The next letter was a double - so much to write about that it required two aerograms sent at the same time.
Dear mum, I received a letter from you before I left the OVC, by the way, in case you thought I hadn't got anything. Got a letter from wee Glenda Ferrall in Aussie today. [ I think she worked on the NZ Opera Co’s Die Fledermaus as part of the backstage crew. Certainly there was a Glenda Ferrall listed as a stage manager in Australia ] She says she did a war-dance around the school when she got the news that I’d come over here – but I don’t know whether to believe her or not...! Well, to bring you up to date. On Saturday, due to receiving a last minute message to see [Mike] at NZ House at 11.45, I scampered out to Plaistow at eight in the morning – making the people at OVC think I hadn't and wouldn't pay my bill – and then when I’d had breakfast at the flat, I scampered back to town and just arrived in time to be there before Mike. He and Kathleen were off to Spain, hitch-hiking, and so I gave them my address and we chatted a bit, and then I said I must be off to see Reg. So I dashed onto another train, although at that stage I had a good half-hour up my sleeve, and arrived out at Wood Green station at midday. Unfortunately that day was the day they introduced a new bus service, and the bus that I’d caught with ease on the Thursday night wasn’t running. So after standing there cursing and muttering, I decided to walk to Reg’s place. I knew it was a fair distance, but I thought I’d do it before 12.30, after which time I was supposed to have rung them to tell them that I might be late. Well, I walked and walked (!) but still after going for half an hour hadn't got to the street that connects with Woodland Way [where Reg and Mavis lived]. And it was so hot. (The weather has been superb since I arrived – you can’t see the sun, but the surrounding haze is very warm). Anyway, I thought I’d ring him, and tell him I was having difficulties. By the time I’d discovered that since I was so close to the place I was ringing and was ringing from a Post Office (on a Sat. – everything is open) [in New Zealand at this period, everything was closed on a Saturday] and had found I didn’t need the sixpence I’d just carefully changed for two 3ds, it was getting on. [A slightly confusing sentence I can’t unravel.] However, as it turned out, I was only a street away from the connecting road. Aagh.
Anyway, it didn’t matter – lunch was by no means ready, and Reg and I sat in the garden and talked. Met Mavis’ sister, too – she’s not nearly the invalid I’d imagined, just looks pale and wan, but has a cheeky sense of humour – like so many of the British. You really begin to understand what kept them going through all the war years when you’re living amongst them. [I probably never told my mother this, but in my first week in London, I stopped at a stall that was selling stationery and asked for a rubber – as erasers were then known in New Zealand. He looked at me quizzically, and made one of the cheeky remarks that I claimed above that was typical of the British. Probably thought I was a twat. The Brits on the other hand didn’t always get our NZ humour, which has a slightly darker streak to it, I think. I remember one of the other students at the Opera Centre telling me that people thought some of the things I said were rude; to me they’d merely been typical examples of NZ humour.]
|St Albans Cathedral from the west, showing Grimthorpe's 19th century west front|
After dinner – NZ lamb! – we went for a long ride, originally the intention being that we should go to St Albans Cathedral, last on the rather lengthy list of several places we went to. Follow? But we spent so much time wandering about Epping Forest, and Nazeing, where they all used to live (Mavis’ family next door to Reg and Mavis) and of course stopping off for the essential cup of tea and cakes (at a really old place – the walls were all ye olde wood, and it was held up by great logs that looked as though someone had taken a hack at) and collecting a dozen eggs because they are farm-fresh, that by the time we got to St A’s it was closing time. so we got in the door and out again. But what a fantastic place! It seems to go on forever, length-wise, and is tall and wide to match. And this is only one of the lesser churches. (St Paul’s, which I’ve now been in twice, is always in the middle of a service, and one can’t go right round and see everything.) With a bit of luck however we’ll call there this coming Saturday! I’ve been invited out to stay the night this time – supposedly because it’s such a long trip from my place to theirs. It’s more awkward than long. I have to change tubes about three times. [It was typical of a trip in the Anglia that we never got where we wanted to go, quite, and that it took us forever to get home again, because everyone else would be out for a weekend ride as well, and traffic jams were common.]
