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.]

Friday, January 22, 2016

10.7.70 - a clothes-shopping spree!

10.7.70 Already!

Dear Mum, I don’t know why I always reserve the tattiest-looking air letters for you, but I don’t really do it intentionally! Possibly by the time they get to you anyway, they’ve flattened themselves out again a bit.

I haven’t yet got back to doing my ‘study’ as I was before Christmas, but at least this week I’ve achieved some other things: notably, the restocking of my wardrobe. In a mad burst of enthusiasm  I finally took those trousers up that I’ve had since I left home, and have never worn, and early this week set about getting a jacket to go with them ˗ apart from the fact that my present jacket is wearing badly round the cuffs, it so goes with the pants that they look like a suit ˗ not quite what was intended. I really didn’t have any idea of what I was looking for and since I couldn’t wear the trousers to the shops to compare, because of the aforementioned problem, it was a bit difficult. Fortunately the first place I went to suggested a corduroy jacket, but the only one they had was too big. Obviously a brown jacket of some shade would be the best thing to go with the trousers (which are a sort of slightly tweedy green, you may recall) and I’m now unlikely to get any more trendy than I am, and won’t be wearing red or purple or yellow with the trousers! The next shop was itself a very tweedy place, and I finished up there with them saying they’d get a jacket from their warehouse that seemed to be as close to what I wanted.

Next day, I went further down the road (this is all in Stoke Newington) and walked into a shop, and walked into a - perhaps - chocolaty-coloured corduroy jacket that was only a touch too big, but not worth letting slip out of my hands. It fits everywhere except around me middel (Jewish spelling) where it is built for someone who hasn’t lost quite as much weight as I have. But I think it’s fine otherwise. It doesn’t look awkward, you know.

Remember my other green trousers ˗ that I altered the crease line on? How long have I had those? At least eighteen months, I suppose, and do you know it was only this week that I discovered they do have a fob pocket in them! It’s built right into the top of the trouser, not just a little below as usual!

Anyway, I wore my new ‘outfit’ to the opera the other night and felt quite comfortable and at home in it.
Yesterday, quite by accident, I came through Oxford St on my way to Soho, and noticed a suit sale on For Heaven’s sake get on with it, Crowl, that I went in. (We’ve had snow and rain and sleet for days; each of them is attractive in their own way, but enough is enough is enough!) Anyway after much humming and hawing around (I no longer, at least, worry about whether the assistant is getting fed up with my indecision) I bought myself a suit (about £2-10 cheaper ˗ everyone has sales on just now); a neat-fitting, for-a-change-, brown-basically, but capable-of-looking-merely-dark-when-the-mood-takes-it, type of suit (!) ˗ and two ties! (These latter were going at one for 13/6 with a free one thrown in, which sounded a bit absurd until I realised it was possible only to choose one tie that you really liked from the selection on sale.)
Mike, the well-dressed man,
a couple of years after this
letter was written.
˗ two, in fact, right opposite each other, but I went into the second of them, which looked a little less expensive. I had actually stood outside for some time before deciding to go in ˗ I hate buying clothes really, though if the end result is good, I can’t say I’m too much put out. But yesterday it was pouring and I was all wet, and it was only by steeling myself a bit, and saying
So I now have two sets of clothes that look as though they fit me and not me slightly bigger brother! When I got home yesterday the people who had arranged to order the jacket from the warehouse had phoned to say it was there and to have a look at it. So I’ve been down this morning, and while the one they’d got down was really too dark for my present taste, though a very nice jacket all the same, I finished up ordering another one! ˗ a sort of bluey-green tweedy type, which manages to look a nice bluey-grey from a distance ˗ I think! They have to get a size down that will actually fit me more exactly, (I nearly drove this poor young assistant up the wall, because if the sleeves fitted I thought the coat was too big, chest-wise, or too long, or if they didn’t fit, I couldn’t move my shoulders, even if it was the right length!) This will cost (aagh!) £8-9, I think, and probably doesn’t even go with anything I have (aagh, again) but will last for ages ˗ even if I leave it hanging in the cupboard until I can get some pants one day ˗ next year, perhaps.

