Category Archives: eclectic shocks

Diana Mosely

Diana Mosley Diana Mosley

I’ve been reading the letters of the Mitford sisters and finding one of them fascinating. So fascinating that when I got to the last letter in 2003, I looped straight back to the 1920s and started again. The unexpected revelation is the development of the character of Lady Diana Mosley. The story of the “six hooligan girls” is notorious: there was the writer (Nancy), the lesbian (Pam), the fascist (Diana), the nazi (Unity), the communist (Jessica), and the Duchess (Deborah).  But it’s a much told tale and I didn’t expect to be surprised.

In her teens, Diana was rich and  socially successful, and then she segued into a politically and sexually glamorous femme fatale before turning into a political activist, imprisioned traitor, troubled mother and – finally – she emerges as someone alert to nuance, kind, subtle and gracious. Her letters of the last 50 years show us a patient and wise woman, accepting the difficulties of the path she’d chosen with stoicism and uncomplaining good grace. She is almost humble, as she absorbs a lifetime’s priggish sanctimoniousness from one sister and decades of spiteful jealousy from another. The impossible thing of course is to square these admirable traits with her politics; she was married to Oswald Mosely, founder of the British Union of Fascists. She never recanted, never appeared to regret her quite literal espousal of Fascism, remaining resolutely un-revisionist of her personal and national history until the day she died. 

Hers is an extraordinary story.  She was an impatient teenager who married a rich man who adored her and by the age of 20 she had borne him two heirs. So far, so conventional. Churchill was a cousin, and Diana Mosley may well have been the only person to know both Churchill and Hitler socially. Hitler was a guest of honour at her small and very private wedding to Oswald Mosley. This is the key to her history. She met Mosley in her early 20s and loved him beyond reason for more than 50 years. Her daughter in law suggests that her loyalty cost her so much that she could not admit the immorality of European Fascism. Her relationship certainly cost her a lot: she was cut off from her younger sisters, her older sister betrayed her, she was imprisoned in Holloway and separated from her children (her youngest son was 11 weeks old and not even weaned when she was arrested).

Judged by his actions, Mosley was a deeply unpleasant man: while his first wife was dying he kept two main mistresses – one was Diana but the other was his wife’s younger sister. He was never faithful to his first wife, and rarely faithful to Diana during the early years. If he was greedy for sexual conquest, he was also greedy for personal power. He was at one time a Labour MP, at another time a Conservative and he founded the British Union of Fascists only when it became obvious that he was not going to achieve office as a Socialist.  A woman as intelligent and sensitive as the Diana who emerges from the later letters would not have loved a man who was merely selfish, brutish and greedy.  There must have been more to Mosley in person than comes through from a mere list of things he did.  There are men who are sexy, charming, clever and deliciously good in bed but so self-directed they simply don’t understand the need for morals or scruples. They used to be called cads or bounders, and the intelligent ones are particularly devastating.   It’s clear that Moseley was one of these, and an intelligent woman will fall for a cad far more quickly than she’ll fall for a bore.

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters

As we read the early letters we find her caught up in her love for Mosley and then in its consequences, in particular the separation from her children. The turning point in her letters seems to be the death of her younger sister Unity in 1948. If Diana was swept into Fascism by sexual and romantic love, Unity became a fascist because she needed an outlet for a passionate and fanatical nature. She wanted a cause and a leader, and Fascism gave her both. It was Unity and not Mosley who provided Diana with her entré to the highest levels of the third Reich. 

Unity’s blind adoration of Hitler rings out shockingly from her letters. She trembled at the very site of him. No-one helped her meet him, she engineered that on her own when she found a café where his group would often dine, and had lunch there alone again and again until he eventually asked her over to his table. She seems to have been no more than an adoring and pretty acolyte, albeit a remarkably well connected one. Certainly she had none of her sister’s intelligence or acuity.  Even so, Hitler paid her medical bills when she attempted suicide on the day the war broke out and he arranged for her to be transferred to neutral Switzerland. She survived another 9 years with the mental capacity of a 12 year old and the emotional stability of a toddler.  All the Mitford sisters loved the pre-war Unity for herself, no matter how much they deplored her politics and Diana of course did not deplore her politics. So who knows what her reaction was when Unity died unexpectedly aged 33 when an infection flared up in the bullet wound.

Compare Diana’s tactful letter to Nancy with Nancy’s insouciant, almost defiant, reply.

