Saw some very old cottages in Middleton on route march and an old Inn at which Dick Turpin is said to have stayed, the masonry trellised with oak beams. It was the shop’s half holiday and the female population gaped and grinned at us in thousands and at the schools the kiddies were let out in droves to look at us.
Yesterday I had Manchester leave. Set out in company of one Brodie, a signaller. We had a look around the Belle Vue Gardens again. Huge crowds everywhere. Then to Whintworth Institute. Fairly interesting though few famous pictures. There was however a collection of Turner sketches, a lot of water-colours of the old school and a lot of very fine architectural drawings in colour of Belgian and other cities by Prout. Visited the Art Gallery again to get another look at Watt’s pictures and Rodin’s statues. We then went to a cafe limited to 1/3 worth of food, had 2 eggs on toast and three small pieces of shortbread (awful stuff). After a cigar, a liqueur etc. we set out by a different tram route via Hollingwood and Oldham, stopping at the latter for a last drink and look round the weird Fair by lamplight. Finished off with a plebeian feed of meat and potatoes in a “peoples” hash-house where the proletariat were gorging potato-pie, horseflesh, and other delicacies. The profound, ugly, hopelessness of life in these big manufacturing towns baffles description – millions of moony girls and youths and poor dirty little kiddies whose whole life is passed in gloomy streets of tenement houses, without gardens or any kind of decoration.
[Note – below image is the cover of the 1917 “Official Guide” to the Belle Vue Gardens, Manchester. A link to the full guide can be found here].
Practice wearing gas masks, hideous and stinking things they are. I should think the main thing in a gas attack would be to keep your head. Rumour (Latrinalia) that we will be here for months, but it goes hand in hand with an assertion that we go to Mesopotamia! Raining hard but the chaps can’t resist the temptation to go out and blow their pay. R. has gone out to buy a flute, an instrument he plays from ear. I am quite interested in him. Though he is only 21 and has been brought up on a farm he has a teacher’s certificate. He is a peculiar-looking chap with a high pointed head and very curved features, almost jewish. Loves hard work, yet a dreamer.
Tell O’Meara that I have smoked his pipe every day since he gave it to me and it is still going strong, but not too strong.
The state of hard-upness of most of the men a few days before pay-day is amusing; auction sales of their belongings; pennyworths of cheap cigarettes etc. The last development has been to keep the gas alight and a few dead matches on the table, as most of them are out of matches. Cadging is rife but one has to be firm.
Route march this afternoon – awfully hot and after a couple of miles we had half an hour’s rest in a paddock listening to selections from the band. The cattle became very attentive listeners and invaded the ring of instrumentalists, also nosed around the reclining officers, much to general merriment.
Walked by a canal with a new mate; chap named Roche. He is good fun and very imaginative. Whilst I did a sketch he couldn’t resist the temptation to get into the canal with a whole horde of boys who were bathing there. To get in the water with a certain degree (minimum) of modesty, he wound an old rag around his loins and took a header into the unknown. The chief difficulty arose after he got out, which he overcame by getting back wet into his clothes. R. is a bit of a dreamer and can’t sleep for the workings of his imagination and often roams around the camp half-dressed at all hours of the night.
Set out with sketching gear furtively concealed but did nothing. Moreover I was buttonholed by a garrulous and not-to-be-shaken-off cove who had been gassed and who seemed bent on telling me his life’s history, including the interesting fact that he was in the retail grocery business in N.Z.
Off to Oldham. Got aboard several wrong trams but eventually reached the G’s. All of G’s brothers are parsons but he hates city life and would like to live in the country. Like most Englishmen he is pretty reserved, a quality I don’t possess at all, but we get on well together.
Two bibulous signallers arrived at about 10 p.m. in excellent form – executed several very dishabille Maud Allan dances and knocked the stove chimney and its contents of soot down over a very jumpy youth who was trying to sleep. Thereat he rose in wrath to stoush the offender who however was too game and swiftly sat in triumph (nude) on the stousher’s head. This was followed by a lengthy bacchanalian variety show, interspersed with semi-legal descriptions of the proceedings they were going to institute against an offending tram conductor, and finally concluded with an amazing duet in Chinese (they had been acting as signallers in the Chinese boat en voyage and picked up some of their melodious lingo). I haven’t laughed so much for months.
This evening attempted to sketch the Canal. A couple of rough-looking men strolled up and one of them suggested quite intelligent improvements I might have made by taking liberties with the landscape. His small son threw a handful of dirt at me from behind.
Rain commenced on St. Swithin’s Day and it is the local superstition that if it rains on that day the rain will continue for 40 days and 40 nights.
Out grazing horses. I noticed innumerable baby frogs no bigger than a blow-fly in the wet grass – one was making frantic efforts to get out of the way of the horse’s mouth and I could imagine what the great blubbing lips of the horse looked like to him – goggly. I can now appreciate Dad’s experience when he was a boy of seeing them actually falling with the rain, probably taken up by some waterspout. His mates swallowed some of them out of bravado. Went to a sort of variety-show given by Manchester girls. Some of the songs would hardly have met with your approval, but men are made of sterner stuff. The song which took best this evening, and I must confess I rather liked it myself, was “Come and Cuddle Me”, sung by a lanky jolly-faced girl with a very large mouth. I am writing with this villainous needle-pointed pen – in fact, la putrid plume. Here endeth the umpteenth Epistle to the Antipodeans.