• Home • Up •

JTS columns from the Guardian newspaper

20. Looking to Lorel

Rocking like a pendulu
m do, from foot to foot, Lorel was saying: "I'm perfectly normal now, daddy. I used to fall over when I did this." She knows when she's being funny, is the normal bit for an autistic girl of 18. After 14 years in psychiatric care she now goes out to work within the hospital industry. She used to break out of Fulbourn regularly, and I once met her in Hampstead High Street walking towards London. She'd hitched all the way in cars and lorries with no idea where I lived; our meeting was coincidental.

"Never do that again!" said Maggie. She could have been raped; they keep her on the pill now.

Besides the rocking, which keeps your head going like a tennis umpire's, Lorel has had various fixations. She was on shoes for a year, would whip off anybody's shoes in the street or in a restaurant. On Worthing beach she once hurled a child's shoe far out to see. "She's a bit touched," I explained. She said: "That's not a very nice thing to tell people." There was tonsils, when she was forever yanking stranger's mouths open. I've avoided her for years. She just happened to be at
my sister's when I dropped Poodle in for minding.

"I've bought a radio and a record player, but I haven't got any records. Have you got any records? None of your old jazz. I can dance now..." Her acquisitiveness is extre
mely normal; still, it's a chance to get rid of my collection of oldies. There's nothing more stagnating than favourite records. Bored, I'm now playing my 33s at 45 and the 45s at 33.

Spring-cleaning starts in the
mind and April Fool's Day is good for a pinch and a punch-up of old habits.

Elsa telephoned fro
m Cambridge at one in the morning. My sister's habits are even odder than mine and this not one of them. "It's me," she said. "I'm as tight as a tick. I'm fed up with this bloody little square. Green-grocery. Neighbours. Everybody not liking Lorel or the dogs. Know what I'm gonna do? Is that you, Jack? I'm going to paint one of your four-letter words on every door in the square. You know which one?" I quickly advised her to paint it on her own door as well or it would be a give-away. I think this put cold water on the whole thing.

I was reminded of it by Peter Simple, old Righty of the Telegraph, a writer I'm now trying to catch up on, who said in 1958: "Salisbury Cathedral for lightness and grace, Lincoln for solemn ecstasy, Ely for overwhelming strangeness..."

Maggie and I (so to speak) besides having sunny memories of Salisbury, where she ate her first venison, also re
member Ely where we once, abandoned my sister in the black and pouring fen rain with 15 miles to walk home to Cambridge. These are the things that make up family life. "In the end I loved Maggie," Elsa says now.

Strength of character co
mmands respect in the happy-go-lucky. The person you most want to listen to hardly ever speaks. But they listen a lot and walk out a lot.

"What did I say?" Elsa asked, after Maggie had walked out into the stormy night from the warmth of the Fish and Duck.

Headlamp beams end in long spikes of water, unicorns leap over hedges and night
mares come true every time your woman vanishes without her coat.

"Lorel, Lorel, Lorel, Lorel," said Maggie, when I'd got her safely back (not while your sister's there!). Well, there's a whisper of fear in every wo
man's mind when her man has fathered an abnormal child. Startling eruptions in familiar daily chat -.

"O my God! You looked just like Lorel when you said that!"

It's true , sometimes you look and feel and talk like your own kin; I often feel like
my brother. "Hello, Jack, got my money yet?" I grunt at the mirror. Anyway, blow Lorel, I got rid of the rocking chair that Marconi's bought me as a leaving present. Any baby I gave Maggie would look like an advert for porridge oats. "Hae y' any idea why ah keep want'n to write poetry?" he would demand suspiciously.

Enough of the fantasy. To get things absolutely clear I'm just as impatient as Maggie Boyd with friends and relatives who devote their one and only life and freedom disproportionately to the afflicted, particularly if it's on
my behalf.

"But I'm all she's got in the outside world," Elsa tells
me. Some families are no good at having mentally handicapped loved ones and that goes for us. Aunty Elsa has been a magnificent loser on Lorel's behalf, cycling 14 miles twice a week, even through the snow. Friends of Fulbourn, Cherry Knowle, Cell Barnes, Colney Hatch, Shenley, you name it, can lose their own friends that way.

