Desmond Greaves Journal, Vol. 9, 1949-50
Various entries between 18 February 1949 and 7 May 1950
Themes: Flat problems at Cockpit Chambers, Northington Street, Holborn, London – Mrs Muriel MacSwiney helping in his flat – Acting as part-time editor of the “Irish Democrat” – Interaction with Pat Dooley over the latter’s dispute with Bishop Browne of Galway – Research for proposed book on the history of the Irish labour movement – Connolly Association pamphlet on Partition – Short visit to Ireland, climbs Galtymore and visits Dublin – Running the Carbon Laboratory at Messrs Powell Duffryn – Attitude to JG Bennett’s Gurdjieff-Ouspensky theosophical endeavours
February 18 1949 Friday (London): I am writing this in my kitchen, on a card-table – the one I had at Grand Drive – by the light of twelve candles arranged along the mantel-piece. Their individual flickers cancel out and I enjoy statistical light, which nevertheless casts ten shadows a quarter of an inch apart, of the electric light flex on the wall and the ceiling. Useless thing. I am in the midst of the war of the lights. For four years they have been failing room by room, point by point, thanks to the atrocious wiring of the flat. Now – on Tuesday – I switched on as Mrs MacSwiney who is cleaning for me, because the better paid work she is admirably suited for is bad for her nerves, knocked on the door at 8.45 am. [Mrs Muriel MacSwiney, widow of War of Independence hero, former Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney, who had died on hunger strike] – and the poor thing glowed manfully, gave an orange gleam, and was gone.
Phone the landlord’s agent – the landlord is too discreet to appear. “He” must be the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. But my phone was out of order. I spent the money with which I should have paid the bill on a trip to Belfast to see the election campaign, so they cut me off. But incoming calls still reach me. It would be better the other way round. The agent said, “Can’t you find somebody to do it yourself?” I couldn’t. They would ring their builder, Mr Sheldon – “Why, he lives in your block of flats. Would you like to contact him? ” I did, on Wednesday morning, after I had definitely confirmed my suspicions over the wiring, and he had received no instructions. He was a well-built rather greasy young man with a foreign wife and tiny children who cry, and a radio that blares, and wears that look of a ferret in his eyes, and the instinctive hostility to all men on his face, and the bridle of defensiveness in his stance that is of course natural and proper to an enemy of society.
Filthy little pest. Would he do anything? He’d try tomorrow, that is yesterday. Nobody came. I tried to ring him and received no response. So I wrote a letter to the agent, asking for their representative to inspect the premises with a view to repairing the wiring. But I added that the kitchen window had no glass in it and that they must have long ago received war-damage compensation, and that I could point out neglected window-sashes and a rusty window-frame, and that I was contemplating ceasing to pay my rent by banker’s order, and what alternative method of payment would they suggest? And I also asked why hadn’t I a rent book all these years.
This morning I rang Mrs MacSwiney, who had decided that the only way to scrub a floor was with a thing she had in Germany called a deck-brush, and now that I had it nailed together, was scrubbing away, and she assured me nobody had come. Collier, the Powell Duffryn electrician, who wires up JG Bennett’s Kingston follies for him [Bennett’s theosophical centre; see Vol. 8], is a party lad [ie. in the CPGB] a former boxer, of medium height but imposing proportions – so imposing that he instructs instead of boxing now – promised to do the job for a consideration. So tomorrow he comes.
I had everything arranged. I came home at midday and did a couple of pages of the Irish Democrat [the Connolly Association monthly newspaper which Greaves was editing on a voluntary basis at the time]. Whom should I meet but [name omitted], the friend of Kirkpatrick, the law-student from Liverpool, and he took coffee with me by candle-light. He asked after Angus MacPherson whom I may see tomorrow, and he pointed out (with a year given for charity indeed) that I must be “getting on for” 35. He is only 27, and with all the advantages that has, is a little over-romantic, and full of rosy ideas which don’t correspond to the realities of human relations. I didn’t know how Angus MacPherson was getting on in his business. I left that to him. “But he’s your friend.” As if he would remain friends if I bothered my head about his business, and as if I could hope to better himself at it. He has a cast in his eye – the youngster I mean – which detracts from his efforts at solemnity, and how he talks. However he stayed only ten minutes, and as a law student at once recommended me a solicitor for the battle of the lights.
Off I went to Marx House to read Inprecors [International Press Correspondence, the Comintern journal] for the history of the Irish movement. John Morgan, Polo-Germano-Scot, the panjandro-dictator of Marx House, more stern than Cato, more austere than Stafford Cripps, said he had not been expecting me last night. It was as well, for Jack Hedley had come out of the blue of the Liverpool train and I stuffed him at Lyons, and left him to soak himself at Mooneys, but reached Clerkenwell Green [where Marx House is sited]after Morgan had left. There is a lending library here. A slight air of snobbery and a very obvious air of pedagogy hangs about the place. A young man who wanted a book, like youth again, arrogant, bouncing, but giving in despite its own strength, was reduced to a worshipful bated breath by Morgan’s rather sharp if not unkind interlocutions. “Don’t pinch the books,” he told the visitor, not quite half seriously. Before I went myself he told me that if anything was missing that night, I was as good as at Old Bailey. And the boy, having chosen a book, bowed and curtseyed his way out, even bidding goodnight to me who was only sitting at the table.