Diana:

… it seems that Muv has got an idea that you think she oughtn’t ever to have taken Boud [Unity] away from Prof Cairns [her neurologist] – of course I knew this had never crossed your mind but if you could write and put something comforting about how wonderful it was that Birdie [Unity] was able to go about … and not be a hospital case all those years – or you will think of something much cleverer than that …

Nancy: 

… not only never did such an idea cross my mind, but I couldn’t imagine that anybody could think such a thing. I vaguely remember that under the stress of great emotion & after that dreadful journey (I was really ill with it you know) I said ‘Oh but didn’t you send for Cairns’ which I now see was very tactless – but like that & no more than that.

Perhaps the key to the sensitive, patient, accepting woman who emerges after Unity’s death is summed up in the last line of her letter to Nancy:

… the fact is all deaths bring remorse, isn’t it odd.

But it seems slick to assume that it wass simple and obvious as that, and certainly those traits could not have come to the fore if they’d not been there all along.  So maybe the question is not so much why did they emerge as why were they hidden?  And there is no way of knowing the answer to that one.

Where was my grandmother…

Where was my grandmother… on the night of Sunday 2 April, 1911?  She wasn’t at home with her parents and sisters, which is a surprise because she was only 13.

I know she wasn’t at home because I’ve just looked her up on the 1911 Census. An alluring and expensive way of spending an evening. I’m a huge fan of the National Archives (their podcasts are exceptional) and they have done a superb job with the census site.  I hate to think how long it took and how much it cost to transcribe those millions of lines of scrawly manuscript.  So I really cannot begrudge them their money.  I’d have happily spent an evening cyber-stalking my ancestors if I could have done it for free, and the seven quid I spent has enabled me to turn turn up some mysteries.  I think I may have just discovered an expensive new hobby.

Three things are odd about the census transcript for my great-grandfather’s household.  

  • They weren’t living where I thought they were.   They certainly owned the house on the hill both before and after 1911, so why wasn’t the family there at the time?
  • Then their youngest daughter is shown as being 26 years old in 1911.  I’m almost certain she was two or three years younger than grandma, not 13 years older.  
  • And finally, as I mentioned,  my grandmother and her brother were away from home that night.   

It turns out she was at school, and the jpeg of the entry for the school showed me a couple of other interesting things. 

  • Her 15 and 16 year old classmates had their marital status recorded, which looks decidedly odd in the middle of a list of school-girls.   The choices were “Single, Married, Widower or Widow” which is quaint in itself.  
  • One of her classmates had the same name as my godmother – so I find myself wondering if our grandmothers were school-fellows.

It would be expensively easy to click “buy more credits” again and again and five mysteries for a fiver isn’t bad going really.  But I’ll resist and savour the unknowingness.   Though I might get in touch with siblings and cousins to see what they think.

Green and golden

I am now at the age where I find the loveliness of teenage girls almost unbearable.  I have to look away from  them on trains because if I did look at them, I’d stare and stare and stare and it would all be very creepy indeed.

They are so young, and so beautiful, and they cover up skin that’s clearer than snow with claggy make-up because they have no idea how beautiful they are, or how soon they will stop being young.  And they are still beautiful despite the claggy make-up, and the ill-judged and unbalanced clothes, and their dreadful garish accessories.

Hark at me, as if I know how to choose clothes and accessories.  And I didn’t when I was young, either, but I bet I was beautiful then and I had absolutely no idea.

And you too.

And the old lady sitting across the aisle, fidgeting with her walking stick and her handbag.  So many summers ago, she was sitting on the train with her sisters, comparing the cheap trinkets they’d bought in town on a Saturday as the train sped them all into the here and now.

There are so many layers of poignance right there on the train.

Eclectica

I do love it when people who don’t know about this blog use the word ‘eclectic’ to describe my interests, taste or activities.  Always gives me a frisson of pleasure.  The most recent was in the the marking on last term’s girlie-swot assignment:

Your bibliography contained a substantial and eclectic mix of sources, a number of which were unfamiliar to me.

Hot damn!

I must get out of the habit of citing Lucy Kellaway though.

Things, and when to Get Rid of them

William Morris claimed that you should have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.  I know he was rebelling against the suffocating sentimentality of the Victorians, but even so I think that you should also have things which remind you of people or places that you’ve loved, otherwise you might as well live in a show-home.  But Morris’s point is a good one, well made. You certainly should not have things made in Chinese sweat-shops out of metallised plastic which are hideous and pointless and which you keep for a month, but that is a different subject for a different day.  This post is about Getting Rid of Things.

