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UNCOLLECTED GUARDIAN PIECES

JTS columns from the Guardian newspaper

 
12. Dustbins in the Sky


Art is
more likely to come out of dustbins than out of university courses. Who is C Stepan and why in a letter in the Guardian last week did he offer his life savings to shut me up? He's Belgian, we know that don't we, although disguising his writing with an American accent and a fragmented nonsensical style. And where is Paul of Brussels? Could it be that he's the new tenant of our front double? If so, either he's got a club foot or a monstrous pet. These are the issues of the week.

"Do you mind if I don't eat this, darling?"

Heard through so
mebody's door you imagine Thurber's Old Slough Foot, that four-footed nemesis, trapped at last and served up on Green Shield china. "Up came the hippopotamus out of the slime and blinked at creation. 'Der, that's funny,' it muttered, 'I keep thinking it's Tuesday...'"

Lifted, I believe, fro
m a well-known cartoon, Rickie, our private probation officer uses this joke as a test piece; if you don't laugh he binds you over. Now having got you in a suitably metaphysical state, you may appreciate my feelings when I go into the kitchen and find that somebody has thrown my private aeroplane into the dustbin. Does this mean that Stepan and Paul are one and the same person? Don't think about it at night.

"It's just that the new
man is looking for cupboard space," Ellie explained. I asked her what he looked like. "Quite old. About thirty. He thinks he knows where he can get me a mouse." She keeps on about this mouse; before you know where you are they want to go to Paris.

"Take the joystick out of
my belly,
The rudder bar out of
my brain,
Take the petrol tank out of
my backbone,
And asse
mble the engine again..."

Remembered over about forty years this may not be quite accurate; it was in a book called The Diary of an Unknown Aviator the manuscript of which was found, according to the foreword, with a dead A
merican pilot of a Sopwith Camel which had crashed in no-man's-land. It's a very nostalgic song when you're salvaging the past. On calm days and with a following wind this graceful cabin monoplane with its scarlet fuselage and yellow wings lettered F R O G has skimmed the tall grasses of some of my happy relationships.

"Look at that!"

The sun is always shining, of course, the little plane climbs, stalls, falls back and then recovers with one grand swoop and glides unerringly into the next field. "You go and get it and I'll stay here..."

Girls are not afraid of cows.

My flying exploits during the war, though of course one doesn't talk about it very much, included flying a heavy home-made balsa-wood motorised glider with a four-inch propeller driven by eight strands of lubricated square-section elastic. Without proper training and experience it could take your fingers off when you were winding it up.

"I myself flew Fokkers like this," Kaiser Konrad exclai
med after he'd caught his fingers in it. This was by the Thames at Marlow during complicated moisture-in-timber recordings for his new kiln-drying process. I call him Kaiser because he was a comic-opera figure and also such a liar that I still don't believe he's dead. Whenever he got into shtuck he sent out telegrams saying he was dead. "From the dead they expect nothing," he used to say.

He looked like an Austrian hussar in mufti and carried his black homburg in The George (those anaemic watery lunches) using both hands, as if it were a heavy spiked hel
met. "Are you a bloody landlord or a filthy tenant?" he would roar at the little old waiter.

There was nothing dangerous or outrageous that Kaiser Konrad had not done with flair and panache, though I never deeply believed in hi
m until after he's been sent to prison by the Canadian Government.

"Today we haff the beef," he would decide, after chewing it for analysis. And over the tinned pears and Ideal
milk he once said: "Come to work on my ranch in South America. Fly your own aeroplane." But what about the wife and kids? "We shall send them telegrams..."


 At a time when the country was working full stretch with overti
me to kill Germans it was surprising how eager the money boys were to back one who had stumbled on the secret of seasoning timber in six hours instead of six months. If after the whole complicated process of kiln boiling, emptying, drying, evaluating and resin-impregnating, the moisture readings conflicted with his predictions, Konrad would go into a little heavily conspiratorial conference with the man from the ministry: "How would you like to haff your own laboratory in Bogota?"