So no money has been wasted, I feel. (Suit was £16-10, though I did start off at £12-10, and the other coat was just short of £6.) Still, I shouldn’t now have to buy anything more for a while. And I’m still the richest man in London (and certainly better off than you, I’m sure!), because I can’t be bothered letting money make trouble for me. I really went mad yesterday: I also bought six books! I’m sure you’re gasping for breath over there. But three were secondhand and the others were cheap-enough paperbacks. And I had me first decent hair-cut in ages ˗ I told the barber he’d have to put back anything he’d taken off that he oughtn’t! So I should feel a new man.

Will you thank the T Hannagans for their Postal Orders and, oh dear ˗ I think the Stokes sent me some too. And I got a card form the Leslies! [Neighbours who lived opposite my mother] And Jeff from the old flat wrote to say he will yet pay me the £20 he owes me ˗ obviously you should never prejudge anyone! Love, Mike

2.1.70 - discovering I'm a more selfish person than I thought


Dear Mum, this letter may arrive at your end as a muddled mess, but this time it’s less because I’m all mixed-up than because I think I’m beginning to see a bit more light in my own personal world ˗ mainly through seeing someone else’s world, and getting some understanding of it. And if I talk a lot about a certain woman whom I will re-introduce in a moment, it isn’t because I’ve got myself hung-up emotionally about her, or because I’ve attempted to be friends when she had something else in mind, but merely because we have come to realise that our backgrounds have very much more in common than would appear at first sight and this in-commonness is of use to each of us in understanding ourselves better. Didn’t I warn you it would be a messy letter?

In order to show the kind of clarity that has come into my own vision, though it is by no means to say that I now know all, I should give something of what I know about Margaret, of whom I said in the last letter that she was quite crazy etc, but in the nicest way. This is only half the truth of course, because along with her absurdities, she has had the sort of life that has caused her to sit down and take stock in such a way that she is now able to overcome problems much more successfully, and (to use a much bandied-about word we use, because of its usefulness) she is able to ‘cope’ with these things and get through them.

Margaret is thirty-nine, a divorcĂ©e, and when she was eleven she discovered the man she thought was her father was not in fact ˗ her real dad has since turned up rather too late to be of any use to her, she says. I don’t know quite how sordid things were for her at home, but obviously she was brought up in an atmosphere where things moral weren’t always put to the fore. She seems somewhere along the line to have had something do with a theatrical family, which probably accounts for the sort of things that went on, and for the above-mentioned craziness: she performs at the drop of a hat! Anyway, today, we had lunch together, quite by accident, as I met her going the opposite way to me when I was out, and about to eat, and so over the meal and coffee, she brought certain things to light which have more concern with me than what I’ve said so far.

The most important thing that came up is the utter selfishness of kids: it’s called a variety of names, mostly less hard-hitting, and seems to explain the things that go on when kids are in their teens: for the first time in their life they are finding out that self-love is no love, and that other people need their love, and that the only way to be able to be loved is to love others. (It’s a fascinating circle, which could only have been devised by a mind as infinite as the Good Lord’s!) We didn’t actually talk about it in those terms, but what it made me realise and what I’ve been trying to get to all the way through this letter, is just how revoltingly selfish I was when I was at home, and how it’s only now, since I’ve discovered that understanding other people is the only way to know yourself properly, that I understand this fact. (Margaret says she realised too late the sort of problems her mother was having and how lonely it must have been for her.)

What I must apologise for is my utter lack of any attempt to listen to you when I was at home: no wonder it’s taken me so long to be able to talk to you at all. The hours I’ve spent reading and listening to records when I could have listened to you are beyond recall, and I’m afraid there is little I can do about it, but I want you to know that I’m now beginning to slightly understand your problems and curse the many hours when I might at least have been a sounding-board for whatever you needed to say; though it is perhaps a little presumptuous of me to think that I might have been a help even if I had listened. Granted a younger person has the right to remark that it was all a bit beyond him at the time and that one only cares about others as one becomes more mature, but it isn’t as good an excuse as it might be, and I’m really inclined to think the younger generation is very much in the wrong in this case ˗ it isn’t that the older g. doesn’t understand them, it’s that the younger gen. never thinks that the old g. are likely to have problems, and therefore gets all upset when the older g., already afflicted with enough troubles of their own, are expected to give all their time and love and attention to the younger g, and can’t.

