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Rain and Darkness Having Stopped Play... - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
Rain and Darkness Having Stopped Play...

Recently, there has been discussion about honesty-on-the-Net-and-in-fandom, as well as a meme here on LJ in which users reveal twenty unknown facts about them.

My own feeling is, that writers – as opposed to, perhaps, organisers of cons, RPG players, mods of Very Important Communities, and so on: I mean, people who interact, really, only as writers – are being honest so long as they write honestly, are honest in their craft, as writers. Scott published his first works anonymously, and everyone attributed them to others (Burns, for one, which was simply daft, really). John Dickson Carr had multiple identities with lovingly crafted not-precisely-false-but-brilliantly-misleading (well, he was a detective story author, after all) biographies for each, to print on the back cover of each slim, Penguin volume. Christie and Rendell both maintained alter egos, and we all recall the Richard Bachman / Stephen King biznai, do we not?

Nonetheless, the impulse to know more of those whose work we consume is a natural and not unreasonable one. (Mind you, as lasayla, frances_jane, and avus have pointed out, I’ve given away a bit of background, without effort, with every sentence I’ve written before now.) It struck me, however, as an interesting literary exercise to offer the following, in the best Bachman / Dickson Carr tradition. I have been cagey on details, of course, as everyone admits is wise on the Net. I have also ‘played fair’, in the best Golden Age tradition. Inevitably, readers will make informed guesses; and they will be right in essence even where wrong in detail. They’ll certainly be correct as to the authorial persona of Wemyss; they will, if I’ve done my job at all well, be inadequate in identifying the man behind the mask. And yet, all of it is true, in the factual (be very careful in reading) and in the mythic and overarching, the thematic, sense, the sense of parable. There’s not an untruth in the whole of it, yet it will in the end tell you nothing final about mundane, quotidian, individual detail – and yet again, it will tell you in the only meaningful sense, precisely who I am and whence I come.

Besides, it takes my mind off the exceedingly aggravating repetition of Swuppie / RESPECT / MoveOn talking-points, spin, and rubbish, that are being parroted all over my friends-list, despite their falsity and despite the stark fact that those peddling them ought by rights to know better, and ought by rights to know more, not less, of Yank history, law, politics, and All That than do I.

It was 1962. The best-selling single in Great Britain was by Frank Ifield (the Beatles’s reign would begin in 1963). Lolita was at the picture palace, and the Soviets were in Cuba, with missiles. Sean Connery was taking over the Bond franchise, and the winter, had anyone but known, was going to be one for the books: the Big Freeze. SuperMac was unflappably, urbanely in residence at Number 10, thanks to successful political butchery. Oh, and Nick Rhodes, Amanda Donohoe, Sophie Alldred, and I were all born in the Summer (as, over the course of the year, were, as well, Eddie Izzard, Steve Redgrave, Ralph Fiennes, and Cary Elwes. Who amongst us has held up the best over the years is not a subject for discussion).

In fact, I was born on the ‘Night of the Long Knives’, whilst Macmillan was sacking a third of the Cabinet.

England came second (to Australia), and Scotland, fifth, in the Empire and Commonwealth Games. The Cup Final doesn’t bear thinking of. As was true throughout the Sixties, Australia retained the Ashes (although the 1963 Test against the Windies, at Lord’s, was the truly memorable match – and heartbreaker – of the decade). Hope began to revive in the Seventies, and 1981 was a precious year to me: the year of Botham’s Ashes, and the miracle at Headingley.

