EVERYTHING STOPS FOR TEA
Every nation in creation has its favourite drink
France is famous for its wine; it’s beer in Germany
Turkey has its coffee, and they serve it blacker than ink
Russians go for vodka, and England loves its tea
Oh, the fact’ries may be roaring with a boomalacka zoomalacka whee
But there isn’t any roar when the clocks strike four
Everything stops for tea
Oh, a lawyer in a courtroom, in the middle of an alimony plea
Has to stop and help ’em pour when the clock strikes four
Everything stops for tea
It’s a very good English custom, though the weather be cold or hot
When they need a little pickup, you’ll find a little teacup
Will always hit the spot
Now I know just why Franz Schubert didn’t finish his Unfinished Symphony
He might have written more but the clock struck four
Everything stops for tea
— (Goodhart / Hoffman / Sigler)
‘MAGIC’ HOUSE AND HERMIT’S COTTAGE TO BE TORN DOWN
One of Britain’s most famous residences is to be demolished, the Times has learned. Swan
House, home of the late Doctor Bertram Swan, and repository of one of the world’s largest libraries on the occult and magical, is to be demolished, Burnham council has announced.
“Since the end of the war, the Swan Trust has maintained the house and grounds as a resource for scholars and students,” Enid Tisdale, council spokesperson, told the Times Tuesday. “However, funds in the trust have been depleted over the years and it cannot now afford extensive and urgent major repairs.
“After discussion with council it’s been agreed the property will be given over for use as a public park with an appropriate marker documenting its history. Sadly, our building department has determined the cost of restoration far outweighs the value of the buildings, and consequently they will be taken down.”
Miss Tisdale said the contents of the famous library will be donated to the King’s College Special Collections department.
In referring to “buildings”, she included the famous “Hermit’s Cottage” a stone and thatched-roof cottage situated in a remote clearing of the otherwise heavily-wooded grounds, home for decades to Lt. Col. Clarence “Charlie” Walker, one of the most famous survivors of the war and a figure of considerable mystery.
‘The Colonel lived alone, consistently refusing all requests for interviews over the years. He is the only non-English person to have ever been awarded the Victoria Cross (although he did become a naturalized British subject in 1950.) The circumstances in which he earned that honour have never been made public and even today inquiries regarding his time as a member of Special Operations Unit One — code-named “The Circle of St. George” — are returned with the reply “All pertinent records are sealed and designated ‘Top Secret.”‘
Col. Walker disappeared in 1990, aged 71 and no trace has been uncovered in the intervening years. In 1997 the Swan Trust petitioned the court to declare him legally deceased. Terms of Doctor Swan’s will had awarded him the cottage and an undisclosed annuity for life.
The Manor House, due to its unsafe condition, had been closed to the public since 2012.
In perhaps the oddest stipulation in Bertram Swan’s will, a separate trust was established for the perpetual storage and upkeep of a 1937 Austin Cambridge sedan. A spokesperson for the trust said the car will be moved to a new location in London and the trust remains “in sufficient good shape to ensure its care for many, many years. Far longer than any of us will be around.”
— The London Times, Mar. 17, 2017
(United States Army TOP SECRET. WARNING: National Security Information Enclosed. Disclosure May Result In Criminal Charges and Severe Penalties. Control No. BYE2087736/098. 1 document of 1 file.)
Eyes Only, Restricted to level SC1 and above by Executive order No. 17663. No Duplication or Transmission permitted under any circumstances.
Contents: Extracts from personal papers among the effects reclaimed from the residence of Lt. Col. Clarence Walker VC, property of the National Security Service. Ref. “Circle of St. George”)
Bertie always was after me to write it all down. “If you don’t,” he said, “then who will? The government? They’ll lock all the evidence away, burn the film and the rest of the evidence and poof! It never happened. No, Clarence, it’s up to you to tell the story.”
I avoided the job as long as I could but eventually his nagging voice in my head and simple boredom won the day. God knows I’ve had enough time on my hands to fill, and a man can only study old books so many hours a day. Strange to think I was 24 when it started and it’s been more than twice that many years since the end. Half a century…
It feels so much longer.
In the fall of 1940 I was a Specialist 1st Class in the army’s morale department, posted to Stars and Stripe’s head office in DC and carried on the masthead as “senior roving correspondent.”
This meant I spent my days taking pictures of people being awarded medals, asking them a half-dozen questions, and writing it up. (Here’s a tip, should you ever find yourself summoned to the capital for this purpose; you can tell how high the honor is by who pins it on you. Technically, they’re all awarded by the president but in practicality, the man himself is present for very few of the ceremonies and if he’s there, you’re likely getting the Congressional Medal of Honor or the Bronze Star.
If it’s a lesser token of the nation’s gratitude you’ll meet the Vice-President, the Secretary of State, or similar in declining order of eminence; by the time you get down to a mere judge — well, even I won’t take your picture unless it’s a very slow week and if it’s being presented by a clerk at a State Department office, don’t even bother trying to pawn it.)
When I wasn’t occupied with chronicling these hallowed rites I was on the phone interviewing the men of the armed forces. Stars and Stripes being what it is, which is essentially a propaganda organ for the U.S. military, these stories were required to be of an uplifting and feel-good nature, consequently they generally weren’t very interesting at all; divisional sporting events, mostly boxing and baseball championships, several pages of promotions, the new lieutenants and corporals smiling out at you with their names misspelled underneath. (Clerk orderlies at the various bases supplied the pictures and spellings; I never had time to check them.
