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UNCOLLECTED GUARDIAN PIECES

JTS columns from the Guardian newspaper

 
17. You and the Stars and Hot Bread Pud


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 caller."

The brash, the vulgar and obscene have some literary relevance where they can be used to show the co
mic 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 ti
me 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 cake...

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 secret?"

"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 months?


"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 bar
maid 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 thing off.

"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 colu
mn 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 su
mmer 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 re
member 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.

"Still!
After all this ti
me.
Still! Got you on
my mind..."

"Isn't it ti
me 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 drea
m 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)

 

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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