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UNCOLLECTED GUARDIAN PIECES

JTS columns from the Guardian newspaper

 
3. Hemingway Wasn't Built in a Day



 "What do you think of the Royal Family?" Larry asked me once. I thought they were alright. "I knew you'd say that, dammit!" he said. He was blaming me for not giving a damn either way. For Larry you had to be committed and concerned and sometimes ready to march.

When he first moved into our flat after working as a student activist and pa
mphleteer during the Berkeley campus riots and then on Robert Kennedy's staff, I upset him by declining conversation while I was working.

"I really hated you for that," he told
me months later when he had his feet up on my desk. There he was, a young penniless American writer alone in London, the promise of a post-graduate job in Fleet Street had melted and he was forced into a room service job at the Hilton, always explaining the PO tower.

"Young mayan!" Larry would mimic his compatriots. "Could yuh ahdentifah a kinda well land
mark - rarket or war-relic - what's that Daddy? It wasn't there last night? Oh, my Gard!"

Recognising trouble, that is so
mebody you're going to enjoy more than working, I had soon introduced him to all my vast body of friends (3), shown him East Anglia, taught him how to catch and prepare bubble-and-squeak and swapped my British police atrocity anecdotes for his American ones. He ruined our flat-iron by spilling his whisky-sours on the board, shocked Maggie by shaving naked without locking the bathroom door and finally involved me and Michael Foot and the Home Office in a suggested combined operation to rescue him from war-torn Ulster. The SOS appeared to be written with a burnt match in a shell-hole.

Jack: Please get help. Press, radio, television. Rush this to Mr Foot. (Then straight on). Dear Mr Foot: We are four foreign journalists being harassed, victimised, threatened by the British military...

A week later at six in the
morning our coin-box telephone rang in the hall with the shock effect of an alarm in a fire-station, dead eyes watching my face through door-cracks to see who'd died. It was rollicking, swash-buckling, early-morning Larry, now at London airport and awaiting his Los Angeles flight.

"Hi! Did I get you up? You should be over there. We just got out one jump ahead of the red-coats..."

Some people think writers know what they're talking about and
Larry was one of these. He would tap the door, come in, sit down, cross-examine me about Harold Wilson, get up, go out, shut the door.

"Who decided to take over the
Suez Canal?"

I thought it was Anthony Eden.
Larry would thumb through his note-book, muttering Edie, Ethel, Einstein - Eden! Ah, sure. Go on. Why did he do it? Was he nuts or somep'n? What's this about hats? "He invented the Anthony Eden hat." Bully for him. And who invented the Windsor nut? "The word is knot. The Duke of Windsor." No wonder Britain became a world Power. Wow. Larry also considered the monarchy simply a tourist attraction. With Bill Johnson's help he drew up plans for turning Buckingham Palace into a Royal Disneyland. "I would make it a condition of their contract they always wore their crowns," he said. "Bet they'd go on strike," Bill said.

By royal association I was re
minded of Larry when Haidee was talking about the Queen Mother's visit to her college this week. Conducting a rehearsal at Westfield College principle Doctor Bryan Thwaites cast his secretary Jill Adams in the visitor's role. "I find it very interesting. Most interesting." Extremely interesting, people kept prompting her.

Like all people with a
mission Larry had no time for politeness. Marooned with him one black night in the fens he threw a stone at a farmer's window and got the dogs barking. "We need gas," he shouted. Then stomping up and down clapping his arms against the cold, he muttered: "C'marn, c'marn, move your ass, feller..."

I will walk twenty
miles rather than ask for help, clear my throat if somebody stamps on my foot. Larry never detected my deficiencies or if he did he thought, knowing my writing, which is always so brave, that I was being satirical. That underneath my quiet pre-occupations with sex and the countryside, literature, jazz and model aeroplanes, there lay a power-house of anarchistic thought. If he found me out at the butcher's or walking the dog, he assumed I was pursuing underground alliances.


