Thursday, November 24, 1983

Tangled web

I got up at nine-fifteen and finished off my reading of Keats’ “Odes,” hitching in to Uni in the drizzle and cold. My tutorial went quite well and I said quite a lot, but now I have two essays to write for next Thursday for Mr. Carwardine and one for Black Americans. I must hand in one essay for Mr. Carwardine tomorrow, and so I have to stay up most of the night to get it written.

I met Colin Pasmore again after the tutorial. I announced that I’d come to “deliver the death-blow to my year abroad” and I told him about Mum & Dad’s letter and my finances. He seemed quite concerned. I tried to explain my dilemma and the guilt I’d feel committing Mum and Dad to extra money. Pasmore argued that it would be worth it, saying everyone who’d come back from the year abroad had had a good time. “It’s an opportunity not to be missed” says he, and ”you’ll never get the chance again to experience that environment and you’re only young.”

I found myself slipping into a position of total uncertainty and indecision, even though I’d felt fairly certain of my options over the last few days. It’s so very hard to intellectualise about this whole situation, as apart from the financial aspect, my ambivalent feelings don’t stem from any rational part of my being.

Mo moved out today, into a flat that has a waste disposal system, free newspaper delivery every morning, large rooms and a balcony with a view of the sea . . . I’m so pissed off with this dump, with John’s constant presence, with the tangled web which seems to haunt my every move.

I called Mum. Janet has had her baby two months premature, and after a few weeks in hospital, she has at last been allowed to take him home.

Wednesday, November 23, 1983

Youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies

I couldn’t face a night in the Jervis Terrace shit-hole so Ade gave Lee and I a lift to Lee's residence halls where I spent last night. I’m sick of the squalour of my living conditions, the peeling wall-paper, the damp, the dirty walls and floors, the eternally filthy kitchen . . . I’m moving into a hotel next term if I can’t get anywhere else to live.

I didn’t get to sleep until four, but woke up today early and in a bright mood to match the day. The clatter and noise of engineers, industrial designers and mathematicians subsided at about nine-fifteen and we emerged to empty staircases and deserted kitchens; Lee tells me that this routine is followed by the residents each week with scarcely a variation in the pattern. Up at eight-thirty every weekday, work at the Poly until five, watch TV, go up to the local pub and in bed by eleven-thirty. Saturdays are for getting pissed and wandering about being loud and obnoxious, Sundays for cooking large meals and nursing sore heads. Their lives seem preordained.

I went into University at twelve-thirty, and at about twenty past four I met Susie and Lindsey in the library coffee bar. Susie was in another one of her flutters of indecision, playing with her hair absent-mindedly and teasing great strands out with her fingers. I again felt myself dry up in front of Lindsey. I bought a book—Volume five of the New Penguin Encyclopedia of English Literature: From Blake to Byron. Lee turned up around seven and he and I hitched home.

It was bitterly cold by the time it got dark, the earth crusty and white from frost, my hands and ears in agony. I’m looking forward to hitching back to Easterby at Xmas; it will be a good laugh.

The long-overdue letter from Mum and Dad awaited when I got back; the first part from Mum, in her large rounded hand: “This is a difficult letter to write. I know you must be very anxious about everything . . I don’t see how we can fund you to the tune of £800 on top of your grant. We can manage £100-£200 extra, but not any more as we have to think about one of us falling ill. We don’t get any younger.”

She also says that if I tried for a post-grad course in Journalism they would finance me if I sought exemption from the year abroad. Dad picks up on this theme, saying he thinks I could “walk it” going by the evidence he’s seeing in The Echo. I will think about it carefully as he asks, but I expect I’m going to disappoint them both severely. This isn’t my idea of how I want to spend the next five years. What is my vision of the next few years?

I’d like to travel, but no doubt I shall end up in the UK: I love this country too much to desert its shores forever.

I need to do something drastic to change the recent state of my entries in this diary. I’m sick of my limp, colourless writing, hackneyed expressions, and inexpert, careless structures that don’t read well and abound with errors. The lines on the page enforce a rigid 200-220 words per page; this seems to have something to do with it. I want this to be less a series of chronological events, more an ideas book . . . Lee says that Ian wants to take his girlfriend down into the crypt to fuck her on top of one of the sarcophagi.

“Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs;
Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.”

-Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale."

Tuesday, November 22, 1983

No sound is dissonant

Today is the twentieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. Dad was on a police scooter this day in 1963 when a man came out of a house to shout the news. . . .

We didn’t rise from our beds until two and the stark shadows were already beginning to lengthen outside. Del had stayed up all night on speed, borrowed Wordsworth, Plath and Eliot from me and driven off into Watermouth. He said he was feeling very emotional and later told us he sat all morning at a table in Green’s, a bundle of nervous energy . . . He was out when we got up but eventually turned up mid-afternoon, looking none the worse for wear.

Lee, Barry and I walked down to Wickbourne Road and spent a couple of hours looking for a sturdy torch, wandering to and fro to the numerous second-hand and electrical shops that line the street. We got back at four. It was dark when we all piled into Del’s Hillman Imp and set off for Smith Square. We parked the car outside Ian’s flat in Blenheim Place; the doors were open but no one was in, so we left a message in the typewriter standing on the table and walked to Smith Square, John and Del in a very frivolous mood, jokes and repartee flying left, right and centre.

The entrance to the crypt was in the middle of a wasteland of rubble and broken bricks, a simple metal cover beneath which steps descended into impenetrable blackness. One by one we vanished into the earth; the blackness and silence was total. We bunched together and spoke in hoarse whispers, John and Del nervously joking and laughing as materialists are apt to do in the face of unnecessary mystery.

At the bottom of the steps was a passageway off which ran small side chambers, each with a compliment of brick boxes piled in twos and threes nearly to the ceiling. There were several similar rooms on either side of the passageway, each filled with identical brick boxes capped with stone lids, although some rooms were empty. Although each room had originally been blocked off with breeze blocks, these had recently been broken through, leaving the ends of each sarcophagus visible from the passageway. On these were carved the names of the occupant of each box and his or her date of death and age.

We climbed through the hole in the breeze block wall of the first room on the left; here lay the sarcophagus of Emily Newburgh, who was born in 1770 and died 15th April 1806. The heavy stone lid was split into three sections and the coffin had rotted away and lay in pieces. Lee shone the torch down on the fragments . . . the hair . . . it was the only human thing there, coiled in a plenteous brown river among the spars of broken wood and what was left of the rest of the body, a last pathetic reminder of this woman’s life and her brief flirtation in this world of vanities. In parts, the thick matted strands had come apart to release individual hairs, long and wispy, glittering in the torch-beam with the sheen of life. Poor Emily Newburgh, lying dead and scattered to the world, now in the thoughts of the living for perhaps the first time in decades; I wonder who she was, what she liked and disliked, what little personal eccentricities she had?

The other sarcophagi all dated back to the late 1700s/early 1800s and seemed to be those of fairly wealthy people and their children; I presumed this was why they had been interred in the bowels of this crypt, not left in the (now-vanished) graveyard outside, at the mercy of future development. “No sound is dissonant / which tells of Life” (Coleridge).

After a half-an-hour or so we emerged thankful back into the cold night air. We went for a drink at a pub across the road and we all, everyone one of us, felt affected by what had gone before; Lee was silent and unresponsive and none of us felt very disposed to laughter or light hearted talk. Del offered John £20 if he’d go back down the crypt alone and without a torch—he almost did, but he bottled out at the last minute. I don’t blame him.

Ian and co. were still out so we drove home. It was Mo’s birthday and she and Pete were drunk, Pete whining because he didn’t want us in his room watching TV. Comments and slammed doors . . . Ade had come round too after spending a couple of nights alone in front of the TV in his new place; we’ve heard of a house for five which should be available around Christmastime.

Monday, November 21, 1983

Everest model 90

At around midnight last night, two half-expected visitors, John Turney and Derek Caraway, descended on us whirlwind-like, the former fresh from a few days in Amsterdam, the latter just escaped from stagnation in Milton Keynes.

“First thing he did when he got to Holland,” says Del of John, “was go with a prostitute.” Replies a grinning John, “I wanted a woman with a bit of experience . . .” Their live-wire energy/parody/piss-taking routines threaten the easy torpour we’ve existed in since they were here last. I hope they find a place soon; I can’t stand the constant hints, nudges, innuendo and references to sex and my lack of it. With playful malice, Trevor said I was conning he and Del about the date of Mo’s upcoming birthday party “because he doesn’t want us to talk to Her” (emphasis on this last word). He just doesn’t care. But how I do.

