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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Love in the Phoney War - March-April 1940
Yesterday's entry found my father's crush on Käte running into the double problem of her impending marriage, and his own lack of funding for another term's study at Woodbrooke, which meant that he would have to leave at Easter and decide what to do with his life.

4 Monday
In the afternoon we played an amusing game of hockey. Just before tea I discovered a small package in my pigeon-hole. It was a little picture of a gazelle, together with a note. “Don’t forget me!” It was from Gerda. (This was very sweet of her.) After supper I slipped out. Both Gerda and Käte came, and we had taken but four steps when we came upon Gerda’s “Hausfreund” and Käte’s fiancé. We said goodbye to Gerda—really for the last time, and Käte and I continued. It was a lovely walk. She said she had to get back by 9.30 for “something important,” and later it slipped out that it was to “talk business” with her fiancé. She wants to know whether I am returning next term. So do I.

5 Tuesday
I did my ironing in the afternoon and then went to Horace Alexander’s to tea. Quite enjoyable. Käte left me a note. She has read my French sketches and likes them. As I suspected, she cannot accept my “invitation” for the “holidays” (what “holidays” for me?!) as she is already going to Nancy’s. But she gives another reason which I don’t find as convincing:-- “da man sich auf dieser Erde auch etwas nach ‘Erlaubten’ und dergleichen Scherzen richten muss” [because on this earth, after ‘permissible’ and such-like jokes, one has to smarten up[??]].

I’m growing very selfish.

11 Monday
I learned to-day that it is almost certain I will not be coming back. From now, I do not attend lectures outside the college. I just read and do German.

12 Tuesday
I write a letter as cheerful as I can to Käte, but not telling her that I will not be coming back. I just do not mention it.

15 Friday
Käte meets me and tells me (as I prophesied to her) that she is going to America the middle of next term and later that she is getting married in three weeks’ time. Thank the Lord I shall not be here to see it!

18 Monday
In the afternoon Dr. Wood took me to see Dr. Rendel Harris.* He sat in his chair, head sunk on heart, and a flow of white beard round his collar—a grand sight. I let them talk rather, and listened very attentively, stroking the Doctor’s cat the while. There is not room to record the conversation here. As we were leaving, Dr. Rendel Harris said to me, “Good-bye, my dear man!”

In the evening I spent my time in getting my trunk ready.

* James Rendel Harris (27 January 1852 – 1 March 1941). Biblical scholar and curator, and the first head of Woodbrooke.

19 Tuesday
To-day, at a tea-party, Kenneth Lea’s sister came over and sat on his knee, in front of me. She then got talking to me (no, this was yesterday). But to-day, at another tea-party, she continued to talk with me.

In the afternoon, George and I play as partners in doubles ping-pong, and after a hard bout, win. He is so elated that he flings his arms up into the air—a blinding flash, and the electric light and shade crash down. I go to fetch a broom, see Käte in the pantry. She ruffles my hair and we kiss.

Evening Log-Night [??]. I read my poems, but am terribly nervous and my hand trembles. In my pigeon-hole I find a book from Käte, with a nice dedication.

I write a letter back till mid-night and then crawl into bed.

20 Wednesday
Everybody leaves this morning, except the staff, and Margaret (Kenneth’s sister) and me. We go to the Lickeys. Of course, it happened and we found ourselves lost in a kiss—she is a real woman. At the end she says “You’ve made me all wet—I’m just in the mood to be seduced.” No takers—this is not the time or place. She then tells me about her husband and John, the student, who lives with them, and with whom she slept “a couple of nights” but cannot now bear. She is in a real bad state and doesn’t think Elfriede can help her (Elfriede’s brilliant suggestion is that Margaret hates John because she hated her father). She asks me to phone her, so we kiss good-bye. She lives at Streatham.—I can see sparks flying!!! I like her.

I pack my hand-case, leave it at Miss Hixon’s, go to the pictures, return to Miss Hixon’s, go out again and meet Käte. I think this last evening was one of the most perfect we have had, the moon shining. She stood on a log over and against me, and opened her coat so that I could rest my head inside. The moonshine was over all. She wants me to come back to Birmingham—to get a job there for the next week or two. At the “finish” as we end our walk, she is sulky and hopes I “will change my mind.” What good would it do. I should like to do it... but...

21 Thursday
I sleep in a comfortable little bed with the moon still shining. My mind is full of Margaret and Käte and all the queer occurrences one meets with.

