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.
Tuesday, November 16, 1982
Last night Pete and Barry both insisted the rumours that Paul McCartney actually died in a car accident in November 1966 are true. They even showed us the ‘evidence’: photos of McCartney wearing a black carnation, or with flags crossed above his head, and they played parts of Sergeant Pepper backwards to reveal the ghostly “I buried Paul” and “Paul is dead, miss him, miss him.” The ‘Paul McCartney’ of today is in fact a Canadian look-alike named Billy Shearer.
Stu really came out of himself over the weekend. I got glimpses of what felt like the true Stu underneath. He’s witty and laughs more than I ever remember him laughing before: head back, mouth open, square-jawed Tommy-Cooper guffaws. I like him a lot.
A strange atmosphere today. I’ve got loads of work to do but spent it lethargically, wondering what it is I've achieved since I came to Watermouth. I feel guilty about not writing to friends more often (or at all!). I last wrote to Claire five weeks ago this week.
But at least I bought my bus ticket home today, so maybe I’ll get to see her over the weekend.
I hope so.
Monday, November 15, 1982
I had a bad drug experience last night; smoking only my second joint of the evening I took a big drag, drawing the smoke into my mouth then hissss, inhaling it through my teeth and deep into my lungs. Instant effect, not really very pleasant but a strange semi-nauseous sensation in the depths of my head, as though I was about to be sick, so I staggered into the toilet and stuck my fingers down my throat thinking perhaps throwing up would make me feel better . . . This failed, so I crashed onto my bed and lay there feeling vulnerable and weak. Downstairs Ian came in and reported back to the others in Barry’s room, then Lindsey was there asking me if I was OK, a “do you want anything?,” a ribald comment from Pete, and Lindsey half runs-half jumps for the door as Pete, jeering, closes it to leave; she grabs the door handle to either stop him from going or from shutting it, I couldn’t figure out which. Susie later said I looked green as I lay there staring at the ceiling.
Afterwards, even though I’d recovered sufficiently to go back out amidst the smoke and dope smells, I felt emotionally tender as though all I wanted was an excuse to show everyone how I really felt. Perhaps I was tired of bottling myself up for so long; I was so confused and in such turmoil inside that I sat staring hard and angry at Barry’s bed just inches from my face. Confused . . . frustrated . . . so inept at socially vital activities.
Today I had two tutorials, American Civilisation and Philosophical Thinking, the latter excruciatingly embarrassing asr I was the only one of four who had nothing to say. I hadn’t done a stroke of work so I suppose I got my just desserts. I was totally lost: came away in a foul self-piteous mood, hating myself and everyone else and just wanting to lock myself away in my room to sort things out.
Sunday, November 14, 1982
Up at noon and we spent most of the afternoon relaxing downstairs round the table, watching Moby Dick on TV and talking to Pete’s Mum. The rest of the house is a continuation of Pete’s room, overflowing with stuff. They have three enormous Afghans, three cats, a hamster, and a goldfish. His Mum's a great talker and she told us about the local community situation in Brixton, unions, etc. She’s a strong-willed and fiercely independent woman, very much her own person I think. For a lot of the time she was down in the basement laying bricks and lugging door frames around. Pete said he respects her a lot.
We left as it was approaching teatime. I was impoverished, having spent £20 in one weekend! We managed to scrape together enough money between us to buy tube tickets and Shelley resorted to writing cheques to buy us all food at a Wimpy near Waterloo, and then our train tickets back to Watermouth.
Saturday, November 13, 1982
It was after one when we got to London and we immediately rushed to Itchy Park where the marchers were assembling. We expected to have to chase them up Brick Lane but we were relieved to find a few hundred people with banners still milling around listening to a speaker. Barry met a few of his friends there – Carl Cotton (from last night), John, and another bloke, Doug. I liked Doug a lot; with his jerky rapid mannerisms he reminded me of Penny’s boyfriend Conrad. We found Shelley almost straight away; she’s been staying with a friend at London Poly. since Friday. She gave us a big smile when she saw us. Then we were all marshaled into a rough column three or four deep and moved raggedly off.
At first I was right behind an enormous red banner and so couldn’t see a thing, but Trevor got Stu and I to carry it instead and we marched on, Stu and I carrying the fluttering red banner edged with yellow emblazoned with London Polytechnic Student’s Union - Direct Action Is The Only Way. We were flanked on either side by blank-faced PCs, our column headed by a police crowd control van. Photographers rushed around us snapping pictures.
