Friday, December 31, 1982
Grant, Lee, & Jeremy all visited and we went out for a walk to Knowlesbeck along the canal and back; Lee had his new Pentax ME Super camera he got for Xmas. They all left around teatime.
If Grant cocks his A-levels up again next summer, there’s a chance that he’ll just stick his neck out and move down to Watermouth. I said he could stay in my room no problem until he gets fixed up, but whether I’ll be so blasé about it if the situation actually arises is another matter. He’s writing poetry again, and thinks it’s better than his previous stuff, and I found myself wishing I could keep the mood he puts me in and take it with me back down to University.
I'm dissatisfied with this diary; I want more, want it to be more; it’s no medium of any permanence and I really ought to write apart from my scribblings here.
Thursday, December 30, 1982
Into Easterby again, second day in a row, and I intend going again tomorrow. I bought Huxley’s The Doors of Perception.
Before going to bed, Andrew, Dad and I listened to the exciting climax of the Test match in Melbourne on the radio. Australia’s last pair were in, needing 36 to tie and gain the Ashes. It looked like they were going to win when, three runs away from the target, Miller took a catch and England won.
Dad has been very ratchety the past few days, signs of the old bitterness creeping through. Today in particular there are flashes of his old, preretirement self, the self I thought he’d discarded. He delivered the usual vicious sermon about declining morals, permissiveness and Channel 4’s “pornography” (we can’t even get it on our TV!). He's so bitter and it's all so unnecessary, but then I suppose unemployment does get him down from time to time.
He's written fifteen hundred pages of his autobiography in just over seven weeks!
Wednesday, December 29, 1982
I went into Easterby: I had a lot to do what with buying train tickets, getting Dad’s birthday present (Andrew and I got him a Thesaurus), and so on.
Pete Godfrey rang me in the evening from London; his call cheered me up. He sounds to have had a pretty miserable Christmas and was kicked out of his house by his Mum.
Tuesday, December 28, 1982
We came back early today for the match. The atmosphere between Mum and I was soured by an unnecessary argument caused by my tactless comments but also Mum’s tendency to fly off the handle over nothing at all, but always, apparently, at me!
So I went to the game in a foul mood, feeling full of anger and frustration; the former eased eventually but the latter was only aggravated by a boring, irritating, 0-2 defeat. Athletic were useless.
I felt better in the evening. Mum apologised for “blowing her top.”
I have just over a week left at home. I’m looking forward to getting back to Watermouth, back into the thick of it again. But as always, I’ll be sad at leaving home and Easterby’s countryside behind. Next term has got to be more satisfying for me; I’ve got to go out more, read more, go to bed at regular times, get up at least before ten every morning, be more honest with myself, etc., etc., (although I’m not exactly sure what I mean by that last comment). Work hard, spend more time in the library. I can’t have spent above half a day there last term.
These resolutions are probably futile, but at least here, on record, I declare my desire to be ‘good'!
Monday, December 27, 1982
Robert and I got up early to set off for Cannonbrook and the Yorkshire League first division clash between Dearnelow and Hatherseats Bridge. The game was pretty uninspiring although there was a massive crowd. Bright sun, bitterly cold and very windy. Final score: 1-1.
I spent the rest of the day ploughing through The American Colonies reading eighty-or-so pages and listening to Athletic lose four-nil at Astlow.
Sunday, December 26, 1982
I drove back with Robert and Carol after dinner. All the way to Saxton I sat quietly as Robert intoned his Buddhist beliefs at me.
Boxing Day passed quietly; I read a long introduction to a volume of Emily Dickinson’s poems, which I found quite interesting. Her poems and letters seem very strange, very advanced for her age, the letters almost like poetry written as prose, so unlike other poets’ workaday communications. For the last few decades of her life she took to dressing in white and like Helen Vaughan she lived like a recluse and had no friends outside her family circle, apart from those she communicated with via letters. She died quite young, aged 56. I was captivated by a fascinating photo of her in 1847, at age 17—plain-faced, thin-framed, her dark hair swept back in Puritan fashion—a really sad melancholy photo.
The editor of the book – I can’t remember his name – mentioned that it’s this strange brooding aspect of her existence that in his opinion arouses an interest that obscures the poems; but no doubt it’s this very strange seclusion, added with some indefinable constituent of a particular personality, that creates the conditions that are ripe for poetic creation. But there were many men and women like Dickinson living in New England in relative isolation from society and friends, yet only she seems to have been affected by her seclusion in a poetic way.
Robert showed me the small shrine where he meditates, an alcove in the back bedroom between a bookcase and the wall in which there's a table covered in embroidered fabric on which sits a small Buddha, an array of symbolic offerings before him. Mum said she’s seen it and finds it touching, although she hopes he doesn’t become “morbid.”
Saturday, December 25, 1982
I went out last night with Grant and Lee, and although I’d been looking forward to it I ended up feeling pretty disappointed and sickened off with the whole thing. As Dad was driving me on to Lodgehill I imagined this would be the climax of my Christmas holiday. But it all turned out a bit dismal.
I got to Grant’s at 8 and Lee got there soon after and we set off for the Albion in Ashburn where we going to meet Grant’s friends Nik, Anne, and Jenny. It was quite crowded, but soon quite boring too, and Lee didn’t enjoy it at all. It was packed and noisy and I started to feel ill. My stomach churned and I felt suffocated by the warm stuffy atmosphere.
Everything turned very silly: someone nearby smashed a couple of beer glasses, and then two others started singing and screaming and poured drinks over one another and my trousers got sodden. We got involved too, screaming at the tops of our voices, Grant in particular being his usual erratic self, annoying Anne with his paranoid and neurotic apologies or or dominating events with loud and bizarre behaviour: she rousted him quite viciously,
Finally at eleven I fought my way outside for some fresh air and stuck my fingers down my throat to make myself sick, hoping I’d feel better. I violently heaved on to the cobbles and messed up my shoes, then met up with Lee and we walked home. I felt pretty shivery and my stomach was upset. The whole experience was sickening, boring and depressing, and there's no way I could ever come back to Easterby.
I got up this morning at quarter-to-nine and we opened our presents soon after. I got a couple of jumpers, a shirt, an Arthur Blythe LP from Andrew and a book on Helen Vaughan from Dad. It was a quiet Christmas by usual standards.
Robert and Carol came mid-afternoon, bearing a box full of gifts (a Pears Cyclopaedia for me). My Arthur Blythe album is really good, especially “Jitterbug Waltz.”
Friday, December 24, 1982
Andrew and I went to Knowlesbeck Arts Centre last night to see the farewell performance of his mate Geoff Marchbank’s R&B band Sure Enough: Geoff's flying off to Trinidad with wife Rosette at the end of the month. Andrew and I sat down for a drink while the band sound checked. Rosette was smaller than I remembered her, and she was there with her brother Taylor and his young and pretty wife. She was darkly silent. Sure Enough played old rock numbers including ‘Twist & Shout’; I could see Geoff’s honest open bespectacled face cringing as he sang back-up. There wasn’t a good reception from the sparse crowd, just a smattering of applause and some semi-heckling from two twats down front.
