Thursday, March 31, 1983

Trousers of Sisyphus

I went into Easterby with Dad and while he got fixed up with temporary specs I bought trousers and The Myth of Sisyphus and The Fall by Camus. It was rainy and miserable as I wandered about the slippery streets.

In W.H. Smith’s I saw a picture of Watermouth Uni. in a book and it suddenly struck me how difficult it will be to carry over the resolve I sometimes feel to change my situation in that place, in those circumstances and among those people. They are all so different from my mental scenarios about them.

When I got home I finished All God’s Dangers.

If any good can come from something as pointless and horrific as war then it’s the threat that death is a real possibility. This strips away the trivial concerns of mundane everyday existence. The true problems we face loom large as a result, and everything ephemeral goes in an instant. After such an experience it must be difficult to slip back into the unthinking numbness of ‘normal’ existence.

I don’t want to live with the fear and possibility of losing my my life or my legs but I do want that intensity and the mental clarity and singleness of purpose that goes with it. I need something to escape the ‘dullness’ of ordinary day-to-day living.

But how? With what?

Wednesday, March 30, 1983


I dreamed about Lindsey. Oddly enough, the footballer Pelé was kissing her on the lips as he passed her by. I felt odd as I lay there semi-conscious in bed, but Dad was harassing me to get up. . . .

He ran me over to Tesco’s where I scrounged for a night-shift job over the summer. Like a recurring bad dream all the same faces swam before me as I blustered my request. Mr. Thynne, the Personnel Officer, didn’t seem to hold out much hope but gave me an application form anyway, which I filled and posted this afternoon.

Domestic tragedy: Dad lost his glasses so he can’t read or write and will no doubt get very frustrated and miserable. Mum’s face sagged as they hunted round in vain.

Again I didn't do any work, preferring instead to spend the afternoon sorting through old papers Dad rescued from the garage: police diaries from the ‘50s, exultant scribbled entries announcing Robert’s birth, trips to see Laurel and Hardy at the Tivoli, Athletic results, letters from Mum to Dad before they were married.

How different the Mum of 1952 seems from the Mum of 1983. I can’t reconcile the the breathless girl of the letters with the weary, drained and unenthusiastic figure who slumps in the chair.

Tuesday, March 29, 1983


Dad dropped me at Grant’s in the grey dismal rain of early afternoon.

After listening to a few things by The Fall we set off to walk into Easterby, pausing at the entrance to Woodhead Park to hang about for Lee, whom I’d arranged to meet. He didn’t turn up (I think we were too early), so we carried on up through Lockley past the hut where I used to go to cub and scout meetings. The fact that the Lockley cubs and scouts have long since folded because of a lack of support seemed to emphasise all that has gone.

We walked into town through the serried repetitious ranks of box-like flats, all identical and circled by lines of flapping washing and groups of playing kids, an odd contrast between the unnaturally angular houses and the living moving people. We passed rows of Victorian terraces, some roofless and derelict, scraps of brightly patterned wallpaper still visible on the interior walls through the gaping windows.

By the time we tramped down Fawcett Road toward Easterby the rain sprayed down in a fine drizzle, and gusted in great curtains across the open spaces away in the distance. We commented on how miserable it made everything appear, the big black factories with their grey windows, the churches beneath their stark spines on the horizon, the long lines of bleak prewar ‘modern’ terraces with their mucky white plaster faced fronts & empty curtain trimmed windows. . . .

We went to the flea-market to look through the bootleg tapes of The Fall, The Pop Group, Hendrix, The Birthday Party, etc. The usual crop of raincoats were there (sez I), but as I don’t have a cassette player it was pointless me buying anything. I left feeling vaguely dissatisfied and sickened off, whereas I’d felt OK before. I tried to draw money out from my cash-point but I’d forgotten my card and thought maybe I’d lost it, and so we wandered about in Easterby with scarcely a pound between us. I had 12p.

We sat for an hour or so in a café up Dyson Street which was filled with tables of loudly chatting women with babies and bags, men with newspapers, and office workers in suits and ties totting up figures. Out we went again into the wet slimy streets, ducking into the Eastgate centre for warmth and comfort. At Smith’s I saw Myth de Sysyphe, The Fall, and The Happy Death by Camus.

Grant was now silent and seemed bored. All avenues of talk (even mindless hysteria) had dried up. He says he’s still writing poetry about mental states and is seeing Nik tonight and on Friday practices with his “tame” band (a “tameness” he’s irked by). I don’t have the confidence to set a poem down on paper and anyway poetry has never beckoned me as such. Jack of all trades, master of none. Grant said goodbye with scarcely a comment or a smile and was gone, leaving me on the bus.

I have read a little more of Nate Shaw and as I write Radio 3 strings slide their way through some hard and spiny atmospheric 1980 composition by Richard Rodney Bennett. The weary-mindedness has again crept up in me like a cancer.

Monday, March 28, 1983

Withered branch

Dad came back from the library with an illustrated and abridged version of Frazer’s The Golden Bough which I want to read.