As we wound our way up Brick Lane raggedly chanting “Afia to stay,” “Smash the Racist State!” and even “If you hate all bobbies clap your hands,” we were gawped at by crowds of Saturday shoppers who stopped and stared. I looked to the policemen at my side for any reaction but found none, maybe the faintest of cynical smiles flickering across march-hardened features. Brick Lane was long and narrow and reminded me of Musgrove Road back home with its tatty shop fronts and dirty windows; curious faces visible down side streets as we passed, turned in our direction and caught mid-action, loading vans or walking by, hearing the chants and looking round, like I’ve done many a time, seeing the shambling procession pass in the distance with banners and ill-timed slogans.
We passed the boarded up and blackened house where Afia Begum’s Bangladeshi husband was killed in a fire in March, falling into silence as our ‘cheerleader’ explained via megaphone the circumstances of the case. Then we emerged out onto a main street flanked with shops and lots of people. We got a hostile reception from some of them: one middle-aged woman gesticulated with across her face; others scowled darkly or muttered barely-audible comments (“bloody disgusting”; “just another set of bloody lefty do-gooders. . . . “). I didn’t feel happy. I'm not a Marxist and this was a Marxist-organised march, red-bannered and chanting, creating obvious disharmony among the Saturday afternoon crowds.
Eventually we reached a park and held a small 15-minute rally, our banners arranged in a semi-circle facing the open back of a lorry. Several people spoke including Afia Begum herself through a translator, then a striking Asian worker from Slough who in halting tones thanked us for our support and urged us to help out on the picket lines at Heathfields.
The police drifted away to their vehicles and the marchers gradually dispersed. Nine of us headed for Carl’s house in Wanstead, and this we reached as it drew in dusk, a small cramped terrace shared with other people, although I only saw a dark-haired girl who treated us with sour looks and minimal conversation.
It was incredibly messy and the doors and walls were covered in messages written in marker with arrows explaining their relevance. Strange. Carl’s room was quite small and contained a bed, a slate-topped desk and a stereo, a shelf of mostly political books (mainly on Marxism): a copy of Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? lay open on the desk. Someone rolled a joint and we sat there smoking and talking or reading magazines. I flicked through one, a glossy, well-produced publication that was sponsored by the IRA. It was filled with calm descriptions of IRA operations, photos of mortars being primed, the North Armagh brigade on patrol in combat jackets and black hoods, etc. The “War News” section sickened me with its abrupt and clinical accounts of “executions” and car-bomb detonations (“a UDR man had both his legs blown off”). No comment on the twisted immoralities of the situation, or questions as to why there's a necessity for so much bloodshed.
It was dark outside now and we went in search of fish and chips and bought bottles of cider for later, and everyone had just got settled again when Shelley whispered I should ring Pete to ask him if it was be OK that a few of us come over to stay the night at his place. This I did: he said yes, but said there was nowhere for everyone to sleep so all nine of us couldn't come. Barry & co. decided to stay and go to an RCP social nearby, which I didn’t fancy. Revolutionary songs? Impressions of Stalin?
So Shelley, Doug, Stu and I stepped out into the bitter night air. As we walked up the street Lindsey ran out of the house and caught us up. We hung about for a taxi which cost £7.70 between the five of us. I was the only one with any money.
We were dropped in Camberwell, near Brunswick Park; Pete’s house, no. 34 Bennington Circle, is in a small row of elegant whitewashed houses. We met his Mum—his younger sister watching TV—then up several flights of clutter-choked stairs to his room, which could only be reached by squeezing between piles of furniture. His bedroom was superb, a chaotic jumble of furniture, magazines, books, kites, and clothing, with scarcely enough floor space to stand on. The walls were plastered with posters and hand bills from the Groovy Cellar, The Clinic, etc., and he has two beds (one double, one single). Hanging in a wardrobe in one corner we could glimpse his famed array of psychedelic shirts.
We set off to a party, a birthday celebration for a friend’s younger brother, where we sat on the floor among hordes of fifteen and sixteen-year olds, most of whom sat round the living room table laughing and talking amid blue haze of cigarette smoke. I thought of Western saloon bars, poker games.
Shelley and I had a long conversation about her suicidal feelings of last week. She told me that she feels so easy among all of us now and that Pete really did save her life that night for she’d felt in the mood to do anything: “I would have done it!” What could I say other than the clichéd platitudes about suicide not being worth it!? She said she’d felt desperate once more at Carl’s, and I suddenlt remembered seeing her seated on the floor with her head down, her hair obscuring her darkened face, as everyone laughed and drank cider. “I couldn’t have stayed in that place. It was awful.”
