Off the page,
people are too much. "Without the least warning I found myself pitilessly
assailed," says Jean-Jacques Rousseau in "The Confessions", "and scarcely
did I make a pleasant plan for my day than I did not have it upset by some
The brash, the vulgar and obscene have some literary relevance where they
can be used to show the comic tawdriness of life; and particularly when set against its
poetry. God save us then from the chap who only reads the dirty bits. The chap who erupts into
your study and for the price of a bottle of wine remembers
the greatness of your writing by the farting contest in "Live Now Pay
Later", treats you (yoho, nudge, nudge) like one of your own pet
revulsions, breaks into tuneless Dylan dirges and manages to make your
Gibson guitar sound like unskilled washing-up.
"If you're going to use that kind of language, go outside or into the
lavatory," Maggie would tell any damn body. I weep for her protection
sometimes. A new Miss X has started popping up in nightie and dressing
gown. She has soft golden hair and when she looks round the door after her
gentle tap, talks as if she doesn't want to wake me up. In any Hollywood
movie if she took off her glasses you know you'd be lost.
Dear Miss X: You look beautiful when you can't get to sleep because of the
noise up here. Next time I'll try to have coffee ready and
maybe we can make a regular
thing of it. Less seriously, it's usually callers who make such a din and
I must thank you getting rid of them twice this week. My ordinary night
noises probably won't upset you. I work in roughly two-hour shifts
throughout the day and night, typing, reading, playing soft guitar and
quiet jazz records and making things like bread puddings...
The best bread pudding I have
made since there was nobody to wake up and try it, came
out of one of the short stories I am now extracting from "Crying Makes
Your Nose Run". The first of these I have just sold to Alan Radnor's new
magazine, The Joker. The second got up to the line: "That would be
terribly cruel," Linda said, her voice filled with musical infant
colourings in the dark. She was always meeting witches in her house of
This is enough to conjure the vision and the hot spicy smells. Into the
tall earthenware mixing bowl (Green Shield stamps) you put one small
sliced loaf and a few odd bits, making certain there's no actual mildew
around; soak it in cold water while you assemble the other ingredients.
Yes, there's a whole half-pound packet of sultanas - currants always
remind me of horrible flies. Then lots of mixed spice, shredded suet,
sugar, eggs, chopped cooking apple and enough cocoa to cheat the colour.
Carefully measure the quantities according to mum's recipes, then treble
everything for affluence. In fact, bung it all in.
"This tastes like beautiful Christmas pudding," said Therese. "What's the
"It's this succulent short story," I told her.
You probably know about draining the bread and chopping it up and
squeezing it; it all fits into a literary night. Put a bit of cooking foil
on top to stop the fruit burning and put it in the oven on about half when
you go to bed at five in the morning... Bang, bang, bang - Oh, Jesus! Poodle
yapping at the door.
"Mitter Towry! Mitter Towry!"
Suddenly it's noon and the elderly tramp person has drifted in on the rich prevailing aroma
of Jack's bread pud. Cannery Row, NW3 - or call it Shacksville. There are
aspects of this middle cut of my life I'm going to miss. And will the GLC
plaque be to me or Daniel George? One can't help being idiotically proud
of one's bread pudding. One of the things old Scottie Boyd will be feeling
nostalgic about on her cold morning trot to the trams is her "piece" as
she used to call the docky I put up for her overnight.
What a verra kind and bonny
man I must be, now I come to read all this. - Lassie come
home! Twas the gude life we had heah, Margaret. The ups and the downs. -
Remember the night no nightingales sang in Notting Hill and you helped
me down the steps of the police station, waving for a taxi with
my right shoe which I
was unable to wear for the next three
"I'm on crutches," I told Bill over the phone. "Oh yes," he said. "Whose?"
The sight of a police car frightened us for a long time after that and we
started locking our door. Maggie bought a barmaid wig and disguised
me as a Belgian with a
mandarin moustache and little peaked cap.
"Jacques the hacque," she used to murmur, fondly.
Calling Avenue Moliere! Are you reading me? I just chopped the bloody
"Aaaaauuuugh!" Mike McNay congratulated me, when he first noticed it in
the Guardian features office. I should have done it before; having made me
into a comic Maggie got bored with it.
On our last drive together, when she popped over for that honeymoon
weekend, she sat at the far end of the seat and watched
me, comparing me with old Paul the entertainments
manager. I didn't stand a real chance; his fashions - mock-English silk
cravat, tennis club Adonis, provincial
men's outfitters - are about twenty years behind the times
and I've got rid of all mine.
"We'll have a new photograph," said Mike.
