Saturday, September 24, 1983

Talking aloud as they sit round their tables

My last day in Easterby. A trip to Bethany was planned but it never materialised. Nanna P. was brought from Cross Green Road at dinnertime and she spent the afternoon at the table knitting doll clothes. Janet’s baby is due in eight or nine weeks and she’s been given conflicting reports by doctors which hint that all is not well, and that the kid could even have spina bifida.

My day has cruised by unspectacularly, listening to the football on the radio and trying to pack while outside the wind blew and the sun shone. Athletic won 3-2 at Ryburn United. It was nail biting stuff listening to it on Radio North. They went a goal ahead after just thirteen minutes, but Ryburn equalised not long after, then went ahead themselves before Athletic drew level again; I really didn’t dare hope that the Spinners would win. But win they did, and Dad and I had a whisky in celebration of the winning goal and prayed away the last twenty minutes.

I mobilised myself to desultory packing most of the day, and I’m just now finishing off. Lee rang earlier in the evening to announce that he’s got hold of a Third Reich board game from John. He’s all set to leave too, and his Mum is tearful at his departure.

I wonder how he’ll change? Claire reckoned in her letter that he’d alter a lot as he’s been “restrained” here.

One of those unavoidable and unpleasant pre-departure days, with no real motivation to do anything, and a feeling that I’m biding my time. In a sense, things have felt a bit unreal. To Nanna P., people must constantly come and go around her, and I know when I’m southward–bound on the M1 tomorrow she’ll be here talking and knitting and looking forward to a “run-out.” Eternal.

Life will go on as usual after I’m gone, and in a way this thought is a little odd to think, although to others it’ll seem too stupid and obvious to mention. Mum, Dad & Nanna P. are watching The Omen, but I’ve no stomach for that so I’m bodging about until bed-time.

When I next write, I’ll be in a different world completely.

Friday, September 23, 1983

Love what you know

I got up this morning to find Dad in a bitter blank fury, railing against “immigrants” and the policies of the past for bespoiling ‘his’ Easterby. “There was a time when Easterbians were proud to be Easterbians,” he said angrily, with hot-eyed bitterness.

It’s just been announced that cut-backs in education in Easterby will mean 400 job losses among teachers and nursery nurses and Mum is worried about her job. If she loses it then she and Dad are fucked and I don’t see how they’ll be able to afford to keep me at Uni. Dad worries more about Mum’s health than anything, because the greater the hardships the greater her levels of worry.

He lashed out with blind, angry bewilderment and declared that Enoch Powell has been proved right. It was announced the other day that Easterby has the third highest birth rate in the country, which is about the only thing that’ll keep Mum in a job, because it’s the Asian women who have their kids the fastest. I’m not too worried about Uni.: the main problem if I did leave Uni. would be seeing direction and justification in my life.

I’m going to Watermouth on Sunday and so today was taken up in part with preparations for my departure. Dad and I drove down to the Parcel's Office at the station with my trunk (and cheese), which cost me £7. Dad told me that Mr. Tillotson hasn’t used the trunk since 1937 and the early years of his marriage.

It was a hot day, a last evocative glimpse of summer before we are swallowed up by the wintry weather, and as we drove up Gilthwaite Road the moors away beyond Keddon basked under pale blue skies and I wished I were miles away over the horizon, walking amid vastnesses.

After dropping my trunk at the station we called up to see Nanna B., but she was out, so Dad and I went for a walk around his old haunts when he was growing up, stooping by an old wall overlooking the last of Kerforth’s common land, now a weed-filled field sweeping down towards Iredale's Mill, in whose dam one of my relatives once committed suicide.

Nearby, partly hidden by trees, Dad pointed out the dark squat shape of an ancient cottage where John Wesley once stayed and preached. New housing has encroached on the old, but the skyline beyond Flaxhall Top, punctuated by the silhouetted steeple of Flaxhall Church, can’t have changed much since the turn of the century when Dad’s Dad was a kid. There was a tinge of poignancy and hidden sadness in the way he showed me Charnwood’s dam, where another distant figure from the family’s past ended his life, and old Kerforth abattoir, soon to be demolished, now derelict and boarded up.

