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Saturday, 12 October 2013


Saturday, October 12th., Cadogan Square, London.

I was noticing the faces and the demeanour of the middle-aged or ageing women-shoppers in Sloane Street. It was painful to observe how few of them can use powder and paint with effectiveness and discretion. Some of the lips were dreadful sights. Then the haughty, hard, harsh expression on some of the faces! The sort of expression that says savagely, during strikes: "Shoot them down!" or "They ought to be made to work!" or "Unions ought to be made illegal." A large percentage of these ladies must surely be rather unpleasant to live with. You seldom see such expressions as theirs on the faces of men. I suppose this is because men go about more, and arrive at a notion of the real facts of existence. 

Thinking about the extension of suffrage to women I imagined that a woman like this might conceivably become Prime Minister one day and would inevitably proceed to wreak havoc on the organised labour movement in this country. As regards politics and industry, a lot of these women are living in the 1880's. They are probably one of the origins of the servant problem. They don't realise that they have nothing whatever to be haughty or self-complacent about. Most of them have done nothing for society at large, and little for the other immortal souls who menially serve them: though of course all, or nearly all, of them have patronised the poor.

The truth is that Sloane Street during the shopping hours is not an entirely agreeable spectacle. I much prefer Oxford Street, where the social salt of the earth do not occupy the pavements. I prefer even Bond Street which is more international than Sloane Street and less conscious of a sublime superiority. But for a man with eyes to see - naturally I mean myself - the most interesting shopping street is the despised Strand. Nevertheless the Strand is losing its most endearing and picturesque characteristics. It will soon be widened from end to end. What is worse it will soon consist solely of 'edifices', and the last of the high narrow shop-houses will have vanished. And what is even worse, it will soon be tidy. Withal there are but few frills on the Strand - yet.

I have been re-reading "Mr. Prohack" and enjoyed it. It does occur to me though that I could have taken a little more trouble and either made it more overtly satirical, or made it more frankly farcical, like "The Card"; it is not an entirely happy compromise. Prohack is I think an engaging character, but the rest are slight.  Speaking of engaging characters, I have also been re-reading "Silas Marner" and think Dolly Winthrop delightful. George Eliot had a surprising facility for gentle humour, and some of her minor character dialogue rivals Hardy at his best.

Additionally for October 12th., see 'News from Germany' -

Spender (see 'Writing for Victory' September 3rd.) spoke about the poverty of Germany, and of a great struggle between inhabitants of 2 room tenements in poorer quarters and the police. The police laid down that it was unsanitary for people to sleep in a room where cooking was done. This of course would have put the whole family into one room to sleep. They could not enforce the decree practically. Then they had kitchens constructed in new tenements, in such a manner, so full of corners, that beds could not be put into them! He also spoke of seeing a highly respectable-looking long row of tenements in Munich, as to which a guide friend said to him: "You see those houses? There isn't a w.c. in the whole row. When the tenants want a w.c. they go to that beer hall there and have a drink in order to use a w.c." 

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