Sunday, March 30, 2008

13 August 1966

     The last day and a half at the Abbey has been in many ways remarkable, in some respects unbelievable, in its juxtaposings of contentment and melancholy, delights and shocks, order and Chaplinesque chaos.
     The whole business began early yesterday morning. Before breakfast I was hauled by Dean Haberly out to the freshly excavated sewer trench that has been giving clues to some of the Abbey's past. The shovels and scoops have unearthed skeletons, roof and floor tiles, mullions, bits of stained glass, great silver headed nails, and broken sections of intricately carved columns, capitals, and bosses. Many of the fragments are brightened by splashes of gold, red, or blue paint. I felt slightly eerie seeing the colors shining in the sun four, many hundreds of years after it was applied, perhaps, by the Augustinian monks who built their church and priory here long before the place was to know the Raynesfords, the Popes, and the Norths who were later to own it successively.
     The Dean, who was at the very point of departing when he led me out to the trench, had two objectives for our pre breakfast trip. He wanted to scratch at the trench sides for more of the red floor tiles he had been finding daily, and he wanted to alert me to watch for the back hoe's uncovering of more of the church walls, first broken into a day or so before. His interest in the precise location of the latter had become so keen that, wearied as he was by his long and tiring duties with the summer graduate program, he was about to postpone his departure so that he could stay with the digging.
     Before we had so much as a sip of juice or coffee, therefore, we were sloshing around in a ditch nine feet deep and mucky from yesterday's heavy rains. His passion and my compliance—though it became more than that, for his wonderful enthusiasm, like his fluting laughter, is contagious—were quickly rewarded. Both of us uncovered a tile. His was broken, but large, with a fine deep gold pattern on its glazed terra cotta background—a cross, a fleur de lis, and a pine tree. It was striking. Mine was intact, but small, about two and a half inches square. It was a bold Lombardic Z, with a line drawn horizontally through its center. The Dean was hot on the scent and wanted to go on, but the rain, which began suddenly, and the reverberating Wroxton breakfast gong hurried us into the dining room.
     Our meal was soon over, for the Haberlys had to rush out to a taxi at 8:10. Like all those we had together, however, it was a pleasant one. I have never met a man with such lively and unfailing good humor. Reminiscence after reminiscence tumbles out of him, each one a joy. Over hasty swallows of breakfast coffee, he can somehow be reminded of, and able to recapture in sprightly terms, the delightful oddities he has encountered in his uncommonly unconven¬tional experience.
     One of them is about his having awakened years ago to find a large bat in the shirt of his pajamas. A second deals with his once having attended a recital by a flautist whose plastic artificial eye exploded from its socket in the middle of his rendition of a 16th century composition. A third concerns his having visited a children's school run by a Miss Maypother, who made her students live the stages of civilization (dressing, for instance, at first in hides and finally in contemporary clothes) and had all doorways three feet high so that adults had to crawl through them. A fourth recalls his having been commissioned to bind, illustrate, and print, for a wealthy eccentric woman (a Schwab heiress) a book written in a language of her own invention. She wanted the text in gold on lavender vellum, and she ordered him, for as long as he worked, to stay in one room of her home so that he would not shock her recently bereaved male cockatoo, mortally vulnerable, since the death of his mate, to the sudden appearance of any man.
     He can also draw upon his vast reading and study—and a memory that must be photographic—to respond with lectures in miniature to questions about stained glass, Roman Britain, the structure and regimen of monasteries, literary figures with whom he has had close associations, and an almost awe inspiring range of other subjects. All that he says he says well and with a modesty that seems altogether unnecessary.
     I have frequently asked him to allow me to tape at least a few of the memories he shares with listeners, but he steadfastly refuses. "No, no, no, Savage," he tells me with dismissive shakings of his raised hands. "Never." When I protest and ask him why, he says, "Because I improve each of them with every telling."
     As they are, the stories need no refining. They are so good, in fact, that several of the lecturers who visit Wroxton's classes regularly have told me that one of the principal attractions of the place is the opportunity to hear the Dean recall some of the events of his past. Stanley Wells, for one, has more than once told me that he would probably give his lectures here without an honorarium if, on each of his visits, he could be sure that he could enjoy some of Haberly's anecdotes.
     We said goodbye to the Dean and Mrs. Haberly with honest sadness. We knew that we would miss them both. We knew, also, that we would now be almost totally alone in the vast and creaky building, for no students were expected until September 5.
     I was especially loath to give up not only the Dean's conversation but also his infectious curiosity and capacity for observation which had made my every walk with him about the Abbey grounds, every poking into garrets and little used rooms an adventure and a discovery.
     As an example, he noticed that two windows in the Great Hall, facing the Minstrels' Gallery, are so mullioned and leaded that they must once have been outside windows. The observation led him to the conclusion that the center of the building, assumed for a hundred years to be the oldest part of the Abbey, must postdate the rest of the structure. The discovery was made apparently, simply as he strolled along. I learned later that his speculation was probably wrong. In this instance as in every other one I knew of, however, he was, in his ceaselessly zestful spirit of exploration, always in the right.
     After the Haberlys departed, our day was, surprisingly, pleasant and easy until 2:00 p.m. We bustled about with letters and memos and semester planning and walked through the charming village just outside the College gates. We watched a workman thatching a roof, stopped in at Mrs. Friend's small gift shop, and introduced ourselves to Mrs. Scott (who runs the tiny grocery store) and to Mrs. Jessie Cook, "licensed to sell beer to be consumed off the premises" and Wroxton's singularly friendly postmistress, perhaps the only postmistress or postmaster who licks and applies for you whatever stamps you purchase from her in the little cubicle just off the hallway of her and her family's living quarters.
     At 2:00 p.m., however, I got a call from Dr. Stanley Wells, who invited us to a dinner conference at the Black Swan, or "Dirty Duck," in Stratford at 6:30. I accepted hastily, for the atmosphere of the deserted Abbey closes in on one quickly and, be¬sides, Wells and I had to shape up the first four weeks of the Shakespeare course. Right then, Patty's and my troubles began, although I did not know so at the time.
     My inquiry to the Midland Red Bus Company offered no cause for alarm. The woman who took my call quickly told me that a bus left for Stratford from Banbury, at the Cross, at 6:03 and arrived in Stratford at 7:00. I had, of course, to call Dr. Wells and ask for a half hour's grace, but there was no real problem about that or about getting by taxi to Banbury, which we reached at 5:30. Our driver began our difficulty. He told us that the bus left from the depot, not from the Cross, and therefore took us to that place, about 9 blocks from the Cross. After idling for two or three minutes, I grew uneasy and began to ask around about the exact point of departure. Five different bus drivers gave me five conflicting sets of instructions. They agreed on only one point: the bus information booth was closed.
     Sifting the varying directions, Patty and I decided that the Cross was the safest waiting place after all, and at about 5:40 we started out briskly in a beginning shower. After only a block Patty became a virtual cripple. The rain, the damp pavements, and her high heels did something excruciating to a toe she broke years before. We would walk twenty steps and stop, she leaning on me heavily and making pained whimpers. We wobbled on, looking at clocks—for time was getting short—looking for a phone to call a cab, looking and feeling miserable and anxious, which we genuinely were.