I don’t believe in this “noli me tangere” business. I don’t like it in Morgan and I don’t like the way youth reacts to it. And I’m glad I’ve got a poker-face – sometimes! So they were all in the charmed circle, Mrs Morgan making cups of tea, and making chauvinistic remarks about Irishmen for me to overhear. That was where I kept still and chuckled, availing myself of course of an occasional opportunity. And when Gertrude Bond, seeming rather jaded and not entirely herself, had let herself out Morgan asks, “How can you explain the behaviour of often very clear and intelligent women?” The plural made the question harder to answer. Apparently in titivating herself before presenting her face to the elements, she had scattered face-powder over his desk. “And I’ve seen her do it on the table too.” They all have to say what Morgan says and as do many other rather stubborn if not forceful personalities, he gets his own way because people give in to him even before they start talking, because of the desire to get him into a good mood from the beginning. JL Dooley is like that and I have to guard against my own desire to placate him with concessions before I’ve seen the colour of his money.
But victory crowned everything. Not Sheldon but another builder had pushed a note through the door, and said he would come tomorrow at 12 noon. So now I have two electricians when for three days I would have given my boots to get a sight of one!
There was also awaiting me Dooley’s reply to the Bishop of Galway [Dooley had got into a dispute over communism with Dr Michael Browne, 1895-1980, Bishop of Galway, in the “Irish Democrat”, with which Greaves as current editor had to deal]. As usual from that quarter it was a series of debating points. As years ago I wrote of Tickell (now said to be Empire-building in Singapore) [A leftwing fellow student at Liverpool University, see Vol.5],
“. . . how could his heart permit it
to see what’s hittable, and not to hit it.”
But Dooley must have a touch of genius somewhere, as to this day I don’t know whether he’s very simple or very cunning, or whether he’s simple and his wife cunning, or whether they’re both that odd combination of both which offers instinct, emotion and reason an ideal working agreement for getting what they want without awkward questions arising.
On Sunday week Dooley spoke in Hyde Park [at Speakers’ Corner where the Connolly Association held regular Sunday afternoon political meetings for decades]. Two weeks previously that fleshless boneless scarcely embodied twitching nervous system of a Seán Mulready had announced his adherence to secular education in Ireland. Bob Doyle had sung his familiar refrain, “I was in Spain … where we had to attack the churches which were used as ammunition dumps.” The hecklers drowned the speakers and the crowd closed the meeting by singing the Soldiers’ Song. Next week Bill Burke was chairman. I spoke. Ashe, the one-legged hobo whose most famous exploit was to carry a gigantic crucifix on his box to where an atheist was holding a meeting, and between the hiccups plant the thing before them and shout,”Now, yez Bastards! Gaze on yer fucking saviour!”, was there, in force so to speak.
“I’m Dev’s man!” he said. “I’m a statesman, I am.” “You’re a walking advertisement for Guinness’s stout,” said I. “You’re a dirty communist rat,” says he, and starts battering the foot of Bob Doyle’s rickety platform while Fred O’Shea and Kennedy used the mallet on the legs to keep them under it. When I could stand it no longer I called him a parallelogram, and there must be magic in the word, for he said, “I’m going to hold my own meeting,” and was off. Doyle phoned Dooley half an hour before his meeting and told him, “That’s twice! They’re knocking our speakers off the platform.” Dooley gave out such an orgy of Nationalism that even Ashe could find no fault. “Your speaker was nervous!” said some of the by-standers. And I understood for the first time that Dooley, the complex character, is naturally nervous. Of what? asks Bill Burke, who thought his speech evidence of a natural proclivity towards extreme nationalism. I know, however. It was of his reputation as a popular speaker.
But Paddy Clancy speaking on Sunday pulled no punches, made no apologies, and had a fine meeting altogether. Yet just why almost everything Dooley writes acts as an irritant on me is hard to say. I think it must be the constant debating points framed in a way which to my mind seems occasionally less than honest. “Oh. No! The Democrat is not communist,” he says. Well, so much the worse for those who wouldn’t buy it if it was. I was met on the stairs this morning by Douglas and Collinson who chirped, “Have you seen the ‘Daily Mail’ front page? The AScW [Association of Scientific Workers, of which Greaves, Bill Parker and some others of his Powell Duffryn colleagues were members] is strongly influenced by Communists!” “Thank your lucky stars it is,” said I, “for if it were not, you’d maybe find yourselves where the caterers are, and their own union won’t lift a finger for them.” Both he and the others agreed that they could have elected far worse officials from the other camp. The argument on principle is always best.
February 19 Saturday: This time I am writing in bed, with a fountain pen which some member of the Irish Committee left here last week and which nobody has yet claimed. There is an unsuspected virtue in the hideous things. And anyway illegibility cannot become more illegible. Some diseases have no degrees. Alan Morton is in the next room, here for the night after opening the Engels Society Lysenko discussion. Old Haldane is in the thick of it calling everybody who doesn’t agree with him ignorant [Professor JBS Haldane, 1892-1964, British geneticist]. I only wish I had time to sail into these geneticists myself. But one can’t have all the pleasure.