I suppose it’s okay for me to be a know-all now, but at least I’ve had the luck to see where I’ve been wrong ˗ for what it’s worth ˗ heaven help those who go on thinking the world owes them a living. I can’t really cite any special instances of my particular deafness, though I feel that I was especially obstruse just after the time Mrs Bevan died, and perhaps even before. [The Bevans were close friends of my mother, and lived only a couple of minutes away.] Do you remember? I seem to recall not being very helpful or pleasant; you suggested it might be of use to go and housekeep for Mr B. [That is, that my mother should go and help him out with the housekeeping. I think I was unhappy at this possible interruption to our own household routines.] And now I’m 12,000 miles across the wretched sea and of even less use to you.

What isolated beings we make ourselves ˗ my hobby horse: that I never realised that other people had the same troubles as myself. Margaret and I both used to think we understood grown-ups, but my maturing from what was just as much a childhood as anyone else’s seems only to have come about in the last year or so. (She sez she didn’t grow up till she was thirty-two!!, when she left her husband.) I hope some of this has made sense to you and doesn’t offend you ˗ perhaps you can now welcome me to the Grown-Up Club  or start to do so. Love Mike.

P.S. Glad you received the pendant ˗ do you know if Des ever got the stuff he asked me to send him?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

30.12.69 - Morose post-Christmas feelings

Dated 30.1.69 but more likely 30.12.69 - handwritten over two aerogrammes.
Hullo, hullo, you won’t get this letter for another year, but never mind, any news that’s in it won’t be quite that old. I hope you had a fabulously happy Christmas, surrounded by lots of cheery relations ˗ that makes you sound a bit matriarchal, but I don’t quite mean it that way! I hope the post-Christmas period didn’t quite get you the way it got me ˗ I enjoyed myself thoroughly up until about 10.00 on Christmas night, and then a great feeling of depression crept over me (especially when I found I had to make a great Tube detour in order to get home from Mike’s) and has stayed with me, on and off, since then. I’m beginning to feel that I must be getting to be a neurotic or summat; I keep swinging from fits of bustling energy and effervescence to fits of torpor and turpitude (that is if there are two such words!). There are a great variety of reasons ˗ each counterbalanced by pointing to the fact that I oughtn’t to be depressed!
David’s been away for a fortnight so my usual ‘sounding-board’ is out ˗ but Cathy has been more friendly of late ˗ but Ian has been miserable, and plays the same Joan Baez record till the early hours while he tries to finish not the best painting he’s ever done ˗ and I revised a song the other day and thought it was now much more acceptable and it only seems just as wrong in a different way (oh, the problems of artists!!!) and they’ve brought in a new rule at work that means we have to fight and argue with half the people that go in and yet I’m getting on fabulously well with my co-workers, the boss Trevor, and Mike, his assistant from Jersey (he’s only about 25) ˗ but they are both leaving in a month ˗ and Margaret, one of the other cashiers ˗ the most delightfully crazy person I’ve ever met ˗ we have each other in hysterics within minutes, much to the bemusement of the customers ˗ and one of the ‘perks’ of the place is the ability to get in free at any West End Cinema; and I’ve felt homesick for NZ lately and yet find Londoners the most fascinating bunch of individuals I’ve ever come across ˗ in spite of the fact that 60% of them are very thick, and seem to have no initiative (and are the biggest pack of ‘fiddlers’, though on the most petty scale) ˗ the immense variety inherent in 12,000,000 people has to be seen to be believed. [My apologies to Londoners: this is the typically opinionated viewpoint from someone who likes to generalise!]
