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 The Scent That Captures That "1930s Moment"!

All material copyrighted to © 2014

or to the various credited sources © 2014



There may well have been many clerks like Greene’s Conrad

Drover noting how ‘he might have been at the edge of a great

Army hidden by mist’, and the agents of this class war, each

Tied to their duty, not by principle but simply the accident

Of their position and the bureaucratic badge of lack-courage

To break ranks, as the Assistant Commissioner –Dover’s quarry–

A top civil servant grooming his smoky moustache in his

Office more like a beleaguered general in an artillery-rattled

Chateau ‘behind miles of torn country’, one crisscrossed

With cities acrawl with beetle-like black cabs and scuttling ‘trams’

That ‘screamed down the Embankment’, and buses that ‘circled

Trafalgar Square’, and this thoroughly modern Major General

Of respectful feelings and acutely recoiling conscience sat

And mused on the ‘peace of a Sunday in Pall Mall’ like that

Acrid atmosphere of waste and death that attaches itself

To spent battlefields, and thought of the poverty ‘successfully

Contested’ and the have-nots ‘driven back… to Vauxhall’ and

The ravages, himself, a chalk-striped mercenary, his heart not

In it really; but it was a battle that had to be fought because

The war was ‘already raging, two ignorant armies in a fog’;

And after the event he bitterly envied but also privately

Venerated those luckier men who might come after him and

‘Live to serve’ a cause which they actually believed in…

By 1934 there had evolved just such men, their abilities

To pursue what they felt to be the right causes enabled by

The calibration of public school education, the engine-grease

Of Oxbridge finishing and the lucre of well-oiled parents,

But take the more difficult path they did, when they didn’t

Have to, when they could have just as easily turned to speculation,

Parliamentary politics, drink –or a portly combination…



Spender’s Vienna (a vicarious valediction of a short-lived

Revolution in Austria) and John Lehmann’s The Noise

Of History, taken together, provoked a sympathetic

Critic, and mountaineering Marxist, Michael Roberts –

Whose tortoise features, sunken chin and magnified disdain

Behind spherical Punktal spectacles bore resemblance

To that austere Perpetual Curate and pater to scions

Of windswept genius, Patrick Brontë– to ask, almost

Rhetorically, ‘How do you grieve for strangers?’ (Roberts’

Own Crusoe moment would come in 1934 on the wireless

In Whither Britain?, alongside Churchill and Ernest Bevin)…

But as Samuel Hynes would note in retrospect: ‘time and

Place determine political opinions’, and, as well, ‘emerging

Political convictions alter the angle of sight’ –so abstractions

Are casualties of vicarious convictions and untested theses;

Political impulses and sentiments are melded into symbols

For instant mythologies, a psychological gun-grease,

For there could be no fogs without gods, no doctrines

Without secretaries, no Bloomsbury without belletrists,

No catastrophes without catastrophists, no Argonauts

Without a Golden Fleece, no Thirties without myths –

And the Thirties’ generation of poets and writers were

Nothing if not a latter day questing crew of a figurative

Argo, Auden at its helm as Jason, and his Argonauts,

Bellorophon, Castor, Hercules, Hylas, Nestor, Orpheus,

Peleus, Perseus, Pollux, Polyphemus, Theseus, Zetes, read

Day Lewis, Spender, MacNeice, Cornford, Isherwood, Orwell,

Empson, Caudwell, Roberts, Lehmann, Greene and Waugh…

M Roberts
Red Songbook
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