Collier arrived this morning and found a loose wire hanging out of the meter. He also mended all the switches and equipped me with lighting in every room. In the midst of it I had the pleasure of sending the other electrician away. The Electricity Board then mended the meter, and Collier and I had a few bottles of Guinness. He told me that he had fought in Dublin, and that his parents were Irish. His boxing career was ruined by being called up into the militia. In the army his experiences gave him a “psycho-neurosis” (otherwise known as bally-hoo) with the result that he is afraid of people, afraid to talk to them, but physically, he says, he is afraid of nothing. But for all that he is one of the most popular men in Battersea. He mends people’s electric irons, teaches the cadets physical training and takes the boys to the boxing contests. In other words what the army gave him was a consciousness of class distinction.
It was interesting to get the “downstairs” views on the staff at Powell Duffryin’s. Foster never says “Good-morning”, never thanks anybody for opening a door for him. That is of course I can see, because he is not a real manager at all. Bethune is considered a “perfect gentleman” because, son of a feudal sugar-planter, he is patriarchal in appearance and outlook. The two men most disliked are Norfolk and Jeffs, the former of whom lives with Foster and has all the makings of a rare upstart, a dour, gloomy, misanthropic peccadillo-spying creature, the latter the non-union engineering foreman whose main anxiety is to prevent people “going over his head”. Then there is Thompson the gate-keeper, who of his own accord keeps records of time-keeping and runs to Miss Dowsett with them. But since he can’t keep his mouth shut about anything, Collier doesn’t mind him.
While Alan Morton was here my bold Bob Doyle came in with Lola, his wife. He had sent me a very sectarian article and I asked him to call. He talked about publishing Connolly’s “Labour, Nationality and Religion” – the proposition Dooley made last week. It is no harm. But I am astonished how when Dooley wants anything simultaneous demands come from the most unlikely quarters. He is an adapt at what Molly Knowles [formerly Molly Marshall, political colleague from his Liverpool student days, see Vols. 2 and 3] – now Molly something else and married to her Frenchman and living in Paris – used to call “a word here and a word there”. However tonight Bob with bad grace agreed to the changes I suggested, and now I have merely to sub-edit and type.
February 20 Sunday: I got through a deal of work today – most on the book, but some on the paper. In the evening I spoke on the National Question at Marx House. Bill Burke and Elsie O’Dowling were there as well as Harry Lee, the glass-blower from Battersea, with his wife. The meeting was a success. Bill Burke came back with me, and one by one Paddy Clancy, Alec Digges and A.Caplan came in – such a gathering of the clans! Paddy Clancy agreed with me entirely about Dooley’s reply to the Bishop of Galway. It was “shit.” But how to convince him that witty debating points and sloppy journalism are no substitute for solid argument? That is the question! Doyle had a successful meeting at Hyde Park, so he will be more cocky than ever. Yet one could hardly hope he would have an unsuccessful one! When people are antagonistic or disgruntled it is best to give them their head for a bit, however trying that may be. Thus with Dooley. A year ago, when Maitland, Campbell and the rest – save only Jack Bennett – would do no more with the paper, and I took over editorship, Dooley was not to be seen. He kept away from meetings, as he hoped for big things from the Anti-Partition League [A strong movement amongst the Irish in Britain in 1948-9, inclined to support NATO in the developing Cold War and critical of the Connolly Association as leftwing]. In October he reappeared, and accused me of deliberately excluding him from the columns. In December he produced a great counterblast to the Bishop of Galway, showed it to Jimmy Shields first with a suitable bouncing story, and finally got a thoroughly amended version onto the back page. Last week he produced the full page Mindszenty article [Cardinal Primate of Hungary, put on trial by the Communist authorities there]. Now he is at the Bishop again – and as a result the others are able to see the political content (or lack of it) of his recommendations. I might however have worn myself out fighting every dot and comma.
February 22 Tuesday: Parker [Bill Parker, colleague and friend of Greaves at Powell Duffryn’s, both members of the AScW] had come from JG Bennett [Managing director and committed theosophist] when I arrived. He had a half-moon smile on his face as he came in to see me. His sturdy figure and bald head gave the expression of expansive stability. He had handed them his resignation and shocked and astonished them beyond measure. While prepared to oblige people by sacking them they felt it amiss that people should oblige them by walking out. “Hasn’t he an agreement?” asked Foster of his secretary Miss Head, that same Foster who had cleverly forgotten to mention the word agreement to Parker when he began four years ago. “Don’t do anything for two days,” said Bennett, “While I see Mr Hann.” He then hinted that Parker should take my place as head of the Carbon laboratory and I should become “general consultant”. Thus Parker would be soothed at my expense, and I should be compensated at the expense of Francis, the only existing “general consultant”.
In the afternoon, after he had telephoned Hann, Bennett invited Parker down again. Would he “postpone” his departure for a year? At the end of that time he would receive a “substantial bonus.” Was he going to Morgans? ICI? [Imperial Chemical Inudstries] Where was he going? A small private firm. “Well”, said Bennett. “I wonder what would be best for you. You are 29. I’m asking myself where will you be when you are 40? There is a great demand for good technical directors, such a man as yourself with outstanding abilities. I was talking to Sir Wallace Oakes and he was telling me this only yesterday. You mustn’t, you really mustn’t, get bogged down in a small organization where you’ll be unable to breathe! Who did you consult about this?” Parker told him he had not consulted anybody as he was accustomed to making up his mind.
