Wednesday, April 27, 1983
Another idle day, disturbed only by the tea-time appearance of Marco’s friend Roy, a slimy and devious looking bloke who, saying he had twenty five minutes to spare, sat down and launched into idle conversation. He came out with some real crap. I was reading Puddn’head Wilson until finally I couldn’t stand it any longer and left, remembering I’d promised myself I’d go see Aguirre, Wrath of God and Burden of Dreams at the Phoenix cinema.
It was fresh and sunny, a fine, clear evening. I immediately resolved to get drunk. I tried to intellectualise this, even while realising the uselessness of such a course and how stupid it would be, but still I bought a ½ bottle of whisky before going in to see the films.
Aguirre was very good, especially the final scene with Kinski raving insanely on his becalmed raft, swarmed by shrieking monkeys and littered with the bodies of his exploration party who’d all been shot by Amazon Indians.
I left the film feeling empty and calm: I got drunk on the whisky and smoked dope in Alex’s room with Alex, Pete, Barry and Alex’s friend from Cambridge.
Tuesday, April 26, 1983
At teatime I went with Lindsey and Susie to see a play, From the Divine, by the feminist Erinyes theatre company upstairs in the Contemplation Center. We met Pete and Mo in the Town and Gown beforehand.
The play was about a theatre company entertaining troops and officers during the war. There were just three actresses: a ventriloquist’s doll played the male part. Many of the jokes made pointed references to male domination of society (‘Love and Marriage go together like a gun and carriage’) and I felt odd sitting there, the object of witty female scrutiny and criticism.
It’s odd too that rolled up into my outlook and my behaviour are conditioned responses and reactions to women that can be construed as ‘sexist.’ It seems incredible to me that I can be totally unconscious of this simply because of society’s conditioning and the way I’ve been brought up. It gives me a lot to think about.
I walked back to the bar with Lindsey: she’d been quite inflamed by watching this, and she berated we males for our campus sexism. She thinks Barry, for all his revolutionary talk, is fairly sexist in his attitude whereas Gareth is “non-sexist” in his. So I asked her and Susie to tell me, objectively and without any regard for hurting my feelings or whatever, if they thought I was sexist. Susie said no, but Lindsey didn’t seem quite so sure.
I thought of Mum and Dad and how when I’m at home I’m quite willing to let Mum do all the cooking and the washing up after she’s worked eight hours a day, and also about Dad’s recent comment (“I like to see a girl looking feminine in a blouse, nice dress and stockings”). This seems almost pathetic it is so classically conditioned.
We got back to Wollstonecraft Hall to find Gareth back after his few weeks in Berlin: he spent most of his time getting drunk and stoned, and everyone crowded into his room to listen to his stories, drink the duty free wine he’d brought back with him and smoke dope.
While we were at the play, Rowan, Barry, Russ and co. went to Biko’s and got embroiled in a political argument which degenerated into a personal slanging match. Somehow, somewhere, my name cropped up and Russ, full of shit as usual, egged Rowan into believing I had five-and-a-half thousand pounds in the bank. When I was in the kitchen she brought it up in a snide, insinuating way.
I fell into usual dark silence and twisted anxieties. Lindsey told me “not to take it to heart” and asked me to go with her into Gareth’s room as she didn’t want to go in alone. I did so but felt apart from all the reeling and talk. Barry was pissed out of his skull, staggering and lurching about with an insane grin on his face.
Monday, April 25, 1983
We went for a fairly forgettable night out at Westway Loop Bar yesterday, and when we got back we hung around restlessly in the corridor. We could hear music and conversation coming from Rowan’s room, so I half-jokingly put a glass to Stu’s wall to try to hear what they were talking about. They sussed it out and this morning, a smirking Shelley subjected me to embarrassing questions: “You don’t approve of us cutting ourselves off do you? You can’t do without our company,” etc.
I looked at a few Emily Dickinson poems for today’s seminar but discovered, to my disappointment, that the rearranged time clashed with my Black Americans seminar. So I asked the tutor of the latter if I could leave early to go to the Dickinson seminar, but he nearly bit my head off. He told me, quite rightly I suppose, that his tutorials were “just as important” as Miriam’s.
