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

Saturday: People make their livings in the oddest ways. I heard today about a man who has become wealthy through the manufacture of “slumber slippers” — soft little slippers like ballet shoes which are placed on the feet of corpses. All God’s chillun got special shoes. . . And a man in Winnipeg has become well-off through the cultivation and sale of sunflower seeds, for the chewing trade. It seems that great numbers of New Canadians from Middle Europe like to chew sunflower seeds, spitting out the husks and eating the tiny, oily kernel, which tastes like a nut. . . I should like to get into one of these queer trades, and make my fortune: I wonder how luminous false teeth would be, so that lovers could smile at one another in the dark? Or pipecleaners with blunted ends, so that they could safely be used as ear-reamers? Or a pair of stays that rings a bell when the occupant has eaten enough, for fat women on diets? The possibilities are infinite.


Sunday: For years I have been known to a large circle of sports enthusiasts as the Nimrod of the Fly-Swatter; I take no interest in other blood-sports, but when it comes to swatting flies I admit few equals and no superiors. I prefer a swatter with a rubber flapper to the ordinary wire affair; the wire mashes the game, but the rubber slaps it into oblivion and leaves the carcass unmutilated, and suitable for stuffing or table use. . . It is not generally realized that when a fly rises from a standing position, it jumps backward; it is necessary to allow for this jump when swatting. I have also noticed that amateurs, particularly women, swat at flies as though they were driving spikes; this causes a noticeable breeze, and the fly is warned. The way to swat a fly is this: grip the swatter firmly but not tensely, hold it six inches over the quarry, and then swat with a decisive but not vindictive motion. If the fly escapes, do not pursue it with yells and wild swipes of the swatter; wait until it lights again, and swat like a gentleman and a sportsman. With my rubber swatter, I can often stun a fly while it is in the air, but you had better not try this; only an Annie Oakley like myself has the finesse for such refinements.

Monday: Business called me to Toronto, where I found the lobby of the Royal York thronged with men in handsome blue uniforms which were richly ornamented with gold lace, gold rope and gold insignia; many of them wore impressive medals and ribbons, and I heard one of them address another as “General.” All of them carried swords, the scabbards of which appeared to be composed of gold and ivory, and one of them was accompanied by a lady of dominating appearance who wore a purple cloak of military cut, and a hat with a prodigious ostrich plume in it. I assumed that they must be foreign grandees, perhaps a government-in-exile, until I noticed that fighting men in ordinary khaki and blue did not salute them, but seemed indeed to look upon them with ill-concealed amusement; I saw one airman point them out to his dinner partner with what I can only describe as a contumelious gesture. . . I made discreet enquiries, and learned that the gorgeous creatures were attending a convention of a fraternal order — the Ancient and Honourable Order of Poltergeists, I believe. There is a corroboree of some sort at the Royal York every week.

Tuesday: Every day I pass a beverage room in the course of my duties, and at least every second day an habitue of the place pursues me for a hundred yards or so, telling me in a low, compelling voice how badly he needs twenty-five cents. I have given him money several times, chiefly from a fear that he will fall dead at my feet if I refuse, but I am beginning to be indifferent to his fate. What is more, an uncharitable suspicion dawns in my mind that he uses my money to buy beer. Now if he spends all his daily income, which is my twenty-five cents, on drink, he is obviously an improvident oaf and the despair of economists, and the next time he appears trembling and muttering at my side I shall tell him so. If he were a true Canadian he would spend five cents of my quarter on food and drink, he would save five cents, and he would pay the other fifteen for Income Tax and the Baby Bonus. That is what I have to do. Why should he live a life of pleasure, spending his whole income on drink, when I have to slave and pinch to keep him and several thousand civil servants in luxury? This is the sort of social injustice which makes communists of white-collar workers like me.

Wednesday: When I was born good fairies clustered round my cradle, showering me with wit, beauty, grace, freedom from dandruff, natural piety and other great gifts, but the Wicked Fairy Carabosse (who had not been invited to the party) crept to my side and screamed, “Let him be cursed with Inability To Do Little Jobs Around The House,” and so it has always been. I cannot drive a nail straight, or mend an electric iron, or make a door stop sticking, or change a fuse. I do not glory in my inefficiency; I suffer under it. Whenever anything goes wrong with my household arrangements, I have to get a man in to mend it — no small task in these days — and I know that he despises me as he does the fiddling little job and takes away five dollars of my money. People who are good at odd jobs are blessed above common mortals; I have some trifling skill in swatting flies and shining shoes, but otherwise I am a nuisance in the house. If I were ever shipwrecked on a desert island with several thousand feet of lumber, a complete set of carpenter’s tools and 100 cases of assorted foods, I should die in a week of exposure and starvation.

Thursday: Read a piece in a magazine by a man who urged everybody to retire earlier, and live longer. But we can’t all retire at 45 or 50; we must get money to keep body and soul together. Many people, of course, compromise in this matter: they continue to work physically as long as they can, but they retire mentally at a very early age (sometimes as young as 14) and live on their small intellectual capital for the rest of their lives. Sometimes their last forty years or so is spent in extreme mental poverty, but they don’t seem to mind; they have lots of mental leisure, and when the breeze blows in their left ear it soon whistles out their right, as fresh as ever, making a pleasant, hollow sound the while which issues from their mouths in the form of conversation. I am surprised that this sort of early retirement does not attract more attention from the Department of Health and Welfare. Surely some assistance could be devised for people who have ceased to think? A few ready-made opinions, of a size to fit any head, might surely be distributed? The problem is to find a way of introducing them into the skull.

Friday: Received a telephone call from a friend of mine, who wanted to know who invented the water-closet; he has had one in his house for years, but has only recently become curious about it. The answer is that it was first devised by the Elizabethan nobleman, Sir John Harington, who in 1596 described his invention, which he was certain would mitigate the plague, and what did the world do? It condemned him as a man whose mind dwelt on filth. Thus the very name of this great benefactor of mankind is known to about one person in 5,000, whereas the inventor of the zip-fastener was given an LL.D. by the University of Uppsala. What a world!

Saturday: Undertook to bathe a small child and put it to bed, in the absence of its mother; this is not a fitting pursuit for a man whose temperament is philosophical and whose habits are sedentary. Several times I underestimated the elusiveness of a small creature covered from head to foot in soapsuds, and almost fell into the tub myself. The child took this for frolicsomeness on my part, and began to throw water on me; I toyed with the idea of stripping, in order to meet this situation on fair terms, but rejected the plan as undignified. When at last I had landed my fish and begun to dry it, the unforeseen problem of ticklishness obtruded itself, and then hair-brushing created a great hullabaloo. When at last it was in bed, and had had all the drinks of water and Kleenex it demanded, I was a nervous and physical wreck.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43

Categories: Davies, Robertson