Mike and I went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve ˗ at the Brompton Oratory ˗ with a Mozart Mass performed (I couldn’t see the altar but we were right beside the singers and orchestra!) and the crowd of South West London trendy types and ‘fashionable’ Catholics (and nons) [non-Catholics, presumably] was out of this world. I then walked home afterwards ˗ London isn’t sufficiently go-ahead in its ideas to have transport after 12.30 [this from someone who’d grown up in a city where such late night transport still doesn’t exist] ˗ and because everyone else was picking off the taxis as I hailed them ˗ well, would you believe...? ˗ I walked about four miles and was within two minutes of home (by taxi) when I finally got one. And my feet were wet through! But Mike and I had spent the evening talking more than usual but about all we got out of it is the fact that we don’t either of us seem to be getting anywhere or
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have any particular viewpoint in view. Reg was saying to me that it’s great, he thinks, that people don’t have to settle into a job when they’re young as his generation did, but there is the other side of the coin, in that, because it’s so easy to get work, one tends not to bother to settle into anything, and to waffle around. Life always seems to be too short, at twenty-four!!
Again, I’d like to see a lot of things, in Europe, etc, but I’d also quite happily be married ˗ and unless I find a very accommodating wife, the combination of the two would be difficult. I always seem to be harping on this marriage thing, don’t I, but it seems to be very much on my mind of late. But of course, as you no doubt understand, it’s a hangover from the H. business ˗ one doesn’t value a thing until one loses it. I don’t suppose I need explain this much, to you ˗ that’s another fault of youth ˗ we can’t get it into our thick heads that other people have the same sort of feelings and experiences! So the end result of this long misery, is that I’m just a mixed-up kid!!
And there’s this usual fluctuation about the music angle. Whether it’s worthwhile carrying on with it or whether I’d be better to go off as a hobo for the next few years, and settle down to a nice quiet (ugh! I’m sorry) office job! I’m afraid I’ve got the troublesome spirit in me that seems to have caused Dad all his bother ˗ an unhealthy mixture of adventure and security ingrained in my bones. Not only unhealthy, but fairly irreconcilable. You’ve got it, too, haven’t you ˗ thought the security side of it seems to have got the upper hand ˗ the only present sign of the other is your inclination to manage to live on a much smaller bank account than you ought to have at your age ˗ and to give away any little excess you may have to your next-to-useless son.
I sometimes think it’s better to have no brains at all (I mean me, not you!!) ˗ then you have considerably less worries because all your interest in life is pared down to basic essentials. Want a set of brains? ˗ they don’t seem to be much good to me ˗ what’s the use of a feverish quest for knowledge? You only find a whole new vista of unanswered questions before you and the effort of taking stands upon certain points of view is incredibly wearying. No wonder ‘Humanists’ think Catholics are wrong ˗ to them the Catholic way of living seems to go counter to every type of desire there is, and there’s nothing like a Humanist for giving into the present desire. What the consequence is, is no doubt unimportant...

