20th November, 1917

My “little Mary” has been a bit out of order, but am getting her right again by drinking plenty of hot milk which I buy from the farmeresses and heat up in my mess-tin.  Practically all the rustic population here is Flemish, the French appearing to prefer town life.  Flemish is a rather ugly language, several words being identical with their English equivalents, e.g. ‘water’, and it naturally contains an intermixture of French but it is a low German language like Dutch, English, etc. (it’s rather annoying to think our language is “low-German” isn’t it?).  Their children are taught French in the schools but probably relapse into the vernacular.

Have recently noticed a number of very large birds in the fields, of a deep bluish colour, which I imagine to be jack-daws, and a few still larger birds which have extra-ordinary long wand-like tails and strut about in great importance – they beat me altogether.  The cattle seem to be kept in stalls practically all the time, the land being used entirely for cropping.  The most hideous, flop-eared flesh-coloured porkers flounder about in the filth of the farm-yards all day long.  Their ears are so huge as to practically blind them and their lives seem to be a succession of shocks at finding themselves running into some danger or other.  It is quite prehistoric to see men sowing by hand, using a flail, harrowing with one horse and a wooden implement, three-wheeled waggons and so on.  We are sprawling about in our barn trying to read and write by the most villainous slush lamps, the grease from which is drip-dripping over our belongings.  The doors are so small that the interior has never seen the light of day and we lose our smaller articles in the straw, then hunt for them with matches, lighted cigarettes or flash lamps.  Have just been interrupted by a rather exciting diversion in the shape of W. and his neighbour (on the outer edge, who says that with 2 lawyers one side and a yawning gulf on the other he is literally between the Devil and the deep sea), getting the slush lamp quite out of control and having to empty the whole blazing mass out into a mess-tin where it slowly and alarmingly spluttered and stunk itself to death.  Alas, more joy is in store for us, a fresh batch of those unnatural beasts with the reciprocating or rag-time ears having just arrived; moreover I hear that they are both fat and frisky, even frolicsome in their freshness.  To regale you with any detailed account of the encroachment of King Mud, or mud in relation to mules, or mud in any shape or form (it hasn’t any) would not prove very entertaining.

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