Soon the joints from a homegrown plant were being passed round and we were mingling with Pete’s friends (Tony, Robin, nameless girls), Pete laughing and shouting and gibbering insanely at people, rushing around from group to group just like he does at Watermouth. The party reached its climax, and then everyone moved out into the hall and started to leave and I felt wrecked and cold and fell wearily onto a settee in another room, using my coat as a blanket.
When we got back to Pete’s house his Mum had put the chain across the door, and so we stood for ages in the freezing cold as Pete fumbled with the lock, whispering hoarsely to try wake his sister. Door open, I crashed gratefully into a warm bed.
Friday, November 12, 1982
After writing last night’s entry I didn’t go to bed as I'd planned to do, but ended up instead in Barry’s room with Lindsey and Stu; we bought a gramme of oil between us, more as a favour to Barry than anything else. It had a distinct effect on my mind, a feeling of a loss of balance, an incredible lightness inside my head as though it was off the ground somehow, almost like being dizzy but not nauseous at all. Then I felt very sleepy and finally went to bed.
Clean, cold and crisp today. Barry and I went out to buy food and to the bank and got back to the kitchen to find his RCP friend Carl down from London: he seemed delighted that there were so many of us going to the demo.’ We're going up there by train, which will cost more than the £2 we’d originally planned for.
More oil later and the same headless feeling as before, but really vivid.
I’m reading the The Education of Henry Adams at the moment which is quite interesting: “[H]e never got to the point of playing the game [of life] at all; he lost himself in the study of it, watching the errors of the players; but this is the only interest in the story, which otherwise has no moral and little incident . . .” I see myself in this not with pride but with a kind of resignation, for I believe it's what I'm destined to do: “passion for companionship – antipathy to society.”
Thursday, November 11, 1982
After spending the evening in Westway Loop Bar watching Barry trying to sell six grammes of oil (Shelley bought one), we came back to the kitchen where I wrote “I AM A7X” on an enormous piece of polystyrene which we took round to Alex’s room. Blue smoke billowed out as he opened the door: he was absolutely stoned, gone, helplessly laughing against the wall.
We smashed the polystyrene up in the corridor and rushed off to Pankhurst where big pieces of the stuff lay by the bins. We attacked these, breaking them over posts, snapping ‘em under foot and running back breathless, shrieking with laughter. There's polystyrene everywhere and I'm sure there’ll be hell to pay in the morning for this lunacy.
I’ve just heard that President Brezhnev died yesterday of a heart attack. I didn't really feel anything on hearing the news. I'm sure he’ll be replaced by yet another ageing hypocrite.
Wednesday, November 10, 1982
More drunkenness last night. We rushed over to Radio Watermouth, whining and screaming up to a party on the top floor of Pankhurst Hall where a girl in a bright print dress played Captain Pugwash tunes on an accordion. She smiled sweetly from one end of the corridor, her head-on-one-side. Someone had a notepad attached to their door and so we wrote long incoherent messages about "A7X" and I wrestled in the corridor with bearded Miles Beattie from downstairs.
I got up at one just in time for a fire drill that had us laughing on the steps in the sun. Guy got a letter from his solicitor saying that the police had, “reluctantly,” decided not to press charges due to his “unusual circumstances.” He told us this in his usual calm, low-key and cynical manner and we jumped about clapping him and cheering. I’m really pleased.
A disastrous evening out: for some reason I reluctantly dragged myself into Watermouth to go see Level 42, and just as I was outside the place about to go in, the wind snatched the ticket I'd bought from my grasp and it was borne aloft, swirling around and around in a vortex between high concrete walls as I stood and watched helplessly. It soared higher and higher and finally was gone. Anger, drudgery.
So I wandered along the wind blown promenade to a “jazz disco” on Harbour Road which turned me off utterly with its sickly music, its lights and clientele. Bad memories of last year’s nightclub inadequacies at Harvey's. I got back feeling low.
Lindsey is upset tonight, a rebellious whine of frustration and her frown a pained arch of the eyebrows because she can’t do her work and has an essay due tomorrow. She seems like she's got a lot on her mind at the moment, but Shelley at least seems much happier today. She says we should’ve treated her unsympathetically the other night to make her cry and get over it quicker. She went to a Revolutionary Communist Party meeting about the Brixton riots with Barry this morning. I think she’s losing faith in CND and seems really into the RCP.
