Part Two 7: Experimental Theatre
“I’ve been thinking about what I want to study and have decided that in all respects the theatre is really what I want. What I’m interested in most is the experimental theatre, poetry and broadcasting.”
I’m sorry I didn’t wrote before, but time passed so quickly. Then I thought I was going back to Cairo very soon, and all we had was to wait and wait, they always had new papers to wait for, then they told us (the army) I couldn’t go back to Cairo with my husband, no accommodation for me there.
We wrote to Cairo that there was for me, and the answer was I could go. Then another letter I cant go, London wrote again and still we are waiting.
Made me very upset all this always not knowing what to do.
Well I suppose Ill know very soon what we are going to do.
I had a really lovely time we went all over the places.
My husband bought a car and we had the most beautiful time. But now we cant use it, basic petrol. I don’t mind I saw everything, we went to London many, many times and I did enjoy myself. Even we saw Elizabeths wedding dress and the present. The Dress beautiful, all flowers made with pearl, 2.000 pearls and the cost of the pearls, £1.000. And the presents I cannot tell you how very marvellous they were.
Helen wrote me and don’t know when she will be home, I hope for you to have her. She’s very nice girl and I liked her very much and always will, you cant forget good friend. And I even saw the snow, Oh… it was wonderful we were going on one of our trips before Christmas and in a very high hill, they stopped the car and I rushed and started playing with the snow, made balls, through (Daisy’s spelling) it to my husband. Made some pictures with snow in my hand, will send it to, as soon we take them. (1)
Please will you send me the negatives from the pictures we made at your place. I’ll send them back to you as soon I have few printed. We sends our best wishes for New Year, and all the best of luck for you both and Helen. I wrote her a letter before Christmas.
My husband want to be remembered also my brother in law. God bless you both.
Lot of love from your affectionate Daisy Bulbeck.
1. These promised photos have not survived in this collection. Despite her name, Daisy is obviously not British. Note the continental way she puts a full stop, and not a comma on the amount of money the pearls on Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress cost. It’s a probability Tom met her during or just after the war. The ATS, for instance, recruited women in liberated countries during 1944 and 1945. Stores Disposals also recruited workers locally.
Five preceding letters – to this one – from Len to her parents are not in this collection. So no follow up to the rest of her Christmas and New Year news in the Suez Canal Zone. Also, there will be references in Len’s following letters to matters mentioned in these missing letters.
c/o Det. APO S.299, MELF.
My own Darlings,
Before I get into this letter properly, let me say that you won’t be getting any MoS cheque this month. I’ve asked all my money to be paid out here as Esme wants to borrow it in case she’s going home in April, so that she can buy things. Like Harris she proposes paying me back in U.K. You’ve no idea how true the song is for us “…. and when they’re running short of cash they borrow from each other.”
No mail from you since the 8th. I expect it’s the transition from bag to APO. However I can’t complain for everyone else’s mail is delayed too.
Monday I’d Esme to lunch, left her to have half an hours French with Vera, then we got ready and went over to the Stokes. We took the kids and Doris to the newly opened part of Garden Groppi’s for tea.
On Mon. I went to the Y.W. before going on to the Theatre Guild. It was wonderful – we’d a rehearsed play reading of Ibsen’s “Ghosts”. I’ve been thinking about what I want to study and have decided that in all respects the theatre is really what I want. What I’m interested in most, is the experimental theatre, poetry and broadcasting. I want to try to get into one of the big places in London, like the Guildhall, RADA, or the Central School. The CS Course is three years, so I guess I’ll have to save like mad, but even if the Government won’t give me a grant, they may give me a loan. Anyway, if you know you want to do a thing although it has difficulties I always feel one should plunge in then one just has to get through – e.g. the way we managed about your holiday Mum. Do tell me your comments and any ideas you have – the theatre – or one of its branches is really all that interests me a lot and is the thing for which I have most aptitude, but as always I want to preserve an open mind and not shut myself off from all that happens around me and from which I may learn something of value.
Anyway, Tuesday, Pat came to lunch, then we walked round Gezira and afterwards she bathed whilst I washed my hair and showered. Then we had tea and I just stayed in, in the evening. Yesterday I did my washing in the afternoon and at night went to the Fins (1) for high tea. Jean only was in, as John and Mr Munro were at the pictures. By the way, he’s not going now on the 20th and I believe the sailing of the Stokes’ boat has been delayed to the 24th.
