Desmond Greaves Journal, Vol. 4, 1936-37, 1944

GREAVES JOURNAL, VOLUME 4, 1936-37/1944

Editor’s Introduction:  

Volume 4 of the Journal was commenced in May 1944, nine years after the first three volumes of the surviving Journal which dealt with the 1933-35 period, when Greaves was a student at the University of Liverpool.  Volume 4 contains material relating both to 1944 and to 1936-37.  

Volume 4 opens with Journal entries for May and June 1944, the time of the Allied invasion of Normandy and Hitler’s rocket attacks on London. These entries are followed by Sections 1 and 2 of a continuous prose Retrospect of 1936-37, when the young Greaves moved to London from Liverpool and got his first two jobs in the capital. 

The Retrospect of Desmond Greaves’s early months in London in 1936-37 is rather amusing to read, although it describes events that clearly were not amusing to the participants. In it Greaves was writing an autobiographical prose narrative, something he had not attempted before, and one gets the impression that he was conscious of its literary character.

At the start of the Retrospect, Desmond Greaves gives his reasons for either not making a record over that seven-year period 1937-44 or for destroying what he did make, as follows: “…the break in the journal does mark a break in my outlook and ideas – not a sharp one perhaps, but such that I now return to ‘wish for the twenties again with the experience of the thirties.’ I put this in quotes because I do not wish for the twenties again. I propose to begin where I left the University and came to London for a job.  It is a story of seven lean years.  I ceased making the record because the continuity was driving me into an impasse. My new ideas were such that I was ashamed of what I had just written.  For the same reason, in part, I destroyed. But also I destroyed because of the War, the probability as things then stood that my house might be searched, and that things which I might then have wished hidden would come to light.” 

One Journal record that he did retain from the late 1930s was an account of a seventeen-day tour of the South of Ireland in July 1939, two months before the outbreak of World War 2.  To keep the chronological sequence of the events that Greaves describes, this is presented in the Journal archive as Volume 5, following this Volume 4, even though this volume contains entries relating to 1944 as well as the 1936-37 Retrospect. 

For whatever reason, Sections 3 to 6 and part of Section 7 of the Retrospect have not survived either.  What does survive is part of Section 7 as well as Sections 8 and 9, which deal with some events in the 1941-43 period when Greaves had started political work with the Connolly Club, later the Connolly Association.  This is presented as Volume 6 of the Journal, even though the entries predate the 1944 entries below.

Entries for May to June 1944 + Outline scheme of priorities for 1945 drafted on December 29 1944, followed by a Retrospect for 1936-37

Themes:  Renewal of the Journal after a gap due to the War – Acting as secretary of the Connolly Association in 1943-44 – Scientific work with British Coal Utilisation Research Association – Comments on political changes in India, Canada and America – Popular reactions to the Normandy landings and Hitler’s rocket bombs  on London – Scheme of priorities for 1945, followed by Parts 1 and 2 of the Retrospect for 1936-37

May 25 Thursday:  On several occasions since I discontinued my old diary, I have tried to get going again.  My failure to do so was due in part to pressure of work; living as I have done these last three years in my own flats, with all my own domestic work to do, I have often felt too tired to tackle a diary last thing at night; but it has also been in part due to confusion of aim, to the difficulty of combining the personal chronicle with the chronicle of the age.  Outside events so overshadow all personal things now, that the choice has become easy.

For eighteen months I have been secretary of the Connolly Association, and overburdened to the last degree.  I have gradually introduced order into chaos, and am now, with a solvent organisation, and a competent business system in Brian Stedman’s hands, able to look round a bit. This is an epoch worthy of record.  Just as I have been trying to check my expenditure by writing everything down every day, I am now going to check “intellectual output” and “political progress” – incidentally keeping notes on the times we are living in. So this diary may not be so literary as the last.  I shall not record anything which is unlikely to be of use later, for political or literary purposes. This is my rough sketch-book and materials book.

The Connolly Association has about 700 members, I think, and there is a good Executive Committee, but education has been sadly neglected.   I went to West London branch this evening and started a series of classes on “Modern Ireland”, basing the material on the “Statistical Abstract”.  I told them the population, area, industry etc. of Ireland, and found, rather to my surprise, that they lapped it up like milk.  Clearly this is what they need.  The usual nationalist stuff is hopelessly vague and out of date.  They asked me to make a pamphlet of it.  Certainly a text-book might be considered.

The leading light is Bob Doyle, ex-International Brigader, very good, a generous if emotional type, who suffers from duodenal ulcers after being discharged from the British navy without pension. After the meeting we brought some wood for shelves he is going to make me, and then he went off to King Street [where the CPGB offices were] where he is a fire-watcher. On Sunday’s meeting while on the platform he let a colonel of the London Irish take our precious tricolour away on its pole, and wave it threateningly at a gentleman (Flanagan) who had sewed the tricolour and the red flag together, leaving a border of red around the Irish flag. Bob’s meeting was the gainer – the crowd thought it was a “stunt”.

May 26 Friday: I had intended to go to “La bête humaine” at the “Torch” this evening, and Alan Morton met me at Knightsbridge instead of the more usual Piccadilly, in this belief. However I arrived too late thanks to the poor transport, and we went for a drink instead. His wife, formerly Freda Beadle the artist, has just had a son called John Geoffrey. Alan gave me a sort of half-apology for not calling him after me. But “Desmond” doesn’t go with Morton.  Freda is now in Liverpool with Alan’s mother, and Alan is on his own. The object of our meeting was however the transfer of a copy of our collected poems, for which we are trying to find a publisher, into my hands.  He has tried several bourgeois publishers, and Vernon Beste, without success. So I am going to have a go. After giving me the manuscripts he went up to Hampstead to see Monique, a friend of Freda’s, a good intelligent woman who works in a bank all day and spends every evening (literally) making the most scrumptious dishes for her gourmet of a husband, whom nobody can abide at any price. Not that I like Monique either. She was very rude to me when I called there once, when Freda lived there.  Alan always explains in extenuation that she thought I was trying to cheat Freda out of something, though why she should have thought so is a mystery to this day. 

May 30 Tuesday: This last few days being the Whit week-end I cycled out to the Youth Hostel at Sutton Veny in Wiltshire, or to be more exact the impossibility of getting food led me to give up at Sevenoaks and train to Westbury.  It was moreover intensely hot, and the public houses had put out the various notices, “Closed. No beer” or, what was a slight concession, “Open at 9 pm.”  The food shortage is fairly universal now.  At every tea-shop that was open on the Sunday dozens of cyclists were assembled – but the numbers on the road were, comparatively speaking, but moderate.

There was an interesting moment in a snack-bar at Yeovil.  I was drinking tea and eating a 2d. cake when three small children came in and asked for a l d. cake.  The shopkeeper gave her one of the 2d. ones and said nothing.  Soon one of them came back and asked for 6 penny cakes.  The proprietor gave again.  Then a third attempt was made, for another six – and to my amusement and surprise the good lady handed out philosophically a third time.  She was a kindly sort of woman who thought, “there was not much for kids now” – and again the market illustrated how all values have become nominal, for she later sold one of the cakes for 1 1/2d.

One of the most interesting things was the enormous number of earthworks on Salisbury Plain.  A teacher with whom I climbed a hill overlooking Sutton Veny asked me what I thought their purpose was.  Forgetting Massingham’s book, which I read years ago, I said “defence”.  He was a Catholic, and no optimist in mundane affairs, but he asked what sort of population would be needed to support such huge armies.  The lowland was of course all forest and swamp.  Where did they cultivate?  At once the answer flashed back into my mind.  Those earthworks were the relics of terrace cultivation.  Immediately this is understood the ancient countryside with cultivated downland, impassable valleys, and roads running along the hills and ridges, becomes a fascinating piece of reconstruction work.

May 31 Wednesday: At the Colonial Committee tonight [ie. of the CPGB – Ed.] there was a small Indian, who turned out to be Dongi, the president of the Indian T.U.C.  Shelvankar [KS Shelvankar,1906-1996, Indian writer and philosopher, ambassador to the USSR 1971-75 – Ed.] and I, after a meal, accompanied him to his flat in Lancaster Gate and had a talk with him there.  There was little he needed to complete his comfort in the luxurious quarters Bassu had found him.  That gentleman competed with Shelvankar for “stories” and only two days after I had heard Shelvankar refusing to part up with one, I was inveigled into giving him an interview on the subject of the Irish elections almost before I realised it.

Dongi affects to feel quite conscience-stricken at his new found splendour, but reflects consolingly that a man who spent thirteen years in jail – working out the concrete circumstances surrounding the origin of Indian capitalism – is entitled to one week per year, that is thirteen weeks of this excess of comfort.  There was much news of developments in India.  The party is very strong and rapidly recruiting.  Legality is rather a strange sensation to many of them.  Kumar Amanyalam [Name unclear-Ed.is out, and working in the Bombay office.  Congress socialism is finished and even Mrs Nehru shocks her husband’s friends by saying, “The Communists were right.”  British policy is to give economic concessions in order to avoid political ones, but to make a pretence in the face of the world at giving political concessions as well.  M.N.Roy’s Trade Union outfit has sent three delegates here – Dongi was attending the World T.U.C. and was on board before it was cancelled – and their intention is merely to prove as embarrassing as possible.  Roy receives money from the Government, and keeps an office going in London.  The amazing thing is that the Indian C.P. was also offered this “morale money” – but thought it wise to decline it!

June 1 Thursday:  This evening Michael Seaton and his wife came to see me, both of them in uniform, R.A.F.  He has just returned from Canada, but during a week’s visit to New York saw Michael Quill (who sent me a pamphlet through the post, and another via Michael) [Michael Quill, 1905-1966, one of the founders of the Transport Workers Union of America – Ed.]  and Gerald O’Reilly [Gerald O’Reilly, 1903-1990, IRA veteran, one of the leftwing leaders of Michael Quill’s union – Ed.].  

The assessment Michael gave of the situation in America was most interesting.  He thinks Canada an utterly provincial country, a welter of nationalities, each with its own party (farmer/labour) organisation.  The Canadian Party contemplates liquidating these sections as they are beginning to obscure the picture of Canada as a whole.  The mass of the people are frantically loyalist apart from French Canada where there are strong Fascist influences backed by Yankee Capital.

The United States is also provincial.  As those Russians said in their book, almost incredible ignorance exists in the smaller towns, At a meeting which he addressed at Minneapolis some respectable American Federation of Labour trade unionists got up in amazement to ask him about Anglo-Soviet Committees.  How could he say that British Trade Unions associated with those state-directed bodies?  The last speaker they had heard from Britain had given a different story!  “Who was the last speaker?”   The reply surprised Michael. “Sir Walter Citrine”[Sir Walter Citrine, 1887-1983, leading rightwing Labour figure, former secretary of the British TUC].  His surprise did not last.  Citrine’s main concern seems to have been to assure the Americans that Britain was still respectable. The opinion that we are not is very widespread.  The average man hates socialism because it is European – because (inter alia) it is British!  Yet many regarded the British as a nation of fops until the Battle of Britain and the blitz altered their opinion.

But whatever the background of ignorance and confusion on social matters – the political backwardness is the basis on which the party had to work in making out its new policy; and there is much speculation in the American party as to whether the British party will also reconcile itself temporarily to capitalism continuing – there is in the United States a zest and an enthusiasm which we nations of the old old civilisation of Europe cannot understand without seeing it.   Everybody feels the still apparently undimmed prospects of American society.  The quality of sentiment displayed in American films in “The boys out there” films, usually dismissed as Yankee exhibitionism by English people, is genuine.  These films bring tears to the eyes of men and women alike.  Everything is done whole hog, even the silliest things.

The working class movement is “tougher” than the British.  Most of our comrades have known the truncheon and the tear-gas bomb.  There was quite a deal of confusion about the new line, as many hated the capitalists so intensely [ie.the popular front policy – Ed.].  But the line-up against the monopolies is clear and most are convinced now.  The A.Y.D.[American Youth for Democracy, youth section of the CPUSA – Ed.]  is also now organised on genuinely broad democratic lines; the educational work includes all subjects from needle-work to dialectical materialism in C.P.A.[Communist Party of America – Ed.]  and A.Y.D. alike.  Michael thinks the British Y.C.L. may also have to disband.

Before he left I made notes on his Irish conversations which I recorded elsewhere.

June 2 Friday:  Paddy Clancy was telling me about the reactions of the workers in his factory to recent events.  The 200 Irish cheered the De Valera victory and were very surprised to know of Dev’s anti-Labour social policy.  This makes it clear to me that our main attack should be made against McEntee and the anti-Labour elements.

The British workers were thrown into a state of indignant frustration by Churchill’s remarks on Spain.  Paddy’s idea is that now finally Churchill’s post-war fate is sealed.  The feeling against Franco is intense.  The delay in the opening of the second front which everybody expected at Whitsun has occasioned a general sullen apathy.  This explains the difficulty of the Daily Worker is keeping up its funds, and the poor response to party activity.

June 4 Sunday:  This weekend I went up to Leeds to speak at a Sunday afternoon meeting at Low Moor, West Leeds, and an evening meeting outside the Town Hall was prevented by a downpour of rain.

The branch secretary was called Cameron, son of a Scottish Australian.  The meeting was not demonstrative but very attentive.

During the meeting a local circus party arrived to erect swings and roundabouts.  The innate love of love of work of the proletariat was shown with the greatest clarity by about forty or fifty children who swarmed round the workmen, lifting the poles from the lorries under their direction and acting as instinctive stewards and longshoremen.

One great discussion in Leeds was started by Tommy Jackson on his latest visit when he stated that Teheran as good as meant a peaceful transition to Socialism.  I’m afraid I’ve my doubts, though I’ve heard Garman express similar views which Emil Burns is said to share.  However, Tommy has been taken very literally here, and doubters of his inspiration have been severely castigated by the D.P.C.[District Party Committee – Ed.],  who must make of a speculation a certainty and a dogma.  Later I saw the culprit – Reuben Falber, and his wife.

June 6 Tuesday:  The talk we had during the downpour, while sheltering in the “pub” at Leeds, came back to mind today.  One of the members was telling how Jimmy Shields “sat on this very chair” on the fifteenth of February or thereabouts and slapped the table and said,  “The Second Front will be open in a fortnight.”  The members doubted it.  I was not going to be let in like Jimmy, so I contented myself with saying it was being got ready.  Today I would prefer to have gambled on it [This was the date of the Allied invasion of Normandy – Ed.].

My first intimation was Oldershaw, the station superintendent who limped cheerily past my laboratory shouting “It’s on.  Germans say British paratroops land.  Big naval engagement. On eight o’clock news.”

Then later Atkins, the laboratory representative for the AScW. came in.  “It’s opened,” he said, “We’ve landed at Havre.”  His face was white and he seemed almost scared.  Other young people were also very excited.  Berkowitz, a German refugee whose father was killed in a concentration camp and who brought his mother across here in 1938 at the age of 15 without knowing a word of English, and whose capacity for absorption in physical chemistry has to be seen to be believed, came in to tell me he could not settle down to work as he was too excited.  Then of course the hard-boiled hard-swearing party-member Bursley, the South African engineer whose men will do anything for him because he treats them so rough, and incidentally is secretary of our Hammersmith Branch, with Vahrman, the typical scientist-communist, coldly scientific and narrow in a queer open-minded way, came in to say, “Here it is.”

At the restaurant at lunch the proprietress strode up to the wireless set and pontifically turned it on to the wrong station.  The waitress called out that “Madam” was on the wrong wavelength and “Madam” gave in.  There was silence today.  But apart from that there was little excitement.

In the train going out to see Michael Seaton again a rosy-cheeked man asked a very intellectual lady if she had the evening paper.  “Nooo”, she drawled, “It is this morning’s.”  “I see they’ve got ten miles,” he said. “Ye-ees,” she said with the politeness of a whole sentence in one syllable, and looked out of the window.  “Well, our boys have got a tough nut to crack,” he went on, “but they’ll crack it, I’m sure.”   “Ye-e-ess,” she said again.   “May I borrow your lighter,” he finally said. “Ye-ess” she drawled in exactly the same tone of voice. He gave up.  Everybody was not interested.

June 7 Wednesday:  Today in the restaurant there seemed a more immediate hush when the one o’clock news was announced, but in general I think that Paddy Clancy who called in the evening is right when he says the first wave of excitement is over.  Yesterday little work was done in his factory.  Today there is sobriety as news of heavy casualties leaks through from nurses and suchlike who see the returning wounded.

Yesterday again Weil, a German refugee who is torn between his political duty to return after the war and his desire to remain in Britain, a very enthusiastic lad of 21, was all for organising a blood transfusion service.  Today there is less talk, though probably he will do it.  Michaelis, another young refugee with whom I am rather friendly, a native of Leipzig who was interned in Australia during the aliens’ scare, and one day shocked me by saying he had been beaten up by British soldiers on board ship – I recollect the incidents – is at home making final preparations for his BSc. physics which he takes next week.  Yesterday he   was ringing me up every few minutes to transmit the latest communiques.  Today he has returned to his physics.

Meanwhile the impression is gaining ground that heavy fighting is in progress but the feeling is that our people will succeed in establishing themselves.

June 8 Thursday:  This evening I took the second of a series of classes on “Modern Ireland” with the West London branch of the Connolly Association.  Last time I took a group of figures from the Statistical Abstract and we discussed the size, resources, population distribution and occupations of the people in Ireland.  This evoked great enthusiasm.

This time after recapitulation of last week’s discussion I selected the 1913 Transport strike and asked each of the class to pretend to be (i) the English industrialist in Belfast, (ii) a small manufacturer, (iii) a cattle-dealer, (iv) a rancher, (v) a dairy farmer, (vi) an agricultural labourer, (vii) a small farmer,  (viii) a Dublin worker.  I asked each to outline his attitude to the lock-out, and there was an admirable discussion.  They all interacted beyond my most sanguine expectations. This is evidently what they want, and not the general historical stuff with which they have too often been fed in the past.

Apart from this the great topic of conversation is the invasion.  “What are the church-bells ringing for?” a woman I didn’t know asked me in Maida Vale. “It’s strange”, she said, and walked on.

June 9 Friday:  It struck me tonight that what Michael told me about the very broad educational activity of the American C.P.  applies to the Connolly Association.  We must publish text-books of Irish Geography and things like that, as the class last night showed that Irish people simply do not know enough facts to have a just opinion on.

June 17 Saturday:  The whole of this week has been one of great strain and activity for me.  J.Godolphin Bennett, Director of BCURA, wanted to wheedle money and development plans out of his Board by means of brilliantly executed samples.  Philpotts might otherwise have done them, but lies ill with appendicitis, a fact which made me the executant, and incidentally enabled me to establish myself much more easily than might have been expected.  So I was the executant, working till late Saturday, and finishing with a grand 36 hour continuous effort ending on Thursday evening.  D.B.Foster, assistant Director, stayed up all night helping me.  All went off well.  Bennett, who pursues a very broad enlightened policy, thanked me and invited me with Knowles, Pirani and Foster to have tea with Horn, managing director of Powell Dufferin, a thoroughly hard-boiled old man with a highly polished exterior which only serves to draw attention to the hardness.  I was very tired, but having been rung up by Alan Morton met him in Piccadilly.

He is at the Ministry of Food, to whom he has been loaned by Levers, his real employers, who make up his salary.  At first he used to go round the factories, visit Northern Ireland, and do a deal of work.  But lately either because they have learned more fully his political views or because they are intending to break up the Ministry of Food anyway (as there is ample evidence), they have edged him off everything but writing minutes.  His self-restraint broke down today and he told Parker, his immediate boss, just what he thought of it.  So he intends to leave, and has approached Dyke, the one Lever Brothers director he has excellent relations with, who wants him to go to the Congo, but cannot allow his wife or child to go with him, even if this were advisable.  I am, by the way, godfather of John Geoffrey Morton, aged two months, now evacuated with Freda his mother in Liverpool.

We drank a lot of beer and sentimentalised about old days, the queer logic of events which keeps you to a sort of set course, always meeting the same people, or the same kind of people and situations over and over again, and of course we agreed that we want to return to our native Liverpool.

I returned home quite fit for sleep, and got into bed at 9 pm. I was wakened at twelve by a most startling incident.  I recollect sitting bolt upright in bed and seeing through the wide open window heavy clouds lit up with a faint lurid light, and hearing an appalling rushing followed by a great explosion, and then – dead silence.  There was gun-fire too.  I may have been dreaming.  I was certainly not quite sober.  In my half-awake state (a state I should only experience under the influence of extreme fatigue or alcohol)  a thought flashed through my mind: “It’s come.  The rocket gun.”  I got up.  Obviously this was something new.  Then I heard my neighbour the building worker shouting “Rocket plane”, and we all stood in the corridor while the raid proceeded.  Gunfire continued continually until 9.30 am. and was followed by warnings all day.  A man in the dairy remarked, “The ingenious devils. We’ve got nothing on them.  They’re a military nation.  Soon they’ll burn us alive.”  The Welshman who runs the shop, which he leaves in the charge of his wife while he goes to an East End chapel every Sunday, says, (thinking of the Last Judgement), “I wouldn’t be surprised at that.”  And of course all day there was no other topic of conversation.  It was Stella Jackson who explained the working of the thing to me; but all agreed, Elsie Timbey, Judith Todd, and Clancy, that morale had not suffered a blow.  Rather the reverse was true.

One of the planes had blown up a factory next to his in Park Royal.  He was shocked at the horrible carnage, but remarked that now the British workers would show no mercy to the German people.  Only a few weeks ago I was reasoning with Paddy Clancy that the German nation as a whole must pay for its crimes.  Now he thinks so too.  This led to a discussion on selective and indiscriminate bombing in which Pauline and Judith took the view that civilians were as legitimate targets as soldiers. Nevertheless we did feel there was some difference, and Sean [ie. Sean Dowling, Elsie O’Dowling (Timbey’s) husband – Ed.]  said Elsie, had assured  her as an airforce officer  that failing locating their target, British pilots must dump their bombs in the sea.  Stella [ie. Stella Jackson, one of TA Jackson’s two daughters – Ed.] says she will not go out, as she prefers to be killed in bed. Elsie and Judith will go first to the ground floor and then if need be to the Ministry of Information shelter.  I went out with Clancy who had then to make a tour of Russell Square, Holborn, and Chancery Lane tubes, in search of his wife Josephine, a splendid girl who had however been rendered almost hysterical by the sudden advent of this new and frightful danger.  When the alert sounded I was tired, but decided to get up from bed, as the first time could well be used gaining experience of the entirely new features of this type of raid.  My neighbour the builder stuck it for three quarters of an hour and then went to the tube;  firewatchers  from Maples depository said,  “Never mind.  Our fellows will find out where these are coming from and will smash ’em up.”  “It’s only a switchback,” said another, “we ought to be able to bomb it.”

June 25 Sunday:  Last week-end I cycled out to the Youth Hostel at Sutton Veny, where I had spent Whit week-end.  On that occasion I met a schoolmaster called Bailey, who had just completed a history of Reading,  some of which he told me.  Apparently Reading was badly smashed up in the Civil War, and was reduced to a tenth-rate town.  It began to revive when biscuit manufacture was established there in the eighteen twenties, and later the Great Western Railway gave it additional importance.  The long punishment for taking the Royalist side ended with industrial development, and now it has a population of about 150,000.  It is also an important centre of the seed industry.

The same man drew my attention to the vast numbers of earthworks on the brackens of Salisbury plain, and asked, if these were for defence, how many men were needed to defend them, and what for and against whom, and what were they defending on the tops of these moors.  It struck me quite forcibly how right Massingham was in thinking that the economic structure of the country then rested on these very chalk downs, and that the earthworks, even if they were later impressed into the service of defence, were originally constructed as part of a system of terrace cultivation.

I took three boys to see the earthworks this time.  They all worked in Fleet Street, two in Amalgamated Press Editorial, and one in an advertising agency.  They had quite responsible work to do, thanks to the war, although not yet seventeen.  I was particularly interested in the advertising lad who had read Cronin’s novels, and thought Dreiser’s “American Tragedy” a very fine piece of work.  All had vague socialistic feelings.  The Sunday I spent at Sherewater with a young girl, aged nineteen, whose fiancé was now studying education at Cheltenham Training College.  Her great ambition was to be an artist, and she was quite familiar with quite a number of present trends in art.  Coming back on Monday I went as far as Andover with a lad about to be called up into the R.A.F.   He was older than the others, and more cynical, more cheap, more “cockney” in his narrow self-centredness.  But he too was vaguely socialistic.  My impression of modern youth was very good.

Cycling back along the Great West Road, feeling very sunburnt and cheerful, I noticed wardens out, and everybody peering uneasily into the sky.  The flying bombs were coming over again, and I had several opportunities of witnessing the devastation they caused.  Since then every day several warnings have been sounded, and though now, a week later, raiding seems to be limited, night raiding is on the increase.  The tubes are at their most crowded since the blitz, and at night I have continued to get up and go to the ground floor.  The basement people have invited me into their flat.  “It’s in a well,” the occupant explained.  She formerly kept a pub, from which she was bombed out.  Her present occupation is that of waitress in Clarges Street where she serves daily on Lloyd George, and a lot of American officers with their prostitutes, with enormous black-market meals at fabulous prices.  She thinks this is a scandal.  “But you never want to leave the West End once you’ve been there.  The life just grips you.”  Her husband, formerly a compositor, has been in the Arsenal, as well as kept the pub and been a firewatcher and caretaker, since war put him out of work.  Her son is in charge of shelters in Holborn, a young man of twenty-three, and rather a hot-head.

Common danger has infused into Cockpit Chambers a certain Bloomsbury-like community of oddness [No.6 Cockpit Chambers, Northington Street, Holborn WC1, was where Desmond Greaves had his flat for over twenty years – Ed.] .  The doors of the eight flats are left open at night, and we all troop down when anything sounds “near”.  The general tendency is to exaggerate the nearness of anything these days.  The nearest so far has been Russell Square. That was extremely frightening.  The lady in the basement thinks that there are good and bad in all nations, even the Germans, but though the Irish have plenty of good, she doesn’t like them because they are so cantankerous – Irish waitresses she means – and flare up and down so quickly and say such horrible things.  But most of the neighbours think the Germans are bastards and that shooting is too quick a death for them.  This is the view of the blonde below whose man, “Jacky”, insists on sleeping through the raid and making things even worse.  The other blonde I have not seen for a while. The builder now goes “to the end of the road” as it enables him, he explained, to  “go towards them and get under them”.  He thinks it is the only way to avoid them; but you must have a clear space, such as the bomb-cleared sites on Theobald’s Road, so that you can see them coming.  On Saturday night he went out, while I and young Price dodged up and down the stairs according to the intensity of the noise.  Price is a party member, a postgraduate student at Walthamstow Polytechnic, a nice enough fellow, very keen on his job,  but a scientist  to the core.  He won’t talk nonsense with the neighbours in order to hear what they say.  He will be forever drying up the flow of their conversation with a couple of sentences crammed with scientific terms.  He is not interested in the fascinating subject of how the ordinary man expresses complex ideas in simple language, although it would help him if he was, for when the plain man undertakes something his way of expressing it is so pithy and accurate that it becomes classical.

How I met him was interesting.  During the late March raids, when the barrage drowned all but the closest bombs, and consequently made every attack seem like a blitz, I went downstairs and saw him sitting on the lowest flight with a girl, not one of the blondes – who are so much disliked and rejected by our Welsh friends at the dairy.  We got into conversation and I learned that 

he had just moved into the flat above me.  He was boiling over with enthusiasm and had collected the most oddly assorted library you ever saw, but could fortunately not be confused by the contradictoriness of his intellectual fare, as he had apparently not read any of it.  He used to hammer far into the night, making his bookshelves.  However, the girl jilted him, and I thought he would give up the flat.  He is still here however and looks like staying.  He is not here every night, though, as he revels in the fact that he can work irregular hours and has the urge to work all night and make himself ill in the cause of science.

Now what is it that makes people more on edge over this than anything so far, except the blitz itself?  That they are on edge is evidenced by the crowded tubes, and the fact that I saw a girl panic in Great James St. as the siren blew.  The firewatchers at Drages’ opposite say it is because we cannot retaliate in kind.  They feel the Government has allowed the Germans to steal a march on us. Gas we could hit back with, but not this.  Also they quickly appreciate the tremendous future possibilities of such a weapon.  The women say it is because it is so devilish and inhuman, as there isn’t a man in it.  Others say it is because there is no barrage.  All is deathly quiet and you sit and wait for its approach without the power to hit back, knowing it would not be audible unless the fighter patrol had let it slip by. There is also the fact that it is bound to go off, and what affects me most is the fact that it or a surface bomb would blow me out of the second floor with the greatest of ease.

Our discussions were cut short by the builder who came back.  He had met a man who told him they had brought down 47 in Epsom today.  “I said strike at their lairs,” he said, “but he said No. Strike at the bombs. So I’m going to bed.”  All the same he was down again in half an hour. “This is civilisation,” he exclaimed, “Now how are we better than primitive man.  He had wars. He lived in caves.  He fought his adversary. And now, two thousand years after Christ, this is what it’s come to. It’s all money!  That’s what it is.”   And off he went again.

A humorous side-show of the whole thing – the full scene is one of heads stuck out of open windows, cups of tea being made and left half drunk when the buzz begins – is that the lady in the basement has used the  general upset and her unlimited supply of the bones of black-market chickens, to entice  Mrs Fitzgerald’s cat away from her.  She says it will miss all the mice, or drive them up into my flat.  This would be the second cat Mrs Fitzgerald has said good-bye to in the last two months.  Poor woman.  Her flat was burgled as I moved in my furniture. Fortunately there was nothing much of value to take and the hurry of the thieves was such as to lead them to miss most of what there was.  So if the mouse manure increases I may have to endure. I have stopped throwing water on the cats, just in case I need their services – the whole place stinks of cats in the passage-way, and their noise is intolerable.  Still I prefer them to mice and I will refrain from enlarging the reputation I earned for myself as “the gentleman who threw a bucket of water over the cats”.

June 28 Wednesday:  Last night there were several flying bombs.  “Penny” (Penelope) Seaton, Michael’s wife, who now comes to help me with some clerical work, ascribed the slight falling off to the balloon barrages now set up.  Today however was very bad.  Foster, assistant director of BCURA, and Philpotts, my colleague, a Trinity College man who has two pretty sisters and knows Grove-White [Bill Grove-White, a Trinity College man, an acquaintance of Greaves’s and a land owner in North Wales – Ed.] and I went to De La Rue Plastics at Walthamstow.  Twice we had to fall flat, once in the street, and once in the factory.  Lucas, their development man, rather a clever fellow by all appearances, had been down to RAE and was able to tell us much about the bomb and its action.  There is no doubt whatever that cloudy weather favours it, and in the unprecedentedly wet, cold and stormy June  – like late October – we are having, it reaps a rare harvest.  Lucas does not think the rocket shell will reach London.  I hope not.

December 29 Friday 

Priorities for 1945

      Theoretical Work.

1.   Book on Ireland since 1916.         * M.T.

2.   Comparative national studies – Collect

3. Art Theory – Collect

4.  Beethoven                             – Suspend

5.

B. Literary Work

  1. Poems. (publish)

     2. Journal and retrospect (Begins overleaf)

C.          Political practical organisation etc.

  1. C.A. – Education/Orgn. – *1/2 Thurs., Fri

          2.  Central prop.  1 weekend in 4    l/4 Sat., Sun.

          3. Colonial Bureau (Dominions y compris) 3/4 Wed.

D.         Recreation.

        Music during winter         3/4 Weekends

        Theatre    …     …                  ”      

                                           *   *   *

Retrospect of 1936-1937, being Sections 1 and 2 of a retrospect of the previous seven years commenced on 31 December 1944

Main Themes:  Reason for interrupting the Journal – General assessment of the 1930s as “a difficult time to spend one’s youth in” – Applying for jobs in Liverpool and London – Getting his first job through his aunt’s husband, George Peachey, a director of the Costains building firm – Working in an estate office in Elm Park, East London –  Flat-living in Ilford, digs in East Ham  – Mental gloom in East London – Getting a job as a chemist in Epsom through a relation of his mother’s – Office politics at Robinson Bindley Processes Ltd. (Epsom Oils) – The AScW – Local politics in Wimbledon – David Guest – Visit to the Rhondda Valley       

       Retrospect, Section 1:  December 1936 – May 1937

December 31 1944:

Under today’s date I am going to attempt a recapitulation of the period during which no journal was kept, and the period in which it was kept but of which I destroyed the record.  The earlier volumes are all in Liverpool, so I do not know when I ought to begin, but the break in the journal does mark a break in my outlook and ideas – not a sharp one perhaps, but such that I now return to “wish for the twenties again with the experience of the thirties.”  I put this in quotes because I do not wish for the twenties again.  I propose to begin where I left the University and came to London for a job. It is a story of seven lean years.  I ceased making the record because the continuity was driving me into an impasse.  My new ideas were such that I was ashamed of what I had just written.  For the same reason, in part, I destroyed.  But also I destroyed because of the war, the probability as things then stood that my house might be searched, and that things which I might then have wished hidden would come to light.  If the Teheran decisions mean, as I think we can see that they do mean [Conference of Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt at which they decided to open a second front in the war against Germany – Ed.] , a period of expanding democracy and prosperity, then there is little to fear. 

I once asked Esther Henrotte, apropos of Trotsky, who did some useful things at odd times, “Is it justifiable to falsify history?”  She replied “No” – and I am inclined to believe she was right.  It is not justifiable.  Also I believe that truth has a power and justification of its own.  If I err from it, it will be, so to speak, that the spirit that prefers above all things the upright heart and pure, has insufficiently instructed me.  Another argument I used for discontinuing and destroying was that “now the edifice is complete, the scaffolding can be knocked away.”  That is partly true, and yet I find in turning over in my mind the various aspects of these last seven years, reviewing in particular how I and others have behaved, a fresher interest arising in the ways of my fellow men, and that is all to the good.

The nineteen-thirties were bad years to spend one’s youth in.  If many of us were not unaffected by our surroundings, it is understandable.  To pursue a course of study at a university, steadily and conscientiously, while knowing quite well that unemployment inevitably awaited you, was possible only to those of little imagination or great strength of character.  In 1935 I tried to get a job as a teacher, but was told by the director of education that he didn’t want his children experimented on.  The season of 1935-6 was therefore a period of unemployment, in which though I filled in my time in doing political work, and following a Geography course in a desultory fashion, I was unable to remain free from all traces of the demoralization unemployment causes.  I needed a steady job and some time for recuperation. 

The fact was also that, being much older than my fellow students, especially those in the party (Bloor was 19, Lancaster was 18, I was 23), I dominated them and was accustomed to being treated as one who knew.

When, therefore, instead of the steady interesting job, I had to take that of a clerk in an estate office, and worse still have nothing to do because the job was in fact made for me, the effect was disastrous.  I had at that time many fine thoughts and ambitions without the faintest notion of how to carry them out.  My experience of the world was limited and I had grown too old in a sheltered environment.  I had deliberately ignored the future, since like death it would come of its own accord and bring nothing with it.  I rode merrily down to London with Bloor, but a week later was wondering whether to accept John Edge’s offer that I could live with him until my projected journalism came to something.  Then came all the problems of digs, landladies, fires, rent, coal, electric light, and all the rest of it.  I was in the East End or in Essex, a drab monotonous wilderness after the sharp outlines and picturesque colour of Liverpool, its fresh air and views of the hills.  So I had a bad effect on Edge, who had succeeded in bamboozling himself into the belief that the job he had got as a progress checker was going to lead to a brilliant future.

It was not long before we were living together in an appalling little room where we could hardly turn round.  Edge’s father came to see us once, and I shudder to think what his impressions must have been.  He told my parents that it was an “awful place”.  It was run by a cellist, a party member, who had had a run of bad luck.  But we were glad of the congenial company, and kept each others’ spirits up.

After a few months of what to me then was purgatory, AEG [His mother – Ed.] came to London and met Myddleton who gave me a job as junior chemist at £3 a week, 10/- more than I was getting.  Almost at the same time, about May, Edge, who had grown ever more unpunctual towards the end of the  winter, was fired from Plesseys [British aeroengines, defence and telecommunications company – Ed.] and moved to a job, also at £3 a week, in Hammersmith.  He went to live with Alan Morton, who had just taken a flat in Belsize Road and an appointment as mycologist at Bedford College for Women.  Also in May, Frank Jones gave up his university studies and went also to live with Alan Morton.  I seem to have the recollection however that he took his degree.  Perhaps he went back for it later.

The trouble with both Edge and Frank Jones was that they flattered me.  I thought a great deal of them, and this made it worse.  Also I was young enough to want always to know what kind of impression I made on people, thought that first impressions were very important of course, and Edge and Frank Jones were always ready to tell me that other people were “impressed”.  Edge was an impresario himself, and his optimism knew no bounds.  In the end he was fired from the other job and Alan Morton went to see his father and packed him back to Liverpool.  Frank Jones later came to live with me in Wimbledon.  Alan Morton himself, though he would never flatter me, was in the midst of another unhappy love affair, was very unsure of himself and also could not help me because we did not meet often enough. 

I remember well my arrival in London, at the end of 1936.  My departure from Liverpool occasioned some criticism, for example from Molly Knowles [Molly Marshall in Volumes 2 and 3; Mrs Ingram Knowles – Ed.] who thought I had unaccountably deserted a difficult district.   But certainly the problem was not so easy.  There was no college appointments board such as had secured Edge his job at Plessey’s [Edge was a Cambridge graduate, Greaves a Liverpool one – Ed.].  I had obtained the prospectus of the agency for teachers, “Gabbitas, Thring and Co.”, which one glance at had revolted my anarchistic spirit.  I had to fill in every minute particular of my life, and I refused to do it.  I could not get a job as a botanist, as I had only a third class honours degree, equivalent to a failure, and apart from that there were no such jobs.  I had written to Professor Stapleton, but my manner of commending myself to his attention seemed to displease him, for he sent back a curt note saying that he had long ago ceased to concern himself with   “honours students” and the like.  I had an interview for a job as a Juvenile Instruction Centre teacher, for which Matthias the botany lecturer gave me the best recommendations possible saying “it won’t be my fault if you don’t get that job,” and my uncle Harry Greaves arranged for me to be shown round the centre in preparation for the interview. 

There were many candidates.  All were equally suitable, as there was nothing in the job, which was an arrangement by which unemployed youths, the surplus industrial population, were kept occupied by members of the teaching profession who would otherwise have been unoccupied themselves.  The chairman of the selection committee came from the Holt school, so they engaged Riddell [an older fellow-student at Liverpool University, also in the CPGB; see Volume 2 – Ed.], who knew he was getting the job a week before the interview.  After that I wrote to GW Peachey [husband of CDG’s maternal aunt Mabel – Ed.], and arranged to go to London.  The visit was planned for December 5th, but I was knocked down by a car and had to postpone it.  And when the day came I was still suffering from the shock and the bruises of the accident.  I left Bloor who went on to Cambridge, and rang up George Peachey saying that I had arrived.  Then I met Edge at Charing Cross.  He was his old perky self, and it was not for a long time that I realised the effect which the change in his circumstances had had on him.  A few days ago Nan Green remarked to me that we were all more or less demoralised during the slump.  A woman never said a more sensible thing.

I dilly-dallied and delayed with Edge and finally took the train to Purley, where George Peachey was waiting with the car.  He had been kept waiting for two hours.  There was a thick fog, and he merely remarked,  “The trains are moving very late.”  He ran me up to his house, where he lived as became his position as a director of one of the biggest building firms in the country.

I spent about a week with the Peachey family.  My two pretty cousins were there, but Brian, the boy, was away, I think for most of the time.  They lived in a large house on the side of a hill, with a nurse for the children and a German maid.  The meals were solemn rituals at which George presided.  He would ask the maid for Kartoffeln, and then invent some German sounding word like “Bumft” or “Arswasser” and ask her if she knew what he meant.  She used to smile desperately and he was mightily pleased, no doubt feeling genuine pity for the poor benighted foreigner.  He was a thoroughgoing Philistine and had inculcated a horror of culture into his family.  He would ask for the wireless to be switched off saying, “It is only po-music.”  One of the little girls asked me if I liked chamber music.  I replied that I did.  She then ran through the entire household telling each one, maids and all, in amazed tones, “He likes chamber music.”  She could not understand such strangeness of taste, and I saw her eyeing me curiously for several days.  My aunt had gramophone records of Grieg’s A Minor piano concerto, and of course a very expensive automatic gramophone, and hardly any records for it.  She had bought records with consecutive parts on opposite sides of each record, and not the automatic coupling type.  Rather than change the record by hand she piled the records up and played half the first movement, half the second, and half the third, then reversed the records and came back, by halves, to the first again.  She professed to think she was listening to delightful music.

The night I arrived George tried to shock me.  Knowing my father’s puritanical outlook, and probably in his own mind exaggerating both the significance of his going to church, and the influence it had had on myself, he showed me how by setting the reflections of one’s knuckles in a dessert spoon to secure a view of an imaginary woman in a bath.  I locked the bathroom door.  He found out by accident and asked if I was afraid of the maids getting in.  When his lowest stories failed to disgust or even surprise, he remarked that he was meeting something he couldn’t quite understand, and set himself to trying to impress me with his business affairs.

The plan was for him to get me interviews, and my intention at that time was to become a journalist.   Accordingly he ran me up to town in his car.  Edge had told me about his uncle named Gibson, who was a builder.  At this time Edge was prone to take a very rosy-coloured view of everything, and I had also not yet found out how incorrect his conclusions usually were.  I asked George if he knew Gibson.  He turned to his chauffeur and said, “Have you ever heard of a builder called Gibson?”  The chauffeur replied that he was not sure, but he thought that there was a man of that name in Croydon.  “Do you know the capital of Costains?”, he asked  [A leading British construction firm –  Ed.]. “About a million”, I said, as if it was nothing. “It’s rather a big capital, you know,” he said.

Then he introduced me to Harbud, the advertising manager of the Daily Mail, who in turn pushed me on to Sir Max Pemberton, who in deference to George’s big business interests consented to see me himself, and was genuinely put out when I did not immediately enrol for a course at the London School of Journalism.  The reason was simple.  Apart from natural suspicion of the whole thing, born in part of a feeling that some artistic sanctity surrounded the profession, I had no money, having sold my typewriter to Bloor in order to come to London.  This occasioned great amusement with George who thought it was an excellent first step.  “What you want to do,” he said, “is to get another typewriter and sit down and type. It doesn’t matter what you do, it will get you into the mood.”  He added that when he had a piece of sales literature to write he found it useful to read beforehand, “Anything will do,” he said, “– Shakespeare, if you like – or Edgar Wallace.”

At the end of the day he ran me back, and summarised the adventure.  “He’s been to the Daily Mail and they’ve said he’s too old, and he’s been to Pemberton and he’s told him to go back to school again, so we must see what happens tomorrow.”

So the Grieg concerto was played again various ways and we awaited tomorrow.  The appointment was for the afternoon, so I played the piano in the morning.  At that time I was full of the romantic Beethoven.  Oddly enough Mabel commented on the unrelieved gloominess of the music I was playing, perhaps unconsciously betraying the substratum of the philosophy in whose grip I had unwittingly lain already for some time.  The philosophy was defeatism, but like everything else it disguises itself in innumerable forms.

The interview with Thornton was friendly but led to nothing.  In the evening George informed me that he had drawn a blank, that Thornton had said very favourable things but the damning “his appearance is sadly against him” was rather a shock to one who was accustomed to despise the blonde beast.  Mabel later told me that the favourable remarks more than counterbalanced this qualification. But perhaps George was revenging himself for the real or imaginary slights I had put on him.  In any event I learnt the useful information when it was already too late to help me.  I was rather in the dumps and there being no interview next day I went to see Edge.  

He advised me to go and live with him.  As I returned from Ilford and entered the tube I was carried away by a sudden wave of emotion which was so powerful that it was impossible to analyse its content.  It was perhaps disappointment in part, partly rage at the way this smug, stupid, powerful, deeply entrenched, corrupt capitalist world was treating me, above all maybe injured vanity – I did not analyse then, and cannot now; it had been my pride up till then that I always carefully analysed my feelings, and remained master of my motives.  This experience swept the desire to analyse away.  Old men flatter themselves that they have controlled their feelings.  In fact their feelings have lost the power to control them.  At this moment the revulsion I felt was strangely commingled with an exhilaration due to the very strength of the nervous discharge.  I believe I thought of that picture I had often been fascinated by, representing a young woman hanging on a strap in a crowded tube, her face expressing the intense, sustained, unresting horror which our barbaric civilisation inspires, the horror of personal freedom in an age of unrelenting economic compulsion.  I swore I would have no more chasing round their coat tails.  I would go to Edge.  His £3 a week, his self-satisfied air of easy optimism, his assurance that he could get a typewriter, that his uncle had told him that free-lance journalism was easy, the prospect of doing something for the suburban papers – all conspired to make folly seem logical. I resolved to tell George Peachey as soon as I got back. Il faut en finir.

I did not ask Edge if he could get me a job in his factory.  I did not call on Lawrence and Wishart to ask for an advance on the book I was translating for them. I could have started a literary career there and then, but I was completely unaware that I possessed the opportunity. 