I had a lovely Christmas day ˗ apart from the fact that Mike gave me Verse and Worse for a present!! (he gave me a book I already had for my birthday too!) ˗ but half a dozen of us went to Mike’s flat, and it was warm and convivial and jovial and quite Dickensian and delightful. And yet of the present too. One of the girls had her two year old son there ˗ the most affectionate child I’ve ever struck (no, I didn’t!) [strike the child, I presume I mean: weak attempt at humour]. The three bachelors there, (self included) all became quite fatherly. The boy’s father is no longer within ken ˗ as far as I could make out ˗ not dead, but no longer with us! It wasn’t necessarily better than last year’s Christmas, just much more relaxed: five New Zealanders, and an Aussie ˗ what could you expect??  Love, Mike. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

23.12.69 - clothes, Christmas shopping and Ben-Hur in 70mm

Dear Mum, just a note to let you know all your recent parcels and letters have arrived safely, and to let you know as well that I now realise why I am a less than thrifty person. I’ve obviously inherited it from you. Fancy sending so much money! Next time I hear from you the address will no doubt be The Poorhouse. I was sort of thinking in terms of maybe two or three quid with which, as I said, I could buy a book. With this lot I’ll be able to start a library! No, actually, as you say, I’ll get me some clothes. I was thinking of a suit, but I really think some sort of sports clothes would be better. A coat and pants anyway. I seem to have a fair few shirts, and other odds and ends. My present pair of pants are wearing very well, though naturally the pockets aren’t too happy.
Did I ever tell you I’d altered the crease on them? They used to drive me mad, because when the tailors had altered them originally the leg crease went towards the centre making me look as though I was bandy-legged! You can barely see the original crease now, and my own creasing is ‘permanent’ apparently.
The other blue trousers I brought with me just don’t fit anymore ˗ I lost so much pudding round the middle that they won’t stay up. Anyway, they are going very thin at the knees. Do you remember the pair I bought just before I came away? They were very trendy (!) and had flared leg-bottoms (?) They seem too long actually, so one of these days I’ll take them up an inch or two and they’ll look quite normal. I’ve also got thin enough for them to look ‘decent’ as well, though all your young men here wear hip-fitting trousers. (They’re a bit of a curse, really; you can’t get your hands into the pockets, let alone carry anything in them. It looks as though you’re malformed!)
My sports coat is lasting well, of course, but the right sleeve cuff has worn away entirely and is a bit of an embarrassment. I don’t quite know what to do to repair it. Any suggestions?
The fudge, by the way, arrived some time ago, did I say?, and has gone the way of all your superb fudge ˗ and not even all into my mouth either.
As usual I left all my Christmas shopping till the last ˗ and on Saturday went along Oxford St to see what I could see. (Nothing but the best for Crowl’s recipients.) But in spite of the most wide selection of stuff imaginable it was very difficult to decide what to get, and I finished up with nothing. However, yesterday (Monday) I set out again with firmer intentions and more idea ˗ I’d had no clue as to what I would get anyone on Saturday ˗ and wound up with a pair of cups for Reg and Mavis (glass cups with copper holders; I’d wanted something copper for them ˗ and they already have everything!), a modern type of brooch for Margaret, and an Indian scarf for Nina. I was originally going to get Margaret the scarf, and to get some serviette rings for R and M (they use them all the time) but my plans got changed as I went along. I got Mike a record, as I’m going to his place for dinner, and Kathy (Tither) I’m going to give a copy of Zorba the Greek that Marilyn sent me ˗ after I’d bought my own. Or does that seem mean? But I don’t see the point of it hanging around doing nothing.
The amount of jewellery that is around is incredible. Lots of it is very cheap (well, above a pound, but under three) and very individual and very attractive. The trendy people these days are wearing about three rings on each hand (!) and so the variety is enormous. And they do such interesting things to make jewellery. I saw one shop where they had butterfly wings (an incredibly vivid blue) encased in gold surrounds, and another shop where sea plants had been enamelled and coppered, etc. And the variety of colour of jewels, whatever they are, is dazzling. Of course if you’re well off, in London, and like lots of ‘trinkets’, you can have a fabulous time. I have a fabulous time, just shop-window-gazing.
In Burlington Arcade, for example, or in White’s (?) Galleries (an old cinema, I think, now filled with tiny one room shops) [I can't identify this place.]. The pendant I sent you (and which I hope arrived), is a goldstone ˗ from Indonesia, I think the girl said. It’s about as small as pendants come just now ˗ I’m presuming your taste hasn’t altered that much ˗ because the average one is three or four times as large, clustered around with trimmings, and even with little bells in some cases.
I actually quite enjoy Christmas shopping ˗ it isn’t only the wares that are varied; the people are an incredibly fascinating mixture, and just as interesting. And I like wrapping up things too ˗ though last year was a bit of a mess, and not the most pleasant Christmas I’ve ever spent.
Margaret’s brooch is the shape of a flat orange-quarter, with an enamel content, but with an abstract painting on it, somehow varnished in. Sounds a bit weird, but it’s rather attractive. I thought of lots of things I could get the Crowls, but they wouldn’t go with their house. I found an old typewriter ribbon case for the brooch and padded it out with tissue paper left over my cold! I must have picked up some of the Hannagan ingenuity after all.
Since I started this letter I’ve made 30/-; Pete Lyon rang me up the other day to get me to do some coaching, today. And I went to a trade showing of Ben-Hur (back, in 70mm) on Sunday (!) morning with Trevor Neilsen from work [he was the Australian manager I’d mentioned previously]; I found a lot of it quite moving, though I hadn’t remembered enjoying it much the first time. It’s still very much a Hollywood piece and a lot of it is a bit rubbishy. The 70mm process is often disconcerting: hills sloping off at the side of the film turn out not to be hills, and the sea bends! Ships coming at each other in one scene from the sides of the shot are coming uphill at each other!!

Love Mike, and Happy New Year!