A couple more of Andrew’s old school friends were there too so we all left for the Old Bell Tavern: crowded, noisy, a loud and alcoholically festive mood. I ran into Sean Barker: “See that bird over there in the green top? I picked her up last night . . .” etc. He said I looked “doped up,” asked me if I’d tried any drugs, and then told me I wore silly clothes and had a silly hairstyle. He regards me as some sort of druggy weirdo: all the school lot who've stayed in the old Egley Grammar school mold think I'm so odd-looking.
After last orders, Andrew and I walked home. We bought fish and chips on the way and talked with alcoholic frankness about not fitting in at home once you’ve left and how people are boring. Mum and Dad had already gone to bed so we stuffed our faces with two portions each.
Thursday, December 23, 1982
Wednesday, December 22, 1982
Well, I finally made it to Bethany, even though I had to go on my own because everyone else had gone shopping again. I got the bus and got there around eleven; I was glad to see it so deserted and free of people. I bought a map at the Tourist Information booth and set off for my walk, and for the rest of the day I only had the clump, clump of my boots and my own thoughts for company.
I took the usual route along the road through Delphstones and then up past Tunscarr Mill, past the Manor, up the narrow track beyond and then stumbled across hummocks of grassy heath until I reached the lip of the valley leading to the Edge. The ground was very icy and iron hard: the valley yawned dark blue and I must admit I was slightly spooked. It’s such a forgotten and remote place that I might as well have been the only human being on earth. I kept casting nervous glances around me. I don’t know what I feared or expected to see.
I sat down to eat my sandwiches but as soon as they were done I clambered up the steps at the head of the valley and out of that place, out at last onto the top of the Edge itself, bathed in bright sunshine. Hard and crunchy snow still lingered in the hollows and shaded places and I stood for quite a while, just taken in by the view and my surroundings, silence all around me save for the gurgling of a distant waterfall somewhere off to my left.
I decided on a different route to the one Dad and I took in September and followed a stream up towards its source. There was no path and it was slippery and difficult going over the frosty ground. Then I struck off to the left, heading roughly for a trig point I could see on the horizon, straight into the sun. It got tough going, and the landscape looked like something from the arctic tundra, a sea of hummocks dusted white with frost, great patches of frozen snow whose crust supported my weight without breaking, above an incandescent sky, stark silhouettes of sheep ahead of me.
At the trig’ point there was a fine view away towards the dark Lancashire moors, although the weather looked ominous, dark clouds and mist rolling in across the grey moorland. I didn’t fancy being caught in a snow-storm, so I headed back down to Tunscarr Edge, resting a while in the favoured hollow above the rocks. All around me I could hear the clockwork chuckle of grouse drifting across the silent emptiness and occasionally see them as they whirred low over the snowy wastes.
I took another ‘path’ straight across to three low hills (I conquered the summit of the leftmost one), then down past a farm house (barked at by dog) and tromped swiftly back towards Bethany, pausing only to shatter frozen puddles with my boots. I met some old character with a stick and his dog, “How do! Grand, i’n’t it?” he almost shouted at me as we passed.
The sun was finally setting as I approached Bethany and by now it was icy cold now and the wind was painful on my face and ears. And it was still only early afternoon! But I was so loathe to leave I lingered a long while in the churchyard and the narrow streets.
I caught the bus back at three. I spent the evening in.
As I walked today, enjoying the sun and spaces, what occurred to me was how ‘all good things come to an end’ but how there are always other good times to look forward to, because bad situations and events never last and must end too. And so it goes, on and on throughout life, wishing time away, things looked forward to and longed yet over so quickly. And at the end? At the end is Death and that goes on forever.
Tuesday, December 21, 1982
Monday, December 20, 1982
I went into into Easterby again, and again the weather was wet, wild and windy. Rashly I suppose, I spent £7 on The Pop Group’s For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? and Aswad’s “Warrior Charge” 12,” before going up Morningside Road in the rain to visit Nanna P. Mum was there cleaning the flat while N. P. talked happily. Apparently she had an intruder in her flat a few days ago. Andrew called round as well, and then Dad to pick us all up.
Dad's been writing much of the evening; in seven weeks he’s written a quarter of a million words and he's reached page 1366: that’s something like five thousand words a day! But he's not writing a diary: he can rework his writing until he has it just right, which highlights a drawback I’ve discovered to keeping this. Once they've been transcribed, the accounts of gone forever events are set down and can't be rewritten, to be true to the diary form at least. A particularly uneventful day leads to poor writing, etc.
But what do I want from this diary? Do I want it as a merely factual account of my life, as I keep telling myself? Or do I want it to be something more? I have the barest framework around which to build something else, I suppose, a scrawl which will keep my memory fresh. In years to come—who knows?—it could lead on to bigger things. Pipe dreams!
Discord before bed, Andrew and Dad arguing about South Africa, this inspired by The Wild Geese, a TV film about mercenaries. I’m trying to steer clear of pointless, negative confrontations.
Sunday, December 19, 1982
I wanted so much to be out tramping the wilds of Bethany moors today to escape the claustrophobia I feel at home. But the rattle of rain against the window pane told me my wish was probably going to be unfulfilled. Dad offered to take me, but even as we were trying to decide, the elements combined into a lashing, gusting fury and Mum’s realist whine finally deterred me. I felt restless, miserable and suffocated in this small dark house, wanting to be outside, cursing the weather. . . .
Janet, her husband plus baby showed up in the afternoon. Michael is now 18 months old and can walk well, which he does, faltering occasionally, a wide-eyed, simple, almost overawed expression on his face. He demanded I lift him up and he fed me crisps and Refreshers.
Barry rang at teatime to say tomorrow's trip to his house is off as there's nowhere to stay and his Mum is making it complicated.
Saturday, December 18, 1982
Claire rang last night at about seven and came over shortly after. She hasn’t changed one bit, her hair slightly longer, but she’s just the same as ever. All the old uncertainties and doubts rose like a plague within me. . . .
She told me about her student teaching, which sounds pretty awful. “I’d hate to have to be a pupil there” she said. I told her about University, and she asked, “Is the drug scene big?” Me: “Oh yes, literally everyone does them. . . .” Then, when she asked me if I did them too, I fumbled an explanation.
And this led me into thinking about something I’ve mentioned countless times in these pages, namely the fact that Claire and I don’t really have much in common, even though we’re friends. She told me that she and “four or five others” go out frequently to eat, and with an impatient roll of the eyes, she recounted tales of friends who talk constantly of boyfriends, sex, or who get drunk and get off with lads. And then there's Watermouth, with me doing what I do: hardly a lot in common, is it?
I couldn’t help feeling that old old feeling of distance and remoteness and a desperate desire for contact and closeness. Yet I know too well my own impotence in the face of circumstance. Claire and I are physically and socially remote, but I continue to suffer a case of unrequited something when it comes to her; I don’t know what it is. I may just be tangled up in the whole idea of her, but I’ve felt this way for over two years now and nothing has ever come of it. And it never will.