However, the Fins and Esme and I are exploring the possibilities of a Med. tour, or a visit to Greece or Turkey for our last holiday out here. Last night Jean said to me it would be wonderful to go to the International Youth Hostel Rally. Anyway the point I’m leading to is this – it’ll probably be held in France or Belgium, so can’t you get yourself elected (as a member of the S.Y.H.A., should not be not so difficult) as one of the Scottish delegates Dad? Please, oh do try. Mr Munro is to find out where it’s to be for Jean. So do write and tell me what you know and you try to come, won’t you Daddy?
Jean was also saying that Lewis’s have nylons at 8/11 and as I don’t remember your having used up my last 6 export coupons I was wondering if you could have two pairs sent to me Mum. ‘Bag’ from U.K. to here operates till the 31st, so if you could get them into the FO before the end of the month it would be really super.
Have you read “Middle East Anthology”? (2) It was Esme’s Xmas present to me and really provides a wonderful picture of life here so should prove interesting reading for someone like you who’s been here Mum. That is all 26, that is all – over to you.
Masses of love flying to you chookemses.
1. Fins: the Findlays.
2. Middle East Anthology, edited by John Waller and Erik de Mauny, published by Lindsay Drummond, London, 1946. It contains an early short story by Olivia Manning, a memoir by Lawrence Durrell and poems by Keith Douglas, amongst other selections.
Three Gezira Lovelies, on page 98, by John Ropes is a three page verse drama:
Three Gezira Lovelies: copyright John Ropes/Estate of. From The Middle East Anthology List of Contributors biographies:
John Ropes: Lt-Col in Royal Artillery. Awarded O.B.E. Used to write for the Gate Review before the war and in Cairo wrote for the C.A.D.M.S. ‘Revue Order, 1941’ and ‘Revue Order, 1942.’
Office desk, monday morning.
My very own Ones,
No mail from you for 11 days – so I’m wondering what has happened. I won’t send any more enclosures till I hear from you that my letters are getting through. Try as I will to banish it I still have a gnawing worry about you both.
Friday it was Pat’s birthday and I’d lunch with her and also tea, then went to pick up the suit and blouse I’ve brought and went on to say good-bye to the Stokes. Their boat is probably not sailing till the 24th, Mr Munro has no sailing date yet and Pat is now going in February. She’d like to come and stay with you sometime in March if that’s O.K.?
Saturday I went to Qassasin by the local bus – Sgts Mess do.
On arrival we’d tea, then a little later dinner and dancing. I broadcast through their mike – later we’d a lovely buffet supper, more dancing and finished with a sing song. The types though not sand-happy were not exactly intellectual, however it was quite enjoyable and I met a boy who’s practically in love with Scotland though he’s never been there and so I told him I’ll give him bags of gen on hostels and the like. What news have you Daddy apropos of the hostel conference I talked of in my last letter?
Yesterday – we stayed at the “Y” at Ish, we’d coffee in the lounge there, did some walking and went back to Q for lunch. We took some snaps, got in some table tennis and dancing and I’d my first driving lesson, in a 15 cwt. – it was fun.
Just longing to get some letters from you. Take care of yourselves.
My love to you darlings,
BSDM Cairo, c/o Det APOS.
My darling beloved Ones,
It’s a fortnight to-day since I’ve heard from you, but we’ve been told that all the mail has gone to Turkey by mistake – the APO haven’t got used to dealing with our stuff from England yet, so it alleviates the worry about you especially as everyone else here is in the same boat, but nevertheless it’s a bit depressing and I realise more than ever how much your letters mean.
Don’t know if I said so in my last letter or not, but a chap at Qassasin – the one who’s fallen for Scotland though he’s never seen it – said to me he thought the Edinburgh Festival was to be in August this year, do you know? It should be wonderful, shouldn’t it?
The sheets have arrived. Yes, they came by bag and arrived in two lots, one Monday, one Tuesday – one date – which looked like the sending off one was 22.12.47, so they must have come quickly if that was right.
Monday I’d lunch with Morris and we went to the Pyramids. Then, we’d an ice cream in L’Americaine and I went on to the Y, where I nattered to Pat, then Esme came and we went to the CTG – Peer Gynt, which left me in a trance.
Yesterday I did some chores and went to see the Schrachas – poor Chayanne (pronounced to rhyme with Diane) has had gyppy tummy badly, but is O.K. now. Anyway I’ve had two comparatively early nights and hope to have two more.
In the morning I went with Pat to the dentist (this all in office time – happy thought) and then we went to the Egyptian State Broadcasting to try and crash in, we’d an interview and left our names, but influence ranks high, so don’t have masses of hope.