I rang Rob to find out about Athletic's 3-3 draw with Loxgreave and it was strange to hear Carol's familiar northern tones here in these corridors a million miles from all that I’ve known. For an instant the two worlds fused, her cheerful voice, everything she means for me, then I was back in the kitchen with all the cares and affairs of the world here.
Tonight I took speed, two “blues” I bought for 50p each from Jamie. In this little stint I’ve written four sides and I think they did have some effect. I can hear Stu’s new wave from down the corridor. Barry is awake across the corridor as I write this right now, lying on his bed in room 60 reading in dim red light, soft Beach Boys Pet Sounds in the air. He’s bought seven grammes of oil from Jamie to try supplement his less than adequate finances: he’s already spent his allocation for this term. His Dad expects him to get a job but he's dealing instead, and if he sells this he'll make £15.
On Saturday a few of us are going up to London to an RCP demo for Afia Begum who's threatened with deportation, but also to get acid and to visit a friend of Barry’s and maybe visit Pete who's at home. I'm looking forward to the demo. I don't like Marxism's “large programmes full of social planning” etc., etc., but lately I've been rueing my inaction and lack of involvement. Better to get up and do something than sit on my arse all day complaining about the world.
There are only five (maybe six) of us here at the moment out of twelve rooms on this corridor. Everyone else has gone home.
Tuesday, November 9, 1982
Slept until half-eleven last night, got up briefly and went back to bed. Finally got up at half-six this morning after fourteen hours of sleep. I felt alive and really healthy, a bright sunny day to be optimistic and all was good with the world. I went to the market outside Watermouth Hall and bought two records and four books.
Graeme, Barry, Lindsey, Shelley and I went into Watermouth this afternoon and I collected my £10 book from Second Edition.
I love the sea. We ate rock and watched the sun set and I clutched my hefty volume in my coat pocket. Barry crunched about in the pebbles playing pranks and grinning at us like a little kid.
Monday, November 8, 1982
As we sat in the kitchen watching Walkabout on a tiny portable TV, Shelley started playing with a knife, dragging it idly and speculatively across her wrists. Barry turned out all the lights so we didn't have to sit there watching her. And after a while she rose silently and went into the other half of the kitchen and stayed there a long, long time, before stealing darkly from the room. Lindsey went after her, then Penny. . . .
Then, as were just settling in for the evening in Barry’s room, there was a knock at the door and there was Rowan saying she'd “done something.” My heart sank.
She’d thrown all her bedclothes and things from the wardrobe onto the floor of her room and slashed her pillows with a knife. Feathers everywhere. She said she'd spent the past hour crying before exploding in a fit of rage and frustration. She said the Lord's Prayer backwards and put a curse on someone. "When I finished a big gust of wind came through the room." She wouldn’t tell me who she'd cursed.
I felt like running away and hiding, but there was no one else, everyone out of their minds on oil, or asleep. What could I do? I was frightened of her dark looks and strangeness, frightened of her curses and those horrific cat posters, frightened of that weird, cluttered oppressive room . . . I talked to her and tried to help her clean up and she laughed for a long time and spoke about feeling paranoid and insecure.
I left Rowan and gave a hoarsely whispered report to those who were alert. We were shit-scared and I didn’t want to go to bed, fearing a knock on my door in the dark and silence of four a.m. It felt weird and unreal and unsettling; her spells, that unbidden laughter. Pete and I stayed up all night and went out for a walk: there were few people about and the morning was cold and damp. We stole two traffic cones from outside the Humanities Building.
Lindsey is depressed about her work and her financial situation. Then there is Guy and his depression, the court case heaped on his head, Shelley. . . . I can't wait until we're off campus; it's so closed and unreal here, so detached from the real world and things that matter. Pete, Barry and I joke that we are rocks in a sea; we’re hanging on by our fingertips and everyone else is clinging to our legs.
I managed to stay awake long enough to go to my tutorial at 11.15.
Sunday, November 7, 1982
After we got back from Watermouth last night, we tried to drink away Guy’s troubles at Westway Loop Bar, but for Guy they loomed large and gloomy. Shelley was in a strange and silent mood, not morose but smiling secretively as though she really had one over on us. She said she’d drunk a half-litre bottle of sherry earlier that night and blacked out, and so when we left the bar we went back to her room to finish it off. She laid on the bed with the same attitude, just not herself.