     Somehow, we reached the vicinity of the Cross with seven or eight minutes to spare, and once again I ventured a few nervous questions of passersby. The first man I approached was a retarded alcoholic who cast dumb, frosty eyes on me for a moment and then hawked a wad of phlegm at my feet. The second was "a stranger here myself, you know." The third, obviously well moistened by a few pints of red or bitter, told me we were a block off target, that we wanted the Stratford Blue, which stopped only at the Cock Horse Tavern. We checked his instructions against those of three others who passed. Two of them, like the proprietor of a dairy shop into which I desperately dashed, knew nothing at all about buses.
     Three legged fashion, we hurried down to the Cock Horse. Nobody in the parking lot there, in the tavern, or in the sweet shop next door could give us assurance that we were where we should be. It was now 6:05, and I surrendered and decided to get a taxi all the way to Stratford, even though the fare and the tip run to 48s., or $6.72. The decision was not simple to act upon, for I could find no nearby phone, and I had to go hunting once more, leaving Patty standing out of the rain under an awning and look¬ing forlornly after me as she balanced on one leg, like a stork.
     I bolted into the Cromwell Arms Hotel and asked the desk clerk, an elderly woman, if there was a phone handy. "A phone, sir? Hm. Let me see. Did you try the Horse Fair: There's one there, I'm sure."
     I did not reply to her as I raced out. I thought that de¬parting quietly would be to my benefit and hers. I flew back to the Cross and found a phone booth, but I found also that the jingling freight of English coins that had been tearing at my pocket stitches with every one of the frantic strides I had so long been making did not include a "thruppence," the only coin the slot would accept. Getting one required four more inquiries, but finally I had one, was able to get through to Trinder's taxi, and, at last, to get under way to Stratford with Patty, who had limped up after me to the cab rank.
     Once in the cab, I saw a small placard identifying the vehicle as "Trinder's Easy"—rather than another of its kind, "Trinder's Baker" or "Trinder's Charley," I understood, but right then I saw the ironist's mockery behind the terms.
     The ride out to Stratford in the sheeting rain was close to perilous. The driver responded with manic zest to my request for a rapid trip. Schussing down the curves of Sunrising Hill was, consequently, a chancy few minutes that kept our eyelids from blinking even once until the descent was over. Our meeting with Wells and our late supper with him and Dr. Anne Righter of Cambridge were, nevertheless, thoroughly enjoyable.
     Before going to the Swan for Leek soup, prawns, gammon, chips, and a carafe of vin rose, we worked and chatted and had gin and tonics in the Shakespeare Institute, in a book littered room which looked out on beautiful gardens stretching immaculately and colorfully to New Place. In the middle of the vista was an in¬triguing gazebo sort of thing once used by Marie Corelli when she owned the big house now used by the Institute. Her less than epic books were all about, and Dr. Wells told us that large numbers of people of a certain kind still come to Stratford because Mme. Corelli lived there, not because Shakespeare did. He is often embarrassed by their questions about her work, about which he pretends to a blissful and carefully preserved ignorance. He told us also that one dowager once consoled him, when he told her that he couldn't read much Corelli, by noting, "Yes, her books are deep."
     Our return to the Abbey was a sharp contrast to our outbound journey, for Dr. Wells drove us back in his car. The ride, though thick fog had rolled over the narrow road, was a happily uneventful one.
     And so was most of today. Patty and I got a good bit of work done in the Minstrel's Gallery office, posted a pack of letters, and ordered the files. Late in the afternoon we walked through the village again, primarily because Patty was hit by homesickness and wanted some change of scene to put a stop to some of the moping she found herself unable to avoid. Coming back we were caught in a downpour, but we ran under a giant old beech and by that time Patty was able to joke about the "tree adders" an ancient Wroxton visitor had told us she always prepared against by raising a parasol whenever she was near overhanging branches.
     We watched the tapering off of the rain for ten minutes or so, hurried through the last mist of it into the Abbey, and had an authoritative scotch with water before a good dinner all alone in the big dining hall. As a waiter, a waitress, and the chef himself fussed about our table, we felt regal but awkward and lonely. The royal head, I remembered in the midst of the baronial accoutrements all about me, is heavy with isolation.
     After dinner, we dropped in at the North Arms, the pub just outside the college gates. We had sherry and a long talk with a young girl from the Madison campus who attended Wroxton last spring and stayed on as an assistant in the pub's saloon bar. (She is going back home shortly, she told us.) The appealing old pub—the building, a villager told me, is about 500 years old—pleased us greatly with its blackened beams and old brasses gleaming after centuries of polishing, and we walked back up the Abbey road, at about 9:15, almost light hearted in the heavy darkness not brightened at all by a rust colored moon barely visible through the sluggish racks of the fog.
     We were making ironic jokes about the hearty cheerfulness of the Abbey. (It was illuminated only by the lamps in the servants' two fourth floor rooms and two sixty watt bulbs in the Great Hall as we climbed the front door staircase—with exaggerated caution, for the past four days' rain and the night's dank mist had given the antique and foot hollowed slate a slickness like that of fish scale.) Our pleasantries died abruptly when we found the outside door firmly bolted. We had known that our key was good only for the second door inside the vestibule, but, knowing also that the night porter's duties ran till 11:00, we had felt no worry and had seen no need to take along a key to the lower courtyard door. We should have reckoned upon the porter's apparent absent mindedness and his present anxiety about his cancer stricken wife, which led him to plan to shut up two hours early and not give us warning as we left. Our situation was wonderful.
     There we were in the dripping blackness, rattling great Jacobean doors, feeling our way up terrace steps, poking tentatively about Stygian sunken courts, and raising helpless cries for assistance from four domestics who understand only Spanish and whose privacy was protected from our noise by their sealed leaded windows, small amber squares sixty feet above us in the dark. For 15 minutes we whistled, hooped, and sang out in unison, primarily to rouse the two Joses, Isobel, or Manuel, but partly also simply to reassure ourselves.
     After a week at the Abbey we had come to terms with the resident ghosts—an elderly lady and a monk, we had been told—about which we had heard the day that we arrived, but just a few minutes before we found ourselves locked out, we had learned at the pub of two more. One of them, one of the Lord Norths, we could welcome into our spectral family matter of factly. The Earl is said merely to wander over the lawns looking straight ahead through squinting eyes and recognizing no one, not even foreign usurpers of his grounds. The other one seemed less easy to accept. A murderer hanged in a nearby marsh for the killing of a young girl, he is, our sensationalist informants told us, well known to emit moans and scramble about the very paths and courts in which we were seeking rescuers. Our clatter kept him safely off, and it eventually brought Jose #2, mumbling and shuffling like Macbeth's porter, to our aid.
     We trudged up the sighing stairs to our bedroom, past the suits of armor in the corners of three landings—they still make us a little edgy when we come upon them in the dimness late at night—and let ourselves into our large and lofty quarters by screwing a weighty four inch key into a stub¬born 18th century lock. As we did so, we heard the piercing screams of a murderer's victim in a Sherlock Holmes film that the Spaniards were following on their telly two floors up, under the pointed gables in the attic. Patty had, she found, discovered a most effective remedy for homesickness, and I had met with a few additional reminders of the special quality of our days and nights at Wroxton Abbey.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