Eventually, at about ten, she put her coat on and pulled a tiny piece of mistletoe from an envelope in her bag. “Here’s something for you, in case I don’t see you before you go back,” she said, and leaned in and gave me a big kiss on the mouth. I almost burst inside!
Later, much tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth, and today I’ve felt a bit down. I'm sure her visit has a lot to do with it.
Rob and Carol came for Atletic's match at eleven thirty, but it was postponed. Robert was depressed as a result. He’s reading Buddhist Mahayana texts at the moment and meditates regularly now; Mum and Dad said he did so by the canal side on their walk this afternoon.
Andrew arrived at about eleven fifteen tonight.
Friday, December 17, 1982
I got all my Christmas shopping done. I bought Nanna P. a blank note book just like this one, so she can start writing too. Dad saw a 1928 edition of Vaughan's Harp of the Sky for just £10 at the second hand shop near Howden Road. He's talking about buying it, but I hope he doesn’t buy the Haughton biography!
It's been snowing quite heavily at times, but today was clear and sunny yet icy cold; there's still a powdering of frozen snow everywhere.
Thursday, December 16, 1982
At Harvey's on Tuesday I felt awkward with people I haven’t seen for months: it's as though I was meeting them and having to forge conversations all over again. I thought maybe University would have done me some good in this respect and helped me lose some of my shyness, but no, it's just the same as always.
It was also really clear that Lee and I were the odd men out, and definitely regarded as “weirdos.” Ridiculous. Mr. Farrar and a few other teachers were acting like beery loud-mouths.
Wednesday, December 15, 1982
Last night I went out as planned with Grant. His hair is longer and straggly now, his face clothed in stubble. We had a few drinks at the Albion in Ashburn, which has recently been converted into a plush well-heeled bar catering to plush well-heeled people. There was a distinct silence as we burst in, Grant shabby in his brown jacket, cords and pork-pie hat, his hair raked loosely behind his ears; you could have heard a pin drop as we faced the dozen or so fur coats and suits clustered around the bar. He probably made it worse by saying, loudly: “The bastards better not try to kick us out.”
We quickly dived into a corner seat, had a a few, and then staggered up the road to the Iron Duke, which was packed with slightly more accommodating people. Tuesday night is quiz night and the stocky, balding middle-aged bespectacled quiz master held the floor as he read out the questions (“What does ‘Pravda’ mean in English?”; “What relation is the Duke of Edinburgh to Queen Victoria?”). There was nowhere to sit so we went back to the Albion and got merrier and merrier, Grant holding forth at times too enthusiastically, getting critical glances from the suits. I walked home across Castlebrigg playing fields.
I woke up to find the wind whistling and battering at my bedroom window. The old lady’s roof across the back from us has been damaged, and when we looked out from upstairs we could see a collapsed garage and a few fences buckling as the wind roared between the houses. Easterby seems badly hit, with £50,000 worth of damage to the city centre Xmas decorations.
Jeremy visited in the afternoon; he never changes. I also got a letter from Claire today, and she says she’ll be visiting me on Saturday. Rob and Carol arrived for the match round about six—no great welcoming scenes at seeing one another after three months, just a matter-of-fact “hiya” from Robert as though I’d just walked in from next door. He looked as scruffy as ever. Carol has a perm.
Along with Dad, we set off to Cardigan Park. The night was blustery and wet but it felt good to be back in the Shed, in my customary place behind that white-washed concrete wall. The game went poorly; Athletic just seemed to be out of gear and Tabotworth coped much better with the muddy conditions, but we scrambled a lucky goal through John McArdle, who then hit a superb long range shot to put us 2-0 up right before the whistle. After half-time Tabotworth pulled one back—we were sickened—but McArdle got his hat-trick half-an-hour from the end: the ball bounced agonisingly around the box before he slammed it home. Dad was greatly amused by the ribald crowd commentary (“you couldn’t pass water . . .”).
At ten, Lee arrived and we set off for the Egley Grammar School Former Students' disco at Harvey’s. He and I stood in a corner all night, feeling tired of it all, but we talked to Evelyn, and she told me Claire was pleased that I’d remembered her birthday: looking back, no doubt I sounded a bit too interested. I hated the whole thing and so we didn't stay long. I noticed, for the first time, peoples’ accents.
England beat Luxembourg 9-0 tonight (Luther Blissett got 3 + Chamberlain 1). There's a light coating of snow outside.
None of this is written very well; I’m not concentrating properly and I feel distracted and unenthusiastic.
Tuesday, December 14, 1982
A wet and dismal day: sixty six years ago, Helen Vaughan was about to vanish into history. We're going to Bethany on Sunday. I just hope it isn’t overrun with tourists.
I went into Easterby with Dad and took out The American Colonies from the library which I have to read for next term. I have to decide whether or not to change from American History to Literature. I keep swinging from one decision to the other. Should I stay or go?
“[H]uman beings, . . . can deceive, both intentionally and unconsciously. They plagiarise, copy an admired pattern in violation of their natural promptings, experiment with unnatural modes of expression, seek less to express themselves than to satisfy popular appetites, and so on.”
To be able to follow these “natural promptings”! To even know what they really are!! If I was the antithesis of all this, I would then be true to myself.
Monday, December 13, 1982
I went into school in the afternoon: it was really depressing. Sean Laxton and Gary Abbott were in the common room, the former irritating with his cynical brand of humour and his dry, low key condemnation, which wasn't aimed at me directly but still made me feel hemmed in all the same. Peter was there too, surrounded by a clique of crappy chums, coming out with the same old foul obscenities, bad jokes, and racist comments: “What’s the quim like down south?” etc. I can’t stand it. I made a comment about Harvey's being the “pit of the earth,” and Laxton, cuttingly, said the parties at Uni. must be better, as though to say “Huh, too good for us now,” which wasn’t what I meant at all. I just can’t stand them; in fact the whole school scene felt narrow and foul.
I retreated feeling humiliated and stupid. I walked home with Steve Bates, who’s just back from Debdenshaw U. himself. The day was brilliant, clean, cold and sunny. I’ve never really got on well with most of the people here and now, I find I just don’t fit in.
Dad’s “long, long thoughts” now stretch to 1230-plus pages, which isn’t bad going in just over a month. I worked out he’s written nearly a quarter of a million words, and between us we've written perhaps half-a-million.
I rang Barry and then Grant at six, the former to plan a visit to Debdenshaw on Monday dinnertime, the latter to go out for a drink (or two!) tomorrow night. I felt better after this. Grant sounded really pleased to hear from me; he’s been down to stay with Nik who’s at Art college in Camberwell and living in a haunted house.
Looking back on this term I see that socially and culturally I’ve made great strides. I’ve experimented and found that speed is the most creative drug I’ve yet experienced; that night we took it stands out like a beacon of contentment for me. Coming back to Easterby makes me realise how much I miss it all and how my place here isn’t a very good or happy one. I’m looking forward even more to my visit to Debdenshaw.
Thirty thousand women surrounded Greenham Common yesterday. Imagine that place now! Police dragged them away as they laid in front of buses carrying workers into the base.
I tried to read Ulysses before sleeping.