Longing to hear all your news, how you’re surviving January etc. Hope they hurry up and send that mail back from Turkey – it should work out all right when they get used to it, just hope you’re getting mine.
That’s all, no more news but do take care of yourselves.
All the love in the world,
Writing by a bedside lamp, but not in bed. BSDM Cairo, c/o Dep APO S.299, MELF.
My very own dearest Darlings,
Once more I’m glad of having had a few early nights, for with all the events scheduled to happen within the next few weeks I don’t look like having many.
I’m due to move about the 15th & after that my days are s’posed to be spent talking to the little Greek girl & when I went on Friday they were so thrilled to learn I was Scottish. (1)
The father’s studied in England & has been to Glasgow. I explained about wanting to see a friend (Peter) during his leave, but after that I’d be at their disposal & they said that would be O.K. They want me to be there all week days except one – which is to be free & when I’m on I’m to be there from 3.30 – 8.30 & as she has lessons three days a week from 5.30 – 6.30 that gives me that time to myself too. I do as I please at week-ends, stay in or go out. Only have vague notions of improving her English, but do hope to get her to learn “There was an old goblin in shivery pool”.
They’re also pleased I adore swimming & walking & don’t like the pictures. However (once again) masses of things have now cropped up & 5 men of my own loom on the horizon quite apart from a friend of David’s Pat wants me to look after next week-end here.
My own 5 are Malcolm – who wants me to go down to Q the week-end of 7/8th, who wrote me again – before he’d heard from me enclosing an ordnance survey of the Lake District (could have sent nothing to please me more) & who may be coming to Cairo soon. (2) Secondly Peter’s coming on leave shortly for he’s due to sail on Demob 18th Mar. Thirdly (watch how they all piled up within 24 hours) I met the most wonderful Swiss architect who wants me to look at some houses he’s building.
To-day the Findlays told me they spent most of their time in PS with Ernst meeting him at the EE & he said he’s coming to Cairo on leave the week after next i.e. 8th & that he’d be writing to me about it. Lastly, as I looked at the paper to-day I see the ss Patrician’s due in on Alex. “about 8th Feb.” – which means I hope to see Ken Cook. Usually I manage to dovetail things without overlapping, but I seem to have had it this time.
Friday the Fs were at PS bidding adieu to Mr M.
Saturday I’d the most wonderful mail, 2 letters from you, a letter from Malcolm with the OS of the Lakes, a letter from the Central School with an application form for the autumn term (this I hope to send to you bahdin for completion) & also a friendly letter from Nan Buchanan.
I got to know the Swiss architect who is a friend of Bernard Rice, an artist I’ve got to know from Maadi who is bad, in that he brings out the romantic in me by describing wonderful times in Yugoslavia & living on 7/- in 3 months in fishing smacks on the Dalmation coast – all carefree but really very bad as one isn’t contributing to the community.(3)
The Swiss architect lives at Maadi, like Bernard Rice, and is from near St.Moritz, is tall & slim, 30 ish & adores dogs, music & mountains. Although he’s travelled all over the place (& now wants to settle down) there’s something naive and diffident about him which is most endearing. His name is Mark. He’s the sort of person who makes one feel quite unlike a career woman. However, a little putting-the-brake-on is indicated in all directions, so ‘nuff said re. him.
Thanks so much for sending me Joan’s letter. (4)
Take great, great care of yourselves my ain chooki-burdis .
Love, love, love, Len. xxxxx
1. Because of the missing five letters we have no background to why Len is moving in to new digs as a companion to Lita, the young Greek girl. It is guessed that Len is getting free lodging and board, something that will appeal to her as a keen saver of money. Len’s friendship with the Solovieffs and their daughter Vera – she continues to have French lessons – has not stalled.
2. This is the first mention, in these letters, of Malcolm, a British Army officer. He was probably mentioned in the missing five letters.
3. Bernard Rice, 1900 – 1998. He was a designer, printmaker and sculptor. When Len met him he was teaching wood engraving and etching in Cairo. He was born in Austria, and studied at the Westminster School of Art, and then The Royal College of Art. The V & A, the British Museum, and the Cairo Modern Art Gallery, amongst others, hold items of his work. He died in Hastings, England.
4. This letter of Joan Brandley’s does not survive in this collection.
Same Firm. BSDM Cairo, c/o Det. APO S.299, MELF.
Most precious Parents,
To make up for the dearth of letters a wee while back, I’m now receiving both air and sea mail from you – yesterday your 249 and to-day your 245.