Friday, January 15, 2016

15.12.69 - Shopping, family, operas, Catholicism

15.12.69 [Typed with a new ribbon on two aerogrammes]
Dear Mum, it shouldn’t be hard to guess what I’ve finally bought myself. And what a job it was to get one! It was hard enough finding a typewriter shop (and of course there turned out to be a much closer one) but then it was one of those places where they expect you to find everything yourself, and in the end I had to give up and get the assistant. This is one of the more annoying things over here about the shops ˗ it’s okay if you’re just browsing, but if you’re in a hurry, and want something, they still ignore you. Foyles, that great and renowned bookshop, is the worst I’ve struck. There it takes you ages to work out who the assistants are, and then they turn out to be all foreigners with only limited English, and once you’ve got what you want, you have to re-find the assistant, who then wraps the book, but doesn’t take your money; for this you have to find a cashier! And then once you’ve paid your money, you have to find the wretched assistant for the third time and hope he hasn’t given your purchase to someone else!
I’ve been doing some other purchasing too. I was so displeased with the Christmas present I sent you after I’d sent it that when by accident I saw another elephant in the Shepherd Market, in Mayfair, (though what an elephant was doing in Shepherd Market I don’t know) I thought that since it was a much smaller elephant I would send it by airmail, and perhaps it would reach you before Christmas. (Margaret’s birthday, by the way, is the 23rd of December.) [Margaret Crowl, my only English cousin.] I haven’t actually posted it yet, but it’s all wrapped up anyway. When I’ve sent it I’ll let you know a little more about it and its origin.
Re the Crowls ˗ I’ve finally been up again (it was two months since the last time, though I don’t know how the time could have gone like that) and things are sorting themselves out for them. Nina is to move into a room above those occupied by a man who looks after the ‘almshouses’ and will share a bathroom and kitchen with another lady. This room is bigger than what she presently occupies in Woodland Way, so it should suit her reasonably well. She is apparently now happy about the whole idea and glad it would seem to be going out on her own. I didn’t see her all weekend, as for the most part she was in bed with the flu that is knocking down Britishers like flies (but not NZs) and which had a touch of pleurisy with it. And anyway she still, I think, isn’t speaking to Reg!
She and Margaret had been to a concert in Westminster on the night I arrived, and it turned out the Peter Baillie, who was Albert Herring in the production I worked on at home! Funny how people pop up again like that, isn’t it? The Crowls were as usual pleased to see me, and spoilt me left right and centre. And to cap it all they gave me my Christmas present when I left because I may now be going to have Christmas dinner with Mike and Kate (the Crowls said I was under no obligation to go up there, which at least lets me know they’d like to have me but won’t force me, so to speak). I went all the way home quite sure in my mind it was a rather large box of chocolates, but it turned out to be a large, beautifully illustrated book called The Wonderful World of Nature. It’s a Reader’s Digest publication, and looks to be rather fascinating. Heaven knows when I’ll get time to read it.
soloist had been
Here’s why: I realised recently that my letters to Francisco were all the same, rather dull, and surmised that I was trying to write to someone whose background I know nothing about. So I made a decision to alter this state of affairs, and set off to my local library to see what I could see. They had next to nothing! I went to the other local library. Ditto. I went to the library in the West End. Ditto. The next day I went back to the first library and discovered that in spite of appearances they were actually the London library that specialised in collecting books on Asia! But they have them hidden away, and you have to ask. There are about fifty on Korea, so I have some reading ahead! Actually, many of them are accounts of the war, and many of these no doubt will cover pretty much the same sort of material. However, I started off with one that gave a general background ˗ the sort of book we used to use at school for Social Affairs (was it?) ˗ and then went on to one written by a social worker, and have now just started one which gives a good number of legends, fairy tales, fables, etc. It seems that the London libraries each specialise in some subject: and I had to go down to Kensington to get a book on the language of Korea.
About the middle book of those mentioned above. It’s called The Never-ending Flower (most books on Korea are called The Land of the Morning Calm) and is by a woman called Susie Younger. She is a Catholic convert, and has been in Korea for nine years as a social worker, living as a Korean in fact. She is absolutely charming, and is as remarkable a woman in her own way as all the other people she calls remarkable in her book. I have got more information from her on the differences and similarities that exist than from the straightforward text books, naturally, and I will go more
