May 27, 2014. Just a few days after being inspired by work I saw at Edinburgh School of Art, I've made my first painting onto a sheet of cartridge paper that I taped onto a wall of the studio that lies at the bottom of my and Kate's garden.
The words are an extract from an undated letter that Alastair Graham wrote to Evelyn Waugh, probably in 1923 or 1924. I'd intended to reproduce more of it, as is suggested by the sheet of paper that lies on the floor of the studio, which reads:
MY DEAR EVELYN
IF IT IS A NICE DAY
WE MIGHT CARRY
SOME BOTTLES INTO
A WOOD OR SOME
BUCOLIC PLACE AND
DRINK LIKE HORACE.
WITH LOVE FROM
ALASTAIR AND HIS
POOR DEAD HEART.
However, having written 'MY DEAR EVELYN' in large pencil letters, I could see I was going to struggle to fit it all in unless each letter was made a lot smaller, a compromise I wasn't prepared to make. At which point I abandoned the pencil draft and committed myself to paint.
The original letter, which was written to Evelyn at Hertford College, Oxford, while Alastair was staying somewhere in London rather than Barford, is reproduced in full in How to Disappear: a memoir for misfits by Duncan Fallowell.
'My Dear Evelyn,
I'm sending this down by David or the Bastard John, whom I'm seeing this evening. I am sad that you wouldn't come up for this party. I am afraid it will be bloody. One can always drink but it is rather a cheap path to heaven. I've found the ideal way to drink Burgundy. You must take a peach and peel it, and put it in a finger bowl, and pour the burgundy over it. The flavour is exquisite. And the peach seems to exaggerate that delightful happy Seraglio contentedness that old wine evokes. An old French lady taught it to me, who has a wonderful cellar at Lavelles. I've been in bed with pains in my ears for the last two days. May I go and call on your parents one day, or would they hate it? I do not know whether I ought to come to Oxford or not next week. It depends on money and other little complications. If I come, will you come and drink with me somewhere? on Saturday. If it is a nice day we might carry some bottles into a wood or some bucolic place, and drink like Horace. I'm afraid this is a poor wandering letter. But I cannot write letters. It was only meant to express my sorrow at your absence from this party. I wish you felt merrier, and were not so serious.
With love from Alastair, and his poor dead heart.'
According to Selina Hasting, this is one of two letters from Alastair to Evelyn that's kept in an envelope, marked 'Sentimental Friendships', which also contains letters from Teresa Jungman and Harold Acton. That's Sebastian Flyte, Julia Flyte and Anthony Blanche from Brideshead Revisited, give or take a nuance or two.
Waugh mentions in a diary entry that all his few romances, including the one with Alastair, came to a head at Christmas. That must have been Christmas 1923, because in 1924, Evelyn and Alastair went their separate ways. Don't get me wrong, they spent a lot of time together in 1924 and were at least very close friends still. Once Evelyn had got his final Oxford exams out of the way in June, he went back to live with his parents in Hampstead. But Evelyn and Alastair did have a few days together in a caravan in the pub car park in Beckley, and they still stayed together at Barford occasionally. Was Alastair still writing Evelyn notes about finding bucolic places to drink? I expect he was.
But the thing is, they were not yet 21 years of age. They both needed to find their place in the world. To make a go of it as a couple just wouldn't have been seen as an option. Alastair had been asked to leave Oxford by the end of 1923. He enrolled on an architecture course in London, but that never took off, and I've read that he didn't attend a single lecture. By September Alastair had converted to Catholicism and had booked a passage to Africa. That's a long way to go to find a bucolic place in which to drink like the Virgin Mary, but each to his own. Alastair would find his place in life eventually, but not for a few years.
With Alastair on the move, poverty-stricken Evelyn had to do something as well. Post-Oxford, he got a job at a small public school in North Wales. A bucolic place where he could drink like Horace, look you? Well, in a nutshell, yes. As you can see here.
As for me, I've got Piers Court Papers to write.