I, was, however, expected to read and answer all of the complaints. This confirmed in me the belief that nobody has a command of vulgarity and insult like the American soldier, sailor, or airman. Some of the letters verged on poetry, of an ‘adults only’ type, granted.
So on the day I now remember as the one that changed not just my fate but that of every human being on the planet for all time to come, that’s where I was: in the office, fighting a losing battle with an elderly Remington, when the phone rang and I was summoned to appear with all due speed before my commanding officer. I quickly washed my face, cleaned my nails, combed my hair, tucked my shirt back in and snugged my tie up to the collar. Soldiers from the time of Alexander to those in uniform today will attest there is no good that can come from a summons by a superior officer. And I was certainly guilty as hell of something, even if I hadn’t yet been told specifically what, because all servicemen are guilty of something, at all times — the regs are written so as to guarantee it. But at least you can look like a good soldier when they come for you, and maybe have the sentence reduced slightly on grounds of neatness.
I hustled myself across the parade ground and up to the C.O.’s office where I spent an hour or so smoking and sweating, with nothing to read but back issues of my own magazine. In the trade we call this “irony.”
Finally the door opened and his aide waved me in. I’d been wracking my brains trying to come up with what I might have done to merit chastisement from so far up the chain of command and come up blank. A little gambling, some graft for an orderly who arranged a 72-hour pass I didn’t strictly deserve, several small loans made to others who perhaps paid more interest than the bank would charge, if the bank had been willing to lend them the money.
None of them hanging offenses, so far as I could imagine. But not knowing what I might have done, I couldn’t work out any excuses or alibis, which made me very nervous.
Officers make enlisted men nervous at the best of times. They’re supposed to — it’s their reason for existence.
I walked in, snapped a salute sharp enough to cut glass, and stood at attention.
“Relax, specialist. At ease. In fact, have a seat.” These were more words than he’d spoken to me in three years on the post.
I sat down on a wooden chair across from his desk. He said, “Smoke if you like”, and pushed an ashtray toward my side. It was my firm belief that all officers were grown in vats at a central location and decanted as needed, but the C.O.’s manner led me to think he might be might some rare species of human-officer hybrid.
I pulled a pack of Lucky’s out of my pocket and lit one, then found myself stuck on a question of etiquette: should I offer him one or would that be presumptuous? He solved my problem by striking a match on the underside of his desk and lighting one of his own.
“Walker, I’ve been in this man’s army for almost 30 years and this is the goddamnedest thing I’ve ever heard of. And for my sins it’s landed on my desk.” I nodded at the general unfairness of existence, a subject dear to my own heart,. Then he shocked the hell out of me.
“You believe in ghosts, son?”
“I beg your pardon, sir?”
“Ghosts. Haint’s? Spooks?” He held his hands up and waggled them while making “wooooo” noises.
“Yes, sir. I mean, I understand, but no, I don’t. Believe in any of that. I mostly find the real world itself scary enough for me, sir, if I may say so.”
He nodded. “I know exactly what you mean. Now let me explain the situation and why I asked you that question. The British War Department has requested we second an officer to their use and as an old and trusted ally, we can hardly refuse. But the reason they want this officer is … well, it’s crazy as an outhouse rat.
“They believe the Germans are using black magic against them.” Before I could say anything he held up his hand. “Consequently, they’re setting up their own defensive corps of wizards and witches or whatever they are to fight them, and they want someone from over here to document it all.” He stubbed his cigarette out with a little more force than was required.
“Somehow, Churchill’s been sold on this and the request came from him to FDR, personally, and so on down the line to me. These are the hands-down silliest orders I’ve ever received, which you can imagine is saying something, but we down here on the mortal plane can only carry out the gods’ wishes.
He pushed the ashtray around with a finger and looked up at me across the desk. “And there’s no question the man drinks. God knows he has reason to.”
We both sat there considering this, then I broke the silence.
His eyebrows popped up. “Why, what?”
“Why do they want this documented, by an American? They don’t have any reporters in England?”
He rocked a bit in his swivel chair and thought a second before answering. “It’s no secret they want us to come in with them against the Germans. Not just want us — they need us badly, but the American public isn’t much interested in sending their boys off to fight foreign wars, after the last time. My best guess is, this is a fairly desperate means of getting first hand reports on how badly things are going for the Brits.”
He looked me square in the eye again after saying this. “Of course, even if that’s the case, you would never say such a thing to them.”
“Good. Just between us soldiers, I think you can count on us being in it sooner rather than later, even without the ghosts and goblins. In the meantime, who better to send than an actual reporter? You’ve certainly got the bona fides for the job.” He pronounced it Army—style – ‘bone-a fy-dees.’
I spent a few seconds simply trying to absorb this. On the face of it, it sounded like a vacation. Even England in mid-winter was better than where I was; leaving Stars and Stripes would be no hardship. But while I was content to be an ink—stained wretch and thus avoid most aspects of soldiering such as drills and digging latrines and so on, if he was right (and I suspected he was), I did want to shoot Nazis when the time came, as many as I could. Who didn’t?
“Yes sir,” I said. “My only concern is what happens when we get into this war and I’m stuck over there?”
He smiled. “We’ll have you back here on the first plane. I can promise you that. We’ll need every man we have.”
Twenty-four hours later I was in the air over the Atlantic Ocean with a shiny new set of captain’s bars on my uniform.