Friday, August 07, 2020

Cambridge, London, the rack


Japanese Anemones

Most urgent of all, there were notes and memoranda scribbled on pieces of coarse office copy paper. They were from himself to himself. ‘Ring Muller abt t buzzards piece,’ they said. ‘Ask Sims abt t libel poss of sayg chem frtlisr klls hdghgs.’ ‘Check w Straker on immac concep VM.’ ‘RING MORLEY FIND OUT WHERE T HELL COPY FOR FRI IS.’
     But how could he ring Morley to find out where the hell his copy for Friday was? Every time he stretched out his hand to pick up the phone it rang in his face.
    ‘Hello,’ he sighed into it. ‘Dyson … Yes … Good … Bless you … Bless you, bless you … Wonderful … Perfect … Bless you.’ 
    And scarcely had he had time to put it down and mutter ‘Silly tit’ before it was ringing again. It was an awfully bad day for Dyson, as he told Bob from time to time, when he had a moment. 
    ‘Somebody wouldn’t like to ring Morley, would they,’ he pleaded, ‘and find out where the hell his copy for Friday is?’ 
    The words broadcast themselves about the empty air, their urgency fading by the inverse square of the distance. . .
    Dyson stood up, trying to get the work on his desk into perspective by gazing down upon it from a great height. Supposing the phone didn’t ring for a minute; whom should he call first? Morley, perhaps – then Sims might be back from court…. No, he’d have to ring Straker, because this was the day Straker had a committee at twelve. But Straker would go on for at least ten minutes about immaculate conception, and he would probably miss Morley. 
    The phone rang again. 
    ‘Oh God,’ he groaned. ‘Hello; Dyson … Ah, I’ve been trying to get hold of you all morning … Yes – I’ve been trying to get hold of you all morning … Exactly – I’ve been trying to get hold of you all morning …’ 
    By the time he put the phone down he couldn’t remember what it was he had been worrying about before. The state of the rack, no doubt; that was what he worried about most of the time. He looked anxiously at the rack of galley proofs behind him. He had only seven ‘The Country Day by Day’ columns in print, and he had sworn never to let the Countries drop below twelve. He had a ‘Meditation’ column for each of the next three days – unless Winters had made a cock-up about immaculate conception, in which case he had only two and a half pieces – but he should have had a running stock of fourteen Meditations. He would have a blitz on Countries; he would have a blitz on Meditations. But then what about the crosswords? He counted them up miserably. God Almighty, he was down to his last eight crosswords! Day by day the presses hounded him; with failing strength he fed them the hard-won pieces of copy which delayed them so briefly. On and on they came! They were catching him up! 
    He sank back into his chair and banged the palms of his hands against his forehead. 

(from Michael Frayn, Towards the End of the Morning (1967))

Michael Frayn's comic novel reflects on his own experience as a Fleet Street journalist, beginning in 1957 for the Guardian and Observer. His pal Nick Tomalin, two years older, was doing similar work at the time, as Claire Tomalin recounts in her memoir A Life of My Own (2017):

Nick decided to leave his parents' home in St John's Wood and find a place of his own -- he was earning a princely £10 a week from the Daily Express. [1955] (p. 115)

[1959] Nick was appointed 'William Hickey', the Express's gossip columnist, which he found uncongenial. I thought he deserved better. (p. 132)

In August [1960], Nick moved to edit the 'Londoner's Diary' on the Evening Standard . . . (p. 135)

He left the Standard and went to edit Town, a magazine owned by Michael Heseltine and Clive Labovitch. It was a glamorous job, making what had been a men's tailoring magazine into a glossy guide to smart London living. [1962]
(p. 140)

Nick had been offered a job on the Sunday Times, writing the 'Atticus' column .... [1963]
(p. 146)

But from 1965 he advanced more permanently into working as a respected foreign journalist. He had briefly been literary editor at the New Statesman, a post later taken up by his wife.

London life for these clever Cambridge alumni came easily in some ways, but not in others. The Tomalins' marriage had many ups and downs, movingly recounted in Claire's memoir. One of their five children had spina bifida and required constant care. There were affairs and separations, none permanent. It ended tragically, when Nick was killed on the Golan Heights by a Syrian missile while reporting on the Arab-Israeli War in October 1973. 

Our three daughters went bravely back to school. Michael Frayn, who loved Nick and was close to me too, carried me off to Hyde Park one morning as the warm days continued. As we sat in the sun, I told him that my greatest fear was for the children, for whatever effect Nick's death would have on them. How could I best help them through this loss? Then he talked to me about losing his own mother when he was twelve -- she died with no warning, and suddenly, of heart failure. He had been very close to her. He was not taken to her funeral and nobody talked about her, after his father's one cry of grief and loss. Reticence of this kind was normal then, seen as a way of protecting children and keeping their spirits up perhaps. He said the world turned grey for him for two years after her death. But he added that he now felt that the loss changed him and made him develop differently, and that he might not have become a writer had she lived. Unprovable of course, but I took comfort from what he said.

(Claire Tomalin, A Life of My Own (2017), pp. 205-206)

(Twenty years after that conversation, the friends married.)

Japanese Anemones

The beautiful, late-flowering and ever-spreading garden plants known as "Japanese Anemones" are actually derived from two species native to China: Anemone hupehensis from central China (leaf ternate), and Anemone vitifolia from W. China and the Himalayas (leaf palmate, 3-5 lobed). They have been cultivated in Japan for hundreds of years. 

The word anemone is classical Latin. It derives from Greek and, according to the OED, means "daughter of the wind" -- anemos (wind) + -one (feminine suffix). My copy of Plant Names Simplified, by A.T. Johnson (1931) revised by H.A. Smith (1947), gives the different derivation anemos + mone: "wind-habitation". (The Anemoi were the wind gods: Boreas, Zephyrus and so on.) 

Pliny claimed that anemones "never open but when the wind is blowing". What plant he may have had in mind is uncertain, as it usually is. But with the revival of learning across Europe the word came to be attached to its current genus (though the very earliest uses in English, by 16th-century botanists, are actually talking about the Pasque Flower, now placed in the related genus Pulsatilla). 

Most anemones (though not the Japanese ones) are spring-flowering, and I think anyone who's seen a bank of wood anemones being almost flattened by the spring breeze will feel that the "wind-flowers" are well named. 

When we were children we couldn't pronounce the word anemone, and our dog-walk through a Kentish wood was full of "wooden enemies". Apparently we were were not alone in this. The OED notes the transposition of nasal consonants as a variant form throughout the word's history.

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