Not, I may say, that these Great Events of 1962 impinged upon my infant consciousness. I was otherwise occupied, what with being born and all. I get a great, sinful pleasure in telling Americans that I come by my Conservative leanings naturally, being from ‘the wild Southwest’, and having been born, curiously enough, in that cotton-country other ‘Southwest’, Houston. (Why were my parents there at the time? For the very reasons we’ve a place there to begin with, frankly: combined motives of family affairs, golf, angling, and, in anticipation of the Autumn, hunt matters.) Despite having had property in the area for yonks, my family are not in fact from there, originally (‘perish the thought’, I hear the ghost of a spinster great-aunt cry: ‘such vulgar little people there’. I don’t agree, but you know what rather grand great-aunts are). The Wemyss-Shaw-Macintosh-Duff-Chattanach lot, either actually or ancestrally, span the area from Fife to Elgin. Another Scots connexion is my paternal grandfather’s tenuous Gunn ancestry, which is as Highland-Norse as they come. Mummy’s people are Anglo-Irish (I’ve ‘tame’ Carrolls on both sides the family), Anglo-Welsh, and mere English; my father’s, traditionally scattered from Devon to Salisbury Close. There is one Northern strain to us, the Clifton-Markham connexion, centred in Notts; I am christened in part for Wm Markham, who was Headmaster of Westminster School, Dean of Christ Church Oxon, and Archbishop of York in the 1770s, and in part for Sir Gervase Markham, the Tudor soldier-author. The family tradition that the Lord Mayor of London in the 46th year of the reign of Edward 3d was one of ours, is, in my considered opinion, self-aggrandising rubbish based on a misleading similarity in XIVth Century surnames.

Not, I may say, that these matters impinged upon my infant consciousness. I was otherwise occupied, being newly arrived in this world, in which, my father is at pains to relate on all appropriate and inappropriate occasions, my first memorable act was to piss all over a damned good suit of his when first he was given me to hold. His tailor was not best pleased, I hear.

I was duly baptised according to the rites and formularies of the Church by law established: not that it is thus established, in Houston, but I was, rather, baptised at the family parish church, a few days after, by the Rector, a soldier-turned-cleric who was a Senior Member of the very college that would eventually be mine own when I came to go up to university. I was by way of being rather a ‘sanctuary sprog’, Mummy being very active in the parish, as was only to be expected, her father having been a beneficed clergyman himself (and a Great War chaplain, in fact). I never had any real chance to know him, as he died when I was quite young (late marriages and late-born children are common on both sides the family); his wife, my maternal grandmother, having long preceded and predeceased him, dying when my mother was quite young.

My paternal grandparents, on the other hand, are indelible in memory: not only in my memory, but in that of anyone who ever met them.

My mother’s family were mostly clerics and judges and barristers, with occasional sudden and disconcerting forays into the arts or other imprudent excitements, personal and marital. She herself was a fine contralto, trained to – wait for it – professional, operatic pitch. But she married my father instead.

His people were simpler, in the main – I mean, in the sense they were less complex, less likely to bud forth a sport. And yet…. My father served in the Korean conflict (and when I admit, as I must do, that his was – as was so for his fathers before him – a cavalry – armoured – regiment, the clever may perhaps guess what regiment it was), before settling into the life that was set out for him: land, tenants, and the usual company directorship, precisely as his father had moulded him to do. (My father did not finish university, but instead spent those years square-bashing and drilling before heading off to the East, and then to Korea and the sting of battle. This is because, in the first hols after matriculating at university, he and his brother, my mad, if easier-going, Uncle George, pranged the new motorcar my grandfather had bought for them to run as a joint concern. This was bad enough. That they managed to do so by smashing – dead sober, mind – into the boot of another motorcar was worse. That the other bus in the smash was owned and driven by our friendly local top copper was what transformed my father and, the next year, Uncle George, from jolly undergraduates into perhaps less jolly cadets. Still, it improved their adult years’s driving abilities: I suppose a motorcar is quite simple to operate compared with a tank.) My grandfather, I should note, fumed until the end of his days at having been forcibly prevented from serving in combat in the Hitler War, but they all but tied him to a desk and forced him to administer such boring things as cotton and petrol and All That. Rather useful service, actually, if you understand the importance of logistics and supply, but not, I admit, exciting and gallant. Well, his sons got a sufficiency of excitement and gallantry East of Suez and in Korea.

