Thursday, December 20, 2007

Friday 25th June 1937

This was a happy day – different, un-lonely.

Written the day afterwards, near the Cliffs Bandstand. The Welsh Guards Band is playing. All deck chairs appear to be occupied so I am sitting on a somewhat uncomfortable green wooden seat (at 3d for 3 hours!) The time is about 8:30 p.m.

Wearing the cool grey suit, white shirt and RA tie, I travelled up to Fenchurch Street by the 9 o’clock. Arrived Ealing Common about 11 a.m. Went to Hawthorn Court. A dismal task; I overhauled my RNVR kit – those white no. 5 bags! – and removed the crossed flags of which I’d been so proud. Father came at lunch time. We chatted awkwardly about the weather, my new suit and his new shoes. Quite friendly. They wanted me to spend the night at Ealing but I still felt uneasy, somehow, so I lied, saying business compelled me to go straight back to Southend from the office. Kit bag on my shoulder I came away. Saw Mother and Father leaning from a window. Left the kit bag at Charing Cross. Reached the office soon after 2 p.m.

Have just discovered a deck chair; much more comfortable than the wooden seat and quite near the band stand.

Long discussion at the office with FCR. Cups of tea were bought in. We smoked many cigarettes. I was congratulated on looking fit and sunburnt. Guess it’s a matter of standards. The Londoners all looked beastly pallid, compared with the people of the coast. The usual impressive yet informal interview with Mr Percy Randall. Heard pleasant news. Mr Branford has recovered from his illness and is returning to the works.

There is some ritual about an interview with Mr Percy Randall. He shakes hands, asks you to sit down, pushes over a box of cigarettes (three-fives). The old aristocrat laughed like hell when I described how I had once offered to eat Undercoat Paste in order to prove it was non-poisonous. (This story was quite true.) Re. the order I took last month, for decorations at the Basque refugee colony, FCR made a neat pun. “Doubtless,” he said, “Infant Basques are known as Baskets?” Modestly proud, he assured me this effort was quite original.

The band is playing a selection from “Swing Time” – “A Fine Romance” There are pretty artificial lights around the bandstand now, for the natural light is failing.

Left the office about 6:20 – everything being settled – and met John under Piccadilly Circus.
He wore a shocking straw hat with a red, white and blue band! High tea at a place in Villiers Street. Bought a birthday tie for Father. Collected the kit bag and took it to HMS President. John waited on the Embankment above (the tide was at a low ebb) whilst I walked down the gang plank. Heels together as I stepped through the entry port onto the main deck! Gave my kit to the shipkeeper, bought an RNVR tie. A P.O. was instructing new entries in anchors and cables. In the familiar, jerky voice he said, “ This – is known as a – stockless anchor. It is known as a stockless anchor – because – it has no stock…”

John grinned sheepishly when I rejoined him. We went to the Tivoli Cinema, Strand. First coffee in the lounge. Strange to be giving tips again, spending money! An extraordinary picture,
“Lost Horizon”. If I attempted description it would seem trite. As great as “Cavalcade” but the two films cannot be compared. This was utterly different. No need to write about it. I’ll remember without that.

The band has finished playing, they are packing up; the people are going or gone.
It grows cold. I’ll finish this at home.

Reached Charing Cross about 3 minutes before the 11:16 Southend through-train.

Am writing now in my bedroom, midnight. The window is open wide. The gas burns noisily. The clock ticks. (I bought that clock when I left Mrs Stephens’ to live at Hawthorn Court.) Between my lips is the inevitable cigarette. Must be nearly the thirtieth today. I know it is the tenth since tea time.

The train arrived at loathsome Southend about 12:45 No, it was not loathsome this time, actually. Too deserted and silent. From the end of the High Street I saw the lights of the pier reaching out to sea. I saw the moonlight on the water and a fishing boat in silhouette, black against the silver. Did not feel tired. Supper. Filed letters and orders, sorted out the contents of my suitcase. My naval belt was in the case. Kept it as a souvenir.

Bed 2 o’clock. Lay reading “Deluge” (Fowler Wright) by the light of my torch until I felt ready to sleep.


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