Archived ‘Watch this Space’

This page contains archived ‘Watch this Space’ posts, with the most recent first and currently going back to 16 December 2015. Posts prior to 16 December will be entered in due course.

Watch this Space 16 March 2016

16/3/16. Segueing (I hope that is correct — I have never used the verb before) from last week’s post, I have to report three completely new developments that illustrate, I think, Jenny Hands’s thought-provoking Comment (see above right).

I had not heard the saying ‘you have to have a plan to be able to change it’ before, possibly because in writing, I find, you have not so much a plan as a conception, and that conception doesn’t live in your mind as a plan does, you live in the conception, which spontaneously grows till it’s ‘right’. However, I can well imagine that this saying is a truism in modern management, and in my experience the deadlines that form part of the project-plan of writing a book do operate as Jenny Hands suggests.

Last week I set myself the task of completing the revision of chapters 11 (‘Chekhov Is Such a Great Man…’) and 12 (The Trouble with Trade Unionism). The first task is to reread the entire file for the chapter, which leads to looking at some things from slightly different angles, revisiting some letters and documents, sometimes discovering entirely new, relevant things. I like to do it in a single, eight-hour or so sitting, so that I feel I’ve literally ‘got my head round it’, but it leaves the mind so tired you can’t start the actual revision until you have recovered, i.e. next morning.

The file for chapter 11 is particularly thick, but I managed to read half of it over the weekend, so that by last Monday morning I was ‘ahead’… Ah, but the revision of the beginning was particularly drastic and fiddly, because the discovery only last year of George’s 1907 diary threw wide open the question of whether George didn’t, perhaps, er, get the idea of translating The Seagull from Constance Garnett, whom he met for the first time that year and had problematical relations with later in the Stage Society. Even so, I finished that chapter (9119 words) by last Wednesday morning and went straight into chapter 12. That file is quite thin, because it is almost entirely factual rather than literary, and by the end of Thursday I had finished revising the chapter (5658 words) to my satisfaction. So I was a day ‘ahead’ of deadline!

Unfortunately:

1. I was so exhausted I knew it would be counter-productive to go straight into chapter 13, Wilder Shores of Translation (10,800 words and mesmerisingly literary). What you are after, of course, when you are revising a long work, is absolute consistency. It’s therefore vital to do the work on the same level of energy. You can sometimes spot — around the middle — when writers have begun to push themselves too hard with their revision/editing.

2. Followers may recall that the life-changing discovery last year that George had had a serious flirtation with philosophical Taoism led to my losing days and days in my rewriting of chapter 6 (26,896 words). I concluded the new section: ‘there are a number of small facts that suggest his interest in the Taoist view of life continued to at least 1912, and we shall note these in passing.’ When revising chapter 11, I pondered long the Taoist elements in two sections of George’s famous introduction to Chekhov’s plays, and settled for: ‘they both have distinct Taoist undertones.’ During Thursday night this began to niggle me, by Friday I had decided it was ridiculous — every reader would rightly be screaming ‘well what are they?!’ — so I spent the whole of this Monday reopening the Tao file, wrestling with these ‘undertones’, and explaining them in 300 words… Now, of course, I am behind schedule again. And I ought to add that on Friday I also came to the conclusion that in chapter 12 everyone would want to know what George’s party politics were, i.e. how he probably voted in elections, independently of his left of Centre personal political philosophy; so I would have to go back and grapple with that. But, fortunately, I decided it was better discussed in the Afterword…

3. As I contemplated revising chapter 13, Wilder Shores of Translation, I was suddenly struck by a dread of the one after that, covering 1914-15. This is because in its course chapter 13 focuses down on 1913. It returns the chronotope from four synchronic chapters (i.e. essentially thematic and covering the same period, 1907-12) to a linear timescale, i.e. traditional biography. Chapter 14 therefore begins with January 1914. Frankly, I slightly dread, even, starting work on 13. The dread is undoubtedly having a procrastinating effect. Working on 14, A New and Unknown Adventure, will be weird, as I not only had to live those draining events when I wrote it, I lived them from day to day when I was running Calderonia. I recall that I spoke about reliving the end in my post ‘The Dear Departed’ of 9 February 2015. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

That is probably enough writerly introspection. Deadlines do get pushed all over the place. You never know in this game what is going to hit you next and put you ahead or days, weeks, months behind… But that’s right: it couldn’t happen unless you had a time-plan in the first place. Curiously, the very fact of writing this post about it may have changed the game and I shall tackle chapter 13 with fresh relish and even get ‘ahead’!

Note. There is a problem with double quotes in WordPress, hence only the title of chapter 11 above has been enclosed in inverted commas — the words here are George Calderon’s own.

Watch this Space 9 March 2016

9/3/16. At the time of writing, I have revised exactly two thirds of my typescript of George Calderon: Edwardian Genius, which I finished writing on 25 January. This means I am x weeks behind schedule, whereis somewhere between one and three.

I don’t know the exact number of weeks I am behind, I could work it out, but I have something more important to do: revising chapter 12, ‘The Trouble with Trade Unionism’!

On the one hand, it is depressing that all through this blog I have had to record missing self-imposed deadlines by weeks and even months, but actually it isn’t, you just have to accept that this is how writing is. You have to set yourself deadlines — at least, I find that I need a deadline breathing down my neck in order to get on with it — but if I have to exceed the deadline because there is new material to go in, or re-focussing is needed, or there is far more to check, or basically I need to take more care than I was expecting, that has got to be a good thing. I long ago reached the point where if I easily met a deadline, I was suspicious about what I’d written; it couldn’t be good enough, could it?

A very experienced journalist rang me yesterday, asked me how the book was going, and when I told him I was exasperated by the slowness he mollified: ‘But there’s no real hurry, is there? You don’t have to get it out by a particular time.’ This was music to my ears, but it still surprised me, as he is as used to working to deadlines as I am, and of course I had always wanted to get the biography out for the centenary of George’s death at Gallipoli. My friend’s argument, however, was that the new material that has come to light since I started writing the book has to go in. He has got a point. I won’t have a second chance, and I assume there won’t be another biography of George for a while…

Meanwhile, my blogmaster is designing Calderonia‘s next metamorphosis. This will contain all the back-numbers of ‘Watch this Space’, most Comments will be archived but they will all be easily accessible, it will be made easier than ever to leave a Comment, the links will be updated, and a number of Categories — overarching general terms such as ‘Edwardian Character’, ‘Heroism’, ‘War Poets’, ‘Edwardian Marriage’ — will be introduced. The changeover will happen on 10 April.