I spent the evening in Pete’s room smoking dope while he entertained us with his motley collection of late-‘sixties psychedelia. A late night.
Sunday, April 24, 1983
Susie, Graeme and I went for a three-hour walk up Gaunt’s Hill.
We took the path I ventured up last term through the woods and eventually came out on a road near a farm. The horizon unfolded around us, the road curving ahead of us up towards the summit of the Hill, and away to the left, distant chimney stacks marking Langridge, the sea grey and hazy beyond. The road skirted a field littered with chips of flint and we followed it up to a car park at the very top of the Hill which was busy with little family groups of Sunday afternoon trippers with dogs and kids and balls.
The wind roared in from the sea battering our ears making them ache. The summit was flat and well-trodden with good views across the green countryside towards London. Here and there were sheep-sprinkled fields, copses of dark trees and clusters of houses, an occasional church spire punctuating the flatness—a wide green land bathed in bright sun beneath a cloud-smudged sky. We were standing on the leading curl of a wave of hills and hollows which rose and fell back towards the misty sea horizon and seemed about to inundate the flat pastoral plain which was spread before us.
We headed back, easy going on the path of firm green short turf, the smell of the grass and the wind reminding me of walks high up in the rugged wilds of Yorkshire. The University lay hidden among bare trees and all the petty worries and concerns of that place seemed so unimportant when set against all this enduring vastness.
Shelley cropped up in our conversation as we walked: the friendly, open mood and willingness to work Shelley had shown to Susie before the term began is replaced with aloofness, elitism and condescending comments. Susie's just generally pissed off with the whole thing, seeing no need for “rudeness and selfishness.” I thought of my own closed door.
There are so many problems living here: I hate the petty self-indulgence and narrow-mindedness. They should’ve set the student accommodations high on top of Gaunt’s Hill to give we inmates a view and a relationship with the world outside and to keep us mindful of the existence of people and places other than a campus full of students. We have been given a never-to-be-repeated opportunity to discover so many things—yet how many of us actually do anything meaningful with our time? How many, me included, just piss about wastefully?
We dropped down through fields, the path passing tangled bare woodland, dotted with yellow gorse and brambles. Once we were enclosed by hedges and trees it was hot and still and Peacock butterflies chased one another or sunned themselves by the side of the road. We also saw a Red Admiral and an unidentified white butterfly. Susie asked me whether or not it was true that butterflies lived only a day.
We got back to find the University drowsing under a hot sun, many people out sunbathing or playing with frisbees. There was a restless, active atmosphere inside Wollstonecraft and I wasted the afternoon in the kitchen or sleeping in my room.
A week has passed already. In one respect the time has rushed by, but in another—and a lot of people agree—it seems as though we’ve been here for years. Things haven’t gone too badly so far.
Saturday, April 23, 1983
When I got up around eleven, Shelley and Rowan were in the kitchen rolling a joint, which they proceeded to smoke before retiring to S.’s room and shutting the door. I heard Barry and Shawn in there too but I stayed where I was and read a book The Souls of Black Folk. I’ve got Huck Finn and Puddn’head Wilson and a few Dickinson poems to read before next Thursday, not to mention essays to think about and so on.
Trevor came up to visit Barry in the afternoon. He’s just come back from Holland and within minutes he was asking Penny if she’d got his letter. She said she hadn’t. No one was particularly glad to see him I don’t think, save for Barry who seemed a bit annoyed at the reaction some people gave him.
Trevor left at teatime and I for one was relieved to see him go. He was in usual self-assured and semi-jocular form, saying that the “potential for drugs and orgies” he’d sensed last term has now gone and the place is instead “riddled with apathy.” On this latter count, at least, he’s right. Barry reckons Trevor’s attitude is a form of piss-taking and mockery of the sexist stereotypes he sees here but only a few people (including Barry presumably) seem “clever” enough to see this. I still don’t like him.
I went out for a drink in the evening with Graeme, Penny, Stu and Barry. Lindsey came along later; she’d had visitors and it hadn’t been very pleasant, and she sat there hardly speaking, deep in thought.