We skirted the fields and took a small snicket that ran alongside Iredale’s Mill. Dad showed me the spot where as a kid he would lift the large stone slab of a hidden well and gaze down into the cool dark depths. The mill, once empty, is now in use again and the clackety-clack of machinery was somehow reassuring. The path ran between red-brick sheds and yards full of building materials. Here when he was a lad, Dad told me, sheep grazed and over there, the farmer kept his horses, whose restless night-time snuffles unsettled Dad and Uncle George as they returned home from the pictures. No. 59 Pollard Road, where they grew up, looks empty and semi-derelict now.

We wandered back up through Kerforth and along the main street, passing the house where Dad’s Dad lived after the suicide of his father (to this day we own a sepia-brown photo of him looking like Al Capone, standing in the doorway, fag in mouth); the Wheatsheaf pub where one day in 1917 my Great Uncle Ernest slapped his newly awarded Military Medal down on the bar promising, “It’ll be the VC next time!”: he was killed in France a month later; no. 52, where Dad’s Auntie Florrie was found dead one morning, so thin and frail that George had sat on the bed for fully ten minutes reading the ‘paper before realising she was lying there next to him, lifeless, while upstairs her sister Olive rooted about for the insurance papers. The whole of the Martindale and Watkin family histories—great chapters of them at least—have run their course within those few acres of old Kerforth.

N.B. was still out when we got back to her flat so we made a cup of tea and watched the Liberal Party Conference for a while before leaving (David Steel quoting Cromwell: “Know what you fight for, love what you know”). We made a trip to pick up Mum from school, but she’d gone, so we returned home feeling that somehow the day had slipped wastefully by when perhaps we could’ve gone somewhere.

When Mum came home from work deadbeat as usual, there were more niggles between her and Dad, as there often are nowadays. “I think we’re seeing too much of one another,” sighs Mum wearily, and then complains to me that she doesn’t think Dad is doing enough to relieve his isolation at home. A few weeks ago they’d both been full of enthusiasm about adult education classes and had even gone to the trouble of getting all the forms, but Dad backed out at the last minute, limply saying £17 per year was too expensive (the creative writing classes were free!).

It’s almost as if he’s scared of making any commitment and frightened to break the routine his life’s fallen into. He never meets anyone apart from Mr. Tillotson across the road and does nothing but write his diary and tend his newts and toads, although he’s often saying “I wouldn’t mind doing so-and-so,” and so on. “He’s just hot air,” says Mum, but I’m no one to harp on about lack of effort and motivation, and it’s obvious who I’ve inherited it from.

Stu, Pete and Shelley have all rung in the last day or so. Stu asked if he can kip on the floor at Jervis Terrace while he finds somewhere to live. The accommodation situation in Watermouth sounds pretty bad. Pete rang up just to talk and Shelley said she might be suffering from hepatitis; she doesn’t know yet. I’ll see her on Sunday evening.

I’ve casually started reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra in the last couple of days and I think Nietszche has a lot to offer.

Thursday, September 22, 1983

Perfect at least as animals

In the early afternoon I went into Easterby with Andrew and Jay and we showed Jay the sights of the city. He was quite amusing and insisted on taking film with his home-movie camera of Andrew and I walking down Hutton Steps.

We had a curry at the Bahawal; the streets alive with students laughing and talking, wandering to and fro and posing. At three-thirty, after a drink at The Four Pigeons, I said goodbye and met Lee at the library. We bought our bus tickets for Sunday and, after seizing upon a copy of Kollaps by Einst├╝rzende Neubauten, I came home. I rang Penny to tell her to remind Shelley not to bother getting me the LP.

Lee came round in the evening, supposedly to dye trousers black, but we spent the time playing darts in my bedroom. We’ve dreamed up a scheme to shower the Saturday-nite Jasper’s mating crowd with balloons filled with pig’s blood. Our vantage point will be opposite the club on the William Street multi-storey car park: visions of the white-clad dance floor shufflers spattered with the black, congealed blood proved too much for Lee, and he was full of noisy enthusiasm for the idea. “I’ll have to do it now,” he said laughing.

We even thought of sending pretentious letters to the Echo in support, signed “The New Puritans.” The only thing putting us off is the lack of a fail-safe escape route. It would be horrendous if it went wrong; we’d end up getting beaten into the ground or arrested—probably both.

