March 20, 1915

Besides 1 man killed and 2 wounded, ‘Fletcher* was shot through the head by a sniper just after breakfast. During this tour he had gone out and brought in a French tricolour which the Germans had fastened to a tree right over their wire. The flag was afterwards presented to Eton College where he had been a master. He will be a great loss, not only for his gallantry, but for his personality and his conversation at Mess. To return off a cold and sticky digging party to Streaky Bacon [Farm] to find him sitting up over a decanter of rum with Wynne-Edwards and chanting in Greek a chorus from Aristophanes, or to hear his gay voice through a billet window on a bright March morning declaiming Swinburne’s “The Hounds of Spring are on Winter’s traces,” or watch him blowing smoke-rings after Mess while he parried the C.O.’s chaff about “University Education,” was an essential part of the amazing mixture of those days. There was something truly Elizabethan about “The Don”. He was buried in the cemetery on the right hand of the road as we go out to Bois Grenier.’

The war the infantry knew 1914-1919 by Captain J. C. Dunn, Abacus 2014.

*Second Lieutenant Walter George Fletcher, 1888-1914.

Saturday Sun

A photograph of a girl lying diagonally across a bed.

Saturday Sun

Saturday sun came early one morning
In a sky so clear and blue
Saturday sun came without warning
So no-one knew what to do

Saturday sun brought people and faces
That didn’t seem much in their day
But when I remembered those people and places
They were really too good in their way

In their way
In their way
Saturday sun won’t come and see me today

Think about stories with reason and rhyme
Circling through your brain
And think about people in their season and time
Returning again and again

And again
And again

But Saturday’s sun has turned to Sunday’s rain
So Sunday sat in the Saturday sun

and wept for a day gone by

Lyrics by Nick Drake


Poster for the 1950 film Harvey starring James Stewart.
Harvey Film Poster

“Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.” — Elwood P. Dowd, Harvey (1950)

A Better Class of Vandal

The following graffiti has been scrawled on the bottom of a platform sign at Gunnersbury Underground station:

To be joyous is to be like a madman in a world of dead ghosts.

Turns out it’s a misquote of Henry Miller, who apparently stated:

To be joyous is to be a madman in a world of sad ghosts.

Silly mistake. Whoever heard of a dead ghost? Nevertheless, the scribe was obviously reasonably literate … for a vandal.

Katrina comments

Hummingbird hovers above a bird feeder

The NPR web site has an interesting page of comments from the public about Hurricane Katrina. Here’s one example from Marybeth Lima of Baton Rouge, Louisiana:

As a survivor of the outskirts of Hurricane Katrina, right now, this is what I know:

  • that in Baton Rouge, La., the winds hit 110 miles per hour, and the hummingbirds navigated this wind, which picked up 200 ton blocks of concrete in Mississippi, like a breeze;– that a tree frog successfully rode out the storm on the leeward side of a Mexican fan palm that battered our dining room window;
  • that though the wind thrashed the web of a writing spider and her egg sac, all three sailed through the storm without damage.

I am in awe of these micro miracles in the face of such macro devastation: trees down, power lines live, flooding, storm surge and death, even in our fair city.

Read more at NPR : Affected by Katrina? Listeners Write In

Let it stand

Excerpts from Stet by Diana Athill, who was apparently considered the best editor in London during the second half of the twentieth century.

Writing about the first book she was responsible for publishing at André Deutshe:

I would soon begin to find such fantasies a waste of time — of my time, anyway — but then, in addition to liking the sobriety and precision of the style, I felt the pull of mystification: ‘I can’t understand this — probably, being beyond me, it is very special.’ This common response to not seeing the point of something has a rather touching humility, but that doesn’t save it — or so I now believe — from being a betrayal of intelligence which has allowed a good deal of junk to masquerade as art. Whether that matters much is another question: throughout my publishing life I thought it did, so I am glad to say that the publication of The Tailor’s Cake in 1946, beautifully translated by Betty Askwith, was the only occasion on which I succumbed to the charm of mystification.

On her love of books:

I loved that book [The Toe-Rags by Daphne Anderson] even more than I loved Morris Stock’s [Parents Unknown: A Ukrainian Childhood]; and both of them I loved not for being well-written (though both were written well enough for their purposes), but because of what those two people were like. They brought home to me the central reason why books have meant so much to me. It is not because of my pleasure in the art of writing, though that has been very great. It is because they have taken me so far beyond the narrow limits of my own experience and have so greatly enlarged my sense of the complexity of life: of its consuming darkness, and also — thank God — of the light which continues to struggle through.

Much to my surprise Diana Athill writes a lot about Caribbean literature in Stet. Not only are there long chapters on Jean Rhys and V. S. Naipaul, but Athill was also Eric Williams’ editor and travelled to both Dominica and Trinidad & Tobago in the course of her career. In addition, she had an affair with Hakim Jamal, an American disciple of Malcolm X, who was involved in the murders in 1972 that formed the subject of Naipaul’s story The Killings in Trinidad. I found it all quite unexpectedly fascinating and would recommend it, not least because it’s exceptionally well-written.

Housework As A Hobby

“People who know what is good for other people all the time are as big a menace in our society as the capitalists.”
May Hobbs, Born to Struggle, Postlude (1973).

More from The East End of London:

Cleanliness was so difficult to achieve in the East End home, yet so highly valued and so commonly practised, that it almost amounted to a decorative feature. “Cleanliness is my wife’s hobby, and I let her indulge it”, said a Shadwell coal-whipper to Mayhew as he showed him his spotless rooms.