I’ve finally managed to get hold of some LSD from Barry. I have unashamed expectations and a lot of curiosity.
Friday, April 22, 1983
As soon as I got back from the library last night I met Lindsey and she asked me if I wanted to go to the fair. I couldn’t have refused if I’d wanted to, so, along with Mike and Graeme, we piled into Mike’s car and were soon on the sea front.
It was a superb evening. The sky was huge and clear, filled with stars and the moon and numerous beacons flashed on the coast and out to sea. We were supposed to meet Barry and Debdenshaw friend Doug in a pub on the sea front (82p for a pint!) so we sat out in front at a table to wait. They arrived soon enough, Russ showing up too and, later, Pete, Mo and her friend Lydia.
We’d seen the fair earlier, a conglomeration of spinning lights down on the sea front, so we set out, but no sooner had we got to where we should have been able to see it we found to our amazement that the lights were gone. There was just a blank promenade where they’d been. For a moment we were confused, idled and at a loss, until someone made a move for a pub.
While everyone settled themselves in The Shakespeare I rang Lee up from a call box. I left my decision vague about the Beuys lecture tomorrow. I got back to the pub and sat with Pete and entourage, Lindsey across the way sitting with Mike and Barry. She gave me a little smile. . . . Last orders . . . we all flooded out, split up, five of us going back in the car, the others getting the train.
The usual awful depressing arguments about Marxism ensued. Pete and I were trapped and speechless and got thoroughly destroyed by Barry and Doug. I tried to argue but found out I couldn’t: fatuous floundering. I don’t have any ‘philosophy’ or ‘scheme’ of my own with which to strangle the world and from which to argue. Pete was reduced to sullenly muttering inanities about “killing everyone.” Stu sat quietly mulling it over in his mind.
Barry and Doug retired to Barry’s room and Pete and I to mine, but we felt defeated and depressed. We had a game of table football downstairs before I hit the sack at two.
Why can Barry and his “socialist” friends so easily drop me dead in mid-thought? I complain that they are arrogant, but Doug says it's self-confidence, not arrogance: “We know we’re right and you’re wrong.” If what they are saying is true, then I feel almost frightened that it might be so simple and that I'm so wrong. Perhaps all this is simply the guilty outpourings of a bourgeois mind, and one day these pages will be held up as evidence of my misguided and petty aspirations.
I’m sick of doubting and of not knowing and of all these endless questions. I expect I’ll quietly forget about this problem because it’s one I can’t face. No doubt my whole life will be spent avoiding the uncomfortable uncertainty of this question instead of facing up to it.
At one point Alex stumbled in to the kitchen with a doped-up grin across his face, and I couldn’t help a sneaking regard for his seemingly carefree day-to-day existence, filled with escapism admittedly, but . . . he is and does, apparently without all this constant groping about in the dark, all this self-assessment.
What’s needed is a ‘revolution of the spirit’ (Blake’s “seeing of visions”?). There's something more which can’t be reduced to the dictates of Marxist economic and social theory: something more which is an inescapable part of being human and of being alive on earth.
I’ve spent all of today marooned in my room, trying not to wade in too deeply but feeling ‘Isolation’ creeping up on me. Barry and Doug have gone to Biko’s and I promised I’d join em 1½ hours ago. I haven’t done much work. Stu, Shawn and Gareth are having a jam in Stu’s room and Shelley, Rowan and Penny smoke dope in Shelley’s. I think Lindsey has gone down to the Cellar for the disco.
I might go out still, I don’t know. I can’t really say I’ve a great affinity with anyone here at the moment.
Thursday, April 21, 1983
I got up this morning at about half-eight, right about the time that Lee’s coach was supposed to leave. I had breakfast for the first time in months and we lugged the now hated dead-weight back onto the train. Campus was bathed in bright early morning sunshine: it looks quite good in sunny weather, but when it rains and the murk of a damp evening descends it’s the most depressing place I can imagine.