Stu went ‘home’ at midnight and at two-thirty a.m, he and Gareth turned up with bagfuls of work and we stayed up all night. I finished Corregidora at six; it’s a hard, uncomfortable book to read. I slept until eight-thirty while Gareth and Stu worked and when they left shortly after nine, Del gave me a lift into the University.

I met Shawn Bennett and we had a couple of drinks up at The Town & Gown until I had to leave to go to my tutorial at 2.45. On the way I bumped into Lindsey & arranged to meet her and Susie in the cafeteria of the library after my tutorial ended.

In the library coffee bar Susie and I talked about the gradual but inexorable rift that develops between one-time friends who don’t spend time together anymore. Shelley is becoming a part of my past now, a figure from my history, and so it is with Penny, Rowan and Shawn too to a certain extent, Alex Margolis most of all, . . .

As we waited in the Cellar for our food to be served, I looked across at Lindsey and for one brief instant, all the feeling and emotion I used to have for her came welling back to the surface. I could’ve kissed her, held her right there; I loved everything about her . . . but I can’t allow myself to be drawn back into another hopeless, helpless situation. I have to remember the past and how I behaved. I just want to be as good a friend to her as I can be.

Talking to her was like banging my head against a brick-wall so I left her and Susie drinking, went to the library, met up with Pete and Mo (Pete drained and pale from speed), and came home.

Lee came round mid-evening with a £5 typewriter (Everest Model 90 – "Made in Italy”) that he’d picked up from a charity shop and repaired. It’s a real bargain, and types perfectly. I typed a letter to my bank manager. I received a firm but polite letter today about my overdraft. Lee told me that he, Michael and Ian had gone back to the crypt of the demolished church in Smith Square and found an opened coffin.

He stayed the night.

Sunday, November 20, 1983


Later yesterday evening Mark went to Capone’s with Guy, so Lee, Michael and I went back into town and broke into a derelict house which stands in a three-storey block of buildings opposite the Art College.

We climbed in through a partially boarded window in the basement (this a very conspicuous entrance) reached down steps choked with dead leaves, next to a busy bus stop and main road. Earlier we’d filched two flashing road works hazard lamps and these were the only lights we had; each time the yellow lamps blinked on we could barely glimpse the floor of the darkened interior, a chaos of rubble, planks and discarded newspapers, tantalising shapes that were lost moments later as the lights switched off.

Our progress was slow and ludicrous, clutching our yellow flashing lamps and whispering loudly. Upstairs there was more light from the street outside, but all we found were a few forlorn reminders that some people have been dossing down here recently—empty cider bottles, old broken shoes etc. We had a close shave on climbing out as the pavement above was full of noisy laughing drunks waiting for a bus, who scuffled and fooled inches from our hiding place.

“I thrive on the excitement,” says Lee.

Michael and Lee stayed the night and we jammed two mattresses into my room.

I got up at twelve thirty today—a grey dismal Sunday in November. Lee washed up and cleaned the kitchen, but it got very messy again when Mo cooked Pete a meal. I slammed out of the house in a real mood, leaving everyone else watching TV, and hitched in to University. I didn’t even tell them I was going.

I went to the library and in a few hours my inexplicable anger had spent itself in the restful silence. It seems Pete and I are nearly constantly at odds these days over some trifling matter or other.

Bill moved into his new flat yesterday, taking the TV aerial with him, so we had to shift the TV back into Pete’s room. I haven’t seen Shelley, Gareth and Lindsey for days. Susie says Shelley is “settling down to a cosy domestic routine with her menagerie of doting males.”

I stayed at the library until seven and hitched back. It began to rain as I walked down the library steps. I have Corregidora by Gayl Jones to read for 2.45 p.m. tomorrow. Stu has just come round, and he and Pete have bought a gramme of speed between them. I have a lot of work to clear up in the next week, two essays to write by this time next Sunday, one for each course. The term is drawing in to a close already; in just three weeks I’ll be going home again.

It seems so long since I was there last.
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