Three years ago I was living in temporary accommodation with everything I owned in storage except my laptop, some clothes, books and kitchen knives.  (Why are other peoples’ kitchen knives impossible to use?  It’s not even as if mine are sharp.  But they can tell who’s using them, you know).  I was tempted to get the storage company to send the lot to auction and to take myself off to Ikea with the profits and start again from minimalist scratch.  I missed none of it.  Not a jot, not a tittle.  But of course when it arrived I unpacked it all and couldn’t bring myself to throw any of it away.  Ho no.

In part it’s brainwashing by two generations of frugal and determined women who convinced me that waste is wicked.  But you have to worry about the sanity of someone who thinks that keeping the salad drawer from a long gone fridge is a way of avoiding waste.  Behold that lunatic.  These days of course disposing of anything in landfill is irresponsibly feckless, so I still tend to store rubbish rather than throwing it away.

It was also drummed in to my head that it was rude to dispose of a gift.  For years I had a badly made clock about 9″ high, shaped like a long-case (grandfather) clock.  It was red and painted with white flowers.  I loathed it from the day my godmother gave it to me, but I kept it for decades because it would be rude to throw it away. It still affects me.  The women I bought my house from gave me a picture of the valley taken in the 19th century which their deceased brother had acquired at some time.  Can I get rid of it?  Can I heck.  I’m thinking of framing the wretched thing.

Then there’s the Great Book Debate.  Iris Murdoch, I think, kept every book she had ever owned.  On the one hand I can see that would become a fascinating record of one’s intellectual journey, but on the other hand it strikes me as self-indulgent narcissism.  I’m simply not interested in the same things now as I was 20 years ago.   And then there’s the matter of space.  Where would I keep them all?

The internet continues to change my attitude to books. A couple of days ago picked over the books I keep in the kitchen which tend to be about food and sex (on the basis that they are both appetites of the flesh).   I had assumed, in Morris’s terms, that they were useful, so I was surprised to find that I only intend to keep about half a dozen cookery books.  These are the ones which were given to me by women who loved me who are now long dead and a few which are more social documents than cookery books, for example Mrs Beeton and a book of recipes and anecdotes from post-War rural France.  If I want your actual recipes, then the internet is nearer and quicker than a recipe book.

But still there’s this terrible tyranny of Things. ‘Keep it’, my Grandmother used to say, ‘you’ll never know when you’ll need it’.  Indeed.  But if you have too many Things then that strategy backfires: today I discovered that I’ve got a whizzy spinning bowl which gets the water off washed lettuce leaves.  Only the other day I was thinking ‘I need a whizzy spinning bowl to get the water off these lettuce leaves, but where would I keep it?’.  I’d kept the one I’d already got for so long and buried it so deep, that I’d no idea I’d got the bloody thing.

Right.  That’s me blogged.  I need to load up the car and then I’m off to the charity shop  and the tip.

Every now and again…

Every now and again something on the internet delights one in to a full blown laughter-based endorphin rush.

These, from the splendid blog What Not To Crochet, sent me giggling off to bed last night.  The shameful, shameful thing is that I rather like them.

Emily’s EcoJustice Challenge – are you up for it?

I tumbled across Emily’s EcoJustice Challenge when reading Charlotte’s blog. Please read Emily’s whole post, in the meantime, I’m cutting to the chase and quoting verbatim.

So, here is how this challenge will work. The first step is for anyone who wants to participate to pass the link onto at least five other people (or even if you don’t plan to participate, if you like the idea, please pass it on). If you have a blog of your own, this can easily be accomplished merely by linking to this site in a post on your own blog. Below is a list of things you can choose to do. Once every quarter between now and April 21, 2009, I will add to this list. Your challenge is to choose something from this list, to experiment with it, and to post about it here. Or, if you’d rather not post, that’s fine. You can just choose what you want and leave comments on this blog. You can choose to implement as many or as few from the list as you would like. You can choose to stick with one (or more) for an entire quarter, or you can mix and match (one — or more — this month, a different one next month, etc.). My hope is that by the end of the year, at least one item from the whole list will have become a way of life for you and your family. And if you’re already doing some or all of these things, come up with others you want to do, share them with us, and post on them instead.

To join the blog as a posting member, please send an email to: ecojustice08 AT gmail DOT com with your user name and the email address you’d like to use for the purposes of this blog. I will add you to the list of users. Also, please post on your own blog, if you have one. That’s it. And now, here are your choices for this quarter:

1. Choose one day a week in which you will not use your car at all (barring a major emergency, like having to drive your spouse/child to the hospital for stitches). Before you immediately dismiss this one, because you have to drive to and from work every day, please think about it. Is there no one with whom you could carpool two days a week? If so, the day you’re not driving would be the perfect day not to use your car at all.