On the train platform Lee and I talked about the possibilities of me going up to Whincliffe on Saturday to see Joseph Beuys (Lee's going with the Art College), but to get there in time I’d have to get the 6.30 a.m. coach, which would get me into Whincliffe at half-two.
By the time we got in to Watermouth the 10.30 coach had left too so we waited around until the bus came in and then said goodbye. I’ve enjoyed his stay. The general way I’ve been thinking over the last weeks and Lee’s visit in particular etches the now vanished opportunity of going to Art College ever deeper into my mind. Have I made a mistake?
I’m writing this in the library: I came here to do work but instead spend my time in these blind speculations.
Today I had an American Lit. tutorial with Miriam H.: we discussed Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and his 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass and also, more generally, Dickinson, Thoreau and Emerson. I’m looking forward to my course on Dickinson and Whitman.
The scramble for accommodation next year looms large in everyone’s minds. Who will I live with? Who wants to live with me? Of course I’ve made no effort whatsoever about looking, or phoning up places or anything. I don’t know. I suppose I should go and look.
Shelley, Penny and Rowan want to live together next year, which is an odd turn around, for last term Rowan was set on living with Katie. Now they hardly speak. I wonder what happened over the hols to change so much? Shelley says that the people who stayed down have changed a lot and those who didn’t haven’t. “It’s something to do with living on your own,” says she. They're a happy little threesome these days, always going around together and smoking dope in Rowan’s room (I remember Penny when she was innocent of cigarettes and dope).
I haven’t touched anything on the narcotics front since I came back and I haven’t been out since Sunday. I don’t feel like drinking at the moment.
There’s something indefinable about the mood in Wollstonecraft; it’s not hostility but just something unsettling, not quite right. I don’t know what it is: perhaps me projecting my own self onto the environment? How do you write about something you can’t even describe or capture for yourself? I don’t know what I mean when I say “something unsettling.”
The sun has just set, a bright glow lingering above the dark blueing silhouettes of the trees. I can hear birds singing and, somewhere, a blackbird chirping.
Wednesday, April 20, 1983
I met Lee last night at Watermouth bus station. He was cluttered with ‘objets d’art’ for his interview, and carried a large canvas, his folio, and a plastic bag containing the coke bottle photograms. In a little red cross haversack on his back he had the cow’s ear piece which I saw in Easterby and which stuck up at a crazy angle. All of this gave him an odd appearance.
We struggled back to campus and sorted out all his stuff for his interview in the morning. The canvas was the single biggest item, a strange amalgam of various bits and pieces that can be described individually, but not so overall—the limitations of language!
With string, wire and glue he'd fastened various objects onto the canvas—a doll’s leg, a length of rope, a piece of leather cut out from an old boot, two flies labeled Fido and Rover, a length of Perspex (“to refract”), and two small squares of canvas which he'd nailed onto the steps of the Art College for a few hours: these he then fastened back onto the big canvas, all spattered and dirt-grimed. He’d covered everything with a layer of Marvin Medium mixed with brown paint to seal it. There were other pieces I remembered from before, and some new things, including a few objective paintings and drawings. Altogether it was quite an interesting collection.
His art caused bemusement in Wollstonecraft; Stu liked the ear for its sheer-repulsion value although Lindsey thought it foul and demanded he “take it away.” Mo and Pete thought the standard of his stuff was pretty good, although Lee did admit to being nervous about how little he’d brought down. We went to sleep fairly early.
Lee’s interview began at 10.30, although he had to be in and setting up his work for inspection by 9.30, and we got to room 235 up on the third floor of the Art College with just minutes to spare. Other hopefuls were already busying themselves pinning up their art, and Lee met a blonde, straight-haired, black-skirted girl he knew from Easterby. After getting him some Blu-Tack I left and came back to campus.
He rang me up at about two and I went back in to help him carry his things back. The interview had gone well and he seemed confident of getting in, but was a bit disillusioned with the cursory way the tutors had flicked through his folio: they thought them “sterile” and “conservative.”
When we got back he flung himself gratefully down on the bed and fell asleep. Later, Lindsey came in and sat with us awhile and we talked: she seemed quite amused by Lee in an awkward, unfamiliar and embarrassed sort of way, and I noticed that she was as red-faced and self-conscious when speaking directly to him as I am with her.