15 August 1966

     Stanley Wells' remark to me the other day—that he would be more than willing to come to lecture at Wroxton without an honorarium if he could listen to Dean Haberly talk—is much in my thoughts right now, when I am thinking that I probably won't see the Dean again for perhaps a long time. He is a remarkably entertaining and gentle man whose conversation is, as Wells suggests, a delight and a reward to all happy enough to be able to listen to him.
     I have sat with Wells, Michael McLagen [sp.] and many others here at Wroxton, happy and in wonderment for hour after hour hearing the Dean reminisce about some of his experiences in Britain and the States. I don't think I have ever heard him tell the same tale twice—even on those occasions when he was, presumably recalling the same set of events he had acquainted his listeners with at an earlier time. (The Dean's demurrers, whenever I have asked him to allow me to tape for posterity what I have heard him say, provide some explanation of the variant "texts" of his recollections. "No, no, no, NO, Savage!" he has laughingly protested more than once. "No taping of my stories, because then I won't be able to improve them with the next telling.")
     None of them need improving. None of them, furthermore, can be adequately preserved by some sneaky Boswellian effort at transcription by me or anybody else. Nevertheless, so that I can remember some of them in something like their original form, I'm going to record abbreviated versions of them here.
     One of them that I have heard him tell two or three times concerned a Miss Maypother who ran a children's—here it would be called an "Infants'—school. Miss Maypother ran her educational program in keeping with a firmly fixed pedagogical theory. She believed that children could grasp history only if they relived simulated versions of it. She therefore taught them about early mankind by having the students don furs and leather sandals and carry rude clubs for hunting, "caveman" style. Their garb and manner would change with the passing of eras, Attic and Roman garments giving way to later codpieces, jerkins, tunics, and so forth. Adults who, like Haberly, visited the school were at a distinct disadvantage because of a design feature Miss Maypother incorporated into all of the classrooms of the school: the doorways were child-sized, and grownups had to crawl through them.
     Another one dealt with a British woman of a certain age who jogged late each evening. Haberly met her, he told us, while he was doing research for his handsome study of tiles, now a work coveted by many English collectors. She exercised in the dark and, to avoid mishaps as she moved briskly along, wore a miner's hat with a lantern on it. She permitted Haberly to join her nightly constitutionals, Haberly said, only after he managed to master the art of jogging in iambic rhythm, the pace that she unfailingly maintained. She could, he firmly believed, instantly detect any variation toward trochees or spondees, for she more than once stopped and chastised him for a faulty beat.
     I think that my favorite Haberly recollection of his adventures was his account of two very rich ladies who lived, as I remember the details, on a lavish estate somewhere on Long Island. (One of the elderly spinsters was, unless my memory is faulty, the daughter of one of the Schwab magnates who left her an enormous legacy when he died.) The heiress and her friend devoted themselves to founding and maintaining a new, obviously mystical, and extremely exclusive religion. It was dedicated to the worship of a Belgian hare and a bantam rooster. Both of the devotees--who were also their faith's only priestesses—wore around their neck a gold chain from which dangled a locket. In the lockets were miniature portraits of the hare and the rooster, miniatures created by an accomplished European artist working on special commission.
     Haberly's connection with the two ladies and their deities came about because of his fame as a maker of exquisite and exceptionally durable books, an art to which he devoted himself for several years in England, where he established his own press. (He was a perfectionist about the craft. When he worked at illuminating manuscripts, he used the same dog's teeth medieval monks had used. Some of the tools he used to fashion his bindings were those Samuel Johnson had used in his father's shop. To prevent the depredations of bookworms, Haberly bound his signatures with the same heavily tarred ship rope that medieval and renaissance craftsmen had used. He discovered this fact through a careful examination of a centuries-old book found in a castle niche that had been walled over for at least two hundred years.)
     The ladies hired him to preserve the sacred writings of their religion by copying them onto gold-leaf-illuminated vellum that was violet colored. He was given luxurious quarters, his food, and a generously funded commission for the work. He could work at his own pace and was under no urgency to meet any deadline. He had, however, to obey one solemn command as he fulfilled his tasks: he could never leave the library-workroom in which he labored by any exit except the one to the terrace. The other means of egress, the elaborately handsome double doors of the room, led directly to the great hallway, an area absolutely off limits to him or any other man, he was told. The reason? In addition to their hare and their cockerel, the ladies had a third pet not part of their church's hierarchy: a cockatoo mortally afraid of men. The mere sight of anyone of the masculine sex, the ladies told him, could be fatal to the bird.
     Sometime after had worked at the manuscript for quite a while, the Dean once told me, a day came along when he was all alone in the great house, the ladies having gone off, he suspected, on some sort of pilgrimage. After he had worked quietly and productively for two or three hours, he was gripped by an irresistible urge to venture the merest peek out into the hallway through the double doors. Sidling softly over to them, he noiselessly opened them and placed an eye at the slit. Nothing untoward occurring, he parted the doors a little bit more and thrust the tip of his nose between them, seeking a better view of the forbidden territory. Just as he did so, he continued, blinking his eyes and shivering slightly as he recalled the event, he heard an eruption of raucous screeching from the bird followed by the sound of its body falling to the bottom of the cage. He slammed the doors shut and returned to the manuscripts, at which he worked in a kind of hypnagogic state until the two ladies returned.
     If he was able to, the Dean delighted in leaving the story right there and going on to some other subject as his hearers exchanged sidelong glances designed to move somebody to ask if the bird really died. Pressed by someone more importunate than he probably hoped his listeners would be, he would casually respond to a question about the cockatoo's fate. "No, no. Perfectly all right. Not a thing wrong with it. It just fell off the perch, I suppose." The airy, seemingly distracted manner with which he would round off his tale made more than one of those in his audience, I am sure, decide that such a fall from his story-telling perch was an accident that would never trouble Lloyd Haberly.

