Words and Music

Being the Mental Vagaries of a Britisher

by C. S. Youd

(from Sardonyx V1 3 #by Russell Chauvenet )

It is growing dark and the sky beyond the window is becoming a pale, cold lemon. A sheaf of black cloud just out in artificial silhouette, its long angularity making the whole sky unreal, like the clear-cut brilliances in a Disney background. Life isn't like that. Life is a monotone, enlivened occasionally, perhaps, by patches of scarlet or orange but always with each colour faded into the next. Sunsets like this cheat one.

Now, opposite the house, the barrage balloon is rising, a great grey slug or ethereal mastodon. As it twists slowly on its cable it assumes a score of fantastic shapes, the ridiculous tail-fins drooping like the melancholy ears of a puppy. In its tortuous ascension one could almost imagine that it knows the fate of its three predecessors -- one lost in a gale, one shot down by Messerschmidts and one gloriously destroyed in collision with a raider -- and is reluctant to challenge the chill dangers of the night sky. Suddenly defiant it shoots up, the long cable paying out as it swings over the house. Up, dwindling. I crane my neck out of the window and see it ride majestically into the last rays of the sun. Now it is no longer gray and inglorious, but a golden-silver rampart in the sky.

With night riding close and the nightly warning a matter of minutes away comes the usual mental question: is it worth it? All night the bombers will drone over, hugging the limits of the balloon barrage, bound for London or a new Coventry. All night the anti-aircraft guns will rumble and thud and crack, their explosions shaking the house and their echoes crashing reverberatingly through the town. Luckily I can get to sleep during a lull, and once I am asleep nothing less than a bomb through the roof will wake me, but there are others, I know, who lie awake most of the night, listening to the deadly drone which seems to say "for-you, for-you", flinching as the guns reports smash against over-weary ears. I am convinced that the German bomber engine was designed with a view toward intimidation by its sound. It is so very evil in its undertone, totally unlike the full-throated joyous roar of the Spitfire. But at night there are no Spitfire reassurances, merely the steady, maddening note of impending destruction. And we all know that any night this might become a new Coventry, the occasional half-hearted bombing or hectically brief dive-bombing change into a night-long rain of explosive. Is it worth it?

There is only one possible answer. This is not a question of national prestige, imperialism, or even economic necessity. It is a war of life, the titanic opposition of two fundamentally different systems of ethics. I smile a little when I see, in earnest fan magazines, the earnest plea -- KEEP USA OUT OF WAR -- I shouldn't, perhaps, for the political moron is an object worthy of pity rather than contempt. God knows this country is to be pitied for the moronic blindness which betrayed Austria and Czechoslovakia; now the same stupidity, transplanted, is urging America to betray the last bastion against sadistic horror. You don't want to see your air dark with bombing planes, see your proudest cities -- New York, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles -- riddled and shattered by scientific barbarism? That is what they whispered to us when some would have us implement our pledges to Nazi-isolated democracy. And you haven't made any promises to us.

Don't believe our propagandists who, in a excess of unnecessaty moderation, say that we don't want America in the war, merely her help. We do want it. Unaided we have broken the onslaught, but the day on which America declares war all the world will know that we cannot lose. And what can you lose? You must, eventually fight Japan. Is it better to fight now, or to fight when the British Fleet may no longer be in a position to guard your eastern flank? So much for that. I had not meant to propogandize, but footling fan comments, made out of a vast store of ignorance and immaturity, can be infinitely exasperating ...

Fan-magazine reading is an excellent tonic for the mental system; the series of delightful intellectual shocks one receives mounts to a culmination that is excruciating. Witness the anguish of Fred W. Fischer, who apparently dwells in the picturesque li'l burg of Knoxville, at being unable to obtain the works of Dennis Wheatley, a defect which makes me think more highly of the American publishing trade. The especial mention -- "Sixty Days to Live" -- is, my dear Fred, one of the latest and worst specimens of undiluted tosh to radiate from the well-known Wheatley pen. If, in America, you cannot reach Wheatley, thank once again to the deity who created your native land. For we, in England, cannot get away from him. The fellow's impudence is only exceeded by his naiveté, as witness his recent "Black Baroness" which he prefaced by a note apologizing for bad grammar and construction, "owing to haste". Wheatley, by the way, is another of our pseudo-Fascists, who, on Italian intervention, suffered a pseudo-change into patriots.

The mutual exclusion of contemporary British and American fiction is a continual surprise to me. Friend Fischer professes ignorance of our soi-disant Public Thriller Writer No. 1, and recently Russell Chauvenet, tolerably well read I imagine, was likewise confounded by mention of our almost equally notorious Philip Gibbs and Gilbert Frankau. We, for our part, know only such occasional ocean crossers as Grapes of Wrath and Kitty Foyle, and most of us know mighty little of those but their titles. I have been conducting a search at the library where I toil for my pittance, and find that the proportion of American fiction is less than 1%. Probably the same holds true in USA. With Federal Union so close, such a state of affairs demands action.

So fans have started rowing over the 1941 Convention already! From my detached viewpoint (in fan wars we are the Isolationists now), it all seems a little ridiculous, and I can only feel that someone should teach Lew Martin, who seems otherwise extremely estimable, how to spell. While advocating a journalistic training for the young I cannot help feeling that no-one should publish a magazine until he is capable of spelling "believe". "i before e except after c", Lew. It's easy, really. Touching the DenVention, I notice this, too, is being labelled a World Convention, making the third or fourth we have had. This is a beautiful advertisement for the notorious (over here) Yankee egotism, since as far as I am aware there has been no representative of any other continent at any of them. Incidentally, I have a foreboding that the 1941 World Convention will not be altogether successful. Don't ask me why.

In conclusion. Before any ardent patriots rush verbally to the defence of their native land, pause; I beg you, and pity a poor war-harassed foreigher who, for all his baiting, is at times even fonder of the States than his own country. Perhaps, when we are all part of the Federal Union of Democracies, I'll be over there to answer in person ......

It is evening again now, and a day later. The sky is a light, frosty blue, yellowing towards its edge. A breeze shakes the leafless rosebushes in the garden, and from the school across the road comes the menagerial cacophony of adolescents rehearsing for a concert. But high in the blue the last streaks of the late gunfire are still faintly visible, and, one by one along the road, begins the procession of less sturdy ones, fraught with matresses and shelter-bound for the night. The long night, blacked out and chill with gunfire crackling, and a pallid dawn. KEEP AMERICA OUT OF WAR. Hmmm. We ought to be able to see your point of view .......

Data entry by Judy Bemis