7 Sept 1916
My dear Betty
A considerable mental shock struck me when I heard you had been to Weston. Weston is associated with half-day excursions, choir-treats, employees’ outings, “CAB” holding small boys by the hand, Mrs Hands puffing in the rear of a human convoy. A place of Brummy coves and Cardiff lands (look you), of trippers and flappers, of broken bottles, paper and mouth organs. I had never heard or thought of anybody going there except for the sake of curiosity. Spending a week there for pleasure was a possibility beyond my wildest dreams.
Yes, you were right about Matric. I hoped you might have over-estimated the pass standard. But you were so sure about having failed in Maths that I was prepared for the result and took it philosophically. I’m glad Miss Lacey has forgiven your falling from grace. A meaner person might have taken the opportunity of rubbing it in. You must keep the letter as a historic document.
How frail and weak a thing is man. Three years ago I was feeling utterly fed up with fruit-picking and I felt that I would rather be doing anything else. If you had put it to me, I should certainly have said that a war would be welcome as a change of holiday. Now I would give anything to be fruit-picking with you. With what a relish I should move ladders, how blithely would I undertake the fruitless (no joie, I protest) quest for pots; how merrily would I weigh up and pack from early morn to gloaming. The prospect of the fruits in their season beginning with Chisels and Early Prolific; through the gradations of Pershores, Pearmains, Hawthorndens, Soft-Apple-by-the-Fence; up the step ascent of Damascenes with batton Pears and various small lots of apples (notably John and Farmers’ Glory) to follow; with a tear for the departed shade of Robert; on through the ranks of Blenheim and Hanwell Souring and so to the last rank remainders classed under the rank title of “grinding fruit” – all this prospect would I survey again with enthusiasm. Yes, to have the privilege of tackling that old task again I would pay a great price and forego the 5d or 6d or 10d or 1/- a pot that used to be so attractive. I would contract to pick for a full five and a half days a week; yea, even if Rosie were staying at Badsey!
I’m awfully glad that Rosie was looking well when you saw her. Working in an office in hot weather is a job that washes most people’s colour out and a good deal of their energy too. It is not a nose to the grindstone office, but certain days of the week and month are pretty tiring. Still if it had not worn her to a shadow by the beginning of August perhaps there will be a little of her left for me to look at when get the chance. It is just approaching three months since I was robbed of my leave by a fiendish higher power. That was the length of time that I then expected the stoppage to last and I still think that the renewal may come at the end of that time, just about.
I should like to see Dorothy Mary now. It is a most engaging age to which she is now coming. You speak of the great disappointment of Captain & Mrs Stebbing at their child being a daughter. Isn’t it a funny mediaeval point of view? I wouldn’t say so if I thought it was the wastage of manhood in the war that made them long for a son. I think it is more deeply inherent than that; that it is a surviving racial prejudice dating back to times when the primogenital custom was at the height of its power.
Glad you are playing piano still. Brahms’ Waltzs! What far-away things these seem, I should like to hear them again. I am glad you don’t find them very hard. We had one treat of music some weeks ago when we were considerably farther from the line than we are now. One of Lena Ashwell’s Concert Parties came and gave a show to our battalion. At two hours’ notice I put up a fine stage with roof and walls complete: the job was done in the best manner of the Old School (Badsey), and though we had no zinc wire and no cart-shed wherein to find material, yet it was constructed of a diversity of makeshift materials and ingeniously adapted articles that would have delighted Boo’s heart. They gave us a mixed programme of old favourite classics and the best of contemporary songs and frivol. For example, there was a Violin Romance of Beethoven and German’s “Nell Gwynn” Dances, a glee of Purcell’s, that delicious “Oh, no John”, two modern sentimental ballads, two or three songs – “The Admiral’s Broom” and “Alcala” were two of them – by a jolly old robust baritone who said he like to sing songs older than himself, and so on. All simple and unambitious, but all well sung and, oh, so welcome. They told us that it was the first time out of hundreds of concerts that they had been able to sing to an actual fighting unit. They keep them at the bases and they only get the opportunity of singing to “details”, or else to ASC, AOD and other denizens of base towns. No small part of the treat was to see nice fresh pretty English girls. A sight of one is like a breath of ozone. French women are rarely pretty in the country and when they are there is a sort of lifeless look about them, so different from the essential vigour of the average Englishwoman.
It is late and I must go to sleep. I will write to Father very soon.