“Well”, says Bennett, “Are there any personal difficulties? Can it be you don’t get on too well with Greaves?”
“I get on well with all my colleagues,”
“Well, I was talking with the Board and they’ve agreed to undertake publication, next autumn or spring maybe. For a young man like you, your career depends on publication. You and Greaves have a mass of original work to publish – the Royal Society would take it, I know, I was only talking to the Secretary today – and, of course, if you liked to publish your part of it without Greaves, I’d not prevent you.
“The work of the whole laboratory has been collective.”
“Oh! No! You’re too modest! Greaves would never have done what he has without you. All his remarkable theories! What use would they have been to us without a practical man like you?”
“Well, I’ll think it over and tell you tomorrow,” said Parker. As for myself, having seen at midday the almond trees in full bloom, the rich undergrowth in the thickets on the islands in Battersea Park lake and the masses of crocuses, and leaves on the smaller shrubs, I decided a holiday would not be amiss and sent JG Bennett an unconcerned note to that effect.
February 23 Wednesday: I lunched with Dooley at the Windsor Dove, Victoria. He was as affable as is possible between two people whose temperaments always clash. He had no money, having forgotten to go to the bank. But apart from this tiny obligation, I could see he was afraid of me – strange how many years it takes for us to realise these things. His nervousness must be one of his weak points. I like him for it, once I understood it, and very tactfully pulled his draft to pieces, read him mine, then gave it to him and asked him if he could draw up a third on the basis of the discussion. He was probably relieved at the relatively peaceful interview, or he was conscious of his draft’s defects, for he agreed without demur, an attitude in strange contrast to some I have recently known.
Now at the “Democrat” office, hired from Unity [ie. Unity Theatre] which has now made so much money it doesn’t know what to do with it, there is no separate letter-box and our correspondence is frequently immured beyond our reach in Unity’s office. I went in to look for some this evening and found a group of sickly-looking young people sitting and possibly thinking. When I asked if there was any correspondence for me they said, “How should I know” very ungraciously. “I’ll have a look, with your permission,” said I, and moved over to the table. As I lifted a parcel a female of the theatrical species whisked it out of my way, “That’s not yours.” Eventually I found a letter stowed beneath another dozen miscellaneous trifles. It contained a solemn promise from Sharp, secretary of Unity, apologizing that he could not supply a separate letter-box, but saying that he had given instructions that our correspondence was to be delivered to us.
English people hate a “scene”. I decided to make one, and stormed into their gathering again and showed the chairman the letter. I closed their door forcibly and decided to slam my own so that it could be heard below. But a piece of metal, formerly a padlock hasp which fits over a staple outside the door, prevented it shutting. I pushed the hasp out of the way. The door slammed nicely then. I gave it a second bang to make sure, and then got on with my work. I had to ring up Bill Burke, but as our ‘phone has been removed through non-payment of the bill, I had to go to the International Brigade Office opposite. When I tried to open the door it refused to budge. “Blast!” I said. “I’ve jammed myself in.” I was a prisoner. I pulled at the door. It refused to budge. I fastened the Yale-lock at open. I pulled the handle. Firm as a rock. Where was it jammed? The bottom moved freely. It must be the top. But the top moved freely, I looked round for metal to lever it open with. But there was none. I decided to hack a panel through and thus get sufficient grip, for when I pulled at the top the coat-hanger came gently away. Then I heard the International Brigade door open, and the humiliating prospect of appealing for release to the people I’d just demonstrated my door-banging abilities to, faded. I don’t know how I knew it was Alec Digges [Spanish civil war veteran]. I called out to him. Actually he was coming there anyway “By God,” he said, “we must watch that! It’s easy to lock yourself in! And you’ve no phone.” The rascally hasp had fitted itself neatly over the staple, and I was as good as padlocked in!
February 24 Thursday: A group of distinguished visitors, including JG King of the Gas Research Association, came to see the laboratories. Each department has an “exhibition” laid away in a cupboard ready to bring out at a minute’s notice. The train – five of them today – led by Foot if they are very important, Bennett if they are important, myself if they are unimportant, Bethune if they are a nuisance, and Holland if they are a damned nuisance, processes solemnly into the show-room. A large illuminated Mercator map of the world covers one side. When you press buttons lights corresponding to the coal output of various countries or the situation of Powell Duffryn investments appear in their proper places. Specimens of things they can’t, but hope to, make line the walls, and a stylized Segler chart called “the coal Spectrum” in colours appears above them. The “coal tree” of glass and iron like the Crystal Palace, rises in the centre, Victorian as the tree of vice in the Bernal Arms, all coming from the stem of drink. But the cyanide in one of the bulbs is common salt, and the sulphuric acid is really castor oil, and if the bulb breaks it won’t rot the soft carpet intended for directorial feet.