On my return I was met by my Aunt Mabel. “What do you think of our poor King?” she asked in a piteous voice.  In the midst of my own troubles I had had no sympathy to spare for His Majesty, and I was quite taken aback to see a woman take it all so seriously.  Mabel, however, having nothing to occupy her attention was drinking in the romantic sensation to the dregs.  She had several maids, and a cook.  She had her own car, apart from George’s, and her own chauffeur.  At the same time she did not get on too well with George, for reasons which I never properly understood.  He was a good father, but apparently not quite so good a husband.  At the same time she was fond of him in a sort of way, and I do understand that in the years immediately preceding his death, they got on very well together.  At this time, however, their rift was only gradually healing.  “George”, she said to me, “may seem to you a terrible blow-off, but his salary is £3000 a year and Costains think an awful lot of him.”  But he left her alone too much, and to occupy her time she took up golf. 

Being, as they say, somewhat parvenus, she and George gave very ostentatious parties, the great aim of which was to capture lions (Sir Alan Cobham, the aeronaut, or car-driver, racing motorist, or something else, and fascist into the bargain, among them) and make contacts likely to be of use to George in his business. They would give a magnificent meal and invite a lot of people who were always willing to partake of a free one, like those journalists who are always sure to attend any function upon the tickets of which is printed the small pregnant expression “refreshments”, and then Mabel would make an acquaintance with one of the wives.  It was here that the value of golf came in. The two women would grow very friendly and, the other having as little to do as Mabel, they would never be out of each others’ houses.  The inevitable reaction would follow, a quarrel, and the Thises or the Thats would be invited to George’s parties no more.  

Fortunately Croydon where they were previously, and Purley, provided an almost inexhaustible supply of such unoccupied women, and Mabel was soon enabled to draw another out of the social hat.  In spite of these patent facts, she considered herself overworked.  At breakfast she would complain of this to George who would of course laugh at her.  “You don’t realise the labour involved in planning four meals a day!”, she would exclaim in irritation, while he would either mimic her, or make a slightly vulgar remark to the maid, or merely go on with his breakfast.  He remembered only too well, I presume, how they had married years ago in Liverpool, and lived in a small house with Mabel not only planning the meals, but cooking them and doing all the housework as well.  Then he had built a bungalow at Bebington with materials sometimes known euphemistically as  “Builders’ Perks”, had been involved in some scandal, in which he seems to have cut rather a good figure, for having lost his job through protecting some of his colleagues, he was presented with a handsome clock.  He then joined Costains and went to live in Blundell Sands on their estate. “It would have been perfectly easy for me to have remained a third rate architect,” he would say, and I was given to understand that it was in Crosby that he made the decisive turn of his life, when he used to go out each Sunday morning, selling houses, to show how it could be done.  Transferred to London he practically created their sales organisation, and was made a director of Costains. Undoubtedly George thought all the credit belonged to him.

What with “our poor King” to whom we had to listen making his abdication speech over the radio, and the problem of planning meals, it was some time before I could announce my decision of going to live with Edge. But when I did they all refused to hear of it, said it was quite impracticable, that I wouldn’t make a halfpenny as a free-lance, that I would lose my independence (which I had never had), and that it was all an access of heroics, born of disappointment.  I was convinced by them, and agreed to see the next possible employer the following day.  It was then that Mabel communicated Thornton’s favourable remarks, and George said that his friend Sadell, who wrote the gardening dictionary or some such publication and who lived by bringing a new edition out every year, had remarked, “Editors today like writers to be doing something – flying to India, growing cotton, flirting with film-stars wives, or meeting the aristocracy of Europe.”  I presumed George thought this a very wise remark, so he arranged an interview with Sadell.

Misfortune dragged my footsteps on the way to Sadell’s. The trains ran late, the tubes seemed sparser than ever before, I mistook the place and went to Tavistock Square instead of Bedford Square, and had to take a taxi to Bedford Square, arriving five minutes late, to find that Sadell had gone out. I thought then that it was my fault for being late, but probably he had forgotten all about the appointment.  His secretary invited me to come again in the afternoon, which I did, and we talked for some time.  That evening George made a remark, “You seem to go round telling all these people what you want to do, instead of asking for a job.” This was true enough.  Before I left Liverpool I had prepared quite a scheme of activity, none of which I would even now dismiss as uninteresting.  I wanted to introduce into the study of botanical ecology the data provided by agriculture.  This had of course been done by Vavilov in the USSR.  But in 1936 anything so sensible was abhorrent to the narrow academic minds of the university teachers.  When I had taken up Geography it was with a vague idea of going into agriculture, that is to say for writing about agriculture.  The academic training whose exponents so aroused my opposition was however not without effect on myself.  My approach to these practical questions of how to get myself into the position I desired was quite unrealistic.  The long work of establishing oneself in the confidence of other people seemed to me to smack of needless kow-towing.  Also, since the only way a student could guarantee himself a career had, during the years since the economic crisis, been to foreswear his political, indeed all his other personal opinions, the idea of careerism, repugnant in politics, had become in the minds of some of the more sectarian of us, confused with the question of having any kind of career at all.  So this impracticality was understandable.

Next morning I had a conversation with Mabel who was, I think, getting a little tired of her visitor, and she suggested my asking George for a job.  I was ready to do anything by then, as long as it would be definite, so I did as she advised.  “Easily!” said George to my enquiry as to whether he could do the necessary.  So the following morning we all met again at breakfast and George delivered the following homily –

“Now we have a building estate down at Elm Park.  Do you know where it is?”

“Near Dagenham.”

“No. It’s nowhere near Dagenham”

 “But, George,” said Mabel, “It’s the next station.”

“It’s nowhere near Dagenham, and don’t you forget it.” I promised not to and he continued.  “Our object is to sell the houses on that estate.  We’ve got a man in charge called Allday. He was a furniture salesman. I made him a sales manager, and I’ll back the man as far as you like. Why?  Because he never comes belly-aching to me when business is bad. He always gives a reason, and says  ‘I think we should do so and so.’  Now up to now your entire life has been University. It has been the be-all and end-all of your existence.  You’ve eaten university, you’ve drunk university, you’ve slept university. Well now the be-all and end-all of your existence must be to sell houses.  You must eat selling houses, drink selling houses, and sleep selling houses.  I’ve got an excellent scheme down there. I’ve arranged it so that one man checks another man’s work.  Well, we’ll be off now, and remember it’s nowhere near Dagenham.”

We set off with George in the highest spirits, probably delighted to have got even with my father, who always despised him as a bumptious upstart, even to the point of missing his good qualities, his generosity and his regard for his children. On the Purley Way he took the wheel from Peacock the chauffeur and drove at 85 miles an hour.  “Are you afraid?” he asked me.  I was not too easy but reflecting that he would scarcely desire to kill himself at the height of his prosperity, I put the best face on it. 

“Of course”, he added when we had discussed more business, “I don’t have anything to do with men like you.”  He was full of his schemes – I had not until then come across the fantastic and grandiose schemes which business men are forever discussing, and it all seemed very romantic and far-fetched.  He had just returned from Portugal where he had put through a big deal.  “That fellow”, he said referring to Salazar, “has certainly pulled that country together!”  Then he spoke of the need to put 25% of the capital of a new business into advertisement of the product.  I asked him if he was afraid of a slump.  “Not on your life”,  he replied. He had a slightly sweet way of talking as if the natural resonance of his voice was tempered and softened by the formation of consonants:  “After all it’s like food.  People will always need houses.  I have arranged to see the Minister for Education very soon.  I promise to send free lecturers round the schools giving talks to the senior classes on housing, home-ownership, and so on.  In a few years these children will grow up and marry.  They’ll need a little place of their own, to get away from the centre of the city, down to one of the new estates.  We are providing an essential social service. We give them fresher air, modern conveniences and sanitation, and more than that, give them a stake in the country – and that will help to scotch your little bee in the bonnet, communism. 

“Of course I understand it well enough. You young fellows leave college and what’s your trouble? – No money. So you say, who are the suckers? Answer, the people with the money. It’s easy. When you get settled down you’ll forget about it all.  Now the most modern form of advertisement is called propaganda. I do most of it through Editorial Services. Thornton, the man you met, he arranges advertisements to look like news items.  But I’ve gone further.  The opening of Dolphin Square was made a great event.  I got Lord Amulree to make an official opening, and we got his speech sent over the BBC –  the biggest block of flats in Europe.  It was funny! The other night I had a phone call from a man down there.  We had been making a big song of our soundproof walls.  This fellow rang me up and asked me to listen to the man coughing in the next flat.”  

And so it went on until we finally reached Charing Cross, and I set off for Elm Park, without the faintest idea of what I was going to do, and already beginning to feel very sore when I reflected that the work I had done and the money that had been spent on my education availed nothing at all in this hard crazy system of vulgar jostling and brass-faced competition.

In the car, commenting on the abdication, George had said, “There’ll  be Labour trouble now!” with a knowing air, as one who knows how political events can affect the pocket, and also much as one would say, “It will thunder tonight.”  On reaching Elm Park, however, there seemed no evidence of a disposition to cause “trouble”.  I walked into the estate office, and asked for Mr Allday.  He arranged for me to replace a Mr Dorrett who was ill, by travelling round a series of enquiry offices, replacing men on their days off.   I was given several packets of sales literature to study, and told how George’s mutual checking system worked. 

At Elm Park there were a number of salesmen who received a commission of about £3 to £5 per house, according to the type of house.  There were about four types of house, and these were sold off the plan, and built as soon as the order was placed.  The salesmen scattered themselves about the estate looking for prospective buyers, each spending two days a week on this. The remaining days they toured round in cars “following up” an enquiry until they had pestered the customer into a definite decision.  Meanwhile Head Office bombarded them with letters and literature.  Some of the enquiries however came from local depots, which I was shortly to know only too well.  In each depot there was a clerk. Whenever a sale resulted from an enquiry made at his depot, 5/- was deducted from the commission of the salesman who handled the sale, and paid to the clerk. Thus the clerks would be continually worrying the salesmen, the salesmen would try to get sales independently of the depots, and Allday, a tall, thin, lame man with a sickly blotchy skin and pigs eyes, could get his own rake-off because he was in charge of the distribution of clients to the salesmen, telling each whom he must “follow up”.  He could then allot the most favourable ones to whom he chose.  This fact led the less favoured salesmen to arrange with the depots that clients should be phoned through them, and not passed through the depot books, in return for a larger commission, say l0/-.  So George’s scheme in the end defeated itself because those who were, as he thought, checking each other, were combining to outwit the sales manager. 

“How do you know Mr Peachey? asked Allday.

“He’s my uncle,” I replied.  I afterwards realised that I had in my innocence made a disastrous mistake.  From that moment on I was as good as quarantined as a spy.

“Well, that doesn’t mean you must have an easy time,” said Allday – and again I simply did not realise that this was a capitulation, if I had known how to use it.  If I had the same opportunity again I think I would have gone into the racket and used my favoured position to get a little more money than the £2.10 they paid me. But it remains a fact, to my present way of thinking a quite astonishing fact, that I was restrained by a species of gauche compunction, and that not once, in anything of importance, did I deliberately make use of the fact that I was the director’s nephew.

After my introduction at Elm Park I was given a day to look for lodgings and chose Ilford because Edge was there.  One of the first things I did, after meeting Edge at the station, was to call on some old friends of my family, Captain and Mrs Dawn, who had settled in Ilford many years ago.  Captain Dawn had sailed out of the Mersey in a windjammer, though his home was St Neots in Huntingdon.  After retiring from the sea he had been appointed secretary of some sort of seaman’s provident society, in which he had little to do beyond the quiet administration of benefits to his members.  He was already rather deaf and did not seem to be very interested in the younger generation.  Mrs Dawn, an old school-friend of my aunt, Mary Greaves, was a strident figure with a loud and high-pitched voice.  When she and Mary were together they made more noise than a farmyard full of poultry, their cries of surprise, disagreement or approbation being modulated and prolonged in such a way as to constitute a second language which they seemed to use parallel to and in order to supplement speech.  Mrs Dawn gave us tea and we exchanged such news as we had.  I do not think that our visit was very opportune, but she always made any relative of Mary’s welcome, at whatever inconvenience to herself.  We two young men however, did not then notice things like that, as we thought it quite natural for people to welcome us into their houses at all times, not even excluding the middle of the night.

We left the luggage there and went house-hunting.  Edge lived in Seven Kings, where he knew a little newsagent’s shop outside which hung a board carrying small advertisements on postcards, for the display of which he charged 3d a week.  The weather was damp and chilly, with the pallid grey half-light of December. Ilford with its long straight street, its innumerable cheap-jack stores, cut-price shops, leading into a “high road” between forbidding houses which gave the impression neither of the resourceful care of opulence, nor the friendly disorder of poverty, indeed nothing but broken down snobbishness, seemed to me the most depressing place I had ever seen.  The small gardens outside the houses at Seven Kings had not a scrap of green in them.  Whether they were cultivated in summer I doubt.  Inside the window was the inevitable aspidistra, and most of them were lodging houses of one kind or another.  Someone told me afterwards that Ilford was noted for the three Ps – pride, poverty and pianos.  I noticed nothing of the last, but another version I also heard substituted the word “pox” for the last P.  Again I have no evidence either way.                                                                                                     

Ultimately however after looking at several places, each as it seemed duller and more oppressive than the others, we found a vacancy with a middle-aged Welsh widow, who had, as she told us, six weeks before buried her husband in Llanelly, and having a small child to keep and nothing to live on, had brought her furniture to London, and rented this large house.  She promised us a private room if we would share it, and being inexperienced in these thing we did not go into details.  Edge then told his landlord that he was leaving him, and was given a little homily on the duties of tenants, especially as he and his wife had thought Mr Edge “such a nice young man who wouldn’t do a thing like that”.

John managed to soothe them by promising to place their address on the list of approved lodging houses at “Plessey radio” where he worked.  It was however typical of Edge that he left his trunk full of books behind him, and made no attempt to collect until his former landlord had pursued him to our new abode in Hazlemere Road.  I dealt with him, and promised to secure the removal as soon as possible.  The outraged landlord then told me how he had repeatedly remonstrated with Edge for going into work late – “even fifteen minutes late he is at times!” – but he had replied, “Don’t worry. I’m in a special category.”

 At this time Edge still believed the story which the firm had told the appointments board at Cambridge and which they had passed on to him.  He was being “trained for a management position” which he would receive in due course, “if found suitable”.  In reality this firm was a notorious sweat shop, and was choosing its progress chasers from among the unemployed graduates so as to avail themselves of their prevalent backwardness in Trade Union matters.  Not only was there no Trade Union in the factory, but the management had even frowned on the proposal to set up a sports club, with the remark, “Plesseys must come first.”  

Those who entered this company sold themselves body and soul. But it was some time before Edge appreciated this, and it was the fact that this knowledge was borne in on him surreptitiously, almost without his knowing it, which contributed to his subsequent rather foolish behaviour.  He tried to put a brave face on it and succeeded only too well.  Perhaps after his brilliant career at school, where he was the “wonder-boy” who won all the scholarships, and his early promise at the university, he could not adjust himself to his new circumstances.  Or perhaps having always had his plans made for him he did not know how to paddle his own canoe.  Certainly he gave at this time an impression of confidence and prosperity. 

 Previous to coming to London, in about October, he had been trying to get into journalism, and had worked for a while as reporter on the Birkenhead Advertiser.  The editor of the Birkenhead News had written inviting him to have a talk with him, but for reasons I never understood Edge neither went, nor did he answer the letter.  Thus the appointment at Plessey’s rescued him from a deal of unpleasantness at home where his family never ceased to upbraid him for wasting his opportunities.

All this I gathered when we sat in the poorly-lighted, over-furnished sitting room during the first few evenings we spent there.  The private room was not forthcoming, and the routine of work, eat, sleep which was accepted by the other inhabitants as a matter of course, from its novelty impressed us with its bleak abhorrence.  The point was brought home quite forcibly on the Saturday. We sat alone, for some reason the toolmakers from Fords in Dagenham not being at home.  We remarked on this fact to our landlady who eyed us with some disapproval saying, “Well it’s a queer man who doesn’t go out on a Saturday night.”  She was thinking of her electric light bill.  

She would serve up enormous meals at seven o’clock, far too much for Edge or me to eat, but at 10 pm. when, according to our accustomed routine, we should be having a good meal ready to start work, she served tea and biscuits plus a hint that it was time to go to bed.  It was my first introduction to the grey life of industrial slavery which centred round the newly-established light industries, with their immigrant workers, and every man an exile.  The centre of the web was held by Plessey’s and Fords who sucked the strength out of the men by day.  Then the landladies made them heavy roly-polies and sent them sleepily to bed, except at the week-end when the last meal was at midday, when they were driven out into the hands of the third and fourth blood-suckers, the cinema and the publican, to have their wits chloroformed and their senses dulled for another week’s blood-sucking.

Our companions were tool-makers.  They had most of them been in Canada and they made it a rule to keep on the move.  A tool-maker could always get a job, and they changed every four months or so, without knowing it applying the principle by which one can hold a hot body by tossing from hand to hand.  Variety of place was the spice of monotony of time.  Our conversations with them did not lead to much.  According to our notions all proletarians were instinctive communists. We found in them a suspicion of the employer, but no appreciation of the need for upsetting his domination.  They were all members of the AEU [Amalgamated Engineering Union – Ed.], but could not be called class-conscious by any stretch of the imagination.  They paid their membership fees much as one might pay one’s subscription to a free-mason’s club, or rather, as one might rent a stall at the market.  We launched out into disquisitions on capitalism and socialism, and were rather taken aback when they seemed to take the view that their opinions were as good as ours.  When they defended the Government for giving work, and seemed not in the least downed over the danger of war, we decided they were “no good” and left them alone.  Our studies had provided us with a rather sanitized blue-print of the structure of society, without our having experienced contact with its human material.

At the Labour Exchange we met a young man who seemed to be “good”.  I had to obtain the usual insurance cards and Edge came with me.  The clerk behind the counter asked me my age, and I told him, twenty-three.  He could not understand why this was my first application for an insurance card.  Perhaps he thought I was trying to establish double identity.  “Where have you been until now?” he asked peremptorily.  “At the university”, I replied as crushingly as possible.  We talked to the young man who had been unemployed and was now at last getting a job.  He was vaguely socialist, and had the half-dazed, half-resentful, hang-dog air which people acquire when they have been long unemployed.  Edge declared that there was no doubt that he had been “impressed”.  We invited him to our lodgings, but saw no more of him.  This surprised Edge who said to me, “Just think of a man going into a Labour exchange and meeting you!” – a piece of gratuitous flattery which pleased me then, as I was sore after the fortnight’s rough treatment I  had been subjected to.  People do not as I then thought immediately recognise a man’s qualities by his conversation, partly because they prefer to read them in his actions, and partly also because they are not equipped for the task.

Well do I remember the journey to Elm Park on the Monday morning.  Getting up in the dim half-light and catching several buses one after another, uncertain which was the right one to take me to Heathway whence I caught the District Railway to Elm Park.  The interminable housing estates swarming with children and bicycles were a new side of London life to me.  And of course it rained as if to be certain of making everything as depressing as possible.   I spent several days there, poring over the catalogues, doing nothing, and wondering how people could be so content in idleness.  I had imagined working for one’s living as consisting largely of activity of some sort.  Its other aspect, that of imprisonment, had not presented itself to my mind.  One of the younger salesmen called Davies button-holed me quite early and tried to persuade me that he was the star-turn who sold all the houses.  He was a moustacheod gent about thirty years old, who wore a sporty coat, inexpensive but sufficiently ostentatious to impress those whose own clothes were inferior, and who called everybody on all occasions “old boy”.  This expression seemed to have a universal currency in the office. I came to the conclusion first that it was a cockneyism, second that its object was to give an impression of carefree nonchalance, likely to attract the prospective customer.

On the Thursday night however there was a telegram from Joan Rainford when I returned at night: “Come at once, crisis, urgent.”  I had a hasty consultation with Edge and he was certain that it was quite essential to go.  But the question was how to get the money, and the fare was 24/9. We had little left when we had paid for our lodgings, and the necessity of paying for a week in advance had  “cleaned us out”.  We went to town on the Saturday, by Green Line bus which Edge swore was best, and went to see Glyn Evans, who was then in the bookshop at King Street [CPGB Headquarters – Ed.].  He advised us to ask Burns to lend us the money.  He would ‘t, so we went back to Glyn Evans who, sighing heavily, stumped up.  With £1 from him and 10/– from Edge the necessary sum was raised and I set off on the midnight train.

When I reached Liverpool I got in touch with Frank Jones and Geoffrey Bloor who was my successor as leader of the University group, and of course the inevitable Joan Rainford was there.  She was a silly romantic girl, of LIverpool Irish stock, who had emancipated herself from Catholicism and with that from most else.  She had flirted with most students, and was always looking for somebody fresh to fall frantically in love with.  She was quite a master of the type of chatter which goes to students’ heads, and I like the others was not insensitive to her carefully planted flattery.  On this occasion we held a party at my parents’ house.  They did not appreciate that I was returning for any other purpose than to see them.  I suppose my poor mother had been worrying her wits away, imagining all the things which might befall a young man of 23 just leaving home.  The presence of Joan Rainford certainly did not please her. But youth is insensitive to such things, cannot wait, nor compromise.  We discussed a great number of things, but to this day I have no notion whatever why I was so dramatically recalled.  If anything had gone wrong it was only from not being attended to, and all the students would soon be on holidays anyway.

I returned to London again on that midnight train which I was to get to know very well in the following years, until I was finally in a financial position to travel by day.  This time it was not Elm Park but the depot at East Ham which I had to go to. I took the opportunity of going to Lawrence and Wisharts [Communist Party publishers – Ed.].  I had been told, I think by George Barnard, that Parsons wanted to see me.

    ” I believe you wanted to see me,” I said

     “Oh. Yes. How do you do?”

     “Any special reason?”

     “No”, he said, surprised, ” I do like to meet most people who are doing anything for us.”

      Not having any social small talk I left after explaining that I proposed to do the translation [Translation of Marcel Prenant’s Biology and Marxism – Ed.] while in the offices at Costains, waiting for customers.

When I reached East Ham I introduced myself to Mr Udall who was to initiate me into the mysteries of persuading people to buy houses.  He was a big good-natured florid man of about 44 years of age, and had bought a house at Elm Park, and was living there, because he thought it would give him greater security as a loyal employee.  He was sober, honest and conscientious and I retain better recollections of him than most of those I met at this period.  He had a daughter about seven years old, whom he worshipped, and on whose behalf he was selling his soul for security.

