Thursday, April 28, 2016

Latest addition

The latest addition to the Hannagan clan: Mason Andrew Kellett, born on Saturday the 24th April. 7 lb 15 oz.

Mason is the grandchild of Jane (Hannagan) and John Kellett, and the son of Peter and Bex.

According to the Family Tree relationships graph, this makes him my mother's brother's daughter's son's son, which to me seems a rather long-winded way of putting it. He's my cousin's grandchild, would be a lot easier! I think it makes him something like my first cousin twice removed, but I'm not at all sure on that.

Here he is, presumably with his father...or maybe his grandfather...

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I come to a sudden halt...

I've just discovered that the next letter I have in the pile containing those I wrote from the UK to NZ in 1970 was written in December 1970. The ones following that are equally spasmodic. This doesn't mean I suddenly stopped writing; it just means that I probably have the letters written between March 1970 and December in another place. In fact, I've just hauled out a huge pile of letters from another part of the house: there may be a couple of hundred letters here. Not all of them were written by me to my mother; I've already found some from relatives and friends.

So my next task is to sort these into some sort of order. So far there have been several from the time when I toured around NZ with the NZ Opera Company. Plainly they'll have to be dealt with separately to the English ones.

I'll blog again when I've done the sort-out!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

24.2.70 Mostly about the new job

This letter is out of order in these blog posts, but the list of blogs shows where it should fit.
24.2.70 [Typed on both sides of three and a half narrow and short, pale green, sheets of paper]
Dear Mum, I was all set to sit down and write to you and discovered I seem to have run out of air letters, so I hope the look of this didn’t shock you too much. Still no news from the CIB which naturally enough I’m finding a bit distressing. The stage we’re at, at the moment, is that of the girl making up her mind what she thinks of me from the scanty information she has and the shocking photo. Obviously it’s a difficult task! I can’t contact her personally at all until after she has replied to the CIB to say she’ll have an ‘introduction arranged for her’ and then they write to me again, and tell me I can write to her but still through them ˗ Oh! What a complicated business! It’s only after she then replies directly to me that either of us finds out who the other is and where they live! The more I think about it the funnier it seems. I’m glad I went into that like that because it’s shown me the funny side of it that I’d lost sight of. I read a little CTS pamphlet the other day which had a quotation from a poem by Francis Thompson (whom personally I don’t much care for but who seems in this case to have come up with a very nice little saying). It was:
Is my gloom after all
Shade of His hand outstretched caressingly?
which, once you’ve worked out the slightly upside down grammar is rather to the point, though in our usual way we manage to think God is mismanaging things for us instead of probably (quite definitely!) the other way around.
I had Michael T and a girlfriend of his, Mickey, and Kevin Rowlands up to lunch on Sunday afternoon, and though Kevin bought a bottle of vino with him (I have bought one and so had Mike) he doesn’t drink, and so we other three, possibly a little rudely, but....sat round and drank off one bottle ˗ the other two can now wait for another party sometime! He seems a pleasant sort of chap though not a conversationalist to any degree which makes things a little difficult (and Mike wasn’t as co-operative in this department as usual; he’s getting all introspective lately) but we all survived, and he has returned the compliment and I’ll have to wend my way down to his flat (with two other guys and four cats and three dogs!) sometime when he calls to arrange a date. I hope he’s more at home in his own place. There’s not much of the theatrical about him ˗ he strikes me as one of those totally theatre people whom you could still pass on the street and barely notice. He’s tall, a little heavier than that photo Mrs Leslie showed us, and generally quiet. And strangely enough reminds me a lot of Kevin Flaherty. (Have you ever noticed how people of the same name tend to have certain characteristics [in common]? Or am I just making that up to suit my argument? But even in our family at home the various namesakes are all more than a little alike, whether they would necessarily admit it or not.) (Perhaps it’s just what we take from the name: when we meet someone else of the same name as someone we already know we start to look for similarities.)
Well, I started my new job yesterday, with the worst nerves I’ve had in a long while; though it may also have been the fact that I slept very badly the night before. I had thought I’d grown over all that sort of thing, but it would appear not. I certainly wasn’t the only one ˗ even our instructress, a Mrs Bullitt (would you believe?) seemed nervous, which was rather nice. She’s nothing that her name might imply; it has rather Dickensian overtones, and one imagines a gaunt upright severe person who has a not a jot of patience with dunderheads. She is, however, a littler lady, about 5’2” or 3” with a pleasant though tired expression and isn’t always quite with what is going on, so that her smile tends to follow after the joke, and after everyone else has laughed. She is inclined to not always quite say what she means though generally the meaning is clear, and only needs verification. That is the classroom Mrs Bullitt. The extra-tutorial Mrs B is even more pleasant, not so tired, taller (?), and ever so slightly livelier. I hesitate to think that it’s because she has been doing the job for a good while, but I suspect that’s the case. She is probably in her late forties, though the classroom Mrs Bullitt seems somewhat older.
Did I tell you that we have seven weeks training before we’re let loose on the public? I think they have to have us at some stage before that but I’m not sure. And we’re paid throughout ˗ though 2/- less for some reason, per week. We spend this time round Cannon St or Wren House, which is opposite St Paul’s. So it’s an area I’ve not really spent a great deal of time in before and it’s rather interesting. One of the other men and myself went for a walk at lunchtime today and went over the London Bridge where they are at present building a new one while the other is shipped, stone by stone, to America. The Tower is five minutes’ walk away, and it’s altogether one of the older parts of London. I go to Liverpool St on a real train, not a tube, from the station three minutes away (instead of ten or twenty as they were before) and it’s 6d cheaper than before, and then walk for about seven minutes down to Cannon St. One could go by the main roads from Liverpool St to C. St, but fortunately the ancient residents of London beat pathways between all these which still exist in the form of one-way alleyways, and by following about four of these down, I save quite a bit of time. They all connect to each other practically, so obviously I’m following in the footsteps of some old Londoner who wasn’t bother to spend his time touring back and forth when he could go direct.
Our class has already dwindled from eleven to eight in the first two days: two of them never arrived and one middle-aged lady just didn’t come back today. The rest of the class consists of two other men (thank God ˗ one poor bloke two weeks ahead of us got stuck by himself in a class of women) (and spends his afternoon teas alone. He seems a nice enough guy, though not bubbling with personality ˗ how cruel can women be? And anyway I thought they were the predatory sex? What are they doing?) [More to the point, perhaps, what on earth am I talking about?] one of whom is probably somewhere along the line of Jewish extraction and is called Jerry Levi, and seems a not too bad guy, married with a couple of kids, thin (don’t be fooled by the two cardigans, his wife, I have no doubt, has made him wear under his shirt) with a wide grin of a mouth, and a smoker’s ˗ a heavy smoker’s ˗ laugh. About 45, let’s say.
The other guy is Larry Boyles (what a name, I ask you?) ˗ huge, weighs sixteen stone, looks about 25 or so, but an Eastender, which means he has a certain non-youthful characteristic. For example, he talks like an old man, seems to find life just a little on the puzzling side, and never manages to hear what you say in quite the way you say it, because like most Eastenders, he assumes what you are going to say and gives the answer to that, when in fact you may have been a little more subtle. Perhaps it’s me ˗ I don’t speak so good, maybe?
The women are two middle-aged buddies (though I suspect they’d never met before yesterday), both divorcees-again-married, both the bright sparks of the company; a quality of their age more than their personalities, since one who is married to an American (previously to a Chinese!) and who has lived around the world for some years has few of the qualities one associates with a well-travelled person, and the other, who used to work at Scotland Yard (and who claimed she’d heard and seen everything there ˗ I felt like telling here where I’d been for the last six months!!) and who has been nicknamed Fuzz, seems only to be a cynic, and doesn’t really the true appreciation of the funny side of life that makes a cynic bearable.
There are two quite young girls (one named Miss Weller, who, being an Eastender, reminds me irresistibly of Sam Weller in Pickwick Papers) and a girl of I suppose twenty-two or so, who is something like a beanstalk in a mini-skirt, with glasses. But everybody is very friendly in that they return your smiles and only laugh at you because they’re glad they didn’t put their foot in it.
The building is very hot in true Civil Service style ˗ though as everybody is at pains to point out, the Post Office is now a Corporation not a Govt. Dept., and I stopped wearing the t-shirt that I had on under my shirt today in order to try and let a little air in. I always thought that 60o was the sort of comfortable temperature but I’ve seldom struck a place that is as cool as that. (The theatres here, particularly the Opera Houses, are horribly hot in winter.)
About your [Bonus] Bond(s) ˗ I hope that you eventually get something out of them ˗ it would be nice for you to be provided with a decent sort of ‘pension’ as it were for your old age. (I mean when you’re pushing one hundred or so!)
About the books: it seems that we’ve nearly got everything sorted out again. Would it seem like very bad manners on my part if sometime in the near future I made up another little list? You could stop two or three of these postal orders you aren’t supposed to be sending me to compensate, couldn’t you? It’s some odds and sods books which I’ll think about; but one or two may come in handy for the teacher’s exam. Doris had a friend of long-standing over here who died recently and left her all his music. Perhaps I should say that he left me and some other pupils all his music, as this is where it seems to be finally ending up. I have bought one lot from her so far for a £1(quite how the economics work out I don’t know) which in fact would have cost me a lot more, secondhand, to buy and even more new. About £10 at least. So I’m glad. And I’ve bought some other music off her that is old stuff she no longer can use, for very minimal amounts, which will come in handy for sightreading and perhaps teaching music.
Remember Margaret from work, at the cinema? We had a huge chat on the last night, when she stayed right through my working hours sitting just to talk. I’ve given her my phone number and she’s already rung me once since ˗ and I told her she must come up for a meal, because for a start she lives on her own. I don’t think there is any danger of things getting involved ˗ I hope not; perhaps I’m a bit thick where women are concerned, but from what she has said (I’ve had a good deal of her history) it seems unlikely that she is interested in me for any other reason than friendship. Friendship in the quite ordinary sense. Oh dear, I hope things won’t be messy. No, I don’t think they will. What’s this? [the last line ran downhill on the page.] Love Mike.

