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UNCOLLECTED GUARDIAN PIECES

JTS columns from the Guardian newspaper

 
18. A Tainted Valentine...


"Man is te
mp'ry," the master used to say, "but the Lord and his works is forever." Oi always remember him saying that. Man is temp'ry. He said it when old Harry Marsh passed on and he said it agen when Tunwell lighthouse collapsed, what they'd built of timber. But most of all he said it because the village of Dunmire was half under the sea. That were - oh, 30 year ago now...

Don't know whether you lot can take any more country matters, but I've got to jump on this band-wagon while it's still trundling. I feel a bit of an idiot sitting here in a straw hat talking into the mirror; still, that's the way to get on.

Oi started with Mr Gargan as gardener's boy before he got married and before they'd finished building the house. Reckon he took a fancy to me. He used to sit down on top of the cliff with me and that's when he told me about man being temp'ry It were watching bits fall off the cliff that set hi
m going.

"That'll all goo, young Ji
m," he said. Everybody else called me Jack, which is my name, but he never seemed to listen. (To get the voice in your head remember Bernard Miles's old record - "Finest bit o' shaaarp'nin stone inarfordshire.") At last the house was finished. A fine house it were. Local stone, grey slate, turrets, 10 rooms and a chemical closet. Then come the bride. They reckon he got her in a corn market in Ipswich.

He bought more'n his pint when he picked her. That marriage were like a storm at sea that started off quiet and built up. Then her brother Ji
m Spencer come to stay from London. He'd been injured in the war and they said he had a steel plate in his head with his initials on it. "He's got to be kept quiet," Mrs Gargan told us. He hadn't been in the house two days afore they were dancing round the drawing room together...

Then come a day. Oi shan't never forget as long as oi live. That were a Sunday - oh Christ, skip it. I can't stand Sundays. I'll tell you what happened. The brother was really the lover. When the old man's found drowned they're convicted of murder. In fact it was suicide; when he said he was going to church he
meant the church under the sea. One's old writing really is appalling. The bloody hat doesn't fit either.

There's no ti
me left to make money once you're a success. Letters are getting neglected though it's great to receive them and know you're making some sort of literary impact on the kind of people who read the Guardian:

"Dear Jack this (painting) is a boy on a hill. I am writing a book for you I did in looking after my big sister. I am going to get a paper. I am very sorry I said you were ugly. I was astonished to hear that your na
me is Jack Trevor Story. Love from Lorraine XXX Sorry about the blots."

At seven years old she's possibly the youngest of our novelists working in the North. Good luck with your new book Lorraine. Now here's a fragment of lavender scented nonsense:

"Dear Jack, I have not received any money from you now for two weeks for accommodation and your share of heating, lighting, hot-water etc gas and phone rent - "

Hold on, this is a loaded Valentine. She'll never prove paternity without fingerprints. Ah-ah, I
might have guessed. It's old Rodders again using his after-shave again to fool me into opening the envelope. An altogether happier note was struck by Len Hastings's new band at The Salisbury, Barnet, when the pianist took a four-beat break to shout at me: "I'm a fan of Horace Spurgeon Fenton!"

"Oh really? Great!"

I am not famous for my witty spontaneous rejoinders. Especially when entertaining a young woman sent by Camden council to look for Ellie who was last seen in my column. Unluckily while I was trying to maintain this very paternal thing I have, the police came in searching for somebody else. Twice I've had them in this week. Somebody put a dustbin through the window of the garden flat then pissed down the chimney. There's something infuriatingly non-functional about Hampstead that deeply offends passers-by.


Between numbers at the jazz club my inquisitor said: "First she comes in with a black eye then she gets run over, now you say she's gone ho
me!" I did my Sergeant Joe Friday bit, producing the vital letter from the missing Ellie:

"Why don't you send Maggie a Valentine card? They're so sentimental. She might melt and come home..."

Said Miss Private Eye: "That doesn't sound like Ellie." So I showed her another bit: "I can't sleep in the quiet now and my bum always seems to be cold..." She said: "That sounds like Ellie." Brain had already been on to heart:

"Marshmallow? This is brain. No Valentines!" Too late, it's gone, all hearts and flowers and a fivepenny stamp. I got one back but I don't think it's the one I wanted: "Really and troofully does it effing matter my darling? You break your effing heart, strip to the waist, say your effing prayers - but it all comes dropping out of the effing sky right on top of your poor unprotected effing bonce, so does it effing matter, really and troofully, my darling?"

Put like that, no. Out of the sky comes a demand from the Inland Revenue's solicitor's office for 7,000 within seven days (all that again). This is a week I had to borrow a pound from Therese to take my piece to the office. My instant telephonic protest,
Bill assures me, sounded something like this:

"But I'
m a bankrupt - how can you take me to High Court? Well, of course it's a mistake - no, don't sack him, I'm not offended. He'll get the hang of it - what?"

Yes.  Well, he went on a bit longer than that. The secret of our 18 year friendship lies in his gift for creating characters - often people he's met in the outside world. Craig Pryor in "Little Dog's Day" with his alibi slave always on call ("Now look here, Elms!") was one of Bill's clients.

Against this, old Ginger Johnson stops me working every day (Sorry I'm late) and makes a lousy cup of tea. "Isn't he the fellow who wanted to turn the
Thames red to launch Captain Scarlet?" somebody at ATV asked me over lunch. It's time Bill got together with Stephen Vass, the man who attended "The Godfather" premiere as The Godfather. The promotions business lacks the inspired madness of the twenties and of pre-war Tono Bungay-land when poet Rupert Brooke turned travel writer for the Westminster Gazette and looked with distaste at New York undertaker's advertising:

"He gives everything that the most morbid taphologist could suggest, beginning with "splendidly carved full-size oak casket with black ivory handles. Four draped Fla
mbeaux..." and going on to funereal ingenuities that would have overwhelmed Mausolus, and make death impossible for a refined man..."

Ellie reckons that if Maggie read my much rejected "Crying Makes Your Nose Run" she'd be on the next plane back, but after looking at "The Astrology Love Book" by Ann Mathers, I'm not over-confident. I was with Annie on a television show in
New York when she'd just published her book of cooking recipes for hashish. This is what our stars say:

MAGGIE (Leo): She dresses with elegance, is in constant motion and a man must nourish her romanticism continually. Flatter her, woo her, be most affectionate. I f you cannot, do not pursue this child of the sun...

JACK (Pisces): The
man in this house will woo his chosen woman by truly mysterious ways. (Get the power of a quality newspaper behind you.) Women ignore or overlook him. Dazzled by showy, noisy males who trumpet their achievements and attractions, many women never realise that sitting nearby may be a Piscean with (no, listen) twice the intelligence, spiritual depth and true masculine vitality...

Isn't that just too uncanny? Don't tell me Annie got that from her stars; she got it from me. All those hamburgers on West 56th Street. She invited me to join a colony of intellectual castaways on a Caribbean island and now I wish I'd gone and sent Maggie her fare over as pro
mised...

"Hey, wotcha cook'n, elegant sun child?"

"A wee bit a' turrrtle haggis. Spect to dine any
minute..."

Sad and sun-soaked i
mages freely called from Scott Fitzgerald and distant laughter. Strathclyde woman on the balcony, no longer dolly, half my age this year, hair needs washing every other day, motionless, staring across the foreign city as though balancing something on her nose.


"All these people ca
me to Gatsby's house in the summer..."

He meant everybody's house, all our summers past.




(The Guardian, Saturday 17 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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