Watch this Space 2 March 2016

2/3/16. At popular request, I am repeating last week’s post, but with a couple of additions. I am currently revising chapter 10, ‘George Calderon the Dramatist’. It is trickier than I was expecting, as the 1907 diary of George’s discovered in 2015 reveals that he started work on The Fountain a year earlier than was thought from biographical material, and on Cromwell: Mall o’Monks two years earlier than was thought. The Fountain, it transpires, was originally called Chenda, after its heroine, then Charity, and finally became The Fountain for its Stage Society premiere in 1909.

Local historians are the salt of the earth. They know their specialist area intimately and utterly. When the subjects of biographies settle for significant periods of time in different places, as George did at Eastcote, George and Kittie did at Hampstead, then Kittie did at Sheet and Kennington, without the help of local historians biographers would only scratch the surface of their lives in these places.

In the case of Eastcote, I was unbelievably lucky, because Karen Spink had already researched and published a terrific article about George’s time there (1898-1900) for the 1999 issue of the Journal of Ruislip, Northwood and Eastcote Local History Society (RNELHS). The 1984 RNELHS publication Eastcote: A Pictorial History was also invaluable to this biographer.

Karen Spink twice walked me through the mile and a half of footpaths and road that George would have taken on his bicycle to get from his digs at Eastcote to catch the train at Pinner station on his way to the British Museum. She also showed me all over historic Eastcote and arranged for me to visit the private property where George lived. This is not to mention the endless sources she sent me about the life of Eastcote in those years. If my very large chapter two, ‘Eastcote Man’, has any deep texture apart from George’s love letters written from Eastcote to Kittie, it is entirely thanks to Karen, who also independently undertook to research the Calderons’ property in Hampstead. Last but far from least, Karen meticulously checked the chapter ‘Eastcote Man’ for me and I made significant changes as a result.

Sheila Ayres of Camden History Society then helped Karen and me arrange a visit to two of the three private properties that once made up George and Kittie’s house in Hampstead. This was fascinating, as we had Kittie’s photograph album of 1902 to accompany us. The present owners were most welcoming and enthusiastic about the project.

My point about these wonderful local historians is not that they have spared me months and months of researching Eastcote and Hampstead that I would, of course, have been obliged to do myself, it is that I could never match their knowledge of these places and they have allowed me access to it with truly humbling generosity.

At Sheet in Hampshire a chance encounter led me to Vaughan Clarke, an historian who through his local contacts was able to confirm that the house I thought was where Kittie had lived 1922-34 was indeed ‘Kay’s Crib’ until its name was changed seventy years ago. Mr Clarke was also able to enlighten me about the social stratification of Sheet in the 1920s; this proved critical for working out why Kittie failed to ‘settle’ there. Mr Clarke is now Chairman of Petersfield Museum, which is well worth a visit. Each year the gallery of the museum exhibits a different selection of the painter Flora Twort (1893-1985), whom Kittie probably knew and who moved from Hampstead to Petersfield before her.

I have visited Kennington several times, and four years ago I placed appeals in local papers for anyone who still remembered Kittie to contact me (no-one did). For my last chapter, completed a month ago, I needed to get a feel for — to know as much as possible about –the life going on in Kennington outside Kittie’s windows at ‘White Raven’, where she lived from 1934 to 1948. I had over a hundred letters that she received in that period, about a dozen of her own, and many documents, but I needed as much context as possible. Here, the Ashford Archaeological and Historical Society (AAHS) have come to the rescue. They put feelers out amongst the senior population of Kennington, as a result of which it was discovered that in 1941 Kittie took a break in a guesthouse at Hythe that was literally on the front line, a stone’s throw from the mined beach! They are also writing a piece about Kittie themselves for the Kentish Express.  Amongst other things, this may settle the question of whether, as I think, The Cherry Orchard in George’s translation was performed at Ashford in 1940/41 as part of a campaign to raise money for the war effort.

But above all, Robin Britcher, a member of the AAHS, has spent ten years researching life at Kennington during World War 2, the result of which is this superb little book, published last month:

Kennington at War by Robin Britcher

This book has provided absolutely critical local context to Kittie’s and Elizabeth’s lives at ‘White Raven’ during the war. Kittie wrote to Percy Lubbock in Montreux about every ten days and it is possible she mentioned to him some of the drama that was going on around her at Kennington, but maybe wartime censorship prevented her, and in any case her letters have not survived. Without Robin Britcher’s book, then, I would never have known that Kittie’s next-door neighbours were interned as enemy aliens, their house became a military nerve centre, a Heinkel bomber came down only a few hundred yards from ‘White Raven’, seventeen residents of Kennington died on active service, and nine bombs were dropped on the village killing two people, injuring others and wrecking homes. Kittie’s polite refusal of offers to accommodate her for the duration in places as far afield as Fife and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, takes on an even grittier edge.

However, Robin Britcher’s book is not only a portrait of Kennington during the war, it is an in-depth portrait of the village’s life as such: there is so much in it about the workings and personalities of the village that its usefulness for me extends beyond the war years. It is also very attractively presented, with masses of illustrations and an extremely well written text. I warmly recommend it. It can be bought directly from Mr Britcher at 169 Faversham Road, Kennington, Ashford, Kent TN24 9AE, by sending a cheque for £6.50 (includes postage and packing) made out to Robin Britcher.

I cannot help thinking that this country may have the best local historians in the world.

