steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Love in the Phoney War - February 1940

Yesterday's entry found my father at Woodbrooke, the Quaker educational college, which at this time seems to have housed a large number of German Jewish refugees. He has begun to fall for one of them, Käte, currently working as a maid, and his interest appears to be returned. But there is a problem: Käte is engaged...

1 Thursday
I achieved a nearly perfect shave this morning, although fully expecting to draw blood. What a nuisance it is!

I returned into Selly Oak in search of a barber. I found four—all disreputable-looking but all closed—apparently they do this on Thursday, and sometimes on Wednesday according to a native.

4 Sunday
After supper I went out with Käte. It was exquisite. There was no reserve—except for the Verlobung [engagement] and its influence. I wonder why she came out with me. She said she pitied me at first, and yet not... Very strange. I am most intrigued. H. G. Alexander told me about workers being wanted for Rumania...

5 Monday
I wrote a note to Käte, and ended with some lines from Bettina,* all in early 19th century German. I wonder whether I grudged her Gerda’s brother,** just because he is an obstacle to my having Käte—a girl from another land—that is to say by transference: Germaine?

* Possibly Bettina von Arnim (1785-1859)?
** Her fiancé, the brother of her friend Gerda.

7 Wednesday
I want Käte to write to me. As I pass the window this morning, Gerda looks out and draws two fingers from her eyes down her cheeks,--as if she were imitating crying.

Gerald Hibbert talks about birth-right membership. He refers to birth-right members (me!) as so much “dead wood.” Discussion ensued. Most interesting.

At tea-time Alison came in waving a letter for me. Before she let me have it, she kept saying, “No, tell me all your sins, and looked very meaningfully at the letter-address. Angela piped up: “Has the post come?” David said pointedly: “That letter didn’t come with the post—it has no stamp.” I retired blushing into our common-room to read it. Käte wants to see me Friday night. Gerda is going to Palestine next month, and will get married before going.

8 Thursday
Elfriede analysed me last night, or anyway showed me her sympathy. To-day, because I started playing with her hair she said it was “ungentlemanly” and later in the day, upon further provocation, that I must remember she is not longer “a young girl.” I looked at her innocently and said “Aren’t you?” She doesn’t know whether to call me impertinent—such a stern show would quite discountenance her kind nature, or bear with me for the psychological material I might represent.

9 Friday
In the International Forum a fluent Czech speaks about Munich. After supper I slip out and join Käte. It is cold, but we do not feel cold. We talk and laugh together. I look up at the stars and say “Two stars.” We stand together closely, and then it happens: I put my hands behind her back and kiss her gently, but firmly. Then her arms come out of her pockets and go round me. And as we go along afterwards we cannot speak. Then I do, and just repeat – “Two stars.”

(She asked me why I brought out a handkerchief and I said “For my nose” – but it was not quite true in that moment – I was moved and emotional.)

14 Wednesday
After breakfast I find a Valentine waiting for me in my pigeon-hole. Every boy gets one. We read them out after dinner and supper—together with the replies. I find also—which is more important—letters from both Käte and Gerda; Käte explaining how busy she is with preparations for Gerda’s wedding and departure, and Gerda asking me to be sure to “look after” Käte well. She says that Käte will often feel alone and sad, but she is sure I can make her “very happy.” I wonder.

I write letters to both of them in German—noble effort. And that is really all the work I did to-day, and yet I feel as if I had been through the mill!

My store of oranges diminishes. I eat them instead of drinking cocoa at night.

15 Thursday

Käte smiled a lot to-day; she grows bolder at it during meal-time.
Elfriede attempts again to analyse me, and tells me something about her family.
Eunice is annoyed because I called her photos “ghastly.” (She has the right to be.)
I still do not feel very bright, but hope it will pass soon away.
I don’t want to shave.
My oranges are reduced to three—I wonder whether I lose my strength in proportion as I eat them?—very primitive idea!
I do no writing.
Time is passing.

19 Monday
A curious day. The morning passes normally—I see Gerda and say how glad I am she is going (what a choice of words!). In the afternoon I make some tea for Laurens, whom I suspect of not feeling well. I want to give Gerda something as a present. After hesitation I take down my nice scarf.

I slip out of the discussion circle and go to Gerda’s wedding-feast, and give her the scarf. She seems pleased and happy. They sing songs... I was not too good company. I’m afraid—something like the Berne Ball-room. In the corner sit Käte and her fiancé (I can’t bear the thought)—Gerda’s brother. Well, I grow more and more miserable and “out-of-place.” I am desperately sorry that this is so, because I really came to see Gerda and not Käte and her... fiancé. I’m afraid my “stress” must have communicated itself... anyway to Elfriede. Later I see Richard talking in German to Gerda and Käte. The conversation turned onto Gerda’s brother, and Gerda laughed as she said that Käte was really her “Schwägerin” [sister-in-law]. And then they all laughed. It was horrible. I wished Gerda luck once more, and flew. And then tried to reason things out calmly and “unselfishly.” I went to bed a little more reasonable, but wondering about the relationship between Käte and myself, since I had promised Gerda to keep an eye on her, and yet did not know how far I could continue to see her in this way (and another way would be difficult now).