[The last half page has a line across the top: Been trying to think what to do with this]

14.3.70 An evening with Jerry

[A bit of a hiatus in terms of carrying on with blogging these old letters...tied up with music rehearsals and performances over the last several weeks.]

14.3.70 [two aerogrammes]

Dear Mum, you’ll be glad to know that the cold seems to have been dealt a blow on the head, in a way I hadn’t quite anticipated: but at least it’s been gotten rid of. I explain how, presently. [Actually I never get round to explaining why!]
You know, it seems to be one of my things in life (I remember Margaret saying that everyone seems to have a particular thing: she says she had never had to worry about money, for instance, it just appeared) to be picking up lame ducks and attempting some sort of repair job; though it’s only in the last couple of years, or even less, that I’ve really been reasonably capable of doing it. [That might have been overstating the case, I think.]
Remember Jimmy Wilson at school? He must have been about the first. Well, you will recall that in my recent letters when I talked about the PO class, I mentioned Jerry Levy? I’m afraid (no, not afraid, but...I don’t know what the word would be) he’s my latest acquisition. He has let drop the occasional hint of some unhappiness at home (he’s 38, has a boy and a girl, and ‘a wife of independent means’ as he puts it) and quite obviously doesn’t have a happy marriage. Anyway, yesterday after work, we finished up at Wren House, getting our lockers etc in order for next week ˗ we will work there in future (right next door to St Paul’s; what more inspiring locale could you have?). Jerry, who normally rushes off, mentioned ultra-casually that I might like to have a cup of coffee if I wasn’t pressed for time? I wasn’t, and so we went to the nearest joint. One thing led to another and we finally spent the whole evening together talking and drinking, and he finished up on half of the bed at the flat here. I slept on the floor on the mattress part of it ˗ quite comfortably; in fact, I suspect I was better off altogether.
 It transpired in the coffee shop, after a little prodding and coaxing from yours truly, that Jerry wasn’t going home that night, again ˗ he’d spent the previous night in some hotel ˗ and he suggested going and having a drink. He was obviously not looking forward to spending the remainder of the evening on his own, and so I said if I could have something to eat I’d have a drink or two. We went to a place still nearby, in the newly-built St Paul’s Piazza or whatever-it-is, and over the meal we got to talking and I got some more out of him. To be fair, he did some prodding and prying of his own, which made me feel less rude (rude? not the word either). But due to this conversation and the ensuing very lengthy one in the St Christopher Wren, just round the corner (it could be very old ˗ it could be very fake) we seemed to discover that we were sort of soul-mates, to put it in an odd way. But do you know what I mean? When you find that someone is quite content to be in your company and to talk and be rude to you and laugh at your jokes and put with all your foibles (while also pointing them out!) and you are equally content to be in his.
At that stage of the evening I hadn’t really felt in the position of assisting his lame-duckness ˗ we were quite on a par, friendship-wise, and just sitting around talking, keeping each other alive. Jerry, it seems, has had a sort of recurring thing where he goes off and leaves his wife ˗ or is told to go (I think the latter often as not), and after a while they somehow come back to each other, through some indefinable ‘x’ factor that holds marriages like his together. On the last bout, he went off to Spain for two months until he was forced to return because he couldn’t get any more work, and he doesn’t know how long he’ll be away this time. He was off to find a bed-sit when I last saw him today. It’s terrible, isn’t it? But it’s nice to know that the Good Lord looks after everybody, really. This guy is so no particular believer, or any more good than the next guy, but somehow or other our paths have crossed, and, last night, at least I was able to fill a gap for him.
He’s mad on old films, too, and for much of the time we just talked favourite film scenes. He was amazed that I’d seen so many films that were made before I was born even, and at one stage said, in a sort of grateful way to no one in particular, that he had to meet up with some bloke from 12,000 miles away before he could talk on his own level about a subject like this. It’s all rather incredible, isn’t it really?
I gave up thinking about going home at any particular time in the end, and just let the evening go on unplanned. One of the strangest things of the whole rather strange evening however was when, after I’d been to the loo and had come up the stairs thinking ‘I wonder if he’d sooner come home to the flat and spend the night there; (rather than spend it in a bleak hotel room in Kings Cross as he planned?) and had practically decided that I couldn’t really ask him, he then turned round and asked if he could kip down on the floor at my flat! Now, that is odd. I was very glad he’d asked and naturally said, Yes.
Anyway, after we’d finished up at the C Wren, he suggested going along to the Spanish Bar which is near Leicester Square, just for a last drink, or some similar ridiculous excuse. So we went, and eventually found ourselves in the hot and smoky and atmosphere-laden basement bar: it was as phoney as a film set, and full of real Spaniards and phoney ones. Jerry was one of the phoney ones! He has Spanish ancestry not very far back, and with that and
[second aerogramme]
the recent Spain trip, and the fact that he is quite a linguist: (he has German and French up his sleeve too) he was able to speak quite reasonable Spanish to the people who would talk to him. Actually the atmosphere was quite friendly, and people were talking on the most casual bases. But, for some crazy reason, he was determined that he shouldn’t be an Englishman for the night, and neither should I and I finally wound up being, at his decision, a Norwegian! And the funniest thing was that we had a couple of people on! A little Indo-European man and his Derbyshire girlfriend were the victims ˗ Jerry’s victims I hasten to add; I barely said a word, though I rather put my foot in it. I was not supposed to be able to speak English, and Jerry and I were talking in awkward German as a sort of mutual language (I can’t remember whether he was supposed to be a very linguistic Spaniard at this stage or not) when the girl asked how long I’d been here, thinking no doubt it was strange I hadn’t picked up any English. I said, like a fathead, in a mixture of sort of bad German and bad English, 18 months, and she then said to Jerry, assuming that I wouldn’t understand that it was a bit odd that I hadn’t learned any English in that time ˗ how on earth did I get around? After that I shut up and pretended to be a homesick Norwegian or something, and looked especially gloomy, and Jerry carried on bantering them in Spanish and English and heaven knows what! All extremely mad, and highly improbable, but never mind.
It got fairly late and we were there till nearly closing time in the end. (They do have a sort of cabaret at this place ˗ Spanish dancing and guitar-playing, done on an infinitesimally-raised level, so that you to be six-foot tall to see; but since you don’t pay any special price, this is what you must put with.)
Anyway, Jerry and I wended our way to a bus and eventually got home. By this time he was starting to fall apart quite a lot, which surprised me really, as he seems generally to have bags of energy. We got home and he must have nearly gone berserk trying to figure out who all the people were ˗ it was one of those nights when they all arrived one after the other, and there seemed to be no end to the stream. So finally David and I put him to be, as it were, and shut up shop. But he kept making me feel as though I was making him a special guest of honour and showering him with riches. I told him to shut up in the end, and he did, pretty well. But in fact I wasn’t really treating him any better than I would have done if Mike had come or someone like that.
To hark, way back, to the lame duck bit; this seems to have come about late in the evening, when he lost some of his verve, and I became sort of father to the child if you see what I mean. So that’s the general picture of our Odyssey (the situation reminds me somewhat of James Joyce’s Ulysses where a young man and a middle-aged man become friendly over the space of one night).
Why do older people get on with me at all? I ought to make them feel out of date or something, shouldn’t I, by the law of the average statistical man? I think though, last night’s happening(s) came about partly by my new policy of trying to be open (at the risk of getting another mess) the same as I did with Margaret (who incidentally hasn’t yet been any bother, and if I have room I may be able to explain why I think this is so). And if it’s going to help somebody through an otherwise miserable and lonely night, I’m glad to do it, because I’ve had the same sort of loneliness myself at times. London is a terrible city for this, and I don’t intend to let it do its damage to anyone if I can help it. (New Policy Ruling Number Four!)
Thanks for your comments on the CIB (not CID, mother!) business. You’re not being old-fashioned in what you say about the financial side of things, though I must say I have the feeling that these days the girl herself contributes more to the marriage that she might have done 20 or 30 years ago, finance-wise. But I don’t rely on that. I must admit to feeling a little too impoverished to even be contemplating such a thing as marriage, but since there is not a great deal I can do about that at present, I can only save as much as possible (more possible in this job ˗ though not when I’ve spent the night drinking!) and remember my promised daily bread. And it does come. I don’t really get too uptight about money matters; whenever I do, I think, This is ridiculous ˗ I’m ten times better off than a lot of folk.
Jerry and I were discussing marriage quite a lot last night actually, though not from this point of view, and it would seem I’m pretty idealistic about certain aspects of it. But I don’t think I’m foolish about it. I know marriage is bloomin’ hard work, and I think I’m prepared for that. 
So! What a funny letter. I hope you don’t think I’m taking up with all sorts of odd people ˗ no, I’m sure you don’t ˗ but helping them helps me, and I’m one of the most incredibly selfish people around!