In the back of my mind I knew of the one thing which could just crown everything – i.e. all the people I’m s’posed to see just now, but never dreamt it would happen, however it did. Yesterday I’d a letter from Ken-who-never-writes, yes Dixon’s on his way out. As per request in the letter I booked a call to him yesterday (he’s at Fanara – refer to that map, what, haven’t you got one!) but as it didn’t get through in the morning I went to the EST place in the afternoon and when I eventually got my 6 mins. at 13½ pt. – he hadn’t come back from lunch!
Only after I’d put down the phone did I remember that the message that he was to ring me was pretty US as it’s very difficult to get through to a civilian number in Cairo from a military one in the Canal Zone. (1)
Accordingly I booked a call first thing in the morning and as it was so early it came through fairly soon and he was in. He’s been here a fortnight but couldn’t remember my address till the other day – admits that was dopey. I’m going down to Ish on Friday after I’ve had my French lesson and washed my hair and as my Swiss architect rang me yestre’en and I’m to go and look at houses after lunching with him tomorrow, that disposes of two people, leaving Sgt. Shirley – whom I learnt came to meet the two girls in the truck last week-end hoping I’d have gone to Q too, Ernst – from whom I haven’t heard yet as to when he’s coming on leave so it shouldn’t be this week-end, Peter who also owes me a letter and old Ken who’s previously on the high seas. It’s a great life if you don’t weaken – have visions of Pete and Malcolm running into Ken and me in Ish – personally I’d like one big happy family, but people sometimes have a habit of not getting on, I mean ones friends – i.e. Pat and Esme love each other from a distance.
Yesterday I went with Pat and we looked at more sales – aren’t they fun even if you don’t buy a thing?, and I got a bargain. According to my basic plan – drawn up with Pat’s help – I’m s’posed to have everything classic and in three colours – navy, brown and black. The shoes I bought fit the specification as far as navy goes, but otherwise, well they ain’t the least bit classic – courts with open toes and heels and punched holes about the size of threepenny bit – but they do look nice and should be good for dancing. What really won me was the price – 60 Pt. or 12/- – not bad eh?
Definitely feel there’s something ‘agin me’ as far as trying to look neat and smart goes – did my washing yesterday, including hanging out of roll-on and navy skirt (I’m lengthening it and had to wash it to get rid of fuzz etc. inside old hem) and guess what, it was the one day of the year (well not quite) when it rained, so goodness knows whether the skirt’s shrunk or not – and I’d already taken it in and of course the roll-on was as wet as could be, and I wanted to wear it today under my re-modelled navy dress to look really svelte for my Swiss Mark – think I’ll have to go back to books and maps.
Talking of the former, I managed to get hold of one I’d been looking for for a long time – Cornelia Otis Skinner’s “Our Hearts were Young and Gay” – it covers a trip to Paris and is, I believe on the lines of “Gentlemen prefer Blondes” – not reading it yet though, like my ME Anthology I want to read it in the great bahdin. (1)
After my washing I went to the Companion’s and talked to Lita – I can see she’ll keep me on my toes – I’d almost forgotten the word Algebra. It’s so easy when far away, “Yes, children are good for one”, but boy, who tires first, however, it should mean far less introspection, which is a very good thing.
They wanted me to move next week when I was there yesterday, but I was adamant, thinking of my last week of freedom and also of the “Patrician” – don’t know what I’ll do if she comes in just as I move, for I ought to keep to my bargain of staying and nattering and there’s no news of her being in the Med. yet. If she were a fortnight late ‘twould be all right, but a week would jigger things, taking me to moving day.
I note your carpet requirements and as I’m s’posed to see Morris (2) on Monday, shall tell him all then, so that he can be on the look-out and there should be no rush at the last.
After C’s last night I went on to the WNC (3) and we’d PT, it was good fun. I am a silly, have so many encs. to send to to-day as I’m going out (with Mark) haven’t brought as many bundles as usual and have nothing by me, marleesh, ‘twill have to be next time.
Esme forgot to turn, hence the double exposure of ‘me and the lion’ at Suez. (4)
Will reply to the rest of your letter in my next, but have to get this in the mail – all the love in the world to my dearly Beloveds.
1. US : Useless
2. Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough, 1942, made into a film in 1944. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, 1925, made into a film in 1953.
3. Morris Zeid, referred to by Mum in her letter of 17 December, 1947.
4. WNC: the Christian instigated Wednesday Night Club.
5. ‘Esme forgot to turn’ – to wind the film on. Len is responding to a question from Mum, in a letter not in this collection. There is a possibility that this is the only surviving photograph from when Len, Esme and Myrtle were in the Suez Canal Zone at Christmas.