It came as a shock to me to realise what a world of terror capitalism is to those who do not understand it.  An electrician came in to attend to a fire, which would not boil our kettle for lack of an element.   This was serious as George Peachey insisted that all offices must have open doors, because closed doors put customers off.  “Never rent a corner shop,” said he. “You see, Joe Lyons never does!” The front of our office was taken up by a huge plaster model of a “Costain Chalet”, beside which was a model of a “Rosewood de Luxe” with white walls and a vulgar red roof.  Behind this Udall had ingeniously draped a thick green curtain which served to hide us from the view of East Ham High Street, and to keep out the most violent draughts from the open door.  When Udall went out to lunch I closed the door, but on his return he opened it again. “After all”, he said. “you never know when Mr Peachey might come round to see how we are getting on. Last week he came round.  He notices everything.  He was very pleased with that window. ‘I see you’ve been having a bit of a change round,’ he said.”  With these and other similar instances Udall would open the door again.  So we needed that fire.

The electrician explained that he had not had the job long. Before that he had had thirteen months bad luck.  First his wife was taken ill, then his daughter, then he lost his job and was unemployed several months, finally he became ill himself with a poisoned leg from a wound received years ago in the last war and for which he had no pension.  He ran though his savings and got into debt.  Even now he was not yet “on his feet again”.

“It’s remarkable how you get a run of luck like that,” commented Udall, who fussed round trying to please, and was as much in the way and anxious to get out of it as only a big man can be.  “Now take me. I’ve had the same.  I was in an office in the West End for years, good job and everything.  I wasn’t brought up here. Paddington is my home town.  I always lived and worked down the  ‘other end’.   Everything went wrong from that day on. I’m all right now, touch wood. All I hope is my luck doesn’t turn again.”

“That’s what I’m hoping,” said the electrician with a grim expression. “What d’you think’s the cause of it?” Udall asked me, “You’re a bit of a what’s it, aren’t you?” he asked. I didn’t know. “D’you believe in fate?” he asked. I had no time to reply. “That’s it,” the electrician cut in, “it’s fate”.   This reflection both frightened them and gave them the satisfaction of shifting the burden on to their stars.

When my turn for lunch came I would go into the ABC and after elbowing my way down an infinitely crowded street, I would push my way into the restaurant out of the cold air, and keep my overcoat on to eat steak and kidney pudding or suchlike, because there was no room to hang it up.  Everything was arranged to cater for the maximum number of people in the minimum time.  It was presumed that everybody was in a hurry, and you never had to wait long.  Typists, junior clerks and salesmen ate there.  The smaller fry took sandwiches into their offices and drank water, or they went into Woolworth’s or a milk-bar (quite an innovation in those days) where they had a bun and a cup of tea.  

It was not immediately that I understood that I was among the middle class.  But it was clear in time.  I was interested in my fellow-diners.  I kept wondering what sort of individuals they were, and their different modes of attire seemed to me indicators of differences of character which had prompted them. The women however could after a while be classified into groups.  There were different types of head-gear, different types of “coiffure” which I hazarded the guess derived from the favourite filmstars they were imitating.  Soon they began to nauseate me.  Their poses were as artificial as everything else about them.  One young woman kept her eyes pointing dreamily upwards even as she was eating.  Another wearing a dark coat tipped with fur, picked at her food with a fastidious little smile engraved on her lips which scarcely moved to insert the steak and kidney pudding.  

“These are not people,” I thought.  Thinking as I still was on journalism, and still imagining that it depended on taste, sympathy and observation, instead of loud talk, self-advertisement, pushful inquisitiveness and an infinite capacity for drink, I was appalled at the thought of having to describe such people.  At the same time I observed their deliberate ignorance of each others’ existence.  Each was living her imaginary life, so it seemed.  They were like Leibniz’s monads, individual because indivisible, ignoring each other going each his own way.  I contrasted these dreamy or self-deluding creatures with the companions I had left behind in Liverpool, and felt more forcibly than ever what a strange world I had exiled myself into.

The next few days went by, more slowly than any have ever gone, either before or since.  Although the total length of my employment at Costains was no more than five months, and this was divided into several periods, it seemed like years, because the intensity of my feelings was greater during that period than before or since; the stresses I was subjected to, the gradually increasing mental conflict, disappointment and uncertainty, kept me in a ferment day and night.  

Was it not, I would ask myself, only in August that I had stamped up and down my room, or over the grass on the clay-cliffs above the Dee, pounding out to myself in the exultation of my youth the defiant strains of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and thinking to myself, “I am life. Nothing can defeat me.”  I did not then reply, “I am youth. Time will defeat me.” Physically I was the same. Mentally, although a month ago I had seemed sure of myself and everything, now I was like a ship without a rudder.  Everything was unloosed, at the mercy of circumstance.  The secret, I had said to myself in August (who could not help feeling confident in August?) is to be conscious of oneself.  There nobody can do you a hurt.  And here I was, unable to get my bearings, bowled over by the unexpected results of a step I had taken of my own accord.

In the evening I discovered that in order to help pay my fare to Liverpool, Edge had foregone his lunch, lived all week on chocolate.  We went to London where we repaid Glyn Evans his £1 – much to his surprise.  He had resigned himself to not seeing it again, and we were as a result of this gesture personae gratae for a long time afterwards.

Christmas came and we returned to Liverpool.  Most of the students had gone home for the vacation with the result that I met only Iver Mercer.  I was rather surprised that Frank Jones with whom I had been rather friendly, did not put in an appearance, but I knew that for some months since a beautiful lame student had jilted him in favour of Geoffrey Bloor, he had been in a sulky mood. Geofrey had in his turn been duly jilted, and the girl had announced her engagement to a junior lecturer with copious black hair, a captivating voice, and Trotskyist politics.  Geoffrey was at home, so I did not expect to meet him, but Iver Mercer told me something which disquieted me, that Joan Rainford had been drawn on to the Organizing Committee [presumably of the New Labour Club of leftwing students at Liverpool University; see Volume 2 – Ed.].  I did not consider her suitable, and as the sequel proved, on this occasion I was right. 

 I remembered how in September or October we had formed an Arts’ students’ group in the Socialist Society, and I had attended a meeting only to find a certain fluffy-haired cocky youngster whom for some reason they called “Flappy” Booth reclining on that lady’s lap.  Out of a desire not to appear a kill-joy I did not stop them, and that failure to enforce order where disorder for the first time reared its head, cost us all dearly, later on.  All was however still going well at Christmas, and one could only express a vague dissatisfaction, without being able to point to any special danger spot.

George Peachey had specifically cautioned me against going home at Christmas.  He probably felt that I would be persuaded to remain there.  My family did not try to persuade me, probably because I had not for some years been on very good terms with them.  They felt, not without some justification I am compelled to admit, that I had wasted my opportunities at college, and they had not much faith in my recovery.  My father’s political views were coloured by his hope of being promoted from overseer to assistant-superintendent, and he was working very hard trying to secure the favour of his superiors.  I was cynical about it, and this irritated him.  My mother was also inclined to be reproachful, and though this arose merely from her disappointment at my having to take up such menial employment, it was none the less unpleasant for her.  

I went to see Piggott, an old school and University friend and talked to his father.  He, unlike my own parents, was unaffected by this change of circumstances.  “You’ll strike something!” he said. “Don’t worry about that!  You’ll strike something.”  I decided to carry on and see what I did strike, but not without reflecting that I was less likely to strike than to be struck.  So at the end of the holiday, once more Edge and I trudged up the dirty, wet, crowded incline into Lime Street Station, and set off again on that midnight train which bears away so many people’s hopes and fortunes.  

The journey was slow and tantalising, the train stopping at most places, including even Northampton, and both of us, scorning sleep, and in any case not knowing how to sleep in a train, got out at each station, or opened the window to the girl with the trolley, and bought tea.  Then we talked about politics, about our friends, about our prospects, the main burden being to convince ourselves that a rather mean lot to which time and the will of heaven appeared to have led us, was despite appearances a getaway to a valiant future.  The talking kept our spirits up, and served in place of good advice, not a ha’pporth of which any of our elders were capable of giving us.  They were obsessed with the idea of security, and the years of the slump had completely perplexed their philosophy.  It was now several years since we had heard the cry, “stop the dole” or “the buggers won’t  work”, but it was still felt that the fault was not in our stars that we were underlings.  The train pulled into Euston about an hour late, and in a drizzle in which we both caught cold. 

To make matters worse, our landlady had a new guest, a young man from Swansea, to whom she openly and with the greatest ostentation meted out “most favoured nation” treatment. Of course all the others hated him; and after a few days of gradually increasing irritation we held a council of war in a little tea-shop, and decided to go to East Ham and find furnished rooms.  East Ham was more convenient for getting to the West End.  John Edge was quite certain that I could get a job on the Stratford Express, and failing that I could do free-lance work.  When it became clear that it was impossible for me to write in our bedroom through sheer lack of light, the position became still more desperate.  The Welshman began to give himself airs, monopolising the common room, and even when he hadn’t the radio on doing something or other which got in our way.  The others went stolidly out and came stolidly in at the appointed times.  One of them left for Canada.  The others said they would follow him in a few months.  Fords had a higher labour turnover than any other plant in the country, and the great majority of the men were non-union.  Nobody could stand the speed for long. So we decided on a speedy exit. 

Just before we left Alan Morton came from Cambridge to see me, in a state of profound dejection.  This was not to be wondered at, considering his experiences during the immediately preceding years.  He had studied Botany at Liverpool University under Professor McLean Thompson and had been badly treated, given only second class honours, and for the sole reason that the Professor disliked him.  Almost at the same time he had had an unsuccessful love affair with Fraulein Sussmann, a German student who subsequently proved to be a Nazi spy.  Then he went to Berlin University to study German, returning to face the usual unemployment which most science graduates were familiar with at this time.  His father treated him very well, and finally, in the summer of 1933, he went to Cambridge to study for the degree of PhD on the handsome salary of £3 a week.  It was during this period that he became a communist, but having been brought up in the school of traditional social-democracy, he only gradually lost the attributes of his early training, and preserved for long a certain air of martyrdom, an excessive self-abnegation which infected his spirits and kept him to the rank and file.

On this occasion, it was New Year’s Eve, we went to “The Cauliflower” for a glass of sherry.  The festivities were going on, but there was a slight haze which collected the red and yellow light of the city, held it in the air, and bathed everything in its softening uncertainty.  I analyzed his difficulties easily enough, and advised him to publish his poetry, so as to have something definite to his credit behind him.  He was very pleased at this suggestion, but the fact that the poetry was still unpublished seven years later shows how much more easily things are said than done.  My proposal did however help to lift the weight of frustration which was on all of us who first came into possession of our mature talents during the great slump.

Alan had moreover been again to Germany and had found another girl, this time the station-mistress of a country railway junction.  He was thus capable of swinging one way or the other, according to the colour of the immediate prospect.  Next time I saw him was in the spring when he was completing negotiations for an appointment in London, but he had stopped writing.

We found ourselves separate apartments.  The first place we discovered I moved into, and Edge followed a week later, if I remember aright.  An air of permanent darkness broods over all my recollections of this period, as if everything I did was done at night.  True, it was winter, but no other winter seemed so exclusively an affair of gloom and gas-light.  My new room was big and comfortable, and it was an enormous relief to find privacy, and that sufficiency of possession which enables one to imprint one’s personality on little things.  One thing was to cook one’s own food.  I invented new (and needless to say speedier) ways of baking apples, and one Saturday afternoon astonished Edge by manufacturing a huge trifle for which I scoured East Ham for the rarest ingredients.  Every evening Edge came and we talked and talked about our prospects, and I think largely my prospects.  I wrote to the Stratford Express and received no reply.  I replied to advertisements for journalists in all manner of papers, and I recollect how worrying it was to decide what salary to ask for, and how £4.10 seemed wealth untold which would solve all problems.

I was now only five minutes walk from the East Ham depot where I assisted the genial Mr Udall, and replaced him on his day off.  Nobody ever came into the shop when I was there, and I was left in peace translating Biologie et Marxisme.  By any reasonable standard the strategy would be to complete this as quickly as possible, get it going and see if it led to further opportunities.  But I was so accustomed to getting nothing for my pains that the idea of accepting royalties on the work never occurred to me.  I did of course see the wisdom of the strategy, but was not in a fit condition to carry it through. That winter seemed inexpressibly long because of the nervous tension under which I lived, and my impatience prevented me from making calm efforts at anything.

When I visited the other offices, at Upton Park and Poplar, I met the other clerks.  There was slightly more business here, but little came of it.  George Peachey had made an arrangement with the railway company by which free vouchers were issued to prospective buyers, enabling them to travel to Elm Park free of charge. People who had relatives already on the estate would come in for these.  At Poplar Edna Lowry came in to see me.  She was Assistant Almoner at the Poplar hospital, and had joined the appalling Poplar branch of the party, almost all of whose members were unemployed.  Scarcely had she left when Postgate, one of the executives of the company, called in to “see how I was getting on”.  He did not, I think, know of my connection with George Peachey and in any case he had called to see the other man, Lilley, a young moustachioed gentleman who looked and was a salesman, but who would have done better, from his appearance, in a wireless or a bicycle shop.  I found it quite easy to satisfy Postgate upon the reasons for the poorness of trade.  I have never found that businessmen have any other attitude to this subject than farmers have to the weather.  He agreed with everything I said, and seemed to regard the most abject of platitudes as the distillation of pure wisdom.  I was glad Edna Lowry had gone when he came.

The arrangements were simple, as Lilley explained them to me.  You opened up at any time before 9.30 in the morning.  It did not matter.  But it was good to stay till 8 pm. or even 9 pm. in the evening, as you were likely to get enquiries from people who were working in the day, and therefore had money.  I opened at ten and closed at six, in spite of the favourite trick of the chief-salesman (sales manager he was called) of ringing you up about a quarter past six and keeping you talking till half-past.  At this time the Commercial Road sprang into thunderous and horrific activity.  A turbulent irresistible torrent of transport poured out of London on the other side of the safety railings which were needfully placed along the kerbstones.  On one occasion I was getting on to a bus in this immense tumultuous stream when I was smitten with a sudden doubt.  Had I locked the door of the office?  Lilley had said, “Be sure you lock up.  There’s nothing in the office but an old chair and that table, but the people round here would have them out for firewood.”  I found I had indeed left the door on the latch. 

 Despite all my troubles I was thus lucky in things which might have proved really serious.  The necessity of paying attention to such things riled me more and more every day.  I went out to the little coffee stall next door and got a cup of tea.  Lilley had said, “Be sure you take it back if you can’t drink it,” and Udall told a story about this stall which was like the famous tea-stall at Comber where the old woman put in a charge of tea in the can in the morning, and thereafter added a “pinch” of soda.  “That was rummy tea, wot you gave me last night,” a customer remarked. “Whoi, it t’isted loike petrol.” “Ow, Now!” rejoined the stall-holder, “That was our coffee you must ‘ave ‘ad. Our tea t’istes loike paraffin.” Udall added “Oh! Dear!, Oh! Dear!” to this, and said it only showed what they did give you to drink.  

Coming in with a cup of dirty water I caught sight of my reflection in the little mirror before which Lilley adjusted his carefully brushed-back very greasy hair.  The uncertainty of my position had worked a subtle difference in my appearance.  The expression of my face was more set, but what shocked me was that my eyes had completely lost sparkle, and gazed dumbly like the eyes of a dog.  I have seen the same phenomenon in people who have joined the army, and I think it arises when one loses self-confidence and wavers between one cause and another.  Of course I felt very sorry for myself, and indulged in an orgy of reflexive pity, in the course of which I wrote a very bad poem, copies of which I sent to Geoffrey Bloor, Alan Morton and Joan Rainford, with whom I  had contracted an ill-defined friendly relation, which would never have been possible in my normal state of mind. Joan Rainford praised it, Geoffrey did not reply, and Alan roundly condemned it as a piece of atavism, a relapse to an earlier style.  Thus under strain the inhibitive refinements of our reflexes are blunted or worn off and we behave below the level of our own learning.

At the Upton Park office I met Humphries, a young man of about twenty-four, with fair hair and a large round pasty face, smooth but coarse.  He had been unemployed for a long time, and lived in Plaistow, which the inhabitants pronounce with a curious vowel which is half-way between an “I” and an “Ah” – possibly near to the Welsh  “ae” or “au” when the  “a” is very long.  I could never learn to say it properly, so said either “Playstow” or “Plystow” according to my inclination of the moment.  He told me how he lived with his mother, and what a joy it was at the end of the week to pour his earnings into her lap, and how he was not ashamed of the fact that when completely unemployed he had worked as a navvy for a fortnight, although his real business had been that of shop-assistant selling silk stockings in a draper’s shop.

After some weeks the original Dorrett returned after his illness and Humphries was sent to Elm Park.  He must have protested however at being deprived of his means of making a little extra money, and because of this, and also because I opened the shops late and closed them early and Allday could not do much about it, it was decided that I should go to Elm Park permanently, and Humphries should be the relief man.  It subsequently turned out that the wretched Humphries was in league with Davies and turned him over all the business he could, for a consideration. 

How I despised Humphries, for his display of sentiment, his religiosity, and his prurience!  I recollect making some smutty allusions with the deliberate intention of shocking everybody, upon which he doubled up like a robot worked by a trigger, slapped his thighs, and emitted the most raucous and immoderate cackle.  Dorrett on the other hand was an older man who ran a little newspaper business in conjunction with his wife.  No wonder he had been laid up with stomach trouble, for he told me how he had bought this business with £50 remaining to him when he was unemployed.  He had painted the shop himself, bought the stock, and both he and his wife had lived on bread and margarine and weak tea with condensed milk for a month, getting up at five every morning and going to bed at midnight doing everything themselves from delivery to book-keeping.  Now he derived a couple of pounds a week from the business and this gave him a sense of self-respect and security which was absent in the others.  

The big scared Udall made a fuss of me because I was the director’s nephew.  Lilley told me who were the biggest cheats in the district, and left me to handle them.  Humphries was a parasite and a cipher.  Dorrett told me where to get cakes, make the tea, and prepared toast and greengage jam in a sensible comradely fashion.  He was more radical in his views than the others, but like them assumed as inevitable and self-evident the war of all against all, and devil take the hindmost. 

When I reached Elm Park there was absolutely nothing for me to do.  They set me making out cards for the card-index of prospective customers.  A week of this, half an hour’s work a day, then pretending to do something – it was bad for appearances if you didn’t look busy – for the rest of the day, completed my mental revolution.  I began to hate capitalism with a fury I had never experienced before, but I was completely at a loss what to do. 

The salesmen were absolutely non-political, it seemed, and though they were drawing no money, since there was no business, they persevered hopefully.  One clerk was a little better than the others, a young man of 26 who received £3 a week, and seemed to be working all the time, telephoning, typing and walking about with papers in his hand.  He was tall, bony, angular and had an enormous pointed jaw, which he thrust out like a goose its neck, during his not infrequent altercations with the salesmen, who delighted to tease him. “So you are a News Chronicle man!” he remarked one day when I brought one in.  I replied that I bought it only when the Manchester Guardian was late.  He had long been a member of the East Ham Labour Party, and bought the Herald.  I proceeded to “expose social democracy” and criticized Morrison {Herbert Morrison, 1888-1965, Labour leader of the London County Council in the 1930s; Deputy Prime Minister to Clement Attlee in the 1945-51 Labour Government – Ed.].  “But look at his ability!  That great administrator”, said Lacey.  “Why, think of the size of London. That’s the type of man we want.”  I proceeded to argue, and it became clear that there was atavism also in the matter of political approach, just as there was impatience and the desire to get results quickly.

For the greater part of the day however Lacey was busy and it was only at lunch-time we could talk. The estate office was composed of a central space laid out with tables like a café, and here it was that the customers were served with tea by a waitress who had previous to my arrival also made out the index cards.  Off the central space at the back branched off two small offices holding respectively Mr King, the estate manager, Mr Allday, sales manager, and these two drank coffee together, ate lunch together, consulted together, and were at daggers drawn. 

Nice questions of precedence arose.  The administration of the estate was King’s department, but since a badly administered estate would ultimately react back on sales, Allday was the senior partner and possessed a kind of presidential power of veto.  Thus if a chimney smoked King would show how he saved the firm’s money by letting it smoke on.  But if it smoked next door to somebody who had introduced a prospective customer (with a view to commission, which was paid even to residents) then Allday insisted that it must be put right, and always got his way. 

On the side were two offices, one occupied by an old man called Proctor, a Liverpool man whom I got on well with when I came to know him, the next by Lacey.  Proctor’s job was to inspect the houses and certify them as in a condition to be visited by the building society’s surveyor.  This gentleman appeared and disappeared according to an ephemeris I was unable to compile. Then between the back and the side offices lay the cooking and tea-making room where the office staff and the two salesmen on duty for the week cooked and ate their lunch.

Across that central space I used to pace “like a caged lion” as Lacey put it, giving myself over to dark and bitter reflections. “That it should come to this!” I said, “quoting Lear, and I repeated to myself the lines

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks, rage, pour.

Ye cataracts and hurricanoes spout,

Till you have drenched the steeples, drowned the cocks,

You sulfurous and thought-executing fires!”

 Or else for the edification of Lacey I would recite the lines of Baudelaire in a loud voice,     

 “Et pourtant vous servez sensible a cet ordure,

  A cette horrible infection,

  Etoile de mes yeux, soleil de ma nature

  Voces, o mon ame, et ma passion.”                  

Allday once walked in to the kitchen as I was reciting this, and beat a hasty retreat because he couldn’t understand a word of it.  On another occasion when I was reading a book in French on Marxism and Music, he told me to put it away, winking, because he thought it was pornography.  I was hard put to explain to the salesmen what I was doing in the place.  They kept expecting me to obtain some spectacular promotion.

However there was a wireless set in my landlady’s part of the house, and one evening I noticed in The Times the announcement that Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, and the Choral Fantasia, were to be performed from Frankfort.  It was after midnight but I got her permission to use her sitting-room, and despite the wooden-ness of the performance, the flexible rhythm of the fantasia being congealed and stiffened until it sounded like a marching song, the music did me good.  The choral fantasia I was particularly fond of, and it is noteworthy that I have not heard it from then to the present day.

One evening Edge and I decided to go and see the Labour Party, as we were getting tired of being isolated from political life.   We were not even following the news of the day, for we were buying the papers because of the “vacancy” columns.  So we went into the headquarters and were ushered into the presence of Mr Markey, the secretary.  He was a big round-faced man, brimming with joviality, a native of Liverpool  –  Bootle to be precise  – and he sat at a desk like a genial gangster, issuing orders and making jokes like a true son of Tammany.  He was pleased to see us. I mentioned Lacey. “A good fellow, Lacey,” said Markey, “but very foolish. Why, I offered him a job at £4.10 a week in the Town Hall – four pound ten a week, and he’d been unemployed for nine months, and had hardly breeches to his bottom, or shoes to his feet, and he turned it down.”

“Yes. It’s a pity about Lacey,” said one echo.

“A good lad”, said another, “but obstinate as a mule.”

“They say he’s going round slandering me as hard as he can,” said Markey, “but there you are. That’s what you get for doing a man a good turn.”