Sunday, December 12, 1982
We were going to go to Bethany today but I didn’t get up until after noon; I think I still need time to adjust after the frenetic lifestyle I’ve been leading this past two months.
Dad’s Vaughan Society journal came this morning, which I'm thinking of subscribing to. It's cheaper than the Interplanetary Society. But I don't like the overly intellectual, professorial 30’s Oxford don image associated with Vaughan. It will be sad, the final break with my late-'70s astronomical days. Get back down to earth I say.
I've been marooned in an idle, half-excited boredom, yet I can’t think of anything to satisfy me. I'm making my own Christmas cards.
Saturday, December 11, 1982
I’m writing this up now at home having spent all day travelling.
I got up at seven while it was still dark outside, a thin crescent moon outside my window. I saw Barry off, and walked with him down to the station, then had toast and tea with Gareth and Stu. I said goodbye to everyone, to Downstairs Ian especially, because he’s changed course and has had to reapply (his Dad’s disowned him as a result): perhaps we won’t see him next term.
As I trudged to the station I was pretty heavily laden with a rucksack, a huge suitcase and a sports bag. I got back at 5.30 after a sunny, clear and frosty journey and had a long wait in the freezing cold outside the station for Dad. Easterby looked hostile to my alien, unaccustomed eyes.
I found a Xmas card from Claire when I got back, but she didn’t mention anything about my card or letter. I hope she got them. Mum and Dad ribbed me: “She fancies you. I saw the way she was gazing up at you at that school thing, hanging onto your every word. . . .”
Friday, December 10, 1982
I ended up having a quiet drinking session in Stu’s room last night, finally getting to bed at four or five this morning. I chatted with Shelley about her plans—hopes more than anything I think—of visiting Egypt next summer. She knocked at my door a few minutes after we’d said goodnight because someone had hurled mud up at her bedroom window and she was frightened. I crept to the window and looked down. Nothing . . . save for a trampled area of damp grass where the phantom mud slingers had congregated. We thought it was probably her insistent Arab suitors who also left two pennies in a glass in her room earlier: someone said this was symbolic of a desire to go to bed with her).
Everyone is feverishly packing, tidying, and sweeping. In the afternoon we had a ‘dinner party’ in Penny’s room with crisps and baked potatoes, etc., and then Pete and I left for a meeting with Alan Draper, our tutor in American History 1620-1900 next term ; he seemed cool, calm and thoroughly in command of himself and his course, but I left feeling unenthusiastic about what he’d outlined for us. To change to Lit or not to change. . . ?
I got reports from both my contextuals from my Personal Tutor Mr. McAllister. He let me read what Dr. Herring had written. It was a superbly constructed attack on my lack of work. He says I'm “an out of focus student” and although I write “elegantly,” he graded me very low (McAllister: “I wouldn’t ask if I were you”). Probably a 5 or 6. My American Civilisation report was a bit better but Palfreyman still came down on me for my laziness. It’s the same old problem, first pointed out in Junior school and now here too. All a bit sickening, even though I'd expected it and know I deserve it.
As dusk descended, Downstairs Ian gave me a ride on the back of his Suzuki 250, up along winding roads through the countryside around campus, taking racing lines round the corners, a sweep of coast visible way down to our right, an orange sun setting over purple clouds on the horizon.
Then sad final hours in Stu’s room, everybody long faced and silent as “Heroes” and “Happy House” wound the term up for us. I’ve enjoyed it. At one point, in the Town & Gown earlier with everyone else, I felt that special, vaguely excited mood among us all as we discussed a proposed visit to Barry in Debdenshaw over Xmas, a sudden great outswelling of warm and generous feelings in me towards these people who are my friends and who I enjoy.
I felt glad to be alive.
Thursday, December 9, 1982
I went into Watermouth again, this time with Shelley, Lindsey, and Susie. I wanted to collect a book I'd reserved yesterday (Helen Vaughan's Complete Poems). It pissed it down most of the time so we didn’t have such a good time.
There's an ‘end-of-term’ feel in the air this evening, but perhaps it’s only because I'm looking for it. Rowan had a big party in her room that developed from a small dinner group she’d had earlier. Her room was full of noisy drunken buffoons like Tim Headband and his oafish German friend Stefan (in porkpie hat with feather, socks over his trousers to his knees). Both were pissed out of their skulls, wallowing on the floor amid bits of paper and rubbish.
Rowan hated it, and retreated to Barry’s room where she acted strangely, as though she was confused, pulling odd faces with her dark eyes and curvy mouth. Then she slipped her hand lovingly round the shoulders of a drunk girl from downstairs, all the while pursing her lips and rolling her eyes in that obscene way of hers. Barry told her that Emma (the downstairs girl) “wouldn’t do a thing like that.” Replied Rowan (in a voice slow, husky, and speculative): “She might. . . .”
She gets a perverse, morbid kick from playing these different roles and mixing them all up together.
Wednesday, December 8, 1982
Shelley, Barry, Lindsey and I went into Watermouth and had a really good time just wandering around shopping for Xmas presents. We paused a long time at a hologram shop which fascinated me, especially the ‘Holographic Gallery’ upstairs; there’s something ghostly and weird about the faint 3D images (of Saturn, a red leering skull, a ballerina figure in a wine glass, a box that actually appeared to project outside the plane of the glass). Incredible!
We stopped for coffee at a nearby café, then headed homewards, me bearing a hologram (Bird Skull and Rocks) for Rob and Carol and a copy of Derek Haughton’s biography of Helen Vaughan for Dad.
In the evening, we went into Watermouth again to eat, twenty of us in total, donned up in our best clothes, snaking in a long line through the spattering rain to Tang’s Chinese Restaurant. It took us an hour get our food and I was so hungry I was at breaking point. When the food finally arrived I stuffed my face until I felt almost queasy. We ran up a £127 bill.
Then out again and down to Annabella’s, an old music hall converted into a big, flashy, balconied nightclub. An impressive light show flickered and flashed high above the seething, smoking crowd. I didn’t really enjoy it: I never relax sufficiently to have a truly good time in places like that. So I was reduced to defiant muttering (“I’d love to napalm the lot of ‘em . . .”). I got home late.
Rowan has me sussed.
Tuesday, December 7, 1982
This afternoon everyone we all got our hair cut, bleached or dyed. Penny cut mine in the bathroom, leaving it short on top but long at the back and with a long wispy piece at the front. . . . I can’t decide if I like it or not. I felt very self-conscious.
Since the fire my food situation has fallen apart completely. I've eaten virtually nothing for days.
Monday, December 6, 1982
After half-vowing to do my outstanding work and staying up until 7 a.m. in a feeble self-defeating attempt at doing something, I ended up going to today’s tutorials having done nothing.
My American Civilisation tutorial went OK; Simon Palfreyman talked with us about Moby Dick, of which I’d only read fifty pages. Luckily I was able to waffle coherently as though I knew what I was talking about.