No hint of blue in the sky, but not very chilly.
Dearest own Ones,
My quiet period seems to have passed by and again I seem to be writing brief letters – awful isn’t it?
I wrote you on Thursday, well that day I’d the most wonderful day I’ve had in the ME except for the day of your arrival Mum. Everything just flowed into everything else. First I’d lunch with Mark at Groppi’s – and it was a perfect lunch, then we drove out in his car to Maadi where he showed me the houses he was building. They really were dreams. The design of the house, the wallpaper, colour scheme and furnishings had all been thought out at the same time, so the effect was admirable. Of course the kitchens were super and everything generally was utilitarian and pleasant to look at the same time.
Then we looked over Maadi Club and had tea there and afterwards drove out to the Pyramids and had a drink in Mena House, then he drove me back to town and deposited me at the Harari’s. He’s the bloke who gave the Psychology lecture to us and has a super wife and kids. I looked at their kids, then went to a recital.
It was in the most super flat I’ve ever been in, gorgeous paintings, carpets etc. and we sat in chairs with side bits on (you know especially level with your head). There were chintz cushions scattered about the floor for the latecomers to sit on. Not only was it furnished with bags of money, but with exquisite taste. Those people must never see the little maimed children in the street – they live in another world.
After a while the lights went up – we’d been listening to Bach and Handel in the darkness – and some doors opened noiselessly to reveal the most super buffet I’ve ever seen – everything was really perfect. The way our host’s suit was cut it must have cost the earth. After cutting back some of this food we left. Really I’d have adored to have stayed, but I was so tired and couldn’t have coped without the Hararis who were leaving then, however I hope to go again soon, the only thing is Peter will be here and he looks like a child who’s been slapped if you say you can’t go out with him and although I’m only fond of him as a friend, I hate to hurt him.
Friday I washed my hair and packed and caught the 6.30 down to Ish, Ken met me and after I booked in the Y, we went to the King George where we talked and danced shwoya.
Rather he talked, for the whole week-end I listened to his experiences in Haifa. He’s nearly round the bend, though he’s getting better now, but his nerves are in a really bad way and I got the full brunt of it. He wouldn’t let me contact any of our other mutual acquaintances, but just kept on talking of Haifa, the mass murders, sniping, suicides of British blokes who’d gone right round the bend. (1)
Saturday, we walked, went to the US Club for lunch, sat and nattered, had tea at the Y, dinner at the Greek Club and danced at the King G. Sunday we walked, and I’d lunch at the Y, whilst he went to his mess, then after tea I caught the bus back to Cairo with the rest of our girls who’d been at Q. On arrival I’d tea with the Sols and nattered to them and Vera’s girl friend who’d come up from Alex.
That’s me up to date, but I can’t go on nattering as there’s masses of work and I must get this in the mail. Then of course I’m so involved in sorting myself out. Phoned Peter this morning and he’s coming up Wed., I’m half expecting a telegram from Ken C to say come down to Alex., ditto a letter from Ernst to say he’s coming on leave, there are also some other bods in various places demanding letters or a ‘yes’ to their coming to Cairo and this afternoon I’m shopping with Morris, then seeing Mark at night for dinner before going on to “Lady Precious Stream”, lastly I’m s’posed to be moving at the week-end and then staying with the little Greek girl most of the time – something’s going to go somewhere, but as yet I don’t know what.
Cheerio the noo pets and keep the home fires burning.
Absolutely your own most loving, Len. xxxx
1. Throughout 1947 (and into 1948) the Zionist terrorist group Irgun, were indiscriminately killing British servicemen (most of whom were conscripts) in the Haifa area, besides Jerusalem and other areas within the Palestine Mandate. Servicemen (and civilians, including Jews and Arabs) were being killed weekly. Killings were achieved by booby trapped vehicles, vehicle mines, kidnapping followed by executions, attacks on military and non-military buildings, attacks on British Army Red Cross vehicles and posts, attacks on the Cairo – Haifa train, and so on. By February 1947 the British decided to evacuate all service families and ‘non-essential staff’ out of Haifa to Egypt, in Operation Polly. Ken Dixon is on Len’s 1945 list of friends and music she associates with them. The music Len associates with Ken is Melody in F.
Just in the office. BSDM Cairo, c/o Det. APO S.299
Parents o’ mine,
Mailless little me – haven’t had a letter from you since the 4th – the APO needs shaking up.