They suggested we should join the Labour League of Youth, explaining that the rule by which those who were over 21 could not be members was not intended to keep us out, but “certain other people” . I got Iver Mercer to send me a bogus card of the Birkenhead Labour Party, which he had however so much erased and clipped about that it was an obvious forgery and we dared not show it.  We attended one meeting but found it very dull, and in the meantime a long postponed date with Jack Cohen [Jack Cohen, CPGB official in charge of its Education Department – Ed.] was finally fixed.

Before we made contact with Cohen, we tried to find Klugman [former organiser of communist students at Cambridge University – Ed.] who we thought could solve our problems and tell us what to do.  John Edge was a great admirer of “James”, as he called him, and though the last to say it was undeserved, I cannot feel that it was measured or deliberated.  We had his address, and went to Holborn on the slow tedious District Railway and the noisy Central London Railway. Then we found we were at the wrong place and went to Belsize Park by ‘bus.  We could not find the place, and wandered about for an hour, finally seeing a telephone box.  We rushed up to it, only to find the wires cut and no hand microphone in it. This was a blow which had an effect altogether incommensurate with its actual importance.  People in difficulties notice all the chances which go against them because they need good luck so badly. This seemed to tell us fate was against us.  We finally found our way to Swiss Cottage, and went home.  The next night we tried again and found the place.  Mrs Klugman came to the door, and said that James had been taken ill that very night, and it was feared that the disease was very infectious.  Next night we made no attempt to do anything useful.  We went to the Bernall Arms and drank to deaden our senses.  We were still sufficiently university to do it on sherry, and sufficiently puritanised not to get drunk.  We felt that we had lost our chances of a career through our political work and we thought some help, or at least a friendly word, should be given us.

When I met Jack Cohen at Holborn I had intended to say something along these lines, but when I saw him I described the position we were in, and the unsatisfactory state of affairs it was. He was moderately sympathetic, but made no proposals of any kind.  The enormous growth of the movement in Liverpool University had previously evoked not one word of praise, and I was inclined to feel a little hurt and piqued over this. So when Cohen said, “And I believe Edge says his job is getting him down too,” I roundly denied that I was being “got down” at all, and said that all we wanted was to be put in touch with the party in East Ham.  Cohen gave me an address, and we both went along to a meeting of the student bureau.  In a restaurant we met a young student just back from Spain.  He had seen Esmond Romilly and was very disillusioned with the way things were falling out.  He had expected to find a nation united in altruistic enthusiasm for a righteous cause, and instead he found jealousies, bickerings and prevalent cynicism.  We didn’t believe him.  We heard that John Cornford had written to nobody for quite a time, but there was no talk of anything having happened to him.  

Then we went to a party in Bloomsbury. “I feel more like another meeting than a party,” said James Klugman, who had only had a severe cold.  But we also suspected horse-flesh in the “Continental Cafe Restaurant” and then chose a delegation to buy drinks.  “One from Cambridge, one from Oxford, one from London”, called Cohen. “What about Liverpool?” asked somebody. “Greaves is a student no longer,” said Cohen, “He wouldn’t know the right drinks.”  The sad fact that indeed I was a student no longer struck me with unpleasant force.  I was upset and drank three sherries in a row, each at a gulp.  Jakes Ewer put on the 5th Symphony on the Gramophone and was quite surprised to find I was not bored with so familiar a thing.  After one movement Cohen wanted jazz.  “But we’ve got three more movements!” protested Ewer, a rather pompous young man whose father was on the Daily Herald.

“Let’s have the jazz, then finish the symphony afterwards,” Cohen suggested as a compromise. “You can’t do that!” said Ewer, but did it. Then we all imitated various famous party speakers, and I did Leo McGree.  Klugman did the old Inprecor style, “Comrades, now more than ever before, when the proletariat of feudal-fascist Brazil is rising up against its capitalist task-masters etc. etc….”  But before the party ended I grew bored and went home to tell Edge the news.

The conclusion that we came to was that Jack Cohen was an unhelpful swine who didn’t care a hoot if our brilliant capabilities were lost to civilization.  But almost the next day I was awakened at about 7.30 am. with the loud hooting of a motor-car outside the door, and from it issued Geoffrey Bloor, Joan Rainford, and one other, led by the short genial Peter Evans, still wearing his red pullover and red tie.  He had driven them to a student gathering and knowing nowhere to have breakfast they had called on me. My landlady was very accommodating and some of them came back to stay the night. Peter Evans must have been near thirty – perhaps 27 or 28 – then.  He had been in practically every department of the university, including Education, where he completed the course and received no diploma or certificate for his pains.  He had drifted about Liverpool, on the fringe of the party, but always on the look-out for a job in the movement.  He joined the party because he thought it would help him to become Labour candidate for St Helens.  How he lived I do not know.  Probably he eked out in some way with the aid of a few WEA [Workers Education Association – Ed.] lectures on psychology and kindred subjects.  I left for Elm Park in a whirl of excitement and decided to attend the student conference next day.

We all met at East Ham, and for some reason Bloor and Edge took a train which Joan Rainford and I missed.  When the next one came we got as far as Plaistow when my lady discovered that she had left her handbag at my place.  We therefore went back for it.  Meanwhile she was using all her arts of flattery and subversion, which I, in my very much emotionally bruised condition found so much sweet balm to my discomforts.  She had dressed herself in a dark green, which I liked because another woman I knew had worn a similar colour with great effect.  While speaking with her I nevertheless felt instinctively a coarseness of spirit in her, a striving after effect, an intellectual pretence to what was not there.  She had no true enthusiasm for the things I loved, and was merely compliant out of policy.  When we reached Plaistow again, the train began to wobble on the line in a truly alarming fashion, so that I became quite convinced that something had gone wrong with the wheels and feared an accident.  So off we got and caught the next.  This quite innocent delaying move on my part emboldened her, and she began to talk about the group and of how Geoffrey was in love with her, but she wanted me.  This affected me somewhat, and by means of that strange reciprocity which any but the most outrageous declarations engender, I began to feel as if I was in love myself.  At this, I knew all the time that I was not.

We arrived an hour late at the meeting.  I made a speech in which I pointed out that the student peace movement was but one section of the whole broad peace movement. It was the sort of reflection which would naturally occur to someone who had just relinquished the one for the other, but Jack Cohen scented a danger in it and declared that though what I said was true, pushed to its illogical conclusion it would mean that we didn’t need a student peace movement at all. 

After the meeting finished, Geoffrey came over to me, his face black with a lip-twisting fury, such as I have never seen in anyone before or since. He could hardly speak, and his tone quite astonished me.  He had always previously treated me with an almost filial respect. “What do you mean,” he demanded hoarsely, “by taking away and delaying an important member of the Organising Committee?”  It was in vain that I explained how we were delayed.  He simply did not believe it, or thought it was a trick played on him.

We left the meeting together and walked along Holborn and down Shaftesbury Avenue.  Bloor walked silently and sulkily with Peter Evans and Joan Rainford, whom I relinquished to him for the time being.  I walked with the other person – if my memory serves me aright it was Frank Jones – and took refuge in witticism and laughter, very far removed from my real feelings.  I hated that walk, and would have done anything to put time back.  Here was our little group who had worked together for a couple of years, who had been for all our periodical differences such inseparable friends, split up and at loggerheads – over a personal relationship.  It was like removing the Liver Building, or falling in the Mersey. However Joan managed to get rid of the others and finished the evening with me.  Whatever her calculations in the matter we ended up kissing under a lamp-post in Holborn, and after that I returned to East Ham.

Once there a sudden nausea seized me. The strongest feeling was one of deprivation of the good university life, and this was reinforced by the thought that if I had still been there, the quarrel with Geoffrey would not have taken place.  I wrote him a letter saying I had no intention whatever of depriving him of the pleasure of Joan Rainford’s company, and that I wanted no quarrels as I was fond of them both.  He did not reply, and I quickly forgot about the girl, and more slowly resigned myself to having nothing to do with Geoffrey. 

When I returned from the Monday of exquisite nonsense at Elm Park I was in a fever of excitement.  I told Edge the whole story, but he was of no help – small wonder since there was no help.  In the day I had gone for a short walk after lunch, merely to get out of the office, the atmosphere of which was stifling me. Allday saw me on the road and said rudely, “Get back inside!”  I was furious and yet I didn’t know what to do or to say.  It was a pity as from that time on he felt he could treat me with no special gingerliness.

I went home and lit the fire at six, the scherzo from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony pounding through my brain, accompanied by incredible phantom drums, which expressed my desire to burn, to break, and to damage.  I poked the fire and was seized with a sudden impulse to smash my brains out with the brass poker.  I dropped it quickly, badly frightened, and decided to call on Edge.  

We walked up and down East Ham’s dismal High Street, looking into little coffee rooms, most of which were bathed on the outside in the light of fluorescent lights of unspeakably vulgar colours.  One was a livid green and sold fish.  Another was pink and sold pies.  We could find nowhere where we could sit and talk.  So again we went to the Bernall Arms with the intention of drinking enough to forget our troubles.  We examined the tree whose branches represent the various evils stemming from the root of drink.  And we listened to an excessively painted blonde perform “Chinese laundry blues” which she seemed to have “got”.  Then I went home, after spending four shillings, a tithe of my wages, for the sake of a headache.

One result did however come from my meeting the students. I regained contact with John Morris and he subsequently introduced me to John Rankin MP.  I wrote to him, as MP for Romford in whose constituency Elm Park lay, offering to give him information about the estate.  He invited me to his flat in Bloomsbury – Store Street, I think – where he lived with two or three other young Labour MPs – and had a long talk.  I did not receive a very favourable impression of him.  I thought him conceited and very calculating of his career.  But I sent him a great deal of information about the estate and the grievances which prevailed among the tenants.

Another result was that we got into touch with the local party.  The Secretary was the wife of an electrician’s mate, who was not active in politics because he was studying to become a full electrician.  Her name was Vetterlein and she was a good friendly capable Cockney, with a sound East End sense of humour, a type of active Jewish worker often found in London.  When we called at her house she was with Miss Trefimov, a pale very gentle girl who suffered agonies with her teeth because she could not afford dental attention.  She would be about 27 years of age. They were discussing the activities of one Marks, whose most recent exploit consisted of climbing, after getting on the premises by means best known to himself, to the tower of East Ham Town Hall, and there unfurling the red flag.  They were highly delighted at this.  

On the way there we had stopped at a shop whose windows were excessively lighted with a blaze of hundred watt lamps so as to dazzle the eyes with the splendours of brightly coloured candies, sweets and confections.  We bought some.  It was amazing to note how quickly Em Vetterlein grasped our reason for doing so. “Isn’t that just like the working class!” she said.  “Any of those big capitalists would never bother about anything like that. But the workers’ lives are so drab and monotonous, that we go spending our money just for a change.”

At a later meeting we met the redoubtable Marks.  He was an unattractive character, with a bald head, in spite of no great years, and a face at once broad and angular, with an inquisitive nose and a stubborn chin.  He had no sense of humour, he was vain, and I never remember him smiling.  His stock in trade was to interrupt some young member who began to express an opinion, to pounce upon its weaknesses and to subject it to a detailed Marksian analysis.  He was the self-appointed defender of the purity of the party policy, and he began his operations on Edge and me.  We resisted.  We tried to persuade the branch committee, which sometimes met at my rooms, to begin work in the traditional way, but always we came up against the sectarianism, suspicion of the Labour party, and lack of confidence.  I used to get very annoyed, but it was of no use. The branch then was composed of a small group of people who had known East Ham often for years and who were quite content to  “be” the Communist party branch.  They had no ambitions of increasing the range of their operations.  They were mutually loyal and comradely.  They were cut off from all outsiders.

 It was about this time that Edge began to exhibit the first signs of demoralization.  He was losing the pride he had at first experienced in his ability to remember six-figure numbers, and now that the three months after which his employers who were “training him for management” were to transfer him to another department had elapsed without the expected developments, and then another three on top of that, also without developments, he began to realise how he had been cheated. 

Instead of feeling indignation he tried to deceive himself that the promises were in course of being kept, that he was, in spite of the delay, a privileged person.  It was difficult to succeed.  The managements’s firm declaration, when the employees proposed their sports’ club, that “Plesseys must come first!” rang familiarly in his ear, in a thousand variations on the original theme.  He was friendly with one or two of the managers, one of whom, Tomkin, lent him a typewriter for me to do “Biology and Marxism” on, sold him a black rubber lumber-jacket which Edge was very proud of because it was similar to one which he used to wear as a boy down in South Wales.  Tomkin, according to Edge, knew  “all the variety stars in England” and he used to take Edge to occasional parties in Tonbridge.  

With my arrival, the removal to East Ham, the Labour Party, and subsequently the communist party relationships, this one attractive side of Plessey’s was increasingly excluded, and Edge began to sit up reading late at night, and go into work a quarter of an hour, half an hour, or more late every day.  I had called at 9 am. and found him still in bed.  Then he fell ill, and stayed in bed, reading, and eating chocolate.   There was only one reason for his illness – lack of sleep.  Whether his experiences were preying on his mind, or whether he had some specific object in view in studying through the small hours, I had at that time too little of the milk of human kindness to enquire.  I went round on the way to work each morning and made him breakfast, and called in again in the evening, finally putting my foot down and notwithstanding all his arguments, delivering him over to his landlady.

She was indignant because he used electric light half the night. I have never known a landlady who was not very perturbed at seeing electricity used.  I have never known one who was capable of the most distant approximation to an estimate of its actual cost.  This one was not impressed by my calculations, but she had a good heart, and was genuinely concerned about Edge.  “And there he is,” she said, “reading all hours of the night, burning that light till three in the morning.  I’ll have to charge him, I will. And then he’s late for work every day.  He says ‘Oh! I don’t have to keep strict hours!’, but that’s silly talk. He worries me.  He comes from a good home, too. I’ve washed his laundry, and it’s good!  But after all, he’s only a working boy like the rest of us.”

He recovered, as a result of the stern measures she imposed, and expressed surprise that it was necessary to regulate one’s life in this way.  “I always thought that if you were ill, you just waited till it stopped.”  But sure enough in a few days he was ill again, and the doctor called in by his landlady who was getting tired of his tantrums, declared that there was nothing wrong with him but lack of sleep.  What hand she had in this verdict we shall never know. So there appeared to be only one thing for it, to get him somewhere I could keep an eye on him, and this design was conformable to another which we had several times discussed, namely that of going to live with a party member.  I enquired from Em Vetterlein, but she could think of nobody.  Finally Tremifov suggested Jack Deanlove, but on that name being mentioned they all began to titter and look at each other in a knowing way.  This I disregarded because the nonsense that was talked at their group meetings required hearing to be believed.  At times, had I known the most impressive way of doing it, I would have torn my hair.  But my annoyance always amused them, and I therefore took their amusement as of small importance.

We went to see Deanlove and he showed us the small, dark, draughty room we were to live in.  He would “knock up” shelves for our books, and give us a table under the dim electric lamp.  The room was oblong, a third of it filled with a huge double bed, which prevented the door from completely opening, thus necessitating a kind of valse-like manoeuvre as one went in.  There was a tiny fire-place in which his wife, a very pretty woman of about 28, a few years younger than he was, lit a tiny fire.  A tall dresser standing opposite the fireplace accentuated the narrow passage-like quality of the room, and at the far end French windows opened on to a glass-roofed apology for a verandah. 

Behind this was the garden, as it was called.  Not a blade of grass grew there, but innumerable cats stalked the birds which settled momentarily on the out-houses, and in the dry sticks of dishevelled shrubbery which managed to exist there.  On this same ground floor there lived Deanlove and his three children.  His wife made us breakfast, and we quite soon noticed that she made quite a tolerable one, and sat with us drinking tea as we ate it.  In the front room dwelt an old man and his four sons. The eldest was about thirty, and the youngest probably 24, perhaps younger.  They all went to church each Sunday, and the youngest was a boy scout.  They were all the most complete cyphers, except the old man who had his idiosyncracies.  Every morning punctually at 8 am. he went out on the “lawn”, trampled hard by the children, in trousers and shirt and solemnly went through a series of callisthenic exercises.  We called him “Windmill”.

The second storey was shared by Deanlove and the “Windmills”, as sleeping quarters.  This was overcrowding on quite an average scale.  All the houses in the district were full of lodgers.  But despite the complete lack of amenities of any kind, the fact that we did not have to placate the typical landlady made the change welcome.  I got on with the first part of my translation in the evening, and when we had been there a few weeks I bought a gramophone, and the Ninth Symphony to play on it.  Edge bought the A Flat Major sonata which begins with variations – I did not yet know that other A Flat sonata with its hidden fire and dark heroic splendour – and the Appasionata.  Add to this Eine Kleine Nachtmuisik, and a Mozart quartet picked up at Leicester Square, and we soon acquired a repertory.  After having no music for three months this acquisition was like a gift from heaven.  The little serenade cheered us, the thunderous growling defiance of the first movement of the Ninth merged with our own class hatred, and gave expression to our feelings of frustration and anger at our position.  Then I introduced myself to the piano tuner next door who let me play his piano, for which concession I would buy him a pint bottle of beer which he would empty at one swig.  Living was cheap as the rent amounted only to 8/- excluding meals, and I even toyed with the idea of buying a piano.

The restoration of these small amenities of civilisation improved our morale, and we began to go for walks in the evening.  We crossed to Woolwich, walked to the Blackwall Tunnell, all in the dark, and then took a bus back. We investigated the by-ways of Poplar and West Ham, with their jellied-eel and winkle shops, and the huge undertakers’ establishments where you could bury the dear departed with rings, hearts, crosses, columns, crowns or, loftiest of all dignities, “gates ajar”.  This last item amused us particularly.  We learnt that in these districts it was nothing for some old woman without a cent to her name to be buried to the tune of £100 by equally obolary relatives. There were funeral clubs, and it was a point of honour for a family to do things in the proper style.  Those who were nothing all their lives deprived themselves of necessities in order to be something when they died. 

It was a pitiful commentary on this vast dark underworld of work, want and wastage which constituted Western Essex at this time.  There was no culture whatever.  The public Libraries were laughably inadequate, despite the Labour council.  “Our secondary schools are turning out far better products than they do in the other end,” said the man in the gramophone shop.  We did not observe it.  Those whom we saw about the streets were pallid and undersized.  How people kept their senses amid such all-pervading drabness it was impossible to understand.  Woolwich, across the river, was entirely different.  Here there was a market place with stalls lit by paraffin flares.  It was far from a prepossessing town, especially in the dark, yet there was a subtle distinction.  At least it was built on a hill, as if in parts at least it aspired to the free air.  But Essex, miles of it, had nothing to recommend it, and everybody had been swindled so often that nobody trusted anybody else, even in the smallest things.  Udall used to shake his head sadly and tell me how many of the salesmen were, to his knowledge, swindling the firm. “Now you’d never think he’d be that way, would you?” he would say.  Bitter experience was forcing him to the conclusion that everybody was the same.  It was “bellum omnium contra omnes“[war of all against all – Ed.].  On other occasions we went to Upton Park, Plaistow and Wanstead flats, the only apology for an open space in the district.

Every week-day I went to Elm Park, on Fridays receiving my pay packet containing £2.8.5, which though it had at first given me pleasure from its existence now gave me mingled relief and pain at its exiguity. A great slump fell on the house-selling business, and for several weeks not a single sale was completed.  Instead those who had already bought were cancelling and losing their deposits, a procedure which irked the salesmen gravely, for they had to pay back their commission.  Before getting the job each of them had to deposit a £100 bond of good behaviour, not to sell anybody else’s houses, and if one salesman who had six cancellations in one week had decided to quit, he would have left with £82 not £100.  So he philosophically paid up the £18. 

Taylor, a tall sleek-haired round-faced man, who always received the best clients from Allday, explained that it was better to borrow a couple of pounds off his friend Chappell than to take it out of the bank, as he knew he would never put it back again.  He had been a public-house manager, and was a great defender of the licensing laws, against the arguments of all his thirsty colleagues.  Chappell, who was on the estate on the same days as Taylor, was a man of wider experience, and older.  He was said to be worth a lot of money which he had made in South America.  How he made it he did not tell us, but his account of how it was customary to make it may throw some light on that question.  A man would start a business “down country” supplying ranchers with stores, and would get a huge stock from Buenos Ayres.  He would trade for a while and then go bankrupt.   With the money which he had concealed before the brokers came in he would start another business, and repeat the process.  Hence the saying that a man must be bankrupt three times before he made his fortune. 

Chappell was 17 when he went there. On his arrival on the ranch the chief cowboy said, “Get on that horse.” Although he had never ridden a horse before, he got on, and the beast proved to be a docile enough creature. “But”, said Chappell, speaking jerklily and bunching groups of words so closely together, especially at the ends of sentences, that he could not possibly get the consonants in, “there wasn’t ‘scrap o’skin ‘me arse after three days.” “Yes”, he continued, “wouldn’t let m’ get off th’thing!” His speech suffered much the same malady as my handwriting.  This is impelled by a very impatient hand. His tongue had the same vice.

On his return from Argentina he did a number of odd managerial jobs, hunted for water-pockets in the tubes, with a long pick-like instrument, and was general manager of a stone-mason’s yard next to the New Chemistry Building of Liverpool University.  He recollects having red dye squirted over his bricks by the students – I recollected the incident, as I was there at the time.

I got on well with Chappell and Taylor.  They felt themselves bound to complete my education for me.  When I had bought some meat from a butcher which Taylor considered not worth the money I had paid, he took it back to the shop and exchanged it for a far superior thing.  On another occasion he brought me a pie cooked by his landlady – he was unmarried.  Another salesman named Williams had just separated from his wife and was suing her for failure to consummate, “Now I’ll tell you what’s the matter with Willy,” declared Taylor. “She didn’t want her inside ripped open. Look at Willy’s hands, now. The size of a man’s hands is a measure of the size of his penis. Well there you are. Can you blame her?  Or him?”  He never spoke of Jews, but of “Jew-boys”, and of Surman, another of his colleagues, he would say , “You see, he’s a five to two.”  This was not anti-semitism strictly speaking as he had quite a regard for Surman. The rhyming slang was quite common. The best was used by the charwoman who cleaned the Poplar office and called every Friday for her “greeny wages”.

Chappell was also unmarried, but lived in considerable luxury in Richmond.  When asked why he worked at the job, he said it was “something to do” and he liked “this free and easy life”.  He was fond of women, and I think he was able to keep himself well supplied.  One morning he came in and explained to everybody how “randy” he had felt last night.  “I had to hold my cock on a glass table for an hour to keep the damned thing down,” he declared, and then went on to tell stories of the “randy” man he had known in South America who would see a little Indian girl go by in a little short dress, how his eyes would become distended and bloodshot and in a few minutes he would disappear from the camp fire with results which can be guessed.  “Of course, it’s easy ov’ there,” he explained, “if, for example, you got a girl – a respectable  girl – into trouble, all you have to do is to get me to come along and swear that I’ve had intercourse with her. Then, b’law, she’s a prostitute. Yes, thousands of women are caught that way every year. It doesn’t cost a penny.”  He spoke as if this was quite a natural sort of thing.  All the salesmen had the lowest possible attitude to women. Being far from free themselves from the contagion of the world’s slow stain, they assumed that in a dirty world it was a waste of time to try to keep clean.