My Philosophy tutorial was OK too: I’d already seen Herring earlier in the afternoon to apologise for messing him about and also to explain to him that I’d done nothing. As everyone reeled off their arguments I sat there mostly silently, contributing the occasional (but adequate) thought. Herring wished us all a Merry Christmas and said he’d learned as much from us as he hoped we had from him (only that philosophy seems, on the whole, an enormous misuse of time, talent and energy . . . but perhaps this is just guilt and self-justification talking). He mentioned the “scathing” report he’d written about me and singled me out for semi-serious jovial condemnation.
Academically speaking, this term has been a bit of a flop for me. There's been no big break with habits of old; I'm still dogged by the same idleness, the same lack of drive, motivation, ambition and lack of direction. . . . I worry this will always condemn me to failure.
Sunday, December 5, 1982
With the kitchen gone we’ve had nowhere to congregate socially so we've usually been in either Stu’s room, mine, or sometimes Barry’s or Penny’s. My room's an absolute tip at the moment; we all stayed up half the night last night, and there were perhaps ten or more people on my bed or on the floor. . . .
Saturday, December 4, 1982
When I got up last night I had vaguely planned on doing more work, but Barry’s friend Phil was around so inevitably I ended up doing nothing. Phil had some speed which we all chipped in to buy. We snorted it through a rolled up £10 note. I got a painful sensation in my nose at first, but then as it gradually seeped down through my nasal passages and into the throat I tasted a strong tang of lemon. Slowly I noticed the effects: a speeding up of the heart, a tingling in my arms and legs as though an electric current was passing through me, and an incredible intensification of awareness. I felt pretty good.
We all piled out to a disco in Taylor Hall. I sat at one side feeling alive, healthy and so good, glowing with confidence, as everyone else (especially Downstairs Ian) leaped frenetically about. Then back to Barry’s room for more. . . . As drugs go, at least this stuff seems to add something to awareness rather than making me feel drowsy and inactive as does smoking. But it’s addictive and apparently makes your teeth fall out.
Thus the night passed. Barry and an acquaintance who's a Christian got involved in a long discussion while we listened, keen yet quiet, and as the night wore on, so did the conversations: Phil and Barry had an incredible four or five hour dialogue on Marxism and the dialectic. I like Phil; he seems a really decent sort of person. Dawn broke, and Downstairs Ian, Pete and Gareth and I were embroiled in family heart-to-hearts in my room and across the way we could still hear Phil’s voice. We had fun measuring our pulses; mine reached 110, and I felt very aware of the strange, light, fluttering sensation of my beating heart. I dyed my pumps purple.
Gareth and I to abruptly decided to go to London with Penny. She was meeting her Mum and didn’t fancy going up there on her own, so at six we bade everyone else goodbye, and set off for the station. I felt quiet and weary and it was hard to stay awake on the train. We reached Waterloo at about noon.
London was packed. We ate at a café near the station before battling our way across the city to Oxford Circus and Carnaby Street, where we’d half-intended buying clothes; I saw some pretty good shirts and trousers, especially a vivid purple and blue two-tone shirt, but we really hated Carnaby St. which overflowed with people. Lots of mods around in their green parkas, identical short hair, Paul Weller two-tone shoes, etc., and occasional groups of skinheads too, who moved in packs through the crowds. It felt traumatic and really quite put us off the whole idea of buying clothes. I was reduced to frustrated dark, angry comments.
So we gave up clothes shopping as a bad job and went with Penny to meet her Mum at Fenwick's, a huge glittery store near Oxford and Bond Streets The crowds were incredible, a veritable sea of people choking the wide streets in an unthinking, numberless stream. Penny's Mum is an older version of Penny herself, and after drinking coffee we took a deep breath and launched ourselves back out into the mass, ending up at Covent Garden where I bought a coat and a couple of books to add to the four records I’d bought in Oxford Street. I spent over £30. It was an expensive trip.
We stopped at a nearby pub. The bald-headed, polo-necked ex-commando bouncer more or less threatened Gareth as we tried to get in and we felt conspicuous and out-of-place in this orange lit, plush, and wood-paneled bar full of well-mannered people. So we left to look at more books and headed back for a drunken sleep on the train.
It was nearly midnight when we reached Watermouth. I felt near to collapse and almost fell asleep in Barry’s room, in the kitchen, in Alex’s room, in the corridor. . . .
Friday, December 3, 1982
Work begins after midnight. Stu rises at three in the morning after sleeping twelve hours. I've just had a visit. Picture this: as I sit at my table that's strewn with Plath and papers, books, a harsh Banshees riff in the background, and the door opens. Alex, with his hair freshly braided, and Derek and another friend (the latter with a look of feminine humour in his liquid eyes and lips) immediately start talking about Luis Buñuel and his eye-slitting film.
Stu, Pete and Shelley are supposedly making me some coffee.
* * *
I finally got my essay on Plath completed early this morning and I went with Stu and Pete to hand it in at nine and then to bed. Slept for quite a while, until about eight or so.
Thursday, December 2, 1982
I read Moby Dick in Stu’s room until seven in the morning while he and Gareth worked and Shelley struggled to stay awake. I got up at about half-two: outside, the grey twilight cast its murk over everything. There's a detectable (and deflating) end-of-term mood around now. I think most people are still asleep on this corridor, which the man from Accommodations said is the corridor with the bad reputation.
I finished Sylvia Plath and it was really good. More work beckons. . . . I was going to stop in and see my Personal Tutor today, but I hung around his office door indecisively and instead came back to write my essays.
“It’s all go in Wollstonecraft Hall.” Rowan chucked water and lemons all over Russ after he’d called her a “fucking whore.” Cold silence from we bystanders as Russ leaped at her.
I'm determined to make next term so much better: to read books, to go to events, to just get up off my arse and live. God, how many times have I said this. Perhaps I’ll have to see the Dean this term for it really has been a disaster for me, I have to admit.
I feel no happier than when I came here, and in fact feel even more confined and vague about my future plans and aspirations.
Wednesday, December 1, 1982
There was a big ruckus this morning with the cleaners. Vera battered at my door and finally unlocked it and barged in. I was still in bed, and she shouted I needed to “knock up all your friends and get to the kitchen and tidy it up!” I groggily got up feeling really angry. We were actually banned from the new kitchen for a couple of hours before we were reinstated. . . . Pete and Vera had a big row and she eventually retreated back downstairs in tears.
Once all that had subsided, the Accommodation Officer came banging on my door. He was really nasty and said we'd burned the kitchen down because we'd used the rings as heaters (not true), and threatened us with the full cost of the repair bill, which he said will be £1000+ split between twenty four of us
—“We’ll have a rent strike.”
— “We’ve been dealing with rent strikes for fifteen years; you can’t do a thing.”
— “If we want the money we’ll just take it out of your grant, there’s nothing you can do.”
So he expects us to cooperate while he operates under this nasty, shitty code of rules!
Apart from this, it was another apathetic day, and I still did no fucking work. I hate myself. Rowan annoyed me late on by hanging round the end of Barry’s bed like some pining dog, talking to him in a low, dark voice while he, obviously ill and tired, tried to sleep.
Meanwhile we all wallow, feeding off our collective depression like morbid leeches. Really, what do we have to be down about? We 3% have the best deal this country of ours can offer yet still we mooch about, the centre of our own little irrelevant universes.