Rod, one of the flatmates, has a party on here tonight, so I don’t expect much sleep. I think I’ll go up to the laundrette actually! Lots of love, Mike. 

I haven't been able to identify the two pubs mentioned in this post: I think the Christopher Wren may no longer exist, and perhaps the Spanish Bar is now a restaurant. But perhaps not....

Monday, February 01, 2016

4.3.70 - new job, snow, life, women, fathers, etc

4.3.70 [Two aerogrammes - it’s likely there was a letter between this and the last one recorded]
Where has this wretched year gone to already? I was all prepared for a few more days in February and when I looked around next it was March.
I seem to have mixed up a bit over Kevin Rowlands, though it doesn’t matter at all. Mike didn’t bring him up here, but just said he’d known him at home, though for the life of me I can’t say I saw much sign of recognition! [No idea what that means.]
About the job since you’ll no doubt be a little concerned. We’re all settling in, without any further losses [of trainees, I think], and now have the distinction of not being entirely new ˗ there being another class behind us. We have done quite a lot of time (an hour each day) on the switchboards, consolidating what we learn in class. There are still dummy switchboards, but have the advantage of someone being at the other end (as opposed to our Mrs Bullitt making the appropriate noise beside us in class) turning on the right lights and sound effects.
We spent all last week learning how to cope with connecting up people from overseas to people in Great Britain, and this week are reversing the process and starting to put through calls to overseas places. The whole business is fairly complex, and taken on terribly easy stages, so that none of us can fail to pick it up. When we’re out at these switchboards at these moment, we have an instructor behind us helping us along if we go wrong, and so you’re really mollycoddled all the way. What an incredible system it all is though! You can dial straight to all the places in the world except China on the boards we will use, and though your man in Little-Chipping-on-the-Mud wants to speak to his brother in Afghanistan, all he has do is pick up his phone, and after he has passed through about three exchanges in England, he arrives at us, and we then put him on his way, via another two or three exchanges; the thing is that it’s only at his end, and at our middle section and at the other end that he actually comes across operators; the rest is done by innumerable permutations of numbers connecting him via the unnamed exchanges. Everything, but everything is coded, and no doubt eventually the operators will only be required to patch up mistakes that the machines or the nuisance human subscribers make. Just at the beginning of this week they brought in direct dialling for the man in the street in New York! [China actually came on board while I was working in the Exchange, sometime later; though we waited all the first day for someone to actually want to ring the place.] Just imagine what equipment there is behind it all: satellites, cables, radio links, etc.
That motley bunch of folk in my class that I described to you last week are sorting themselves out. Mrs Rogers and Mrs Ingle remain buddies, and the only things they have in common are their two marriages, and nerves every time before going to the switchroom. Mrs I is a Catholic (though how she managed the marriages bit, I'm not going to ask), and is much more the pleasant of the two ˗ about fortyish, always well-dressed, bright as a button, and with a mad sense of humour; Mrs R is more severe somehow, though not without humour, and is a good example of the permissive society at work; she doesn’t question it, one gets the impression, but somehow agrees with its tenets, and takes advantage of her up-to-dateness. She is not to be argued with as both Mr Levi and I have found out, not because she’s right, but because she thinks she’s right, and there isn’t another point of view. She’s survivable, however, because she is only a shadow in the brightness of Mrs I who has ten times the amount of real life in her. 
Mr Levi and I get on generally very well. He’s only half a Jew and hasn’t any of the mannerisms, and is only different from your average middle-class Londoner in that he is aware of things around him, and has a very good sense of humour : he is quite prepared to have the Mickey taken out of him and more often than not to take it out of himself. He is more sensitive than one might expect at first sight, and keenly aware of his own shortcomings. If it wasn’t for the sense of humour he would have a nasty chip on his shoulder stating that he is a ‘failure.’ As it is he can state this and smile. He is married, strangely enough, to a Catholic (what incredible Catholics there are in London) and doesn’t seem to get on with his wife at all by what he says. I suspect however that there is a good deal more security to his marriage than he would ever let on, and he is probably, paradoxically, secure in his failures. If you know your own faults, that’s half the battle; it’s only the small matter of correcting them then! [This long profile of Jerry Levi is interesting in the light of our future relationship: he was probably an alcoholic, though he had it under control enough to work, and we often went out after a shift and spent some time in a pub (this could be in the early hours of the morning, sometimes. He was a surprisingly open person, and we clicked strongly; he was like one of those slightly irresponsible uncles you have in some families. We worked for some time together (because the people you went through training with tended to wind up on your rosters. I don’t know whether the letters I have cover what happened with him: I went on holiday for a week at one point, some months later, and came back to discover he’d died suddenly, possibly from a wrong combination of alcohol and the medication he was on. I was in complete shock; he seemed to have been snatched out of my life. I never got to meet his family, nor heard what happened to them.]
The other guy, Hoss (as he’s nicknamed - he resembles in size, anyway, the Hoss of TV: I’m ‘St Michael’ ˗ so is the brand of Marks and Spencer clothes!; both of these are Mrs I’s doing) turns out to be the victim of the mass media mind, with an appreciation of trivia that would be hard to beat. Still, he is immensely good-natured, and on the surface, certainly, doesn’t appear to have a spot of badness in him. [I’m presume the ‘Hoss’ is the character from the TV series, Bonanza. I don’t know this fellow’s real name; it may have been Eric, as Hoss’ real name was, but it could have been something else entirely. Anyway, he was a big boy.]
The beanstalk girl of last week, is twenty, Irene, and gay. [‘Gay’ in the old sense.] She is the surprising product of a divorce but has the advantage of having always, obviously, been reasonably resilient and good-humoured. (It must be that only good-humoured people take on this job!) She is interesting to talk to, likes going round the city in her lunch hour looking at things (churches, what-have-you), reads books (unheard of amongst 90% of the trainees) ˗ there are about fifty or more) and is filling in time like the rest of us, I
[second aerogramme]
suspect, though it appears she is rather thrown out on the world due to the nature of her parents’ present situations; and is too tall for me. Anyway, she isn’t a Catholic so it matters not!
The other two girls are thick in different ways; one is an inverted snob and thinks she’s always being [There’s a long article online about working in the Exchange, situated at the Faraday Building, across from St Paul’s. You could look out some windows and see the Dome floating above you. Women worked day shifts only ˗ except Sundays ˗ and men worked all the night shifts. So we lost track of the women who’d trained with us very quickly, since our paths never crossed after that.]
got at and tells you to shut up if she can’t cope with you having her on, and the other, who is twenty-one, is just plain dumb, though impressionable with certain facts if persevered with!
...I’m finding life rather more trying than it was. This is no doubt the explanation: life has always been right for me, and I was content to go merrily along saying, Oh yes, I’m a Catholic, can’t you see? But in fact people couldn’t really see, and I think He wants something more from me, not just Mass two or three times a week and patting little children on the head, and giving a couple of bob to beggars, but some statement within myself that shows Him that I’m not only on the right road but am walking along it too ˗ not just sitting in the sun at the side. I’m no doubt being all waffly and vague again, and it all means something to me, but probably won’t by the time it reaches you! 
I haven’t heard from the CIB yet, and no doubt the Good God has that all worked out too, but as usual Crowl thinks he knows best, and says there is something wrong. In the words of me mum, we’ll offer it up and He’ll let us in on it all when He’s good and ready.
It’s been snowing here today (started overnight) and up this way it’s about four inches thick and turning to slush. I was tripping daintily home after work (here we’ve been getting off a quarter of an hour early each night, and tonight three-quarters of an hour, because the weather was bad! Talk about kids!) carefully keeping my feet dry and walking along in the thicker stuff which hadn’t been trampled to muck, when I jumped down off the kerb to cross a driveway onto what I thought was cleared, wet gravel and it turned out to be a miniature Lake Erie; I gave up after that and sploshed along in the best of the slush, with at least one thoroughly sodden foot. (Yes, yes, I was wearing four feet this evening ˗ clever!)
Margaret and I went and had a meal the other night (she went off to Paris the next day) and sat there for four hours talking! She is incredibly open about herself and inspires confidence in others to be the same. So we swapped stories of ourselves and our troubles and joys back and forth, and spent a quite pleasant evening. However in spite of all the laughter that came of it, I came away rather depressed: Life does seem to be a messy business, doesn’t it? Very few if any folk escape some muck-up, and for all the good it seems to do you, you often wonder if it’s worth it. (I’m not feeling suicidal, it’s okay.) And that in spite of faith. Only goes to show that we’re lacking in faith somewhere, doesn’t it? Marg’s a strange person: she told me things I never thought to hear from any woman (except perhaps a future wife!) and yet it wasn’t sensationalism on her part or anything ˗ she manages to convey the joys and sorrows of things without making them coarse or obscene. I feel actually that it doesn’t do a man any harm to know an older woman very well if she is open like this: it helps him to understand women so much better and to be able to understand a woman of his own age; because one of these will never be so open ˗ it’s a fact of her age. And yet how else are you to understand the females? If not from themselves? [Perhaps thinking I now knew everything about women. I didn’t.]
In your last aerogramme you talked a bit about dad; if it doesn’t hurt you too much, or do anything harmful to you, would you mind whenever you have a spare inch or two of an aerogramme left over and don’t know what to say, just writing some things about him that I don’t know? I have an incredibly incomplete picture of him. Only if it won’t upset you, mind. [It was about this time that I started feeling more and more than there was a hole in my life, in terms of my father, whom I hadn’t seen since I was three. Nor had I had any communication from him since then. He died in 1965, something we only discovered after the funeral was over. At the time it made little impact, but gradually the loss crept up, and eventually took many years to completely dispel.]
I haven’t been cutting my own hair recently, though I’ve only had one haircut since and can now do with another, but thanks for the thought anyway. Tell Des that I tried again to get his trimmer, but they say here that they are such a rarely-asked for item, that no one seems to stock them.  Love, Mike.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