As I said, my father’s father’s family were, superficially, rather quiet, spending their generations in steadily acquiring land and more land, all over the country, and in hunting it and shooting over it and angling in every puddle on it, and in engaging in hilarious miscommunications with tenants (my grandfather’s tenants loved my grandparents dearly. No, really. In fact, they were so overwhelmed by their rather expansive generosity that they would hide when they saw either my grandfather or, worse still, my grandmother coming, laden with fresh veg. and preserves and God knew what. As one old fellow, who carried on as a cooper as well as farming a bit, once said to me, quietly, ‘There’s armies can’t eat so much as all that, and them bringing enough to supply one, every second day’. There wasn’t much I could say: he was quite right). An absolute martinet with his sons, my grandfather would do nothing for them that the wildest imagination could have called nepotism; for his tenants and neighbours and their sons and daughters, he was indefatigable, and many of them got their start in life through his rather imperiously exercised influence. My paternal grandfather’s family ran to soldiers (oddly, my mother’s people are the only connexions I have who produced any Navy types, and two Marines), rural landholders, and the occasional, reluctant politician. They also had a keen eye for the main chance when it came to directorships, particularly those of banks and, later, through my grandmother’s connexions, those of large oil-gas-and-petrol companies (one named for a maritime feature akin to a bay, the other named for what molluscs live in): which has helped contribute to my adult travels. My grandmother, whose artistic streak has left me with a canvas (indeed, five or more canvasses) of hers in oils on every wall, came from a similar background, with rather more enthusiastic players at the political life in it, and a clutch of schoolmasters and dons.

Seemingly infertile soil for the writers and scholars who keep cropping up in every second generation, but there it is.

As a child, I led – partly due to the labour of prior generations afflicted with a highly acquisitive hunger for land and property – a rather peripatetic existence, though not at all so peripatetic as my adult life has, regrettably, been. On the one hand, we dwelt quite close to my father’s parents, in a rooted, settled, and ordered world. The smack of the bat upon the leather and the sound of church-bells kept our hours. On the other hand, well…. There was the place in town, indeed, in the City (no, not that one, the other one) per se (we gave it up only when I was up at university, in fact), beloved of my rather cosmopolitan, contralto mother, a few streets South and East of Long Acre, on T–––– Street, whence she could make sudden mad dashes to shops that put W––y’s and those of S–––– to shame, and forgather with her musical friends (patrons and professionals alike). There was, of course, my grandparents’s place at L––– –––, between A––– and W–––, with the home farm and the pasture running almost to Grove–––: their base (if you will), where my grandmother occupied herself with bulbs and borders, roses and paintbrushes, and my grandfather relentlessly farmed, meddled, jovially patronised tenants, drew up plans for new cottages for those same tenants, and obsessed over his canine and equine charges. But from that base, they sallied forth, regularly, as far as remote and almost inaccessible Yell (yes, my grandfather had been mad enough to buy up some land there as well, during the Thirties and the great slump: having actual, ready money at the time when so many did not had inspired him to new heights of madness: it was a ‘bargain’, an ‘investment that could not be missed’. Lunatic, really), as comparatively near as St A––– in the uttermost West; they sallied forth, with me in tow whether my parents were along or not, and many summer nights of my childhood were spent, memorably, at Turriff, Elgin, and Montrose, and near Exeter and near York, and at (I am discreet when family matters are broached) Fairb––, at Hard––, at Penn––, at Over–––, and at Hurl––.

I have said that my grandfather was a trifle imperious and perhaps a bit grand at times. This was true as to the outside world, and indeed as to his sons and his daughters-in-law. To my grandmother, however, he was a worthy but ultimately inferior opponent: no one, ever, has quite measured up to my grandmother. I once sought to find a literary comparative and antecedent for her. After considering and rejecting the various sisters with whom Wodehouse plagues Lord Emsworth and Gally Threepwood, as well as all of Bertie Wooster’s aunts, and finally the Dowager Duchess of Denver, I suddenly realised that my grandmother was in fact the incarnation and avatar of Somerville-and-Ross’s Mrs Knox of Aussolas (and I sincerely hope that, if by some misfortune you’ve not read the Irish RM stories, you will put this drivel aside for now and go do just that). To call my grandmother a grande dame does not begin to do her justice; indeed, in her sphere, that of a private gentlewoman (snort. No, really, she was, formally, just that), she occupied a place that would have made Bess of Hardwick, Queen Gloriana, and Mary of Teck seem callow Girl Guides in comparison. When she died, even though my grandfather outlived her, the only question in the family was, Who succeeds in what has long been a matriarchy?

