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JTS columns from the Guardian newspaper

9. Pregnant Pages

Centuries turn not on industrial revolutions, wars, or the passing of a monarch, but on common man and his attitude. God help us all. But He's also got an attitude according to His race and colour. Sang George Lashwood, the famous comedian, in 1897, during Queen Victoria's assault on Africa, and commemorating the "feats" of the 21st Lancers at Omdurman:

"She's been a real good
And a real good wife;
The best of
monarchs in the whole creation;
Respected and revered,
And by her foemen feared,
So hats off to the
mother of the nation!"

"He was
my dad," said Betty Lashwood, with justifiable pride, for in another part of the scrapbook little old New York welcomed him with joy and billed him above Dan Leno and Nellie Wallace and Sophie Tucker, William Morris's current importations from the old country. Cooking us supper in this foreign neck of the woods overlooking the ocean, she added: "His patriotic songs used to bring the house down."

They would certainly bring a few houses down today, given the jelly.

"Have you got a roo
m facing Brussels?" I asked Betty when I moved in. She said she wasn't sure, she'd have to borrow a compass. I think there's a conspiracy between Betty and her beautiful blonde Cornish friend Barney, who runs a coat shop in the tourist district, to fatten me back to my original weight and send me home with a child bride. Oscar in the Ostend fish market had done his best for me, but I can't live on my own on a diet of hot moules (mussels to rhyme with Brussels). "Go to the Café Aisne and see what you can pick up," I was advised.

How one's life can suddenly turn turtle, dear reader. You must have wondered what the hell I was going to do next, and quite frankly so did I. You can do a number of other things, but you can't settle down and write just anywhere, and yet here I feel so much at home my new book has reached page 101 and I'm about to push the villain into the smoking volcano crater of Mount Taidi in Tenerife. What a ti
me I'm having.

"Paul! Lookout!" cries Doctor Stroh. But
Lorraine - one of the guinea-pig patients on this tour of survivors, who has got him confused with the man who walked out of her life before she could walk out of his - pushes him in the middle of the back. "I feel so much better for that, doctor," she laughs afterwards. It's an original theme. I don't think it's been done before (certainly not my way), on the rather academic subject of how these £10 Kinsey-type sociological volumes get to be researched and written, selling like hot pornography.

In the golden
mornings I walk down through the pine forest, full of magpies and jays, across the sands to the Café Aisne where Angie Ruth serves me dry martini and gin with ice and lemon at the equivalent of about two shillings. She is not beautiful, but attractive with her straight long hair parted in a kind of vulnerable way with a little childlike tortoiseshell slide over one ear. But beyond this she has the kind of exposed breasts that fill your mind for hours afterwards. She also has a big foreign-looking dog that looks at you as if hoping to be allowed to kill you.

"He is very good with children," she says. That's the whole rotten point about that kind of dog.

I told her I've got these two enormous Great Danes; well, you get funny looks if you tell people you've got a poodle.

There are ten books in
my room, all by a French woman, Madame Robert Henrey: all perfect examples of why I stick to six favourite authors. As I left them all behind in London, I don't have much choice. Starting, as I usually do, on page 180 (of "Spring in a Soho Street") the dialogue undoes the work of weeks and all Betty's cooking. I'm a great back-slider.

"My shoulders are
my chief worry," said Pamela. "I have the same slight defect as my mother. Every girl has something she would like to change..."

Who's going to pay for Maggie's nose job if she marries a clerk? It'll take him a lifetime to sell the film rights. What's the use of pretending? Why don't I just pick up a phone and offer a thousand pounds to come back so we can get our column back to normal (she used to do the background snores if you remember; now she's a star). I could pay it in weekly housekeeping instal

That's after I've paid the crash repairs on the car; oh yes, I had this stationary crash as if the da
mn thing hasn't cost me £300 in the past month. I was chucking the last case on the back seat before leaving Hampstead when a car skidded off the road and rammed my American £200 door. He was an Indian, of course; you feel sorry for them straight away.

"What can I do? This is not
my car!"

"Your car isn't scratched," I pointed out. A strange transfor
mation took place when his panic died down. He told me I'd got my door open; I wasn't even on the road. If the door had not been open I would now have been legless, incidentally. I knew there was something you had to do in a case like this, but because I only had an hour to get to the airport I got it the wrong way round.

Instead of taking his na
me and address I let him take mine. So quite apart from finishing the novel I'm in no hurry to go back to England. I'll probably find a sack of rice in the post. They say everything goes in threes and that's just about all it takes. To finish everything I mean - cars, people.

"Why don't you stay here?" Barney suggested. Expatriates treat you like an author and I can't get used to it. She's paying the rent, Betty's feeding
me and lending me her car. The only trouble is, without any problems, what would I have to write about? Drink is so cheap and licensing laws a thing of the past, it's hardly worth hitting the bottle. A few months of this soft life and you'll find me on the nature notes page. Time I heard from Jane; a new padwife and we'll be hanging in there again, waiting for the sky to drop.

I think I'll get Maggie to write to Jane and give me a bit of a build-up. There must have been so
mething about me she found appealing. And on the subject of fiction I just had this letter from Bertie Van Thal containing a justified rap on the knuckles: "The news you give me about your book is excellent. I'm not sure that, having just found a marvellous theme when half the book is written, you should equate it with 'Gatsby' which was undoubtedly the product of much planning!"

Funny he should
mention that because the theme that emerges when a book is coming to the boil turns out to be an integrated stew of fortuitous bits and pieces which at the beginning seemed instinctively right but irrelevant. What happens, and this is how you know whether or not you've got a book, is that your subconscious becomes pregnant enough to start the birth, but only during travail does the impregnation become manifest. Suddenly you've got a baby.

It's still not Gatsby, though I shall continue to want to have written that perfect book. What the new book is among several other things, is my first second-person novel and it's about a mogul. Apart from all this it's a great feeling to be in the middle of a novel after four years and one is inclined to
make extravagant statements to one's agent in the hope that he might find an extravagant publisher.

Sorry, Bertie.

Phone rang at that precise
moment and it was Betty Lashwood saying she'd be home at nine - she works in Barney's coat shop at the moment to help out, what with me to keep - and would I like the car. Now shall I drive round to The Point and stare out Angie Ruth's dog, or shall I drive to Brussels and bang on Maggie's door and sing her that little song that used to make her laugh:

m fisherman Jack, coom back from me smack..."

I'm no George Lashwood, but I do have touch of the old nostalgias.

(The Guardian, Saturday 16 or 23 September 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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