When I got to know Williams I found in him an amusing old reprobate.  He was enormously fat, and very big, so one could well believe the stories about him.  He was as open and calculating a money-grubber as ever walked.  When he sold a house he chortled with delight.  He declared that salesmanship was a very exhausting occupation because “you live on your nerves.” Certainly he used all his arts.  Naturally good-humoured, tolerant, and rather puckish – quite a Falstaff in fact – when dealing with clients he produced a smile of melting and angelic sweetness.  All difficulties disappeared before the charm of his personality.  He considered war was inevitable, and had unearthed the information that an aerodrome was planned for Hornchurch. “But if they mention aerodrome,” he told us one lunch-time, “I look at them with pained surprise. ‘Aerodrome, madam? Oh! No. You must be thinking of Farmingham.  That’s miles away from here.’ But let me tell you, I wouldn’t live here in the event of a war – not for a thousand pounds. Oh No! Not for young Willy, thank you!” 

He was frank about his relaxations. He cut his meals to the bone; his lunch never exceeded the cost of 7d at Woolworth’s bar.  But to use Taylor’s expression, “I’ll tell you the trouble with Willy – he’s cunt-struck!”  He told us how he and another man had taken a pair of loose-living young ladies for an evening’s mutual entertainment. They ended up at Victoria station in the small hours, when the girls demanded a final settlement.  Williams refused to pay, whereupon they started to kick and scratch. “But I saw a bloody big stack of milk-cans – whoppers – standing there. So I just up-ended her and lifted her over the top, and sat her down between two of these huge things.  Then we hopped it.  You should have seen them, trying to dodge after us between those enormous cans.  There was a policeman about fifty yards away, but he just grinned.”  The number and variety of minor frauds Williams practised and was proud of, would weary in the telling.  But he was a very amusing rogue, for all that, and though no salesman’s client was safe from him, they couldn’t dislike him because of his good humour.

A very different type was Ivins, the son of a wealthy Buckinghamshire landowner, chairman of the licensed victuallers society.  After a quarrel with his father he had run away to sea at the age of sixteen, and, as ship’s boy, had been roughly handled.  He said that during his first voyage when he was not asleep, or too intent on his work, he spent every minute weeping and sobbing over his unhappy condition.  After a while he was advanced to a better position but left the sea after a few years and lived on money sent to him secretly by his mother.  He had been embittered and hardened by his experiences, and though he could not have been more than 25 years of age, one never thought of him as young. His quarrel with his father was periodically broken off and resumed.  It was during one of the truces that, trade being bad, he endeavoured to placate Allday, and get likely clients, so he invited that gentleman to the publicans’ dinner, from which he returned in such a condition that he missed a day’s work.

The little “five to two” Surman was the only normal human being among them.  He was not seen much with the others, and he was certainly not favoured with the best clients.  All the others were manifestly misfits, men who had no craft, trade, or profession, “odds and ends” as Ivens called them, all trying to convince themselves they were what they were not – either clever rogues, playboys of business, black sheep of an aristocratic family, super high-pressure salesmen, or whatever it was.  Surman needed no illusions. He began to talk to me when he found I was responsive, and showed me a balance sheet. “This is one of my companies.  I only do this to fill in the time. You see, this is the capital.  These are the shares.  If ever you have a business and need more money to expand it, you should issue participating cumulative preference shares.”  He then explained the meaning of these somewhat esoteric terms, and explained also that he had a wife and six children, and the extra few pounds he got from Costains came in very useful, “though not the way trade is now”.

For business was poor in January, poorer in February, and reached a virtual standstill in March.  There were two sides to the estate, separated by a railway. Allday believed that on the side far from the estate office, with its cups of tea and warmth, innumerable prospective customers were roaming aimlessly round waiting for a salesman to sell them a house.  The declining sales hit his pocket hard, despite his salary, and he began to follow the movements of the salesmen, who seemed  mysteriously to disappear about 11.30, and reappear at 2.30.  For the rest of the day they used to hang about the office, into which Allday would walk with his habitual limp and half order, half grumble, “Get over on the fucking other side!”  His language grew worse with business and on one occasion he shouted out, “Where’s bloody Taylor?”, which precipitated an acrimonious discussion with the outraged salesmen.

The only man who was pleased with the state of affairs was King, the estate manager, who rubbed his hands more jovially every day.  Allday had lost all his fear of me.  One lunch time he ordered me quite rudely to “go into the bloody office” and took me to task about coming in late in the morning.  I stuck out for coming in late enough to get the advantage of cheap day tickets, and he gave in.  As Allday steadily the more treated me as an inferior, so King grew more considerate.  He used to borrow my Times, and Telegraph, to do the cross-word puzzles, and when I wanted anything I could always get it from this mild-mannered, bespectacled, benevolent old gentleman, who was for all his appearance universally hated and described as a “snake”.

But suddenly King also was embroiled in trouble.  A damp snow-storm drifted on a south-east wind filled the eaves of the exposed houses with several inches of snow, which rapidly melted and trickled down the newly papered walls, to the indignation and dismay of the owners.  They came in by the dozen declaring that the houses “were damp” or that the “roofs were letting in” and demanded immediate action.  The task of visiting them fell to old Proctor, but as the wet weather continued with occasional snow-falls and no frost, the job grew too heavy for him, and I was called upon to help him with his inspections.  The wet weather delayed the building operations.  On one occasion the labourers struck for “dirt-money” because a trench they were digging had caved in on them.  They stormed along to the time office and quite terrified the boy who kept the time cards.  He was conducting an idyllic romance with the waitress in the estate office, and had spoken up for her to King, when as a result of being given the duty of polishing the floor – in the absence of customers to be waited on – she collapsed with a heart attack.  She was a very good human type of working class girl, who was politically sound by instinct. The general foreman, Carr, tall, grey-haired and with a grey moustache, always wearing a long once-blue but now mauve trench-coat, and blue gum-boots, walked, or rather glided under his incredibly old hat into the office with a worried expression on his face.  He had all the traits of a foreman of years ago.  He scarcely ever said a word, even in response to questions, and so avoided many mistakes.  Carr saw King, who refused to move.  He saw Allday, and they got their money, after much ringing up of  London office.

The bad weather tried the jerry-built structures to the limit.  Williams told the story of how he was showing a customer his house when he noticed a patch of light on one of the walls.  Williams looked at it, and to his dismay, realised that it was a beam of sunlight which was shining through the brickwork, where the mortar had fallen away. He composed a parody of a popular air which began

   “Is it true what they say about Costains?

    Is it true that through the walls the sun will shine?”              

Another event, the attaching of water to the gas-pipes – a piece of mischief perpetuated by one of the plumber’s boys – caused an even greater sensation.  Some customers were taking occupation of houses which were not really fit for occupation, the number of complaints increased daily, until it was clear that an entirely new maintenance department would have to be established, and a Mr Thorpe, from another estate, was called in to handle it.  I attached myself to him – since nobody cared what I did – as a kind of assistant.  He explained to me the functions of the various trades, and I began to visit the various shops, inspect houses in course of construction, and come into much closer contact with the tradesmen than previously.

The real cause of the complaints was of course the poor workmanship, arising from non-union labour.  One day I met a young man who had been an order clerk in Liverpool, who had arrived “on spec” looking for the general foreman.  He had asked the usual question, “How are you fixed?” and when I saw him next he was a painter. The Trade Union time for painting a door, Thorpe explained to me, was twenty minutes.  Costains demanded it in 8 minutes.  The plumbers – who were all boys – worked at several times the speed of union plumbers, and the bricklayers looked with envy at their mates on a cooperative society shop, which was started when I went to Elm Park and was not finished when I left the place, each brick being perfectly laid, and the mortar pressed in so that it tapered upwards, thus giving the best support for the superimposed brick, and the least for rainwater.  This was usual in these “field-ranging” jobs, Thorpe explained. 

Thorpe himself had been an engineer in Liverpool, where however he had met with the curious accident which disfigured his face and gave his complexion its yellow wizened appearance.  He was examining some castings when a pot of lead burst on him, solidifying on his face.  His immediate action, ripping it off, saved his life, but he lost the skin of his face and was months under treatment at a hospital, and a year off work.  He then entered the building-trade in the capacity of draughtsman and gradually took over more administrative work.  Proctor was receiving rougher and rougher treatment on his inspections, and was inventing more and more preposterous stories of what he had “nearly told them”.  In the end he always “nearly told them” that they could kiss his arse.  But Thorpe introduced some order into the chaos, and it was some time before the attention thus diverted from Allday’s to King’s department, came back to roost on sales.

One day while we were having lunch, a tall young man from the roads department stalked into the office and demanded Lacey in a loud Oxford accent.  He was Peregrine Fellowes, scion of influential stock.  He soundly berated Lacey in public, and poor Lacey, despite his indignation, could find no words to reply to this fluent Adonis. “I’ve had two carts and a waggon and six men down to fill in a patch in the road not six inches across,” he shouted, “Why don’t you go and have a look at a job before you issue orders for repairs?”  Lacey was of course chained to his office and Fellowes could presumably have looked at it himself, but the loud voice won, and Lacey bowed to the storm.

As Elm Park grew a little more interesting, if little more tolerable, I began to recover very slightly and slowly from the strains of this sudden plunge into strange circumstances which I had suffered.  I was of course determined that it would not last, but as I could see no end to it, I did not try to look into the future.  I made one gesture of revolt, by beginning to wear a sportscoat and flannels instead of a dark suit in the office, and Chappell began to tell me that I walked in and out with the air of a millionaire, letting the door swing to after me with a great swish and bang.  This was because I had ceased to care.  I would not be much worse off on the dole. I was not on good terms with my parents at this time, because I was not writing home often enough to satisfy them.  If I had been earning a thousand a year no doubt I should have felt the fact worth a letter, but I had no wish to record the circumstances then existing. 

We settled down to some sort of routine at East Ham and on one occasion Edge’s father came to see us.  He sat in our dirty sitting-room-bedroom, and listened to the Ninth Symphony on the gramophone.  “You should be able to live very economically here,” was his only comment.  Then we went to a play, “Whiteoaks”, at the Playhouse, for which Taylor had given me “privilege tickets” which admitted two for the price of one.  After the play was over he took us to the “Coal-hole” and bought us drinks, finally going away leaving us considerably encouraged.  His manner was tactful and what he did was exactly the right thing to do on such an occasion.  When he reached home he telephoned my family and his information was one of the things which led my mother to look round her other relatives to find me a better job.

The effect of his father’s visit on Edge was beneficial at first, but later revived too many pleasant recollections which he found doubly painful now.  At the same time the arrival of one representative of the past led to his wishing for others.  He wrote to his old friend Bernard Powell, of Talgarth, telling him of his plight, and inviting him to come and see him.  He received a very kind and sympathetic reply, and Powell promised to call as soon as his term at one of the London hospitals came to an end.

We played the Ninth Symphony on the strength of this letter, but just as we got to the middle of the second movement we had to switch off because of a series of bangs and whistlings on the wireless in the Deanloves’ room.  We went in and found that that very symphony was being played incredibly badly from Holland, and the bangs were the self-same second movement.  Deanlove said the fault lay with the conductor, and we returned to our room.  But a little later, when Mrs Deanlove came in, we were disturbed by other noises.  First the table was thumped.  Then voices were raised.  Then things which could only have arisen from Deanlove banging the table with a stick occurred, followed by children crying in unison, the steady smashing of one piece of crockery after another as Deanlove hurled them to the ground and broke them with his stick, and finally there was a great shriek of “Murder!  Murder! ” as the children rushed into the room and shouted “Come quick – Daddy’s putting Mummy under the tap.” The door was open and we heard, “There you are.  If you can’t be faithful, I’ll duck you!”

 We went in, rather rashly, and they began to argue for our support.  The children seemed to be on the mother’s side, but we felt more sympathetic to the father.   We confined our suggestions to recommendations not to make too much noise, and then retreated to our room, to reflect on the strange sight we had seen – two dishevelled people quarrelling and their little joint property scattered all over the floor.  Next day at breakfast Mrs Deanlove explained that her husband was madly, crazily jealous.  When we had gone to live there we had noticed on his part a reluctance to have us which she dispelled.  Now she declared that he earned an average of £2.10 a week, despite the fact that this week he was playing for Geraldo’s orchestra, and that she worked hard keeping lodgers in order to make ends meet. He was out most evenings playing in the cafes and cinemas.  What was she to do?  Was she to become a cave-dweller?  The children, ranging in age from about seven to twelve, agreed with her and made only one remark, “Daddy shouldn’t hit mammy,” which was sufficient to fix their sympathy at any rate.

When Deanlove came home however he explained that he worked hard for his living, and was trying to educate his children.  His wife was young and pretty and she was too friendly with the lodgers, one of them in particular.  Worst of all he felt that his children were being alienated from him, and he didn’t know what to do. One of them was showing signs of tuberculosis.  We advised him to try to interest them in his work, to play his ‘cello to them, and try to revive the old contact.  But the sight of Deanlove playing the ‘cello with a grim face, with three little girls looking on in bored silence, waiting for the lesson to stop, taught us that the breach had become too wide to be bridged this way.   

Then he said he had indubitable evidence of misconduct with one of the lodgers.  He was determined to kick him out.  How was he to do it?  We suggested raising the rent, which he did, adding “After all, you have the use of the missus.”  They left next week, and our breakfasts underwent an immediate deterioration. “We’ll have to rough it,” said Deanlove.  We regretted our hasty interference.  Then one day as I was coming from the station I met the two of them in great excitement. “We’re going to the police-station,” he said, “Come along – you’ll witness it.”  “No I won’t,” I replied, “Oh! All right.  I don’t want to involve you.” Apparently all went well at the police station until he was led to admit that on a previous occasion after a similar quarrel he had left her for a time.  The police told him not to be a fool and sent him back with her.

For a time things went quiet.  We now understood why Em Vetterlein and others had laughed, when they sent us to this house.  But Edge provided another diversion by taking to buying return tickets for part of the way to London, and then travelling some way free, and paying a penny excess fare at the end.  He was caught.  An inspector boarded the train and instead of sitting still and paying the fare when he came Edge stood up and said, in a more than audible whisper, “Christ! I’m buggered.”  The inspector looked up.  Quick as thought I pushed Edge off the train.  It was the last station his ticket took him to.  He went out and re-booked.  At East Ham however all the doors of the station were shut but one, and Edge, who had rejoined me at East Ham, was quietly tapped on the shoulder, taken on one side and interrogated during a highly distasteful quarter of an hour. “You see, they couldn’t touch me,” he said jauntily as we went away, but his pale face belied his brave words.

Gradually the days were lengthening now and we went out and came home in the light.  Joan Rainford came to London again and this time brought me my bicycle which I consigned by rail from St Pancras to East Ham.  The miserable trees in Burgess Road, even the fantastically pruned London planes, began to show signs of life.  Powell came to see Edge and left us his records.  Edge was boyishly overjoyed that Powell and I got on well together.  He could now get pleasure out of very small things, and though he was not unpunctual now, it was clear that his interest in his job had entirely disappeared.  Tomkin asked for his typewriter back and we broke it the same night and then had to have it repaired in Ilford.  Alan Morton came to see us, and was very amused by the ‘cellist and the three little girls, the funeral shops, and the jellied eels, to say nothing of the tree of the evils of drink in the Bernall Arms. I began to feel the uneasiness and restlessness which catches me in the spring, and to feel that my sojourn at Elm Park might be coming to an end.

Business reached its nadir early in April. A new salesman from Liverpool, Macmillan, an honest fellow who had been to sea, lost £20 in three weeks and threw the job up.  He was the only man there who was not a rogue, excepting old Udall, who found me a professional typist to do the first part of Biology and Marxism for me.  She doubled her price once she had seen my handwriting.  The salesman who replaced Macmillan was a sandy-haired prurient little cockney, with a whining voice and unlimited powers of trickery. His main interest in life was “facking” as he pronounced it. Ivins decided to go to Spain, but couldn’t decide whether to fight in the International Brigade or for the Insurgents. His real sympathies tended towards Fascism, but he was not aware of the implications of his ideas.  Chappell’s reaction to bad business was to get up later and to give up shaving himself, instead being shaved on his arrival at Elm Park, in time which in better days he devoted to seeking customers.

I had to interview the complainants, and just as I had found it impossible to act as if the customer was always right, so I was incapable of soothing down anybody who behaved too truculently.  One man who told me that this was the “softest job” I’d had in my life, and some more, I ordered out of the office, and told to come back when he had some manners.  Lacey was horror struck at the sacrilege. “You’ll get it off King,” he said.  But in fact the reverse was the effect.  It re-established my link with George Peachey.  True, when Peachey visited the office to investigate the absence of sales, closely followed by an immaculate young man from “Editorial Services Ltd.” – a walking testimony to why I didn’t get a job there – he did not address me.  But that was not significant.  It was obvious I had no fear of being dismissed.  

Next day King told me that the truculent one had been to see him and had said not a word. He was a working man, and I suppose it was not his custom to get people into trouble.  After that I treated everybody more roughly.  I had begun to hate every brick in that building, and to despise my own former pusillanimity, having undergone a process not unlike that of steel which is heated red hot, then plunged into ice-cold water, to emerge much harder and stronger than before. In my case perhaps the hardness was achieved before the strength.  For sheer rancour I recollect no time like April 1937.  I used to pass that office, not now reciting poetry in self-pity, but swearing in the foulest language I could discover.  I treated the salesmen to this whenever the occasion presented itself, and Chappell was one of those who remarked on the increasingly vitriolic quality of my intercourse.  I also acquired the ability to do what I was told, knowing it was stupid, and revelling in the fact that the stupidity of his directions would harm my employers.  This dissociation of the worker from his job is one of the curses of British industry, and the habit of generations, regenerated in each generation, will take decades to remove.

When one day in April, after travelling in the noisy train to East Ham, and revelling in the crashes of thunder which momentarily drowned even the noise of the train, I received a letter from my mother saying she was coming to stay with her sister at Tolworth, I thought little more of it.  I continued to keep contact with the LLY [Labour League of Youth – Ed.] and made with Edge the most disgracefully sectarian approaches to a schoolmaster who was running a Labour youth club.  I attended a meeting called in St Pancras restaurant room, where Deanlove, Alan Bush [the well-known composer – Ed.] and a student drew up the first plans for the Musicians’ Left Book Club.  I was passed off as a “pianist”, grand title for my poor skill.   But when a week or so later AEG [his mother – Ed.] rang me up (Deanlove as a musician was on the telephone) saying that she thought that an old friend of my aunt, Willie Myddleton, wanted a Junior Chemist, I lost all interest in East Ham, party, Labour League of Youth, everything else.  I was not filled with extravagant hope.  I now expected one job to be as bad as another.  But I looked forward to Mayday when, after a chilly demonstration in Hyde Park, I went to Tolworth, and made an appointment with Myddleton.

This was the time of the coronation and the bus strike. May Day was on a Saturday. I walked to Myddleton’s on the Sunday, and sat and talked with him in the garden.  He did not seem to care much about my academic history.  Myddleton himself had studied biology and geology, but had decided to concentrate on chemistry and had taken his DSc in that science.  He ran me out to Epsom in his car and showed me the plant of Robinson Bindley Processes Ltd., which were situated in a tall chalk corrugated-iron building, formerly the main part of Epsom gas works.  He offered me the job, apologizing that he could not pay more than £3 a week but adding that there were prospects, as someone would have to go to the Fuel Research Station and someone to a new plant being erected in Scotland.  I agreed to start on May 15, and after my taking leave of my mother and Aunt Dorothy returned to East Ham in a very different mood from that in which I had left it.  I was then talking of going to Spain. “What!  And get killed!” said my mother, in tones shocked both at the idea and my folly.  Now I had no intention of going to Spain. I went into Udall’s office, which was open on Sundays, and rang Allday that I wanted to see him. I then went to Elm Park, and told him I was leaving, and that it would be a favour to me if he would dispense with the usual week’s notice. “I’ve thought for some time there wasn’t much for you to do here,” he said, and agreed.  I told him I was going into oil from coal. “Well I wish you’d send me a few gal’ons along for my car” was his only comment. 

Udall was genuinely concerned at my leaving in this summary fashion.  “What a pity”, he said, “You won’t stay on till next Friday. Then you would be able to have another week’s wages.”  I told him I would also have another week at Elm Park, which I did not want for any money.  He shook his head sadly. He couldn’t understand such a display of temperament when there was cash to be earned.   But I had about five pounds in the bank.  I was saving money with the intention of giving up the job at Elm Park and living on my reserves till I found something better.  And before I started at Epsom I intended to look for something better still.  I saw Michael Hunt, who put me on to Dr Lewis.  I had not the faintest idea how to approach the matter, and walked boldly in saying, “I’ve a proposition to put to you.”  He was a sympathetic academic type of man, used to advising students, and he advised me to stick to science.  After another talk with Alan Morton who was now at Bedford College, with a flat of his own on Belsize Road, which I had helped him to find, I decided that “the way to Westminster Abbey lies over Epsom Downs,”  and after leaving my bicycle and all other effects at his flat, I set off for Liverpool, to enjoy a week’s holiday at home.

                                               *   *   *

         Retrospect  Part  2  …  May-September 1937

Of the holiday at home I have few recollections.  It was spent in walking, talking and playing the piano. I recollect that I walked to Barnston with Edge, who came down for a week-end, and let off some of the bitterness within me, much to his discomfort.  However he did not believe I ever intended, as I was saying, to retire to Epsom or Dorking, and there collect gramophone records and take life easily.  For once he was right, but it gave me satisfaction to talk destructively.  I felt like a ship that had just come through a heavy and prolonged squall.  My proud self-knowledge and the deliberation of all my actions, had disappeared.  I had read nothing for months, and my desire to read had moreover disappeared.  I feared it might not return, and this thought caused me a deal of worry.  My taste for music had, on the other hand, intensified to that of a veritable passion.  When Powell, Edge’s boyhood friend from Talgarth, visited us at East Ham, he left us his gramophone records, and these had been transferred to Alan Morton’s new establishment in Hampstead.

I travelled back by night, but comfortably, since it was a warm night, and getting off at Willesden, caught a workman’s tube train to Kilburn Park, whence I walked to Alan’s and left my suitcase there.  I did not remain there however, more than one night, for I had resolved to spend Whitsun at Portsmouth.  My object in doing this was to try to collect more of the threads of my old life and try to recuperate the easy, even bumptious, self-confidence I had had before.  I cycled down there, and spent two days wandering about the sea-front, thinking about what I was going to do next, and gradually sorting out some of the jumbled impressions I had accumulated.