Monday I went down the Mousky & got Pat all her gift requirements – with Morris. She can’t bear the Mousky. At the same time I got a little black horn deer with ivory antlers for Esme’s birthday & a goblet carved out of gamoose horn for myself comme ça –
– imagine all out of one piece of horn & it was only 20 Pt! Had proved an unpopular item as is doesn’t shout ‘made in Egypt’ – hence the cheapness – it’s an antique too. I was buying masses of stuff for Pat & getting it all together helped keep prices down.
I came back & changed & Mark called for me in his car. We’d dinner in a little Italian place, then went to see “Lady Precious Stream” which was most amusing. Afterwards we drove over to Gezira, parked the car, went for a brisk walk by the Nile. Then he drove me back. He told me his age – 39. It was rather surprising, but I s’pose the various things he’s done have taken some time.
Yesterday Pat came & looked over my clothes with advice on same – it was hectic – my pulling clothes on & off. Then I dashed to the C’mt meeting – which I took being vice-chairman (the chairman proper Pamela (vicar’s wife) being in Upper Egypt on church work). Then the c’mt all tea’d in Loques (just beside Groppi in Midan Soli Pash). I went to bed fairly early. Mark had asked me to a fancy dress ball, but I really needed that early night.
Yesterday I did my washing, then went to the Companions & talked to Lita. Gosh what a packed hour & a half. I listened to her telling me a film story, wrote a treatise on New Orleans for her, sang hymns ditto, watched her doing exercises – let her watch me (thank goodness toe-touching isn’t beyond me) doing likewise and played tag with her.
Returned to 173. I repaired a few ravages next by doing exercises in my split skirt – actually looked at myself, realised I hadn’t time & caught a tram into town & Peter. We coffee’d etc & he did my French with me, then as he wouldn’t come to the country dancing I went alone. It was wonderful, some boys of the Maadi Dancing Group came up & as well as quite energetic English dances we did a Dashing White Sergeant & an Eightsome Reel – we were in stitches half the time with laughter. Afterwards Peter picked me up & we’d some food together before walking back to Sam (1) – what an energetic day.
Keep smiling big smiles chookums. Shiploads of love,
1. Len also wrote a second letter on this day (not in this collection), 11 February, for Mum’s eyes only. She was asking Mum advice about her relationship with Mark. (See the next chapter, Part Two Chapter 8)
2. Sam: Len’s nickname for Zamalek.
Invigorating morning. BSDM Cairo, c/o Det. APO S.299, MELF.
Two best loved Ones,
Just taking the address of the Palmgren’s from your 245 and as Peter and I should be calling on Steena (my Swedish girl friend) to go to the WNC Valentine Party tonight, I’ll ask her if she knows it or them.
The Left and Right seem to be having a rare battle in the W.4 area. (1) Doesn’t it make a difference when you know your friends lean the same way as you – neither Pat or Esme are left and it means one can’t talk on quite a lot of things. Mark has quite an open mind on the subject. He’s definitely Left and likes Com. in theory, but says theories don’t work when applied to human nature and cites Russia where he’s been and we’d a heated discussion about that awful book “I Chose Freedom” – written by a Russian who when in America with a Soviet Mission, ran away and wrote this book – I ask you, not only was he a traitor to his country, but a traitor to his ideals too. (2)
Must tell you that yesterday I made the great decision – should have hated to think I was being swallowed up by the ME, so when I was asked by a supervisor over the phone yesterday if I’d stay on beyond July to say the end of October I said “No”.
Just afterwards by the last of the mail I’d a p.c. from Joan Brandley in which she says her leave’s from a date in July to the beginning of Aug., but continues that she wouldn’t dare ask me to spend it with her as it’s my first summer home – of course I’d like to see her for a few days, so it’s grand her leave comes then, but I’d like to be alone for most of the time to think, as one feels so mixed up in ones mind with being away so long.
It was lovely getting that p.c. after my great decision – you’ve no idea how the ME gets an insidious hold – made me feel how alive home is and that there were others besides you two who want to see me. I hate to think of the £30 a month I’m saving just now for those other months, but after all, what is money and I feel I must get home in the summer – procrastination is so weak and I just can’t do without seeing you both much longer.
Appropos of your query re. the British going. Well, the troops moved out in March ’47, but since then the British community as a whole have stayed put. (3)
My social life is hectic – though my new abode is slowing it up a bit which is a good thing, but many of the girls don’t go out much and the Connaught House ones (YW) especially seem content to sleep, eat, work, read, sew – yes, they go to bed early every night.
