"Man is temp'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
"That'll all goo, young Jim," 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 Jim 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
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 time 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 name 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
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 home!" 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
"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 Flambeaux..." and going on to funereal ingenuities that would have
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
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 promised...
"Hey, wotcha cook'n, elegant sun child?"
"A wee bit a' turrrtle haggis. Spect to dine any
Sad and sun-soaked images 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 came to Gatsby's house in the summer..."
He meant everybody's house, all our summers past.
(The Guardian, Saturday 17 February 1973)