All the while, Marco is quite cool and cheerful, even though he has more to worry about than any of us (he's worried his girlfriend is pregnant). He’s a bit of a prat on the whole but is OK really. Rowan sat in the kitchen talking about nihilism, and Marco condemned her in that down-to-earth, quiet, and utterly self-assured way he has: “That is pathetic. The human mind has amazing capacities, but some people just waste this by saying what you say and worrying over things that no-one can do anything about.”
And I schizophrenically listened to Rowan, then to Marco, then to Rowan again and saw things differently each time. Marco's so straightforward and practical and has the habit of making me look at problems in a completely different way. And yet. . . .
Tuesday, November 30, 1982
I've just had a fight with Russ, the crowning glory to a weekend of unreality. Russ and I were messing about in the kitchen and he responded to some half-serious provocation with his usual “come on then, outside.” All in fun he dragged me out into the corridor and I tapped him on the head and fled, to hide behind my locked door while he squirted the fire hose under the door and stomped about outside threatening to “bust" my "skull.” Gradually though, as I yelled insults at him through the closed door I detected a serious note creeping in to his voice.
Suddenly, the whole thing felt immature and pathetic. I opened my door and walked past him down the corridor. “If you hit me...” I said as a warning but he followed me, mouthing “fucking come on then.”
And that was it—I was overcome! I turned round, told him how pathetic he was, and made a grab for his throat but missed and sent his specs crashing to the floor instead. I saw his small, black eyes shrink back into his face and I felt real fear I suppose, that he was about to punch me in the face. So I flung myself at him and hung on, trying to wrap myself around him to prevent the blows. We ended up on the floor in a heap outside someone’s door, legs everywhere, Russ’s red face protruding from the tangle of arms and bodies. Behind him, I could see Penny and Shelley peering from their doorways.
“You should be put away, you’re just a fucking animal!” I shouted as Stu, Pete and Barry pulled him off me. I was trembling and restlessly paced from room to corridor and back to my room again, slipping on the floor which was sodden from the fire hose. I felt degraded, shocked even, and sat silently in Penny’s room with everyone else, barely talking. Russ seemed as happy as could be and just blithely behaved as everything was normal. He kept saying I would’ve been dead if he hadn’t been pulled off me.
No one can cope. Penny's been in tears over the last few days and is again today; she’s in a very fragile emotional state and fiddles with her hair constantly, fretting over a bald patch that's appeared. Lindsey wanders about looking awful, bags beneath her eyes, saying “shit” if anything at all and slamming doors. We're all a set of mental wrecks.
And still work looms large. I’ve spent all today rushing around from secretary to secretary, to the library, then to another secretary again as I try to sort out the blank space next to my name on the list of Optional Prelim. choices for next term (if I even reach that). Last night I talked to Guy about my whole crappy situation. I mean, what have I done here of any real value? I feel almost criminal, like I'm a real bad apple.
Tonight I talked with Rowan. She can be very perceptive and intelligent. I told her I seem to enjoy suffering. “I enjoy being really overt about my misery and making everyone know about it,” she said.
I retract my statement about nihilism being self-indulgent. I suppose it can be, but can't it also be an “unyielding foundation of despair” as Bertrand Russell calls it, Nietzsche’s ‘ecstatic’ nihilism even? I don’t know enough about it but it certainly seems to align with some of the things I’ve often thought about, and even links up somehow with Buddhism.
I’ve just written and posted a letter to Claire. I feel I’ve been totally honest with her, perhaps too honest for my own good. I have the last hundred pages of The Bell Jar to read and maybe three essays to write. I find myself identifying with Plath's feelings, descriptions, and moods.
I’ve only eaten twice in the last four days. I feel ravenous. It's almost eleven and I sit in my room 'working' while Gareth, Stu and Russ talk records in Stu’s room. Everyone else is at the bar. I don’t know how to feel about anything anymore. I think it’ll be good to get a different perspective on everything when I go home for Christmas. Yvonne is really upset tonight about her boyfriend Michael; all this in one weekend! Maybe we're all a lot closer nowadays here since the events of recent days?
Monday, November 29, 1982
I had no sleep whatsoever, and at first, as the night wore on and the prospect of not going to my tutorials opened up as the only way to evade the situation, I first felt scared and then, as it got too late to worry, I started not to care.
I eventually hit the sack at nine this morning and I just now got up (eight p.m.) having slept through both tutorials. I've now missed four, two for each.
Sunday, November 28, 1982
We felt as if we hadn’t eaten for days, so Barry and I took a trip into Watermouth to eat a big meal at the China House. Stu and (groan) Russ ended up coming along too. We had a great time: we ordered a huge meal for four (mushrooms, chicken pieces, sweet and sour pork, prawn fried rice for extras, plus a dessert of delicious pineapple fritters). Although we felt bloated, we still managed to cram a large doner kebab each down us before getting the train back. Satisfaction.
I never quite got round to work today and tonight I reached a complete low point. I have my Descartes essay from a fortnight ago to write plus this week’s essay as well, but I knew as soon as I sat down to try and write—everyone around me, distractions galore, feeling desperate at my lack of willpower—that I wouldn’t get anything done.
So I ended up walking down to the lake, ducks quacking occasionally, the moon whitening the sky and casting a silvery, bluish light across campus. Now I feel like a waster, thoroughly ashamed.
Saturday, November 27, 1982
Everyone was still in Stu’s room when I got up and there was a mood of shivery exhausted shock even though it was sunny outside.
Mike crashed a car last night while drunk, cleared off and left the scene, and rumour has it the car was stolen too. . . . His nose is swollen and he has bruises and grazes on his lips: he’s morose and obviously depressed. Susie went home today grey-faced and weary with cystitis. Then I think about Rowan with her neuroses, Shelley with her hidden depressions, Russ with his, Penny, Lindsey (her money situation has improved) and me too, with all I keep pent up inside, hidden beneath a superficially agreeable exterior. Inside I’m as screwed up as anyone.
Penny was very pissed off with everything, so she and I decided to take a walk, and just before we set off, Gareth came in to the kitchen (we’ve been relocated to the one at the end of the other corridor) looking white and sickly. He was stoned from a session with friends from Peterborough (one a psychopathic-looking skinhead knife maniac), so while he spewed up too we went out.
It was clean, cold, and bracing outside, clear cirrus-smudged skies and banks of mist down in the valleys and hollows. By the time we were dropping down towards the Teacher Training College the dusk was gathering, the sun a distant cold glitter of gold and red behind dark purple clouds.
This has all been a bit much to take in one night, a weird, unreal few hours. I’ve hated it. Since it got dark I’ve been wallowing in self-pity, feeling claustrophobic, trapped, angry, frustrated. . . I can't speak to people at all and I feel as though I’m being swallowed up by my own inability to communicate.
At Westway Loop Bar I sat like a stone, silent while all around me people talked. I can’t help it. What do I do? None of this is coming out right and I can’t make it come out right because I feel so deadened and zombie-fied. Back in Wollstonecraft I laid on my bed in the dark, wondering if I should be rampaging about outside, smashing and screaming my protest at myself, at people, at this place . . . it's so difficult to articulate my precise feelings . . . blackness all around, the kitchen cold and empty, now a burned and inhospitable husk. Everything everyone does is always the same; why do they bother with the humdrum of pointless conversations and claustrophobic civility?