I returned to London and saw Myddleton at Epsom on the Tuesday morning.  He gave me the day off to look for lodgings.  I immediately went to 133 East Road, then the London District office of the party, and obtained the addresses of the branch secretaries of Epsom, Sutton and Wimbledon.  I went back to Epsom, but could not find Nora Collins’s house. Myddleton wanted me to stay in Epsom, no doubt with the notion that I should be available at night, but I had already selected Wimbledon as my future home, because of its central position on the Southern railway map, its common, and the fact that it was of all Surrey towns the nearest to London.  

When I called at George Tringham’s at 91 Trinity Road, SW19, I was met by a blonde rather handsome young man, about 27 years of age, with a very artistic appearance – light sports coat, very disordered hair, and a huge cloth tie.  His wife expressed the opinion that her mother, Mrs De Courcy, might be glad of a lodger, and accordingly she accompanied me there, taking the trolley bus because the petrol buses were still paralyzed by the transport strike. Mrs De Courcy lived at Merton Park, halfway between Wimbledon and Raynes Park; her husband had recently died and she had two daughters on her hands, Kathleen and Helen.  Kathleen was a fashion artist, Helen a typist in the office of the Left Book Club.  The mother was delighted to have me, and I bargained with her for a table under the gas-light, a gas ring on which I could do my own cooking, and no interference.  

My room was small, but square; the gramophone could be put on the bed while it was played, and the table was solid and did not wobble as you wrote on it – a failure of many hired tables.  I spent that night with Dorothy Taylor and Sidney Wiltshire, my mother’s sister and her husband, who had taken a house in Tolworth.   Dorothy it was, I discovered, who on listening to my mother’s complaints about the dashing of the bright hopes that had centred on my early career, remembered that I had a degree in chemistry and that Myddleton was looking for the junior chemist.  Myddleton had been a lodger at Mrs Haugh’s house in New Ferry, and had married my aunt’s friend, Dorothy Haugh.  

Next morning I cycled to Epsom, and as I had been asked to attend at 10 am on the Tuesday, reached there at about five to ten.  Myddleton said, “We usually start about 9 o’clock.” It was typical of Myddleton that he softened every blow, and when asserting his authority did so with due regard to the other’s dignity.  I was then introduced to my colleagues, J.Walker, and the new senior chemist who arrived simultaneously, AJ Baker,  Woodford the assistant who was studying for his degree at the Regent Street Polytechnic, and later in the day, Davies, the company secretary.

The atmosphere was one of good-humoured bonhomie, as if chemical research was really rather good fun.  At first Walker, my immediate superior, tried what at first I took to be taking liberties, and I was quite resolved to yield nothing from that time on, to work my hours, take things easily, and to draw my £3 a week. I was rather afraid that my laboratory technique might not stand the trial, but was soon set at rest on that score. Everybody is taught to do things at a University which are afterwards found to be the prerogative of those of superior age, qualifications or social standing, and he is pushed back into routine.

I noticed after a while that Walker was always cheerful and friendly in the morning, and yet after lunch he seemed irritable, argumentative, stupid – and smelt of beer.  The usual lunch-time routine was for Myddleton, Walker and sometimes Davies to go to the Plough and Harrow and there dine on beer and sandwiches, served by an old lame pot-bellied ex-jockey, who regaled them with his gossip of Epsom.   The first day, resolved to save money, I went to a little snack-bar by the station, then, noticing Baker go into a dirty little tea-shop next to the Plough and Harrow, I joined him and consumed each day for a surprisingly long time the heaviest and most indigestible fare that even English cooking is capable of.  

This shanty was kept by a woman who had lost her husband.  Deal tables were surrounded by bare wooden forms, and the place was suffocatingly hot.  Baker would tell funny stories, just safe of the mark, and seemed intent on showing what a rough-and-tumble man of the world he was, not afraid to take off his coat, or go to lunch in his shirt-sleeves, or braces.  In the hot weather he even went so far as to take off his shirt, and looked a most bizarre figure as he slouched up the long dark corridor of the works.  He was about 47 years of age, grey-haired and bald. His face was puffed up and the habitual expression of his mouth, when he frowned and puffed his pipe, accentuated it.  His walk was rather like that of a duck, and was deliberately exaggerated again, so as to conform to the character of roughness in which he had cast himself.   We took an almost immediate dislike to one another, which as it turned out was based upon this superficial play-acting which perhaps I as well as he, but in another direction, was engaged on.  

His work was to make catalysts by dissolving cobalt in nitric acid, precipitating the carbonate, incinerating and pelleting, kieselguhr being added at a suitable point as support.  The catalyst house reeked of nitric acid fumes.  I pointed out what a danger to his health this was. “I don’t work here for my health,” he disclosed, as one would say, “I’m a soldier. I don’t expect to escape danger like you effeminate civilians.”  He would make remarks about “hairy chemists”  (namely those with degrees) and made no secret over the fact that I was the target.  Not unnaturally I sharpened my sarcasm on him, and made him look very ridiculous when the occasion offered.

I had been there for a few days when Davies asked for my “cards”. I had left them at Elm Park.  Davies was a huge lump of a man, very heavily built, with that broad Welsh face which one meets so often.  He was born in Andover of Welsh parents and was proud of his ancestry. “Aha!” he said, “I know. The old man hasn’t stamped them up.” He seemed a very pleasant sort of fellow, and yet Baker and Walker never ceased maligning him.  He was described as the “pimping system” and much worse.

 It was some time before I unravelled the inner politics of the place, and when Davies came in I would often make some remark derogatory to Baker.  It was from Davies that I first learned Baker’s history.  He had been apprenticed in Stockton-on-Tees, had worked in explosives in the last war, had then done ten years “up the gulf” where he had met Walker who had got him the job in Robinson Bindley Processes.  Then he had worked for £4 a week in Southend, after which he was unemployed for six months.  “You must forgive Baker a deal,” said Davies, “for he’s a man who’s been hit very hard by the slump.  On top of that he’s separated from his wife and carrying on divorce proceedings. You mustn’t be hard.  Now I know what it is to be hit by the slump.  I was unemployed for a long time. I’ve a wife and a kid, about sixteen years of age.  When I came here first I worked half-time for £4 a week.  It was full-time actually, but I said half-time to preserve my status.  Walker on the other hand is doing well. Myddleton said he’s worth £500 a year and he’s got it.  But Baker is sore because Walker told him he wouldn’t get the £350 we offered him.” 

 I heard afterwards much the same from Baker himself, and he and Walker would often exchange reminiscences of “the gulf”.  Gradually Baker grew less intolerant.  He would come over into the laboratory in the morning, and after a few rounds of mutual fire, we would enter into conversation.  Myddleton would drive up in his car, his hat pushed over to the back of his head, presenting a very light and jaunty appearance; he would look into the laboratory, tell a funny story or listen to one from Baker, and then Walker would walk in, stiffly erect, his paper held rigidly to his side by his left arm, and being in a cheerful mood would say “Good morning, good afternoon, gentlemen, good-evening – another day gone!”  Then he would turn to Myddleton and say “Sorry I’m late, Doctor” (the “or” was his native Gloucester though he professed to be Scottish). “I was just running on to Raynes Park Station when I saw the bo-hind of the train retreating up the line”, or  “I’d hardly got down a spot of breakfast when I sucked it all up again.”  Myddleton would express feigned concern, and Walker would assure him, “A little spot of bother, Doctor, I’m all right now.” 

When Myddleton had gone out he would say, “Wonderful man to work for, Myddleton!” and when he too had gone, Baker, lingering behind would say,  “There you are now! Now where does he get this “bo-hind” business from.  There’s a perfectly good English word, ‘arse’ – why can’t he say ‘arse’?”  Nobody ever found out where he got it from, or indeed whence he derived a number of other typical expressions.  When, for example, he described a leaky pipe as a “menance” all etymology was defied.  Everything was described in a peculiarly racy language which it was difficult to understand – here again it was Davies who gave me the interpretation – until you learned that he had been a subaltern in the war, had taken his degree with his gratuity, and gone immediately to the Persian Gulf, where Baker, there already, was his senior. Then he had worked in Spain.  He had therefore never lived until now in a normal community, despite his 38 years and the bald circle on top of his head, and he was still the subaltern, ready to carry out orders to the last detail, entirely without questioning or reasoning, and at the same time making a joke of them, because his responsibility ended with carrying them out.  He had been married about a year, to a Welsh girl who had been at college with him and whom he had met again on returning from Spain.  He was completely devoted to Myddleton, always referring to him as “the Doctor” and carried out his instructions with religious, if uncomprehending, enthusiasm. 

It was an amusing thing to see Walker working the small pilot plant they had there.  He ran about full of importance, as red in the face as a Burma cockatoo, strutted and shouted directions, each one contradicting the last.  In the afternoon it was particularly alarming.  On one occasion Baker came into the laboratory for safety exclaiming, “He’s going to send that plant up!  I can see it happening.”  But there was nothing more serious than a minor fire, which Lever, the fitter, extinguished with carbon-tetrachloride, and nearly gassed us all.  

This same Lever refused to obey one of Walker’s instructions with the words, “Dr Myddleton has told me to take orders from nobody but himself.”  “Yes”, said Walker, “But I am Dr Myddleton’s assistant.”  Lever was satisfied.  Later I realised that this order of Myddleton’s was directed against the Engineering department, and this was illustrated when a day or two later the draughtsman, a man of about forty called Wilkins, brought in a piece of pipe over which some excitement had been aroused by Myddleton’s suggestion that the sulphur contained in the metal might injure the catalyst.  Wilkins asked me to test the pipe.  I was very annoyed at being told to do something by somebody I didn’t know, and that in a very off-hand way.  I threw the piece of pipe into a corner and told Walker I hadn’t bargained for being everybody’s skivvy.  To my surprise he backed me up entirely. “Oh! They’re bloody fools!” he said, “Take no notice of them.”  And then it gradually dawned on me why they had raised Walker’s salary from £200 to £500 in a year, described him as a  “chemical engineer” and given him complete charge of the plant, while the engineers gnashed their teeth in the outer darkness of the drawing office.

It was my function to test each batch of catalyst as Baker produced it.  Walker made great play of his thoroughness in having each one tested.  It was proposed to accumulate enough over a period to fill a large pilot plant being built in Scotland.  But Walker in his enthusiasm to please Myddleton wanted to work week-ends and asked me if I would come in on a Sunday.  This I flatly refused to do.  I also flatly refused to take over a shift on the pilot plant.  This proved to be excellent policy and caused Walker to become even a little afraid of me.  “You don’t know your own strength,” Davies remarked apropos of this and similar events.  I had learnt the lesson well at Costains and had made it a principle never to yield an inch, especially at the beginning.  

Davies had been requested to give a list of all manual workers in the establishment, and I discovered that my name was likely to be included. This was a very sharp issue of status, and I adopted the ruse of glaring furiously at Davies every time he came into the laboratory.  This he had to do at least twice a day as it was the only place with washing facilities.  A few days later he came over specially to whisper confidentially that he had  “made it all right.”  It was then I realised that all employers try you out to see how much indignity they can induce you to submit to, but that this does not mean that they actually possess strength comparable to their pretence.  If once you submit you are a lost man. When you resist they retreat.

When the day came on which the great Epsom race, the “Derby”, was run, everything in the town stopped, including Robinson Bindleys, and everyody went on to Epsom Downs.  Lever the fitter found an old wagon from somewhere in the gas-works yard and persuaded the foreman to lend it him.  How he did it is a mystery, as Jaycocks was, like most foremen, a very difficult man to deal with.  Walker, I think, kept him sweet with an occasional pint of beer and I got on the right side of him by showing him how to dilute sulphuric acid by pouring into water.  Next day Davies heard him telling the men on the plant, “and that stuff has to be poured slowly hand carefully into the water, hor helse it will spit in yer face, and disfigure yer for loife.”  They all gathered round to watch his demonstration, and the pleasure I had afforded him lingered on and made him amenable to my requests.  I suppose Lever mended the wagon or performed some such service.  They all drove it up on to the downs and parked it where they could get a good view of the race.  I went home. I was not interested.

A cause of the continued friction with Baker was the fact that his catalysts were inactive, and he was inclined to accuse me of not testing them properly.  I replied that he was not making them properly, but in view of the veil of secrecy which hung over all operations in the catalyst house, it was difficult for me to prove it.  I asked Myddleton to show me how the catalyst was made.  He consented in form but declined in effect, for he took me round the catalyst rooms in a space of about three minutes, talking vaguely and volubly all the time.  He must have learned something from his visit to a German works where they treated him that way, and he told us with amusement how he had repeatedly dropped his hat, his gloves, his handkerchief, in order to have an opportunity to examine the ground for pellets of catalyst, but found the works swept as clean as German meticulousness could make it.  

Walker went over to the catalyst house and bullied Baker.  Baker retaliated by telling everybody what a fool Walker was at Abadan, and also caused great excitement by sacking one of the boys, by the simple process of telling him go to the office and get his cards.  Davies thought he ought to have been consulted on this, and said so. Baker replied in a white fury – “I’ve been in sulphuric acid works, TNT works, nitric acid works, every kind of works in the chemical trade, and never have I been told I couldn’t sack a man!”  He stamped out of the office, slamming doors and making as much noise as possible, much to the delight of Myddleton who beamed at him, while Walker looked on, slightly shocked by the excess, but relieved that the true irritant, namely himself, had not received the sharpest attention. “Baker’s very violent!” said Davies.  “That man’s only a glorified clerk!” said Baker. “He knows nothing about managing men.”  “Men are very peculiar,” said Davies. “If you know how to treat them they’ll respond to it.  You can’t be soft, but you’ve got to be patient.”  I was not free from the suspicion that Baker had magnified his ire in order to please Myddleton who had the greatest contempt for businessmen of all kinds. 

When I began at Epsom Myddleton had promised to get in touch with Gwynne Vaughan in order to see whether there was any work as a botanist which I might do.  She had been a lecturer at Birkbeck College. The good lady was however a hard-faced reactionary and no doubt one glance at my research proposals was sufficient to send her frantically tearing them to shreds and burning them for heresy.  Myddleton also had no reason to wish to lose my services.  He had been in the ILP [Independent Labour Party – Ed.] and knew Laski [Harold Laski, leading leftwing academic at the London School of Economics – Ed.] and other now respectable persons.  He irritated Davies and the managing director, Whalley, by buying, of all papers, the Daily Herald, [which supported the Labour Party – Ed.] and exhibiting it in his office, which was a very humble affair compared with Davies’s or Whalley’s.  He told me that he left the ILP because the leaders were always quarrelling among themselves.  One could not call him a socialist, but he had no fear of socialism, and my politics did not worry him a scrap. 

Baker and Walker were of course staunch conservatives, but Baker’s working class background made his one of calculation, while Walker’s was one of thoughtlessness.  Baker read the Daily Mail, and when I twitted him on it said, “It doesn’t always pay to bring the paper you read to work with you.”  This was not in good keeping with the character he claimed to have possessed in Abadan – “that bold bad bugger Baker” – but one suspected that his reputation arose from his proneness towards making minor gallantries in the presence of women, which his loud laugh, and his question, “So you think I’m a bit of a dark-horse, eh?”, used to send the typist, Miss North, into hysterics of laughter. His language was colourful and crude. When Miss North came in while he was swearing, he used to apologise for not noticing her, and she would reply with a wooden face (almost winking at me, but doing so the more from refraining from it, as it seemed), “I didn’t hear anything? Did you, Mr Greaves?”   Baker would be highly delighted and compliment her on her “diplomatic deafness”.

As the catalyst batches came through, daily less active, the feud between Baker and Walker commenced, gradually at first but with increasing speed.  Walker had first complained about my testing to Myddleton, which led me to make a counter-attack, namely that he had no sense of proportion.  I let this off to Baker one day he was in the laboratory. Walker was convinced that sulphur was getting into the catalysts, so he ordered that every single sulphur compound in the works should be thrown away.  This was like Herod and the Jewish babies.  Then he realised that aluminium sulphate is used for paper making, and that while drying the catalyst was placed on newspaper.  The newspaper was replaced by expensive filter paper.  Then one day Myddleton walked into the laboratory, took a few pellets of catalyst, crushed them and dropped them in water, adding a spot of an indicator.  He shrugged his shoulders – “There you are – alkaline.”  “Red as a baby’s bottom”, said Baker, thankful that the sulphur chase was at an end.  All attention was centred on the filter press and the makers were summoned to a conference.  In some indirect way the new result was interpreted against Walker and Baker declared, taking his pipe out of his mouth, as if to deliver a judgement ex cathedra, “No!” He waited for silence, “He’ll never make a chemist as long as he’s a hole in his arse!”

While these “spots of bother”, as Walker termed them, were occupying Walker’s attention, a test was run on the pilot plant, and Idris Jones of Powell Duffryn came to witness it.  Whenever anybody from another firm came, Davies appeared in a black coat and striped trousers, looking very wise and very important.  Occasionally he still tried to be patronising, but less frequently, and he had too much of the human being in him not to laugh inwardly at this veneer of pomposity. Once when he dressed this way to accompany Whalley to London for negotiations he said, “It’s only to make one more,” but then let drop the hint that he might possibly save Whalley from committing some grave indiscretion.

During the test several of the directors appeared and Whalley came into the laboratory.  He did not spend much time at the works.  When he was there he arrived at 11 am. by car, driven by Lever, and at about three in the afternoon he would come to the door of his office and bawl “Lev-ah!!!” in stentorian tones, whereupon the fitter would run like a dog to him, get the car ready, and drive him home.  He was a tall, broad, irregularly built man, dressed in a style of sporty aristocratic attire, and he must have been one of the ugliest men in England.  One of the directors had died and Myddleton and Davies were expressing their regrets. “Yes”, said Whalley. “it’s a pity it wasn’t the other one.”  Old men are capable of any villainy, and can wish people to the grave with a perfectly clear conscience.  

There were intrigues on the board of directors, and the object of Whalley and Davies was the removal of Mr Bindley, the founder of the company, and the changing of the name.  Thus when considerable publicity was given to its doings in the Evening Standard, Davies groaned, “If only this would come after we’re ready for it, and not before!  I suppose Whalley’s been talking out of turn again.”  Bindley was, it is true, the founder of the company.  He had hired this wing of Epsom gas-works at a fantastically low rent, and had busied himself compressing coal gas in hopes of getting oil out of it.  When at last a few drops were obtained they called in Myddleton as consultant, and he told them they were wasting their time, but that there was a process, the Fischer Tropsch, which he was willing to undertake for them.  Thus he obtained his £2000 a year. Myddleton had displaced Bindley from the technical directors. Now it was proposed to remove him from the business directorate, or at least to dispose him from his pinnacle as name-giver to the company. This matter dragged on, and the name of the Company was not changed to “Synthetic Oils Ltd.” for some months yet.

One evening Walker invited Baker and me to his flat, where we met his wife, a quiet rather scholarly woman, much older than he, by appearances, but probably not much over 40.  The evening began with a visit to the “South-Western Hotel” at Wimbledon where Baker and Walker told stories of their life in Abadan.  They described the Iranians as “niggers” and had the greatest contempt for them. Any day, any time, they said, you would find them hiding behind a tank or a gas-holder masturbating. Then they explained, you gave them a kick and got them back to work again. “Why”, said Baker, “they’d bugger anything! I used to have to revictual oil-tankers. They have limited refrigerator space, and the system used to be to drive a flock of sheep on board while the tanker was filling.  They used to anchor out in the Gulf about a couple of hours journey off shore.  I’d taken a flock of sheep on board one day and was just going to have a drink with the mate when the captain signalled us on to the bridge. ‘See that!’ he said, and sure enough, those niggers were getting themselves into those sheep!  Yes. It’s a bloody fact.  The captain was laughing.  The mate was a little shocked.  But the chief engineer who came up after us flatly refused to sail until the sheep were changed. ‘I’ll not eat them,’ he said, ‘and if I feel sick, well, you’ll have to be your own engineer.’ The mate agreed with him and so I had to take them all off.”   “Yes”, Walker agreed, “that used to happen.”  “What did you do?” I asked.  “Simple”, said Baker, “perfectly simple. I sailed away a few miles until we were out of sight of the ship, and then I sailed back again. How was he to tell one flock of sheep from another?”

Walker assured me that all my fine notions of the equality of white and brown races would disappear the day I set foot in Abadan. “They’ve no guts,” he said.  “Why, there’s only one thing to do to punish them – knock them about.  I know a case where a man had a wife and family, and I was going to sack him.  He came in and asked me to beat him instead.  Another time a nigger was knocked round the still-room, the white man used his fists and knocked his head against the dials and switches and pipes – they’ve got heads like iron.  They don’t seem to feel it.”  They could not understand why what they said seemed to confirm me in error instead of convincing me, and we left the public house for Walker’s abode where we admired his dog, his cat, and his budgerigar (“buggery-bird”, Baker called it) and chatted with his wife.  This was the only occasion all three of us met socially.  After that the rifts began to widen.

It was about seven miles from Wimbledon to Epsom and I used to cycle between the rows of magnificent flowering horse-chestnuts at Ewell and, so it seems to me, in a persistent south wind.  The summer was very good and each month brought its spell of clear warm weather, the blossomy May, barbarically munificent June, majestic July, hot serene August with its level continuity and deep blue, September a paler, milder reflexion, and even October, often strong and wild, seemed this year little more than a prolongation of September.  Early in the summer Alan Morton rang me up at work.  Edge had been sacked from his job at Plesseys and had come to stay with him at Hampstead.  Alan had had a telephone installed and Edge had spent a whole evening ringing people up in interminable succession and holding conferences of about two minutes with each. Would I go and meet him in town?

I agreed and we met at Charing Cross, went for a drink at Alan’s favourite wine-bar and denounced together first Edge, who could not be prevailed upon to look for another job, and then Left Review, and then Auden, Spender and Cecil Day Lewis who had by some inexplicable circumstance discovered a reviewer who had – in the Daily Worker at that – described them as “revolutionary poets”.  After some persuasion Edge was persuaded to ring up GEC, who offered him a job on the spot.  Unfortunately he was as unpunctual as ever, and seems into the bargain to have been downright inefficient, and had to be continually admonished by Alan Morton who found it rather a strain, looking after children. 

Frank Jones arrived about the same time and assisted Edge in leading him a dance.  They seemed to have no responsibility at all.  An hour after he had requested them not to play his Mozart records with steel needles, there they were, doing that very thing; and into the bargain they could devise dozens of subtle ways of making him pay for things which were of use to all three of them, and for which they ought to have contributed their share.  Nevertheless it was company for Alan, and he found them amusing.