Watch this Space 17 February 2016

17/2/16. The weekly digests of events in World War 1 keep coming in from The Times, every day the media run items and features connected with it, the public debate about commemorating the fallen continues. Although I left the field of battle, as it were, on 7 June 1915, there is no chance of getting away from the War. It gets to you

I have no desire to revive the debate about commemoration, ‘making peace with the Great War’, empathy/sentimentality, ‘war porn’, historicisation etc — new visitors can see from Recent Comments, the archive of ‘Watch this Space’, and a search on ‘Commemoration’, how much we thrashed these subjects out last year, and that by December some of us felt we had said our last word. But with the Battle of Loos and the collapse of the Russians’ Polish front last autumn, the evacuation from Gallipoli last month, the battle for Verdun this month, and the Somme coming soon, one inevitably continues to mull issues. Perhaps since December some followers have acquired new angles on previous themes. Personally, I want to address only a small poetical matter, but I know it ‘ramifies’.

It’s common knowledge that line 13 of Laurence Binyon’s ‘For the Fallen’ is often recited as ‘They shall not grow old’, when it should be ‘They shall grow not old’. Is this done through mere forgetfulness or ignorance? I don’t think so.

If, as is natural, we assume that the words are expressing a plain negative, namely that the fallen, being dead, will not grow old, then we would expect the metrical, iambic stress to be on the negating word ‘not’: ‘They shall not grow old…’ In terms of subject and predicate, we could represent this as: ‘They shall not (grow old).’ However, that is not what Binyon has written. In his version the metrical stress is on ‘grow’: ‘They shall grow not old…’ The half-line therefore rises appropriately on ‘grow’. Grammatically, this might appear to be just an archaic inverted negative. But actually it makes ‘not’ an unstressed syllable, produces a slight pause after ‘grow’, and could be represented structurally as: ‘They shall grow (not old).’ In other words the movement of the line is towards making ‘not’ qualify ‘old’ rather than qualify ‘grow’. Growing into a state of not-oldness sounds odd, and I would suggest that it is this apparent non sequitur that causes readers to stumble and ‘correct’ the line to ‘They shall not grow old’.

However, if you read the line as Binyon wrote it, it seems to me inevitable that you visualise the fallen as growing into an affirmative new state of being ‘not-old’, and that this is what the poet intended. What could this state be? Well, transfiguration, immortality, glory. Glory is a very tricky word today, debased and even pejorative. I note that it is given fifteen different meanings in The Chambers Dictionary, ranging from ‘renown’ and ‘triumphant honour’ to ‘boastful or self-congratulatory spirit’ and ‘presence of God’. But the ‘not-old’ state of the fallen in Binyon’s poem reminds me of nothing so much as the lines from Henry Vaughan’s poem ‘They are all gone into the world of light’:

I see them walking in an air of glory,
Whose light doth trample on my days:
My days, which are at best but dull and hoary,
Mere glimmering and decays.

Most of Binyon’s poem is concrete and fastidious; but in ‘They shall grow not old’ I feel it approaches the transcendent dimension of Wilfred Owen’s ‘Greater Love’. The soldiers’ act of supreme love, namely their ‘ultimate sacrifice’ for others, has removed them to that place of transfiguration where ‘you may touch them not’ (Owen). By comparison, ‘we that are left’ live out days that are ‘but dull and hoary’, in Vaughan’s words.

Given that ‘For the Fallen’ is the most famous war poem in the English language, it is difficult to believe that this point has not been discussed, and analysed better than I can, many times before. However, I cannot find any discussion of it on the Web.

By contrast, you will find plenty of discussion on the Web of the second half of Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘Dulce et decorum est’, about a gas attack, and specifically of the line ‘His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin’. This discussion was possibly triggered by Seamus Heaney asking his students at Queen’s University whether the poem wasn’t ‘over-written’, ‘artistically bad’, and the lines in which ‘devil’s sick’ occurs weren’t ‘a bit insistent’, ‘a bit explicit’ (see his The Government of the Tongue, Faber & Faber, pp. xiv-xvi). Heaney seems to focus this into a conflict between ‘truth’ and ‘beauty’, ‘life’ and ‘art’, although his final take on the matter seems ambiguous; some might say specious.

The reason, in my view, that Owen’s words here are ‘over the top’ (‘If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood/Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,/Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud/Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues’) is that his reaction is naturally to use the strongest words he can find, this backfires on him, yet ultimately produces an incoherence that perfectly enacts his horror.

If you have read as many personal accounts of WW1 warfare as I have in the past year (Ypres and Gallipoli), you too become incoherent if you try to express your reaction to the horror and degradation of it. I cannot think that there has been another war in which the human savagery and sheer filth have reached these depths. We have to accept, which I think Heaney never really did, that ‘devil’s sick of sin’ etc is not an iota too strong for it.

The poles of our World War 1 poetry are ‘devil’s sick’ and ‘glory’. We are rightly being overwhelmed by the former in these anniversary years, but we must never forget the latter either. Apparently it was Lloyd George who proposed the words ‘The Glorious Dead’ on the sides of Lutyens’s Cenotaph. If so, he was a genius, but so many contemporaries were involved in the post-war memorialisation that I expect it was really a consensus. There is no ‘To’ in it, just the three words, as if to mean ‘This says all we can about them’. It is an age removed from Rupert Brooke’s understandably tawdry line of autumn 1914 ‘Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!’. After our protracted, ‘wordy’ discussions of Commemoration last year, a follower of Calderonia emailed me that it was all very interesting but ‘The Glorious Dead’ remained; that was in a way all that could be said…

‘Lapidary verse’ is an interesting, classical art (Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes produced notable inscriptions for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee), and perhaps this recent anonymous example drives at what I have been trying to say:

        EPITAPH

Their uniforms of shit
their lives of shit
their deaths of shit
we live.
What means forget
THE GLORIOUS DEAD?

I should inform new visitors to the blog that Laurence Binyon was a lifetime friend of George Calderon’s and wrote an ode In Memory of George Calderon whose last verse bears a resemblance to the final lines of ‘For the Fallen’.

