Friday, 16 October 2009

A Golf Hole in a Renoir and "The Weather In The Streets"

I bid a tearful goodbye to the lip-reader and made my way home. It was after midnight when I got back to my room. I was welcomed by the smell of cigar and fresh ironing. The Dean had been. What could he have wanted? I went from room to room; nothing had been taken, nothing had been left, so I got into bed with the hairdryer (I always, always go sleep with the hairdryer on - for the hum more than the heat). I went over my field-research notes, but my heart wasn’t in it. I kept returning to the image of that strange and brilliant couple on the golf course; their sparkling conversation, and all the fabulous concepts they talked into being before my lip-reader’s eyes; all those spontaneous combustions of speech, then the shock of her sudden, mysterious disappearance, and that final scene of a man alone on a green talking to himself. Bachelard said “A special kind of beauty exists which is born in language, of language, and for language…..To speak well is part of living well.”

It was only when I reached for “The Weather In The Streets” (my current book at bedtime) that I put my finger on (or more accurately, right into) the damage the Dean had done whilst I was out. He’d burned a cigar hole (another of his little golf holes?) right through the cover of Rosamond Lehmann’s “The Weather In The Streets.” The front cover shows a portrait of ‘Mme. Henriot,’ by Renoir; the Dean’s cigar has trepanned Mme. Henriot right between the eyes. More than that, he must have sadistically held the cigar on her pale face for quite sometime, as the hole has burned clean through the first thirteen pages of the book (burning books is bad enough, but incinerating only certain words is unforgivable). From then on, a round, brown scorch-mark becomes more faint with every turn of the page, until it finally disappears on page.33 (the age Jesus was crucified).

Inspection of the scorched pages revealed a few redeeming features, however. On page.7 the cigar had burned a hole in “a nice green jumper, lime-green”. “Cigarettes” had come close to being lit on page.5, as had a “Dolls’ House.” He’d almost set light to “Straw,” on page.19, a “psycho-analyst” on page.16, and a “female,” on page.12. He’d come near to burning another book “Tristram Shandy,” on page.18, and only just failed to light up a final “Cigarette” on page.26.

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