Friday, March 28, 2008

2 September 1966

     I have often read and heard that the English foster order and have a reverential regard for it primarily because they are fundamentally disorderly creatures. I suspect their awareness of this carefully restrained trait has something to do with their emphasis upon the sort of punctuality that, J. Brett Langstaff said—in Oxford—1914 (New York: Vantage Press, 1965)—his Greek tutor’s butler called “the essence of politeness.” Their almost incessant quest for regularity and ceaseless efforts to eliminate untidiness of manner or place are everywhere evident. Those efforts are most obvious, perhaps, in the succession of gardens which line the narrow roads leading from villages like Wroxton and Drayton to towns like Banbury.
     Although close up they reveal pleasant individual touches, they seem, as they flash by a bus or car widow, almost identical. In virtually every one, the rusty ironstone earth is rich, dark, and weed free about the canes of roses luxuriantly in bloom. Among the roses are clumps of geranium, fuschia, snapdragons, ageratum, and similarly bright plantings. All the plots seem also to be just about the same lovely little size, about fifteen or twenty feet square and walled in by privet, yew, or fencing of wood, metal, or native stone. A five or ten mile broken string of them, colorful as it may be, can become monotonous and somehow a bit depressing.
     And so can several other features of the solid, dependable life the Englishman seems ever anxious to sustain. Queues form everywhere as a sort of spontaneous mass reflex. Imperatives adorn the walls of shops, restaurants, and hotels, and frown down from street signs and bus ceilings. On the Midland Red Line this morning, for example, I noted these signs: "The passenger is reminded that he must present his ticket for inspection." "Place used tickets in this slot." "Do not stand near this platform whilst the bus is in motion." "Ring the bell once only to signal the operator of the vehicle." In the storage tunnel of the Abbey I have frequently seen on the sides of used cardboard cartons the warning that "This tray will be charged at 2s. unless returned."
     And the Abbey instruction booklet, prepared by the English staff here, consists of eight pages of statements reason¬ably well represented by these few: "Faculty and Students should not bathe in either of the Lakes...The College Authorities reserve the right to enter any room at any time for purposes of instruction...Hand in your key to the College Office...Keys not returned will be charged at 2L each...Students must use the Garden Room Entrance to the College until 6 p.m. and after that time the Main Hall Entrance until 11 p.m...Students are reminded that all accidents, sickness or injuries, however, minor, must be reported...Do not replace an electric bulb [most of them are 40 watt] with a more powerful one...Throwing water, snow or any other substance into, from within or towards the College buildings, is forbidden...Articles of food must be kept in glass, plastic or metal containers...Guests to meals and other resident guests must pay in advance...If you have a Radio Receiver you should obtain a license, price 25/ d., from the General Post Office..."
     Admittedly such regulations have a peculiar justification in this ancient house, but they seem pretty much of a piece with the rules, written and unwritten, which guide the natives outside these walls. It all seems part of the system which multiplies the gardens; dictates a potted plant in back of a thousand windows in succession; and makes an instant reflex of "Sorry," “`kyou," and "Please." The same impulse produces little name placards over the doorways of shabby row houses identified as "Ivydene" or "Close Cottage" in imitation of the namings of the grander hold¬ings and estates on the fringes of towns.
  :   One sees the system at work in the supermarkets, where each customer does his own bagging of his purchases. He sees it in first class railway cars in which passenger after passenger will back off from a "Reserved" card on a seat which has already been empty for half an hour and obviously will not be claimed by its purchaser.
     Like the gardens, these other evidences of some prevalent power supported by an almost universal solicitude for it can, I think, charm an American and make him feel envious, but they can also make him strangely melancholy and full of longing for the scrap and scuffle, the variegated confusion, even the reassuring—if shocking—wastefulness of his land's ways. He feels something like hunger, for instance, for big, strong Kraft paper bags instead of the flimsy ones he must bear so responsibly here, for books of match¬es scattered freely about (one pays 3d. for one of them to an English tobacconist) for free delivery service, for 3 hour dry¬cleaning facilities catering to his procrastination and slipshod wardrobe habits.
     He also finds himself longing for American slickness of decor, even if plasticized, in places of business as he views the 1930-ish appointments of a provincial English bank, the tawdry and tasteless jumble of clashing designs and colors in a Banbury fabric shop, the rummage sale disorder of an ironmonger's. And as he does so, he is reminded that the "the system" is not so all-pervading as it might seem, that he really has no right at all for thinking of the English as hive bound and wondering how in God's name they make love to each other or write wild and wonderful literature.
     He remembers the other half of the game that the system really is, the abandoned and crazy part of it. This part permits the fearfully sound, over disciplined, and frostily sensible Englishman to carry about coins which will buy nothing at all, to quote prices in a unit of currency that does not exist, to elect twice as many MPs as can be seated at any one time, and to cling stubbornly to currency arrangements and driving habits seen as quaintly perverse by most of the rest of the world.
     That, at least, is the way the whole matter seems to me right now, new as I am to Britain. But then, I have a special reason for being mindful of something close to violence which lies beneath the Englishman's veneer of conformity and steadiness. I have just visited a Banbury barber who wielded his scissors as if he were in the throes of an epileptic seizure. I can think of
few worse introductions to England. I commented on the event in these terms in a letter I sent to the States yesterday:
     "My most destructive experience...has been my visit to an English barber shop. The U.S. customs booklets should include clear warnings about the danger of such foreign adventuring. It is physically and psychologically traumatizing and produces marrings which, unquestionably, are irremediable. I looked in the rear view mirror when I wakened from the anesthesia with which the surgery had been attended and promptly blacked out again.
     I have been trying, ever since I was brought home to convalesce, to decide just that style of do I received. The young sheep shearer who had at me assured me that he would give me an `American cut,' but the term would suit only if, as I now believe, he was speaking out of a violent prejudice against my native land. Olivier's Henry V or Behan's Borstal Boy appears to me a more pertinent possibility. I have seen only one haircut like it in my life. That one was on the head of Bruce Cabot when he portrayed a villainous Iroquois in The Last of the Mohicans years and years ago. His appearance, a cinema shocker in its day, led, I believe, to the founding of the Hays Office and quick passage of the Sullivan Act.
     The shop in which I was actionably assaulted was `Christo's,' pronounced just like the first part of Christopher. For me, though, the i will henceforth and ever after be long, and the t will be separated by a hyphen from the o, which will be followed by a bold exclamation mark, not an apostrophe and an s.
     I had Patty take a close up photograph of the back of my head while it was still smoking hot from the drawer's knife. You shall have a good view of it—the picture only, that is, I hope—when we get home and start settling some old scores with our showings of slides."

Note 1992: Rereading this entry in February, 1992, just after having read page 27 of Lionel Tiger's The Pursuit of Pleasure (Boston, 1992), I am moved to add another little bit of apparent incongruity to my earlier account of English rigidity and austerity: Tiger says, drawing upon The Economist for August 5, 1989 (p. 58) that "In Great Britain one-third more money is spent on chocolate each year than on bread!"
     At almost the same time that I read Tiger, I was reading Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night (New York, 1986). It, too, included a passage I was reminded of as I looked back at this 1966 entry.
     The passage, like the book as a whole, focuses upon Harriet Vane, Sayers' protagonist here. Vane has, reluctantly, gone back to her undergraduate college, Shrewsbury, for a reunion. Her reunion quarters are the dormitory room of an undergraduate, temporarily not in residence. Having settled in, she decides to bathe, for "Shrewsbury's hot-water system had always been one of its most admirable minor efficiencies." She looks about her as she hunts for the bath: "She had forgotten exactly where the bathrooms were on this floor, but surely they were round here to the left. A pantry, two pantries, with notices on the doors: NO WASHING-UP TO BE DONE AFTER 11 P.M.; three lavatories, with noticies on the doors: KINDLY EXTINGUISH THE LIGHT WHEN LEAVING; yes, here she was--four bathrooms, with notices on the doors: NO BATHS TO BE TAKEN AFTER 11 P.M., and, underneath, an exasperated addendum to each: IF STUDENTS PERSIST IN TAKING BATHS AFTER 11 P.M. THE BATHROOMS WILL BE LOCKED AT 10:30 P.M. Some CONSIDERATION FOTR OTHERS IS NECESSARY IN COMMUNITY LIFE. Signed: L. MARTIN, DEAN.
     Harriet selected the largest bathroom. It contained a notice: REGULATIONS IN CASE OF FIRE, and a card printed in large capitals: THE SUPPLY OF HOT WATER IS LIMITED. PLEASE AVOID UNDUE WASTE. With a familiar sensation of being under authority, Harriet pushed down the waste-plug and turned on the tap. The water was boiling, though the bath badly [p. 6] needed a new coat of enamel and the cork mat had seen better days." [p. 7]
     All those fussy rules brought back vividly for me the frequent misgivings I felt in the presence of England's many minatory public messages and instructions. In Sayers' context, however, they also reminded me of one of the happier consequences of England's accepting, with Harriet Vane, the "familiar" and, I think Englishmen often think, comforting "sensation of being under authority": an attention to details and a willingness to live by high standards of correctness, of which Sayers' writing in Gaudy Night is a good example. It may be one of the best-written of all English mysteries--at least as far as the sound and shape of its words are concerned.
     Here, to cite the first of a very few examples, is Sayers' treatment of Harriet's reminiscing about her days at Shrewsbury: "She saw a stone a style neither new nor old, but stretching out reconciling hands to past and present. Folded within its walls lay a trim grass plot, with flower-beds splashed at the angles, and surrounded by a wide stone plinth..." [p. 1] Here, Harriet rummages through "an ancient trunk" looking for her academic gown which she will take with her to the reunion: "She burrowed to the bottom of the pile and dragged a thick, black bundle out into the dusty sunlight. The gown, worn only once at the taking of her M.A. degree, had suffered nothing from its long seclusion: the stiff folds shook loose with hardly a crease. The crimson silk of the hood gleamed bravely. Only the flat cap showed a little touch of the moth's tooth. As she beat the loose fluff from it, a tortoise-shell butterfly, disturbed from its hibernation beneath the flap of the trunk-lid, fluttered out into the brightness of the window, where it was caught and held by a cobweb." [p. 4]
     And here are several terms and phrases chosen more or less at random from other early pages of the novel: "Dr. Margaret Baring [a warden of Shrewsbury]...could soothe with tact the wounded breasts of crusty and affronted male dons. ... [p. 10] The procession came into sight...moving with the slovenly dignity characteristic of university functions in England. [p. 11]