We were interrupted when the mattress Lee was kipping on and which I’d propped up against the wall keeled over and fell on top of her, completely burying her. I’d promised Penny that I’d meet her at six in Watermouth to give blood, so for the third time in one day I set off for the railway station, accompanied by Lee who said he’d give blood as well.
By now it was dark and drizzly.
I met Penny outside WH Smiths and felt anxious as I went with her down to the Watermouth Centre. We were registered and sat down to await our turn and engage in nervous laughter and fatalistic talk. My number was up. The Asian doctor plunged his needle into my arm and as he did so I braced my legs against thin air, much to the amusement of the down-to-earth nurse who was in attendance: “You ought to have been an actor.”
Afterwards we lay down for 10-15 minutes and ate crisps and drank orange juice. I didn’t feel anything except for a slight, maybe psychological (?) weakness in my left arm, and a definite ache.
I went to bed pretty early having seen hardly anyone.
Tuesday, April 19, 1983
I woke up at half-eight, got up at ten and, after buying a ‘paper, went with Shelley, Rowan and Graeme to a poetry lecture. Like Shelley and Penny, Rowan stayed down in Watermouth over Easter, although she was the only one who got a job, looking after kids. She told us lurid tales about masturbation, etc.
The lecture, “Poems,” by Prof. R. D. Reynolds, was quite interesting. He used the eighteenth century critical concept of the “conceit” to talk about a selection of six poems by Wordsworth, Dickinson Donne, Hopkins and Ferlinghetti. He described the poetry of Dickinson, Donne and Hopkins as “conceited” because of their use of extended analogies, which in Donne’s case is done almost solely for their own sake.
He contrasted this with Wordsworth’s rustic simplicity of style and made an interesting point about the work of Ferlinghetti and other such poets—if poetry is expressed in so simple and direct way that it’s virtually the same as everyday language, then what’s the point in writing poetry? Does this view invalidate Beat poetry? Perhaps the skill of poetry involves saying things in a spontaneous, perhaps even colloquial way, but yet still managing to retain unfamiliar elements of expression so that the poem retains credibility as a poem?
Afterwards, I collected my grant cheque and went into Watermouth with Shawn and Stu. Shawn's still going out with Penny and they visited one another over the holidays. Maybe because of Shawn’s influence, Penny now wears denim jackets with the arms cut off. I bought a Fall 10” and two LPs by The Third Ear Band, one of which has tracks from Polanski's Macbeth. I blew a total of £13 on these and couldn’t help the gnawing sense of guilt at my extravagance. As I write this the witches scene track drawls away discordantly in my ear.
This narrative is so imprecise and flawed; if I’m to keep to my original and declared intention to not let things vainly expend themselves and slip into emptiness unrecorded, then I should perhaps now be moving from a merely factual account and deeper into other, inner realms?
As I sat cramped and awkward in Sunday’s southward-speeding coach I began to appreciate how clumsy and (somehow) secondary is the written word, especially prose. It feels less expressive and less connected to reality than the media Lee is experimenting in. Words are too awkward to try and convey the immediacy and reality of outer, physical events and objects, let alone the inner world of emotion and feelings: these are vaguely felt at the best of times and virtually impossible to translate into specific words and sentences. Which is perhaps why so much of what I write here is badly put together. I try so hard to convey the sight and sound and smell of what I see and hear and feel.
Lee comes down for his interview today and I’m meeting him at 9.40 pm in the bus station.
I still have my vaguely come-upon convictions to pursue a different way to the one I've been pursuing, but it’s easy to make these resolutions in the tranquility of home, a different matter altogether when it comes to concrete deliberate acts and ways of living. I still aim to get about more, get out into the countryside, away from this closed self-conscious environment, so that my circumstances are put into some kind of perspective and I'm given a truer picture.
But what does this ‘new way’ involve? I wish I knew. I’ve had a sort of unspoken idea that I should distance myself from the corridor activity, but I don’t know what I hope to achieve with this. I have to do something and I'm almost afraid that I’ll let things stay as they are and continue living the same slovenly weak existence . . . I can’t go on as I've always done, and I’ve always known that.