"Okay, don't tell
me where you've been. The less I know the longer I keep my work permit. What's that you're smoking?" I smoke Peter Stuyvesant for a longer life. "Oh yeah? You're so cool." Another expression of derision was "Kissinger my ass!" which I believe is political. He could never understand why the English are so little moved by the daily status quo; why bar talk never touches on social revolution, hawks and doves, injustice, brutality and the rest of the environmental diseases.

"Our police
men seldom actually kill anybody, that's why," Haidee told him. It's not quite as simple as that; it has to do with the British character. The day Robert Kennedy was shot in California and while he was still barely surviving as a cabbage, the talk in the Coach and Horses was about the comparative strengths of British beers. Faced with an evening of my friends and relations Larry would slump with a glassy, stoned expression and a bottle of whatever was going.

"What was all that about buying an apple tree?" he asked me one night. "Did they mean apples? They always mean apples. I explained about buying a tree's crop fro
m a farmer and doing the picking yourself, thirty bob the lot. "And do they really think there's going to be a next year, the way they've got their priorities?" Larry asked.

Sitting in this big roo
m (Marty Feldman just phoned me and I sold him the idea of doing a Love Story for ATV adapted from my heartbreak at losing Maggie) with its white marble Adam fireplace, now used as a tele-books-plants arbour, where Daniel George the critic once entertained the literati, I hear the voices. I hear also, inter-cutting, the kids from LA, from San Francisco, from New York and Cincinnati, who were Larry's friends.

"The Custo
ms officers phone up the American Embassy and they don't want to know. If they're carrying dope they're yours, they're stateless. They made them dig a ditch to bury their own bodies. The youngest was a girl of seventeen. I know one of the fellows. His mother came over after it'd been in Time-Life."

"Didn't anybody do anything about it?"

"Sure. They put it in Ti
me-Life. What else is there? Washington Post for Easy Rider and Vietnam."

"Right" Right, right, right.

"I'm as sick of this bloody matter as you are," says Scott Fitzgerald. "I can just see people pointing at you at New York dances and saying 'That's Scott Fitzgerald's daughter. She likes her champagne young. Why doesn't he do something about it?'"

Virginia Woolf says: "Sorrow, such as I feel now for father, is soothing and natural and
makes life more worth having, of sadder."

"The dive-bo
mber pilots in Vietnam are really bombing their parents..."

And "The noo!" says Maggie, all the time.

Surprising then that so
mebody as militantly liberal as Larry should keep his visiting parents from San Bernardino from meeting me and Maggie because we weren't married. "If you had two rooms, or if your room was a bit bigger, they could just about take it."

"If the roo
m had been an inch smaller it would have been adultery," says Dorothy Parker.

The Yank in Ha
mpstead today is depressed at the British public's unawareness of the growing despotism. Look with a clearer eye at America and don't be lulled to sleep by decent old Alistair Cooke. When Commissioner Robert Mark or Lord Hailsham scream for more tanks, remember they are used not only to fight crime but also, in the hands of coppers who never get a sniff of the big-time, to steam-roller the innocent minor offender. Heartening for Larry to read that the Queen's young relatives, James and Jeremy Lascelles have been brought up for obstruction after a cheerful street pop-barbecue in Kentish Town. But alarming is the thought the fuzz, thrown into another knicker-tearing mood at Westfield College on Wednesday - by the obstructing crowds or a bit of bad parking - might also fail to recognise the Queen mum.

"Did you see
Larry in the Belfast street fighting on television news?" asked Derek, by way of a tailpiece long after the event. "Was he caught up in the rioting?" I asked. Derek said: "He was leading it!"


Well, Hemingway wasn't built in a day, dammit.


(The Guardian, Saturday 1 July, 1972)

 

 

Jack Trevor Story's texts copyright   the estate of Jack Trevor Story 2002. Not for reproduction. Copyright in all work by Jack Trevor Story is the property of the author's heirs. Permission for use of this material can be obtained through Jackie Edwards (Story), Peter Story, Lee Story or Michael Moorcock. Reproduction of copyright material whether in text, visual or audio form by unauthorised sources strictly forbidden.

 

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