I feel so trapped. I’ve left all my work until the last push up again. I haven't achieved anything this week, read no books, gone nowhere. I’m nothing more than an 'animated corpse'. In fact this whole term has been pretty pathetic, my supposed brand new start shattered before I even came here. I knew deep down that I wouldn’t change. There’s no hope for me.
Friday, November 26, 1982
Our kitchen burned down. We were all in Rowan’s room when we heard a commotion of swishing noises and voices in the corridor. We emerged to find people dragging a hosepipe onto the end of the corridor where thick black oily smoke billowed from the kitchen window; we couldn't see any flames but we could hear the dull crackle and pop of melting plastic. Eventually the fire brigade arrived in yellow helmets and yellow oilskin trousers, put out the fire, and then spent a long time in the kitchen looking for the cause. They told us it was a tea towel left too near a ring on the oven. The kitchen is now absolutely filthy, a blackened shell, and the ceilings and walls are completely black.
We’re all worried because the ashtrays are full of roaches. What if the police find them?
I'd got up to find Barry and his friend Phil pissed out of their heads on cider. Barry eventually spewed up in a cardboard box in the kitchen before crashing out for three hours in his room. When he got up at teatime, he, Phil and I went down to the coffee shop for food and then over to the Town & Gown where Russ joined us. We got drunker and drunker on cider, whisky, and snakebite.
We were going to go see If . . . at the Phoenix with Pete, and we went back to Wollstonecraft Hall to look for him (barging in on Alex and a friend, bellowing at the tops of our voices and banging on the table): we ended up in Westway Loop Bar instead. Afterwards I went to Penny’s room with Lindsey and Shelley and smoked a couple of times before the nausea gripped me and I threw up out of the window. There I stayed all night, dimly hearing the conversations behind me as I retched miserably into the darkness below.
After a couple of hours of dizzy sleep on Penny’s bed I felt better and joined everyone in Rowan’s room. And then the fire. . . .
It was almost seven when I got to bed.
Thursday, November 25, 1982
I sat about in Barry’s room talking until four last night. He seems so secure in his Marxist convictions whereas I am all doubt and indecision. He wants to devote himself to the Revolutionary Communist Party as he can’t “think of anything that would be more worthwhile.”
I got a book on nihilism out of the library:
[Man] cannot escape the creeping process of self-disintegration, which is all too euphemistically called the history of the human mind, the process which one day will expose the sounding brass of philosophies and the tinkling cymbals of poetry and religion and with a tragic inevitability bring to light the fact that the whole history of the human mind is nothing but a journey through a field of corpses, that it consists only of graves garlanded with ideologies, but that beneath this camouflage is nothing but dung and dead bones.But nihilism is only a self-indulgent wallowing in pointlessness and self-pity and is no answer: a capitulation to despair. I bought Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons.
I’ve spent all afternoon and early evening painting a portrait based loosely on Grant; everyone thinks it’s good but I’m not keen.
Tonight Tasha, from upstairs, is doing Lifeline, she of the dark and lurid purple clothes, the ‘twenties hair style and the incredible aura of something. She dominates a room with her presence and even Pete confessed to being “overawed” the first time he met her. I think she's unbelievably sexy. I was too scared to even go into the Lifeline office, let alone fumble along in a conversation.
Wednesday, November 24, 1982
Athletic lost six-nil yesterday, and according to match reports were resigned to their defeat. I felt really down about the result but I think perhaps also it was something deeper. I sent Claire a letter and then found one from her in my pigeonhole; she sounds miserable and seems pretty depressed at the moment too.
Things are much quieter round here since I came back. I haven’t been drunk or touched drugs in days. I was up at 10 a.m. today!
Tuesday, November 23, 1982
I dreamed about Claire. Such a vivid feeling of contentment rudely shattered when I woke up.
It was another grey day today, both inside and out, and life could so easily become one long monotonous blur. I bought a copy of Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems and spent a long time in the library. I felt discontented and bored.
I went to Westway Loop Bar and then decided to head to the library again to take out philosophy books, but I was deterred by a thunderous downpour. So I sat in my room while everyone else was out in bars.
Sometimes the nights here make me feel so narrow and claustrophobic.
Monday, November 22, 1982
No letter from Claire this morning of course, but I did find a badly addressed letter from Dad in my EngAm pigeon hole, a long poem written on the back of the envelope; he really is a frustrated poet! I couldn’t help laughing when I read it . . . I love getting these sort of letters. He's one in a million.
My philosophy tutorial went really well. I read out my Berkeley essay and Dr. Herring complemented me profusely on its “polished phrases.” He said he'd thought that after last week’s showing I was just “another one of those irresponsible American Studies people” who are (he said) infuriating US Universities with their ‘all-play and no-work’ attitude. He also gave dark hints that the compulsory year abroad in the US may be altered so that it’s offered on merit instead.
Sunday, November 21, 1982
I got back to Watermouth mid-evening after setting out at half-eleven this morning. The coach journey was mind-dulling and as we were battered and lashed by torrential motorway downpours I kept thinking about Claire; it's funny how I should be so sensitive in that direction now all of a sudden.
I saw her in any number of girls of a certain type I saw on the journey: I pictured her in Mr. Gray’s history lesson, sitting on her chair and waving her hands about as she heatedly discussed something. I half-hoped to find a letter when I got back but no, and I think I'm as taken by the idea of Claire than anything more serious. . . .
My main impression of my visit home is of Dad’s contentment and the way he now seems to take things very much as they come instead of ranting and moralising about the news on TV or articles in the papers. I think he’s feeling much better at being free of police degradation and shift work. Now he can enjoy football as a spectator rather than an off-duty policeman: he’s been to every home match and even an away game since I left. It's really good to see his calm and happy frame of mind.
Saturday, November 20, 1982
I’ve spent most of the day torturing over my essay on Berkeley. I got half of it done by one and finally finished at five or so. I’m not satisfied though; I don’t think I’ve answered the question and I feel frustrated. I end on a confused, pseudo-decisive note, more or less saying the question isn’t worth bothering about. At least Monday’s tutorial shouldn’t be as humiliating as last week's.
It feels hardly worth while going back; I’ve only got three weeks of term left. I didn’t see Claire after all. Why am I feeling so soft about her once more? Perhaps I’ve always felt a bit this way, even though my infatuation died a year ago. I haven’t seen her in weeks, and only a handful of times in half-a-year; It’s stupid how I romanticise her and make her something she's not.
Now it’s eight p.m. exactly, Charlie Parker’s ace solo is about to break and I haven’t done my—there it goes!—essay on Whitman or even thought about it yet. . . . It should be a lot less brain-stretching than the Berkeley one was. . . . I’ve just now read Whitman’s 1855 preface to Leaves of Grass and it surges and swells with the sheer joy of life. Impressive stuff.