For me, however, as a child, my grandparents and my parents and Mrs Cook, my nurse, and the tenants, and the dogs and the ponies and the horses, the pigs and the chickens and the cattle, were creatures of a truly magical world, in which I joyously lived and moved and had my being. It was, really, a storybook life. And a very secure one, in ways that only the countryside now knows (and even then, this was becoming true, as the towns decayed), in ways that even the countryside today cannot fully match: it was a more innocent time.

I had the usual complement of godparents, and very dear to me they were, both my godfathers being superb men and my godmother being utterly adorable (if utterly mad); I had in addition more supernumerary and ‘courtesy’ aunts and uncles than any boy should expect to be blessed with. All will be referred to, as I, childlike, referred to them in their living years, indiscriminately as ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’.

At home, I knew full well that these were the people who surrounded me, an extended unofficial family, and that in all my wanderings and wonderings, I could never come to harm: there was always someone by, between me and any idiocy or danger. If I and the dogs headed eastwards and a bit north, to our bounds and then through the wood, a screen of trees, in the blazing Autumn heavy with nut and fruit, in the Springtide dizzy with blossom, stark in the Winter and shaded cool, sun-dappled in the Summer, the dogs would run ahead, Toby in the lead, to find Aunt Agatha and her own rollicking, tail-wagging pack; and if – as was likely – I was bound in that direction as a means of reaching the river (a stream, really, at that point), at the other side of Aunt Agatha’s acres, I would not get there without a safety check, an eagle-eyed survey of my rod and creel, a tweedy embrace, a talk about church music, a quick catechism, and a sudden access of provender, from sandwiches to apples to buns and biscuits still piping hot. Quite half the time, if I weren’t with Mummy or nurse, Aunt Agatha would stump along to the river with me, and show equal facility in reinforcing my father’s guidance as to angling or in standing in as Mummy’s locum in playing Pooh-sticks from the bridge.

Or, again, if Toby and the pack and I headed South and East, towards wooded country beyond the close-cropped turf, we would hardly pass the stubborn if moribund grove of bamboo (still struggling gamely on, although all but yearly killed for all the sheltering it was given, in memory of a nostalgic Empire-builder three generations before), before Aunt M–––’s noble-looking Rough Collie would sound the welcoming trumpet, and I would be hailed, lovingly interrogated as to my occasions, and quite likely given so expansive a tea that I never quite resumed my progress further.

Westwards, of course, I would be ambushed and talked to death by the other Aunt M–––, who regarded it as her lot in life to make certain that I learnt the ways of a more urbane world, not least in speaking decent French. (It was her foible to believe, without regard to the contrary evidence on every side, that a truly cultivated life could not be lived northwards of – let us say – Wilton Crescent, eastwards of Montrose Place, southwards of Eaton Square, and westwards of Cadogan Place … and even that, she thought, was tempting Fate. Better yet, she should have preferred, and, loudly, did, Paris, and Manhattan. Her presence amongst us, she regarded as an exile imposed upon her by a husband who wanted to be thoroughly ashamed of his cruelty in immuring her in the wilderness.) Her pet project was hopeless, in terms of my speaking French, which, even after academic immersion, I speak with a defiantly non-Frog accent, but she damned well saw to it that I could read it: it is to her that I owe my possessing a truly complete set of Asterix and Tin-Tin, to say nothing of a well-worn copy of Le Petit Prince, a thorough acquaintance with Patapoufs et Filifers, and lashings of Babar and Madeline. Oh, and Verne. It was rather like suddenly washing up on the strand at Deauville whenever one stepped outside the house.

