Okay Cats, wipe the
marmalade off your fingers,
we've got to have this out. As Mr Faulkner used to tell us fen louts
before he threw the chalk at us, I'm not going to come here week after
week wasting my precious time, giving up the chance of a rich marriage -
Story! - just in order to talk to blocks of wood. Hands up who wrote this:
"Dear Mr Story - I have glanced at some of your bits in the Guardian over
the past few years and I am much exercised
in my mind (as we say) as to the nature of the underlying ethos of your
psychic motivation or, in other words, the philosophic
mechanism of your
bio-intellectual synthesis. Let me put it this way: what the effing hell
are you on about, old
I might have known. R C
Hope of Blackheath Grove, SE3. Go and stand in the corner with the rest of
this week's disappointments; Barbara's boyfriend John, a solicitor with
all his clauses in the right order, my old friend Rose of temple Fortune
(what a lovely combination of names) and Margo's mum. Now get out that
lovely album devoted to the Essays of Kruger (my boyhood nickname, though
heavens above you should be capable of guessing that) and turn to last
week's perfectly straightforward lesson - Hope! - "Squirrel Juice".
First the title. You should know that I like Fats Waller and I am
seriously in love with Maggie, who done left me; right, Rose, put on that
"Oh I love my baby but my baby she don't love
She fills me full of squirrel juice, got me climbing up a tree..."
From the lesson itself you will also notice that I am concerned that this
neo-totalitarian Government, passing this law and that, seems intent on
running the country single-handed, that is without the help of the
electorate who may as well get back in the trees with the squirrels.
Jesus, clear writing is very hard work. And that's only the title.
John will know that They are going to meter our domestic water supply and
will therefore understand my reference to the summer air in the first
paragraph "still being free and unmetered". Margo's
mum will understand the
supermarket sketch that follows if she thinks of mimic Joyce Grenfell and
provides her own visuals. The content refers to those loving mums we have
all overheard bellowing at Dickie lamb who, in Freudian fact, only ever
wanted a Sooty doll and only love the idea of children - not the
hard, dirty, end-of-your-tether reality. And what the hell would Viscount
Barrington in the next paragraph know about it anyway; hence the piece
evolves from the back page of the New Statesman where the seminar was
Now Rose, you should know this,
married to "On The Buses" and Ronny being
my old bench mate at
Marconi's: every now and then you want to remind your friends that writing
is about living. We are not strange animals or eccentrics or layabouts simply
because we don't go out to work. We are talking for the
most part to people who think a half-hour play takes half-an-hour to
write. Better to get the conversation back to engineering and collect that
extra status. This is the pub bit with Eric Morecambe
added as a bonus.
The tax thing is a running gag I have with Inveresk House which takes us -
Hope! What are you doing? - takes us fairly naturally to an attack on
faceless bureaucracy with an excerpt from "Little Dog's Day". I quote from
my own forty-odd books not to advertise them but because there is no
copyright problem. Also they often say things I said better then.
Margo's mum will notice that grammar is accurately misused - feeling
before fetish - and cliches must be apt or scrapped. My own personal
counterpoint of mental aids to thought and expression consists of old song lyrics,
my mental ambiences are
steamy and strawhatted, Baton Rouge, circa 1925 say, my writing
tone-of-voice Negro. I don't know why this is, but it keeps
me one happy remove from the clock, the calendar and the 24 bus to
All right, Hope, just a
minute. Yes, I can see you are writing some
very good poetry, but so am I. Finally I apologise to Virginia for using
her question to make my final point last week. that humour is just as
profound as a mortician's catalogue. Particularly when the voice of the
policeman is heard in the land (ha ha ha, hee hee hee). Now we can look at
what Hope has written on the blackboard.
"The stars look down behind
my back on little women in a slum,
Who slyly scan the almanac
To see the shape of things to come..."
A cute poem made of
book titles, which brings me without too much of a jerk, I hope, to H G
Wells, his lovely old millstream house at Digswell, then coming up for air
through the eczema of housing development we arrive at the semi-detached
council house where "The Trouble With Harry" was written in the hot summer
"You're just in time to cut the lawn, Mr Story!" cries
my old neighbour Mr Williams,
not without a certain friendly cynical humour. This is not shared by Joe,
however, who works hard cultivating what is, I suppose, still officially
my garden, on a share-cropping basis with Evelyn. "What him? He don't know what a garden looks like!"
I don't think Joe likes
me. I know you find that incredible. I find it incredible.
You can quite understand Orwell forbidding a biography. Look what's
happening to Wells in the Sunday Times at the moment. Worse if
Isabel had gone on washing his socks in Wandsworth, Bertie turning up with
birds in big cars over the next 30 years; Jane, Catherine, Wild Violet
Hunt, Forever Amber. How fruitful, them, to question friends and
neighbours for posterity?
"I don't know about his regenerated State, he never put a bloody hand to
spade or fork..."
But the sensitive writer, full of galloping appetites and thirsts,
sublimating every morsel of himself to the product, a pig made of pork
chops (as I have said elsewhere) must expect to make other pigs nervous,
an alien in his own sty. I say, that's rather unfortunate, isn't it, in
the whole context. Don't want to offend
Joe. Let's make it lambs. No, I've used lambs. I'll start again - oh shit, it's half past one. Writing for
money is a race against
time now; if you chew too fast you can come out in the red. (Meaning: hour
for hour you can eat more than you earn.)
Tell you what, it's the sensitive writer's business to understand and
sympathise with the human condition, the common lot. I always start
getting intellectual when I'm in a bit of a rush. Last week's article about group living (not to
be confused in any way at all with shared flatting) brought understandable
protest. Sexual intercourse is not easy. Having
mastered it with one person
you are not going to go through the whole thing again with somebody new if
you can help it. This is the principle cause of
monogamy and why couples hold hands.
They've got their homes and gardens, I've got 18 odd socks. Class dismissed.
(The Guardian, Saturday 2 June, 1973)