Monday, 13 January 2014

Annie Pennington, the smart cookie website builder who helped me put Maurice's site together over four years back, gave me my yearly prod in a recent mail with her 'another year has passed and I see you've only made one entry'.

At least there was that entry. I didn't do it. I figure that whatever you are wishing to do and haven't done yet it's because the right moment hasn't presented itself. It takes the time it takes and that's that. So this year the prod had me go to text edit and here I am, albeit I don't know what to do with this after it's written. That will have to sort itself. But at last I'm blogging for Maurice who has been gone from the earth now almost five years.

Mourning is a tricky animal, it's a live and strange, hurtful thing you can't get your head and heart around. It gives you constant unwelcome surprises, depending, I suppose, on where you are in the healing process of being the one who survived. The absence of the person you loved and still love and who is not here to touch or to touch you and whose voice you will never hear again, weaves in and out of your being as you go along, as the years pass. You don't get used to it. But you do come to tolerate it better and its ever-changing presence. And you do all manner of jockeying about, trying to get easier with it.

Perhaps that's what I'm doing because I miss Maurice terribly this season. People don't like to talk about mourning but the fact of the matter is that when you have loved deeply they don't pass out of your life when they go, they are still there for you and somehow you have to cope with missing them and missing them changes from day to day, from season to season, from year to year. Perhaps blogging is my way now. We'll see. This year I'm starting it in the new year of 2014. It seems timely.

Daniel Kirmatzis, the young historian who contacted me about a year after Annie got Maurice's site up, did Maurice's first real blog. And the only one. Daniel's specialty is war and, some four years back, he had become involved in putting together the 2014 Emanuel War Exhibition for the school and this project was in its infancy. He had found Maurice through his project and the fact that Maurice was an old boy and had fought in the Italian campaign as a Forward Observation Officer. And so began what is becoming a long and happy friendship between Daniel and me.

Over steaming cups of tea in the dead of winter Daniel perused Maurice's war photos and a few documents I first gave him to acquaint him a bit with Maurice and his thought. He returned and we sat again over tea as the winter darkness descended and I read him some of Maurice's war poems and the silence between us at the end of each one was poignant. When he next came again I read him some of Maurice's unpublished war novel and parts of a searing document called 'Steel Canticles', all about war. I loaned him 'Of Sins In Winter', Maurice's cri du coeur about his frontline experiences in World War II.

Daniel is an enquiring and intelligent man with a passion to honor the Emanuel old boys who fought. So he returned to Maurice's and my little terraced cottage here in London again and again. Finally I gave him the entire war book to read, he had access to the war poems and 'Steel Canticles'. Daniel was so taken by the brilliance of the work that I invited him to visit Maurice's office that I had been organizing for over two years. Trying to archive Maurice's work into categories and subjects had in itself been a huge, fascinating and exhausting task---and one that is nowhere finished.

I had only known Maurice the last twenty-five years of his life, from 1984 to 2009 and these archives dated from the late 1940s. There were huge amounts of manuscripts and documents of all kinds I had never read---plays, novels, essays, letters, biographies, poetry, notes and on so many subjects. I never knew Maurice without his clipboard at hand and writing for him was equivalent to breathing, he had written since he was a child and he was at it night and day. He was a giant of a man in his own right, brilliant, scintillating and challenging to be with and any woman could be easily overshadowed by him although he always encouraged women to stand in their own light and genius. He was a humble man, he never meant to overwhelm. But to stand in my own light meant I couldn't be bothered with his past work, I had enough to do to keep up with living with him and pursuing my own work. I had been a visual artist but had to give art up as I had became allergic to my materials. And it was Maurice who encouraged me to go back to what had been a second childhood passion, books and writing. Under his tutelage I wrote three books albeit painfully. I am slower than molasses when it comes to writing.

But when Maurice left me, when he died, I simply could not do other than immerse myself, first in the putting out of his last book, The Ape of Sorrows (much more on that later) and then in his archives. It was my way of keeping him. Because this is what some people do. Sometimes one cannot let them go. One clings to them. Not only that, but one looks for them everywhere--down streets where one has strolled together, at old familiar haunts, in the parks where you've walked together. You know it's impossible but you find yourself gasping at the sight of a man's gait that vaguely resembles his, so badly do you want it to be him! You have to comfort yourself in some way. Or at least I did. So it was that I gathered together thousands and thousands, I would say hundreds of thousands, of handwritten and typed pages, from battered trunks in France where we also lived, from stacks of files and dusty bookcases all through this house. Suddenly every shred of paper with Maurice's stamp on it was sacred. I had to know Maurice before me, what he was, how he had lived, what he wrote, what he thought. His contemporaries were almost all gone as Maurice was a generation ahead of me. And so mostly it was going to be through paper that I would come to know Maurice all the more intimately, that I would have him talk to me again. In the wee hours of the night when I couldn't sleep, I sat lost in his papers, completely fascinated. I dedicated the largest room of the house to him and gradually Maurice's archives began to take shape.

But Daniel didn't see this office for almost two years.

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