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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.
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Friday, 16 March 2018
Looking out this afternoon and evening through window of back room 2nd floor at 21a Sloane Street. The whole of the old garden or back yard space between Sloane Street and Pavilion Road is built over with annexes to houses, low, chiefly covered with lead, and probably workshops or additional offices. There is no open ground at all, so that the houses might as well be 'back to back' houses. I wonder what goes on in them? There may be brothels or opium dens for all I know. Quite possibly there are interconnections - perfect for the criminal! I suppose that ultimately all the open ground in central London will be built over.
Quiet at the back though, in contrast to the front where the thunder of traffic is nearly continuous even on a Sunday. However you get used to even that. 'Musicians' play in Sloane Street practically all day weekdays. No use trying to get them to go away. The Sloane Street musician is of course the result of the Sloane Street shoppers' (largely women) generosity to itinerant beggars in the form of bad musicians. What a life they must lead. Where do they go at night? Perhaps into hidden corners of the annexes that cover what were open spaces behind the houses!
Thursday, 15 March 2018
The first thing I can honestly remember reading, when I was six or so, was "The Ugly Duckling". It aroused in me the melancholy of life, gave me to see the deep sadness which pervades all romance, beauty and adventure. Might our first strong imaginative experience set a 'tone' which persists? I know not. It may be coincidence. I laughed heartily at the old hen-bird's wise remark that the world extended beyond the next field and much further. I could perceive the humour of that. But when the ugly duckling at last flew away on his strong pinions, and when he met the swans and was accepted as an equal, then I felt sorrowful, agreeably sorrowful. It seemed to me that nothing could undo, atone for, the grief and humiliations of the false duckling's early youth. I brooded over the injustice of his misfortunes for days. I was told: "It's only a story!" But what sort of response is that to a young mind with an imaginative predisposition? Of course it's only a story, but so is almost everything.
i have never read "the Ugly Duckling" again. It survives in my memory as a long and complex narrative, crowded with vague and mysterious allusions, and wet with the tears of things. What is the central message? Know your place? Fit in or else? And childhood is crammed full of these 'moral' stories. What harm are we doing to children unintentionally? I start to think that most education is in fact a form of child abuse, but can offer no alternative. It may be the time of year. I am experiencing a certain lassitude and an inclination to be more than usually cynical.
Wednesday, 14 March 2018
Lunch with Richmond Temple in a private room at the Savoy. Temple is a director and in charge of publicity for the hotel. I had asked him to the Reform, but he suggested the Savoy because we would be quieter. I wanted to get from him a few general ideas about hotel management here and on the continent, so that I could decide whether it would be practicable, artistically or otherwise, for me to write a 'big' novel with a hotel organism, or two hotel organisms, and probably a hotel manager as the hero. It is a project I have had in mind for some time and I feel I must do it soon, or never.
Temple has imagination and he abounds in ideas. A very cultivated man he has a wide circle of friends, some of whom are known to me. I wonder if he is a homosexual? He may be. Not that it matters. He told me that two or three years ago he 'gave' a car to Siegfried Sassoon to help him to "get more fresh air", which he did. What he didn't say, but which I knew from elsewhere (Wells, I think), was that Sassoon was depressed at the time having been 'chucked' by an American he was having an affair with. Temple is also friendly with Osbert Sitwell and has had something to do with the Savoy Orpheans. He told me lots more interesting things. I make no mention here of them. They are in my head only, and the impression they left is the only important thing to me.
In ninety minutes or less he gave me all the ideas I wanted, and I practically decided to write the book. In truth I had already decided to go ahead, but wanted somebody to tell me it was a good idea. Temple certainly did that. I think he will be disappointed if I don't get it done. A good meeting, but on balance I would rather we had not met in private. I didn't feel entirely comfortable.