Then they look at the semielectrical plant and Hilliard, rubbing his hands, smiling roundly and greasily, explains humbly in a corncrake voice. Hutt nods his head and keeps silent on the whole. Bennett and Foot supply superlatives for everybody. Williams shows his pretty colours, all from tar, and delays the visitors over every tube, smiling cutely, knowingly and deferentially, after which Vahrman, bald head bobbing, plays the alchemist for a while, Bennett consistently playing Captain, and doing it very well. Then the train is incontinently whisked through our own laboratory unless Foot is there. Blinking at the exhibits and getting the better of the drink he will say, as he said to the Queensland Prime Minister, “Now there’s one thing I can say. I’ve not been associated with this all the time. But this is absolutely new – and mind you, Premier, this is dollar earning.”
Today Bennett led them to where Parker stood, and making a hasty survey of the geography, to make sure I was not within earshot said, “This is Mr Parker, head of our Carbon laboratory.” When I arrived, since I am not supposed to know of the plot, I had to be introduced without a title. How could he say, “Our general consultant” So, as Parker remarked, “He still has hopes,” which Parker will dash tomorrow. The proposal to promote us both in title, keeping the salaries the same, will not bear fruit. A pity. They could have saved £250 on the Carbon laboratory by having Parker instead of me. He could have charged my salary to the parent company. With the £1l50 thus saved he could have found jobs for two if not three of the faithful, and the hymns to Holy Yoga could have swelled louder and louder over the scattering of the Reds [ie. by installing new staff sympathetic to theosophy].
February 25 Friday: I met Major Turner, Bethune’s successor (in doing the patents) at Boult Wade and Tennant. Turner is of course of the Yogi persuasion. He is a tall, slim, straight, desiccated ex-military man whose contact with science has been nil. His second name is Gough and he is apparently Sir Hubert Gough’s cousin, and aged 64. He retains the military style, and talks about the “jolly old caboodle” and the “bally molecules, what?” To make it stranger still, he receives no salary and is not on the pay-roll, and the Board has told JG Bennett that if Boult Wade and Tennant did their job Powell Duffryn would need no patent man on their staff. Yet he will assuredly step into Bethune’s shoes.
His contribution at Boult’s was nil. On the other side, instead of the seventy-five year old Ballantyne, verbose, ruminative, reminiscent, but full of acute observation delivered in a sharp intelligent manner, was the 45 year old Mr Pound, quite an intelligent young man but unable to carry off Ballantyne’s grand manner, although… [there follow here two lines of German verse that cannot be translated as some of the words are indecipherable.]
February 28 Monday: Parker has not informed JG Bennett of his impending departure and has merely told Foster who keeps asking him, “Have you seen Mr Bennett?” more and more anxiously. Foster wants him to go to the factory at Hayes to look at an extrusion mixture which has broken down, though he can do nothing about it and a child could have foretold its failure, but is for all that unwilling to provide him with a car for the journey.
March 3 Thursday: In the morning a talkative Indian professor was shown round by Berkowitz – I pushed him on to Weil – so how low in the scale of importance he falls is incommensurable. But in the afternoon we had the “Parliamentary and Scientific Committee”, oldish well-dresed men, every scrap of humanity ground and polished out of them, their skin bright pink, the clothes dark, their bellies worthy of Arab chieftains. They were not interested. Only one stayed long enough to see Francis’s or my laboratory. He was the chairman, Price. “This is Mr Price, chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. He’s one of those who looks after science in the House,” says Bennett.
“Well I hope you’ll get us some more money,” said I.
“Oh. We can’t disburse money,” said he seriously, “But we can agitate,” said he fingering his paunch lovingly.
“Ah. Well maybe you’ll agitate with a chance of being listened to,” said I.
Bennett showed him graphite. “That’s what used for pencils,” he said, selecting a Ceylon specimen. “Oh! By Jove,” said the Chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, “Is that what pencils are? That goes in pencils, what?” He took out a pencil and rubbed the end on his finger. “Well! By Jove! How do they get it in?” He then said anthracite would not coke because it was too pure, and moving halfway down the exhibition bench said, “Well. That’s very interesting – wish I could stay longer – Oh! By Jove, there is more.” So then he looked at the more, and finally moved off as wise as he began. “He’s senile,” said George Weil, and I took care to point out that the whole of the country is run by similar old fools, and nobody who knows what he’s doing gets within a mile of office, or is likely to.
May 17 Tuesday: This morning Howard announced vigorously that “mass deportation” of all “foreigners” was the only solution to the country’s ills. “Look at George,” said he, “He came out of Germany because there was trouble there, and he’s made himself quite a comfortable niche here. Does he go back to Germany? Not he?” He said something about getting rid of the foreigners to George Weil also.
“But the Government doesn’t seem to think so,” said he. “They seem anxious to get as many as they can.”
“How’s that?” asked Howard.
“Well,” said George, “They’ve taken great pains to get Eisler off the Polish ship and bring him to London”[A reference to the forceable removal of German communist Gerhard Eisler from a ship in Southampton on which he had stowed away to escape from the USA where he had been arraigned by the House Unamerican Activities Committee].
