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JTS columns from the Guardian newspaper

27. Grasshopper Mine

There are weeks - especially Mondays - when you see your audience, so
me with ear trumpets, hoping that you won't swear and (if Hilda's waiting for the paper and not dead in a deckchair) that you will try to keep home truths above the crutch. A time for sitting in the field and reading "The Mayor of Casterbridge" by Thomas Hardy, as a conditioner. For there are some readers who get pretty sick of endings and middles and appreciate a good, old-fashioned beginning.

It is the year of our Poodle, 1963. Beyond the Western Isles the sun shot the clouds into the wildest colours of blood and feud as a young woman, stylish by country habits - clothes, make-up and hair in rebellion against the recent restrictions of ho
me and college - and lugging a heavy chequered plastic suitcase stuffed with hope and home, arrived to her first paid job at the small hotel at Mallaig. A lonely spot on the headland that comes out by Loch Nevis, it is connected by a solitary road south and the ferryboat service to Armadale on Skye.

"Is this
my room?"

"Aye. It is..."

McCleod was a man with a rock-smooth, aged, fallen countenance who, like the gale-tortured tree blocking the sunset view outside her window, leaned permanently backward so that when she closed the door she heard the bu
mp and the curse and knew she had made an enemy. Although tired, the anguish of home-sickness that defeats the wander-lust in the night hours kept her awake; sometimes weeping for her little room at Honeylaw Farm. She stopped when she remembered equal weeping in the same little room for something more exotic.

Caledonia expects its privileged girrals, no matter what their private yearnings, to settle down at ho
me and teach. Sandra was a teacher and Morag was a teacher and so was Helen and Janet. Somehow a lifetime of schoolrooms and screaming brats seemed not enough after all the student madness. But neither was the hotel at Mallaig. There was washing up and then more washing up.

"Do I get a share of the tips?"

"No. You do not..."

After three weeks of glorious sunsets and nothing else, Maggie (for she it was, dear reader) left her first job. With the same heart and the same case she flew to Italy, went by hovercraft to Ischia to look after some rich Italian kids who tried to drown her by hiding under water, hoping she might jump in. That lasted a fortnight and there was a short while in Mill Hill with a Jewish family who bought everything from Harrods, darling, and then - still with an eye to the world - she worked at the foreign students' hostel in Mecklenburgh Square. By this time Maggie was looking for a writer.

"Maybe I a
m dat writer?" one of the coloured boys suggested. She walked out on him when she discovered he had lied about the bus home.

"I hate kids, I hate washing up and I hate people who take me for an idiot," Maggie used to say.

That's the old-fashioned bit. Now here's a letter from a solicitor who is trying to get compensation for Ellie, who was knocked off a zebra crossing last January. It says more about her than I dare to say on my nervous weeks.

"As a word of warning,
may I remind you to say very little when you are asked questions by the insurance company's doctor and to keep your answers to one or two words only. Do not be tempted to get involved in a long conversation with him and certainly do not tell him that the only difficulty you suffer as a result of e.g. pain in your buttocks is an embarrassment in your love life..."

The legal world is still a
man's world where a limp or recurring dizziness is worth more, cash-wise, than the possibility of a childless future. In the play (finally you get your whole life in one room with a wall missing) the claimant is wheeled in, bandaged like a mummy from head to foot.

"And when did all this take place?" asks the judge. Twenty-three years ago, m'lud. In fact, it was her mother. "Dear, dear," says the judge. "Can she speak?" They remove one bandage to let her speak, another to let her hear.

"Fraud!" screa
ms counsel for the insurance company. Played by Richard Burton wearing his other expression. "Gentlemen and ladies of the jury! You saw what I saw! She was nodding her head!"

Insurance, if we all pay our pre
miums, means happiness, security and undreamed of wealth for about 20 people.

Every week of her life, all through my long and curious boyhood, all the time we were running away from her second husband Monty - Hertford, Meldreth, Burwell, Ca
mbridge, 13 moves in 10 years, a brick through the bedroom window, Mrs Fordham, all the furniture on a coal cart and nowhere to take it, the probation officer trying to give me to a vicar friend, pea-picking - my mother left a shilling on the table for the insurance man.

When she died I refused to collect the paltry sum due. I like to think she is not just another dead satisfied custo
mer. She still owns a living brick in their mansion. Somebody has to keep shifting it from one book to another. Her computer will click into eternity. So too, the sunset over the Western Isles. It is the first year of our happiness, 1968.

"That's the place. Right over there. Do you see it?" Maggie said.

"Aye. I doŠ"

We sat o the quayside at Ar
madale, waiting for the ferryboat. The same heart, the same heavy case full of home and wandering stowed in the boot. The same young woman (wait for me, lady) is in the same kitchen doing the same washing-up, dreaming of something more exotic, hoping for a reasonable past.

Away wi' ye, wretched grasshopper, while I turrun the page. As he went she said eagerly, "You
may hear them speak of me in Casterbridge as time goes on. If they tell you I'm a coquette, which some may, because of the incidents of my life, don't believe it, for I am not."

"I swear I will not!" he said, fervidly.

Thus the two...

(The Guardian, Saturday 7 July 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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