A Moonless Week

LONDON
12th October 1939

DEAREST SUSAN,

I now realize that when I wrote about the black-out in my last letter I was talking about something I hadn't seen. Last week, even before moonrise, there was always a faint glow. This week there is no moon at all, and it is really inky.

I haven't dined out far afield. During moonless weeks, I can see, the tendency is to behave as though one was living in the country without a car, and confine oneself to neighbours who are within groping distance. In fact, London is beginning to feel more and more like a country town, what with the tinkle of bicycle bells and the clopping of hoofs, both of which seem to become commoner every day. In the evening there is so little traffic that people's footsteps on the pavements make quite a loud clatter: before, one could hardly hear them. And apropos (literally for once) des bottes, you've no idea how all this walking has improved people's figures. Men with incipient pots, women who were developing Dunlop ridges above the belt, are now sylphlike. As for Clive Pritchard, he bicycles to his office every day and has become quite unpompous. There seems to be something about bicycling which induces humility; I suppose it's the slightly bowed attitude one has to adopt.

Another noticeable thing is the way people are taking advantage of the wide sandbag ledges to sit comfortably in the sun and eat their lunch. Up till now, we've never been allowed to have café tables out of doors "because they would obstruct the pavements." But now the pavements have been obstructed willy-nilly; and once English people have discovered the fun of eating in the fresh air and watching the passers-by, it's most unlikely that they'll ever again allow themselves to be cooped up indoors against their will.

Two things one misses, the first a little, the second badly. The first is golden windows. It used to be so lovely, that hour after the lamps were lit and before the curtains were drawn, when you could catch glimpses into other people's lives as you walked along the street: a kitchen table with a red bobbey cloth and a fat cook writing a letter, laboriously; or a ground-floor sitting-room, very spick and span, full of obvious wedding presents, with a brand new wife, rather touching and self-important, sitting sewing, her ears visibly tuned for the sound of a latch-key; or an old man by the fire, doing a cross-word, with an empty afternoon behind him and an empty evening in front. And occasionally, by great luck, a dining-room with a child's birthday party going on; a ring of lighted candles round the cake and a ring of lighted faces round the table; one face brighter than all the others, like a jewel on the ring. But now all this is gone. Houses slip straight from day to night, with tropical suddenness. There are no more glimpses; one can only guess.

The other thing I miss, terribly, is children. Not only my own -- I do at least see them (and plenty of others) at weekends: but children in general, as an ingredient of the town's population, a sort of leaven. It may be different in some parts of London, but certainly round here they have acquired a rarity interest. They used to be daisies and are now bee-orchises. One looks round with a lift of pleasure on hearing a child's voice in a bus, and can't take one's eyes off it the whole way, especially if it is young enough to talk and move inconsequently. But when one sees the gas-mask on its lap one's delight is tempered.

I went on Tuesday to the first of the National Gallery war-time concerts. An amazing experience. All sorts of people, young and old, smart and shabby, in uniform and out of it, soldiers, nurses, Salvation Army girls, typists, office-boys, old ladies with ear-trumpets, and a few of the regular "musicals" with coiled plaits. All packed together, sitting on gilt chairs, on black chairs, on green canvas camp-chairs, on the white and brawn-coloured marble floor, even on the piano-dais itself; many others standing up, or leaning against the gilt frames where the big altar-pieces used to be. A few, perhaps, there out of curiosity, but most of them because they were suffering from a raging thirst for music, for tranquillity re-collected through emotion, and for some assurance of pattern and order in a jangled world. She played magnificently and thoughtfully, almost as though she were discovering -- no, uncovering -- the music for the first time. Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms -- ironical, isn't it, how the world has to turn to the great Germans to find healing for the spiritual wounds inflicted on it by the ignoble ones? There were so many people in tears that it might have been a revivalist meeting. So it was, in a way. And the curious thing was that everything she played seemed to have a kind of double loveliness, as though she had managed to distil into it all the beauty of the pictures that were missing from the walls. It was quite unforgettable.

With love, yours ever,

CAROLINE.


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