Soon everyone was being shrill and lunatic in the kitchen. We scrounged together £15 from various sources to buy some Nepalese oil from Jamie who’d showed up downstairs, red-eyed and absolutely stoned. Events reached a crazy climax – a tablecloth was burned and Shelley started smashing plates. We found her standing in the kitchen smiling strangely at us as if to say “Look what I’ve done—I don’t care!”
It must be this place – it is getting to us all. What can I say but that this weekend has emphasised even more how insane is the life we all lead. One day I'll look back at what I've written and not believe it.
Saturday, November 6, 1982
Last night, after much hassle and several false starts, eight of us set off for Watermouth's bonfire night celebrations. We were shocked at the queue when we reached the station, and when we finally got onto the platform and onto the train got another shock: the carriages were so packed people were crushed up against the windows and almost standing on top of one another. Somehow we all forced our way inside, and Pete spent the entire trip laid length-ways on a luggage rack.
When we got into Watermouth we all flooded out, up the stairs and out onto the streets. Being in such a huge crowd of people was a thrill and as we followed the human tidal wave up towards the coastal road out of town, an aggressive PC directed the flood from a traffic island.
Lots of people carried smoldering torches, many of which lay discarded in the gutter or in the middle of the road, and for a moment it felt medieval with the enthusiastic noisy crowds, the bangs and whistles of fireworks, and the crooked old buildings and streets. Someone passed us carrying an incandescent magnesium torch that burned with a pink flame, illuminating scores of faces in the dark.
Our human river streamed determinedly out of town and eventually paused by makeshift stands along the sides of the road selling hot dogs and baked potatoes: we milled around chaotically buying food. Most of the crowd lingered there, but we joined hordes of others who were climbing over a fence and up a steep embankment. Suddenly the atmosphere turned sour and aggressive, chanting gangs running about and letting off bangers while the older people and couples with families looked on anxiously.
We'd arrived at what looked like a council estate, quite a way out of town, and followed a path up between the houses into a dark clearing surrounded by trees, lit only by the flicker of a roaring pyre of flame and sparks. There were so many people crushed ahead of us that we could only gaze from afar over the sea of orange-lit heads: every so often an agile figure would sprint in silhouette against the flames, Someone kept throwing fireworks into the fire. It felt slightly unsettling, like a strange cultlike rite, fire-worship or something weirder. There was a mindless, lemming-like acquiescence in the air.
It felt pointless standing there and nothing was happening anyway so we left and walked back to town. The roads and gutters were littered with blackened smoking torches and flickering embers of flame, and on the train back three skinheads chucked fireworks about in the next carriage: ours was crammed with frightened passengers, some with fingers in their ears.
When we got back we went to Rousseau for a party that Beverly had organised, with plot toffee, sausages on cocktail sticks, baked potatoes, and lots of alcohol. Guy and I had left a bottle of cider in Catrin’s room, but when we went to get it we found to our disbelief she and her hippy friends smugly swigging from our bottles. Guy was really angry and said blackly that he “wasn’t going to forget this.” Back at the party we sat around on the floor but somehow my enthusiasm had gone. I felt pretty pissed off with the whole thing and left. I went to bed at five.
This afternoon a few of us went to see Watermouth play Burswick Park Avenue. Town was full Burswick fans, loud beery blokes in black and white scarves who chanted and clapped with little thought for where they were. We'd barely got outside the station when Stu was stopped and searched. I suppose he did look suspicious with his leather jacket and spiked orange hair.
Once we got to the ground we joined the huge 'Black and White Army' queue. As they started through their repertoire of songs Stu was searched again. I thought Guy was joking when he whispered to me in a shocked voice that he’d forgotten that he had a five-foot piece of chain in his pocket which he uses to lock up his bicycle. We’d almost reached the turnstile when I glanced back to see Guy’s white bespectacled face as he was led away by the police. He told us later that he’d been standing next to a cop for several minutes, getting increasingly uneasy as he was given the dead-eye treatment, until finally he was asked to take his hands out of coat pockets, was searched, and the chain was victoriously revealed. His truthful explanation was laughed at and, after being photographed, he was locked up and spent the game in the Watermouth police station nick. We thought he was just being kicked out, not arrested, so we carried on into the ground.
The Burswick fans were crammed into a small corner which was now a sea of black and white scarves and the air filled with chanting, clapping and singing. A scuffle broke out over on the Watermouth side of the terracing and a ripple of expectation passed through the crowd as everyone strained to see.
