Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Tuesday 14th March 1939

Elocution exam tonight. Last year I made a hideous display and absolutely mangled (through fright) a lovely poem of Brooke’s. This year the same piece was set for all of us. It was a very suitable descriptive poem with lots of pitfalls, from the elocution point of view. Didn’t care for it, otherwise. “The Ice Court” by Wilfred Gibson.

A stricter exam this year. We all sat in a room high up in the College at Victoria Circus. As each name was called, the frightened owner of that name went out and to a room where judges awaited the victim. Lois seemed quite unconcerned. She chatted about Aunt and Wolfhampcote and irrelevant subjects. I hoped I didn’t look as pale as I felt. Stood by a wide open window and looked into the night and down to the lights of Prittlewell. Lois discussed the poem with a bloke who wasn’t sure of the interpretation. She was last but one; I was last but five.

“Miss Stark!” “Oo!” she said and went. She was last but six. “She goes next before me, - is gone. The knitting women count twenty two…" I quoted gloomily. “Mr Dawson!” I went.

Had to stand and wait in the passage with Miss Lynch (mistress of the drama class) for a few minutes. She chatted. To my horror I found I could hardly articulate at all! Suddenly the door opened and I staggered in and was told to stand facing the audience, in front of a large desk. Around and in front were the expressionless faces of those who had already spoken and, right at the back, two men and Miss Hollingsworth. She – bless her heart! – gave me a radiant, encouraging smile.

After a few moments of horrible suspense during which I gazed sheepishly at the class and they, recovering, looked back at me with nervous sympathy, one of the men looked up and nodded grimly. I took a deep breath, felt the jolly old ribs swell out. Said slowly, “The Ice court”. (I almost forgot to announce the title!) Pause. I looked him fiercely in the eye. Began slowly, “Perched on my city office stool…”
I can’t remember, because I wasn’t conscious, anything between the first four lines and the last six. I dimly realised my voice was booming deeply and thought “good old rib resonance!” I realised, relieved, that my hands hung quite slackly by my sides. Realised with dim horror that my face must be blank and my eyes glazing.

“Sleep drifting – deep… Deep – drifting – sleep” I said dreamily and then bellowed triumphantly, “The carter cracked a sudden whip!” It was over. I lurched, my trance over, also, to a seat beside Miss Dewsbury, Thorley’s girl (He was the News Editor in “Fantastic Flight” last year.)

When Lois entered for the ordeal I gave her a large and reassuring wink. (Unfortunately, she says, it distracted her attention and made matters worse!)
Although she’d been so self-possessed before, she now seemed nervous, didn’t give a title and bungled the first three lines. I’m sure she was nervous because her voice was less clear than usual and she put both hands behind her, onto the desk. Rotten to have no stage fright until one is on the stage! Anyhow, her face wasn’t blank, nor her eyes glazed. No! She seemed quite normally alive!

Eventually after much preamble, the chief judge said that they “had no hesitation” in awarding the first prize “to Mr Dawson”. I was jolly pleased, especially as I made a really nauseating exhibition of myself last year. The second prize was taken by a girl in Miss Lynch’s drama class. I’ve got a vague idea that the prizes are cash – 10/- or a guinea – and that one does not receive them for many months, if ever.

Footnote: It hadn’t been a very good day on the road but after School I went down to Southchurch with Lois and obtained an Housing Paint order. This brought the day’s turnover almost to normal, after all.

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