Tuesday, 13 March 2018
Pleasant spring sunshine. Strolled about this morning and spent some time talking to a longtime resident of the Square. He told me that it was built between 1877 and 1888. The west side has the greatest variety of houses, all variations on the same Flemish-influenced theme. 54-58 were designed by William Young in 1877 for Lord Cadogan himself, and the architect J J Stevenson was largely responsible for the south side, built in 1879-85. The east side was built in 1879. The Square is formed of a garden (restricted to residents) surrounded by red-brick houses, the majority of which have been converted into flats or apartments. It is a very fashionable location and so expensive, but it suits me well. Marguerite would have liked it, but I would not have liked it so well with her.
I had been feeling rather gloomy but the sunshine cheered me. Struggling to get good ideas. Neuralgia has been bothering me, and of course I am dyspeptic as usual. Feeling my age. Somebody asked me the other day, during dinner, what I believed in. Sets one back a bit that sort of direct question. I think they meant from a religious point of view and I passed it off with a jocular remark, but it has been on my mind. What do I believe in? I am an atheist, though I don't go around saying so in public. I am amoral but I doubt if anybody would use that term in describing me. I believe in the value of art, but I would be hard-pressed to say what exactly I understood by 'art'. Mostly I believe in myself. I have always had a sort of inner confidence in my ability to cope with things and essentially I think that is what life comes down to. I suppose most people must have self-belief or else what do they have?
Monday, 12 March 2018
I have tried for two days to find the rhythms for two poems that I found ideas for - one elegiac and the other Aristophanic, and can't. I am starting to feel, but perhaps not yet quite accepting, that poetry is not my medium. There is a sort of disconnection between my original conception and what appears when I write. Of course there are not many writers who have equal facility at poetry and prose. Hardy springs to mind, and Kipling. I may be wasting my time. When I have shown poems to a select few friends they are kind of course, but hardly enthused. Time to focus on what I can do well!
Speaking of which, I have read through the first part of "Old Wives Tale", and am deeply persuaded of its excellence. Also I feel ready to make a start on the second part on Saturday. The ideas have come quite easily. I am looking forward to getting on.
Today I had a notion for a more or less regular column of literary notes - title 'Books and Persons' - for the New Age, and I wrote and sent off the first column at once. I began to work this morning in bed at 6 a.m.
Yesterday I cycled in showers and through mud to Fontainebleau to meet the architect at the new house. Found it damp, but the works more advanced than I had expected.
Been reading Lord Acton. I am driven to the conclusion that his essays are too learned in their allusiveness for the plain man. I should say that for a man who specialised in the history of the world during the last 2,500 years they would make quite first class reading. I am not that man.
Sunday, 11 March 2018
Returned from my short 'break' in Hampshire this morning in time to attend my dancing lesson. Enjoyed my visit, especially Stonehenge on Friday.
Most people think of Stonehenge as the great stone circle, which it is, but it is more than that as well. I walked all about the surrounding landscape with the intention of trying to think myself into the minds of the people for whom it was a sacred space. I can't honestly say I succeeded - rather too great a feat of imagination for me, but I felt as if I made some progress. For example the 'Avenue' which went from the river to the stones, but not directly. I found a spot on Coneybury hill which commands a view of the whole landscape and felt sure that people must have positioned themselves there to watch the processions unfolding 'below'. And there is a barrow on the hill which suggests to me that at least somebody of importance wanted to continue oversight after death. Very atmospheric to follow the route of the Avenue, which is still discernible, and to see the stones appear as one climbs a slope from lower ground. I'm sure this must have been an intentional moment of drama for the participants.
Otherwise I was generally strolling about, reading a bit, doing some word puzzles and having good conversation. Main thing - not working!
As for the dancing, I was keen not to miss my lesson. Perhaps it is strange to be learning to dance at the age of 58, but it is good exercise, I am enjoying it (some very pretty young dancing partners), and I want to be able to keep up with Dorothy, at least to some extent. The head of the little dancing school where I am being taught came to watch me today. He said to me: "What you want is courage, decision. Don't be afraid of 'em (women). Remember that they have to do what you want. You've got 'em. And it's the only time you have got 'em."
Thursday, 8 March 2018
AB is presently indulging in a short break in Hampshire.
He hopes to venture as far as Stonehenge in Wiltshire tomorrow or the next day to explore the ritual landscape, and may report on persons and places encountered.