Saturday, August 20, 1983

Beached


Hot stifling weather. I went to Moxthorpe with Dad to watch a cricket match. I didn’t really want to go to be honest, but Mum cajoled me and I gave in, out of deference to his feelings more than anything else.

We didn’t stay long and came back via Beatrice Avenue and Moxthorpe roundabout. As I sidled past No. 55 I caught a glimpse of Mrs. Pearson but no Claire who presumably is in Whincliffe. It would’ve been awkward to suddenly blunder into her. I bought The Varieties of Religious Experience (1903) by William James which I remembered from Colin Wilson’s The Outsider.

I was expecting a call from Grant which didn’t materialize, so I rang his house but he was out, as was Jeremy. I even rang Stu in Basildon but he was out too, and his Dad answered. So, feeling a little at a loss, I went out and sat on the lawn with Dad in the gathering darkness, drinking beer and talking. He told me stories his Dad had told him of wading ashore at Suvla Beach, Gallipoli, with his rifle above his head to keep it dry, while men fell around him and bodies drifted back in the tide. But for that luck, I’d not be sitting here writing and someone else would be living in this house.

I felt quite content there in the dusk, looking forward to the morning and listening to Dad. Nanna P., who's here today, will be joined tomorrow by Nanna B., so I’ll go out. As I write this Mum, Dad and N.P. sit in the front room watching some brutal tale of escape from Nazi-occupied France starring Anthony Quinn again,

Friday, August 19, 1983

The world stands complete


Robert and Carol called round this morning on their way for a week at Conishead Priory. Robert was looking forward to it a lot, but Carol seemed subdued; she's just had two teeth pulled at the hospital and is suffering with a swollen face.

They were soon off leaving me to an afternoon of idleness. Mum went to the hairdressers and Dad went on one of his much-grumbled-about trips to see Nanna B. The weather was hot and sunny once more.

At four I got a call from Grant . . . I held my breath . . . a fail in Economic and Social History, a fail too in Communications Studies, but a ‘B’ for English Lit. He couldn’t believe it and was ringing me in an inebriated glow of enthusiasm after going out for celebratory drinks with RJ and Jackie. “I haven’t felt this good in a long time,” he told me, and really did sound full of excitement and just general happiness.

I couldn’t help the cynical thought that flashed through my head: it’ll be no different for him when he goes to Gloucester. It wasn’t—and isn’t—for me. I can’t help thinking that, like me, he’s one of those people who cart the source of their own misery around with them, like a prisoner his chains. But, time for celebration; more than anything he’s relieved to finally have an escape route from the trap of his domestic situation. “What have you been doing?” he asks, and I truthfully answer “nothing.”

I got a second letter from Susie and felt ashamed at her comment on my comments about boredom in my previous letter. Seeing it written in black and white puts my own situation in sobering perspective. Fool!

Twelve days until September.

I read some war poetry by Sassoon and Graves, etc. I felt yet more shame that I can so blithely talk of ‘misery’ and ‘suffering’ when I know nothing of true anguish. In a perverse way I would be curious to see how war would alter me as a person, but thrown into the cauldron, I'd no doubt be mewing pathetically for “mummy” and “home.” It was bad enough for me enduring the first few days at University, so God knows what new depths of self-pity I’d plumb if I was in a war.


I was really affected by Sassoon.
I thought of age, and loneliness, and change,
I thought how strange we grow when we’re alone
And how unlike the selves that meet and talk,
And blow the candles out and say good night.
Alone . . . The word is life endured and known.
I find it incredible to think that anyone can write a poem like “Before Action” by W. N. Hodgson, incredible that anyone can marshal and rationalise their thoughts so clearly in the face of so immediate and awful a death. He asks for strength to be able to bear the prospect of losing all earth’s “delights and glories” and does so in such a calm manner; surely there must’ve been tears and despair at the thought of becoming yet another member of “the unheroic Dead who fed the guns”?

I suppose that we ‘rise to the occasion’ in such circumstances. . . .

In the evening I watched a screen adaptation of The Magus, a book I’d intended reading over summer (but left my copy in Watermouth). It left me itching to read the book and I got an inkling of how big an impression the book had made on Patrick and why he felt as though he’d been ‘dunked in a bath of cold water.’ If the novel is anywhere near as thought-provoking as the film then it must be excellent. I must read it.