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quickly through the book again before I take it back, in order to refamiliarize myself with the details of life and living in Korea and amongst the families.
At the end of the book she has a little chapter dealing with herself, as an answer to those who wonder why she remains (a) single, and (b) in Korea. It also gives a little of her history as far as becoming a convert is concerned. While the actual groping towards the light of final conversion is, or was, a fairly lengthy process, the actual awakening of the truths in her was quite a sudden, casual thing. Something that could not have been foreseen, and therefore all the more obviously the work of his Lordship above. I’m mentioning all this, just to bring up again the subject of my own conversion, so to speak. Not that I haven’t been a sort of Catholic for years, as you know, but it’s only since the H business, where I was forced to state my case either for yea or nay, and even more from a follow-up when they held Forty Hours at the parish church, and when I managed to spend, for the first time with ease, an hour each day just meditating (for want of a better word) and also starting to understand, via that marvellously human priest-writer, Father Quoist, just what it is to be a Christian, but more particularly, a Catholic, that I’ve felt I know where I’m going ultimately. I can’t say I much like the look of the road, and it seems a hell of a ˗ or perhaps a heaven ˗ of a long way to go (!), and 99% of me objects to the trip entirely, but at least the other one percent has said that the idea is rather more worthwhile than I would have said a short while ago. This is all a bit vague, and I could do with Susie Younger’s gift of putting it down with proper humour, and better clarity. I’m a bit like one of those faith-healed people who shout “I’ve got religion!’ I know I have more than for any other reason because the ‘it’ helped me through that dreadfully dark patch that came in the wake of the recent chaos, and which is still helping me to push on when part of my mind says, ‘forget all this faith gunge and go back to your girl ˗ why put more trust in something you can’t hold in your hand?’  
In spite of what I’ve said about the help I know I’m receiving, I feel more alone than ever sometimes. Can you understand this sort of rather paradoxical situation? And yet having said that, perhaps I only now realise how really truly alone I was before, and how much more happy and inner-cleansed (!) I feel now when something turns up where I can try and help. Since I opened up my thoughts to David about H that time, we’ve been much closer, and often have long chats and discussions about things and ideas I’ve never talked about with anyone before. We are all the same, yet how remarkably different we all are! We all go through the same process, yet what infinite graduations [gradations, maybe] mould us into the strange, crazy beings we are. And yet in spite of the continual presence of the Good Lord, (and also my guardian angel ˗ I’d carefully forgotten about him for some time) I find it very easy to sink deep into despair when I don’t seem to overcome faults (when I don’t even seem to want to!) and desperately want to cry out for the helping hand that I need to hold to get me through. Still I think perhaps it’s better to be that much more alive than to be vegetating, soul-wise, as I was before.
You didn’t know you’d raised a lunatic; though you must have guessed it by now from all the ravings above. Not to worry, I’ve discovered in the last few weeks just how unbelievably understanding mothers are too!
I’m now about to change the subject entirely, so you can start to relax again. This last week has been rather hectic as it’s been the end of the term for the Opera Centre, and I managed to get to see both their shows as well as going to The Rake’s Progress at the Wells on Thursday night. This is an opera by Stravinsky ˗ set to an English text, and has some very funny moments, and some very tender ones and some very tense ones, and finally some very movingly sad ones. In short all the sorts of things that the best story-tellers have been using since time immemorial. And the music is some of the most melodic and rhythmic that Stravinsky has written. The Wells do it very well too ˗ it happens by chance to be very much associated with them rather than with an American company as one might expect since it was written over there. (But first performed in Italy, incredibly!)

The first of the Centre’s pieces is a rather bitsy affair called The Carmelites [Dialogues of the Carmelites] with, to quote David, some rather curious theology, and which finishes with the guillotining of about a dozen nuns, just off-stage. Not a very good piece really, though with many fine moments, and here with a well performed production. The other was a double bill of The Telephone (again!) [again, because I’d worked on this with the Dunedin Opera Company, and it had been done by the Centre as well], quite well done, and Malcolm Williamson’s four or five-year-old piece English Eccentrics, as a sort of vaudeville of 18th century eccentrics, gathered together to comment on each other and to perform their sad and mad little histories. This is by far the best thing I’ve seen the Centre do, though perhaps not having been in on it has biased me somewhat. But it was certainly a very fine production excellently performed. Love Mike.