Lord Longford's on the
march again, intent on putting
us all out of work. This column will be the first thing they chop. "Is that really an ordinary
cigarette he's holding?"
"Why don't you have a new photo taken for your column?"
Sara asked me. "You look ten years younger now." She used to live in the
flat - they never stop coming back as you know. She threw out one or two
hints about possible vacancies at the moment. I told her I was engaged.
Well, quite honestly I don't know whether I am or not without reading my
last few pieces. My cuttings are all back in London. What did I
tell Jane? Whatever it was I just got this beautiful letter. She's failed
to get a place at university, the holiday camp closes today (your today) and like
me she's at a crossroads.
"Please try to write to
me before Saturday giving
me an idea of where you'll be
so that I can send you a
more settled address..."
It was signed with love and three - wait a
minute - no, four kisses.
Nothing like this has happened to
me since July and it's changed the shape of the world. What a
challenge it all is again. Dear Jane, I suggest you tell your
mother that you're emigrating
and may strike gold. I can't think of anywhere more settled than Hampstead
though D H Lawrence who lived opposite during the first war spent all his
time on the run. From a Bournemouth boarding house he wrote: "Here I get
mixed up in people's lives - it's very interesting, sometimes a bit painful, often jolly..."
What a great writer he was, though I wish I'd got somebody
to water the plants. The connection here for those who need it is that
this is just the kind of niggling worry that gets in the way of serious
writing. Still, ho! ho!, I'm bashing out fifteen thousand words a week.
Somewhat slower than Lawrence, who produced the 300-page idyll "Sea and
Sardinia" in the same six weeks he was living it. Like Scott Fitzgerald he had the
knack of transferring his
material straight from bed to verse:
"Through the straight gate of passion,
Between the bickering fire
Where the flames of
fierce love tremble
On the body of fierce desire..."
"Hurry up, darling, I've got this deadline!" You really feel for them, he
and Frieda puffing away with mounting anxiety about Martin Secker's next
cheque. No quick "Doctor Who" script for him.
"Would you be interested in scripting a series for two dogs and a cat?"
asked producer/writer Bernard March on the phone yesterday. "I've already
got George Melly and N F Simpson interested." That's funny, I always
thought they were people. I wonder who the cat is? Anyway I'm enjoying the
narrative kick at the moment (page 130). It's nice to write without a head
full of camera angles.
Although not suicidal any
more I do get the Maggiewobbles whenever there's a surface chatter
of more than two
people. You need to meet somebody's eyes for security. For your sake I
should have finished this piece last night. I woke up this morning with
gout. It was during my last attack in Salcombe at Easter when it was
raining and we couldn't get the right hotel that the rot set in. There's
something uniquely depressing about gout that makes a girl think twice.
Perhaps it should be called Flout or Pout.
Do you remember I couldn't get her to take off her life jacket for weeks
after that? You'd think out of a million readers somebody might have
dropped me a hint that the crunch was only three months ahead.
"And how's your creeping paralysis?" my doctor asked, gaily, when I
telephoned London for my special 24-hour cure. I told her it wasn't good;
I can't even play the guitar properly now. "But surely that's good. I mean
that you want to."
There's always a crumb of comfort somewhere, I suppose. This incommunicado
stunt has become a bit of a laugh, for instance. "Another call for you,"
Betty says. "For God's sake don't let them reverse the charges or we'll be
"Between affairs," Barney says, with all her expatriate experience,
"you're inclined to reach for all sorts of new people and find nothing.
You build what isn't there."
I know what she means. I fell in love last week with a beautiful, waify girl with
blonde corkscrew curls on a Gordon Frazer birthday card. I bought it for
Lorel but couldn't bear to send it. Nothing will come
of it, I'm certain. Barney's right. Elaine, Pamela, Sara, Jolanta, Daphne,
Barby, Eulalia, Janice, Sally, Rosemary - they all have their own lives selfishly
mapped out. What a writer
needs is a bit of virgin clay he can
mould into shape and write a good plot for; even put her on a
pedestal if pressed. Somebody, somewhere, must still be wet behind the ears.
"Where are you? Now that I need you? Now that I want you so badly, I could
die..." I used to sing that so well, people cried. I wasn't even looking for
"Let me go! Let me go!
Let me go, lover," my neighbour's wife used to sing back; we hadn't been
"Lacking talent, but needing poetic expression subjects would often resort
to popular lyrics; writing them, quoting them or singing them. Arranged in order of age groupings the songs vary in content
according to the subject's attitude to his or her broken relationship. 'I
beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden' would indicate regret
mingled with self-absolvement.
'Could have loved you better. Didn't mean to be unkind' expressed total
regret and total guilt. This is a potentially dangerous state of mind and
such subjects would be encouraged into aggression, either with drugs (see
appendix W) or psycho-analysis. The object would be to apportion blame more fairly and reduce self-hate..."
This quotation from the Stroh's anthropological work, "The Survivors", is unlikely to
be very well-known yet since it's part of
my new book; I mean, don't
expect me to get too far away from it on this weekly excursion into the
hard cold real-life world of the Saturday Guardian. But besides songs, a
short story that still touches
my heart when I think about it is L A G Strong's "A Nice Cup of
It's about this stick of a chap who nobody understands Kathy going with at
all for it puts a silence on the old gang every time
she brings him along and there's far better men would break off their
right arm and give it to her. But then when, sadly, she grows sick and
dies they find him one day dead by her grave - or something like that.
Time there was a good biography of L A G Strong, though the only person I
knew who knew him was Joan, his housekeeper at one time in Surrey. She
used to sing:
"Our day will come, Then we'll have everything..." I don't know why. Some
people do very well without songs and Jane, a Norfolk girl you may
remember, is one of these. "Six days to go," she writes, "and nothing
settled as yet. I just keep everything out of my mind and desperately
cling on to the present which is fast fleeing..."
Charging up there last
month in my white Galaxie with the object of
making it flee a bit faster, I
took her to dinner at the Golden Galleon on the edge of Oulton Broad. It
seemed to me that with such a lovely, Indian-like creature, the quiet face
drawn as with a child's crayon with all the dark depths in the eyes, what
I needed to suggest was something entirely different. "You pretend you
can't speak English and always walk three paces behind me. I'll be your
"That sounds like practical common sense," she said. Surely there's a ray
of hope there for somebody like me?
(The Guardian, Saturday 30 September 1972)