Northwards, of course, was The Road, which, for what seemed an interminable time, I Was Not to Cross. This was later amended to, Not to Cross Unless Helped, and, later still, Unless Watched. Mrs Cook had plenty of allies, obviously, in enforcing these parental decrees; in softening them, to Unless Helped and then to Unless Watched, I had the indispensable assistance of Mrs W––– and her daughter Helen, who lived on the other side of the road in a very wonderful, small house. It was wondrous: very charming, what one used to be able to call very gay, on the outside, and, inside, always shaded and cool in summer and snug in winter, with heavy furniture overstuffed with horsehair, a white dog of great age, port, and dignity, who bore up manfully under the name of Snowy, and books ranked upon books. It was a wonderful house, so neat and trim and not at all intimidatingly large and rambling, which was rather a nice change from our house, and not at all boxy and icily Palladian, which, had I then known the terms, would have been how I’d have described my grandparents’s place. And it was, as I said, stuffed full of books. Mrs W––– had been a rather superior sort of schoolmistress in her day, and her daughter Helen, who was quite ancient (four-and-twenty, in fact), was a teacher and tutor then. They were not particularly concerned with whether or not I was succeeding in memorising Bemelmans and de Brunhoff for The Other Aunt M–––’s delectation; they were determined that I should have Scott and Chesterton, RLS and Conan Doyle, Grahame and Milne and Mr Lear, Sayers and Lewis and Tolkien, Alice and Paddington Bear and The Scarlet Pimpernel, burnt and branded indelibly upon my brains, in an atmosphere of stuffed calico cats and gingham dogs – and excellent seedy-cake. Oh: and Kipling.

They succeeded, as may be rather too evident.

Other children, let alone other boys, were not thick upon the ground of my childhood. My two dearest friends were the son of a godfather of mine, who was an Anglican, minor, and cadet Howard of a southern Howard line, and my distant Peyton cousin (and my parents’s godson, as he was my godmother’s son), through the Crawford-Crouch connexion. The latter was lost to drugs in his adolescence, and remains largely institutionalised (I assure you, he cannot be identified from anything I have said here). The former … well. From the very first, he was my protector, the elder brother I have never had. Though quite intelligent, he was, in the most traditional manner, not at all interested in ‘books and cleverness’; he was a splendid specimen, physically as otherwise, athletic, open-handed, open-hearted, and in the best sense cavalier. He was the first boy I fell in love with, though I did not realise it then, and the partner and indeed instigator – for all that he was almost certainly ‘straight’ – of my, our, first sexual experience, a matter of rather innocent and sniggering exploration at an appallingly early age (and for which we, caught in flagrante, were caned in excelsis, I may add). He died at the age of eighteen years, collapsing on the pitch after a football match, having had a congenital heart defect that had never been diagnosed. The Rector who had baptised the both of us was able to make it to his side and offer him the consolations of religion just before he died – it was in the Summer, and we were home: I shall never forget my father breaking the news to me a quarter-hour later, when he had heard – and we buried him from the church that he and I had all but grown up in together. I barely made it through the service; I think the whole parish, including my godfather and his wife, who had been admirably stoic in their shock, broke down when Aunt Agatha, supremely determined, was the only one who could – and did, valiantly, tunefully, and fortissimo – make it gloriously through ‘For All the Saints’.

A few years after, his father shot himself. I myself have never quite recovered from the loss, which has affected me in so many ways that I am almost certainly unaware of the full extent of it.

But these things came after the golden and innocent days.

My immensely rich, barking mad godmother – mother of my other lost best friend – did not believe in the totemic ideals we all of us professed: she had no use for reticence, aristocratic shabbiness, and discretion. I would say that her attitudes were Edwardian, if not Regency, but that is too palely-coloured: she was an Elizabethan, really, and a damned buccaneering one at that. To her, there was no point in acting as if the opinions of the lower and middle classes mattered, no point in not living loudly and richly and expensively. (Her husband, whose background was in merchant banking and those Oil Giants, was a long-suffering man, as you may well imagine.) I suppose in some times and in some places she would have been the sort who provokes a social revolution – she made Imelda Marcos look the very model of dignified and aristocratic restraint – except that it was and remains impossible to resent her. She is so obviously and gloriously having fun, lavish fun, and she’s more than pleased, when it occurs to her to do, to let everyone from the servants on upwards join in: Bollinger all ’round. (By way of analogy, when I say my godmother’s style was pre-Edwardian, there is this story: Henry Chaplin, the ultimate country squire, was in Lord Salisbury’s last Cabinet; his fiancée, Lady Florence Paget, had jilted him in favour of the Marquess of Hastings in 1864. When Chaplin’s horse Hermit won the 1867 Derby at 66 to 1, Lord Hastings lost £140,000 on the race. This is precisely the sort of thing my godmother should have been involved with.) She was not the sort of person you would want to ask to help out in the parish: if you’d asked her to open a fête, she would have brought caviar for all: but she was great fun, and her Haroun al-Rashid descents upon us were always times of slightly skewed delight, swimming in champagne.