20 Tuesday
I’m afraid in the evening I let Elfriede know about Käte and the rest of it. She had asked me why I was so sad on the Monday evening. Well, she was “angry” (no, not “angry”) with Käte. We had long conversations. She said that my “identification” propensity could be useful later. That the part of me which was “unstable” would always bring me into contact with girls like Käte, who were “not capable of loving much.” (Whereas Käte’s future husband “would love her faithfully in America”—he is a carpenter, and Käte would be “a devoted mother”!). Well, I think of Renée... And so for me... well, I could never be faithful—I am not capable of it (Elfriede says she is not faithful either... it cannot be helped, that’s all).

21 Wednesday
Another curious day. I dreamt that I was in a house (with some other people whom I did not see) and that we were being kept there. An impression of several escapes being prevented reached me. Then I tried to escape. I had to open one door and then another, knowing that there was somebody behind me pursuing, who was going to try and bring me back. This was Leo Liepmann. But a little later I met another Leo Liepmann upon the stairs and took an opportunity of pushing him heavily against the wall so that he fell helplessly onto the ground. At last I reached the exterior of the house. All was sunshine and fields. I knew now that the person behind me had a gun (it was of course Elfriede) and was going to shoot mustard gas or ammonia bombs at me. I felt one glance against my side and burst. I managed to escape it. Then a girl appeared (it was Käte, although it did not look like her) and said in German that everything was so beautiful that I should stop and go with her into a kind of bush-land there. I said that I could not stop, and that if I did I should be caught, and she too. Then I awoke.

This evening, as I was listening to the wireless, I started suddenly, looked around, and saw Elfriede on the steps in the hall. I knew that she had “called” me. I got up and went to her. “You are a good medium,” she said. She just wanted to know whether I was unhappy. I said that I was “alright”... but... Then I am “beruhigt” [reassured], she said; gave me her hand and went off to bed.

23 Friday
Now to-night there really was a full moon. The day had been rainy at first, but at evening the clouds cleared and left the sky gorgeous with light. Käte and I walked together. The moon lighted up our faces. It was a perfect night for anyone in love. She told me that Gerda was on the Lickey Hills with her “Hausfreund” (a friend one has besides the husband). Well, whatever she was doing, she could not have had a lovelier night for it. We were quite gay together, and happy. Everything seemed transformed and ethereal. We stopped at a street-crossing. It was like a theatre. We waited for the players to walk onto the scene, but there was only the sound of a dog barking.

When I arrived back, my hair was all ruffled and curly, and people said I looked “clean.” Purified, I should say.

24 Saturday
I wrote poetry all this morning. I tried to add to the suite: “The River,” and was towards completing “The Last Bridge.” In the afternoon I went out to tea with the Hipsleys. Before I went though, I helped Erich by typing out some letters to America for him.

In the evening, the Warden told me that they could not find all the money for a further term, but that if I could find the rest, they would be glad to have me for a second term. Well... all sorts of visions floated before me... Käte. The loss of my little room and reading, ping-pong... (although I do not mix up Käte and “personal comforts”!). Well, there it is!

26 Monday
In the afternoon some of us were invited to a tea-party by Bal. Later we tramped for a couple of miles up to a garage in Cotteridge, where a man explained the parts of a motor-car to us and then I jacked the car up and took off the wheel, in my fashion! I talked with Eileen Fletcher on the way back, and when she asked me what I wanted to do—or do next, found myself saying: “I’ve no idea”—and almost, “I’ve no desire.” This is really stupid, yet it seems true!

Richard gave a fine explosive opening to our discussion circle by calling a goodly percentage of Christians Pharisees. I tried to see Robert Davies to ask him about Blackborough to-day,* but he seemed nowhere to be found. Horace asked me why I didn’t join the F.A.U. [Friends’ Ambulance Unit]. Well...!

* Spiceland Quaker Training Centre, based in Blackborough House in Devon, provided training for relief work.

27 Tuesday
During German this morning, it suddenly came home to me once more what a lot of words this language contains, and on looking through the dictionary at the idioms etc... Well, I have a life-time before me—all but 21 years, so let’s see whether we can accomplish anything in that line...!

29 Thursday
Domingo* gave a very good and interesting account of his work for the canteens in Spain. This was in the evening.

I sat next to Elfriede and Richard afterwards. They were talking in German. She was saying how she disliked the Northern—the Scandinavian type of man—with fair hair and a big face. They also talk about Käte and Gerda. A propos of Käte Richard could only say “die andere is sehr intelligent—sehr intelligent” [the other one is very intelligent]. So this is what I’m up against!

* Domingo Ricart (1901-87) had worked with the Quaker International Relief Unit during the Spanish Civil War.

Tomorrow - the messy denouement
Tags: family history
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