After tea, Reg showed me (and the others) some slides. Quite frankly, I could have done without them, but they were fairly interesting, and I could scarcely be rude when they were doing so much for me. This troubles me a bit, or more than a bit, really – they’re doing so much for me, for my pleasure entirely almost, and I can’t do a thing in return. However, this Sat, I’ll try and get some flowers to take out – that’s a start.
On Sunday, I spent an hour almost looking for a Catholic Church. The only trouble with the A to Z Guide is that it merely marks a church as existing, it doesn’t say what religion it is, so I went in an entire circle, or rather square, by the time I’d been and come back, and saw just how much suburbia there is here. I’d rather imagined that Plaistow would sort of stop, there’d be a gap, and then I’d come to whatever the next place is; but no, the Coronation St type-streets go on and on and unbelievably on. and many of them really do resemble C. St. Anyway, I eventually went to Church in the next suburb completely – and found out that the local church is only marked Convent on my map, and is only two streets away! Aaagh! But at least I saw a lot of the area. It’s quite fantastic the way it never ends. (The ride with Reg showed this too.)
In the afternoon I caught up on all the washing, but haven’t done any ironing yet. Was to do it tonight, but I think it’ll be too late, now. I’ve got an iron – did all the washing in the sink with a basin in it. [I tried washing the sheets in the bath, and then was told by my landlady that she did those as part of the rent.]
Yesterday I decided it was time I did some piano work, and so after checking with the school went and used one or their practice rooms for about an hour. [These were in the basement of the building.] Met up with Ann Gordon again – had I told you? I met her when I first went there last week and thought it was funny how distant she was, because during Albert Herring, I’d become practically her father-confessor! [Who knows now what this means...] Yesterday she explained that she hadn't quite been able to place me, though she knew my name all right. This was quite a relief as I thought perhaps she was embarrassed or some such at my being there!
After this I walked along the Commercial Road (incidentally it is now raining outside!) and then continued to walk until I came to the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London itself. (You can actually walk into town from C. Rd, but I keep getting sidetracked, apart from its being a long walk.) [It is a long walk, but I used to walk a lot in those days; I remember walking from the Opera Centre to Oxford St, about four and half miles, very soon after I arrived.] So after a bite to eat, on the Embankment, I went and got a ticket to go to the Tower. Just by chance I caught a Beefeater as he was starting his spiel, and so I joined with..
[handwritten] I’ll have to carry on in another letter, luv Mike.
Dear mum, carrying straight on: with his group, and it was very informative and interesting. And frequently wryly amusing. Ugh, some of the things that have gone on there. It’s quite horrible really. After he disposed of his group in the Chapel Royal (I think)- (carefully standing at the door so that everyone had to tip him as they went out, and telling those left that they’d have to leave as well because the next group was just about to come in; still he was worth 6d) - I went on and looked at the armour museum. (The crown jewels had such a crowd I left them for another day.) The collection of armour and weaponry they have here is absolutely astonishing. Some of it goes right back to Henry 8th and earlier, and how they must have boiled in the suits. Most of them cover all the front, except of course what I suppose is the equivalent of a man’s fly these days, and only the back of the torso at the back, but some of the suits cover everything, and I mean everything. Ugh! [This is possibly a reference to one of the suits having a metal codpiece: see photo] There were horses’ suits and even an elephant’s. Most of them are on models too, which makes it much more interesting. On the second floor of the White Tower which is the one you can see in all the pictures, is a beautiful little chapel – all white and clean, and un-stained-glass. Apparently, originally the three floors, and the basement of this tower had no windows! and it was C. Wren who was commissioned to put them in – through 15 feet of stone! (Dear old Wren turns up all over the place – he built the Monument to the Great Fire, which was where I was headed yesterday, but didn’t get to till today, and it stands near the Thames, and involves a climb of 311 steps round and round. But the view through the haze is tremendous.) And his house is just opposite the Church on the other side of the Thames. I spent quite a while at the Tower – so did some other people, about 15 to 20 years in some cases, in one or two rooms – and then I hopped on a boat which took me down to Westminster and which showed us some of the sights (which we could actually see from the land of course!) [Plainly, in the light of my limited budget, it was cheaper to be a tourist in London in those days.] There are lots of visitors here all the time. Americans, in droves, and all knowing nothing about where they are or what they’re looking at, as far as I can see, and also French (who take it all in with great interest, but making considerably less noise about it) and Germans and Italians. So what with them speaking tongues I don’t understand and the great variety of dialects, I might as well have stayed in Rome! I have no intention of speaking beautiful English, incidentally – very few Londoners do, even the middle-class lot; in fact I’ll probably wind up speaking like an East-Ender, which is really harsh and grating. [I had to learn to speak more clearly for the English in general; the normal quiet Kiwi voice just wasn’t understood by many Brits. I came home eventually speaking a good deal more like a middle-class English person than a Cockney, incidentally.]
