Extract from a diary dated 26 June 1992 (one week before Morse had found himself in Lyme Regis)
Words! Someone – a Yank I think – said you can stroke people with words. I say – sod words! Especially sod the sight of words. They're too powerful. 'Naked's powerful. 'Breasts' are powerful. Larkin said he thought the most splendid verb in the language was 'unbutton'. But when the words are a joke? Oh God, help me! Please God, help me! Yesterday Tom wrote me a letter from his new house in Maidstone. Here's part of what he wrote
I've got a pair of great tits in the garden here. Now don't you go and think that when I look down from my study window with the binocs you bought me there's this bronzed and topless and vasty bosomed signora sunning herself on a Lilo. No! Just a wonderfully entertaining little pair of great tits who've taken up residence – a bit late aren't they? – in the nesting-box we fixed under the beech tree. Remember that line we learned at school?
Titvre tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi…
These are Tom's words. Wouldn't you think that any normally civilized soul would be delighted with the thought of those little blue black white yellow birds (my speciality!!) slipping their slim little selves into a nesting-box? Wouldn't you think that only a depraved and perverted mind would dwell instead upon that picture of a woman on a sunbed? Wouldn't you think that any sensitive soul would rejoice in that glorious Virgilian hexameter instead of seeing another 'tit' in the opening word? Christ, it was
a pun wasn't it! The Greek term is 'paronomasia'. I'd forgotten that but I just looked it up in my book of literary terms And still the words follow me. Looking through the p's I found 'pornography' again. Words! Bloody hell. God help me!
'Common subjects of such exotic pornography are sadism, masochism, fetishism, transvestism, voyeurism (or scoptolagnia), narcissism, pederasty, and necrophilia. Less common subjects are coprophilia, kleptolagnia, and zoophilia.'
Should it be a fraction of comfort that my tastes don't yet run to these last three 'less common' perversions – if that's the right word. What does the middle one mean anyway? It's not in Chambers.
(Later) Dinner in SCR
very good – 'Barbue Housman'. I phoned C afterwards and I almost dare to believe she's really looking forward to next weekend. I just wish I could go to sleep and wake up on the 3rd. But I seem to spend half my time wishing my life away. I have drunk too much. Oh God, let me sleep well
… and hence through life
Chasing chance-started friendships
(Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
'To the Revd George Coleridge')
IN mid-afternoon Morse looked back on his Coleridge pilgrimidge with considerable disappointment.
Half a dozen miles west of Honiton he had turned left off the A30 for the little market town of Ottery St Mary. Parking had proved a virtually insuperable problem; and when he finally got to the Information Office he learned only that 'Coleridge was born in 1772 at the Rectory (gone), the tenth child of The Revd Coleridge, vicar 1760-81, and master of the Grammar School gone). The rapidly growing family soon occupied the old School (gone)…'. St Mary's was still there though, and he walked round the large church consulting some printed notes on 'Points Interest', fixed to a piece of wood shaped like a hand-mirror. He began to feel, as he read, that it was high time he re-familiarized himself with 'corbels' and 'mouldings' and 'ogees'; but it was something of a surprise that the author of the notes appeared never to have heard of Coleridge. Indeed it was only by accident that as was leaving the church he spotted a memorial plaque on the churchyard wall, with a low-relief bust of the poet beneath the spread wings of an albatross.
An hour and a half later, after a fast drive up the M5, Morse was equally disappointed with the village of Nether Stowey. 'The small thatched cottage, damp and uncomfortable" wherein Coleridge had lived in 1796 was now enlarged, tiled, and (doubt-centrally heated, too. More to the point, it was closed to the public – on Saturdays; and today was Saturday. Inside the church leaflet available for visitors ('Please take – quite free!') was a singularly uninformative document, and Morse felt no inclination heed the vicar's exhortation to join the church fellowship -'emphasis ever on joyous informality'. He put 5Op in a slot in the wall and joylessly began the drive back to Lyme Regis.
Perhaps Strange had been right all along. Perhaps he, Morse, was the sort of person who could never really enjoy a holiday. Even the pint of beer he'd drunk in a rather dreary pub in Nether Stowey had failed to satisfy, and he didn't really know what he wanted. Or rather he did: he wanted a cigarette for a start; and he wanted something to engage his brain, like a cryptic crossword or a crime – or the previous day's issue of The Times. But there was something else too, though he was hardly prepared to admit it even to himself: he would have wished Mrs Hardinge (or Mrs Whatever) to be beside him in the passenger seat.
A voice in his brain told him that he was being quite extraordinarily foolish. But he didn't listen.
At 3.45 p.m. he parked the Jaguar in the hotel garage: only-three other cars there now – none of the three with the Oxon registration.
At the Corner Shop on Marine Parade, he succumbed to two temptations, and resisted a third. He bought twenty Dunhill International, and a copy of The Times; but the magazine with the seductively posed, semi-clad siren on its glossy cover remained on the top shelf – if only because he would be too embarrassed and ashamed to face the hard-eyed man behind the counter.
Back in the hotel, he took a leisurely bath and then went down to the residents' lounge, where he unfolded the cover from the full-sized billiard table, and for half an hour or so pretended he was Steve Davis. After all, didn't The Oxford Companion to Music devote one entire page to 'Mozart-on the Billiard Table'? Morse, however, was unable to pot virtually anything, irrespective of angle or distance; and just as carefully as he had unfolded the cover he now replaced it, and returned to his room, deciding (if life should allow) to brush up on his cuemanship as well as on that glossary of architectural terms. This was exactly why holidays were so valuable, he told himself: they allowed you to stand back a bit, and see where you were going rusty.