18.2.70 - a new job, starting immediately.

18.2.70 [two aerogrammes, both handwritten]
Well, well, well, the order of things in this world does change rapidly. In my last letter I said that I’ll think about getting a new job tomorrow, meaning, in the future, but someone pulling the strings has taken me up literally, and the day after that letter, I was informed of what I’d already heard from Rumour’s mouth ˗ that the powers-that-be wanted some changes made. Examples: two in the pay-box all the time, instead of one, ten more hours work for a pound a week more money (!); complete change of rota, so that we’d be working through from afternoons till the end of the show (instead of just evenings) or from the morning till later than we do, and starting earlier. So after saying I’d let him know next day, I gave him a week’s notice then, and started on the great job hunt.
Well, I tell a lie there, because in the post on the day of the news came a notice from the telephone exchange saying that they now had a vacancy for a part-time telephonist, but, since that pays only £8 or so a week (on which I’d die) I inquired about full-time work: anything between thirty-six and forty-three hours a week, at about $16-10-0 gross (goes up when I’m twenty-five) (plus another £2 or so a week when I ‘qualify’. I’ve got to train for, I think, six weeks in the day time, and then will work evenings and nights (overnight sometimes ˗ that’s when you work fewer hours a week). So I’ve got the job ‘subject to all my filled-in forms being sent to Enoch Powell to see if I can be allowed to work for the British’ ˗ or somesuch! I start on Monday (as long as my great-great aunt wasn’t a Chinaman) and they seem to think I’m bright enough to work in their International Exchange ˗ when I come out of school. Heaven knows how dumb some of the people tested are (as dumb as the tester who insisted I try and read a chart without my glasses even though I told her I couldn’t see a thing glassless. There was a guy at home when I went for my driving test who did the same thing: only there I had to look down some long funnel thing; I haven’t found out yet what was at the end of that!) because it was all incredibly easy; the form-filling-in was considerably more difficult. The tester-lady seemed quite surprised that I should know so many British place-names so well, and eyed me with some suspicion, I felt, when I said it was because I’d read English books, and had seen English films.
About the new management ˗ as I said before it’s all drearily staid, but gentle. The fact of the £1 extra pay for ten hours is that apparently Mr Neilsen had been paying us the total rate already (I’d always thought it high for a part-time job) and the extra hours have nothing to do with it: we ought to have been working them anyway. But it doesn’t matter ˗ I am fed up with the place ˗ Margaret is the only one who has any life in her, much ˗ and I’m also fed up with the people in and the general monotony.
So!! I don’t know that I greatly care for the eventuality of working all night but it may be interesting ˗ there will shortly be no time in the twenty-four hours that I haven’t worked! It’s all experience cont...
P.S. Good Grief; don’t buy a David Copperfield: £3.50 [or possibly this was meant to be $3.50] is far too expensive. Hope we’ve sorted all these out now; sorry to have confused you.
[second aerogramme]
And I think it may have the advantage of finally giving me a job which I can actually fall back on! 1970 may yet turn out to be the year at least when I finally set my life in order. It is fitting that it should be done in my (good grief) 25th year, isn’t it?
Have you started your new Rite of the Mass yet? Our Parish Priest said Mass this morning and we had bits left in and things left out and he seemed to know as little about the whole proceedings as anyone. He’s left the Offertory Prayer out a lot lately which means that you have half the congregation waiting for it and half ignoring it altogether. I rather like it all (but as you no doubt know I’m rather prone to change!) though the depleted Confiteor is a bit disquieting just yet, and only saying, ‘Lord, I am not worthy’ once is positively upsetting ˗ I always said it several times more anyway because neither the Good Lord nor I have any illusions about my worthiness!
We have a new guest in the flat (and when he leaves will have Chris, Angela’s sister, back!), called Andrew Tansley ˗ seventeen, and a very pleasant young guy. Recommended to us by Hazel with whom he’d worked. He’s there till he finds a flat, and is working in a new mystery play (with Anthony Quayle) as a props man. [The play was probably Sleuth.]
I went to see some Ionesco plays done by the Tower (amateur) Theatre on Sunday night. This is the group Ian and Angela and Rod are all associated with, and their standard was surprisingly high. After the plays, on the way back Ian and I got into a discussion which eventually lasted till two in the morning (Ian is out of work, again, just now ˗ oh! these artists) and in which we tried to reconcile his argument that he puts up a barrier to protect his ‘inner’ self from new relationships and mine which was that hiding oneself in oneself is not as much use to one as risking getting to know people better, quicker ˗ even though one may be hurt. There’s always the chance one may be helped. (Sorry about the preponderance of ‘ones’ but I’m not allowed to use ‘you’ once I’ve started, so I’m told!) We did reconcile it all eventually (with help from each of the others as they came and went ˗ to bed), after covering the same ground about fourteen times; because I still put up my own barriers (though I’m getting past them more quickly) and Ian knows that what I said has its own value if he cares to apply it.
I have this crazy urge of late to know everybody ˗ properly, not just superficially the way I often have before. And I think I’m even going to the extent of appearing to pry ˗ I hope not, as I don’t really intend that.
Kingsley came up for lunch on Sunday (dinner, I mean) and seemed all right when he left. Now he had something on his mind, and while he told me a lot that surprised me, and interested me, and showed that he too as matured (and has a Lenin-style beard!!) I couldn’t somehow get past the barrier?!!?
On this Sunday Mike is coming up with one of his innumerable collections of ladies, Mickey, by name, and guess who? Kevin Rowlands! And Mike knows him apparently. So that sorts that out!!
Oh, yes, I forgot to tell you what time I’m starting at the Telephone place. 8.15 am. Love (yawn), Mike.

P.S. Still nothing further from CIB ˗ you can have an unlimited number of tries for the price of one! (I think ˗certainly more than one; after too many goes I should think they’d advise giving up and doing something else!!)

