Onions have gone down to 10p a pound
but it's a bit too late for some of us. Inveresk House have now given
me four weeks to leave the
country and one of the kindest characters in
my column has been sent to prison for five years for burglary. In
Brussels the silence seems to
have grown hostile though I'm sure it's only in my mind. Together, after a
quarrel, Maggie would put her face against
my chest - my white linen jacket has a sweet indelible little crescent of
lash-black on it - and I would soothe her back to understanding. Apart,
the most I can do is
face Highgate's green church steeple and concentrate towards the east. Bit
"It might help if you stop writing about her," Sally said.
She's right. I'll stop tomorrow. I decide
much more often now, especially with somebody
like Sally Head, who is the London end of Warner Brothers' story
department. Last week I wrote the Maggie story for ATV, this week I've
written it for Warner Brothers. I had to set it in Hawaii, give her eight
children and call her Tondelayo.
"You see, the creative emotion thrives on heartbreak, parting and sorrow," I explained,
quoting some old fragment. "Happy reunions don't seem
to do anything. The rich, moving stuff comes from the memory of what you
once had and you're now missing."
"Yes, indeed," said Sally.
It was Thursday afternoon last week, very hot and steamy and noisy in Soho
if you remember. We had been to a preview theatre and then I broke down in
in a coffee bar. There is a special girl, about 27 to 30 -
motherly for me, you'll agree (remember Scott
Fitzgerald's "well preserved woman of 25" in one of his early books?) -
who has this warm, balming effect of
mavericks in search of a corral. Yesterday's picture now has a frame
and you could live with it. Who wants a clothes horse?
"You never lived with anybody in your life," Elaine told me. I forget the
occasion, fortunately. "You live alone, whoever you're with." I still
prefer my prison to Her Majesty's.
Freshen up the Campari with a bit
more ice, thank a good accountant you're not living sweat-by-urine
in a small locked box
with two strangers, slopping out every
morning, wondering in the night whether your wife and kids have been
forced on the street by a righteous social security officer, and try to
guess who master-minded
which gold bullion robbery that might be equal to five years' of a man's
life and freedom. The article was "Maggie Come Home" and here is the cast
in order of appearance:
Me, Maggie, Poodle, the Mills Brothers, Fats Waller, Manpower, Di, Welsh
betty, Derek, Mr Whippy, Jonathan Cape, Lee, Richard, Peter Haigh, Jill
Adams, Pedro, his daughters, Wordsworth, Andy Williams, Shakespeare,
pretty Belgian girl.
No, Hope, it wasn't Shakespeare.
But I don't want to make a game out of a friend's suffering and humiliation.
"And talking of hoop-la," I said, "the best cup of tea in Hampstead now
comes from Pedro and his daughters at the kiosk on the resident fairground
in the Vale of Health..."
Pedro always struck me as being a great success as a father, which is the one thing you
can't make any money
at. You would think that anything that little man could pick up for his
wife and five kids, the squirrels could do it better. You know those shy
people who call you John because they feel that Jack is too familiar?
"Hey, John! Have a cup of tea. I don't want your money. Sausage roll? Rock
bun? This is my little girl. Pour the gentleman a cup of tea."
One day Pedro cracked a saucer so that Poodle could drink without breaking
any hygiene laws. Then another day he wasn't there anymore. They say in
the Vale he was unlucky (was there ever any question of it?); he might
have got off lightly with another judge or the same judge on another day. His case will be reviewed in the
Appeal Court next Tuesday.
Let's wait and see what terrible crime he committed to get himself shut
away from his family until they've forgotten him.
My wide experience of judges comes mostly from Ealing comedies where they were played by the late Miles Malleson (who shared
a room with Rupert
Brooke at King's College). Like the Pope in "The Wind in the Snottygobble
Tree" they have that jolly tricky job of being at once human, fallible,
and omnipotent. Thos was the way the Mafia switched popes.
No doubt, gout apart, judges are right most of the time. And if they're
not, what's a year here and there in somebody else's life? The trick is catching his Lordship in the right
mood, singing in the
bath, for instance:
"Sometimes I'm happy,
Sometimes I'm blue,
Depends upon you..."
Meanwhile, over in the Strand, the tax girl has given me four weeks to
perform a task that Hercules might have refused on sight: provide accounts
covering the past five years. The kind of bread I earn, accountants cost
more than income tax. Mine generally leave me floundering at the
inevitable stage (think of a number, double it) where it is suggested that
you hand over £100 to show good faith.
Who dreams up this mystic sum, unborrowed, unmortgaged, unencumbered and
unobtainable? And that's only a token of the immense amounts they're going
to juggle with once they know you're faithful. Except in America, where
the story is considered a fairly important part of a film, I've never
known writing to yield more than cigarettes, whisky and a few wildish
women. We don't write for success in our own time. When you put clean
paper in the machine you are John Evelyn and Admiral Collingwood planting
acorns for future ships of the line.
Listen, blue eyes, SLR 10295/73/EW, or whatever your name is - you wanna
know something? You can't get sap out of an acorn. You don't want
Finnegan's Wake, you want to go for the woodchopper's balls.
(The Guardian, Saturday 16 June 1973)
NB: "Maggie Come Home" appeared in "Letters To An Intimate