Monday, April 21, 2008

Friday 30th December 1938


Sunny morning. Slinky B meandered lazily, purposelessly to Marlowe, to Cookham and back to Marlowe. Milady’s clear voice singing… “Just a song at twilight…” as Slinky crawled through the woods. High Wycombe. We turned vaguely towards Amersham – back into winter wonderland again.

(“We’ll face unafraid,
The plans that we made,
Walking in the winter wonderland”)

I saw a road marked “Speen” so turned that way. I remembered reading – years ago – that there was a public house, about a mile from Speen, which had once been frequented by Rupert Brooke. We visited two or three pubs – there seemed to be several near Speen – fruitlessly. My usual query was, “Do you know of a pub near heree where Rupert Brooke used to be?” The landlord of “The Gate” said he didn’t know of no one of that name and he knew most of the folks in these parts. “But there’s a new man – from Bledlowe way – taken the “Pinkunlily”. I don’t know im. Maybe is name’s Brooke…” At the “King William the Fourth” I interviewed the landlady – Rose Ellis – and two men with clay pipes. One, by name George, was obviously the Village Ancient, whilst the other was probably runner-up for that honour. The landlady asked the Ancient if he knew of any Rupert Brooke? To my horror, he replied that he’d lived in those parts nigh on God-knows-how-many years and he knew “The Gate”, “The Pinkunlily”, “The King George”, “The Plough” and so on and so on but he’d never heard of no house called “The Rupert Brooke”.

Eventually we came to “The Pink and Lily” a small pub on the edge of the woods. “Did Rupert Brooke ever come here?” I asked the landlord briefly, being now desperate. No gape of incomprehension! No puzzlement! No denial! “Yes” said the landlord simply, “He wrote that poem here”. He pointed. On the wall was a photograph of Brooke and a poem I’d never seen before –

“Never came here to the Pink
Two such men as we, I think.
Never came here to the Lily
Two men quite so richly silly;
So broad, so supple and so tall,
So modest and so brave withal
With hearts so clear, such noble eyes,
Filled with such sage philosophies,
Thirsty for Good, secure of Truth,
Fired by a purer flame than youth,
Serene as age but not so dirty,
Old, young, mature, being under thirty.
Were ever two so fierce and strong
Who drank so deep and laughed so long,
So proudly meek, so humbly proud,
Who walked so far, and sang so loud?”

The first four lines had been written by his companion. The rest was typical Brooke.
The pub was just closing but the landlord (the man “from Bledlowe way”) did not hurry us. We drank wood cider, ate bread, cheese and pickles at a wooden trestle table. Played darts.

Meandered slowly to Amersham and to the Swan Inn, an old place in the High Street. A remarkably casual bloke helped us upstairs with the luggage and then – to my joy – proceeded to light a fire which had been laid ready in the bedroom. But first – “Got a match?” he asked me sleepily and a moment later, “Have a cigarette?” I had got a match and I did have a cigarette and the fire was lighted. “D’ye think it’ll go?” he asked Angel, unenthusiastically.

After tea we sat in the lounge. Jeffrey – who turned out to be the licensee’s son – joined us. Angel and I sat on opposite sides of the fireplace. Jeffrey (very tired) took a seat beside Angel. He was apparently rather attracted and she led him on delicately. She was not the person I used to know at all. She had developed delightfully into one of those amusing, light-hearted people – at Egham they were called “the gay set” – who have an atmosphere of slight wickedness about them. Once or twice she nearly led the blighter into saying just a little too much. Meanwhile he shot her some remarkable looks of the type which normally would have made me see red.

He was easily drawn into an account of seaside resorts visited – being a hell of a fellow. Suddenly, “Do you know Southend?” he asked. “Well, I’ve heard of it,” said I vaguely, “In Essex isn’t it?” Then, frightfully impressed by stories of his adventures there, we obtained more details of the place. Oh, it was too marvellous! We must be getting skilled in deception! Went to The Playhouse – Amersham Repertory Theatre – in the evening. The show – “The Enchanted Forest” – turned out to be the pantomime. Grimms Fairy Tales. I’d never been to a pantomime before, and loved it.
Damned funny! The theatre was quite small, with an almost flat floor. Comfortable seats, no balcony. Only a few people there. Owing to many players taking several parts, there seemed more people on the stage than in the audience!

Back at The Swan they served a huge supper, so that we could hardly move afterwards. Later, the innkeeper, Moreton, came into the dining room and gave detailed accounts of family legal battles until we staggered away, half-concious. There was a glorious fire in the bedroom and I’d hoped to watch the flickering glow on the ceiling for a long time. Much to my chagrin, however, I fell asleep almost at once, with Angel snuggled close beside me and her head on my shoulder. When I awoke again, there were only faintly glowing ashes in the fireplace.

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