Friday, January 29, 2016

11.2.70 - new staff at work, bathroom leaks, and Lent

11.2.70  [two aerogrammes]
Dear Mum, me again. I received some more books! Another little parcel, with the Hamlet book I was asking about, Pickwick Papers, Verse and Worse (I told you Mike gave me another copy of that for Christmas, didn’t I?) and the copy of Nicholas Nickleby which I’d forgotten I had. I thought I had another copy of that which was in the same edition as some of the others I had ˗ perhaps that was the one that I borrowed off Flora Edwards. [A singer who’d been involved in the Dunedin Opera Company.] The copy you sent unfortunately is the abridged edition (Whitcombe and Tombs claiming to be able to improve on Dickens), and has so much missing it isn’t true. [W&T was a Dunedin retail and publishing company.] Never mind, perhaps I didn’t even have another copy of that: if that’s the case I’ll get another one one of these years. Sorry to keep muddling you up over these books ˗ just goes to show you how little I knew about what I had or didn’t have.
I finally heard from Kevin Rowlands, by letter, in which he merely tells me that he is working in Promises, Promises (which has been playing in the West End for quite a while) and gives me his address and phone number. Quite honestly since that leaves me to do the contacting again, I don’t know that I can be bothered ˗ probably any more than he can. [See more about this man here.] Well, we’ll see; I may pluck up whatever is required to contact him ˗ though I can’t see the point much, since he has no reason to want to know me, I think, and the same rather applies to me! I try to be outgoing, really I do, and I’m more than I was, but dear, dear, it’s difficult when you have to arrange a meeting where neither party is especially interested. It has the same opening gambit difficulties as Britain has been experiencing with the Common Market!
Hey, I’m glad you’re sending that new James Baxter. I have a tremendous amount of time for him, even though he’s sometimes inclined (or was, perhaps) (especially in his plays) to explain things that ought to be left for the reader or auditor to figure out for himself. But who am I to criticize? He’s certainly one of the greatest poets to come out of NZ (completely without any foreign influences, so to speak) and he’s one of us as well! [Baxter was all of this; later he would become something of a cult figure when he gave up ordinary society and went to live as a kind of prophetic hermit in the middle of the North Island; young, drifting people gravitated towards him.] Did I tell you bought his latest collection (published by Oxford University Press, no less) recently? Worth every penny.
I’ve something else to say to you. What is it? It’ll come back, perhaps. It’s Ash Wednesday today ˗ gee, it has come round quickly this year. And as usual I’m unprepared for its (now self˗enforced) rigours. Though the older I get the more things there are that I ought to overcome, and obviously this is the time to resolve to overcome them. I don’t know why I’d always assumed that as I grew older I ought to become a better person, because that doesn’t seem to be the case. I think I’m improving in one direction, and I take off the blinkers and see all the other faults I’ve been carefully ignoring, or that have walked up behind me when I was pretending to be holier than thou! Age seems to bring greater awareness, of one’s own self anyway, and that no doubt is a good thing ˗ but good heavens the more I find out about myself the more I see what a difficult job my (so-far much ignored) guardian angel ˗ (definitely Fred, by the way!) - has to cope with. Poor beings ˗ they must be nearly visible with all the pity that they must needs show for us humans! (Angels, I mean ˗ this is all a bit mixed up.) Despair however is as much a sin as any of the seven deadlies, and with Fred’s firm arm holding onto me we may get there yet.
No more news from the CIB yet: I calculated it would take until at least the beginning of next week anyway before I’d hear anything, so in the meantime I’m remaining clam (no! calm!)
We’re in the middle of depression at work ˗ with the two managers having left, things have got so unlively, it isn’t true, and when Margaret comes in it’s like the circus arriving in the middle of an out-of-the-way town. She performs to me and I return the compliment (if you follow the rather messy metaphor) and the lights go on again in that part of London, but it’s amazing what a casual atmosphere reigned in that place before. Everybody has so much time on their hands that they tell you their life stories, apart from the long discussions Margaret and I have on everything and everybody. The doorman we have at the moment is a twenty-two-year-old who is the most sex-obsessed person I have ever met. If all he says is to be believed he has a pretty busy life (!) and while some of it horrifies me and some it even now shocks me, he isn’t really a bad wee guy at heart, and a sympathetic ear (though not generally agreeing one in this case!) doesn’t do any harm, I think. And the night usherette told me her life story the other night (she’s a Catholic, incidentally ˗ Irish as 99% of the London ones seem to be) and dear God, she’s been engaged, or attached, to three different men and they’ve all been killed! She’s about thirtyish, I suppose, but one died in an air crash, another in a car crash, and the third of a very premature heart attack. It’s a wonder she survived herself, somehow. But she came to London some time ago (six years or so) and seems now to be getting over it all. It all happened back home in Ireland. She’s not a bad stick, but a little, just a teeny bit, dreary ˗ and anyway she goes for older men, I think. Am I getting suspicious or something? I should really stop here ˗ but I’ll go onto another sheet.
P.S. The shop is going to give me another pair of shoes!
[second aerogramme]
Still about the people at work, in case I don’t send this with the other. The new assistant manager, a twenty-one-year-old (!) South African (born in Ireland actually, and lived in London for a little of his youth) is quite a nice guy, but he takes life terribly seriously, and as soon as a problem arises, as Margaret says, it shows ˗ all over his innocent face. I suppose I was like that all those terrible four years ago, and I think was probably worse, though I don’t think I’ve ever subscribed to the school of letting everyone know that now-and-at-this-instant I have a problem! Not at least once I got past the embarrassment stage; well, pretended that I had. My problems boil up inside, with my putting them aside for ages before anyone knows they’re there. And to tell someone one of my problems, at least up until recently, was quite a considerable effort. I still in a lot of ways tell myself that I’m quite capable of handling everything, and would sooner muddle around for some time before getting help. Obviously I revolve around my own little axis too much, and eventually would have screwed myself into the ground if I hadn’t realised that people don’t mind helping you!
The new manager, Mr Rogers, is an ex-policeman, I’m told, and smokes a pipe, and has a nearly grown-up family, and is very home-minded ˗ all the things that most of the mangers on the circuit aren’t. This is nothing against him, of course; he’s very sincere, and at true person at heart, but like John, the assistant, he doesn’t really understand the sort of slightly round-the-bend people that Margaret and I are. Don’t gasp, mother, I haven’t become any more crazy than I was at home ˗ but I don’t really think I have a dreary personality, and life apart from its fraughts ought to be quite a happy thing. The saints, after all (my examples, not my fellows!) were happy people: they knew where they were going, they knew that the world could be harmonious if it weren’t for the warped minds that we all have that make us think we know better than God. So, as I say, things at work aren’t as effervescent as they were, which is a pity really, because it makes me see the place in the pitiable light I would have seen it in previously if it hadn’t been for the previous staff. [Breathes.)
We’ve had a lot of fun at the flat over the last weekend: a leak in the bathroom developed overnight, after merely persisting quietly for some time, into a flood, and so we stuck a basin under it. The funny thing was that the water was somehow managing to jump out of the basin and walk across to the other end of the room. We discovered then that we had another leak. So we called in the two little men who fix things on the estate (we’re part of a number of houses all belonging to the same landlords) and they came and fixed up the more humble of the two leaks (at 8.30 in the morning just as we were all getting up to go to work or whatnot) and left its big brother for another drippy day. Fortunately they’ve now fixed that fellow up too (one of them giving himself a great big bump on his forehead in the process, and both of them leaving dirty footprints all over the bath, the plastic curtains done up into a bow, the wall singed where they soldered the pipe, lovely sharp little happy pieces of solder all over the floor, our toilet gear and such in the midst of the mess, and the covering to the Ascot water heater half-on, or perhaps it was half-off!), and we’re now reasonably back to normal again. I cleaned up most of the mess, being the only person in and up at the time, and then Angela did lots of finishing touches, so that it now looks like the bathroom we knew and loved.
I went to my second [piano] lesson on Monday, and if I’d any doubts about Doris as a teacher (did I say Reg seemed to infer I ought to have gone only to the best?) they were pretty firmly dispelled. I think this decision at least has the makings of a success. And there was considerable improvement in my general impression over the one I gave at the first lesson, too. It will take it seems about another year ˗ did I say that? ˗ to get to the stage of LRAM, but since I started things backwards, by going out and working as a musician before I was really ready for such things, it doesn’t matter I guess. [This is a bit of nonsense: I was perfectly capable of doing the music when working; additional training never fails to come in handy, of course.]
But I must get another job: for one thing, it doesn’t pay that much, and for another, it’s just driving me up the wall, though I have a lot of wall to go yet. I don’t want to leave just yet, but I think decision number five is called for soon. But I’ll have to get an interesting job ˗ if I’m to work in the daytime, say. Since this is one of the biggest cities in the world that shouldn’t be toooo hard. That’s for tomorrow, anyway. Today I have another hour and a half to face before I’m allowing myself anything to eat. And there will be gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair, etc. I’ve been on a Bible-reading ‘course’. That is, I read a certain specified section or chapter each night: I’ve kept it up for some months now, too. But dear me, some of the Old Testament is odd!
I can’t give up sweets for Lent ˗ I hardly ever eat them. Love. XXXX

P.S. Remembered what I was going to say in Part I! Kingsley rang the other night and I’ve invited him up for lunch on Sunday ˗ hope he survives! 

7.2.70 - Tiny Alice, books and shoes


Dear Mum, I’ve just received a couple of Tablets and that calendar (three newspapers indeed!) and then later on this morning two parcels of books, the ones that had appeared to vanish for a while. Thanks very much indeed, but can I ask you, is this the last lot of books you’ve sent? Because if it is, there are one or two things I’d thought I’d asked you for and perhaps haven’t. Did I ask for the Beethoven sonatas? They are in three books of the type that the Bach Preludes and Fugues are in, and should have been up on the shelf about the Jam. (!) And there were four books on Shakespeare by Granville Barker; the volume that hasn’t come is on Hamlet alone. Perhaps Marilyn has it ˗ if so don’t be worried, but I would be grateful if you’d have another ...wee...look, please.

