14th November 1944 - Reading - Oxford

Fine sunny morning, not too cold.  Suddenly decided to go to Reading.

Went off down the road to Twyford.  Felt a little faint at the first hill, heart pains more severe than usual.  Reading at 12 o’clock.  How excellent are Simmond’s horses as they trot about the town.  They should be sent on show all over the country.

To the Museum – dark, filthy, depressing.  Not a thing has been touched since I last saw it in 1939, and very little since I first saw it in 1924.

The Silchester Collection is grubby, badly lighted, hardly a label, except a few good ones which I think Seaby did some years ago.  The masses of coarse pots are covered in grime, and have not been touched for years.  Apparently no safety precautions not a single thing has been put away in safety, not even the pillar-moulded bowl nor any of the hand tools or the best T.S. ware.  Even the coins are all in their table cases, though many jolted out of position by the bombs which fell on the other side of the street and have never been replaced.  This was the time when there was a daylight attack in 1942.  It was about 4 o’clock in the p.m. and a restaurant was hit, killing a lot of people.

Noted that although it was not thought worthwhile to protect any objects in the Museum, the War Memorial has been carefully removed from its pedestal in Forbury.

The Architectural Room is still the best part of the collection and it is better arranged and better labelled than any other.

Looked through T.S. ware, and noted 4 sherds which might be Colchester ware.

The magnificent iron tools are quite unprotected.  Horse shoes – stratified? 

The old map of the town is still there, and some faded photos of the Excavations, but no modern labels or general explanation of the place.  The wretched beehive, stood above the coin case, is still a great feature.  The “General” Museum Room is closed, and workmen were busy chipping broken glass out of the skylights, I suppose bomb damage.  Peeped round the curtain and saw that the exhibits seemed to be left in their cases.

The Art Gallery pictures are all taken down, and the famous Bayeux Tapestry “facsimile” is shown there.

This is undoubtedly a very fine thing indeed, and of the greatest value.  I had not previously known that it was done in 1895, at Leek in Staffs, by about 35 ladies, working on drawings supplied by South Kensington.  Why the work was undertaken I don't know.  It makes a wonderful exhibit, but, the labelling is very poor, just dirty white cards, hand written, done about 20 years ago.  One wall is hung with tattered news cuttings describing the tapestry when sent out on tour to various museums about 1928.  The present exhibition is widely advertised in the press, and it seems such a pity not to present it decently.  In the Art Gallery annex is an exhibit of ghastly coloured postcards illustrating Reading, Berkshire County, Pennysylvania, which seems to consist mostly of “drug stores” with a large Chinese pagoda overlooking them from the hills behind.

Could not help remembering how I came here years ago to try for a post as junior assistant.  Maitland advised me strongly against it, I remember.  Wonder how Smallcombe [the Curator at Reading] compares with Hull?

So depressed by Reading, decided to go to Oxford again.  Caught 1.28 which left 10 mins late and took one and a half hours to get to Oxford.

Went to the National Buildings Record again at All Souls, and saw Godfrey.  Got my pass to see bomb damage renewed, and had a long talk,  Had half a mind to ask him for a job, but finally baulked.  Might write to him?  Don't know.

Autumn afternoon was drawing in when I came out into the grey misty hurrying crowds, lights in shops.  Bought paper, but nothing much in it.  Divers last night again.  Went to the cinema.  Saw a very old “Bulldog Drummond” film and realised with a shock how old it was – about 1930 I should think – women’s hats quite curious, old type cars etc.  Film badly made but made me feel quite nostalgic.  Saw also a good old “cowboy” show of Tombstone City and the Wild West.

Came out at 7, and found no train until 10 o’clock.  Suddenly decided to call on Joan Blomfield, though with reluctance.  Took bus to Henley Rd, found the house, Mr and Mrs Petre both in.  At once wished I had never come.  They were both very civil, but I felt uneasy and that there was a coldness.  Felt too that they were both thinking whatever can we find to talk about to this wretched uneducated bore?  He talked about divers and rockets.  There is no doubt great alarm about them all over Southern England.  (Godfrey told me that some divers had recently reached as far as Huntingdon).  The Petres both say that all this relaxing of ARP, fire-watching etc is Morrison’s idea, to make a good impression, and was undertaken to combat the awful apathy and weariness which is spreading throughout the country.  Had coffee and cake, lump sugar.

Joan Blomfield warned me to go before 9, as I should otherwise miss the last bus, and there seemed to be considerable relief at the prospect of my going.

Got to the station just after 9.  Got in conversation with a charming woman of about 40, beautifully dressed, very affable.  Talked about destruction of ancient houses, and the hopelessness of the future.  Of course mentioned Colchester (I always do when talking to strangers) and she said that some years ago she lived at Bromley and knew the Guntors very well, Parrington’s friends.

She came as far as Didcot, to change for Swindon.  Sorry to see her go, so pleasant and such a charming conversationalist.  Train reached Reading at 11.30, nearly an hour late.  Collected cycle and set off.  Got to Shurlock Row about 12.15, and as I opened the garden gate the sirens moaned at Maidenhead, Burchetts Green and the aerodrome.  Nothing happened.  Rain fell heavily, but I could not bring myself to go indoors.  Walked up and down the lane, listening.  Thought how lucky Uncle is to be deaf and to sleep peacefully through all this.  Thought of myself, on this very lawn, 30 years ago, a tiny boy in a yellow linen hat.  Once or twice thought I could hear, very distant, the hum of a diver.  It was not until one o’clock that I saw 2 red flashes reflect on the house, and heard very distant rumbles.  All-clear came within a few minutes and I crept into bed, disturbing nobody.

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