“What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly; so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady, tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art. The main requisite, I think on re-reading my old volumes, is not to play the part of censor, but to write as the mood comes or of anything whatever; sine I was curious to find how I went for things put in haphazard, and found the significance to lie where I never saw it at the time.”
Virginia Woolf 1919
Well that seems to sum it up quite well for me. I was reading VW but aware that I should start to get on with my bit of ‘something loose knit’ when I came across the writing above. Ah! Inspiration, or, as we say today, A Mission Statement. Nothing can be said to have been properly undertaken unless the MS has been defined, refined, tuned, parsed and then stated in letters of fire in the work cells of all involved. What rubbish – but the funny thing is I can still write about MS even after all these years of retirement. Perhaps we could all work until we are 70 after all.
The ‘what happens next’ theme of the past couple of days has been replaced by the ‘what happened then’ of the day when the 1939-1945 war in Europe ended. I have very clear and copious recollection of then that I doubt would be with me in 2065 about the last Election should I live until then. I don’t like that last sentence – something grammatically wrong somewhere. Still, in furtherance of the MS, I fling it in without looking it through. In May 1945, I was at the thick end of eleven years old; my twelfth birthday not coming until August. The actual day of the German surrender was sketched in with the radio reports; there were no TV transmissions. We had quite a few military camps around us and apparently Romford was quite hectic.
My first bit of ‘post-war’ was the VE Day street party when all the kids had a slap up meal in a big marquee at the top of Tudor Drive. I have a photo taken then. I’m at the forefront of the long table. Much Brylcreem in evidence, a smart jacket – Dunns maybe? And collar and tie – properly buttoned up. My father had long had a 56 pound tin of corned beef as a reserve in the event of invasion by Germans. This was donated to the party. We had large quantities of chocolate and fizzy drinks. A piano had been manoeuvred into the street and games and dancing ensued.
Another thing that is in my mind concerned the black-out. It had long been mandatory, punished by fine and often imprisonment, to have any exterior lighting or interior lights shining through thick curtains or board screens. On the night of the party this was all ignored. Every house had every light on, no drawn curtains, front and back doors open. After all the years of total darkness, this was something that has proved very memorable.
That is enough of 60 years ago. Not my recollection – that is very full but enough for this time and place.
Driving back today we passed a field where they were sowing potatoes. Well, no, not actually past. I was so amazed at all the machinery in the field that I parked up and had a quick peep over the hedge. When I was a farm worker – part time only thank goodness – back in the late 40s and early 50s, potato sowing was a simple thing. Two horses, a cart and a seed box really. What I saw today was machinery that dug the trench, dropped the spuds and banked up the furrow afterwards. There were low loaders with more seed ‘taters and some specialised machinery that was not in use whilst I watched. All this of course is basically down to the introduction of very large fields – almost prairie – which allows efficient mechanisation. My days of doing it we had five or ten acre fields and it took a while to deal with them. Losing the horses was a blow. They could be controlled by word of mouth almost as much as through the tack. I never did any tractor driving on the farm but I could handle horses well. Some of the old horse men did not bother with the change to tractors but went into other work on the land. The work I saw in progress today was obviously carried out by contractors as only a massive farm could afford the specialised equipment that would only be lightly used. That again must cause scheduling problems as no farmer likes putting heavy machinery on really wet land.