Compassion becomes suspect when normality and happiness are comparative (how do you make a happy lunatic happy?). Compassion of the most genuine sort can be polluted by conceit (who's nor
mal?) or the need to shine in a dim light.

"I'm trying to teach them drama therapy but they keep telling me to piss off," said Therese.

If they finally take
me away and anyone comes to visit me on Sunday afternoons let it be to bring me whisky or to have sexual intercourse. Let's not have any strolling round the grounds exchanging vacant smiles with blissfully vacant people. "Haven't you brought Beauty? I wanted to see Beauty!" Lorel would say, after I'd driven sixty miles and forgotten the dog. Piss off, daddy.

Lousy, selfish parent that I a
m, expecting affection from everybody and doing nothing without reward, part of tonight's tetchiness comes from Therese's trick of turning off-the-top kitchen chat into a marathon treatise on social behaviour. I happen to have some of Ellie's leek pie for bubble-and-squeak this morning, some for topping a fish pie tonight.

"That's really excellent planning," says Therese, catching you halfway to the door. Anyone who sees bubble-and-squeak as planning should be in politics. She said: "I really believe in that, Throw nothing away. Store everything in little pots. You can always adapt things later on if you put your
mind to it..."

She's an extremely pretty girl with lots of wiry red hair, a boy's figure and a co
mpulsion to make intelligent speeches which she's inclined to lose track of halfway through. She's been in the flat about three years now and I'm beginning to find out why the nightingales kept quiet that night I ran her out to Ayot St Lawrence while Maggie slept. She would have cross-examined them about their harmony structures.

Anything you borrow fro
m Therese is decayed already. Even things like tea and sugar have a pungency that reminds you of museums. She goes running shoeless on the heath and comes back with elderly tramps. Wild Africans she meets on Tube trains telephone at four in the morning.

"Who dat? Are you de sa
me chap? What you doing there?"

On the plus side (besides lending
me money), Therese makes plenty of noise at night, which is comforting. Typing, running on the spot, tape-recording weird, progressive jungle sounds for school playlets. Educationally, flat-sharing works. There's a new resident from Which? magazine out in the garage penthouse and a rather lovely, romantic lavender and linen graduate, Katherine, has taken the front double. Twenty-five people under one roof are inclined to compliment each other; they know the arts, I remember Will Rogers.

Coincidentally three of the
m have given me Herman Hesse novels that I can't read, though I need new April writers as I need new records, new blood, veins, roads.

"The roads of
my life have always fascinated me. (Horace talking) The way the most familiar ones, sometimes separated by half a lifetime and God knows how many dramas, you know discover, because of a diversion, run within yards of each other..."

You are joined to the past by the road to Burwell Fen, to the present by how much petrol you can afford, to the future by your birthday cards, full of hopes. I got two cottages (one thatched), one windmill, one castle (Lorel), two harbours full of small craft, amid the abstract, traditional and comic.

"Do me a favour, petal. Open that envelope before I leave." To Ellie, off to work for the first time since the car hit her in January, Maggie's unopened letter fro
m Brussels is like an unexploded bomb. She wouldn't want to come home and find one from me in its place. Nor would I subject her to such repeat performances.

Theda Bara or not, the girl fro
m the north is a great stand-in and has kept the show going. She made Maggie's usual birthday cake for me and the icing ran all over the fridge, which made it kind of special. Her tin whistle plays oddly old-fashioned "keep the home fires burning" tunes, right through all kinds of everything.

Bringing up Jan's poodle, ten years old this September and well past puberty, single-handed, you need somebody.

"Those were our vintage years," I told Maggie in a letter last week, enclosing a final de
mand for 2.70 from Odhams Books. They took her from 22 to 27, me from 50 to 55. "Anything else must be worse..."

If Maggie came back this journal would end and it wouldn't be easy to say goodbye to its protagonists. As Salinger's Holden Caulfield said at the end of The Catcher in the Rye:

"About all I know is, I sort of miss everybody I told about. Even old Stradlater and Ackley, for instance, I even miss old Maurice. It's funny. Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."

(The Guardian, Saturday 31 March 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.


<<  back  • Home • Up •  next  >>