Ellie now wears the cap with "Go Go Boogie" pinned on; a badge that came
out of Ringo Starr's pocket - he may wonder how I know. Funny, isn't it,
you go around like a whiskered fool and you can't think what's bothering
you - it's like wanting a pee. Suddenly you're free.
"Penguins in captivity," remarked Donald, Ellie's university lecturer
uncle as he ate my fish pie (I also
make these fish pies) before taking her north to recuperate, "suffer
from a vitamin-B deficiency if they get a diet of dead fish, whereas polar
bears breed quite easily." Well, it's never easy to talk when you've only
just met someone's
uncle and there's a bed in the room.
"How would we get your column on television?" David Reed asked
me. I showed him how I
tap-dance with one foot. And I just happen to have a video-tape of my hymn
singing in One Man's Week and a film of the Rupert Brooke send-up with
Maggie in Grantchester. The whole thing's a natural. American columnists
often double-up on radio and film. Alistair Cooke is the greatest even
without laughs. You just talk to camera and play film-cuts against the
legend - it'll be the only double-X documentary.
"That's lovely, then," Eileen said. I've just had this big reunion with
Eileen. "Will Maggie play Maggie?"
She's too real to play parts. Three things Maggie said last summer
that I remember if I want to try to dislike her and get some sleep: "Why
don't you let Evelyn do your washing again?" This was to put me gently
back where she found me. "Why don't you go back to England and have tea
with the Burtons?" This was knocking my artificialities while waiting for
Paul's artificialities to arrive. Best of all after a traumatic flight:
"Why don't you go into a mental hospital for a little while - I'll write
to Doctor Day..."
No need for that; I've got influence too.
On the same rack of a posthumous affair, Rousseau writes: "When I
possessed her I felt that she was still not mine; and the single idea that
I was not everything to her caused her to be almost nothing to me..."
"Maggie was really in love with her boss," said Linda, sentimentally at
this same reunion of Maggie's old friends. "She told
me not to tell you."
I remember it well.
Old Soapy Joe was about as deep as a saucer. He had this very continental
thing of putting a woman on a pedestal and then forgetting to dust her.
Tell her Smoky Joe, was here and had to go...
Dancing with Laura to the Maggie collection.
"When I go to Brussels," Eileen said firmly.
"I'm not taking messages or taking sides or telling her you're still
pining after her."
And quite right; we'll go on keeping it a secret. We toasted Maggie with
the mock-Scottish dialogue that irritates her so, drank to the flats in
Goldhurst Terrace and Exeter Road and Alma Square, the camping field up
the Rhondda Valley where the boys first found the girls seven years ago.
Lots of water, lots of bridges. Dad was not yet on the scene.
Jan went to Jersey in April, 1967, and I took off with guitar, typewriter
and dog who suddenly wanted to walk on the grass outside an hotel at
Frinton. We spent the night there. It was the night I had the dream which
is now the beginning of "One Last Mad Embrace"; I had to scribble it down
in pencil. You don't have the nerve to use a typewriter in a silent hotel.
I showed it to a girl I got talking to in the breakfast room.
"What is it - poetry?"
That was a summer of Essex weekends, new friends, nice boaty people, of
Brightlingsea, Dedham and
Constable villages and oyster poisoning on Mersea beach. The poem ended in
a not untypical and quite expensive way in Colchester in September. One
night in October I drove round to Kilburn in search of the action and
found Maggie. A girl alone with a single flower in a cup - which seemed to me indicative of an equally busy summer.
"I know who you are," she said, dot, dot, dot.
After all this time.
Still! Got you on my mind..."
"Isn't it time you snapped out of it?" Donna said. How would I
make a living? Maggie's still
keeping me in her own fashion, bless her little tartans.
A reunion of the group brings the world to the world for girls in London
finally go home; Cardiff, Newcastle, Blackpool, Tunbridge Wells, sings the
clan now dancing in Hampstead.
"Yes, dad," said Peter, "why don't you stick a bolster down the middle of
this bed and sub-let again."
But I have a dream that Maggie is going to be the one who came
back. She's made mistakes before.
Came a Saturday morning and we went and collected her relics from Soapy's
office that had become a home from home. The plants, the Biba girl poster,
dropping Maggie's keys of authority back through the letter-box. Reasons
were not discussed.
"That was a mistake," she explained, as we drove home.
A few more and we'll be ixie pixie - and that's what she always wanted. A
past like mine.
Meanwhile, back at the dance hall: "One White Rose," sings Danyel Gerard
on the flipside of Butterfly. My turn for the flower in the cup. Will she,
won't she, will she, won't she, will she join the dance, occasionally - we
all want to see her. No strings!
See you in Gretna Green.
(The Guardian, Saturday 10 February 1973)