Reluctantly, tomorrow I have to turn my mind toward Uni. work. I spent the afternoon reading All God’s Danger’s, reminiscences by Nate Shaw, son of an ex-slave, arrested in 1932 for shooting at white sheriffs who'd come to confiscate his neighbour’s farm and stock. He spent twelve years in jail, and died in 1973 age 87.

In the evening Janet rang to tell Mum that she's expecting another baby in November. As far as our branch of the family is concerned, I can't see Robert and Carol starting with kids now. As for me, I can’t see myself as a father.

Disturbing thoughts later about owners of the factory ringing the police.

Sunday, March 27, 1983


Andrew rang up at teatime yesterday from Leicester Forest Service station and said he was coming home. Dad picked him up from Holdsworth Square at about eight thirty. It was good to see him again so while Dad watched a William Walton concert on TV, we whiled away the evening talking about music. He’s reading a definitive history of jazz by James Lincoln Collier.

Mum and Dad went to bed early but Andrew and I talked long into the night. He’s worried at the thought of having to get a job over the summer, afraid he says of falling into a rut and getting cut off from society. He doesn’t want to go work in Denmark because he feels that would be too easy and sort of running away from his problems. He says he's in a self-created prison, and it’s up to him to change it, that it’s no use fleeing because he's his own jailer and drags his chains of bondage around with him wherever he goes.

He likened his psychological condition before he went to College to that of a “mental illness.” He says he was “scared to go out and yet I hated my loneliness and isolation, but when the phone rang I was terrified. . . .”

Why are we three so screwed up!? What is it about our upbringing that's made us like this? Andrew says he’s a different person now but is still haunted by the same paranoid fears with which I'm plagued. “I tried to keep a diary once but it was too embarrassing. I found all my emotional disturbances depressing.”

It took me hours to get to sleep.

I woke up remembering that I’d promised to meet Lee at Geoffrey Road, this time for definite. I set off mid-afternoon and was soon walking up through the cold and empty wind-blown streets by the Art College.

Lee was there with Jason Douglas (ex-Farnshaw Art College) and they were doing some objective drawing of the interiors of derelict houses. Lee enthusiastically told me about an empty factory he'd discovered last week and all the stationery and equipment they’d walked away with. We hopped over a wall and entered the black doorway of an old house, squeezing past a door that swung precariously on one hinge.

Downstairs in the cellar it was pitch black and the only light we had was Lee’s weak torch. He showed me several old tin WW2 helmets which had almost rusted away to nothing, scattered fragments of gas masks, numerous old-fashioned cork-stoppered bottles and dusty porno mags strewn on the steps. He also showed me the sack full of telephones he’d ripped off from the factory.

Upstairs he’d found a way through into the derelict factory and offices of the Montreal Woolpacking Co. next door. It was quite literally amazing to walk around in there, down the office corridors and into rooms filled with notepaper, account books from the ‘fifties, office equipment, everything as if the office staff had just put on their coats and left. A calendar on the wall said November 1982 and some of the account books went up to last summer.

The dark hulking rooms of the factory stood silent and were littered with bales and bags of wool. In one room there were a lot of bottles of various acids and ether, all quite full, and we even found a small green bottle with a cork stopper that had ‘Poison’ printed on the label. The contents smelled strongly of almonds, so we immediately thought of arsenic or cyanide. I put it in my pocket.

In another room was a safe and a huge typewriter, both with lot numbers chalked on them. The rooms were strewn with papers and debris. Lee said a spiral staircase which ran up from the ground-floor had gone since last week. We crept about, speaking in hoarse whispers . . . I was amazed at this place. Lee said his tutor had told him not just to do this for the adrenaline kick, but to utilise it “artistically.”

We now ventured further afield, into an empty house in Crossley Street and then down towards Leckenby Road and yet more factories. We found our way into one; the skylights at the back had been smashed and the lead had been ripped out. Glass littered the factory floor, which was empty save for a minivan, wheel-less and on its roof in the darkness.

We were examining the broken windows of one derelict factory in Ginnel Square when we were surprised by a policeman. He came walking towards us from the direction of town so we quickly set off walking the opposite way, but he stopped us and asked us what we were doing.

-- “We’re taking a short cut.”
-- “Where are you going?”
-- (Feebly) “Over here, Leckenby Rd area.”
-- “You’re not collecting scrap metal by any chance?” said he, suspiciously eyeing Lee’s dust blathered boots & jacket.

So we departed the scene feeling a bit rattled, cursing our frightened explanations and thinking of all the things we should’ve said as we made our nervy way back towards our ‘base’ at Geoffrey Road. We were slowly walking up a road flanked by old mills and empty houses when we heard a car approach us from behind. “It’s them!” cursed Lee so we strolled onwards self-consciously as the police car drew alongside.

We had our names and birth-dates taken, and endured the usual questioning. We told them we were drawing derelict buildings and Lee showed one of them his drawings. Eventually, when the ‘all-correct’ came through from HQ.

-- “I can’t tell you to clear off as you’re legitimate, but next time be more specific than ‘we’re taking a short cut.’”

Feeling shaken, we decided to call it a day. I dropped my poison down a drain and we went home.
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