I am currently revising Chapter 6, ‘Russianist, Novelist, Cartoonist’, which at sixty-five printout-pages is by far the longest. It covers the years 1900-1905. I keep thinking I must split it, but it is really the backbone of the book, because it attempts to show from analysis of George’s essays and novels that he is a first-rate Russianist and a significant Edwardian writer… Unfortunately, following discoveries in the last year I have to add 500 words to it about George and Taoism. The research and evaluation have been done, but it’s still going to be difficult to know where to splice this subject in. I will then have edited/rewritten nearly half of the book.

Watch this Space 10 February 2016

10/2/16. In a recent article in The Times, Richard Morrison complained that the 14-18 NOW commemorations (‘Extraordinary art experiences connecting people with the First World War’) that have been unveiled for 2016 show a ‘pretty tenuous’ link with the realities of the War; one case, he suggested, was even ‘a spurious gimmick’. ‘It’s ironic’, he continued, ‘that the commemoration that has made most impact so far — five million visitors in four months — wasn’t even part of 14-18 NOW.’ He was referring, of course, to the installation by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper at the Tower of London called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.

Setting aside private and local commemorations, which Morrison thinks are best, I know only one artefact so far in the 1914-18 commemorations that is in the Cummins-Piper league, and that is the project by Andrew Tatham called A Group Photograph (which was also not funded by the Arts Council).

Ten years ago my wife and I were in Norfolk and decided to visit some local exhibitions in the ‘Open Studios’ scheme. At Andrew Tatham’s house he directed us to the bottom of his garden, where there was a very small, but light-proof shed. In there, completely alone, we watched an animated film. It is no exaggeration to say that we stumbled out into the light afterwards lost for words.

This film shows the family trees of all the soldiers in a 1915 photograph growing, in Andrew’s words,

over 136 years, mixed in with photos of their families and historical time markers and contemporary music for each year, as well as with cycles of the moon and the seasons. Each of their trees grows like a real tree, with a trunk for each man and branches appearing for children, grandchildren and so on down the generations. There is a baby’s cry for each birth, and a bell toll for each death. You can vividly see the immediate effect of the War on this group of men and get a view on the aftermath.

The film has developed since then, but always been at the heart of what I would call Tatham’s ‘whole-life commemorative installation’, which has gone on for more than twenty years in the form of presentations and talks all over Britain, exhibitions, notably in the Cloth Hall at Ypres in 2015, vibrant media interviews, and now the book:

A Group Photograph by Andrew Tatham

I will say no more about the nature of this amazing project, but recommend to followers that they go to Andrew Tatham’s own explanation of it: http://www.groupphoto.co.uk/ .

The profundity of A Group Photograph comes from the fact that it evokes the lives and deaths not only of the forty-six members of the 8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, whose commanding officer was Tatham’s great-grandfather, but of the families and friends around them, and their descendants to this day, scores of whom have been intimately involved in the project. It brings history and the present together in a supremely palpable way. It is both War and Peace — and the creation of this continuum is, ultimately, a source of hope to those who experience it through Tatham’s work.

The book, which is beautifully illustrated and very reasonably priced, is prefaced with a poem by Tatham that traces in brief images how he became drawn into the project. The last stanza reads: ‘And now I search/That picture of men in a war/I see today and yesterday/I cannot forget.’ The last two lines say it all.

At the time of writing, I have completed the ‘final edit’ of 17% of my biography of George Calderon. So I might finish the work in another three weeks… Engaging with chapter 2, which narrates from day to day his love affair with Katharine Ripley (i.e. Kittie), was exhausting. I had to get the letters out again to check quotations, and had forgotten how intense, claustrophobic and full of mood swings the relationship was.

Watch this Space 3 February 2016

3/2/16. Today I tackle the revision of chapter one, first written, revised and wordprocessed in June 2011. I have always known it was going to be a challenge, as it starts the biography at one remove (George hardly appears in it) and the first page and a half is too philosophical, airy-fairy and drawn out… It’s a terrible beginning if you want to grab the reader and never let them go again. At the time of writing I tried to get round this by keeping it very short (3500 words), but that was fudgery… There are things in it that are important (to me) to say, e.g. about Edwardian semantics and body language, not to mention Kittie’s first husband and George’s university friend Archie Ripley, but no publisher, I fear, will want it; or the last chapter. Chekhov’s advice is ringing in my ears: ‘when you have written a story, tear off the beginning and end of it, because that’s where we writers lie most’!

A number of followers have asked me what condition Kittie was suffering from in her years at ‘White Raven’ (1934-47) and whether it was this that carried her off (30 January 1950).

The latter is the easy question. On her death certificate the causes of death are given as: 1a Hypostatic Pneumonia, b Cardiac failure, c Arteriosclerosis. However, her hypostatic pneumonia (‘Old People’s Friend’) was just the result of prolonged confinement to bed (constant fluid collection at back of lungs), ‘cardiac failure’ refers presumably to her heart winding down, and ‘arteriosclerosis’ was a long-term condition, so it seems to me these amount to saying no more than that the cause of death was ‘old age’ and they tell us nothing about her chronic health problems 1934-47.

The most obvious reason for all her correspondence suddenly breaking off in 1946 is that she had a stroke and never recovered the ability to write. But there is no independent evidence for this and she does not seem to have entirely lost her powers of speech. I don’t favour this explanation, therefore. The ‘most obvious reason’ for no letters from or to Kittie having survived after 2 January 1946 is actually that they were lost or burned after her death! Given the large number of her correspondents, it is hardly likely that they all stopped writing to her at once. (On the other hand, if she did have an incapacitating stroke all her correspondence would have been taken over by her attorney, Louise Rosales, and Mrs Rosales was definitely a ‘burner’.)

Kittie’s known symptoms after moving into White Raven were problems with (close?) vision, suddenly falling asleep, and having to keep running to the ‘bathroom’. Not a single photograph of her wearing glasses is known, but we know she had them as she refers in a diary to her ‘spex’. But the problem was not just optometric. She visited a consultant in London, who it seems told her he could do nothing for her beyond a new lense prescription. This implies that the real problem was cataracts or something like macular degeneration. Her suddenly ‘falling asleep’ could have been just a hypothermic reaction to inactivity in the grossly underheated houses she lived in. Although Kittie says in a private letter that it is her ‘middle’ that plays her up, implying the problem is gastric, her spidery failing writing and blackouts could imply chronic urinary tract infection. She thought very highly of her G.P. in Ashford, a Dr Body (!), and he tried the latest medication for her gastric/urinary condition, but it didn’t work.

