Phantom flies in amber

So George was preparing himself in earnest for his forthcoming medical. He mentions having ‘massages’. I have a clear recollection of reading somewhere that these were ‘electrical’ massages — presumably the latest thing — but I cannot for the life of me find now where I read that.

This is a phenomenon that I think, or hope, most biographers suffer from. In the course of researching something else, you read something at the edge of your vision, in the thinnest penumbra of the current focus of your inquiry, and years later you think it is significant, you desperately want to use it, but you are darned if you can find it.

These ‘facts’ stick there in your brain like flies in amber… They rapidly acquire ‘reality’ in your mind and memory… And that is the terrible shift, the insidious metamorphosis, because all the time you cannot find their source they could be entirely imaginary! 

Certainly, of course, you can’t use them, as they are unattributable.

Some examples in my case would be:

1. George Calderon not only did ‘exercises’ and had ‘massage’ when he was striving to get back into the Army, he had ‘electrical’, possibly even ‘magnetic’ massage, which would be typical of his obsession with the latest expensive gadget or fad. (Entirely unproven.)

2. His brother Henry had a child, because I once saw a very blurred announcement of the fact in the digital Times, noted it, but could never find it again. (See posts of 27 September, 11 October, 12 December.) No such child’s birth is registered in Britain for this period, so this ‘fly in amber’ is a phantom. Possibly I ‘confused’ it with an announcement of the death of George’s sister-in-law Kathleen in 1909.

3. Searching various digital newspapers about three years ago, I noticed that a ‘northern’ newspaper (the Manchester Guardian?) referred ‘in passing’ to George as a ‘playboy’. This ‘made sense’, I thought at the time, because when he was working with repertory theatre productions of his plays in northern Britain he had to throw parties, joked, smoked and doubtless flirted a bit, and he liked playing billiards and cards… When I wanted to make use of this, however, I could no longer find it, although I searched every digital newspaper I had previously looked at. I came to the conclusion that I was entirely deluded about this particular fly. But then last September it suddenly became real: Michael Caines quoted it from the TLS of 12 May 1921!

(To be continued.)

Next entry: The Medical


About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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