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T. E. Lawrence to Dick Knowles



Dear Dick,

As a rule I work at this machine for an hour a day, and as I get more intelligible on it I am beginning to write letters to the people to whom I am most in arrears. It is not a very good payment of dues, for either I am careful at framing my sentences - in which case spelling and sense go west: or I am spelling carefully, in which case the sentences mean little or nothing: or the meaning is excellent, but unintelligible below the errors in syntax and spelling. I leave it to you to divide this letter into these three categories. You have no idea how hard it is to do four things at once. Later, when I can hammer blindfold like a clerk (Group IV), my stuff will be itself again.

Life here remains as it was when I wrote to you the first and last times from here. A good place in which to mark time, for the food is good, and there is no attempt to control our deportment in camp, and the work is light (too light, I'm afraid... the excessive leisure takes much filling) and not uninteresting, for the officers are all full out for work; and I have found a sheltered occupation, which delivers me from working parade, first thing in the morning, and from most of the ceremonials. This is an extraordinary place for Ceremonies. An average of one posh visitor a month seems to come here, or to Karachi, and no performance is complete without the presence of the R.A.F. And India is a country of rifles, so that a parade is a military occasion. At all times of the year hundreds of us are being rafted down to the town in Leyland floats, to line streets or honour a cenotaph, or fire a feu-de-joie. From all these diversions of temper my little job as Key-orderly preserves me. In return I get up at reveille (easy...) and unlock the shops by 7 o'clock; and lock them up again in the dinner time, when work nominally ceases for the day. But often there is an afternoon shift, and for them again I open doors; and the rest of the time I have the keys in my control, and can use the shop and office as a playground. It was a comfort at Christmas time, when the camp turned very wet. Normally it is as dry as any camp I have met; but the mess, when it did break out, finally, was correspondingly worse... I think it was worse than Bovington in 1923, which has hitherto been my high-level of beastliness. No, upon reflection, it was not so bad as that.

Christmas day itself I spent in the guardroom, doing another man's turn. He thought I was doing him a kindness, he being a buffalo, an animal which likes dampness; I thought he was doing me a kindness; so the exchange was mutually satisfactory. The guard were all T.T., at least on duty, and no person came near us to bother us. So I think I scored. Guards are a beastly ordeal, for me. I get in a shaking funk before the mounting, and find it difficult to give the right salutes with a pop-gun at short notice, without muddling myself up. Sheer wind, of course, for actually I know the movements well. But something always comes to flurry me, when it is a performance with witnesses.

You were no doubt at Clouds Hill. I wish I could have been, for the day, though I make no doubt that the tenant (if any) has cleaned it up muchly. But all that has happened since I left England makes me pat myself on the back of myself, for my wisdom in running away. Cranwell would have stood, grumblingly, one book about me; when Graves added himself to the Revolt, they would have spat on me. When Lowell Thomas added himself to Graves, they would have spewed on me. It was hard luck, having the two of them at once; though in the end it will be best, probably. At least, nobody can do another, and the soul of the great British public will be turned with rage at its surfeit of my rareness and virtuosity, and will refuse for years to hear me quoted or mentioned. The BIGGER THE BOOM? THE BIGGER THE SLUMP... so that is comfortable. I hope you will take the crest of the market for the disposal of your Seven Pillars. If you ask me when the crest is or was, then I cannot tell you. Posh got £400 for his proofs... but they were a unique set. I have been a golden gander to lots of people; and if that spare copy of The S.P. at Oxford is not claimed by I come back, then it is going to give me a new bike in 1930, and maintenance money for it for two years. I hope the Matchless is going as it should; it sounded right. Just well run in, and nippy in type. When you are my age you will be sighing for heavier things, which are less acrobatic to ride, and suggest ease to their decaying owners. The point of glory in a Brough was that lazy touring speed, maintained, you felt, without effort on the engine's part, for all day.

I wonder where you go, about Winchester. One of my pet places used to be at Ringwood - or rather near it. The forest is fine about Picket Post; though perhaps this is hardly the time of year. We forget the seasons here, where the climate is always as near fine as can be, and the temperature pretty constant through the year, dropping ten degrees a night in summer, from 90° to 80°, and in winter sometimes falling as low as 60° at midnight. Also this place has no direct sun; the nearness of the sea gives us so much mist and there are such continual dust-storms in the Gulf, that the light comes to us always filtered, indirectly. I go about perversely wishing for a really hot day, one which would show the grumbling crowd how fortunate is the climate they have fallen into.

There used to be a little tea-cottage, the last house on the right as you reached the bridge out of Ringwood, on the Wimborne road. It was well run by an amusing woman - a type of 'new poor'. Do not forget, either, the dairy in Wimborne itself, which supplies the best Devonshire cream, under the pretence (and price) of Dorsetshire. I expect you find Salisbury too particularly military for your tastes to go wandering there. The best of Salisbury is the green grass round the cathedral, and some of the houses in the Close. Though there are good houses, old timber halls, in the town. I like Salisbury. Also I read in the papers that they are at last trying to do something to clean up the skirts of poor desecrated Stonehenge. It has become only its shadow, since the war, what with aerodromes and cottages and fences. Once it stood all by itself on its grey hill, as you came from Amesbury, and was magnificent.

There, I must stop talking. I often think of you, and always as a rather shapeless Sidcotted bundle, peering over the rim, or through the floor of a Virgin in mid air. Probably false: but my imagination makes those big machines wander out into the sky, once a month or so, for a day and a night, over England and Scotland, just droning away for hour after hour aimlessly among the clouds, burning so much petrol and oil, and coming home again for breakfast, and then bed, and afterwards more weeks to clean up for another try. Flying is probably by now only a boredom to you. It is more than a year since I got into the air on any pretext, and I look back upon it as one of the few 'different' things. If I had never flown (like most of the fellows here) I don't think I would dare go into the streets in blue uniform.

You wrote something about first going up. It stressed the lack of sensation, I expect. I felt that: but each flight since has felt stranger. The utter separation of the self from familiar things... but of course in your case your cockpit is only part of your job. I should not like to take my stool and table and ink-pot with me into space.


T. E. S.

Our library has started subscribing for J O'Ls... a result of my lending about those copies you sent me. Good effort.

Source: DG 560-563
Checked: dn/
Last revised: 17 February 2006

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