We shall probably never know what Kittie clinically had wrong with her. But the really interesting thing, in my view, is that nowhere does Kittie ever say what, clinically, she has been diagnosed as having. This, I think, is very characteristic of the Edwardians and, indeed, our recent forebears. You did not name your disease/complaint, because (a) medical terminology was for doctors, (b) you weren’t supposed to discuss illness openly, (c) your job was to keep a stiff upper lip through it all.

There is a graphic illustration of Kittie’s attitude to illness in her pocket diary for 1939 — and incidentally it shows that we must add the term ‘grip’ to ‘staunch’, ‘stalwart’ and ‘stout’ in our Edwardian vocabulary. She had had a fall in September or November 1938 (she is confused about which) and been badly concussed. This had aggravated her already existing proneness to falling asleep. But she was determined to battle on, and to write about it in her diary for 10 January 1939 even though this cost her great effort and her writing and self-expression were affected:

Returning from Foxwold tomorrow [=yesterday, 9 January]. I found E. [Elizabeth Ellis?] better but not quite well. Came as far as Maidstone with E. [Elizabeth Pym?] then fetched by [illegible name] Gar. [probably ‘Garage’ at which chauffeur worked, in Kennington, Ashford]. Frightfully tired seems absurd to be so tired suppose its still after Xmas tiredness in spite of doing nothing at Foxwold and never down till lunch[.] But difficulty getting to bed till small hrs as would fall asleep in chair and wake about three – seems as if sitting down to take off my stockings is the moment that sleep gets me like a descending lid on a box and I wake about 3 to 4. Sometimes it would be a letter I had to write – I’d only get a few wds written[.] The only safe time to catch a post at Foxwold is the early morning post man. I’ve no warning of feeling ‘sleepy’ – just as I say a sudden lid shuts down. When first this used to occasionally happen Dr Carver [Mrs Stewart’s doctor in Torquay] said it was a form of Exhaustion and I must regard it as heaven sent – but since this dunt on my head on Sept. 5th it seems to be perpetually happening. Still I daresay heaven sent but difficult to deal with must try to do less somehow – but goodness knows how – I was really doing ‘nothing’ at Foxwold but yet so tired when I got to my room (not feeling tired) that apparently the lid would shut down with no warning and I went to sleep [f]or 3 or 4 hrs. […] I pray nightly for return of ‘grip’ after Prayer for Peace.

She had recovered by the beginning of March and was following political developments in Europe closely. Two months before war broke out she was able to revisit her birthplace, St Ernan’s Island Donegal, on a motoring holiday with Louise Rosales.

Watch this Space 25 January 2016

25/1/16. As many have said before me, the agony of ‘writing’ is the fight to the death between what you think you want to say and…the writing. It is draining, torturingly slow, and I’ve had weeks of it with ‘White Raven’, the sixteenth and last chapter of my biography of George Calderon. Now it’s over. Today I ‘finished’ the book. All that I have to do is revise it (164,000 words), add about 800 words, write the Introduction and Afterword, Acknowledgements and Bibliography, etc., which will probably take two months! Despite the nervous exhaustion, I cannot help but feel light-headed.

A blog-visitor asks me whether ‘completion’ will leave me feeling ‘as if you are missing something close to you’. I have thought about this and I believe the answer is no. I have been writing the biography sensu stricto for four and a half years, but one way and another I’ve been in a dialogue with George and Kittie for over thirty. They are locked in my heart and mind; the key is lost; they will be there for ever.

But I cannot pretend that I have said goodbye (in writing, at least) to Kittie today without a deep sadness — a malaise quite different from the terrible, senseless wrench of George’s death at Gallipoli two chapters before. Thanks to her three diaries and the far more extensive documentary material than in George’s case, I had been living and dreaming her life at White Raven — a house I know well — almost day by day between 1934 and 1944. It is sad that she gave herself so completely to other people in this period, some of whom appallingly exploited her, that she kept the ailing Elizabeth Ellis on as her housekeeper through thick and thin, took Elizabeth to Hove with her, even, where they died eighteen months apart in the same nursing home, that hardly anyone was present at Kittie’s funeral, and that we don’t even know where her ashes were scattered. Yet this is how she planned it. There can be no doubt that her last years were a determined kenosis.

During the war, when she could not sleep at night because of the air raids, she sat in an armchair by her bed ‘very tightly wrapped up in a travelling rug’ (Edward Hamilton), going through all her and George’s boxes of papers, dividing them into those to be burned and those to be saved for posterity. She captioned most of her 525 photographs and wrote explanations or comments on many of the 884 letters. These explanations are clearly addressed to someone unnamed who will be listening — someone in the future. Against all the odds (for by 1950 George was publicly almost forgotten) she believed someone would hear her. I feel endlessly honoured to be the first such person.

About fifteen times whilst writing this last chapter I considered heading it with a quotation from a letter of Percy Lubbock’s written in 1944. Percy had been exiled from Italy with his wife Sybil since 1940, Sybil died in Montreux at the end of 1943, and Percy was left alone there for the rest of the war. Kittie had sustained him with her regular letters evoking Lubbock family news and life at Foxwold more vividly, visually, he told her, than anyone else. He and she had a pact that if he could not cope as Sybil’s tropical disease worsened, Kittie would fly to Switzerland immediately; but in the event, this was militarily impossible. On 26 April 1944 he wrote to her: ‘I clearly see you from afar, but you are a long way off.’ This exactly expresses my own feeling as I was writing the end of the book. But epigraphs like this can be toxic. I decided against it.

After a break, I shall start ‘re-writing’ the book I have just ‘finished’, and I will be posting weekly on a wide range of topics.