It’s just that this conviction has emerged more strongly now than at any other time.
Monday, April 18, 1983
I woke up feeling bad. I had a stinking headache and so I made myself sick in an effort to speed my recovery. But all morning I felt too ill to do anything.
I went to the bank, then bought some dinner (we’ve got our kitchen back) and, at 2.30, went to my Black Americans seminar with Pete and Susie. The tutor held the stage for most of the two hours and we left feeling fairly overwhelmed by his flood of information.
Instead of going out I went to the library to take my sixteen or so library books back along with a heap of other peoples’.
Shelley at last communicated on something like a civil level: she came in early in the morning to ask me how I’d enjoyed my holiday. She said she isn’t going to spend long hours in packed rooms and wants to "communicate on a more individual basis." Fair enough. She’s been perfectly OK since, although she and Penny are now ignoring Susie, playing little games to see who can say the least to her.
Sunday, April 17, 1983
I set off for Watermouth at half-past eleven. I watched the London Marathon before leaving and Dad ran me onto the station: I shook his hand and we said goodbye until June. He gave me a poem he’d written for me. I’ve inherited his sentimental attitude towards such things and we share the same feelings of nostalgia.
The coach journey down was mundane, the weather gradually deteriorating the further south we traveled, the brilliant Yorkshire sun giving way to torrential London rain. . . . Watermouth finally, and I trudged miserably up from the bus station through wet grey streets to catch a taxi to campus, my bags so heavy I had to stop every few minutes.
I reached Wollstonecraft Hall at about eight. Lindsey, Russ, Shelley, Shawn and a few others were in the foyer. “Did you have a nice holiday?” asked Lindsey, and Russ carried my bags upstairs for me. But Shelley sailed by without a word.
Barry told me later that she, Katie and co. have been saying how stupid last-term’s lifestyle was, and that they've vowed no more sleepless nights and mindlessness and are filled with new determination to pursue meaningful paths—if this means ignoring people and hurting their feelings then tough luck.
All these hassles and complications already!
We went out and ended up fairly drunk and I didn’t go to bed until after midnight. My room is still a tip, my clothes unpacked, my bed unmade.
Saturday, April 16, 1983
I was up quite early. Rob and Carol rolled up late morning and at two Rob, Andrew, Dad and I went to see Athletic play Peckford Park.
The ground was noisy and buzzing with anticipation. Peckford had brought quite a few fans and the Shed echoed to the thin screeches of a pack of cub scouts who’d come to the match on an outing. There was a smell of trouble in the air and minutes after kick off a commotion developed towards the dressing room end of the stand. Everyone strained to see and the Athletic youth (some not so young) moved in a great mass down from behind where we were standing, but the police moved in quickly in and soon all was quiet again. It was a strangely featureless and scrappy game. Towards the end Athletic looked pretty good but never threatened and it finished 0-0.
The evening has sped by and now it’s nearly ten p.m. and I’ve still to finish my packing. Here I am on the brink of another term. At times I feel apprehensive, wondering if the coming ten weeks will hold more tears and character weaknesses for me, and at the moment I’m a little sad at the thought of leaving home and family once more.
I have the house to myself right now; everyone is out drinking in Knowlesbeck but I didn’t feel like going. Three months until I see everyone/everything again. I feel reluctant to end this but I’ve nothing more to say. At least I go back having done an essay.
Friday, April 15, 1983
Dad dropped me at the library at about half-ten and I finished off my essay, “The Plight & Struggle of Black Americans 1877-1914,” ending with stirring and pretentious words, “blood & tears” etc. I came home and spent the rest of the day slowly copying out a neat version (8½ sides, 2500+ words).
In the evening Dad, Andrew and I drove onto Keddon Moor. It was a superb evening, the sky unsullied apart from jet trail smears and a low bank of cloud towards the west. The sun glared at us until it sank behind the clouds, leaving an orange stain near the horizon. We did a brisk circuit of Ainsley Hill: the wind was icy cold and cut us through, making our ears ache. We had a look at the menhir stone set into an old wall not far from the trig point and cut back across the brown moor, the wind hissing at us through hummocks of straw-like grass.
