Baker, James

Letter
Date:
August 16, 1941
To:
Mom
From:
Jim
August 16th, 1941

Dear Mom.

I am afraid I will really have to apologize for not having written for the past fortnight but I have been so unsettled lately in my own mind that I have not been able to concentrate on anything at all. I just wander around like a lost hen with nothing to do. I sit down to the piano and play and compose by the hour and that is the only time I am completely happy. Other times I wander around or try to read or write but after five minutes, I throw it away in disgust and start wandering around or begin to work on my rug. I have been up town several times lately but even that has failed to rouse me and make me shake off this mood of depression - almost desperation. I cannot fathom it, but at last I can understand why men get drunk. It seems to them the only way they can fight off these moods of depression and I believe that it has saved many men from going completely batty. Even if the zest and life is only artificial and temporary and leaves a feeling of shame and humiliation behind it, at least you have forgotten for a time that life is a heavy burden. But fortunately, I cannot get any enjoyment out of getting drunk. Liqueur does not fizz on me at all and believe me, I have tried it, I was interested to find out just what it would do to me. I have a head like a rock and a capacity quite beyond all expectations....I simply cannot get drunk! Now Mom, don't be shocked, for after all you must realize that it is simply a principle of Army life that a man should drink his liqueur but unfortunately, it does not seem to be a principle that he should also "hold it". Nothing that I can think of fills me with more disgust than the sight of a drunken man - especially if he be a soldier, for he is a disgrace to his country, his uniform - but worst of all, to himself. But I have learned tolerance for other people's weaknesses and that I think is one of Life's big lessons. It is not a sign of superiority to scorn or ridicule other people's weaknesses and then avoid them for forgetting for awhile. I have learned that the thing to do is to try to learn why people do the things they do and then try to help them if it lies within your power to do so. Thus you accomplish two things, you help a fellow human being in distress and you strengthen your own resistance by learning the pitfalls to find and avoid, if possible. And if you are unfortunate enough to fall into one of them, you are able to extricate yourself with a minimum of difficulty and damage to yourself.

Another thing I have learned is that courtesy accomplishes far more than bullying or aggressiveness ever can or will. I have learned that there are always two points of view - yours and the other fellows and courtesy demands that you always try to see the other fellow's first before trying to persuade him to change his mind. That way you may not be admired as a master of argument and you may not make many converts to your own side, but at least you are respected and looked up to as a "gentlemen" and all the stronger, because they have come of their own free will and have not been overriden by a more dynamic personality.

There is a time when it pays to be as dynamic and "shining" as possible and there are other times when it is best to veil your thunder under a cloak of seeming meekness, and it is in the ability to discern or perceive when to use the one or the other that marks the difference between manhood and mere youth. Of course, many people never learn this essential lesson and we have such things as arm-chair colonels - "blimps" we call them over here.

Well Mom, this has been a quite eventful trip to hospital. First of all it has enabled me to discover just how strong is my power to make friends, for every one of the people whom I have become friendly with in the past year has written me here in hospital and has kept on writing even when I have been forced to give up answering. And some of them (five to be exact) have travelled miles to see me. Mr. and Mrs. Hart and Hilary came over from Godstone last Sunday - all of 100 miles round trip in the car and took me over to Windsor which is about 10 miles from here. I - at last, got a closer look at Windsor Castle which I had been vowing I would sometime visit after getting the momentary glimpse of nearly 15 months ago that I have already described to you. Frankly I was disappointed by it upon closer inspection, for all it is a massive pile of grey stones. But when seen from a distance in its proper perspective it again assumes that air of fairylike unrealness that so enchanted me a year ago. Situated as it is on the top of the highest hill in the immediate countryside - overlooking the Thames, it dominates the whole countryside, dwarfing everything within sight of it into insignificance. It is by far the best way to be content with a view from the distance.

Then every other Sunday, Pat and Winnie (I have told you about them I think) have come down from London to see me. They didn't come down last Sunday because Albert was married on Saturday afternoon and as there was a big reception I don't suppose they felt very much like travelling. I am sorry to say that I wasn't able to get up to London to it. I tried my best - saw the MO, the Orderly Officer and the Colonel but just couldn't make it. I was very disappointed for I had been looking forward to seeing my first wedding! But I have been working all week on their wedding present and I finished it this morning. I will give it to Winnie and Pat tomorrow, to give them with my blessing. Albert by the way is Winnie's brother and Mrs. Barnard's nephew. The present is a hooked rug 18 ins. by 32 ins. The pattern is two black Scotties against a pearl grey background. I thought it was particularly appropriate as Mr. Thompson has two beautiful Skye Terriers - full brother and sister to the Queen's famous two at Sandringham.

Then Kim has been up to see me from Basingstoke. She has been on night duty and is feeling very tired and glum. She is disgusted with conditions under which she has to work and I am afraid it did not cheer her up very much to see the ideal conditions under which the Sister's work here - for believe me, this hospital is a nurse's idea of Heaven. If all that Kim says is true, they must have a terrible time. God pity Imperial soldiers: no wonder they hate to leave us when they have once tasted the life that we lead.

Today I went for a lovely long ride in a launch on the river. We had a lovely ride and we really enjoyed it. The Thames is a beautiful river, quite the most beautiful in the world I think. It seems to set the pace and to be the symbol of all English life. That is why English men are so slow and stolid-seeming, for who could fail to be majestic in the face of such majesty as this?

I mentioned to you already my meeting with George Bernard Shaw and what an absolute treat it was, so I guess that is all for now. Mrs. Sayers will be writing you soon. She thanks you for the "lovely letter just received" (her very words taken from my last letter from her) and says she will write soon. Cheerio!

Jim


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