Another very good flying field, though not without its element of danger if the wind is wrong, is attached to the far
m at Potters Heath where they breed small animals for vivisection. Getting your plane back is always a creepy experience, tip-toeing around the buildings and catching the occasional sickening whiff from the abattoir. Meeting Ingrid was a delightful surprise.

"How can you possibly work in a place like this?"

"Where is your little boy?" she replied, giving me my toy plane back. Both questions remain unanswered, for the questions are too basic, too deeply hidden. Born in
Danzig and brought up on post-war rations, Ingrid once had the frightful childhood experience of escaping across the East-West frontier at night with her family. Creeping through the woods they were detected by a gaggle of squawking geese, had to stop and feed them their survival rations.

When you belong to the supre
me race and have probably enjoyed more than one dog or cat washed down with your China tea, you can't legitimately get up-tight about the kind of anti-vivisection literature - two-headed dogs from Russia and so forth - of the kind that Lahari keeps sending me. It's a negative subject for a writer since the public know about it already.

Dear Lahari: Could you send
me evidence of police brutality instead? Have you any pictures of magistrates and police inspectors holding hands? Regards to your dog and the residents. I hope you're saving a room for me.

Lahari is probably the only lovely Indian girl running an old folk's home in England. My flatmates do all kinds of unlikely things once I send them out into the world. I'm still trying to work out who sends me Christmas cards postmarked Princeton and crayoned on HM Prisons toilet paper. "It could be Colin at Darlington College of Arts," Ellie said. "It's the kind of thing they do superbly well."

Although younger than
me and a good deal prettier, Ellie knows far more about literature, the arts, philosophy, mice. She has actually read Dickens and Shakespeare, acted in Youth Theatre productions (she hopes to get my play "The Long Running Musical" put on at last) and knows Hywel somebody, the film star. As Stanley Baldwin's thoughts grew through the smoke of his favourite brand of tobacco, so my own woolly convictions clarify through Ellie's non-stop chatter, turning into effective streams of consciousness.

Let the great big world keep turning but the invaders are already upon us. Art nouveau melts into a coloured ice cream of consumer fantasies, girl-dressed groups and men-dressed girls project the self-pollinating arrogance of i
mbecile non-people, poets and writers with missing hearts and freaky inverted iconoclasts kick dead gods into some kind of banal resurrection at the Round House while art, the only soul available, is dying for want of talent - wait a minute.

"Do what?"

"I said I don't like electric bass guitars. With the double-bass you feel it's man against instrument. The result is more profound."

I'll never get it all down. She deserves a mouse. If I don't sell "Crying Makes Your Nose Run" soon I'll take her to live in Wandsworth. One of those nice terraced DPs (derelict properties) with corrugated iron over the casements. Poodle would just enjoy squatting. Just a minute, we're off again -

"All art is propaganda but not all propaganda is art..."

That was Orwell, wasn't it? These comprehensive schools can't be that bad. I'm a bit of a reactionary and it's high time I got spaced out. There are such things as live poets I'
m sure though I still prefer Kaiser Konrad to Andy Warhol. I have a soft spot for con men but if I'm going to be baffled by mystique the thud-scrape, thud-scrape across the landing at two in the morning is as much as I can take. My nephew Michael put his finger on it, ringing me from Iver. He hit the Evening News recently when a pair of trousers he bought in a jumble sale for 5p turned out to have been tailored in 1927 for the Duke of Kent.


"I don't know whether it's in the blood," he told me, "but I've now got a real urge to write, uncle Jack."

His sufferings as a
missionary in India (he returned weighing six stone and partially paralysed with disease) might have produced another artless opera, a volume of blank verse, an obscure LP with electronic backing or a peaceful tour of the campuses banging a Hare Krishna cymbal on a shaven head. As it is I think his instincts are right. Michael's done very well to find his inspiration in the universal dustbin that makes us all 36 waist, 31 inside leg.


(The Guardian, Saturday 18 Nove
mber 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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