Patrick read it and drew parallels with his own situation, and then he acted. He quit the RCP. It was a big step when you consider his utter involvement with them. I remember how he struggled to convey his shattered complacency to us when we did LSD, and I could see it too, in a way, but gripped as I was by my LSD-self-consciousness and natural awkwardness, I couldn’t span the gulf which separated us. I couldn’t tell him that I understood too.


Out of the film’s symbolism, allusion, analogy and pantomime I drew out the ‘message’ that there's no message. Exploration brings you back to where you started and it’s all about looking at what there is to hand in a different way. The things around us are all there is, there’s nothing more, no ancient gods to be petitioned (gods who never replied anyway). No Yahweh, no Allah, no Horus or Isis or Zeus, just frightened people filling the Void with their reassuring figments to block out the emptiness and push it from the mind. There is no other way. These lives are all we have.

And when Mum says she spent a lifetime always planning for tomorrow and now that tomorrow is here, she feels desperately uncertain, unsure, and cheated somehow, I begin to understand why the world immerses itself in the commonplace and the known: “I have suddenly awoken in midst of this dream but only to the consciousness that I am dreaming and that I have to go on dreaming in order not to be destroyed: as the sleepwalker has to go on dreaming in order not to fall.”

Mum puts her recent strangeness down to this realisation and says that “Sometimes I just want to scream at everyone and everything.” The other day she said she felt like putting on her coat and going: where is unimportant; it’s the act of going that matters. “It’s easier to philosophize at 19 than at 49” she says. It’s hard to accept that our lives have been built on sand and perhaps harder still to realise that this will go on and on and that I—helpless, unable to do any different—will also despairingly participate in this, knowing full well that the time will come when I too will be in Mum’s position.

Is my interpretation right, I wonder, or am I on the wrong track completely? Reading the book will get me deeper and tell me if I’m right and more of what Fowles really is getting at. Are we really “men moving in a mist”? I'm nineteen and I’ve ‘solved’ everything?

“The world stands complete and has achieved its end in every single moment.”

Thursday, August 18, 1983

One day . . .


I had my hair cut first thing this morning. Endured agonies of self-consciousness after the barber had finished primping, poncing and sculpting a smooth ‘50s-esque quiff of hair. This I gratefully destroyed as soon as I got home.

I’m not going there again.

Andrew went back to London at one-thirty and he moves into his flat on Sedgby Road, Hackney, tonight.

I’ve been thinking about how cynical the attitude is at Watermouth Uni is and I contrast Lee’s almost carefree enthusiasm with someone like Guy, who's caustic and worldly. The eighties is the age of cynicism, and it’s trendy to adopt a blasé seen-it-all attitude, but I know whose attitude inspires me more. Lee is an anachronism in this era of hardness.

For some reason I just can't write tonight. Word blockage. Every word is an effort, but then I never do write well in these pages because I don’t concentrate and don’t—or can’t—go back and rewrite. But this isn’t intended to be great writing or anything like that. I had pretensions once. It’s just a dumping ground for all the sights and words and feelings I experience from week to week. But I should make an effort to write something other than this, . . .

One day I’ll pick this back up and read and yawn and realise what a fool I was and probably still will be.

Wednesday, August 17, 1983

Ought oughts are ought


Another damp day. I signed on at nine and made an abortive trip to the barber’s before setting off into Easterby with Mum at half-twelve.

I missed the four minutes to one train and so had an hour to wait in the drizzle for the next one. The train crawled through the unprepossessing landscapes of Haley Hill, Nortonroyd and Mill Bridge; wet-roofed factory buildings and dark houses crouched shivering on the hillsides, and black clusters of buildings loomed out of the murk as we rattled past.

Ms. Hirst picked me up at the station and we drove to her house high above Midgeroyd, a small ivy-clad cottage perched overlooking the valley. Lee, Jeremy, and Gillian were already there, sitting uneasily across from one another in the front room. Gillian's just like her sister, perhaps a bit more easy going and trendy. Hirst’s house is small with typically arty touches--a tastefully arranged pile of pebbles on one corner of the coffee table, a heap of shells placed with studied carelessness on the mantelpiece above the fireplace, several pseudo-pointillist paintings of palm trees on the walls.

