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

Monday: A friend of mine lost confidence in himself today because he discovered that he had put the garbage can carefully in the luggage compartment of his car, and had stood his wife’s dressing-case on the curb to await the Offal Officer. I assured him that I had been doing things like that for years, and attributed it to abstraction of the kind from which all men of genius suffer.

Tuesday: My brother Fairchild paid me one of his infrequent visits today, and asked to watch while I stoked my furnace. This was unfortunate, for Fairchild is a bigoted Back-to-Fronter, while I am a determined Middler. That is to say, Fairchild stokes his furnace by raking the live coal from the back to the front, and putting his new coal in the resulting trough, whereas I make a bed of coals with the poker, and put my new coal in a heap in the middle. I was brought up a Back-to-Fronter, but I changed to Middleism when I married my furnace. The feeling which Back-to-Fronters have for Middlers is comparable to that which Roman Catholics cherish for adherents of the Greek Orthodox Church. . . However, while Fairchild stood by I stoked the furnace in my usual way, and I noticed his jaw tighten and his temples throb. In a low voice, he asked me whether I expected to make a good fire that way? I said that I did, and to spare him embarrassment, I leaned toward the fire-door at that moment. I think it was the big poker he used when he struck, but luckily I caught the blow on my shoulder, and was able to push his head in an ash-bucket while I screamed for help. When the police came we were locked in a deathgrip on the cellar floor. . . We parted fairly good friends, but my furnace went out in the night. The slightest thing upsets it.

Wednesday: Attended a concert this evening, and enjoyed the music greatly, though for a few minutes it was in competition with a bugle band which was marching past the building. It is characteristic of the musical life of the city in which I live that every concert runs foul of this bugle band at some point in its program. I cannot say that I care for bugle bands, wide as my musical sympathies are. When a boy I played in one, though my instrument was the Side Drum; there were eight drummers, and sixteen buglers and I have walked many miles rattling my drum, while the bugles blared their simple-minded tunes in my ears. It is no small feat to play a bugle well; indeed, I venture the opinion that buglers are born, and not made. Not many of them had been born in the particular group from which the buglers in my school band were drawn; they had wind and spit in plenty, but no genius for the instrument. At the earliest opportunity I got out of the band and achieved the post of Corporal in Charge of the Medically Unfit; this was the peak of my career as a cadet. I never hear a bugle band now without thinking of it, and as the singers fought against the band tonight Fond Memory brought the light of other days around me.

Thursday: Made my debut in television, and enjoyed it. It is a kind of elaborate puss-in-the-corner, played with three cameras. With four other people I sat at a table and chewed many a delicious rag, pretending to be unconscious that anyone could see or hear us; but it was impossible not to notice that three great rubber-wheeled monsters, with cameras for heads, prowled about in the shadows, peering intently at us; from time to time they came very close, like shy elephants hoping for a peanut; then, quite suddenly, they would retreat, as though they had been frightened. The game for those of us who were talking was not to look directly at the monsters, which would have made them nervous. I was reminded of the technique of my grandmother, who could induce squirrels to take nuts from her hand by pretending that she was looking at something in the other direction; I tried it, and the cameras came quite near. It was all I could do to refrain from facing them suddenly and sticking out my tongue, but I knew that this would frighten them away for good. For television one must be less an actor than a wild-life expert.

Friday: For a brief drive in the country today; was amazed by the number of farm dogs who seem anxious to quit this life and join their ancestors in whatever future existence a discerning Providence has provided for dogs. They rush at every car, attempting to hurl themselves under the wheels, and when they fail (which they do quite often, being slow and stupid) they bite at the tires, hoping to cause a puncture. In the World of Tomorrow dogs who want to commit the Happy Despatch will present themselves before a Government Board, explain their reasons for wishing to die, and if successful, will receive a cyanide bone, coated with synthetic beef gravy. The expense of this service will, of course, be borne by the taxpayers. Dogs who fail to make a case for themselves will receive the Order of Mother Hubbard (first class).

Saturday: It was so warm today that I let my furnace go out; it thinks it went out of its own accord, but I know better; I starved it, and it expired. . . Bought a new rake, and seized the opportunity to sharpen my penknife, free, on the various stones in the hardware store. Then set about tasks of raking leaves, emptying flowerpots, cutting back bushes, and preparing Marchbanks Towers for its long winter’s nap. I am still waiting for my winter wood, which is apparently marooned in a swamp somewhere and cannot be reached; it will arrive simultaneously with the first snow, I predict, and I will have my usual jolly weekend piling it. Otherwise no squirrel is better prepared for winter than I; I am looking for a cidermill in good condition, and will buy it if I can find it, though I understand that apples are going to be very scarce this year; but I have a scheme of my own for making cider out of oranges.

– XLI –

Sunday: To a christening this afternoon, a ceremony in which I always take a large measure of innocent delight. At best it is a race between the parson and the infant, both gathering steam and momentum as the moment of immersion approaches; if the parson is still audible above the outraged screams of the child after this point, I award the victor’s palm to him. The shrieking of the child, of course, is merely the Old Adam protesting against an invasion of his property. . . I understand that in most churches a first-aid box is kept in the vestry for the use of parsons who have suffered damage during a christening; I have seen men of God horribly clawed by infants who possessed extraordinary resistance to Grace. . . Sometimes I have doubted the efficacy of the baptismal rite; so many children seem to be in full possession of the Old Adam, or, more accurately, the Old Nick is in full possession of them.

Monday: To the bank this afternoon, and was once again amazed by the nonchalance with which the young women behind the bars treat my balance. To me it is a matter of the most profound significance; to them it is a mere sum in addition and subtraction. Without being in the least aware of it, they can drive their cruel pens deep into my heart. That is, they are not aware of it unless I sink upon the floor with a despairing cry and attempt to disembowel myself with my penknife; then they call the assistant manage to throw me out. Banks hate suicides on the premises — looks bad.

Tuesday: On the Late Movie tonight saw a piece written by Sir Arthur Pinero and produced with complete and humiliating failure on the stage in 1922, and later served up by Hollywood as something new and dainty. Its theme (which is the old and laughably untrue one that Love Conquers All) might have been handled acceptably by Barrie, but Pinero, who had all the delicate appreciation of human nature that one expects in police court lawyers and auctioneers, made a mess of it, and Hollywood had piled its own mess on top of the original. A pilot who has been injured and disfigured in the war marries a girl of remarkable ugliness, and in the throes of the Tender Passion they are transformed, and seem beautiful to one another; but they do not seem beautiful to anyone else, and this is supposed to be tragic, though it appears entirely normal and explicable to me. Pinero was no hand at such confectionery; he was happier with plushy Edwardian trollops such as Paula Tanqueray and the notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith, who could sin, repent and have hysterics without disturbing their elaborate hair-dos or making their corsets creak more than was considered decent.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson