The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks. Revised Edition (1966) by Robertson Davies

Thursday: Word reached me today that I am shortly to possess a handsome kitten; I have been on the track of a kitten of just the right sort for quite a time. Immediately turned my attention to suitable names. Nicholas is a fine name for a cat, and so is Solomon. Dr. Johnson called his cat Hodge, which convinces me that it must have been a rustic, bumpkin cat, with a miaow like a creaking door. All sorts of famous men have been cat-lovers, but unfortunately they have not left a record of their cats’ names. They may not have had names. I should like to call my cat Bubastis, after the Cat Goddess of ancient Egypt, but my neighbours are very conservative, and would give me oblique glances if I crept about my garden calling “Bubastis, Bubastis” in a high, soft cat-attracting voice. Cardinal Richelieu gave his white cat seven names, after seven different Popes, but my motives might be misunderstood if I followed his example (not being a Cardinal). The ideal name eludes me, but I shall find it at last.

Friday: To the bank today, and stood in a queue right behind a man who appeared to be paying off the National Debt in pennies; he and the clerk counted them all several times with intense concentration, and after a while I began to count them too, to combat my boredom. . . When at last the Golden Boy moved away, and I confronted the wicket, I was intimidated to find that the young lady behind it was several inches taller than I was, and looked down at me as though she thought I had not come honestly by the few dirty bills which I poked at her through the bars. By the time my trifling business was finished, I was cringing pitifully before this goddess. . . But when I went to another wicket to get my book, I saw the true state of affairs. She was really a little girl, about the size I am accustomed to dandle on my knee, and she was standing on a box! It is this sort of misrepresentation on the part of banks which drives simple people to socialism. In the socialist state everybody will have to keep his feet flat on the floor, his head in the clouds, his shoulder to the wheel, his back to the wall, his ear to the ground, and his nose to the grindstone. And short girls will be made to stand under tables at the banquets of state officials, and retrieve the dropped napkins of the gorging Parteigenossen.

Saturday: Kitten arrived today — a tortoiseshell inclining toward tiger stripes; its milk-name was “Tiger,” and it may stick unless I can think of something better. It is a female, so Nicholas and Solomon must be abandoned. Cats marked in this way reveal Chinese ancestry, so I am told, but so far Tiger has shown none of the much-advertised Chinese calm. She has climbed the curtains, skated on the lid of the piano and displayed an utterly anti-Confucian passion for fish scraps, bits of chicken, custard, junket, bread-and-milk and similar flesh-pots. A stickler for tradition, I wanted to butter her paws to accustom her to her new home, but the butter price will not permit it. Engaged in a lively discussion as to whether olive-oil was a permissible substitute. Made a punching-bag for Tiger out of a ball of paper and some string, and watched her box; kittens and babies are always able to reduce us to the last extreme of drooling fatuity; at last Tiger was settled for the night in a box containing an old sweater and a hotwater bottle, the latter being a substitute for her mother. I hope she doesn’t get a shock in the morning, when she finds her mother has turned cold, bald and a disagreeable shade of red.

– XIX –

Sunday: Went cheerfully through the whole day without realizing that the usual haphazard tinkering with the clocks was in progress, and that I should have been enjoying the benefits of Daylight Saving Time. I don’t really care how time is reckoned so long as there is some agreement about it, but I object to being told that I am saving daylight when my reason tells me that I am doing nothing of the kind. I even object to the implication that I am wasting something valuable if I stay in bed after the sun has risen. As an admirer of moonlight I resent the bossy insistence of those who want to reduce my time for enjoying it. At the back of the Daylight Saving scheme I detect the boney, blue-fingered hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier, and get them up earlier, to make them healthy, wealthy and wise in spite of themselves.

Monday: An extremely attractive young woman of my acquaintance told me of an amatory adventure she had today. While at the grocer’s she noticed that she was an object of deep interest to a dark, passionate young man behind the counter. Wherever she went he followed her with a burning eye: his heavy breathing was audible at a considerable distance; when at last he caught her eye, he gave her a glance charged with 25,000 volts of tender meaning. As she is quite accustomed to these tributes she paid no attention and forgot about him entirely until her groceries were delivered. But then she found his name, address and telephone number, neatly written in black crayon on one of her bananas! The use of a banana as a billet doux would have interested the late Havelock Ellis. I suggested that the next time she should casually drop a lemon, as a sign that his suit is hopeless.

Tuesday: As I sat outside the main dining room of the Royal York this evening, a large black dog appeared from nowhere and began to lick my hand, sit on my feet, wipe its nose on my trousers, and give other evidence of its esteem and regard. At the best of times I have a low opinion of Man’s Dumb Chum, and as I could see a headwaiter eyeing me balefully, as though about to call the hotel detective and the bouncer, I gave the creature a couple of sharp kicks in the slats and urged it to go elsewhere. But dogs love me just as inveterately as I hate them, and the creature took my abuse the way TV heroines take the soft cooings of Charles Boyer. This rattled me so much that I got up and moved to another chair, but the dog followed me, leaping up and down and wagging a tail like a wagon-tongue. Drastic action was called for, and so, with a Judas smile, I fed it a particularly ferocious coughdrop which I had in my pocket — a coughdrop of atomic strength — and that did the trick. It gave me a look of reproach which would have done credit to Beautiful Joe, and rushed away howling. When I last saw it, it was trying to get a drink out of an ornamental spittoon which was, however, filled with sand.

Wednesday: Went to see an entertainment describing itself as Russian Ballet tonight. But it had sacrificed all the grace and carefully concealed art of Russian Ballet for a kind of athletic joyousness which was about as amusing as a high school gym exhibition. In the art of ballet, inspiration is most decidedly not ninety-five per cent perspiration.

Thursday: If the purchase of costly, foolish little gadgets will do it, I should have a magnificent garden this year. Today I bought a hose-reel, a charming toy with a lot of green paint on it, for rolling up my hose and trundling it around the garden. The fact of the matter is that since the purchase of my wheelbarrow, I have lost all sense of values, and am ready to buy anything which looks like a garden tool. Although the wowsers pretend that men come to ruin through drink and women, the real truth of the matter is that more men are ruined by the purchase of expensive domestic junk than in any other way. Drink imposes its own limit, and women soon become a weariness of the flesh, but the passion for saucy little garden gadgets, bedizened with green paint and ballbearings, is never stilled. It gnaweth like a serpent and wasteth like a fever.

Friday: In the morning paper, I see some pictures of flower arrangements done by Toronto interior decorators. In one of them some Arum lilies had been painted blue! Such tricks are not in the great Japanese tradition of flower arrangement. Indeed, when I studied the arrangement of flowers with the Hon. Miss Morning Mouth at the Imperial Greenhouses at Tokio, we were forbidden even to bend the stem of a flower or strengthen it with wire. I recall that one student (a pretty little creature called the Hon. Miss Bursting Cocoon) was caught by the Hon. Miss M. M. pressing the stem of a calceolaria with a hot iron, to make it straight, and she was in danger of expulsion. However, she made amends by writing one of those moving Japanese poems. It went like this:

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Categories: Davies, Robertson