Watch this Space 15 January 2016

15/1/16. One of the most difficult problems of researching Kittie Calderon’s life after George’s death is deciding how much she travelled abroad. After Percy Lubbock married Lady Sybil Cuffe in 1926, the couple lived in the fabulous Villa Medici at Fiesole and invited Kittie to stay with them at least six times between 1928 and 1930; but she seems to have gone only once (in November 1930). Similarly, she twice planned to visit Constantinople and Gallipoli, but the evidence is that she did not.

There is a fine leather suitcase emblazoned ‘Mrs. George Calderon’, which has the remains of a single foreign luggage label on it:

Tour Label on Kittie's Suitcase

I cast an eye over this label twenty years ago and thought: ‘Hm, “Russie” down right, a minaret top left, must be from travelling to Constantinople by ship, which was also a route to Russia’. But last week, having concluded Kittie did not go to Gallipoli, I took a closer look at the label (with a magnifying glass). First, as the image above clearly shows, top left is not a minaret, but a dome topped with a cross. The only church it reminded me of from my own experience was the basilica of Le Sacré Coeur in Paris. Second, what could the letters RAND be a part of, if not a French place name? I assumed that the letter before the R was an E, then ran through the possibles. None was at all convincing. Then the penny dropped: it is much more likely to be a G before RAND — and grand must be the commonest word ending in -and in the French language. Googling about on ‘le grand‘, Paris and ‘Russie’, I eventually came up with the Grand Hôtel de Russie at the top of the Boulevard Montmartre in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries. The Sacré Coeur basilica would tally with that, of course.

As far as is known, Kittie went to Paris only once, with George on their honeymoon in 1900. Both were keenly interested in contemporary French painting, which might explain why they stayed in Montmartre, and they may well have known that the famous series of paintings of Boulevard Montmartre by Impressionist Camille Pissarro was made from his balcony in the Grand Hôtel de Russie. The ‘suitcase’ is actually more like an attaché case of the period, i.e. hand luggage. The prominent words ‘Mrs. George Calderon’ on the front might be there because Kittie was going to Paris and wanted to make it clear she was (newly) married… At least, that is my hypothesis: that this case is her honeymoon case.

Other hypotheses that would explain this label are invited! Note that I am unable to explain the black, column-like shape on the right, or the bit of shield at bottom left that appears to say UNIT[É?].

Stop Press!

16/1/16. Within hours of the above post going up, John Pym emailed me with an image he had found on the Web of a luggage label that fitted Kittie’s exactly and demonstrates that the hotel was in Rome, not Paris. The only difference was that the image did not feature the UNIT[…] shield bottom left. However, it was conclusive proof that the label could not date from George and Kittie’s honeymoon to Paris in 1900. I had actually found the Grand Hôtel de Russie in Rome when I was trying to identify Kittie’s label, but rejected it as the nearest church had no high pinnacles on it, whereas the basilica of the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre has… I hadn’t considered the Vatican!

Well, by the evening Calderonia‘s indefatigable Web-Meisterin Katy George had found and sent me an even better image:

Full Sticker of Tour Label on Kittie's Suitcase

This contains the logo U.N.I.T.I. and even an extra line, again in French. If I had offered a bottle of champagne, Katy would definitely have won it! My sincere and humble thanks to her, to John Pym, and others who emailed me about this yesterday. My thanks are very humble, because I never expected so many people to give their time so generously to solving this one and my own hypothesis was up a gum-tree…

I have been asked when, then, did Kittie visit Rome? Most likely in 1930, when she stayed with Percy and Sybil Lubbock at Fiesole, whence it would be easy to reach Rome by train, but possibly the year before: a scrap of label on the side of her case says LUG, most likely standing for LUGANO, which might refer to a possible visit to Lesbia Corbet (married name Mylius) on Lake Como in 1929. Whereas the Grand Hôtel de Russie in Montmartre seems to have gone long ago, the one in Rome appears to have survived to this day — minus the ‘Grand’.

Thanks again to everyone who responded so splendidly.

Watch this Space 1 January 2016

1/1/16. A very happy new year to everyone. As you will gather from the above, we are now presenting Calderonia slightly differently. ‘Featured Comments’ will soon replace ‘Comments’, although all past Comments will still be accessible. Links will be introduced between past Comments and it will, of course, be possible to leave new ones. Previous ‘Watch this Space’ posts will be archived and made accessible. A number of over-arching categories that are not tagged, e.g. ‘Edwardian Character’, ‘Conduct of the War’, ‘War Poets’, will also be introduced. I shall leave up ‘Christmas at “White Raven” 1944’ for a little longer, as people have emailed me that they like it. Then it will be archived. I hope to carry on posting weekly until the biography is published, and I may feature some entries from Kittie’s diary for ninety years ago on the days for which she wrote them. Watch this space for completion of the last chapter of the biography very soon.

Watch this Space 24 December 2015
(Christmas at ‘White Raven’, 1944)

Caption goes here

‘White Raven’ painted by Roland Pym above Kittie’s front door

Faithful followers of this blog/website will recall twelve months ago the Christmas of 1914 at Foxwold, Brasted Chart, in Kent. The Pym, Lubbock and Calderon families all participated, as well as two refugees from German-occupied Belgium who were living with George and Kittie Calderon in Hampstead. None present ever forgot it, and Percy Lubbock wrote poignantly of it in his portrait of George published in 1921.

The only other Christmas in Kittie’s life after 1914 that we have as much information about is that of 1944, thirty years later when she was seventy-seven. That too was dramatic, but in a completely different way. I felt it would be appropriate, before the year in which my biography should be published and this blog ends, to describe from manuscript sources what happened at Christmas 1944.

*                     *                    *

My deeper research into Kittie’s life at Sheet, Petersfield, persuades me that she made the mistake in 1922 of coming in at the very top of local society. She was a relation by marriage and good friend to the biggest local landowner, Helen Bonham-Carter (then hyphenated); she was the widow of a war hero and literary man whose public profile was still quite high through the 1920s; she was the scion of a famous family (the Irish Hamiltons); and she had exalted friends (Astleys, Corbets, Ripleys etc) who visited her. Yet she lived in a relatively modest Victorian cottage, ‘Kay’s Crib’, outside the village proper. Much of the rest of Sheet society was composed of upper middle class retired folk, e.g. from the military, who rather fancied themselves. Understandably, when Kittie hove in she put these people’s backs up. She described Sheet in retrospect as ‘my prison’.