The game was crap. Burswick began well but lost control of the game after half-time and often the football was scrappy and very boring. Pete really got into it, clapping and chanting “Burswick, Burswick” over and over in his London accent. But seventeen minutes from the end Burswick scored and we erupted into wild cheering and celebration while all about us four fifths of the ground stood in stunned silence.
The whistle went, the gates opened, and the crowd poured out stumbling and singing. There was a sour sense of angry expectation detectable now in the air. We reached an open spot in the road and suddenly everyone set off running, thousands of feet clattering on tarmac, wild shouting, policemen riding among us on horses and wielding long batons. We sprinted downhill, between cars and frightened passersby huddled on pavements, and I saw one man run over by a horse. The police looked grim and angry, in a no-nonsense frame of mind. Someone tried to pull a PC down off his horse, grabbing at his yellow fluorescent coat, and as the horse started forward, the cop looked shaken and fended off the clutching hands viciously with his baton. Across the street a policeman was pushed off his motorbike and we streamed downhill towards the train station, horses in among us, the thrill of the chase in us now, adrenaline pumping hard, laughing excitedly as we bumped into one another again after our brief sprint.
At the station the crowd poured inside, angrily squeezing past the ticket inspector and out onto the platforms, and as quickly as started the mood fizzled out.
The station was alive with police guarding all exits into the street. We met Gareth and his mate and found a pub near the seafront where we drank whisky, getting warm, drowsy and content in the plush wood-panelled surroundings and afterwards we played like children on the darkened beach, crunching across the pebbles as if in a D-Day attack, wondering if we should steal a boat. I climbed on a breakwater and got soaked.
Back at the University Guy was sick: his court date is on December 10th, and he's looking at a £100 fine and the possibility of no visa for the year in the US. The more we thought about it the worse it seemed, and what with his girlfriend problems and not settling in I felt really sorry for him.
Friday, November 5, 1982
Barry and a few others played Wilberforce Hall at football and after Pete had got up, he and I went in search of them. I’d never been over to the sports fields before; they’re wide and well-kept and sweep down towards the Auditorium about ¼ of a mile away.
The fields were player-less, so Pete and I wandered around and ended up back behind some trees; in the gathering gloom the University was spread before us, a forest of yellow lights nestled precariously in the lap of the valley, the lights of the Teacher Training College visible to our right. An enormous city of learning. How impermanent it all looked. An alien concrete conglomeration amidst the blue-grey dusk of scudding overcast skies, trees and rolling fields.
Thursday, November 4, 1982
I quite enjoyed last night’s disco in The Cellar. I only plucked up courage to dance about ten minutes from the end; it was nearly spoiled by a set of moronic rugby players who barged in singing and cheering and standing on chairs taking down their trousers.
The week has flown by, with nothing extraordinary happening to me or to any of us. I’ve been planning all week to see Dr. Palfreyman but only today did I manage to dredge up the motivation to reluctantly drag myself in search of him.
I’m feeling really down, depressed, and generally blue, I don’t know why. I left Westway Loop Bar with Pete, his friend Lisa and another lad, supposedly to go see the film Time Bandits, but I got as far as the queue to get in and turned round and left. I just didn’t feel in any sort of mood to be watching a film, let alone a funny one.
This week has supposedly been my saving-cash week but I’ve still managed to spend over £25.
Wednesday, November 3, 1982
For two hours from 3 a.m. or so, Rowan aired her neuroses in my room. At first I was trembling so much that I could hardly keep still, but I soon calmed down. She, however. was twitchy and odd, and talked ambiguously about Michael (the boyfriend of Yvonne who lives down the corridor), saying she's terrified of him and thinks he's going to murder either her or Yvonne. She asked me if there was anyone I felt uneasy about or even scared of. Only you, I thought, but didn't dare tell her.
Barry’s friend John is down visiting: he says he spent the night with Rowan and tells us the key to winning girls is the one night stand. He claims a 70% success rate: “I tell you, if you play it right, or if I was here, you could be having orgies every night of the week.”
Tuesday, November 2, 1982
Stu, Guy and I went into Watermouth, and while Guy went to the barber’s we wandered round town looking at book and record shops.
I bought Charles Lloyd’s 1966 album Forest Flower second hand, but it's quite scratchy and I’m not keen. Watermouth has a really good Army surplus shop which sells helmets, gas masks and even machetes. I got a WWII knapsack for £1.25.
Monday, November 1, 1982
I slept in this morning and missed another Tutorial, this time for American Civilization.
I got a long 15-side letter from Dad which I really enjoyed reading.