Anyway, I’d gone up to the West End (which doesn’t necessarily entail going to the Theatre, as I’d always imagined!) to see if I could get a standing room seat for a play that Richard Briars is in, (actually the box-office lady said that I’d really have to stand though Mike said this isn’t so), but all the other seats in the house hadn't been sold, so, I went down and got a Gallery seat for The Importance of Being Earnest, for 4/-. [This production apparently ran for nine months, continually sold out.] This meant leaning forward and seeing the whole thing under the rail separating us from the Upper Circle, but it was worth it. And the hard high seats. A very beautiful production, with a lot of excellent acting and details, and with a marvellous cast: Daniel Massey (guess whose son?) and John Standing (whom I’d seen in three films and who was the best in this cast) as the two young men, Isabel Jeans as Lady Bracknell, Flora Robson as Miss Prism, amongst others. But there was an American girl behind me, with an Arabian girl, I think, and all the American got out of it was the fact that it was all terribly artificial, which was precisely the cast’s intentions, and some very obscure points that neither Wilde nor the Producer can have been greatly bothered with. Two French girls who sat through the first act must have felt very lost, and left after that.
Today I went back to the Opera Centre – I’ve discovered just how quickly I can get there – by cutting out two stations entirely and walking for about ten minutes through some not-too-back streets. It’s 6d cheaper too. I then went to the Monument, and then just wandered. Got church-mania – and kept on finding another in a most unexpected spot. There are dozens around London and not just small ones either – all have at least pretensions at greatness. In two I found someone doing some organ practice, the first was actually having a lesson and was playing something very bright, and in the second the lady was preparing for a recital tomorrow, I think, and played two fairly lengthy things both based around a simple tune, but filled up and around and below and behind with all sorts of interesting ornamentations and effects. I’ve never heard anything like some of the sounds that evolved: curious wind-like whistlings, great lugubrious rumblings, etc, and not just plain old harmony either – both had some very weird and wonderful chords in them, unless the lady wasn’t as good as I thought.
Had my first large tea here tonight. Pork chops (more meat on them than lamb, I think) with potatoes and cauli. Nothing was really thoroughly cooked, however: the meat seemed to me to be catching fire all the time, and probably didn’t have a chance with me anxiously looking at it all the time, and the potatoes and c. didn’t have enough time, because I though that the meat was being overcooked – it wasn’t! But I thoroughly enjoyed the lot – had to put it on a bigger cold plate, too, after keeping a plate in the warming part all the time! Still the oven has a good booklet accompanying it, so I’m sure I’ll have some success yet. May even be able to invite Uncle R and Aunt M out for tea!!? (I’ve decided I’d better call them that – it seems that they prefer it, by the way Uncle Reg refers to Aunt Mavis all the time). Thank God for their radio, incidentally. It’s been invaluable already – particularly when all the electricity goes off – as it did in the middle of cooking the meal tonight!! Lots of love, Mike.