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
[second aerogramme]
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.