The Dickens books too aren’t quite what I expected ˗ dear, dear, this does sound bloomin’ ungrateful of me, doesn’t it? Actually looking at what I have, and recalling what else was at home I’m inclined to think that perhaps you have sent another parcel. In case you haven’t, the other Dickens were Nicholas Nickleby (I’m sure I had a copy, but perhaps I’m mistaken there), Pickwick Papers ˗ definitely on the shelves! Barnaby Rudge, Martin Chuzzlewitt (you’ve sent one copy of this ˗ there were two ˗ but this one is the old, old one that had been in the house since before I was born, and some darling child at some stage has scribbled all over it and torn out the last few pages!) Great Expectations (it was in that edition that I had some others from: small and red-covered and readable!) The only other one, as I think I’ve said before, that may not be there, because I don’t know if I ever got it back from Marilyn, is David Copperfield. Quite possibly if you have already sent these they’ll have arrived when you get this, or something silly. If you haven’t and have a couple of bob to spare some one of these days, can you forward them? Am I a blasted pest? Let me know please! [I imagine even my mother would have answered the question about being a pest with a definite Yes!]
After telling myself that I wouldn’t buy any more books this week, because I haven’t put anything in the bank for about three weeks or more, and because I keep paying out for necessary things, I went out and bought a much too expensive copy of Tiny Alice, a play by Edward Albee (who wrote Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a play which you must have heard of), which Mike and I had seen on Wednesday night [like the Broadway production, it starred Gielgud and Irene Worth.] How great a play it is I don’t know, but it was so elliptical and so interesting and so difficult-quite-to-understand on one viewing that I decided that a reading was required. David had seen it too, and we spend the little time we see each other these days in figuring it out, and getting ourselves further into its apparently endless depths. It’s all (well, some of it) about losing one’s faith (two of the main characters are Catholics, and I suspect Albee is - or may have been - a Catholic too, because of the fact that so many of the lines have a ring of Catholic liturgy about them), and symbolises to a certain extent a variety of things like the Mass and the Trinity and perhaps Christ even in the character of another man ˗ at least it does to me! Other people apparently have found quite the opposite: that it is more about diabolism than the other. Anyway it’s worth a further look into it. [I was wrong about Albee having been a Catholic; and I’m not surprised that we struggled to understand the play. Even Albee himself seems to have wondered what it was all about at times!]
I’m also at present on the third part of The Divine Comedy (that you sent); what a fabulous story and allegory and all things in one! It makes one feel happy to be a Catholic, and that one is part of such a great scheme of Love, so to speak.
The Story of the Shoe. Remember those shoes I bought last week? Well, the first day I wore them they seemed fine until towards evening when my left foot started to ache and hasn’t stopped since. Right where the laces are tied. I couldn’t wear the left shoe, and finally took it back to try and get it stretched, thinking that would help. Well, after two days of this (which quite honestly didn’t really help the look of the shoe, and anyway, my foot seems to have got annoyed and just refuses to be comfortable in any shoe, old or new) I took it home again, and this morning quite by chance had a look at the size of it, because it said a 7 and I thought I’d bought a 7½. The right shoe is a 7½! I took them back with considerable speed and annoyance, and at first they weren’t too happy about doing anything, and haven’t yet; they’re got to wait for the Guv’nor (English Guv’nors are apparently never on the premises). So I’m to ring them on Monday. But I’m not backing down on it, which I think they thought I would, because the blessed things cost me over five pounds and I don’t feel like damaging me foot for life for their sake!

I received a reply from the CIB, with a photo and some details of a young lady, and now apparently we have to wait and see whether she will reply favourably to my ‘details!’ If it wasn’t so serious it would be funny, and if it wasn’t so funny it might be serious! We’ll survive, I guess, and at present I’m looking on it as something of an adventure ˗ like all adventures rather fraught with terrors, and overcomable in the end. Wish me luck and lend us a few spare prayers, and we’ll get by.  Love, Mike

Monday, January 25, 2016

5.2.70 - more about the decision-making


Dear Mum, what fabulous news about Monica [Hannagan]! But do you know when you said in your previous letter that she was amongst the finalists I knew she would get the prize, and I wasn’t in the least bit surprised when your next letter came! The closest I’ll ever get to second sight perhaps! Give her my congratulations and love will you, please; she really is a marvel. What a terrible photo of everybody, though ˗ Les Simpson looking as though his hair was flying away in great tufts, and the Festival Queen looking pleased, but more beautiful than pleased...! And Monica’s by no means middle-aged, anyway; she’s the one relation whose age I can positively remember: she’ll always be ten years older than me, to the month! [I'm not sure which of the several prizes Monica won over the years this was; she went in for competitions where you had to answer general knowledge questions.]

If you see Des Stokes, by the way, thank him for his letter, and tell him that the reason for the long delay on the last article is that I temporarily lost the note I had of what he wanted, and since I’ve now found two or three more shops where there is a likelihood of my finding what he wants I’ll give it another try.

I started piano lessons again on Monday last ˗ eeergh! it was like going back to school again. But Doris is very nice and even suggested that if I wasn’t tied up to staying in Stoke Newington there was a vacancy in the house next door to her. However in spite of the extra amount it costs for fares I don’t really wish to leave this flat: the six of us (or seven generally) get on so well (with occasional mix-ups) that I don’t fancy going to live on my own, albeit above a landlady. Doris even gave me a guinea off the fees as well, and also said she has a whole lot of good secondhand music that might be of use to me.

We discussed the sort of exams I should probably try for and I’m inclined to think that it’s little use merely going for another performer’s exam: I only learn pretty much what I already know. I think it would be better to go for a teacher’s exam even though it means a lot of studying over at least the next full year, because then, finally, I might have something to fall back on that I could do competently, rather than having to go for crumming (yes, crumming, it’s a newly invented word) office jobs where I’ll barely be existing on the sort of money they’ll give me. The thing is that most of the better singers at the Centre last year had at least been through something like the Royal College, while the reps had been through Varsity, and somewhere along the line if I’m to be even partly as competent as they are at their work (though it seems to me I did have certain advantages over one or two of last year’s, and this year’s lot as well) I must have a wider general knowledge of music behind me. I keep feeling myself to be the talented amateur in a professional world as I am at the moment. I always think that I ought to be a ‘qualified’, so to speak, professional, with a more secure foundation than that on which I’m based just now. And it’s no use going on merely on my own, I can see. Even though the time wasn’t wasted: I learnt quite some theory in the time, but I must have someone driving me, because I’m basically so lazy!! I’m never really prepared to work unless I have to ˗ I have a little bit of my brain that says things will always fall into my lap. [Up to this point they had, to an extent, especially in New Zealand.] I know this just isn’t so. One eventually becomes a vegetable under those conditions.

National Children's Home, in Harpenden.
The buildings were still the same when I worked there
many years after this photo was taken.
Reg was quite pleased when I told him ˗ I think I’d been worrying him a bit, though he’d never actually say so. I know I don’t have to explain myself to you to any extent, but I like to let you have as full a picture of what I’m (now) trying to achieve. And anyway learning is never a waste of time ˗ even if you turned round and never used it again (like some of the things you learn at school) the brain expansion achieved is of great use! This teacher’s exam will involve learning not only theory and practical points but also teaching ones, and who knows ˗ they will no doubt come in handy if I can ever working satisfactorily as a rep. It doesn’t bother me at the moment if do or don’t, but I think my idea of a short ago of giving up music entirely and devoting myself to Good Works (in some National Children’s Home in mind) is not very practical. [Reg was involved with NCH, and after he retired, he worked for them in an accounting capacity. Plainly this idea didn’t go away completely: I eventually wound up working at NCH a couple of years later: still under the impression that somehow I wasn’t doing enough for other people.] I think existing extra-musically would quite possibly drive me mad! [That is, without doing music at all.] Anyway, I’ll let you know what progress we make.
shape or form: I think I had something the

About my other decision of last week - writing to the CIB: I finally sent my questionnaire off on Sunday night. I had been going to wait a while, but finally didn’t see any point. The biggest problem (apart from trying to describe yourself to any extent, which was terrifying because you feel all the time that you may be giving the wrong impression) was to supply a photograph of myself. So I finally went and took four of myself (for 3/-!) in one of the booths that develop them and everything on the spot within minutes. They were four rather terrible photos, so I sent the least bad, which isn’t at all what I think I look like, but obviously is since we’re led to believe the camera doesn’t lie! I’ve had an acknowledgement (receipt) this morning, and now wait (still), with a deep terror way down inside and tremendous good humour on the outside, for some results. The Good Lord has never seen so much of me before! I’ve been in and out of any church that comes by, more asking that he just keep a watchful eye on things rather than necessarily make everything turn out exactly right without problems! But, as the CIB suggests, it’s often the only way to meet R.C’s in a place like London. The people at the Parish Church are not especially friendly ˗ I don’t help either, but they seem to be rather middle-aged!!

About the Time magazines ˗ there really isn’t any point in keeping them, is there? Wouldn’t they be of more use somewhere, where they’ve being read?? Leave it up to you, Love Mike (heh, heh!) [I'd subscribed to Time magazine for some years, so there was a stack of them - mostly unread - in my bedroom wardrobe at home.]

P.S. I’ve only had one lot of books ˗ the other’s must have been held up somewhere. 

30.1.70 - Decision-making to the max


Dear Mum, this will no doubt surprise you somewhat to find me writing again so soon, but this week has been a week of decisions (as you may have gleaned from the last letter) and I guessed that you would probably be interested. (          ) Blank space for your comment.

