Suspended 12,000 feet above the
peninsular one feels so much more important than nature. Particularly when
your captain is advising you to re-fasten your safety belt. Then from the
dangerous to the familiar, an hour later I was sitting in Hangar Lane with
"I understand from your son that you don't feel very well!" the AA emergency
operator said, anxiously. "What's your car number?"
This is the kind of thing that
makes you feel humble; not flying or standing on
mountains. That somebody,
somewhere, cares, among all London's traffic jams in torrential rain and
with an articulated lorry hanging over Hammersmith
flyover. And in future they're going to have a No Barking sign in Hangar
Lane public library which turned itself into a first-aid post. "Jack
Trevor Story - I recognised Poodle," said the librarian, making us tea,
organising the rescue, explaining why they haven't got
my books: "They're always out..."
"Drink this," said Lee girl who had been alerted through the family
grapevine and arrived bearing whisky; oddly enough it started the engine
and she followed me safely home. "Tell me the news," I requested.
Apparently Gina found a nest of tiny mice in her studio cupboard and Lee
boy drove them from Soho all the way up to Hampstead to release them on
"Now what about you?" she asked.
I told her my new novel had been rejected.
"That's a good sign, isn't it?" she said, knowledgeably. Well, Lee's been
in the family a long time now one way and another and once shared a flat
with Maggie even. "Nobody's heard anything," was the only news on that
There was an elderly tramp person in the kitchen drinking a cup of water; he smiled
as at a friend. " 'Ello, back again, Mitter Towry?" Therese spoke to him
one day on the heath and he's been coming in ever since. When he went he
said: " 'Ope you enjoyed your twip." We ought to get a lock on that door.
What a rotten thought.
"You get what you give," my mother used to say.
This includes, as of this
down with pristine mind and desk to start the autumn term, a collection of
unpleasant bills, marginally offset by a request from Rosalind Bell to
review a book for Penguinnews for £12.50. Some people are not
meant to be rich, except in friendship. Coincidentally in the back-mail
several people want to know if I'm real. I wish I could deny it and stop
"Funny thing about Jack," said John to Bill, the way your best friends
talk about you behind your back and tell you afterwards, "he chats to me
quite happily on the phone but when I hand it over to Patricia she's in
tears. You'd think she was talking to somebody else."
This is the knack of keeping the status quo hanging in your mind like so
many contrasting carpets ready to be flipped over in the
market place of compassion; women like the purples. Incidentally, thank you Jan for the
bedspread; she was given
my column as part of a speed-reading test at university and you can
practically smell the
burning rubber when she caught the first delaying sentence and dropped her
anchors. "Holding her sleeping what...???"
I'm amazed at speed-readers like, for instance, Guilio, who could run his
eye in a straight line down the centre of the page and still quote
anything you like to mention. The closest I get is the boredom that glazes
the page into geometric patterns; then you see if you can make funny faces
out of them. This happens reading September 15 issue of "Twin Circle", the
National Catholic Press of America in which I am mentioned on
page 10 and Rebecca West is quoted on page 8:
"Dame Rebecca's raisin brown eyes snapped indignantly over Lt Caley's
trial: 'Awful. If you expose people who aren't accustomed to army
tradition and conditions not foreseeable in the world, you have to take
half the blame if you are going to prosecute them. Murder of civilians is
a very wicked thing. But a soldier who
murders has a guilty
man behind him. That's you and
me. If you are not guilty then he cannot be'."
In lighter vein and proving that not everybody reads the Guardian either,
there's a gay flamenco dancing card here from Maggie's brother: "Having a
great time. Weather lovely. Have you and Jack been away yet? Will write
when we get back..."
Well, you know how families write: they'll be surprised when they turn up
at our golden wedding and find nobody there. What happened to Poodle then?
She died in 1980. Och, I am
sorry! But remember, somewhere there's somebody waiting for a letter from
you, too. What a fandango it all is. When I find the right brave publisher
you'll read all about the dancing summer of 1972 in "Crying Makes Your
"I certainly cannot submit your MS to Sir William Collins," wrote my agent
at my alternative suggestion. "He may be as straight-laced as the others,
Talking to Sir William at a recent Cosmo luncheon I didn't find him at all
straight-laced; he claimed, rather proudly I thought, to be personally
responsible for the annual "Bedside Guardian". He said it contained a pick
of Guardian pieces. "I don't want to frighten you," I said, "but I think
we've got the same book coming out this Christmas."
There's a great fog of fallacies about writing and writers of which the
most perennial is that once an author is established his books
automatically go into print. Author and publisher are no more likely to
stay on the same beam than any other married pair.
"Thanks for showing me your brilliant short story," writes Joyce Hopkirk
of Cosmopolitan. "Sorry we can't use it."
This was the (I feel) delicately treated theme of the suburban housewife
who found she's got VD although neither she nor dad had left the fold.
And if you still want to be a writer: maintain a decent conceit, be
prepared for turbulence, don't be humbled by mountains - but will you
please re-fasten your safety belt.
(The Guardian, Saturday 21 October 1972)