Thursday, March 27, 2008

3 September 1966

[I devoted this day of journal-writing to composing the following letter to a friend back home:]
     Patty and I have just finished reading your letter as we breakfasted. Your news of home brightened our meal, a typical Wroxton one in that the bacon was strikingly like what I imagine uncooked ear lobe would be and the fried eggs featured yolks the consistency of Turkish taffy and whites floating in oleaginous puddles. (The fats and greases here are poured out in Brobdingnagian fashion by the chef, and regular items like squooshy chips and fried bread and fish are doing astounding things to our visceras, which mutter and percolate busily whenever we deny them their generous daily allotments of entero-vioform.)
     Our cheerfulness and contentment as we read were enriched by a feeling of righteousness, for we knew that we were receiving your message at an hour when you were either just returning from some Spanish debauch or lying slugabed. We thank you for your note and hope that we can expect another sometime soon.
     We are still, of course, getting used to the Abbey, our job, the village, Banbury, and the English and their ways. We are in our permanent quarters in Room 2, now, after five days or so in Room 1 while the Haberlys were here. Digs here, as you know, are handsome but a piece of real estate rather than a bed and bath. The bedroom, I would say, is nearly 40x25, the bath about 10x18. The ceiling, richly figured with strapwork and gilded pendants, hovers some sixteen feet above us. The north wall, on the left of the Abbey, is given over almost wholly to the eight-light casement window through which I can right now see a sloping green bank heavily wooded with beeches, oaks, and evergreens like the towering and aged yew near the "croquey" green.
     Patty and I never get in each other's way, not even when we fly into sudden constitutional jogs, but we do feel a peculiar kind of isolation, especially whenever we find ourselves a little smarmy about Madison. We have also had some difficulty in adjusting to Jacobean carvings in The Necessary, in which, as I have hinted, we have been spending more than a decent share of our time. Hour by hour, however, the mini-flat is becoming home to us, as are all the roughly sixty rooms of this giant old place.
     The Davises—Ricky and his constantly snitty wife who serve jointly as business managers here—are, as I told Chris Hewitt in a letter of which he may have spoken to you, are less easy to come to terms with. They are still attempting the Mrs. Jewkes or Mrs. Danvers technique with me, but the lordly manner that I have affected as I stride about, tweed jacketed, crisply capped, and slapping vigorously at imaginary riding boots with an imaginary baton, has, I think, given them pause in their formerly obvious resolve to pin me to some rustling garret cot while a sodden and lustful neighboring barley farmer has his way with me. My memos, masterpieces, if I say so myself, of taut organization, self-sufficiency, Latinate terms, and a few obscure literary allusions, seem to have likewise helped serve my purposes, and I doubt that I shall have any real trouble with "Ricky" or "Linnie."
     About my work, itself, I am much less sanguine. After only a week of use, my desk calendar is a palimpsest of scribbles which, I hope, will remind me at the proper times to do things like (1) tell the chef that Miss Remas is allergic to fish and tell the college physician that two other women must never be given penicillin or sulfa; (2) invite Messrs. Gibbard and Portergill to dinner to discuss a Banbury Rotary project for our students; (3) arrange a tea or sherry for the Reverend W.J. Smart from Sulgrave Vicarage, where I am soon to join some Americans like our Ambassador and an Air Force high muckety-muck at an Anglo-American vesper service—covered by B.B.C.—in honor of Washington's family; (4) contact the Hamilton Galleries in London about a Wroxton hanging of the paintings of an American artist, Ann Cole Philips; (5) make a text-buying excursion to Blackwell's in Oxford; (6) meet an Oxford official about lecturers' dates; (7) confirm a series of field-trip reservations dates for the "Friendly Midland `Red'" Motor Bus Co.; and (8) write, phone, and visit about two dozen academics, professional men, and public officials whom I may be able to secure as lecturers or tutors.
     Lesser matters, like the fact that, as of now, Rutherford has not, in spite of my letters and cables, put a penny in the Wroxton till at Barclay's Bank and that academic preparations for the semester are being financed by my personal traveler's checks, are daily stuffed into various don't-forget niches of my mind. (Several of our academic devices here make inevitable a kind of giggling chaos. If, for instance, a lutanist, a member of Parliament, or an expert on 13th-century tiles happens to get sick, sozzled, or stubborn, the delicately balanced schedule for a forthcoming week or two must be hastily revised. Existing reservations for buses must be canceled and new ones set. The chef must be warned that we will, after all, be home for lunch and dinner on Tuesday, not mousing around Oxford of Stratford or Bath. And all conferences and review and assignment sessions with students have to be moved to new slots.
     Dealing with such contingencies might rather easily produce in me the nystagmus about which I have my little phobia, but it can also be exciting and full of lovely, small quietnesses. Two examples of what I have in mind are these: (1) Mrs. Scott, who runs the miniature grocery store in the village, has rapidly acceded to my request that she add a few items to her stock—ruled note paper, some kind of tobacco besides "Digger," a black and vile plug of formidable power, and oddments like scotch tape and pen refills. "Whatever you want, sir, you just tinkle. Mr. Scott's a dead hand at getting things in." (2) Because Dean H. has found that Blackwell's is hopelessly sluggish about filling book orders, we do much of our text buying at the Banbury Children's Book Shop. I stood in it the other day, fussed over by the matronly owner and her solicitous young clerk, and wrote out orders for the O.E.D. and a history text as I ducked my head under a "Beatrix Potter Centenary" banner. I do not expect to be bored by my duties.
     The people here are also endlessly fascinating studies for an American, or at least for me, new and naive as I am in this clime. I entertained two Banbury officials the other evening, a farmer and a real estate man. For two hours they chatted with me, not only about the business we had to discuss, but about fox hunting, Switzerland, France, Spain, and Italy, which they have recently visited, the carvings in the Abbey Chapel ("Not met often, is it, that bit—the fifth panel showing the circumcision of Christ?"), and the eleven Earls of Guilford who ruled this manor. They also told me that the big evergreens here are not, as I assumed, sequoias, but Wellingtonias, and that the Banbury history book I was reading was less good than three others I could get.
     Today the relief cook here gave me a ride into Banbury and back. As his dilapidated midget Reliant rattled down the narrow road on the three wheels over which it is triangularly balanced, he rattled on about the Mediterranean countries he had been to last year, about birds—he had seen a kestrel swoop across our route—and about English justice. ("Shockin', it is, the way they'll savage you for petty things.") As we pulled out of the parking lot in which he had left his car for ten minutes, he braked to a halt, vaulted out the door, and raced over to a white-smocked attendant snoozing a block away in the sun. When he got back into the car, he apologized to me: "Forgot the sixpence charge, I did. `Tisn't my way to go off without paying."