I need hardly say that I learnt all sorts of appalling habits from her.

Indeed, I once had a chap from school stop and stay with us for a day or two. He remarked, rather stunned, ‘You know, you’re not, actually, as rich as I thought’; to which I replied, naïvely, parroting the lessons learnt from my godmother, ‘What has that to do with living well?’ This exchange provided immeasurable amusement for my mother and two of her musical friends, both protégées of Sir John Barbirolli’s, one of whom taught me composition, or tried to, and the other of whom taught me violin.

The fact was, of course, that my schoolmate was perfectly correct. We were not as rich as we thought we were. (Mind you, we weren’t precisely standing about, queuing in bread-lines, either.) Credit – if you can call it that – for my not realising it until then, and for not caring then or now, is due (of course) to my mad godmother, as well as to the rather innocent and sheltered life we had led. I mean, really, my mother’s idea of a light collation was lobster and fillet steak. (I am not exaggerating. I would be talking with housemates and comparing What Happened Over the Hols stories and they’d speak of meals they found memorable At Home, most of them in restaurants, I may add – it was always an invidious comparison to and implied condemnation of what we were fed At School – and I would be thinking, That’s hardly novel or festal, is it? Mummy has that served when there’s no reason to bother with going all-out.) The consequence – or a consequence – of all this, was, I quite innocently and unthinkingly had a great deal of side; and I cannot to this day manage simple banking. I recall its being pointed out to me, in 1977 or so, when there was a proposal bruited about that my father should take up a post Doing Something Abstruse in Kuwait, that I should fit in all too well: a point made by someone very grand indeed, who had every reason to know whereof he spoke. (And so I should have done, fitting in, in rather uncomfortable ways as well: you may imagine your own David-Lean-Merchant-Ivory-blond-lad-and-sheikh’s-son slash if you like.) Of course, the last thing my father intended to do was to leave his green and pleasant land under any circumstances whatever, a refusal only slightly less adamant than his exasperated dismissals of my mad godmother’s recurrent enthusiasms for Making Him Go Into Politics, which she would have loved to help fund (spending laws be damned).

It is, in retrospect, little short of miraculous that I never was walloped, punched-up, debagged, tossed in a fountain, or otherwise chastised by my hearty peers, at school or at university. I had after all been brought up to believe myself primus inter pares in almost any company. I was the son of a father and a family that believed just that about each and all of us, and of a highly cultivated mother who incarnated high culture and expensive tastes. I was the godson of a vibrantly lunatic woman of really obscene riches and gloriously eccentric impulses. I was a small, pink chap, a truly intolerable dandy, insufferably intellectual, painfully æsthetic, unashamedly musical … in fact, I was Asking For It. Yet it did not happen. More miraculously yet, I was alone in realising, as by then I had long realised, that I was more than simply situationally gay. And no one, honestly, twigged. No, really.