One evening Edge invited me to a meeting of scientists who wanted to discuss extending the Association of Scientific Workers among industrial scientists.  He introduced me to Sproule, Rose and Warner. Sproule was a large smug sprawling individual, with a very up-to-date flat in Highgate and engaged on very secret work. Rose was a cocky moustachioed young man who always knew everything.  Warner was a chemist and a member of the BAC [British Association of Chemists –  Ed.].  We learnt that Jack Cohen was now looking after the work of our party among the middle classes (strata was the word fashionable then) and Rose was very keen to call a meeting but to  “short-circuit” Jack Cohen. I took up a very strong line – a leftist line to be sure – on their attitude to people without degrees. Edge was very impressed, and as we walked away down Holborn he said, “Why!  You’ve grown! You seem bigger!”  I told him one of Baker’s stories, “Oh! You’re just the same,” he said disappointed.  He was as impressionable as that, full of enthusiasm but romantic to the last extremity.  He always liked to think that what he was doing was world important, but above all secret, and if possible risky.  

We held a number of meetings, for one of which I prepared a document. Jack Cohen was in the chair.  I had had a continuous struggle with Sproule and Rose over the preparation of this document, my conception then being that the AScW should try to act as a focal point to which the uncoordinated activities of the existing professional bodies could be drawn.  Jack Cohen held this view too and he kept quoting my document to the assembly, without knowing who it had been written by. I was not permitted to speak at that meeting.  Everytime I got up, Rose, or Sproule, leapt to his feet with some irrelevancy.  Warner invited his brother, a mournful individual with a grudge who spoke for no less than 55 minutes about the ill-treatment he had received at the hands of his firm, how he had researched for nine months on some problem, and now that he had tabulated all the results, they were not interested in it any longer and would not patent it.  When finally I got a word in, it lasted about one minute, when Rose moved yet another point of order. Ninette Fremlin said next to nothing.  She it was, I have no doubt, who had engineered the whole thing. She, Rose, Sproule and others were fanatical admirers of Professor J.Desmond Bernal [Irish scientist, 1901-1971, pioneer of X-ray crystallography; writer on science and society; CPGB member – Ed.]. They went to such lengths that they would not even pronounce his name without bated breath, and even his secretary Mrs Ryman acquired some mysterious aura of sanctity. 

 I appealed to Jack Cohen to let me continue. He said, “Well, leave it a bit later.”  Finally a young man from Cambridge, Tony Gillett, protested, and asked why I was being prevented from speaking, but with no avail.  The irrelevancies came on thicker than ever. Mrs Fremlin was determined she was going to be secretary of a scientists’ union, and not possessing the ability to fight for it politically, she arranged her myrmidons in a solid phalanx, around the ark of public discussion, and kept us away from it.  

I should probably have fought more effectively but for several factors arising from my circumstances.  I was shaken by the six months at Costains.  I was a scientist largely against my will, and was looking for ways of escape.  I had been cold-shouldered in this way at two student conferences, and was beginning to give way under it.  All that happened was that I began to suspect unworthy motives in the breasts of quite a number of people.  Needless to say Edge was very indignant, but did nothing about it.  It was beyond his power to say anything but “Yes”.  Very shortly after this he was removed from his job and given another simpler one.  Then he came home one day with an apocalyptic face and confessed that he was dismissed.

By then Alan Morton had had enough of his tantrums.  Only a week before he had borrowed Alan’s bed, and his contraceptives into the bargain, while Alan was away for a weekend.  Edge was very friendly with Helen Davies at this time, but also had an admiration (compulsorily at a distance) for Margot Heinemann.  He reported that since the death of John Cornford, which had shocked us more than any event of the Spanish Civil War, that spring (news was slow in filtering through) she had become careless in her attire, rather unkempt and seemed to care little for anything [Margot Heinemann, 1913-1992, had been lover of John Cornford when both were Cambridge University students; later a leading CPGB figure – Ed.].  We were shocked at this also, being too young to know that these things wear off. 

His uncertain goings and comings decided Alan to “put his foot down”.  He rang up Edge’s father, who came to London, took charge of his erring son, paid his still outstanding debts at Cambridge (which I believe he had got down somewhat by now) and hauled him off, defeated, baulked, and repentant, to Liverpool, where they had him studying for the civil service examination which would enable him to join the Post Office Engineers. And that was the last I saw of him.

I sometimes wonder why I let go with so little feeling somebody with whom I had been so intimate for so long, and for whose lapses I must have been in quite a large measure responsible, by counterposing a Bohemian against his puritanical mode of living.  By this time however the positions were reversed.  I was no Bohemian, he no puritan, and his unregenerate foolishness which no advice could educate, had driven both Alan Morton and myself completely out of patience with him.  And then again, affairs in Epsom and Wimbledon were slowly beginning to absorb me. The hold which the university period exercised on my mind was beginning to slacken.  Recollections of my previous life, before I went to the University, began to occur to me, as I was travelling in the train, for example, or riding my bicycle.  More than that, I found my memory thrusting up scenes from the time before my family moved to Mount Road, or from that dim pre-history before I went to the secondary school.  There was a re-evaluating of my time-scales, as gradually the bonds which linked me to the most promising days of my life were slackened.

The new interests in Wimbledon supplied a deficiency which had been created the moment I left Liverpool, that of congenial companions of my own age.  I leave Edge out of account here.  One cannot live with one person.   At a meeting of the party at St Mark’s Place I met TC Maynard – Md – then about 21, and feeling lonely, dejected and in a very revolutionary mood. He told me his history.  He had taken the Higher School Certificate in 1934, and would certainly have had a university scholarship but for the accident that in that year of slump none were awarded.  He was therefore compelled to find work as a clerk.  His job lasted about six months and he was then unemployed for another six.  Tired of living on his family he took to distributing newspapers for a local paper shop, finally managing through the good offices of a friend of his family to get an appointment as bank-clerk in the Westminster Bank.  During his unemployment he had become an expert typist; he understood many methods of book-keeping and the like, but he was now tied, so to speak, to the treadmill of a calculating machine.  Day in, day out he tapped this wretched thing, which did not take up enough of his attention to deaden his bitter reflections on the education he had missed.  What he found most hateful in the bank was the smug hypocrisy of the management which was never tired of informing the clerks that they were (on their £2 a week) a privileged section, gentlemen in fact, who would be willing on all necessary occasions to work till ten at night without pay, “because they liked their work.”  We walked about the common until after midnight and then went to knock up George Tringham (in our impatience to have the thing settled) at whose house Maynard joined the party.

The Wimbledon branch did little apart from holding meetings every Saturday and Sunday.  The propaganda secretary was a little builders’ labourer called Gamblin, indefatigable, loyal, incurably verbose and, at this time at any rate, quite unequal to his duties.  Tringham himself was an advertisement designer for Yardley’s cosmetics, and looked it.  He had spent one year at King’s College, had failed hopelessly in his examinations, and had left to take up some clerical work.  He had then married Joyce De Courcy.  After a few months of monotonous clerking he had read an advertisement in one of the papers which described in glowing terms the joys of going “back to the land”. Without more than a dozen words of enquiry, without even asking for advice, he agreed to settle in an isolated caravan at Gerrard’s Cross as assistant to a farmer.  There he was virtually given over to forced labour.  He was described as some kind of partner in the business, but the net result was that he rose at six and worked till ten every night.  One of his pretty children was born in this shack in the wilderness, and when the other was heralded the complaints of his wife, and the accumulated fatigue of two years without a holiday, began to tell on him.  But he was tied by a penalty clause and could not get away.  In the end he borrowed £50 from his sister, sent his wife back to her mother, and lived with his sister in Staines until he found the job at Yardley’s.  The two children were exceptionally bright cheerful youngsters, but Tringham had not wanted them and would frequently, when the noise of their playing interfered with our discussions, order them to be quiet and say, in their hearing, “Bloody kids – all due to an accident, you know.”

At the first meeting I attended, as well as the Tringhams and Gamblin I met Ray Curwin, an insurance agent of about 23, who was treading on air and about to be married.   He had not had a wide experience of life and Tringham was initiating him into the various arts he could expect to require.  He handled the literature. Then there was a big man with an inane childish face, a typical public school product, looking about 20 at 30, and whom Tringham always accused of homosexual proclivities.  He taught at a “do-as –you-like school” and his name persistently eludes me.  Apparently there had appeared in Wimbledon a strange character from Ireland calling himself Jim Phelan – but for this name I should have sworn it was John T. Hanaghan  – who described himself as the fifth greatest psychoanalyst in Britain.  He kept them all up till four one morning, and after the party was over insisted on kissing everybody good-bye.  It was the teacher’s maudlin behaviour then which led to Tringham’s surmise, and possibly his unattractive and effeminate personality disinclined people to ascribe to beer what would otherwise have been regarded as a not unusual effect of it.

Kathleen De Courcy was secretary of the YCL [Young Communist League – Ed.] and it was through this circumstance that I had the opportunity of meeting David Guest on a number of occasions, when he came to Oxford Avenue. On one occasion Alan Morton was there, and we set to work attacking the Left Review and the Auden bunch. Guest thought it paid us to keep on the right side of them, although he disliked them as much as we did.  We fell to discussing China and Alan said, “I see that the British investors are getting very worried about the Japanese fucking up all their property in China.”  We agreed that that was what was happening.  “Well I hope the Japanese fuck up all their property!” said Alan, with such vehemence and malice that we burst out laughing.  At that time Kathleen was so continually talking of David Guest that I expected the banns to go up any minute.   But that did not happen.  Later we learnt he had gone to Spain [where he was killed in 1938 – Ed.]

When I learnt that there was a job as organiser to the Left Book Club groups likely to be vacant, I was very excited.  The news had come from Helen De Courcy, and Tringham had applied for it.  I learnt from his wife that he had been unsuccessful and therefore wrote to John Lewis for an interview.  He wrote back, “Come and see me as soon as possible.”  I borrowed £3 from Alan Morton to buy some new clothes and walked in, feeling much more confident than last time.  He was interested in my ideas on teaching economics with charts, and showed me some similar things he had done himself.  Unfortunately, like Shakespeare’s fierce King, I was too much preoccupied with my surplus feelings of desire to get out of science, to listen to what he was saying. I must have appeared a little odd, and so the interview led to no result.  These people are never able to judge who is capable of doing a job well, but it is fortunate that most jobs are so easy that anybody who is not incapable can do them.

The branch had been founded by three students, Page, Hone and Dwyer who had three times worked madly to put it in order, only to go back to college and return to find it in chaos.  They expected to find the same again, but were very pleased to meet the unexpected help from another district.  They were very different temperamental types. The political leadership belonged to Page (Pg), who had just taken his degree in engineering and was looking for a job, which he found first as a research student, and later with Hawker Aircraft Co. as designer. He had a mathematical brain, and no imagination.  The only son of a widow in very poor circumstances who acted as caretaker to a block of shops, his sole intention was to get a good degree, and a job designing aeroplanes.  This subject alone made him enthusiastic. In politics he was one of those solemn guardians of the “party line” who contribute nothing towards forming it but operate it to the letter.  His fondness for aeronautics was whimsically ascribed by his mother to his possessing on his backside a mole in the shape of an aeroplane.  This was even more whimsically explained by her telling us that when during the war she was carrying him, there were air-raids and she acquired the habit of clutching her clothes at the back, in the very place where the aeroplane mole appeared on the child. 

I never became very friendly with Page.  He was too much the stolid Englishman.  Hone (Hn) on the other hand was quite the reverse, tall, slim, very blonde (almost albino), sensitive, excitable and reported to be fabulously clever.  All three of the students had been to the Rutlish School, where they had been taught to pronounce solve as sowlve with a long “o”, and a few other supposedly aristocratic tricks.  It was the boast of the headmaster of this school that he could make out of the veriest Cockney, supposing he had him young enough, the nearest imitation of a gentleman that you would find in South-West London. They paid particular attention to manners.  Hone had been recognized as the most brilliant recent product of the school, but had suffered a singular misfortune which had damaged his memory and had deprived him of the power to study, which he was only gradually recovering.  He had gone out one morning to swim in the lake on Wimbledon Common, when he had either swallowed or inhaled some infected water.  He lay in hospital six months, all but given up as lost, but had ultimately pulled through.  His father was a bricklayer, an old slow-thinking decrepit-looking man, one of the old craftsmen of the trade who would not work overtime and was always losing his job.  The mother suffered from angina pectoris, which always became potentially dangerous whenever either of her two sons or two daughters crossed her in any way.  She was also a great talker and would hold you by the hour.  Arthur Hone was very interested in music, and he used to come to listen to my records, and I to play his piano.  It was some time however before he was at ease with anybody, and I recollect him saying to me once that on meeting me he was afraid of me. “Why on earth?” I asked. “Because I’m afraid of everybody when I first meet them.” 

His political position was not so easily defined as Page’s.  He held some extraordinary philosophical views which I was never able to understand, but which approached somewhat to pessimist quietism.  He said he had been so near to death, when he was ill, for so long, that he had lost the normal attitude of youth towards such a thing, that he accepted death as the inevitable end of life, but did this, not as I appeared to do, with an inward determination to keep it at bay as long as possible, but quite dispassionately. He would as willingly die tonight as any other time.  To me this was a morbid philosophy.  Of course I know how readily my grandfather’s cousin, Maggie Morris, used to say “I’m willing to go tonight if it happens” – and what precautions she took to see that despite her 80 years it did not happen – but such an attitude which was hypocrisy, and a little sly hypocrisy, in an old woman with her life behind her, was almost a symptom of disease in a young man, as if the streptococci which had invaded his nose and face and led to the drilling of a hole in his skull, had left behind enough of their defeated poison to revenge their own deaths by injuring his will to live.  The will to life is the finest of all instincts, is the very root of man’s supremacy, and to tamper with it seems sacrilege.

The third student was a small, darker, more dour and uncommunicative man called Dwyer (De).  This was the one I came to know best.  He was sufficiently of a type – a type of “intellectual” – that I imagined I had met him before at some conference or other function. He walked at this time silently beside the others, as if obsessed by some misfortune. They soon told me what it was.  He had spent a year at college doing mathematics.  Then came his first love-affair, which so far opened his eyes to the drab grey monotony of figures that he abandoned these studies and read English.  All had gone well until a month ago when the girl had jilted him, and here he was back in Wimbledon in the dumps of dejection.  It was not long before he had found another girl, Peggy Savage, the daughter of a plain-clothes policeman whom we were all very suspicious of for a long time. Our knowledge of our own reactions to our parents’ views might well have warned us that it is those whose parents are not policemen who are most to be feared, those who become policemen of their own free will.  For the period of the vacation we used to walk across the common each evening, usually Hone and myself, but sometimes Page and Dwyer accompanied us.

On August Bank holiday Myddleton and I went for a bicycle ride to Ditchling in Sussex.  Myddleton had been formerly associated with a very mixed Bohemian bunch at Croydon and knew one or two of the local celebrities such as Ethel Mannin of the ILP [Ethel Mannin, 1900-1984, novelist, travel-writer and anti-imperialist activist – Ed.]. The effect of his company and that of the students was to restore something of my balance.  The surface was healed. There is no doubt that those who think bad luck is good for people are the crassest ignoramuses.  As soon as my circumstances improved I began to show less signs of the bitterness which had welled up in the spring of 1937, as it had in the autumn of 1931.  But the inner harm remained.  To avoid ill is not to get good.  

Soon after the Bank Holiday Walker came into the Laboratory and said, “How about a break?”  I was prepared for the suggestion, and said I should like the second week of September.  Accordingly I wrote to John Lancaster (L) suggesting a trip to South Wales, a proposal which he readily agreed to. Accordingly I went to Reading on the Friday evening and met young John at the Beachley Ferry [across the Severn, before the bridge was built– Ed.] on the Saturday afternoon.  We then cycled to Cardiff, and hunted out the bookshop and the party rooms.  We were told we could stay, but were asked for our party cards.  Mine was practically up to date but Lancaster’s was much in arrears.  He was thoroughly taken to task and the usual amusement known as “youth-baiting” proceeded until I recovered sufficient equanimity to be sarcastic.  I don’t know why it was customary to play these midshipman tricks on young party members.  It was a favourite sport in Liverpool, indeed in most places where there was a good stock of old and foundation members.  I think it must have been a relic of the days when people were initiated into secret societies by various rites all of which would be uncomfortable to themselves.

However Lancaster took it all in good part and next day we began our pilgrimage.  We first made for the Rhondda where we arranged to stay with Will Paynter’s father-in-law, Mr Francis.  He had not worked, if I recollect aright, for twelve years, except for twelve days levelling the road on a bridge.  His twelve year old son had never seen his father work, but used to measure time as before and after his father “worked on the bridge”.  We received the impression that the Labour movement was corrupted by bad conditions.   A young man who had been a student was talking about the evils of migration, and the book he was going to write about it.  I recollect how he argued that one couldn’t speak about a national “psychology” among the people of Wales – what other word he wanted to use I cannot remember. 

There was to be a meeting at the Judges’ Hall that night at which Mainwaring and Lewis Jones were to speak.  When it was clear that Mainwaring was not coming, they asked me to speak in his place. “Hollywood at last”, said Lloyd –  a student whom Iver Mercer had declared to be so wonderfully advanced for his years that he ought to be on the Central Committee  (we never thought of ability as cumulative, always as inherent, in those days)  – as the Judges’ Hall is a famous meeting place.  In this hall Tom Mann and Harry Pollitt were arrested on trumped-up charges of inciting to violence.  

Fortunately I had packed some trousers, crumpled with transport, so I complied; it did not matter much in South Wales whether you cut a very respectable figure on a platform.  Lewis Jones was first speaker, and a witty, challenging, sarcastic man he was too.  He had the art of putting a case stage by stage very simply, then summarising the whole with an aphorism which set the hall rocking with laughter. He took up most of the available time himself, but they let me speak.

But just before I got into my stride a railway train stopped in the station just beside the hall and proceeded to let off steam with an absolutely incredible noise.   I was drowned out, and after ten minutes made a hasty peroration and gave up.  I told them of what conditions the migrants could expect to find if they went to Fords in Dagenham, and was a little flattered to hear my remarks described as an exposure. The same Constable – Porter, I think – who faked the evidence for the Mann and Pollitt trial was in the hall taking notes, and I wonder that they didn’t challenge his right to be there.  Why they did not was soon clear.  Next day they asked us if we would go up to Pentre, the administrative centre of the Rhondda Valley, in which Arthur Griffiths was to be tried for obstruction.

On the Sunday afternoon R.Palme Dutt was giving a lecture in East Rhondda, and we went there also, partly so as to meet Gwen Ray Evans whom I had met in Cardiff eighteen months previously.  Dutt had tea with us and Gwen peppered him with questions.  She had so many things to ask him that she did not usually stop for an answer but chattered on as he tried his best to keep up with her.   Two things stuck in my memory.  I asked if he did not think a closer study of Ireland would repay us. “In the period that is past”, he said, “Yes.” Then he added, “But it’s getting a terribly reactionary country, now!” 

Then we made some optimistic references to the People’s Front stopping the drive towards war. “The odds are definitely on war,” said Dutt.  We were unable to imagine it then.  It was a very sobering remark.  When I reflect that exactly two years separated us then from the outbreak of war, and then the remaining five and a half to date have been occupied with war itself, it dazes me.  How far off a calamity seems before it has taken place.  When knocked down by a motor-car, or after suffering some other sudden misfortune, I have often wondered what mysterious agency actuates time – for in sudden changes our time-scale alters to match – “A moment ago I was walking about, now I am in an ambulance.”   We had no conception how near we were, and also we thought three years or so a very long time. Living from hand to mouth during the slump had reduced our time-scale.

When we went to Pentre it was with the ex-student whose name I have forgotten.  His continued fussiness was a source of great amusement to us.  In paying the fares on the bus he had every coin in his pocket out three times talking and arguing with the conductor all the time, before we were all agreed on the proper fare.  He was going to report the proceedings for the Daily Worker.  But when we reached the court-room we were told that it was full.  We said that this was impossible because nobody had been in before us. 

I managed to bluff my way to the door by saying I was from London. “Sorry, sir”, said a policeman, “the court is full” – and it was too, for when a moment later the door happened to open, I saw rank upon rank of uniformed policemen filling the public gallery, so that no member of the public could get in.  This opened our eyes.  There was no case, but Griffith was fined for all that, and walked defiantly out of the courtroom, and, because he had no money for his fare, all the way back to Ton-y-pandy, shouting though each village at the top of his voice, “Perjury!  Bloody perjury!  Perjury by the police.” 

This seemed to surprise nobody. The Glamorgan police force is almost exclusively composed of ex-RIC men and Black-and-Tans.  We sent a press telegram to the Daily Worker, met Lloyd whose home town is Treherbert which is represented in the view opposite [photograph attached – Ed.],  returned to Tre-alaw where we took our leave of the fussy argumentative worker correspondent ( I think his name was Roberts) and then set out for the Eastern fringe of the coal-field, making our first port of call Merthyr Tydfil, where we had lunch.                  

                                                *   *   *

( c. 34,000 words)

GREAVES JOURNAL, VOLUME 4A

 SIGNIFICANT PERSONS, PLACES AND ORGANISATIONS MENTIONED

Abadan

AEG (Amy Elisabeth Greaves), Greaves’s mother

Allday, Mr

Association of Scientific Workers, AScW

Baker, AJ, senior chemist at Robinson Bindley Processes

Bernal, Professor J.Desmond

Bloor, Geoffrey

Bush, Alan, composer   

Cohen, Jack, CPGB organiser

CPGB, East Ham and Wimbledon Branches of

Cornford, John

Costains bulilding firm

Davies, company director

De Courcy, Kathleen and Helen

Daily Worker

Dutt, R.Palme

Deanlove, Jack, musician

East Ham,

Edge, John

Elm Park

Epsom Downs, Epsom Derby

Evans, Glyn

Evans, Peter

Fellowes, Peregrine

Fremlin, Ninette

Guest, David

Heinemann, Margot

Jones, Frank

Jones, Lewis

Klugman, James

Labour Party

Labour League of Youth

Lancaster, John

Left Book Club

Left Review

Mannin, Ethel

Maynard, TC

Mercer, Iver

Morrison, Herbert

Morton, Alan G.

Myddleton, Dr William

Paynter, Will

Peachey, George

Peachey, Mabel (Taylor), an aunt

Pemberton, Sir Max

Pentre, South Wales

Phelan, Jim

Piggott, John

Plaistow

Plesssey’s aeronautical and electronics firm

Poplar

Powel Duffryn coal company

Prenant, Marcel, author of Biologie et Marxisme

Rainford, Joan

Rankin, John, MP for Romford

Rhondda

Robinson, Bindley Processes Ltd (Epsom Oils)

Sproule

Tringham, George

Udall, Mr

Upton Park

Vavilov, USSR scientist

Vetterleim, Em

Walker, J., chemist

Walley, Managing Director

Wansted

Wiltshire, Dorothy (Taylor), an aunt 

Woolwich

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