Today has been particularly fruitful, more in the way of starting points than actual results, but it is the getting started that counts, isn’t it? First thing, in the morning mail was from the Catholic Introductions Bureau. If that strikes you as a little curious in any way, bear with me and I’ll explain. Life seemed to be going on in its own sweet way, but I’m afraid that without some real friend of the opposite sex it was also going in a rather dull way, and after the other night’s episode, which I mentioned previously, when nothing seemed to be appearing either career-wise or new friends-wise, and I absolutely begged the Good Lord for a bit of assistance, then it seemed I ought to take notice of any little hints of help the Lord might give me. I went to Mass the next morning and in the porch of the Church was an ad for this Bureau. Well, for a start I tried to ignore it, and went and did some shopping, but the Church was still open when I came back (it’s usually closed up in front after Mass) so I popped in the door and took a note of their address, and wrote off to them before I thought too much more about it, asking for some information. The next step is even more needful of that essentially human quality ˗ guts (!) ˗ but I think it would be foolish to stop at this stage.

It’s not that I don’t meet girls, though I’m not the world’s latest Casanova by any stretch of the imagination, but after H. and even perhaps M., I can only think it’s foolish to try and think of going on with a non-Catholic girl. As people, you know, H. and I would have got on fine, I think, and therein would have been quite successfully married, but ‘my conditioning’ as she put it (she didn’t have any conditioning, I presume, or else controlled it!) would obviously have got in the way entirely. By my conditioning of course she meant religion, in this case, anyway, and I suppose she felt she was fighting a losing battle with a lover who was even more important to me than she was. So that was some of the reasoning behind this first decision. I have no idea whether anything will come of it; it may even turn out to be more a mess than my previous forays into the fray, but sitting on my butt for the next fifty years just won’t be very exciting, so here goes!

Next thing in the mail was from Trinity College telling me that I’d left it too long to be able to do just a theory exam, as it’s five years since I did the practical, (I guessed it would be), so decision number 2two was to decide to take the exam in totum again. Now unless I’m organised about this, I thought, that will be as far as it goes, so I took decision number three and rang up Doris Berry, who teaches music, and asked her if she’d take on another pupil. She suggested the Associated Board (is it?) is in fact better as far as standard goes than Trinity, and since it doesn’t matter now, I may as well take their exam. So I’m going to have an hour a week with her, and she sounds quite keen to get to work ˗ like Miss Perry [my last teacher back home in Dunedin] she finds the idea of working with an adult pupil for a change quite a delight apparently. So!

Decision number four (still with me?) was to go out and buy a new pair of shoes. Did I tell you I bought a pair not long ago? Well, I just can’t wear them ˗ they crucify my heels, and no amount of Elastoplast on my heels helps, and anyway they don’t really look as good as they did when I bought them! I went to another shop this time, and the staff consisted of a middle-aged Cockney lady, and a young negro boy who served me, with the lady throwing in comments occasionally. (I arrived at the shop puffed out after having helped two other negroes to push a Jew’s car in order to get it to start: desegregation starts around here!)

What a difference it makes to feel in a good mood yourself ˗ suddenly the whole world is happy: even the miserable-looking people are only pretending. I have the happiest two butchers in London, I think: I never struck such an atmosphere of friendliness as is in that shop. They have each other on in a way one doesn’t see too much over here; it’s quite like home! Anyway, I’ve bought another, more expensive pair of shoes; I won’t be able to afford to buy any more clothes for years at this rate!

I have a fifth decision yet to make: this is more difficult somehow as it brings me back to point A again, concerning as it does repetiteuring. The Opera for All Auditions go on on Thursday, and David seems to think it’s worth my while to re-audition because so few of the reps there [at the Opera Centre] at present are interested in the London group. But it means trying to find something to audition with. I can’t use the same things again, and don’t want to. David tells me (and my ego inflates and fills the room) that he thinks I was the best pianist of last year’s lot, but of course as he knows and I know even better, I lack a good deal of the musicianship I ought to have. And he reckons Robertson has a soft spot for me for some reason (to do with NZ partly and with the fact that both R. and I are non-University men) and also that I’ve done the job before. So what to do? Down on my knees and get the Lord on me megaphone, I think.  Love, Mike

28.1.70 - Troubles at the Crowls', and looking at my future


Dear Mum, here’s the rest of what I was going to say in yesterday’s letter, which you will no doubt have received by this time, and equally no doubt can probably barely read. On Monday, I went back up to the Crowls’ to give Reg a hand throughout the day at the Mentally Handicapped Centre, to do stocktaking of the Christmas stuff they had left. We spent a fairly calm but hard-working day doing this, and he took me to lunch at a place across the road about 1.00. Did I say that Nina is finally moving today, in my last letter? I don’t think so, but anyway this is the end result it would seem of nine years of not-very-happiness in the Crowl household.

I got most of the following at the lunch we had, and honestly I really feel very sorry for Reg. He’s a marvellous person and fabulously generous, and to have had this sort of tension in his house for the last nine years is pretty hard. In fact, up until this latest episode which has resulted in Nina’s going, I had never thought he looked old, or behaved like an old man, and it’s only now that he’s started to look tired and weary and a bit fed up. [He was sixty-four at this time.]  He’s even said he’s feeling old which isn’t like him at all. 

As I’ve said to you before I’ve always found Nina charming, so that it seems incredible that she has been in that house for the last two months and Not Spoken to Reg once! The only time I’ve ever come up against anything other than charm was at Westgate that time, when if Reg and Margaret and I went out and were relaxed about the time a bit [as in getting back for the all-important tea], we were told off not by Mavis, but by Nina. And on one or two other occasions I’ve dared to argue about something with her the surface Nina has gone and a much less pleasant lady has appeared. Reg puts it down to her having been spoilt all her life because of her heart trouble ˗ it would seem there is probably no reason why she shouldn’t have ever worked, but she never has. And while she hasn’t ever lived off anyone in particular, she’s nearly always lived with one of her sisters since her mother died. She has a pension but obviously this isn’t enough.

And Reg is worried too about Margaret who must obviously be left on her own some day. He says that Mavis’s sister Phil would look after her for a start at least, but it seems both to him and me that she must get used to not necessarily living with her relations. Margaret in fact is apparently quite happy with the idea of staying somewhere else ˗ boarding with someone for example ˗ but it is the relations, and especially Mavis who won’t hear of it. This seems very short-sighted to me. I said for a start to Reg that at least she had plenty of relations, but he was just sourly amused: Mavis’s brother and wife, who would be the most able to look after her, have carefully never bothered to look after Nina for more than some months when their mother died, although, Reg says, he promised his mother that he would. So it seems as if there is no likelihood of their doing anything about Margaret, either. What a business, isn’t it? The Good Lord will no doubt keep an eye on her, but as with any problem, he likes us, I’m sure, not just to sit around waiting for him to make a move. [After I returned to New Zealand, Margaret got married, in fact, to Brian, who also had some degree of mental disability. He died later, and Margaret seems to have coped since then, keeping in touch with some relatives on Mavis’s  side.]

Which brings me to me again! I went to a play last night (Edward II, with Ian McKellan, the new up and coming boy, it would seem, and it was very good too, even though I must have missed about the first twenty minutes!) and on the way home as I was doing my usual ten minute walk from the tube ˗ I do most of my meditating there!! ˗ I fell again on the problem of where I am going and what I am ultimately to do with myself. And honestly I must have been getting so worked up about it lately, that I finally burst into tears (!) and snuffled my way along quite a considerable bit of the road. That cleared the air at least, and I’m sure I felt a conciliatory pat on my shoulder from my much neglected Guardian Angel (I wonder what his name is? Fred, do you think?)

And at Mass this morning (that’s one of the advantages of going to work at night, I can go to Mass on both Wednesday and Saturday) I said to the Good Lord again to give me a push in the right direction, because I don’t know if I can be bothered with much more of this rather futureless outlook, and the idea has arisen in my head that it might be worth carrying on and completely my ATCL [Associate of the Trinity College of London, in piano], and possibly LTCL [Licentiate], and looking into teaching, because the more I look at it the more it seems to be clear that I’m just not good enough to take up repetiteuring full-time. I could get there in each case, but I’m not quick-witted enough, I think, to know what I’m doing without having worked at it. Therein has always lain my problem, I believe.

So I’m writing to Trinity College to find out if my Practical bit of the ATCL is still valid and if it is, or even if it isn’t, I think at least having that aim in view might be more valuable than carrying on as at the moment, hoping one day I’ll know when I’m ready enough!

One of Mike’s friends, Mervyn, that I met again last night when we three and Kathy went for a drink on Mike’s Irish citizenry, said something about teaching ˗ he teaches foreign students more advanced English ˗ and that is probably where the notion has arisen. What sort of teacher would I make? That doesn’t matter yet ˗ but I’ll see how this Trinity College business works out. I begin to think that I must always have sort of aim in view otherwise I don’t bother. We’ll see what gives from here, anyway.  Love, Mike.

[A good deal of this was a real loss of confidence after being regarded as something of a failure at the Opera Centre by the staff. I was actually a good sight-reader, and capable of working hard musically. I suspect if I’d pushed myself I could have made a living in London, musically, doing a variety of jobs, and in time would have had enough contacts to keep the work coming in. C’est la vie.]

