In my post of 5 January I described what I assume is a bugbear of all biographers: ‘facts’ that you have acquired from somewhere, that stick in your mind like flies in amber, but when you want to use them you can’t find their source for love or money, you end up wondering whether you imagined them, and you can’t use them. I quoted three in my January post and said the theme would be continued.
I now continue and conclude the theme, but with what is not so much a phantom fly in amber as a very large black beetle.
The fact is, when I returned from a year’s research in Russia in the summer of 1973 my great-uncle Tom and great-auntie Lottie came over to visit my grandmother, who was living with us, and they asked me about my experiences in Russia. They listened, and at one point (I can see her now) my aunt simply turned to my uncle and said, ‘Mrs ——–‘s husband went to Russia, didn’t he, Tom?’ To which my uncle, who had a slight stammer, simply replied, ‘Yes…yes he did.’ This seemed to be a private exchange between them, and I didn’t recognise the surname of Mrs ——–, so I didn’t pursue it.
But the thing is, Mrs ——–‘s surname was unusual, not obviously English, and years later, after my aunt and uncle were dead, I could swear that the name was ‘Calderon’, which, of course, meant nothing to me in the year 1973. So the prospect suddenly arose that my own great-aunt and -uncle had met Kittie and even heard her speak about George!
And it’s not impossible. My great-uncle was a long-distance train driver and had lived close to the great Ashford (Kent) railway terminus since about 1925, and in 1934 Kittie Calderon moved from Hampshire to Kennington, only two and a half miles from where my aunt and uncle lived. There is evidence that Kittie was active in Ashford’s social life in the 1930s, as were my aunt and uncle, and that Kittie gave permission for George’s translation of The Cherry Orchard to be used gratis for a production in Ashford during the war, to raise money for the Services Club close to Ashford Station. Perhaps, then, Kittie had also given a ‘talk’ about her husband.
As you can imagine, it is now somewhat mind-boggling to contemplate the possibility that my aunt and uncle ‘knew’ Kittie. Why on earth did I not ask them about ‘Mrs ——–‘?! How much, and what, could they have told me?! Did they even visit her at ‘White Raven’, the house built for her by Violet and Evey Pym’s son Jack and called that because her lifelong friend Nina Corbet (from the Norman knight ‘Corbeau’) was ‘Black Raven’ and Kittie ‘White Raven’ (from the Russian expression for ‘something rare’)? Photographs suggest that Kittie entertained large groups of a women’s organisation at ‘White Raven’ in the garden, so could my aunt have attended?
How-ever… This massive beetle in the amber of memory may be a complete phantom. I may, of course, be imagining I heard the name ‘Calderon’ and, above all, I shall never be able to verify this ‘fact’ in this world. Please be advised, however, that despite today’s date this is not a spoof; I have not made this Cheshire Beetle up.
Next entry: What is ‘The Lamp’ about? (1)