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

Friday: A man said today that he supposed I got a lot of free meals on my press-card when I was in New York; apparently he believes that legend that a newspaper writer has only to go into an expensive restaurant, eat himself out of shape, drink the bar dry, and then present his press-card in order to have the proprietor fall on his neck in gratitude. It is not true. When in New York I did have a sandwich in a modest grill, and did present my press-card when the bill arrived, but I had to pay all the same. It was not until I was outside that I realized that I had presented not my current press-card, but an old one which I had preserved for sentimental reasons from the days when I was the entire editorial staff on the Skunk’s Misery Trombone, a lively little paper with a rather limited circulation. I suppose the restaurant proprietor had never heard of it; he was an uncultivated type, and addressed all his customers familiarly as “Joe.” I did not think that anything would be gained by arguing with him; people who call other people “Joe” are not usually strong in logic.

Saturday: Tiger is home again! She had not run off with the Toms but had, I suppose, lost her way in one of her tree-climbing expeditions and had passed a comfortable few days with people who fed her and (if I can judge by the condition of her coat) brushed her, as well. Reproached her bitterly for all the anguish of spirit she had caused. . . Passed the afternoon cleaning my cellar. Hercules, cleaning the Augean stables, had an easy task in comparison. Ran to and fro with driblets of coal; piled wood which had been lying under coal; resurrected and viewed with dismay bits of linoleum which had lain under coal. Wretched though present-day coal is as a heater, it has one undeniable characteristic — it is dirtier, and gets into more obscure corners, than any coal ever previously sold. Finished the afternoon looking like Old Black Joe, and with a dismaying collection of rubbish which the garbage man will be too haughty to remove. I suppose I shall have to bury it by stealth in the flower beds.

– XXIX –

Sunday: Tiger, my kitten, is suffering from an ailment which is not uncommon among animals and children in hot weather. This is an intolerable nuisance, for when she ran away she was beautifully housebroken, and now she has forgotten her good manners. When a child has this trouble it is able to give a warning shriek when the demon seizes it, and one can then rush it to the proper quarter, strengthening its moral fibre with threats and entreaties as one runs; but Tiger is crafty, and watch her as I will, she always evades me at the critical moment, leaving her little surprise in a corner, or under a chair. I think she likes to see me on my knees, in a prayerful posture, plying the floor-cleaner and disinfectant, and soliloquizing in Old Testament language.

Monday: To visit some friends at their summer cottage, and had a very fine ride on the river in a power boat. When speaking to the owners of boats I become tongue-tied, for there are some of them who resent having their property called anything but “craft,” and turn green if one speaks of a “boat-ride.” I am not the ideal passenger, either, for I am no good at shoving the boat away from the shore, or snatching at ropes when we return to the dock. True, I come of a sea-going race, but not very recently; when Caesar approached the shores of Britain several members of the Marchbanks family painted themselves blue and set out in their coracles to drive him away; owing to some miscalculation they failed to do it. But a coracle is a round affair, more like a soup-plate than a boat, and since the introduction of banana-shaped craft no Marchbanks has ever been anything but a land-lubber.

Tuesday: Greatly relieved that the Dominion Government does not mean to make teacup-reading a punishable offence. I have been a teacup reader for some time. A group of children of my acquaintance get tea only once a week, on Sunday evening, and they invariably ask me to read their cups. This I do, on a somewhat sneaky principle, foreseeing treats which I know about and they don’t; predicting success in school tests of one sort and another; prognosticating dire reprisals if they do not amend certain bad habits. Nor is my practice entirely on this humble level. I once told fortunes for charity at a church bazaar, and did a roaring trade. The things a good fortuneteller must always bear in mind are: (1) everybody is worried about a boy, a girl or a child, according to age; (2) everybody is short of money, regardless of income, and likes to be told that they will find money worries decreasing as they grow older, which is likely to prove true; (3) a stroke of good fortune is likely to come to everybody within three months, and may confidently be predicted; (4) nobody believes utterly in fortune-tellers, and very few people utterly disbelieve in them.

Wednesday: Tiger is not better, so I took her to the veterinary this evening. He diagnosed her case as one of garbage-eating; when she ran away she must have treated herself to a bit of over-ripe fish. He gave me some pills for her, and also demonstrated the proper way to give pills to a cat; you suddenly draw the cat’s head backward, pry open its mouth, shove the pill down into its stomach with a pair of forceps, and whisk the pill briskly around in its insides. Then you let go, and the cat uses language that scorches its whiskers. I decided that I would use the alternative method, which is to powder the pill and slip it slyly into the cat’s food. A man who is accustomed to going right to the seat of the trouble with a sick cow, and giving pills like baseballs to Percheron stallions, may safely take liberties with Tiger, but I am not in his class as a beast-tamer, and I know it. “A cat is no fool, and she may resent this,” he said: I knew that, too.

Thursday: A man came to me today in a state of great agitation because he thought that there should be more streetlights, and that they should be turned on earlier. “Young people park in cars in those dark places and The Dear knows what goes on,” he said, trembling at the thought. I tried to calm him, telling him about Chastity, and how she that has that is clothed in complete steel, but he did not seem to put as much faith in Chastity as in Electricity. . . I wonder why people always think that dreadful things happen in the dark? When I look back over my own past, and examine my police record and my conscience, I find that the peak-hours of Sin in my wild youth were between 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. If I were a Puritan, I would not worry about parked cars, where nothing much happens beyond the conventional slap-and-tickle which is virtually obligatory in youth; but I would creep abroad at mid-day, peeping behind the lace curtains of sober houses on quiet, tree-lined streets. It is there that I would find things to make my mouth go dry and my eyes pop.

Friday: I have for many years cherished an unfashionable admiration for that unpopular man Prince Albert, Victoria’s Prince Consort. Not only did he devise the Prince Albert coat, which was one of the best garments of modern times for style and comfort, but he had several other good ideas. He was, for instance, a founder and patron of the Society for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrial Classes; he thought that it was a shame that a lot of people lived in poky, dark, nasty little houses, and he tried to do something about it. Albert, thou shouldst be living at this hour! Not only the Industrial Classes but virtually everybody nowadays who builds a house or buys one built during the last twenty-five years, is living in a house which, though it may not be dark, is unquestionably poky. Perhaps never, since the era of the Mud Hut, has domestic architectural design been at a lower level, or building costs at a higher one. The more civilized we become, the smaller our houses are. They may be convenient in some ways, but they are too small to live in without sitting in everybody else’s lap and spitting in everyone else’s hair. And why should space be so dear in a country as big as this?

Saturday: I see that a girl who was in the Hamilton beauty contest is complaining that twelve of the sixty-two contestants wore “falsies” to give greater impressiveness to their pectoral development. This reminded me of the fact that before the war the cadets at the Royal Military College wore “falsies” also, concealed in their scarlet tunics, in order to add a few inches to their chests. I have seen many a convex cadet remove his tunic, only to reveal that he was concave. This was standard military practice until the red tunic went out, about the time of the South African war, and many a dashing cavalry officer was saved from death because the Zulu assegai, or hill-tribesman’s snickersnee, had become imbedded in his “falsies.” But now, alas, anything might lurk beneath the blouse of a battledress and the military “falsy” has fallen into disuse. Chest-wigs for the pectorally bald are still sold by the principal military outfitters, I am told.

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