By about 1932, Kittie had decided to get out of Hampshire. Her nephew Edward Pakenham Hamilton (1893-1983) had become Estate Manager at Godinton Park, near Ashford in Kent, and his father, Kittie’s only brother John Pakenham Hamilton (1861-1946), had moved to Ashford with his wife to be close to their eldest son. This, and the desire to be nearer to the Pyms at Foxwold, persuaded Kittie to buy a plot of land north of Ashford and have a house built there according to her own specifications. She asked Violet and Evey Pym’s son, the architect John Pym (1908-93), to build it for her, and she moved into it in late 1934. John Pym’s brother, the artist Roland Pym (1910-2006), then painted the above white raven over the door, as that was to be the new house’s name.

‘White Raven’ was the sobriquet she had adopted in her relationship with Caroline (Nina) Corbet (1867-1921), who was ‘Black Raven’ because her first husband was Walter Corbet (1856-1910), descended from a henchman of William the Conqueror’s called ‘Le Corbeau’.

Unlike ‘Kay’s Crib’ in Sheet, Kittie settled into ‘White Raven’ extremely well. She designed a formal garden and took on a gardener called Grant. Although at that time ‘White Raven’ was in relatively open countryside, she was in easy distance of a church and village, and beyond that was Ashford with its fast line to London. The people who lived around her were far more middle class than at Sheet and she became something of a local treasure. She was visited by friends from her earlier life (probably including Sir Coote Hedley, the ‘Godfather in War’ (q.v.), who died in 1937) and often saw her brother John and nephew Edward. By April 1942, however, Edward Hamilton had had to move to a job at Retford.

Caption goes here

Sarah and John Pakenham Hamilton at ‘White Raven’, c. 1936

Kittie and her housekeeper Elizabeth Ellis remained at ‘White Raven’ throughout the War. Dog fights and phalanxes of German bombers passed overhead, and as a major railway hub Ashford itself was targeted. The noise was so loud that on 24 October 1943 Kittie wrote to Percy Lubbock that, sitting in the kitchen, she and Elizabeth were ‘bounced into the air by the shocks overhead’. Friends all over the country tried to persuade Kittie to go and live with them, but for various reasons she would not budge. Then in June 1944 the flying bomb attacks began. Up to a hundred a day roared over and Ashford became the worst-hit area after London. Kittie called them ‘Boodlebugs’. In her words, the two women suffered ‘continuous long almost sleepless nights’, which began to grind them down.

Caption goes here

Elizabeth Ellis at ‘White Raven’, c. 1936

On 25 October 1944 John Hamilton’s wife Sarah died. His sons were extremely worried about his ability to care for himself — not to mention the dangers of continuing to live in Ashford — so after the funeral they tried to persuade him to go to live with one of them at a time. But John would not budge either. Continuing in Kittie’s words to her god-daughter Lesbia Lambe (Nina Corbet’s sole surviving child):

the sons hated him being alone in this house, so it seemed obvious I should ask them if he would let me and Elizabeth come for a few days and he said he would agree to that… So here we both came on the Wednesday [1 November 1944] and for the first day in our mutual habitation of that little house [‘White Raven’] we were both out of it when the Boodler came along and left cards but he knocked in vain for admittance, and after a rather bad attack of temper departed — after laying all the tiles upon the lawn on the south side and knocking down nearly all the ceilings, especially choosing my bedroom and in it my bed..!

A flying bomb had landed in the back garden of ‘White Raven’ and there is little doubt that Kittie and Elizabeth would have been killed if they had been there. The explosion also caused severe damage to the houses around it. Now they had to stay with John Hamilton much longer, whilst ‘White Raven’ was made habitable. As Kittie wrote to Lesbia on 8 November: ‘John is bored stiff with us in our different ways — he does not even try to camouflage the fact — indeed goes so far as to be, I think, genuinely glad that he probably saved my life by acceding to those “tiresome” sons!’ Kittie herself believed that it was God who had used her brother to save her and Elizabeth’s lives. It seems that they finally departed for ‘White Raven’ on 18 December.

Kittie and Elizabeth Ellis now prepared to celebrate Christmas at ‘White Raven’. A major problem was finding something to eat on Christmas Day. Louise Rosales, Kittie’s friend in London, had tried to get a chicken from her own butcher, but ‘he can’t let me have any more till the war is over!!!! He offered me some ROOKS (!) for you […] to replace the non-existent chickens’. However, as Kittie wrote to Lesbia on 18 December, Elizabeth managed to ‘collect a clever little teeny weeney chicken for her and me without telling me’. At this point, Kittie learned that she was going to have three unexpected guests — ‘Brother John and his nice engineer son George and his nice wife Lily’. What were Kittie and Elizabeth to do, as the midget chicken would ‘never have fed four’?

The day was saved by Lesbia and her husband Charles Lambe, who sent a ‘beautiful St Fort chicken’ by post from Fife, which arrived on Christmas Eve. St Fort is the Stewart estate near St Andrews that had been inherited by Nina and where her daughter was now living. As Kittie reported to Lesbia, ‘Brother John had been quite moved on the Christmas Day occasion when I told him he was eating a St Fort Chicken! Your Great-Grandmother had given him many a good day’s shooting when a big Eton boy and later at Cambridge in his vacations when we were sometimes in Fife’.

After Christmas 1944, John Hamilton sold his house in Ashford. His eldest son, Edward, helped him to pack up. The two men then stayed a night at ‘White Raven’ and left for Nottinghamshire, where Edward was living with his family.

So Kittie’s plan of living out her life near relations in Ashford had been frustrated. Her closest relation (by marriage) in Kent was now Evey Pym, forty miles away.

*                    *                    *

The high point of researching Kittie’s life 1923-50 over the last few months has been discovering that Elizabeth Ellis did not die before Kittie left Kent for Brighton in January 1948 (or possibly late 1947). This is entirely thanks to my superb London researcher Mike Welch, who specialises in large institutional and genealogical databases. The truth that Mike uncovered about Elizabeth Ellis is both fascinating and revealing.

