I read a lot.
This means i’ve stumbled upon a lot of people. Few of these arrest my mind, one does it everytime (a feat, considering its Romani bent). Here’s an excerpt from a book of his, i hope u like it- and i infringe a few copyright laws.
STRANGELY ENOUGH I felt almost immediately at home in Boulogne.
As the direct boat from Folkestone no longer sailed, we took the Golden Arrow from Victoria and I was relieved to notice that my aunt had not brought with her the red suitcase. The English side of the Channel lay bathed in a golden autumn sunlight. By the time we reached Petts Wood the buses had all turned green, and at Orpington the oast-houses began to appear with their white cowls like plumes in a medieval helmet. The hops climbing their poles were more decorative than vines, and I would gladly have given all the landscape between Milan and Venice for these twenty miles of Kent. There were comfortable skies and unspectacular streams; there were ponds with rushes and cows which seemed contentedly asleep. This was the pleasant land of which Blake wrote, and I found myself regretting that we were going abroad again. Why had my father not died in Dover or Folkestone, both equally convenient for a day’s excursion?
And yet when at last we came to Boulogne, stepping out of the one coach from Calais reserved for that port on the Flèche d’Or, I felt that I was at home. The skies had turned grey and the air was cold and there were flurries of rain along the quays, but there was a photograph of the Queen over the reception desk in our hotel, and on the windows of a brasserie I could read ‘Good Cup Of Tea. East Kent Coach Parties Welcome Here.’ The leaden gulls which hovered over the fishing boats in the leaden evening had an East Anglian air. A scarlet sign flashed over the Gare Maritime saying ‘Car Ferry’ and ‘British Railways’.
It was too late that evening to search for my father’s grave (in any case the next day was his true anniversary), and so my aunt and I walked up together to the Ville Haute and strolled around the ramparts and through the small twisted streets which reminded me of Rye. In the great crypt of the cathedral an English king had been married, there were cannon balls lying there shot by the artillery of Henry VIII, and in a little square below the walls was a statue of Edward Jenner in a brown tailed-coat and brown tasselled boots. An old film of Treasure Island with Robert Newton was showing at a small cinema in a side-street not far from a club called Le Lucky where you could listen to the music of the Hearthmen. No, my father had not been buried on foreign soil, Boulogne was like a colonial town which had only recently ceased to be part of the Empire, and British Railways lingered on at the end of the quay as though it had been granted permission to stay until the evacuation was complete. Locked bathing-huts below the casino were like the last relics of the occupying troops, and the mounted statue of General San Martin on the quay might have been that of Wellington.
We had dinner in the restaurant of the Gare Maritime, after walking over the cobble-stones and across the railway lines with no one about. The pillars of the station resembled the pillars in a cathedral deserted after dark: only a train from Lyon was announced like a hymn number which no one had bothered to take down. No porter or passenger stirred on the long platforms. The British Railways office stood empty and unlighted. There was a smell everywhere of oil and weed and sea and a memory of the morning’s fish. In the restaurant we proved to be the sole diners: only two men and a dog stood at the bar and they were preparing to go. My aunt ordered soles a la Boulonnaise for both of us.
‘Perhaps my father came here the night before he died,’ I considered aloud. Ever since I had picked Rob Roy from the shelf I had thought frequently of my father, and remembering the photograph and the expression of the young girl, I believed that my aunt must have loved him too in her way. But if I were looking for sentimental memories I had come to the wrong character—a man dead was a man dead, so far as my aunt was concerned.
‘Order the wine, Henry,’ she said. ‘You know you have a morbid streak. This whole expedition is a sign of it—and the urn which you so carefully preserve. If your father had been buried at Highgate I would never have come with you. I don’t believe in pilgrimages to graves unless they serve another purpose.’
‘What other purpose does this serve?’ I asked rather snappily.
‘I have never before been to Boulogne,’ Aunt Augusta said. ‘I am always ready to visit a new place.’
‘Like Uncle Jo,’ I said, ‘you want to prolong life.’
‘Certainly I do,’ my aunt replied, ‘because I enjoy it.’
‘And how many rooms have you occupied so far?’
‘A great many,’ my aunt said cheerfully, ‘but I don’t think I have yet reached the lavatory floor.’
‘I got to go home.’ One of the men at the bar spoke in piercing English. He was a little tight and when he stooped to pat his dog he missed it completely.
‘One more for the ferry,’ his companion said. From the phrase I took it that he belonged to British Railways.
‘The bloody Maid of Kent. My wife was a maid of Kent once.’
‘But no longer, billyo, no longer.’
‘No longer. Tha’s why I have to be home at twenty-one fucking hours.’
‘She’s jealous, billyo.’
‘I’ve never loved a weak man,’ my aunt said. ‘Your father wasn’t weak—he was lazy. Nothing in his opinion was really worth a fight. He wouldn’t have fought for Cleopatra herself—but he would have found a way round. Unlike Antony. It astonishes me that he ever came as far as Boulogne.’
‘Perhaps it was on business.’