     These sorts of experiences suggest pretty well my reasons for regarding the English with admiration, affection, and occasional envy. Their sense of order, their good manners, their good talk, their intellectual curiosity and range of interests have been remarkably pleasant surprises to me, even though you had given me advance notice of them. Conversations and books, as well, had theoretically prepared me for their eccentricity, or at least singularity, but even so, the concrete examples of it that I have met have left me blinking.
     The sewer-line excavations here brought a number of "oners" on the run. Elderly architects, young students, infirm widows, and brisk fellows with hearty mutton-chop tufts have been crawling in and out of the ditch. Amateurs all, they have nevertheless been professionally precise in their sifting of clay for bits of tile or stained glass or building blocks. They have taken color slides of the fragments, have measured the gleanings and the depth of the strata in which they were found, and used magnifying glasses to study the direction of the chisel marks on the stones once part of a 13th-century church wall.
     Some of them came to pursue two or three interests at once. One country-gentry-lady type, about sixty, frequently interrupted her study of the dig with dashes to some thicket to spot a yellowhammer, a Spanish owl, or one of the barking deer lately observed in the vicinity. Others, like a thin and angular granny with an immobile face, were memorable for attributes that had nothing to do with historical or archaeological keenness. She carried an umbrella on a sunny afternoon because she had heard that tree adders, a threat, I gather, only to her, frequently fling themselves like arrows from branches at victims strolling beneath the trees.
     Not all things English, of course, have me entranced. Some of the English ways, in fact have mildly and, in one or two instances, even heavily depressed me. The order—in the inevitable garden plots, the putting-green lawns, and queues which form, apparently whenever any pedestrian stops for a moment anywhere—quickly becomes strangely monotonous. Interior design, in banks and clothing shops, for instance, seems to me disquietingly 1930-ish, as does the fare on the workingman's rented telly. The look of a Banbury fabric-shop window crammed full of hopeless patternings and color combinations, is, well, appalling. Paying 3d. for matches to light cigarettes three times more expensive than those in the States, bagging your own groceries in a supermarket—in a bag you are expected to have brought with you, waiting a week for pants pressing, and finding most services in provincial hotels and elsewhere suspended at 11:00 p.m. can sometimes leave you feeling slightly different than formerly about the multiplied coddling of self-indulgence back home.
     If the regulations issued by the English staff of the Abbey are representative of generally prevailing attitudes, the abundance of blunt imperatives and injunctions is something else that might get to you. Here are some fair samplings of the 8-page folder: "Faculty and Students should not bathe in either of the lakes...The College Authorities [note the capital letters] reserve the right to enter any room at any time for purposes of inspection...Hand in your key to the College office...Keys not returned will be charged at L2 each...Students must use the Garden Room Entrance to the College until 6:00 p.m. and after that time the Main Hall Entrance until 11:00 p.m....Students are reminded that all accidents, sickness or injuries, however minor, must be reported...Do not replace an electric light bulb [40 w. is standard] with a more powerful one...Throwing water, snow or any other substance into, from within or towards the College buildings, is forbidden...Articles of food must be kept in glass, plastic or metal containers...Guests to meals and other resident guests must pay in advance...If you have a Radio Receiver you should obtain a license, price 25/d...If you leave your bicycle for any purpose [they are rented from the College], take the lamps and inflator with you..."
     My most destructive experience, however, has been my visit yesterday to an English barber shop. The U.S. Customs booklets should include clear warnings about the danger of such foreign adventuring. It is physically and psychologically excruciating and produces marrings which, unquestionably, are irremediable. I looked in the rear-view mirror when I wakened from the anesthesia with which the surgery had been attended and promptly blacked out again. I have been trying, ever since I was brought home to convalesce, to decide just what style of "do" I received. The young sheep-shearer who had at me assured me that he would give me an "American cut," but the term would suit only if, as I now believe, he was speaking out of a violent prejudice against my native land. "Olivier's Henry V" or "The Borstal Boy" appears to me a more accurately applicable designation. I have seen only one haircut like it in my life. That one was on the head of Bruce Cabot when he portrayed a villainous Iroquois in Last of the Mohicans years and years ago. His appearance, a cinema shocker in its day, led, I think, to the founding of the Hays office and quick passage of the Sullivan Act. The shop in which I was actionably assaulted was named "Christo's," pronounced just like the first part of "Christopher." For me, though, the i will henceforth and ever after be long, and the t will be separated by a hyphen from the o, followed by a bold exclamation mark. I had Patty take a close- up photograph of the back of my head while it was still smoking hot from the drawer's knife. You shall have a good view of it, I hope, when we get home and start settling some old scores with our showings of slides.
     The barber's totally unprovoked attack upon me has burdened me with a temporarily dyspeptic view of all things British, and I have been trying conscientiously all day to sweeten my contemplation of them. The Guardian which I have just been reading helps a good bit, particularly with its out-of-the-way columns. The personals remind me that, my barber not withstanding, the English are a people full of a tender and lasting sentiment: "In Memoriam: Everitt, William Needham, M.C. Captain 1/4th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's Regiment. Eldest son of the late Mr. and Mrs. C.K. Everitt, of Sheffield. Killed in action...on 3rd September 1916, and who has no known grave but the soil of France. In honor of his name and also of all his gallant comrades of the 1/4th and 1/5th..." In addition they provide evidence that what may seem pure maliciousness to me now may really be enigmatic playfulness: "Gemma: Wishes for a happier Navy blue anniversary. Snooker still loves the little Bocky. T.C. Ox."
     This dreadfully long letter to you has been one more bit of therapy for me. Sitting so long over it, however, has begun to aggravate my old condition. I hope that it has not been too abrasive to your contact lenses. If you will promise to write us again, I will promise not to be so rankly prompt or lengthy in replying hereafter. Now I will free you after one or two final requests: Please give my and Patty's best wishes to all who will not spit at you nastily at the mention of my name. And please—brace yourself; this will sound like the "Singing Lady" birthday lists of the `30s—give custom-service hellos to Sarah, Mara, the Pratts, Breen, the English Department, and the coffee regulars, including, of course, Ursula and our p.r. chief, for whose clipping service we are grateful. (You will instantly think of obvious omissions attributable to a rapid worsening of my condition. Tom E., the Gordons, Budishes, Work them in.) Naturally we miss all of you. Our love...