When I was doing the initial research on this period of Kittie’s life about a year ago, I asked Mike to look for Elizabeth Ellises who had died between 1945 and 1947. This was because there was no mention of Elizabeth in Kittie’s papers after 1945 and I knew that she had died before Kittie. But if she had retired because of illness before Kittie moved to Brighton, she could have lived and died anywhere. The name Elizabeth Ellis was so common that without a date of birth it was impossible to narrow down which one in the registers of deaths she might be.

However, last month the National Archive made available a new source of information, the 1939 residential register, and Mike saw the opportunity to discover Elizabeth Ellis’s date of birth (5 June 1869) from the entry for ‘White Raven’. Comparing this with a wider swathe in the register of deaths, Mike spotted an Elizabeth Ellis who died in BRIGHTON in 1948. Tracing this Elizabeth Ellis back through the 1911, 1901, 1891 and 1881 censuses, it became clear that she was indeed Kittie’s long-serving housekeeper.

She was born in Lincolnshire and in 1881 was living in a workhouse with her mother, a domestic servant. Elizabeth went into service herself and by 1911 was working for the family of one Wright Provost in Hampstead. The next year, when the Calderons moved to Well Walk in Hampstead, she became their housekeeper (a promotion). We now know that she moved with Kittie to Brighton in 1947/48. Staggeringly, Elizabeth Ellis was probably still living and working with Kittie at the age of seventy-eight.

Elizabeth Ellis had been, as Kittie expressed it, ‘my valued old servant’ for thirty-six years, but we know from the records that Kittie provided generously for her too. Elizabeth died on 3 September 1948 in the same Brighton nursing home that Kittie was to die in on 30 January 1950.

 

Watch this Space 16 December 2015

16/12/15. It seems to me in retrospect that every one of the fifteen chapters I have written of George Calderon’s biography is perilously different in length, form and style; but none is so different as the one I am writing at the moment — the last one of the book. It is the story of Kittie’s last twenty-eight years and George’s posthumous literary life, yet it will be the shortest (about 3000 words). The ‘deep chronology’ that I spent two months constructing proved only the beginning. I realise now that I have to evoke not only the key events in Kittie’s life 1922-50, but the ‘feel’ of her life through those years. I have, in fact, to evoke how it felt to be Kittie. Quite, quite different from the other chapters. And, I have to admit, a tall order. But that’s enough of a ‘spoiler’…

*                    *                    *

Cambridge Professor of International History David Reynolds’s lecture at the Perse School on 2 December entitled ‘Making Peace with the Great War: Centenary Reflections’, was a virtuoso performance — restrained, relaxed, magisterial, deeply challenging. The audience of about a hundred and fifty gave him a long ovation.

Many of Reynolds’s points are made in his recent book (and TV series) The Long Shadow, which I was familiar with, but I was surprised to find myself taking three pages of notes. If I were to summarise and quote from the whole lecture it would take thousands of words. Personally, I hope the lecture is published in some form, as it is surely something of an historic turning-point itself in how we think of the First World War.

Reynolds is ‘not sure that the way we remember the War is conducive to making our peace with the War’. Poets like Owen and Sassoon are our ‘supreme interpreters of the War’, and he implied that they won’t lie down… There has been a revival in Remembrance Sunday and the two-minute silence. Our difficulty in making our peace with WW1 can be traced to disillusion after 1918 with the idea that it had been ‘the war to end all wars’ and therefore justified. We are troubled by the fact that it did not solve the ‘German Problem’, and the biggest loss of life in British military history was therefore wasted. Reynolds quoted Hannah Arendt to the effect that the great problem after WW1 was ‘coming to terms with sudden, random death’. He gave a harrowing example of this from Vera Brittain and could only compare it today with the devastating emotional impact of road deaths. He described his experience of the charity Road Peace, whose own act of remembrance is held the week after Armistice Day, and drew parallels between national attitudes to WW1 and grieving. By contrast, we have made our peace with the Second World War because it ‘ended by revealing the morality of the War…it was our Finest Hour’.

A particularly interesting section of Reynolds’s lecture was where he compared attitudes to both wars in the rest of Europe. The French have no difficulty with WW1 because it was a ‘war of national liberation that they won’, whereas WW2 was a disaster for them (‘capitulation and collaboration’) that traumatised French society. But, like the Germans themselves, they have been able to view both wars as a single agony that was laid to rest in 1945 — and even more so by the Treaty of Rome (founding the EU), which Reynolds described as ‘the Peace Treaty that didn’t happen after 1918’. The French and Germans have, Reynolds claimed, ‘moved on’ because they accept a common European destiny, whereas we have difficulty believing we ‘belong’ to Europe and our ancillary role in WW1 itself questions the fact.

Reynolds’s peroration was that ‘we need to remember but also understand’. We are now as far away from the Great War as its participants were from Waterloo (it amused me slightly that he seemed to be suggesting that Waterloo no longer meant anything to WW1 soldiers, when we know from George Calderon’s letters that even as the Orsova was taking him and fellow-officers to Gallipoli they were planning a celebration of it!). ‘We need to remember the men who marched away’, Reynolds concluded, but also:

  1. ‘Clamber out of the Trenches’
  2. ‘Escape from Poets Corner’
  3. ‘Understand the Great War as history’

The latter, of course, is what you would expect an historian to say, but Reynolds meant specifically to understand it as a global war, as one that ‘reshapes the Middle East, and involved China and Japan’.

There was a fascinating range of questions afterwards, both from the audience and from Reynolds to the audience, but the very first participant asked forcefully ‘when?’ would we make our peace with WW1; he felt it would take ‘a long time’ because at the moment we plainly did not want to. At this point, I felt, Reynolds’s own attitude revealed itself as more nuanced. ‘I want to continue remembering these people’, he said, meaning the names all over our war memorials and Thiepval’s arches, and implied that he approved of the public acts of remembrance. But he also added, in a phrase that deeply struck home with me at least, that ‘we have to start letting go of the dead’.

 

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