The Oxford Times in its Gray Matter column includes this among today’s stories:
I HAVE often wondered what became of Beckley farmer’s boy Harold Claire, and just possibly I might find out on Saturday night. Claire was a boozing companion of the novelist Evelyn Waugh, a regular visitor to the village’s Abingdon Arms pub in the 1920s, initially with his boyfriend Alastair Graham. Later, Waugh was to honeymoon there with his bride, the so-called She-Evelyn [Gardner]. He was also in residence, and busily writing his second hugely successful novel Vile Bodies, when he received a letter from her revealing the infidelity that was to lead to their divorce.
Waugh’s connection with the Abingdon Arms is being celebrated on Saturday with the unveiling of a blue plaque there by Waugh’s grandson Alexander. The ceremony will be followed by a “a big feast” at the pub in imitation of one that took place there on the very same date, July 28, in 1924, with Waugh and Graham in attendance.
Waugh recorded in his diary: “First there were sports and a cricket match and then at 4 an enormous meal in the big barn next to the pub. “It was a most delightful evening. Harold Claire was very, very drunk, but an excellent host to Alastair and myself, continually filling our glasses and introducing us to people. We danced with Mrs Mattingley [the landlady] several times and drank pints of beer. We went to bed long before it was over. Later we heard that it ended with Harold hitting the policeman on the head and then falling down in the road and cutting himself open.”
Nothing so indecorous, I trust, will be occurring at tomorrow’s ‘do’, for which some tickets are still available, price £43 (01865 655667). Smoked duck, confit trout and braised ox cheek figure on the menu. I will be there. Report next week.
In Waugh’s Diaries the story picks up in the next entry (p. 172) after he goes back to town and confirms that he got a third on his exams. On the following Saturday, he and Alastair return to the Abingdon Arms where they:
…dined with Cooke and Harold, and he and Mrs Mattingly came back to the caravan when the pub shut and drank champagne with us and Alastair and I gave a brooch to Mrs Mattingly which we had bought at Payne’s.
After that they scrounged some cash at Alastair’s home and set off for Ireland.