“If only we had become perfect at least as animals! But to animals belongs innocence” . . .

Wednesday, September 21, 1983

Collapsing new buildings

I took a morning trip with Dad to the bank in Lockley, to the pet shop in Crossley and Farnshaw. As we drove, he regaled me with tales of 1960s Temperance Hotel stabbings and other Easterby murders. Yesterday’s feelings on encountering the poorer areas of Whincliffe were repeated today as we went through Woodhead Mills and Birkside Bank. Easterby has its own slummy areas too, their impact lessened no doubt through familiarity. We got back in the early afternoon.

It rained all afternoon and while Dad frantically hoovered and dusted in preparation for the descent of Andrew and friend I gave my boots another coat of dye. They rolled up at three or so; Andrew’s friend Jay is a Chicagoan, red-faced, acned and bearded and quite amusing to listen to as he drawled on, punctuating his conversation with “wow” and “I guess."

Everything was very correct for the guest; Dad pronounced his words properly and with care as he talked to Andrew, whereas normally he doesn’t bother.

Andrew and Jay went for a walk along the canal bank before tea, and in the evening, after a lavish meal by usual standards, they went for a drink in Knowlesbeck. Dad and I watched England lose 1-0 at home to a much-vaunted Denmark team while Mum dozed wearily in the chair.

It’s colder than of late tonight and the full moon has risen and now casts its icy brilliance across the sky. My departure for Watermouth looms ever nearer and I can feel my time here drawing slowly to a close. I’ve begun packing my trunk and I’ve hidden my £30-share of the cheese in a layer at the very bottom, concealed beneath records, books and clothes.

Shelley sent me another letter. She’s so self-confident, and rails against her fellow flat-mates for being “bossy” and “boring,” and Penny for complaining about being bored. P. has got a Mohican, done no doubt at the instigation of Shawn. Shelley has been trying to get the Einsturzende Neubauten album for me for a week now, but Virgin has sold out, so I’ll have to wait.

Tuesday, September 20, 1983

Oft have I stood

I did write to Claire. I posted my letter this morning; she should get it tomorrow.

I again made the trip to the ex-army store in Whincliffe with Lee. No black fatigues available until Friday so I bought a pair of khaki German ones for £4.50 and a pair of grey leather Luftwaffe gloves. I later regretted buying the trousers as they’re very baggy. We wandered slowly back into Whincliffe city centre; it was a grey drizzly day, gusty and cold, and we paused at the cemetery to look about.

We recorded a death-verse which particularly impressed us with its morbidity:
Oft have I stood as you stand now,
To view the graves as you view mine,
Think reader, thou must lay as low
As I, and others stand and stare at thine.
We also took the lift up to the very top of the nearest in a group of sixteen storey high-rise flats and got out onto the roof to admire the view.

The walk back us took us through miserable areas of tacky flats, grimy, oil-stained red brick factories, derelict warehouse buildings and, alongside the road, dilapidated—but still occupied—Victorian tenement-blocks. They were falling down around their inhabitants’ ears, a chaos of red-brick landings, filthy boarded-up windows, jutting walls and wrought-iron railings. I found these shit-holes incredible to see in 1983 and it was a picture more worthy of Dickens rather than late-twentieth century Whincliffe. The streets were awash with kids home from school and weary, haggard women pushing prams in the grey light—a miserable, heartless scene all around.

Whincliffe is an awful place, full of people whose lives seem utterly miserable, to me and Lee at least. We are expected to live out our lives in such circumstances and be happy? I have no taste for that kind of existence. There has to be more, and if Steve calls this negative talk then it’s a negativity I’m proud of.

When we got to Whincliffe city centre I bought leather dye for my boots and fabric dye for my trousers in the dreadful plastic James Street Shopping Centre. I thought of Claire, somewhere in Whincliffe as we walked, and in a way my letters, and all the hopeful energies I put into ‘em, seem very insignificant and futile in the face of the vast bustle of the world and the countless people she must meet.

Andrew rang in the evening. He had interview number two today for a haulage and construction firm’s in-house graphics department; he feels fairly confident. He’s back in Easterby tomorrow and is bringing an American friend to stay the night. I dyed one boot after dark, and came to bed after midnight.
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