27.1.70 - an Irish citizen, socialising


Dear Mum, Mike Tither has just received the news this morning that he is now an Irish citizen ˗ which means, as far as I know, that he ceases to be a New Zealand citizen, in the meantime, anyway. This have been the only way he could legally stay on in Britain, that he was able to discover, that didn’t involve some kind of fraud. He received a ‘paper’ in the post that morning written in Gaelic (!) and had to ring the Irish Embassy (or whatever it is) to find out if it said ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Remember that Unity service I went to? I meant to mention also that the minister who gave the sermon had the most curious speech coloration I’ve ever heard. By some defect his final ‘s’es were left behind the word so that they followed at a second or two’s delay: alway...s, curiou...s, servi...ce!!

I went up to the Crowls’ on Sunday for dinner (couldn’t stay the weekend as Margaret has bought a new bed and the old one is cluttering up my usual small room, and Nina hasn’t yet moved. She will on Wednesday.) And then I went onto Doris Berry’s place. Have I spoken much about her before? She’s the lady who did the Carmen rehearsals with me back home [in Dunedin], and who has now returned to her home in London. She had invited four of us up for tea: three Christchurch people and self. These were Neal and Jan something (he’s about twenty-eight/nine, I suppose, she’s perhaps somewhat younger) and Margaret Williams, a teacher of about twenty-four/five, I guess (or perhaps younger). The married couple are working here just now and intend just touring and seeing things all over the world for the next few years apparently. Margaret (like most New Zealanders) speaks at a tremendous rate with no stops for breath: her sentences will often either die for lack of breath or lack of anywhere to go. This is a funny thing lots of us do; we forget to take a breath when we ought in the natural break of this sentence, and wonder why we’re going blue in the face before we’re through. Doris has the same tendency in a different form ˗ she knows where she’s going and is in such a hurry to get there that not only her tongue talks, everything else about her head does too, and it’s like a little kettle about to boil over. She’s very sweet and kind and nice to know, and though we all had to endure some slides of Margaret’s European Tour (we were much more appreciative of Doris’ NZ ones ˗ what parochialists!) the evening was very pleasant generally. But it had been a day of conversation ˗ Reg and I had got ourselves tied up in knots about theology (!) before dinner and having to make conversation with unknown people is a very tiring task. I generally just ask pertinent questions, and let them go on! [Reg and Mavis had been enthusiastic Methodists when younger, but had ceased having anything to do with the church when I met them. However, some time after I left England in 1974 ˗ by which time Mavis had died ˗ Reg went back to a local Methodist church which had had something of a revival, and became just as enthusiastic again. He eventually met his second wife-to-be there.]

I was going to continue this, but I’ll start another one later. Love, Mike. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

18.1.70 - held up in the cinema, Catholicism and Topaz

18.1.70 [handwritten on two aerogrammes]

Dear Mum, the first lot of books you sent me arrived yesterday ˗ thank you very much! I’ve started the first book of The Divine Comedy again ˗ last time I tried I never even got to the poem, but got bogged down in the very interesting but rather lengthy introduction, by Dorothy Sayers (who translated this version of the poem). She is normally not quite so serious as most of this introduction tends to be ˗ the only flashes of humour come at the very beginning and end, with a lot of erudition in between. Never mind ˗ I skipped some of it and finally plunged into the poem, which is great stuff, and very well translated.

We had an incident here the other night (at the Cinema, I mean); had I told you that the assistant manager was beaten up a couple of weeks ago? Not too seriously, though he had a very ugly right eye for a while and it’s still a bit swollen and bloodshot. This latest incident ˗ by no means as serious, thank God ˗ concerned me. A guy (a negro, with a beard and moustache, cut short) came in and asked me if I could change £10 for him. Sez I, yes, of course, and proceeded to count out a £5 and five singles. He seemed to be fiddling about with an elderly pay-packet, and I was sitting easy on my side with the money in my hand when he suddenly made a grab for it. I got a hell of a fright and dropped it on my side of the counter, dropped me book I was reading and was just getting off me stool when he produced a rather tatty knife, and sez under his breath ‘I gotta have £10!’ Well, I don’t know what happened next, but putting my skin’s present ‘one-piece’ design above all else, I’d backed into me corner and pressed the intercom buzzer ˗ the guy skedaddled (literally) and we haven’t seen him since. [I don’t mention the fact that I was actually locked into the booth, with plenty of cage protection between me and the customers.]

By the time Mike the assistant manager (he who was beaten up) arrived I was shaking all over and as white as the top of the box office counter. [I don’t know how I knew this. There wasn’t a mirror in there!] If the poor guy (the knife-man, I mean) had asked me nicely I would have given him £10 - if his reason for needing it was that desperate. Life in the gay happy metropolis. [It’s rather ironic that I should use the word gay here, in its original meaning: both the manager and the assistant manager were gay, as far as I recall.]

I received your letter the day before yesterday refuting my remarks about being a selfish youth with your usual biased mother’s love! It’s just as well I don’t believe you always ˗ otherwise I’d be just about the most impossible being on this earth! Come on, mother, admit it ˗ there must be at least one thing about me that drives you up the wall. If you still won’t admit to it after this I can only say that you really are the greatest example of (personified) charity I know and I’d better model myself on you quickly!! [I should, too.]

Re also your remarks about not getting all intellectual about my faith (that isn’t quite what you said but it suffices) the only thing I can say is that I haven’t (for better or worse) the sort of mind that can sit and say I’ve reached the peak of knowledge that I can amass ˗ my poor old brain is constantly on the move, voraciously gorging itself with gunge, some of it useful, some of it not, some of it worthy of storing away until the right season for it arrives. What I’m sure of is that the more I learn, the better I’ll know (a) what I really am and (b) what I really ought to be. This system, however, at no point excludes a simplicity in faith ˗ if it does, one falls into the Devils’ ever-ready-to-embrace-you arms without delay. It would be a terrifying endeavour (it is bad enough) if it were not for the old standby of prayer, which just as the power of money in the world will buy you out of anything, will get you out of any bedevilment if you’re willing to make

[second aerogramme]

use of it. It’s only when you don’t make use of it that intellect and the Devil, thence, take over. You know, born Catholics (so to call them) are very lucky ˗ I wonder how many would have had the courage to become converts if they’d been born otherwise [not into a Catholic family, that is]. If any other Catholics are like me ˗ then obviously the Good God knew what he was doing when he gave us baptism at birth (or deposited me us in Catholic families); we’d be human wrecks in any other situation. What would I be without Catholicism behind me........(Fill in and send!).....

Seriously though, while I admit to not being a very good Catholic (good in the sense that I don’t live it completely enough) I know I’d be a more than worthless pagan! Even as a Catholic, you know, I have only a very partial faith. I was just thinking the other night ˗ if I had true faith I would be able to do anything by calling on the Good Lord and believing in his ability to achieve what is virtually impossible for me to do. (What a roundabout way of saying simple things I have ˗ my sentences start and finish with practically the same thought expressed in a different way.) Instead of that I say I believe in Him but I’m too much of a coward to say I believe He could do anything just like that (e.g. supposing I was incurably sick or somesuch, to say that he could cure me and actually believe it seem not within my present sphere of belief.) obviously I’m going to have to pull my sox up and believe what I ought and not just go halfway.

Interior of Our Lady's; There is/was an organ
in the balcony on which I played one of
my early compositions once, during a service.
Tut tut. It’s now two days later, and I still haven’t got this effort away. I seem to have got rather bogged down above ˗ and hope you don’t find it all too confusing. I hope some sense, and some of what I’m trying to say comes through. I’ve just been to the Anglican Church along the road tonight for a Christian Unity Service; what with the combination of a fine organist and the Salvation Army Band, the hymn singing at least was excellent. (Though in the last hymn the organist got thoroughly carried away and improvised between the three verses, modulating to such an extent that I was rather surprised when he found his way back to the home key again.) And I finally introduced myself to the Catholic Curate, who at least already knew me by sight ˗ it proved that he was at least as shy as I am ˗ what difficult circumstances under which to attempt conversation. The Parish priest, Fr Mills, seems equally as shy in a rather more bluff way. The other one is a cheery round-faced man with glasses and reminds me a great deal of another priest I’ve known at home. Can’t think who ˗ of course, Fr McGettigan! [Fr McGettigan was still going strong many years later when I met him occasionally in Dunedin. The church in London may have been Our Lady of Good Counsel, although that name doesn’t ring any bells. However, it was in Bouverie Rd, which does ring a bell, and was only around seven minutes walk away.]

Went to see Hitchcock’s latest film today, Topaz ˗ by no means as exciting as most, though proving again and again that H. is one of the screen’s masters. And throughout we have scenes where we are sure something horrible will happen and throughout it doesn’t! A character (a traitor) is given a cognac, which he keeps not drinking while his host who isn’t drinking) keeps insisting that he ought, and when he finally does, nothing happens! In another scene we are sure the same character has a crutch (for his limp) that is really a gun but it turns out to be a crutch and nothing else. When something does happen it is totally unexpected, and not what we even remotely thought could happen. But it’s a long film and not entirely interesting ˗ and has had three different endings. I saw the one they didn’t show in the West End ˗ I think. Love, Mike. [I was right about Topaz: it was one of Hitchcock’s least successful movies, and it did have three different endings, though only two of them were ever shown publicly. The third is now available as an extra on the DVD.]