Monday, March 14, 2011

Saturday 10 March 1945, Marks Hall

My dear
             It was very thoughtful of you to write me a letter on Thursday which would help to carry me over the weekend. It arrived this morning. It is a beautiful picture you draw of your placid self ruminating over a cup of hot milk before going to bed with Hardy. I am very pleased to hear that you are taking this wise passivity so seriously.

             I envy you having all the old favourite books at hand. I have read just about all I want to read of the library here: the remainder consists of books that no-one could ever read even on a desert island. The charm about re-reading the classics is that you know you won't be disappointed and your relish for the good bits seems to grow with familiarity.

             At present I am picking my way through Memoirs of a Mountaineer by F. Spencer Chapman. In addition to doing a lot of Himalayan climbing he went as a member of a British diplomatic mission to Lhasa. But in spite of all the interesting things he saw and did in Tibet, his book makes dull reading except when he deals with the rigours of his climbing. The only really gripping passages describe hours spent on icy windswept ridges or long nights in freezing bivouacs at 23000 feet. Modern writers about mountains are inclined to jeer at the pompous style assumed by some of their Victorian predecessors like Tyndall and Wills. But the latter, with all their obvious faults, had an instinct for drama which the modern writers, more restrained in their feelings or possibly more truthful, lack completely. I like to read the pompous and grandiose thoughts which the Victorians ascribed to themselves on completing a difficult climb, even though at the time they probably thought on nothing but bursting lungs and hearts.


             I am continuing this at the astonishing hour of 6am. I have been on night duty; have done some work, had a little sleep and I am now looking forward to breakfast and then more sleep in my billet. It's amazing how hungry one gets during the night in spite of sandwiches which the Mess provides. ...
Meanwhile you will be doing your azure-lidded act for another three hours at least. But instead of the candied quince and other delicacies which Keats imagined near his sleeping beauty, you'll have an odd pint or two of certified on your table, or a box of vitamin tablets.

                                                                                                                                    5 hours later

            I have had breakfast and a short snooze and now I want to finish this note for the mid-day post. Last night I started reading O Absalom by Howard Spring. One of the men in the billet brought it in and with vague recollections of some sexy passages in Shabby Tiger, I grabbed the book. However it is very disappointing, full of slushy sentiment by Irish characters who all talk like Deirdre of the Sorrows. The Irish are tolerable when they are light-hearted but when they start wailing in their Celtic Twilight, I've had it.

           Note incidentally how that beautiful RAF phrase lends itself to the periodic construction of sentences. And while on this subject, I've discovered another failing of mine: Fowler speaks slightingly of the persons who in handwriting, "are well content if they get a dot in somewhere within measurable distance of its 'i'".

          I am looking forward to hearing you again tonight: it's lovely how the weeks are slipping past. Please continue to lead the life of a beautiful vegetable. I'm sure it must be doing you a lot of good after your too busy life in recent years. And you can ask yourself how many children we should need to have to make it worth your while standing in queue at the post office each week to collect the State's benison on your fertility.

          Sweetheart, this letter is more nonsensical than usual. .... I hope you will keep well from now on. Just be as selfish and indulgent as you like.

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