Note: The following sign, which I saw in at Christ Church, Oxford, leads me to believe that Mr. Davis’s regulations here are by no means an indication of local eccentricity: “Christ Church Meadow. The meadow keepers and Constables are hereby instructed to prevent the entrance into the meadow of all beggars, all persons in ragged or very dirty clothes, persons of improper character or who are not decent in appearance and behaviour; and to prevent indecent, rude or disorderly conduct of every description. /par/ To allow no handcarts, wheelbarrows, no hawkers or persons carrying parcels or bundles so as to obstruct the walks. /par/ To prevent the flying of kits, throwing stones, throwing balls, bowling hoops, shooting arrows, firing guns or pistols or playing games attended with danger or inconvenience to passers by, also fishing in the waters, catching birds, bird nesting or cycling. /par/ To prevent all persons cutting names on, breaking or injuring the seats, shrubs, plants, trees, or turf. /pr/ To prevent the fastening of boats or rafts to the iron palisading or river wall, and to prevent encroachments of every kind by the riverside. THE GATES WILL CLOSE AT 9.0”

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

4 September 1966

Patty and I had a wonderful visit by John Fritz, of the history department at Madison. He was here to talk with me about a special course which may be arranged for the Madison campus. Its title will be something like "British Antecedents of American Culture." It would begin with lectures here at Wroxton, to be conducted, we now are thinking, by Graham Webster of Birmingham University. In addition to the lectures, the students would get actual field work in archaeology at some place like Sulgrave Manor. Then they would go to William and Mary, perhaps, and finally to Gene Weltfish's digs at Morristown.
     I gave John the information I had received from Webster in a meeting last week and asked him to talk further with Gene, Kent Redmond, and others at Madison and to keep in touch with me regarding later developments. Our business over, he and I joined Patty for drinks in the Faculty Lounge.
     Each of us had a Dewars and water there—with ice cubes to show John how much Patty and I appreciated his stopping by—and we carried our drinks with us during a tour of the Abbey and the grounds. Although we have had rain for some part of every day for a week, yesterday's late afternoon was a fine one, and we sipped our drinks and chatted and strolled, the tinkling of our ice cubes providing a pleasant little music for us. Just before we went into dinner, we sat on the moss clumped terrace wall to the east of the Abbey—the moss has tiny spikes of red capped flowers now—and laughed about the way that I had greeted John by the Duck Pond off Main Street across from the College gate. (I had flagged him down while he was still picking his way in his rented Vauxhall and told him I had come out to greet him for several reasons: I had porter's duty on Saturdays, was shying kestrels away from our wood pigeons, was checking on the growth of fairy rings, and did not want him to lose a second's opportunity to study appreciatively the handiwork of the first English barber I had visited on Thursday.)
     We had a quiet good time at our joking, and I suppose that all of us years from now will find those contented moments coming back to us with a sweet sort of melancholy full of the lovely and yet softly sad colors of the sky above the Abbey's great gables, gray purples and pinks faintly gilded. I am sure that I will.
     The three of us and Miss Hogan, the sprightly and charming Irish housekeeper, who is, unfortunately, leaving us shortly, had a bad dinner in the big dining hall. The relief cook, to whom I had spoken earlier in the day about John's visit, interpreted my request for a good meal as meaning a big one. He gave us five kinds of meat in a Devonshire Grill (veal cutlet, bacon rolls with something mysterious in their soft coils, sausage, hamburgers, and beefsteak), all of them a drip with cooking fat. We also had two kinds of potatoes (chips and duchess), and the omnipresent Brussels sprouts. John was gallant about the meal, or perhaps he had been rendered broadly tolerant by the third whisky I had poured for him, and even said that he enjoyed it. Patty and I, however, had our usual postprandial Wroxton pains, alarums, and excursions, and I was in our spacious bath room at 3:00 a.m., belching marvelously, swallowing at gaggings, and keeping one hand on the toilet lid and the other busy tossing milk of magnesia tablets between my teeth. From the bedroom I could hear Patty laughing sympathetically, not derisively. I have concluded that the brutality of England's barbers is exceeded only by that of its cooks.*
     After dinner the three of us went to the North Arms, where we had one or two sherries and a long talk with an English family, a man, his wife, and their seventeen year old daughter. Our conversation was most cheerful and congenial. One result of it was that the gentleman whose name we still do not know, promised that he would come to the Abbey soon to bring a peculiar little memento of our enjoyable hour together: a clay pipe used by 17th century gravediggers, he told us, as a disinfectant after they had buried a victim of the plague. Something like 4,000 people died in the little village where he now lives, and many of them, apparently, were buried on the 14 acres which he once farmed. The first time that he plowed his ground, he said, he found thousands of the pipes in the furrows, testimony to the mythology so often passing as medical science. The superstitious corpse bearers believed that if they took three or four puffs of tobacco after handling each of the victims and then threw away the pipe, they would ward off infection.
     Patty and I look forward to getting this curiosity. We hope, too, that we can look forward to more heartening visits like John Fritz's. Both of us were full of regret when he drove off early this morning, headed for home as we headed for an almost wholly deserted Abbey, dreary under gray skies and a light rain.

*My several complaints about the food service in the Abbey in its earliest years are, happily, not representative of the fare served later on, when the College employed its own kitchen staff in place of the catering group on hand in the first few years of the college’s existence.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