This is an American working for Powell Duffryn on Fischer-Tropsch fluidization. I never speak to him. He is a cumbersone lanky young man, educated at Cambridge. But I saw him in the park walking with Vahrman. How Vahrman could do so I could hardly help wondering. Though he pays America the compliment of keeping out of it, I said, “The Poles are after you. You’d better hide. There’s an invasion force ready to kidnap you and take you to Germany.” At first he thought I was merely joking. Then he grew uncomfortable, and a good thing too. On the whole the public is very indignant, but it is noticeable that the “Liberal” press minimises the incident while the Beaverbrook anti-American press magnifies it.
JG Bennett congratulated me on my address to the Coal Research Club last Thursday. Monkhouse of the Fuel Research Station was impressed, said the exposition was lucid and the matter interesting. So in general did Davies. Segler of course was delighted though he heard scarcely a word, since his deafness is advancing. He was skipping around with his charts and thoroughly enjoying himself. Townsend was fairly interested. The Indian professor cannot understand English well enough, but he is a nice little man and not such a bore as we first thought, and nothing to do with Berkowitz. The last gentleman, with his English public school overlaying Berlin cockney, his innumerable affected mannerisms and prominent Prussian bone-skull, was nodding his head to Bingham. “How can the man assert that, when. . .” Bingham was polite. he was also, I imagine, grieved. But I thanked him for coming. He is rather a sick man, and sickness makes him finicky. Girvin, the Oxford snob, the picture of postgraduate superciliousness, gave no sign. BCURA didn’t like it, F.R.S. did. But Marie Stopes, recovering from food poisoning contracted on the way back from Portugal, complained that the drought was ruining her cedar trees in her shrill upper-class voice, said she could not keep well without beef, and that if Bennett would tell her where to buy beef in France, she would start bullying the Board of Trade for an import license.
May 18 Wednesday: In the evening we had one of the long painful drafting meetings which exercises patience to the utmost. We are preparing a pamphlet on Partition. Bill Burke had not much to say, but Paddy Clancy was in my view a little confused on the Partition question, and admits to have got it off Dooley who no doubt got it off Murray [presumably Sean Murray in Belfast]. Clancy has shown signs of this for some time. The issue relates to a possible reactionary deal between Ireland and Britain and America. If the proposal were made, it is asked, that Ireland should enter the Atlantic Pact etc. in return for the abolition of the Border, should we support it? [This idea was being pushed at the time as a possible “solution” to the Partition problem by elements in the Irish Anti-Partition League]. The supposition is that Britain would make the offer. If she did, says Clancy, we should close with it. The ending of partition “on a reactionary basis” would create a “new qualitative stage” and greatly stimulate the movement by creating new problems. In my view this is all “tailism:. I say we should declare that we stand for unity without conditions, and if the supposed situation arose we should praise the unity and condemn the conditions.
Why they would spontaneously lead to a revival I don’t know. How will new problems stimulate those who aren’t solving what they’ve got? But the Dooley-Clancy policy is for unconditional support for all avowed anti-partition movements. In the end the admission of support for the “reactionary ending” (whatever that may be – that is reactionary but worthy of support), leads them to neglect the fight for the progressive ending, a great fear of antagonizing De Valera, and a box of other little bothers. I am afraid that the whole thing might lead to civil war, on a reactionary deal. Either would smash the movement.
June 26 Sunday: Having got the Democrat off to press, and spent a couple of hours cycling around London on a hot dry evening – the sixth in succession – I have a few moments to spare. I went to Waterford on Whit Friday on the great gobbling boozing express which leaves Paddington at 6.55. I met Elsie Timbey and Sean O’Dowling there, then took the ‘bus to Cork, cycled to Burncourt, staying at the Youth Hostel amid the rhododendrons, climbed Galtymore, and so on to Dublin. Roy Johnston and J.M.C. [Unclear whom this refers to] have got girls. Mulready has separated from his wife. And that is about all the personal news.
I got back on the Tuesday after Whit Monday week, to find a rather peremptory note from JG Bennett. Was the “Carbon Lab” serving any useful purpose? Could Mathews be transferred etc. Judging that it was probably a piece of ill-temper following my prolonged absence, I said it probably didn’t serve any useful purpose, and that Mathews could probably be transferred. But if there was any doubt, it would be as well to retain both.
Then last Thursday Marcello Pirani came on one of his periodical visits. I lent him my office – a new and enlarged one – to meet people in, and we walked across Battersea Park together to have lunch at Caletta’s. As we went out Pirani asked whose was the big black limousine. “Hann’s,” I replied. “Hm. It gets longer each time,” he commented drily.
But when we returned the place was agog. Bennett had sent a girl round calling a meeting of all scientific staff at 3.0 pm. Nobody knew what was the reason for this unprecedented step.
I went down at 3 pm. – nobody there but Bennett and Miss Murphy. I sat down; then the others who had been sent out to get themselves chairs, came in. Foster came in, rather schoolboyish. Francis came, very nervous. And then Bennett turned on the gramophone. His face was expressionless. No man ever spoke with less conviction. He said he felt there was “slackness” and Mr Hann felt the same. “This is not politics,” he went on, “but everybody knows the testing time this country is going to undergo in the next two years. There will certainly have to be reductions in staff. There are a few people carrying this place on their shoulders. Others are “slacking”. When I reduce the staff I shall have to take this into account. I will do nothing immediately, but we must meet again in the autumn.”
