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.]