2. Choose one “black out night” per week. All lights and all electrical appliances are off by 7:30 p.m. and don’t go on again until the next morning. What will you do without lights, television, your computer? Well, the weather’s getting nice where many of us live. Sit out on the porch/deck and tell stories. Read by candle light. Write letters by candle light. Play games by candle light. You know, people did this sort of thing for thousands of years. My guess is that if you have kids, this will be an exciting and fun challenge for them.

3. Choose two days a week in which you are only going to eat organic and/or locally-grown food. Do you know that inorganic farming is one of the best examples of evolution that we’ve got going these days? All the pesticides that have been used to grow our food have helped to create “super bugs” who are becoming more and more resistant to our chemicals. We’re definitely losing this battle in more ways than one. Talk to the people at your local farmer’s markets. Many of them are growing their food organically anyway; they just aren’t certified, because it’s a difficult and expensive process to be so. Buying locally, of course, cuts down on the oil used to transport food long distances.

4. If you need to go anywhere that’s within a 2-mile round trip radius of your home, walk or bike. Where might this be? The first place that springs to mind for me is your children’s school bus stop. Perhaps the post office is close to your home. The library? For me, it’s both the post office and the bank. If you’re super lucky, maybe you have a farmer’s market that’s close by. Or maybe you don’t live close enough to anything, but you do work close by to that deli, say, where you always drive to pick up lunch.

5. Read that challenging book about the environment that you’ve been putting off reading, you know the one you don’t want to read, because it might make you a little uncomfortable (e.g. The World without Us, Diet for a Small Planet, Affluenza). Read it. Post about it. Maybe implement an idea or two based on what you’ve read.

6. Buy only those things sold in recyclable packaging and make sure you recycle that packaging.

None of it should be too hard, right?

But all of it really is hard, isn’t it?

I’m going for the two options I’m already nearly doing, I’m afraid, which are the organic and local veg and recycling the packaging.  But since I’m already 3/4ths of the way there with those two, I’m also going to go for the lights-out option one day a week because it’s summer and it should be easy.   The thing that would make the biggest difference is if I wangled a transfer and worked in t’city, because I could get there by public transport.  Hmmm.  Small steps, I think, for the time being.

Much missed

About 6 months ago I signed up to the I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue newsletter, planning to attend a recording next time Humph and the crew stopped off a motorway with a 6 in it.  Then last week I got an email saying that the next season of ISIHAC had been postponed because Humph was ill.  It seems the spam mail of destiny, etc.

Here, In tribute to one of the funniest, filthiest, cleverest of gentleman-broadcasters is an illicit recording made earlier this year.  Thanks to the person who posted it, and thanks to Humph, for so much sly good humour over the years.

I didn’t know I’d miss him quite so much.  Monday nights will never be the same.

Choosing art

I had the interesting experience of selecting paintings for an exhibition the other day.  I work for a Great Big Company and the local council contacted various Groups in the Community to ask for volunteers to pick paintings for a Peoples’ Choice exhibition.  (It’s Blairite, but is it Art?)  So I said “that’ll be me then” and volunteered.

There were seven or so of us, and we were given an enormous catalogue of the paintings in public ownership in the county, and told to pick three each and state our reasons.  (The catalogue turned out to be fascinating and desirable in its own right and, since it’s available from Amazon, I’ve just bought myself a copy.  Damn.) The chap was a curator at one of the local museums or art galleries and he encouraged us to be simple and direct in our reasons, giving examples of things that other groups such as school children had said.

Three?

Bugger.

It would have been easy to consult with others and pick a whole exhibition of social history, or local faces, or even specifically non-local work, but it was much, much harder to pick just three.

I resisted choosing damaged pictures just because they were damaged which gives them an added layer of meaning in my pretentious world.  I resisted picking the local views because that was all a bit too obvious.  I resisted two enormous and gloomy portraits of a grimly smug victorian couple which I wanted to pick on the ground that – hey look, these people are so freaking different from people today.

I discovered that when push came to shove I preferred portraits, which was rather depressing.  My brow is higher than that, surely?   I did steer myself away from just picking portraits and resisted the option to show off by going entirely for abstracts.

It was an interesting insight into the world of the curator and the choices involved in putting together an exhibition.  I’ve bought myself a copy of the catalogue of the county’s art collection, and I’m looking forward to the exhibition.  I should love it.  What better way could there be to arrive at an eclectic mix?

Rubbishing Art

RubbishingArt

Harsh critique, eh?

(Photographed with the Samsung G800, with the contrast turned up a bit with PhotoImpact).