As they all went out Francis said to him, “You weren’t half strong enough.” He had caught wind of the developments last weekend and had plastered the place with warnings to his own staff to do more work, to show what a good boy was he. But the astonishing thing was that all the scientists gathered in knots beating their breasts and saying “mea culpa”. Next day the AScW committee wanted to send out a circular deploring bad time-keeping. Derrick Walker and Kaufman scotched that. But even they agreed with the absurdity of approaching Bennett to ask which departments were likely to have “redundancy”. “Let them do their own dirty work,” said I. George Weil was away sick. On his return he was the only person, apart from myself, to demand that the AScW should deny that there was “slackness”. “Even if it was a God-damned lie – which it isn’t –” said I, “it would have to be said.” Howard, the little nervous Catholic who is looking for a job on a farm, lives with one eye on the door for fear that Bennett should walk in. If they are reading a newspaper in the tea-break, and Bennett appears, they scatter in all directions like frightened mice, Howard well in the van.
It looks as if this is a “try-out”, to see what effect a scare would have.
Hann is on the board of the Westminster Bank, as also is Merritt, another Powell Dyffryn director. The New York Times has suggested that a scare would help to shock the British worker into accepting lower wages. For though I think the Carbon plant at Hayes will be a white elephant, I do not judge that it has yet become apparent that that is so. The scheme may be to frighten the lags into working harder, and then dismiss the surplus. Or a document I saw being prepared may be a “reorganization scheme” already, probably cutting non-scientific staff. To add piquancy to the situation, on the same day W.D.P came back and strolled round wearing a dark suit and carrying a rolled umbrella.
Eoin O’Mahony called last night, just at my busiest time. He is inaugurating a campaign for the release of the Belfast prisoners. He had a small ulcer on his arm. I treated it with gentian violet which so much improved it while he was away for a half-hour, that he had me dabbing him from head to foot in a minute. He is only about 45, but is grey, pot-bellied, and very unhealthy, carelessly dressed, and slovenly in a typical Catholic way – the way that trusts God and takes no human action. However he told me about Brendan Behan, who has gone to Paris. He rang up, as he thought, Valentine Iremonger [Civil servant in the Irish Dept. of Foreign Affairs] , but actually got on to Seán MacBride [Irish Foreign Minister at the time].
“Hello Seán,” says Brendan, “I want you to get my prohibition from landing in England revoked.
“Oh! God, now, Brendan, you wouldn’t have me crawling on my belly to the British, would you?”
“Be Jasus,” says Brendan, “You crawl on your belly every day.”
“But could he not go direct?” I asked O’Mahony
“He could – but he’s a peculiar fellow – it was £4 dearer.”
June 28 Tuesday: I was pressed for time for lunch and went into the public house opposite the laboratories. There, sitting having lunch were Miss Dowsett and Mr Howyego, her new accountant recently arrived from the Distillers. He is a small dark cynical young man, very willing to talk about “rackets” and wish he was “in on” them. Miss Dowsett is less childish because more human. She is only back from three months nervous breakdown in Switzerland. These periodical breakdowns are not only the result of nervous disability. They also arise from the strain of working with JG Bennett who tells her nothing, refuses to consult with her, and makes her co-responsible for all manner of irregularity and financial nonsense. The situation is worse than ever now, since after attending a lecture at which he showed lantern slides of his “Happy Valley” in Transvaal [A Gurdjieff–Ouspensky theosophical venture in South Africa that Bennett was planning] she decided to sever all her connections with what we call “The Yogi”, and Howyego calls “The Golden Slipper Club”. “How can it be a success,” she asked at one of the gatherings. “Is there a single man of character in the room?”
From what she tells me, C.Day Lewis has bought a farm in the “Happy Valley”. The original scheme to depart for Africa last summer was abandoned for two reasons, first the dilatoriness of Day Lewis’s incompetent son, and second the discovery of Mr Gurdjieff that the second war was not after all to break out this summer, but two years later. The Powell Duffryn Research establishment must be kept going two more years in London since the directors refused to support Bennett’s proposals to begin operations in South Africa. Miss Field had sold all her property; Miss Hands had given up her job and had to be found one, and now, thanks to Bethune being no better than Ivor Lewis, there are several unemployed Yogis who must be found jobs, if necessary by pushing other people out.
“It’s most unfair!” said Miss Dowsett. She was shocked when she heard what Bennett had said. “Why” ,she said, “You are taking on staff every day. You’ve written to people talking about the great developments in an expanding organization! What will happen is that the best people will look for other jobs.” “Just what they are doing,” said I. “They’ve all been to the Central register.”
And then, in came Bennett, Foster and a young girl whom they plied with drink and compliments.
“Will one of them rape her afterwards?” asked Howyego.
“No. They’ll give her a job – here and in South Africa,” said Miss Dowsett.
“But to tell you the truth,” she went on,” I can’t see the fun of watching them in their bungalow, playing the piano and writing their odes, and you’d be chopping firewood, digging, or emptying pots!”
[There follows an 11-month gap until the entry below, which is the last entry in Volume 9 – Ed.]
