Thursday 15 January 2015

Maiden Voyage by Denton Welch
A Schoolboy's Diary by Robert Walser

On a day that began with a thick mantle of snow and by midday had turned to rain and gales, I set up a tango between Denton Welch and Robert Walser, reading a chapter of one and then a story or two of the other. Denton, the 16 year-old with a taste for architecture and fine porcelain, runs away from school and then joins his father in Shanghai in the 1930s, meets Walser the perpetual child, the delighted servant of his own life, in the attic of my cabin fever one winter's afternoon. Denton tries out a frock for the first and maybe last time (he was paralysed by a bicycle accident not long after he returned to England), with full make-up and heels; Walser, suited, slightly hunched against the next mountain, but smiling, ever-obedient, apologetic, has to lead. They do not manage the full show of tango emotion, but at the end both are flushed with pleasure, exertion, and the expectation of how this will look on the page.

I recognise their discomfiture, their rawness and their pleasure at the stuff of their days, I know their relentless observation and unease, the way they skirt about experience until they find a temporary nook, a place from which to write, later. Reading is for recognition, for knowledge of your suddenly extensive kin.
When I read, I am a harmless, nice and quiet person and I don't do anything stupid. Ardent readers are a breed of people with great inner peace as it were. The reader has his noble, deep, and long-lasting pleasure without being in anyone else's way or bothering anyone. Is that not glorious?
You don't have to read a book; in China you can read the tea-leaves.
Each cup had a lid, and when I lifted mine I saw whole leaves swimming in the water like a school of fishes. They were pale green. Some had not yet uncurled. I watched them opening with pleasure, and I thought that we missed a lot in England by not leaving the tea-leaves in our cups. To watch them swirling and drifting is like watching the smoke from a cigarette. And what is smoking in the dark?
The daphne bholua in the front garden gave off a brave whiff of its scent, its inner peace, even through an inch of snow this morning. Is that not glorious?

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