‘He would have sent his partner. Now his partner—his name was William Curlew—was a weak man if ever there was one. He envied your father his little adventures—he found it hard enough to satisfy one woman. It weighed on his mind terribly, for his wife was really without fault. She was sweet, efficient, good-tempered—the fact that she was a little demanding might have been taken by another man as a virtue. Your father, who was a much more imaginative man than people usually thought or your mother realized, suggested a plan to him, for, as William had pointed out, one can’t leave a perfect woman—one has to be left. He was to write his wife anonymous letters accusing himself of infidelity. The letters would serve a fourfold purpose. They would protect his vanity, offer a reasonable explanation of his flagging attentions, crack his wife’s perfection, and might even lead eventually to divorce with his honour as a man saved (for he was determined to deny nothing). Your father composed the first letter himself; William typed it badly on his own typewriter, and put it in the kind of yellow envelope he used for bills (that was a mistake). The letter read. “Your husband, madam, is a shameful liar and an ignoble lecher. Ask him how he spends his evenings when you are at the Women’s Institute, and how he gets through all the money he spends. What you save on the housekeeping enriches another woman’s placket.” Your father liked obsolete words—that was the influence of Walter Scott. ‘There was to be a party at the Curlews’ the evening the letter arrived. Mrs Curlew was very busy plumping cushions; she took the yellow envelope for a bill, and so she put it down on a table without looking at it. You can imagine poor William’s anxiety. I knew him well in those days, indeed your parents and I were both present at the party. Your father hoped to be in at the death, but when the time came to go, and your father couldn’t linger any longer, even on the excuse of talking a little business, the letter still remained unopened. He had to learn the details of what happened later from William.
‘Melany—that was her silly name and it sounded even sillier when attached to Curlew—was tidying up the glasses when William found the yellow envelope under an occasional table. “Is this yours, dear?” he asked and she said it was only a bill.
‘”Even a bill has to be opened,” William said and handed her the envelope. Then he went upstairs to shave. She never insisted on his shaving before dinner, but very early in their marriage she had indicated unmistakably that she preferred him at night with a smooth cheek—her skin was very delicate. (Foreigners always said that her complexion was typically English.) The bathroom door was open and William saw her put the yellow envelope down on the dressing-table still sealed. He nicked himself in three places under the strain of waiting and had to stick on little dabs of cotton wool to stop the bleeding.’
The man trailed past our table with the dog. ‘Come on. you bugger,’ he said, hauling dispiritedly on the lead.
‘Back to the maid of Kent,’ his friend teased him from the bar.
I had begun to recognize the gleam in my aunt’s eyes. She had had it in Brighton, when she recounted the history of the dogs’ church, and in Paris when she told me of the affair with Monsieur Dambreuse, and in the Orient Express when she described Mr Visconti’s escape . . . She was deeply absorbed in her story. I am sure my father—the admirer of Walter Scott— would not have told the story of the Curlews nearly so dramatically; there would have been less dialogue and more description.
‘William,’ my aunt went on, ‘came in from the bathroom and climbed into the enormous double bed which Melany had chosen herself at Maples. In his anxiety William had not taken a book with him. He wanted the crisis to arrive. “I won’t be long, dear,” Melany said, busy with Pond’s cold cream which she preferred to any newer brand for the sake of her old-world complexion.
“Was it a bad bill?” William asked.
“The one you dropped.”
“Oh that. I haven’t opened it yet.”
“You’ll lose it again if you’re not careful.”
“That would be a good thing to do, wouldn’t it, with a bill?” Melany said good-humouredly, but the words belied her nature—she never kept a tradesman waiting and never allowed one to extend her credit beyond a month. Now she wiped her fingers on the Kleenex and opened the yellow envelope. The first words she read, unevenly typed, were “Your husband, madam . . .”
“No,” she said, “not bad. Just tiresome.” And she read the letter carefully to the end—it was signed “A neighbour and well-wisher.” Then she tore it in little pieces and dropped them in her waste-paper basket.
“You shouldn’t destroy a bill,” William said.
“A few shillings at the newspaper shop. I paid it this morning.” She looked at William and said, “What a good husband you’ve always been, William.” She came to the bed and kissed him and William could detect her intention. “How tired a party makes me,” he said, excusing himself weakly, with a faint yawn.
“Of course, dear,” Melany said, lying down beside him without any complaint. “Happy dreams,” and then she noticed all those dabs of cotton wool. “Oh you poor dear,” she said, “you’ve cut yourself. Let your Melany make them clean,” and then and there she busied herself, for ten minutes at least, washing the wounds in chemist’s alcohol and fixing bits of Elastoplast, as though nothing important had happened. “How funny you look now,” she said, quite gay and carefree, and William told your father there was no longer any hint of danger in the kiss she planted on the end of his nose. “Dear funny William. I could forgive you anything.” It was then William gave up all hope—she was a perfect wife, uncrackably perfect, and your father used to say that the word “forgive” tolled on in William’s ears like the bell at Newgate signalling an excution.’
‘So he never escaped?’ I asked.
‘He died many years later in Melany’s arms,’ Aunt Augusta said, and we finished our apple tart in silence.