May 7th 1950, Sunday: It was arranged that although the May Day demonstration was being held, and the workers were going to march on the pavements because the “Labour” Government had forbidden them the roads, I was to speak in Hyde Park [At the regular Connolly Association Sunday meeting]. Last week Bill Burke had a stormy meeting, when interrupters tried their latest tactic, the demand that as “communists” we should not fly the tricolour of a Catholic nation. He quelled them, but they finished by saying, “You’ll not have it there next week.” But we did, and the meeting was the best for a long time.
Then I spoke at Marx House. Pat Kearney was there, and Es. they came back for tea with me. Pat Kearney runs his own barber shop in Colliers Wood. He is a fresh-complexioned moustached young-looking man of 28, with slightly straggly black hair and great vivacity with a puckish smile which sets going a twinkle in his eyes like a minor fireworks display. He told us how he was a farmer’s son, born near Athlone. His father did contracting work for the Free State Army in 1925, carrying away and dumping the instruments of destruction left by the British. He was lifting a shell in his arms when it exploded and killed him. His mother was priest-ridden. She was advised by them to consult a lawyer who proved subsequently to be the State’s own lawyer. He read the papers and correspondence when he was 17 1/2. The solicitor had delayed action for five months till it was too late to contest the offer of £300 in compensation. Men injured in that accident received £750 and played football for West Meath afterwards.
Then they persuaded her to send him to a Catholic school where he was starved while the nuns lived in luxury. “I’ve marks in my knuckles yet,” he said, and described the rising at 6 am. to scrub and polish the rooms, breakfast of bread, milk, sugar and cocoa, lunch of potatoes and cabbage containing shreds of meat (except on Fridays when the meat was absent) and “supper” of bread and dripping and cocoa. They got sausages at Christmas, and an egg at Easter – and one egg for luck on St Patrick’s Day. The change of diet brought him out in sores and his uncle – a Scot – accompanied his mother to Sligo to see him – a rough, sceptical, travelled and forceful man Pat didn’t like very much. He stalked independently though the convent, opening the private doors without by your leave. Behind one of these he revealed an old priest of huge dimensions guzzling half-stotious in front of a table of fruit. He sought out the Mother Superior and gave her his mind, not forgetting to tell her how his sister was paying for the boy’s education. The farm was sold after the £300 had gone. The convent kept writing asking for money. Finally the poor thing had none left and had to go out to work to keep the four children. This way Pat learned anticlericalism, there and in the confession-box.
The other told of his experiences in Galway. Unemployed for over a year he accepted work in a hat factory, although he was (in 1939) over 31 years of age, pressing 400 hats in an 11 hour day, standing in front of the jet of steam which softened them for taking the shape. His basic wage was 15/- a week. He cycled to work for 8 am. and reached home at 8 pm. – and immediately went to bed. He was a volunteer, and when war came was glad to be called into the Army. He is a nice little man of 42, with some intelligence but no mental discipline or training. This leads him to be garrulous and discursive and to chop and change the conversation, interjecting irrelevancies at the most exasperating moments. He is credited with the ability to drink a pint of beer while standing on his head. Alec says he has seen him do it, without being able to explain how it flows up. He has dabbled in Yoga, and read widely and voraciously. I think he is too old to systematize himself now – not too old in years but too far relaxed. He has good material but is “afraid of writing.”
* * *
[c. 8000 words]
GREAVES JOURNAL, VOLUME 9, 1949-50
Various entries from 18 February 1949 to 7 May 1950)
– Assessment of others: 2.18, 2.20
– Connolly Association/Irish Democrat: 2.18, 6.16
– Holidays/cycle tours: 6.26
– Industrial experience: Vol.9 passim,
– Ireland and Irish affairs: 5.18
Organisation Names Index
Anti-Partition of Ireland League: 2.20, 5.18
Association of Scientific Workers (AScW): 2.18, 6.26
Communist Party of Great Britain: 2.18
Irish Committee (of the CPGB): 2.19
Marx House, Clerkenwell Green: 2.18
Messrs Powell Duffryn and Co.: 2.22, 2.24, 6.26
Personal Names Index
Bennett, J. Godolphin: 2.18, 2.22,6.26,6.28
Behan. Brendan: 6.26
Browne, Bishop Michael of Galway: 2.18, 2.20
Burke, Bill: 2.18, 2.23
Campbell, Flann: 2.20
Clancy, Patrick: 2.18-20, 5.18
Digges, Alec: 2.19, 2.23
Doyle, Bob: 2.18-19
Dooley, JL (Pat): 2.18-20, 2.23
Gurdjieff, George: 6.28
Haldane, Professor JBS: 2.19
Johnston, Roy: 6.26
Kearney, Pat: 5.7
Knowles, Molly, formerly Marshall: 2.19
MacBride, Sean: 6.21
MacPherson, Angus: 2.18
McSwiney, Muriel (Mrs Terence): 2.18
Maitland, Sid: 2.20
Mindszenty. Cardinal: 2.20
Morgan, John: 2.18
Morton, Alan Geoffrey/Freda Morton: 2.19
Mulready, Sean: 2.18, 6.26
O’Dowling, Elsie (Timbey): 2.20, 6.26
O’Mahony, Eoin: 6.26
O’Shea, Fred: 2.18
Parker, Bill: 2.22, 2.24
Pirani, Professor Marcello: 6.26
Shields, Jimmy: 2.20
Stopes, Marie: 5.17