Friday, November 19, 1982
Dad’s just shown me his diary, a small pocket-sized notebook filled with reminiscences and charting his quiet uneventful life since November 8th, when he started it. He writes that his retirement day was one of the “saddest of my life,” and says he felt as though he'd been “suddenly ejected into a vast space – as if for 30 years and eight months I had existed in an old green bottle and whirled around; and that, at that moment the cork of conformity was pulled and my being & whole existence released and ejected into a new vacuum.”
He was writing all morning and seems to be slightly overawed, perturbed even, by the proportions his “memoirs” are assuming: four hundred pages or so and he’s still only into 1950 Army days in Egypt . . . “I could go on for ever.” If and when they're completed they'll be a superb heirloom. As he says, if he died, all those memories, anecdotes and incidents would disappear forever.
I tried to do some work, but it was so difficult. I'm so weak. I read Berkeley’s Dialogues again and found them pedantic and hair splitting. . . . Upstairs, in what was Andrew’s room (it was my room in the late-'70s), Dad is building a collection of tanks containing newts, frogs, and insects. The mottled and glistening Marsh frogs are growing very big now, and they look sturdy and well fed. Dad’s keeping a record of his observations of them in an old school notebook of mine.
In the evening I went to the school presentation evening, which was strange. I felt so out of place, out of it. There was only me, Jeremy, Robin Quinn, Tim Moyles, Peter, and three others there from my year. I was given the Dunn & Sons prize for “outstanding ‘A’ level achievement,” which seems hypocritical since they were always slagging me off because I did no work!
I feel I have little in common anymore with people like Robin, Tim, Peter, and the typical Egley set into potholing, beer, folk music (Dubliners), and heavy metal. Jeremy was the only person I felt any affinity with. He's as confident as ever. We had a long talk with Ms. Hirst, who seemed genuinely pleased to see us. “You were good friends weren’t you?” she asked me, about Claire. “Was there a romance?” I wish! It made me feel ever so slightly depressed about the way things worked out, now lost forever.
I must overcome my stupid nervousness and get in touch with her. I’d really love to see her.
So it was back home for fish and chips and now I have to write my essay on Berkeley, “Esse est percipi: Is reality, like truth, in the eye of the beholder?” It’s midnight and I haven’t even made a start.
Thursday, November 18, 1982
It's strange coming home. In one sense I feel as if I’ve never been away. I came down this morning and it could have been September all over again, the radio playing strange sad modern Radio 3 classics, Dad writing quietly at the table (reams of pages now), wind and scudding skies outside, the garden torn by gales. Yet in another way—I can’t explain—I feel as though I’m not really here somehow, that I don’t properly belong. . . . It’s just a feeling of impermanence somehow.
For a while I tried to do some work, reading Berkeley’s Dialogues (not all that bad), but mostly I just enjoyed being home. Dad continued writing, occasionally reading me little incidents, and at 2.30 he ran me on to the bank, then Easterby where I bought some more pumps. It was good to be back in the old place.
I feel wiser to human nature now. I carry Watermouth with me and feel I have it to fall back on, a reassuring and comforting factor in the back of my mind . . . I have difficulty writing what I really mean.
In the evening I went up to Grant’s. How easily I fall back into my niches and ruts of life! I sat at the same table listening to music, the light low over me like a pool room light as though the last month and fifteen days have never been. Grant donned a small felt trilby and we went out into the slick city wetness of Lodgehill to call round on Lee. It was good to see him again and he showed us his Foundation course photos; they’re really very good and I think that maybe one day he’ll be a superb artist, for he’s got real talent and a fine compositional eye.
We strode out through torrential downpours of rain and hail to the Oakdale, and Lee lit up a pipe full of mixed seasoning herbs like oregano, which smelled so suspicious and generated thick oily smoke. The Oakdale was cheap, ordinary and unpretentious. It felt uncomplicated. From there we walked on to The Barge on Three Locks Road: laughter at pulp fiction Richard Blade adventures. “An incredible time-space journey to Dimension X!” promised the cover, and inside was a badly written saga of Bond-style macho man Blade’s encounters with Amazonian huntresses who use apemen for sport, sex and food. Hilarious prose: “Her hands plunged down into Blade’s groin as though she was plunging them into a basket of fruit,” and so on for pages.
We ended the night chewing on fish and chips in wet and windy Moxthorpe. I bid Grant and Lee goodbye till Christmas, which looms so near (trees and Santas up already). I got a last sight of ‘em disappearing along Ashgate Terrace, Grant in his pork-pie hat on the left taking long ungainly strides, his face turned in attentive conversation, Lee in his long grey overcoat and silky scarf, both destined for separate unknown and distant situations, faces and scenarios I will never be a party to.
And I for mine. . . . Lee says he may try for Art College in Watermouth next year. It has a good reputation. That would be really great.
Wednesday, November 17, 1982
Well, so here I am, home again, the world of Watermouth a million miles away: somewhere out there they'll be in someone’s room, smoking and laughing and being lunatics.
A full day’s journey by coach: I read selections from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which has an interesting intro by Mark Van Doren: “In himself he is nobody, but in the end he is everything.” I sat in cold grey Victoria bus station, struggling to read as all around me people lived out their worlds of experience, utterly remote from my knowledge. I got a little thrill of recognition when I saw the first signpost for Easterby.
Then we were back and I clambered down and into the station to wait for Dad in my stained trousers and threadbare coat, Pete’s ink-splashed haversack slung over one shoulder, plastic bag clutched in left hand. Soon Dad’s red Viva drive slowly into the station car park, Dad flat-capped, just the same as ever. But I'm different. It’s impossible to remain the same and you truly “can’t go home again.”
I walked into the house which now seems tiny and impeccably neat; Mum peered round from the living room to smile her greeting. Dad seems the picture of contentment, no unemployment traumas and despair as Mum and I had secretly feared, but instead a calm glow of satisfaction.
He’s keeping a diary and recently began a vast recollection of his life titled “The long, long thoughts,” 250-odd pages scrawled already. He's a frustrated poet. He let me read some of it. After a mundane start he soon warms to his theme and paints an idyllic, romantic portrait of his childhood days. I felt moved as I read his sad and rending account of his Dad’s final illness and death; he didn’t want his Dad, who “loved cricket, long walks, mended my bicycle,” to die smothered beneath a black ‘iron-lung’ in an alien hospital. He told me he and Mum have drawn up wills, on the advice of their bank manager.
And I hear that Robert too is a diarist again; I must be setting an example or something. This journal’s value is its immediacy. First and foremost it's a record of the moment, of the here and now, which is lost when I struggle to relate events in long tedious travelogue prose. I'm no good at doing extended essays in recollection. They strike me as dry and forced, and as I read through them I see the same strained phrases over and over again.
On nights like tonight I could write pages. I feel I'm gradually expanding my ‘lifespace,’ that space in which I feel at ease. Last night, with everyone in the kitchen, I didn’t really want to come back, but it’s good to be home.
I rang Grant, then Lee, who is now a vegetarian and Animal Liberationist, planning raids on fur dealers and city centre banner protests. I’m going out with them tomorrow night.