Nearby a bleak group of enthusiasts flew remote controlled gliders and we paused to watch a hang-glider take off and hover almost motionless in the face of the fierce wall of wind coming up the hill, its great gull-wings dipping in the breeze, dark against the sunset. The pilot eventually made a leisurely descent and landed across the road down towards Moxthorpe Common. As we drove back home the moon was a narrow crescent above the houses. I thoroughly enjoyed it and took in my fill of the beige moorland until summer.
Just before bed I read some of Emily Dickinson’s poetry and this description of ED in a letter about a visit with Colonel Higginson in 1870; she patters in with childlike steps and thrusts two flowers into his hand. “Let these be my introduction . . . ,” she tells him in a breathless hasty embarrassed way and apologises: she’s not used to strangers.
It’s strange to think of her, shut away from the world outside, penning her weird lines.
“A word is dead when it is said,
I say it just begins to live
Thoughts flew around in my head as I read these lines, but now I feel too full of restless anticipation to write and think more fully. The spell has been broken, and won’t be recast until I’ve settled down again next week.
Thursday, April 14, 1983
Lee called late-morning and we went down to school. He'd brought along a small advert for “New Corselettes” which he’d discovered in a grimy 1951 Sunday People found in a derelict house. He wanted to borrow school's epidiascope to enlarge the ad’ enough for him to draw over it. I helped him, blocking in the letters.
Mrs. Blakeborough was impressed with his lively and interesting photographs and she suggested he get into films. We saw Deborah briefly in the common room, but our conversation was awkward and embarrassed and filled with conspicuous silences. I told her that “this place never changes” and she replied, “No, and you never change either Paul.” Lee went to the careers balcony to finish with his drawing while I hung about listlessly in the common room before coming home.
There’s a hint of self-reproach linked to all of the above: Lee has his art, Grant his band and poetry. And me? All I have is this long narrative of uncertain quality and content. I’ll refrain from making the usual promises that will only embarrass me in the future and remind me of how superfluous and wasteful my existence was.
Deborah asked me if I was as depressed as last year and half-joked that she thought I was going to commit suicide. I forget the exact phrase of mine she used, but it had something to do with everything being meaningless. Last spring was a pretty low time for me at school with its unremitting round of blank tedium.
Lee picked his bike up from beside the garage at quarter past six having finished the drawing. I'd intended continuing with yesterday’s good progress today but I’ve done nothing; it’s now nearly ten and I’m waiting for The Fall session on John Peel.
Dad’s feeling fed up at the moment and says he’s “stalled” at being home day in, day out. It’s the first time I’ve really seen him express open dissatisfaction with his situation. It’s eight months since he finished with the police and he’s as far away from getting another job as ever. He rarely looks in the ‘papers anymore, and rarely even seems to give it a thought, although the other day he did ring up a woman about a gardening job, but he lacked the qualifications.
Wednesday, April 13, 1983
A constructive day by my usual sloth-like standards. Dad dropped Andrew and I in Easterby and I bought my ticket for my return journey to Easterby and then, as a last resort, went to the library to work.
I knew in my heart of hearts that I wouldn’t do a thing if I stayed at home. It took me a while to get going but by five I'd written about 1500 words. It’s not a very good essay and not very “conceptual and analytical” (which the question asked for), but at least it’s concrete evidence of work. I got home at about six knowing that I’d broken it's back.
A petty argument with Andrew at the tea-table over nothing really but it was enough to send us both into a bout of stony silence. Mostly we get on OK but his ‘older brother’ tone when I tell him tales of Watermouth gets on my nerves.
I was glad to escape the house for a while. I rang Lee and we went to see Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie from 1971 at Easterby Film Theatre. It was filmed in an abrupt, semi-dislocated way and I found my attention wandering. The EFT preview called it “brilliant and chaotic”: it was “chaotic” maybe, but “brilliant”? Lee's boredom threshold is pretty low anyway and he was soon restlessly yawning and sighing. We both agreed it was too ‘arty,’ the characters hard and unlikeable and the Peruvian brothel scenes were squalid.