I think it’s bad to pamper kids, but there’s nothing wrong with a little mother love – I couldn’t bear to have a wee baby and have it away from me most of the time. There’s no doubt about it this is a heck of a decadent country and people get like that living here. Shouldn’t like to have kids here – from seeing Lita and other kids I’m sure the schools are lousy as is only to be expected.
I’ve thrown away the old expanding case which has definitely had its chips.
That’s me replied to your letters, the last being 252. I have all but 250 and 251, so things are straightening out slow but sure.
On Sunday Mark called at 9 as arranged and we’d breakfast on the “Sudan” houseboat together. From there we drove out to Lake Karoun which is about 50 miles away. It’s amazing the way the desert suddenly gives place to greenness, but it’s not a very inspiring stretch of water and like most, or rather all of Egypt as far as scenery is concerned left me cold. However, we nattered medly all the way and had a super lunch at the further away hotel, coming back to have coffee at the nearer one, playing some ping pong and having a walk by the lake before returning.
We’d tea at Mena House on the way in, then he dropped me in Zamalek and I went up to the Findlys where Peter foregathered too and we all had dinner together, after which we played cards to finish off the evening. S’pose I’ll have to learn bridge as a social accomplishment, but I just don’t enjoy cards at all.
Monday I packed and moved. Oh, but I am enjoying my new abode, I may get a bit fed up as time goes by being with Lita – but at present I can’t see how. Don’t see what I’m doing for my keep, but I s’pose they just want someone to be with her as much as anything. Must take a photo of the view from the window to send you. (4) Yesterday I gave Lita “Shivery Pool” to learn, showing her all the actions by saying it myself first. She was entranced. She is a lovable little girl and said to me yesterday sort of full of quiet joy “It’s our second day together”. She’s given me some pressed pansies, and I told her I was going to send you some, which I must do. It’s wonderful too being back to regular meals and the rest of the family seem awfully nice too. I let the Father tell me what he thought of America and things in general – I always think men love to tell you how they’d put the world straight – did I hear a protest from you Daddy?
I stayed in yesterday, except for after lunch when I went over to Gezira to see Lita playing hockey and nipped into the Ladies’ lounge where I found Steena and asked her to the party to-night.
Had a letter from Malcolm this morning to say he’s coming up this week-end, so I wrote back feverishly and at once to say cancel it, as Peter will be here this week-end. Told Malcolm I always get involved a good while ahead and to come up on the week-end of 6/7th and to stay over to the 8th when I’m producing a rehearsed reading of T.S.Elliot’s “The Family Re-Union”. Pray for me, the only thing I’ve ever produced before was “Christmas Carol”, admittedly it was most successful, but this is a much more complicated and highbrow affair, but in view of my future hopes I could hardly refuse when the Theatre Guild asked me to do it.
That is all, over to you. Love by ‘plane till we meet again.
1. Mum presumably sent the local (and now defunct) weekly paper the Clydebank Press to Len. Although Len talks about Left and Right, the political correspondence, at the time, in the Letters page was between local communist party members attacking the Labour Government (“a budget for big business”, and so on), and local Labour Party supporters responding by calling the communist letter writers supporters of totalitarianism who are not acknowledging the social welfare reforms the Labour Government was bringing in.
2. I Chose Freedom: The Personal and Political Life of a Soviet Official by Victor Kravchenko, was published 1946 in the USA, and published 1947 by Robert Hale in the U.K. It remains a searing exposé, based on first hand experience, of the terror regime in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was violently denounced by the USSR, who demanded that Kravchenko be extradited back (to certain death). The international Communist Parties throughout the world (under instructions from Moscow) – with the exception of Yugoslavia who had its own problems with Moscow – ran equally violent and vicious campaigns against Kravchenko. He had joined the Communist Party in 1929, and was a witness to the mass starvation of the Ukrainian peasantry as a result of Stalin’s forced agricultural collectivization. As late as 1983, when the identity of his son (who’d changed his name and had lived anonymously for 37 years) was discovered, the Soviet authorities imprisoned him in a gulag for five years, simply for being Kravchenko’s son. The son spent the last three years in a gulag whilst Gorbachev was First Secretary of the Communist Party. His father had died – peacefully – in the U.S. in 1966.
It seems that Len had not read the book. She identified with the cause of the Soviet Union at least until 1955.
