Awful. Bill from Dunedin £73, Mr Bohn £43. I hope for recompense of £50 from B.U.P.A.
Saturday, Nov 9th
    Went down to meet Cherry for coffee. Lipscombe has now suggested she leave as they are incompatible! It is a pity Tom Luker is both a limited and a weak chairman. His main object in a situation like this is to avoid trouble. Anyway she has decided to stay and fight it out and good luck to her. It is tough on her that after 15 years service to the school they should have made this ghastly appointment of this dreadful type.
Sunday, Nov 10th
    It would be well if men and women could remember, in sexual relations, in marriage and in divorce, to practise the ordinary virtues of tolerance, kindness, truthfulness and justice. Those who, by conventional standards, are sexually virtuous, too often consider themselves thereby absolved from behaving like decent beings. Bertrand Russell 
Saturday, Nov 16th
    Leg bad and cold wind but went to Paddington, where met Nora, and to Watford. As Nora remarked, you would not keep a dog alive under the conditions of Aunt's existence - so blind she can't distinguish faces, deaf, swollen with an intestinal stoppage and permanently parched mouth.  She was too weak to talk much, but when  she could talk her mind was clear.
Sunday, Nov 17th
    Reading the first of the lectures on Russia by  an American expert, G. F. Kennan. Full of good sense. "If the Soviet likes to portray itself as embarked on a desperate economic competition with us, I don't see that we are under any obligation to accept this interpretation." "The Russians are the Babbits of this mid-century, but so far, being good materialists, they have shown no awareness
Tuesday, Nov 26th
    Went to see Dr Williams (a Baptist, funny how you can always tell) and he gave his consent, necessary for B.U.P.A., for Droitwich. Phoned Ayrshire Hotel and booked room
Thursday, Nov 28th
    Took the 2.30 to Droitwich 
Thursday Nov 28th to Dec 21st
    Ayrshire Hotel full of old ladies in various stages of senile decay. Old age in a hotel my idea of hell!
    Reading Maurois: A happy marriage is a long conversation that always seems too short.
    Somerset Maugham: Beauty is a rare word. It is used lightly now, of the weather, of a smile, of a frock.... But beauty is none of these... It is a force. It is an enravishment.... The impact of beauty is to make you feel greater than you are so that for the moment you feel you are walking on air and the exhilaration and release are such that nothing in the world matters any more. You are wrenched out of yourself into a world of pure spirit." 
Sunday, Dec 22nd
    Spent morning at the flat. Hilary arrived for lunch at Cyril's and then I took him round to the flat for tea. It was a success! Though a letter had arrived from Nora to say the case would come off in Late January or early February, felt very depressed. Leg very stiff;
Dec 23rd
    Mary came to see me off at Reading. Reached Exeter about lunch time. Maud's for tea
Christmas Day
    Maud and I had a chicken and Christmas pudding and we drank to absent friends. In the afternoon I went down to the estuary after the Queen's television appearance. This I thought a mistake. It was over rehearsed and acted, delivered with a smile - also rehearsed? It was better when you only heard her.
    In her letter Mary wrote: I thought Hilary very nice indeed yesterday and, though he is like Nora in looks, he seemed to me a warm person and has expressive friendly eyes. I was glad he came.
Monday, Dec 30th
    Into Exeter to see Wilfrid, flat in his back recovering from a coronary thrombosis. "Hubert," he said, " we communicate only through rumour." Curiously a) he had sat next to a man at a Rotarian function at Crediton who came from Henley b) the rector of Henley's daughter had married the cathedral organist c) my old master Woodard had been inducted to Cheriton Fitzpayne.
    Hilary, his daughter there, after whom Hilary Barnes is called, with her baby. I carried her on the Downs at Brighton 30 years ago, as witnessed by an old snapshot.
Dec 31st
    Nine months ago I gave notice that I was leaving Henley, five months ago I supplied evidence for a divorce, but legally I am still where I was, though without a home or more possessions than can go in a couple of suitcases. A limbo-like existence! I have had no regrets.

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