10 September 1966

The following letter to the editor appeared this morning in either The Times or The Telegraph, I forget which, under the heading, "`Runaway Engine": "Sir It is reported in your columns (Sept. 6) that a locomotive, by its own volition, ran away from Carnforth, and was not overtaken for nine miles.
     `I have it on record that in October, 1859, an almost exactly similar incident took place on the London, Brighton, & South Coast Railway, when early one morning a locomotive (unattended) gently puffed its way out of the shed at Petworth, and was not arrested until a courageous railways servant swung himself on to the footplate and shut off the regulator.
     `Is it not time that British Railways learned the lesson? Yours faithfully, A.C. Johnstone. Ruislip, Middx.'"
     The English, I keep reminding myself with good reason, are not a simple people. On the one hand, they fuss and bluster in their pubs, parlors, and papers about issues that must seem quaint to strangers among them like me. Long before I came here, I followed a rather extended exchange of Guardian letters about the night jar's call and about the proper way to idle. And just about a week ago I heard the local vicar say that he was going to have to get "a bit shirty" soon about the commercialization of his Wroxton parish, in which the opening of a tiny gift shop has increased the business enterprises by 33 1-3% (A pub and a village grocery were all that was here previously.)
     Like Americans and all other people, they also rail constantly at their government and all in its purview. In the three weeks or so that I have been here, I haven't heard a good word for Wilson or Labour. Most of my academic correspondents have been instantly testy about the "imbecile" currency regulations. Bank clerks, cab drivers, shop girls, gardeners, and roof thatchers have indignantly spoken to me of the medical services program, the wage price freeze, the Rhodesian policy, the non decimal money system, the dole, the immigration rules—applying especially to Pakistanis and Jamaicans who "come to squat here for public assistance, the dirty trots"—and the English workman's laziness. ("Top doss labour is seldom seen. Most of the blokes just tickle around.")
     And yet, in many respects they have a capacity for bearing discomfort, distress, even disaster, so quietly that an unsympathetic observer might characterize them as marked by a bovine hebetude. The gentry can engage in sprightly, graceful conversation over sherry and biscuits and create an air of genuine elegance even though their tweeds may be roughly worn and stained, their cigarette pack may have only two or three careful¬ly husbanded survivors in it, and the gathering for which one of their number has paid may have forced him to effect prudent economies in some department of his household budget.
     Two stories, I've recently heard comment unflatteringly on one set of the paradoxical attributes of these complicated people. The first, obviously Gallic in origin and indecent as well as unkind, runs this way: A Frenchman, strolling along a beach came upon a friend having his way with a distinctly unresponsive woman. "Pierre! Pierre!" he cried. "Arretez vous! That woman, she is dead!" "Mon dieu!" Pierre replied, "I thought she was English." The other more fairly represents what I judge to be the proper perspective. It deals with two Englishwomen who were lamenting their sexual obligations to their mates. "But, my dear," sighed one, "it is so awful! How do you stand it?" "Oh," the second answered, "I just grit my teeth and think of England."
     Perhaps it is this teeth gritting love of homeland that explains much about them. I came upon my first instance of it twenty three years ago—almost to the the day—in Italy,when I was wounded along with more than a dozen others knocked down by one mortar shell. The casualty nearest me was Clar Wyld, of Glossop, Derbyshire. He was hit worse than I and bled profusely from several non fatal but serious wounds in the head, face, and chest. During our four mile trip to the evac hospital he groaned frequently with pain and worried two or three times about the blood that had filled his eyes. He did some suffering, I know, for several hours on his hospital cot next to mine.
     Just before dark, a crisp sister gave all of us a very strong cup of tea. Clar, whose face bandages had by that time been pushed up over his brows, raised up weakly and drank his, with tentative sip¬pings at first and then in tongue scalding gulps. Within ten minutes, he was up from his cot. "I'm off to the half track," he whispered to me as he crept out. "Like a silly ass I left the code book by the radio. It won't do to leave that lying around for Jerry. I'll be back." In about an hour and a half he was back, with his code book and a happy report that getting rides both ways was easy. I don't think he was able to get on his feet again until more than a week later.
     Every day here I witness Englishmen performing in a manner really quite similar to—if under circumstances less critical than—Clar’s. I have had a ride to town with a man whose cheer-fulness was not at all dampened by the fact that his car's second gear failed frequently or that one of the doors was secured by a stout rope. I have heard the daughter in law of Lady Pearson (who occupied the Abbey as a tenant before FDU bought it) fondly recollect that her mother in law, when she leased the Abbey, resolutely wrapped an afghan about her seventy some year old ankles and greeted with quick impatience all complaints about the drafty old mansion's frostiness.
     Yesterday on the Banbury Tysoe bus with Patty, I rose to give my seat to a heavily burdened woman in her forties. "Not a bit of it, duck," she smiled. "This is jolly good here." As a return for my gallantry she did agree that I should put one of her several large parcels between my feet. As we drove along I looked out at Banburians standing meditatively or chattily in twisting queues inside post office and cleaning shop doors or musing through the windscreens of their little cars caught in one of the traffic snarls made unending by the narrow main streets and highways.
     Patty and I got off the bus with Jessie Cook, the woman who opens her living room as the village post office and who had been marketing in Banbury. Jessie walked briskly because the time was 4:40, and her second postal time block should begin each weekday at 4:30. When the three of us reached her cottage we came upon three villagers who had arrived promptly at 4:30 to buy stamps. They were busily expressing concern about the "wretched little blue tits," chickadee like birds here which have learned to spot the milkman's rounds and to tear holes in the aluminum foil caps of delivered pintas so that they can sip off a quarter inch or so of cream. "Nasty little things," one woman was clucking. "Let the wasps into the bottles, they do." They greeted Jessie warmly. None of them showed the least impatience about her being fifteen minutes late.
     Something more than a species of spiritual regard for tooth gritting may, however, be involved in the production of their sturdy quality. The services and products available may have a large part in shaping the character of those for whom they exist. One or two of my notes earlier in this journal serve as partial examples of what I have in mind. My sampling of "TCP," one of the few English mouthwashes I have seen on Banbury's shelves, can be cited as another evidence. It's nauseating, a curious blending of creosote and formaldehyde. Its remarkable taste lingers for hours, even when one dilutes the liquid with five parts of water and has a hearty breakfast right after using it. I read the label last evening as I flapped my still beefy tongue about in my mouth and noted that Englishmen are advised to swish the substance around twice daily.
     I thought of their toilet paper, their barbers, their cooks, and their market places' open air fish stalls in which a side of plaice may lie, unrefrigerated—in the sun and under attack by flies and wasps—for eight hours or more. My reflections helped me to accept a little less incredulously the conduct of the Clar Wylds. They also, I admit with a touch of regret, diminished ever so slightly my previously boundless awe and admiration over this people's indestructible thumbs up defiance to the worst of Hitler's fire bombings.

Monday, March 24, 2008

5 November 1966

A good bit of the program is honestly remarkable. The good points plentiful. Yesterday, for instance, we heard an M.P. full of elegance and practical political wisdom, and this coming Thursday we are meeting him in London for another talk and a guided tour of Parliament. Just a little while ago we had a brilliant lecture by Inga Stina Ewbank, a Swedish scholar from the University of Liverpool, who cast her prepared notes aside and fashioned a marvelous impromptu analysis of Tourneur's Revenger's Tragedy, just a week before all of us were to see it at Stratford. (The production is the first major one in about 300 years, and it is reportedly really fine. Ted Ross had run up from his London sabbatical digs to see it, and he and I and Rhoda and Patty literally bumped into each other in the lobby.)
     We've been to castles, universities, schools, village meetings, shrines, cathedrals, and landmarks of all sorts and have been visited by some of Britain's best scholars and lecturers. (One of them even came from Edinburgh to meet our classes.) We've heard, in addition, directors, actors, musicians, architects, political organizers, mayors, solicitors, museum keepers, and amateur and professional archaeologists. One of our lectures we heard in the 14th-century schoolroom where Shakespeare studied as a boy and four more in the Institute where a team of Shakespeareans is now preparing a new edition of the plays. The first of our "Schools and Schooling" lectures was presented by an Eton master in the High Room where several prime ministers had their early lessons. Another, on British prehistory, will soon be offered in the Ashmolean Museum by the Senior Keeper.
     As a result of some letters I wrote to the Banbury Historical Society and a local industrialist, two of our students, working respectively on 17th-century puritanism and marketing techniques, are drawing upon a unique ms. of sermons by a 1600 Banbury preacher named Whately and data made available by a local coffee-making subsidiary of General Foods. Still another student, having visited Stratford seven times and read Jan Kott and Martin Esslin, is analyzing the R.S.C.'s absurdist modifications of Shakespeare's plays.
     All of this is cause for delight, and on at least three days of every week here I am convinced that I am in a kind of academic Elysium.