Miss Balch calls for me and we start off. As we near Godalming, driving along the Hog’s Back we see beautiful Surrey beneath us on either side... Blue hills, pines, brown bracken, and sweeping sky...

28 Thursday
’Bout time I got a job, isn’t it? But I really don’t want to be an errand-boy again! I’ve done it once.

1 Monday
As I was finishing my bath morning, Wilky [Ronald Wilkinson] called with the car and I was able to go up to London with him. A glorious day—with an accent on “glorious.” We went to Holland Park first of all, where we saw the new B.E.A.* premises, and then Wilky drove me to Oxford Circus where I was about 10 minutes late for Margaret. She was talking with a woman and so I waited till they had finished. We had a coffee and then went to the pictures. Afterwards we went to Streatham where she bought some mushrooms for her husband’s supper. We find John—her two-night lover—moodily washing up some crockery. We had tea and then sat in arm-chairs opposite one another. Later we got close and she said to me “You just don’t know whether you ought to make love or not, do you?” To tell the truth, I felt in a most unmoved state. She had earlier in the evening come behind me and thrust her hands in my pockets and made them creep round me, but I had not let her—it was before tea anyway and these things don’t make good hors-d’oeuvres. I disappeared before Kim, her husband, returned.

* British Esperanto Association.

2 Tuesday
To-day I stay in bed late. Letter from Lucie, which she says is a “real love-letter,” and announces her departure. She says she feels now, that she is “terrible in love with me.” She is one of the few people I find it at all exciting to kiss. (Triste commentaire.) I like her the more I see her.

In the afternoon I cycle over to Teddington and see Margaret, still in trousers, in her sister’s house. We spoon together like a newly-married couple and make ourselves some tea and then lie in each other’s arms in two arm-chairs. What a lazy afternoon! I try and be not too definite about Friday, as I feel too lazy to decide anything. She felt a bit sore because she was still in the middle of her period, but feeling better than yesterday she said. Kim had loosened her pyjamas last night and played about with her a bit. She says she was thinking of me, saw my face and was too sleepy to distinguish her own husband. (Which I think a very good sign!)

3 Wednesday
This morning a letter from Käte, saying she married on Sunday and that on Monday morning—the morning after her wedding-night, her “Mann” (!) brought her my letter. (“Ironie des Schicksales!” [irony of fate!]) she sent me a piece of her wedding-dress. I cut out a little square of black-out curtain and send it to her without commentary, using her maiden name on the envelope. You see that I am not in a particularly generous or “grown-up” mood this morning.

7 Sunday
Spent the evening with the Trittons. Fred leaving for Spain to-morrow.

8 Monday
Margaret came over to-day. We listened to some records, went to the pictures, and then returned and had tea in Naomi’s bedroom.*

Jamie** said jokingly to me later in the evening, “Are your intentions honourable—do you intend to marry the girl?” I replied that I would willingly, except that her husband might have something to say about it....

“Ah!—gigolo!” he says.

We discuss Taboos amongst natives till late.

* Tom's younger sister.
** Tom's elder brother.

This is where the diary ends, alas - just too soon for the fall of France, Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. When I discovered a 1940 diary I was hopeful it would contain observations on all these things, but given my father's seeming lack of interest in anything military I'm not convinced he'd have mentioned them anyway. In fact, I know very little of how he spent the rest of this year. The only anecdote I remember him mentioning is of firewatching. During one of the worst nights of the Blitz he was sitting on a tall building somewhere in central London, with the city in flames around him. Suddenly, out of the air a piece of half burned paper floated, landing at his feet. Only the following words were legible:

Delivered with all possible dispatch.


Wow--that last fact is so . . . I dunno. Vivid?

I so love your family archives.

That scrap is poetry.


Suddenly, out of the air a piece of half burned paper floated, landing at his feet. Only the following words were legible


"driving along the Hog’s Back we see beautiful Surrey beneath us on either side"

... and you still do; it's just up the road from here.

Thank you for posting these fascinating entries.

He loved the Hog's Back all his life.

Wow! Your father was about the age of mine, who is still living and working on a war memoir. Recently we came across a mass of old letters, including a great many between him and his father when he was with the RAF and the Army Air Corps (he had joined up in Canada before the US was in the war, and later transferred to the US forces). I've transcribed those for him and need to work on some of the others.