The same week Len wrote this letter to her parents, George Orwell was in Ward 3 of Hairmyres Hospital, East Kilbride, fifteen miles south east of Coldingham Avenue. That week he had just written a letter to Fred Warburg, who had published his Animal Farm in 1945 when his previous left-wing publisher Victor Gollancz wouldn’t touch it. Orwell was very ill with TB damaged lungs, and had finished the first draft of Nineteen Eighty-Four in the previous autumn, October, 1947 on the Isle of Jura.
3. Len is responding to a query from a letter from Mum not in this collection. “In May 1946, plans were announced for the withdrawal of British Troops from Egypt into the Canal Zone. The H.Q. B.T.E. (British Troops Egypt) was moved from Cairo to Moascar, a suburb of Ismailia in the Canal Zone. Disputes between the United Kingdom and Egypt over The Sudan led to negotiations collapsing, but the British withdrawal continued. On the 9 February 1947, the 2 Bn. The Royal Fusiliers handed over Mustapha Barracks in Alexandria to the Egyptians. On the 28 March, The Life Guards left Kasr-el-Nil Barracks and withdrew into the Canal Zone. The Canal Zone was divided into two Brigade Areas, the northern formed by the 3 Infantry Brigade, which also was designated the Strategic Reserve.” Sourced from, and grateful thanks to britishmilitaryhistory.co.uk
BSDM Cairo, c/o Det. APO S.299, MELF.
Hail, Smilers, Your 253 came in yestre’en – keeping me abreast of the news. (1)
Glad to hear you’ve made the decision to get rid of Jack – when is the day to be when he gets his marching orders?
No, I still feel slightly odd at always having to let men pay, but I must confess that I never voice my feelings nowadays.
Yes, you know I have been thinking about cutting down on everything and not knocking around doing everything and your letter’s a great help in straightening things out in my mind. But I don’t see what’s wrong with a straw hat round the neck though, think people look most attractive like that.
I’ve never had a 2 ½ Forces letter from you yet, so don’t know about its quickness. Pat received your 6d air mail O.K. Her sailing’s been advanced from the 29th to the 25th, so now she should sail on the Lanstephen Castle (or a name like that, she’s not quite sure) next Wednesday.
Think I told you about Mark’s houses – everything was built in, of course, in the kitchen and they were tiled shoulder high with rounded corners where floor and walls met. He’s building a boys’ club at Alex. and a school here, must see the designs. Told him of the courtyard school idea – e.g. Mounteagle and he says it’s a bad thing because of drafts, noise carrying etc. nevertheless, though it may be bad from a technical angle, I enjoyed Mounteagle. (2)
Monday I moved and stayed with Lita and her family for the whole day afterwards, but I already said that in my last letter? By the way, I’m getting masses of green vegetables, more than I had since leaving U.K.
Wednesday I stayed with Lita, then at night went to the Valentine Party with Peter and Steena. Thursday I’d my French, went back to 15 (my new road number) then went into town early, saw Pat, then both of us had dinner with Peter.
Yesterday I stayed with Lita during the day, playing hop scotch and doing things like that, then at night went out with Mark. He hadn’t had dinner, so I drank a sherry whilst he dined, then we drove out to Maadi and visited Bernard (you know the artist), we’d tea with him and nattered away, then came back to Zamalek.
Would you please send the enclosed form on for me – thank goodness the Guildhall doesn’t have an entrance fee, or rather they’ve crossed it out on the form they’ve sent me. RADA have though, so I should be sending it to you shortly too. Take the dough from the next you get from the MoS. Sorry for involving you in the sending of these forms, but I just don’t know how I could send the dough from out here. I’m enclosing the 6d. stamp off your last letter as it wasn’t postmarked – ‘ave a go chum.
In case you give it to friends at any time (or you need it yourselves if that Littlewood’s (3) comes up), my new address is:
c/o Companion, Flat 4, 15 Sharia Amir Hussein, Zamalek.
And as Joyce Grenfell says in revue “And that is the end of the news”.
As always, my love through every season.
1. This letter 253 from Mum is not in the collection.
2. A primary school Len went to as a young girl when living in Dagenham.
3. Before the British National Lottery, Football Pools were the weekly popular ‘bet’ on winning a large amount of money. Zetters, Vernons and Littlewoods were amongst the main companies.
Next Friday, 21 November, 2014. Part Two Chapter Eight: Marriage: No second hand or damaged material.
“Remember always, honey, your value (I hate to put it this way but facts are facts) in the marriage market is a very, very high one…. therefore no second hand or damaged material will be good enough….” – Letter from Mum to Len, 26 February, 1948.