There is, oddly enough, a perfectly reasonable explanation. Yes, I was all these things. But that was not the whole of it. I spoke, as you can well conceive if you think about it, fluent County. My father, who was quite the all-rounder in flannels (always a Gentleman, never a Player), tested my skills at a very early age, and promptly decided, Well, that’s no good, it will have to be football instead. (If I could not do it well, after all, I shouldn’t do it all.) And so, for some years, I was a muddied oaf, always outweighed but never daunted. Then, at school and at university, I found that I was not a complete loss as a specialist wicket-keeper, and, having grown up in an environment that Took the Great Game Seriously, I had statistics and Memorable Incidents off by heart, a sort of walking Wisden’s. Added to this, I was notoriously comfortable and competent with a trout-rod, a horse, a hound, a racquet, a tiller, a shotgun, and a putter, and as a result I survived and flourished, as a dry-bob and in minor sports including golf, beagling, clay-pigeon shooting, and the like. Indeed, at university, I was once beguiled into going to a fancy-dress costume ball of some sort, and a chap I knew asked, ‘What are you going as?’, to which I replied, ‘A gentleman farmer’. He snorted: ‘You are a gentleman farmer, damn it’. Well, it saved me finding a costume. Preferring hunt functions to Commem. Balls, acting as a steward at point-to-points, playing murderous games of cards, and being famous for drinking capacity: this was my barrier and protection from what would otherwise have been the consequences of the other side of my personality. I am indebted to the sheer thickness of my contemporaries – and to a certain instinct for camouflage, as when I made certain that I was seen heading down on a Friday, say, in full shooting kit during grouse season, with my trusty Purdey in its canvas and leather case. Being able to discourse intelligently of golf and grouse, of dry-fly and deer-stalking, and being consulted as an oracle upon tack and trout, saved me from becoming merely, and being seen as, an æsthete.

At university and after, I just managed to avoid the temptation to become a Union hack, though I was loudly active in Conservative causes and efforts; I wrote some things and got one or two properly published; I waffled and flannelled my way into rather a decentish degree; I mortally offended my father by getting into a non-cavalry unit, and a TA one at that; and I was, to my yet-persistent confusion, inexplicably and unexpectedly seized upon one Sunday, leaving the morning service, at the height of Brideshead fever, by a Japanese photographer who worked for a Japanese magazine devoted to men’s fashions, and who insisted that I and an equally dandified friend of mine from my college be photographed as exemplifying the height of classic style in the mysterious Occident. I have never seen the resulting snaps, but I am assured that they were indeed published, so it is possible that I am, or was twenty-three years ago, a famous male model in Japan.

I remain utterly perplexed by that incident: perhaps it was that I was not only well-dressed in a specific way, but small enough to be no taller than the average Japanese chap: but it certainly garnered a cackle from, appropriately and inevitably, my godmother. What I don’t suggest is that it came about because I was in any sense model material: my extremely modest record in pulling is ample evidence of that. Of course, at university I also continued my unfortunate habit of falling hard for manly, hearty, athletic thickies who were as straight as a Roman road, which did not and does not help matters. Nonetheless, I think it proper to give credit to my tailor for the Curious Incident of the Japanese Photographer. (I may say that I had the same tailor-fitter from my first real suit until his death in the 1990s, God rest his soul, a charming, elderly Jewish gentleman who was an absolute tyrant about what I could and could not carry off successfully in terms of clothes. The sole difficulty in submitting to his benevolent despotism was that, of course, one could not make a Saturday appointment.) Given what was going on in my salad days – and God knows I was pea-green in judgement – with Aids and no one yet realising, it is probably just as well that I did not have a better pull record.

In the end, though, what matters, what has mattered, what has made me through all the intervening years who and what I am, remains, and I hold to it. That green-and-gold childhood, drowsy, somnolent, leaf-shaded, sun-dappled, far from the racket and the rackety great world, touched by cultivation but rooted in immemorial pasture, free. Church choirs and woods and streams and cattle, dogs and horses and the abiding land under a clear and twilit sky, with bat and bird darting through the fading light and restful peace upon the earth.

That is what I hold to.

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12 comments or Leave a comment
avus From: avus Date: September 12th, 2005 01:13 am (UTC) (Link)
A flowering of disclosure out of the conservative earth of reticence. Had I not disclosed as much as I have, though in drips & drabs, and not nearly so engagingly, you might tempt me into it myself.

It well-explains the Baedekerism.

What struck me, in reading this, is how different, yet how similar. As I've said, growing up in a small town, with family & friends of family going back generations, my raising was more like the 19th than the 20th c. As was yours. But my background lacks the centuries antecedents -- barely over a century for me -- and I rather doubt any of your places were accurately called, as my home was, Poverty Point. Yet still....