She asked me about Watermouth and asked me how it was going. I blurted out the usual spiel about the academic drudgery of ploughing through books only to write essays and told her my semi-serious idea of packing it all in. She mentioned Art History: I began to think about it seriously, but I felt very uncomfortable with her probing questions: What would I do on the dole? etc etc.

Lee made the idle, incidental comment that I should have done an Art course, but I should change me, not my course, and anyway I can’t imagine my tutors taking too kindly to my flitting from one course to another in such whimsical fashion. I came across as very undecided and lacking any real self-knowledge. Truthfully I haven’t a clue as to what else I’d rather be doing.

“Ought oughts are ought” said Hirst, meaning I’m not deserving of any reward if I don’t put anything in. Jeremy later told me I’d sounded “neurotic.”


Apart from this all was quite OK. Hirst thought Lee and I looked fresh-faced and boyish, and I thought she was her usual satirical self, quite unchanged. She made us lasagne and salad with plum crumble for dessert and told us she’s reaching a bit of a crisis point in her life, isn’t really happy with her career at Egley, and feels that, at thirty four, she isn’t getting anywhere in particular. Promotions don’t interest her and she says she needs a change.

I’m doomed to feel this too.

By now the sun had pierced the gloom and shone into the living room. We went for a walk. Midgeroyd was still wrapped in a murk the sun couldn’t penetrate, the valley bottom a jumble of shrouded outlines and silhouettes. The grass was sodden and the roads were still damp from the heavy afternoon rain. We climbed up a flight of stone steps and emerged onto the top of the hillside and finally into evening sunshine.

The valley is very narrow at this point, its sides towering over the village. Lots of steep hills and narrow streets. We saw one building with a tower, about two-storeys high, topped off with a small spire. We also glimpsed a magnificent chapel set back in its own grounds, a huge blackened building with a frontage adorned with pillars at either side of an imposing doorway.

We had a couple of drinks at a pub and Hirst let us into some of the secrets at school. It sounds as awful in the staff room as it was being a pupil there. She says the staff is boring and gave us a glimpse of the crawling careerist Mrs. St. John who “is a fascist.”

Gillian had to be back or her parents would have been on her about staying out late, but before we caught the nine-thirty train back Hirst gave me Ornette Coleman's Body Meta (which she hates); Jeremy came away with a Zenit camera. Gillian seems OK; I quite liked her.

Lee was in fine form and we got on very well; he had me in fits several times and as we hurried for the train he whistled loudly and regaled us with impressions from Coronation Street. Back in Easterby we said goodbye to Gillian in the station and went for a drink at the Four Pigeons, but I missed my bus and ended the day trudging home through the mist on foot.

Andrew was in bed when I got back. He’s come home to pick some stuff up.

Tuesday, August 16, 1983

Black monk time


I got a letter from Gareth this morning; he's been working, smoking dope with skinheads on his lunch-breaks. I’d said in my letter that I’d been “living like a monk” and he replies that he hasn’t. “But then I don’t live in the Third World.”

The rain streams down and has done since I got up. Paul L. and girlfriend left this morning. Jeremy rang to pass on an invitation from Ms. Hirst to go over to Midgeroyd tomorrow with he and Lee. Christine Wade’s sister Gillian is going too. If the weather is as rainy as it’s been today then I’ll get very wet, ‘cos I haven’t got a coat. I lost my overcoat last term and threw my busman’s jacket away while drunk in Easterby with Lee and Jeremy.

I have to make my mind up about Everything soon: where’s that intensely decisive act now, O wise one?

It’s getting gloomier and gloomier as the day slips away, and I feel thoroughly unexcited about my prospects. The greyness of the weather weighs in on me. I remember something which Jeremy said when he was here last, how he seemed surprised to discover that underneath this “cheerful” easy going façade I’m as fucked up as anyone else. Presumably he assumed my life was pretty well worked out and that my mind was rarely troubled by doubts and disturbances. It’s a deeply ingrained habit to put a smiley ‘normal’ face on things when inside I’m churning and raging.

It’s now mid-evening and Rob and Carol have just gone home, but will be back over tomorrow for Athletic’s Yorkshire Cup match at home to Whincliffe. Things sound very tight in the ‘paper tonight, the Chairman telling supporters that “you can forget about promotion.” The programme alone lost £250 last season and so we’ll have to be satisfied with team sheets for a long time to come I suppose.
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