And I, too, combined the active with the aesthetic. I played football -- American football -- defensive tackle & defensive end -- and ran the mile -- doing both poorly, but enthusiastically -- while I also played the piano (mom was a piano teacher; I learned to read music the same time I learned to read -- I can't comprehend illiteracy in either area), sang in choir and played percussion in the band. Now I surely lacked the breadth and quality of your instruction. No great student of a great conductor ever came near me, though I was, for a time, a conductor. My mother had no visions of opera or the concert stage. We never visited Chicago for concerts, let alone London. And my education in the humanities could never touch yours -- in the late 1960's, I started out w/ a passion for politics, this for years before I turned, in disgust, to music -- still & on a lesser scale, the parallels....

In my town, every house held a mother who would look out for me, and correct me. That may be why I spent to much time on the river & its islands. But I had many friends & cousins in these pursuits, and a dog here & there, this from the time I was born. I might have gotten into fishing, but before I entered school, the towns & industries upriver had so polluted the river that eating the fish, or swimming, became impossible. It's getting better, though slowly.

But I ramble -- see what you tempt me into? It's your fault!

Delightful reading, and a fascinating growing up. So glad you write it.

wemyss From: wemyss Date: September 12th, 2005 10:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

All Variations On a Theme, Old Man.

Probably of Thomas Tallis's.

I note from the dearth of comment that either we were all rapt in watching the Ashes, or I'm even more boring than I thought I was.
avus From: avus Date: September 12th, 2005 11:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: All Variations On a Theme, Old Man.

Via Raph Vaughn Williams.

I still say a delight to read. I've noted that the longer & more complex the post, the fewer the comments. The only long-ish posts I've ever had comments on were bordering on rants or, more likely, subjects where others could rant. I wonder whether much lj-ing has more a cathartic than thoughtful basis.

My, that was curmudgeonly, wasn't it?

Maybe is more than exploratory dialogue, in the tradition of, say, Plato or St. Augustine, has a relatively limited audience.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: September 13th, 2005 08:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

Nnnnnoooo, Actually...

... I really do think, on consideration, that it was all the excitement over the Ashes.
avus From: avus Date: September 13th, 2005 09:47 pm (UTC) (Link)

So glad to be wrong....

And that excitement, of course, would entirely miss me. I'd never heard of "the Ashes" until I read of them in your lj. But then, while I played sports in high school, I follow now sport as a fan -- never had. And we don't have TV, and listen sporadically to the radio. So, of course, I'm left out.

So glad to be wrong.

bufo_viridis From: bufo_viridis Date: September 14th, 2005 01:48 am (UTC) (Link)
As a footnote to the above discussion about commenting I'd like to add that I haven't commented at once, because I was much more overwhelmed than fascinated; and I was fascinated deeply.
I have a link; when I calm down, I'll comment.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: September 14th, 2005 02:09 pm (UTC) (Link)

Gracious. Also: Lawks.

My dear chap. Really, whenever you like. I was being largely facetious, don't think you're ever in any way obliged to comment - although I look forward to anything you wd say, of course.
magic_at_mungos From: magic_at_mungos Date: September 20th, 2005 08:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well colour me not surprised. :D I didn't know details but I could guess a lot from the way you write. Your godmother reminds me of my sister's godmother's family. Slightly barking but utterly lovely.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: September 20th, 2005 08:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

There's Nothing More Eccentric...

... Than Dursleyish types who dread eccentricity. Damn it, the eccentric is an essential British type. Where wd we be without their leavening yeast, pray?

And: Why, am I that transparent? (That was a rhetorical question.)
magic_at_mungos From: magic_at_mungos Date: September 20th, 2005 08:59 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: There's Nothing More Eccentric...

Where wd we be without their leavening yeast, pray?

American Did I say that out loud? Whoops. [/joke]
wemyss From: wemyss Date: September 20th, 2005 09:22 pm (UTC) (Link)


French or German or some damned thing.
wren_chan From: wren_chan Date: January 16th, 2006 06:48 am (UTC) (Link)
*sighs for Kipling and seedy-cake* Ah, well.

*giggles* This is what happens when one digs through old mails never read at last.

...actually, would you be willing to read a thing of mine which is a crossover of two series which you shall probably know nothing whatever about? I mean, if I can hold my mother's three-second attention span with it, there's got to be something there...

You'll find it over at my lj, if you care to have a look.
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