I got back at eleven. Just had sort of a flare-up with Mum and Dad after casually mentioning that it will be good if Lee gets into Watermouth Art College.“Tactfully” Dad said that he hoped Lee's presence in Watermouth wouldn’t “adversely” affect me.“You know how Lee is, how he's always coming up with these schemes.” I just can’t understand their argument. If I get to feel stifled and fed-up at Uni I’ll be able to go and see him—it’ll be great.
Tuesday, April 12, 1983
Two letters came this morning; one from Pete, the other a photograph sent by Graeme. It was of Barry and I lying in a stupour in the corridor. I never did reply to Shelley. These reminded me of how imminent my return to that world is. As I read Pete’s letter and the bits and pieces he'd included, this diary and its contents seemed like another world.
I've spent the day in typical fashion; books arrayed but unopened . . . I finished the last few pages of Demian but the ending seems contrived. It’s too easy a solution for Sinclair’s predicament for him to find Frau Eva and up until that point his development proceeded in a believable way. The climax of the novel is lame.
Grant rang and cried off from tonight’s planned trip to see a film at the Film Theatre because he’s broke. He told me the name of his band—MCI, which stands for Music Centre Irritant—and said they've a gig booked at the Phases club on June 29th. “I’m trying to get them out of the habit of tuning their guitars,”says Grant.
As the day draws to its sunny close I find once again I’ve fallen victim to frustration and irritability, a knot of stifled dissatisfaction deep within me. My moods change so quickly.
Monday, April 11, 1983
As I read Demian in bed, the unpleasant thought occurred to me that I'm a kind of Pistorius figure, intellectualising coldly about things, unable to “discover my destiny and live it out wholly and resolutely within myself,” to “put myself quite unreservedly at the disposal of fate.” I hanker too much after company and society: “I am not capable of standing so naked and alone; I am a poor weak dog who needs warmth and food . . . The man who really wants nothing beyond his destiny no longer has his neighbours beside him; he stands quite alone.”
I want to look into myself and see my ‘destiny,’ clear and bright, but it’s so difficult. I want to discover my own fate and follow it and live it—I feel all this strongly. Sometimes I feel “proud and conceited” but more often it’s the reverse of this: “depression, self-reproach.” I want to live intensely and be true to my inner fate, but if this means the solitary, outcast way of behaving then I’ll fail, because I am a poor weak dog.
If I’m doomed to be a Pistorius, able to see the way but unable to give up the comforts around me because I’m a coward; it will be awful—no answer, just cruising onward through life filled with dissatisfaction and the constant feeling that something is missing.
We are seeing the reign of cooperation and the herd instinct, love and freedom nowhere. All this communal spirit from student club to glee-club to the same spirit in government is an inevitable development, it is community life based on anxiety, fear and opportunism . . . the will of humanity is never and nowhere to be identified with that of our present communities, states and nations, clubs and churches.I can see how my student reveling at Watermouth can be equated with that life described by Emil Sinclair—the “escape from fate and flight to cosy firesides! . . . Student stupidity; at least it is not so stupid and evil as countless other stupidities.” But like Pistorius, I’m too weak to do anything about it! I don’t have anything to replace the “fireside.” I’d be cutting myself adrift without a single guiding star to give me strength and confidence. Sinclair has his Demian, his Beatrice, his Abraxas. I look inside and only see churning frustration. Until I find my ‘way’ (will I ever?), won’t it be best to stick with what I’ve got rather than take another path without any inner conviction that it’s right for me?
Perhaps I’m just one of the many who “do not bear the mark.” I can see but maybe I’m doomed never to solve or do anything, doomed to just strain and bend intellectually, without ever feeling or living a path. I have to sort out for myself what my “deepest purpose” might be.
My mind aches perceptibly with the blind battling grind of thinking out everything. I’m sure all this ties up somehow: feelings of ‘déjà vu’ while reading, the subsequent decision to do an American Studies degree. I naively hoped that the act of going to Uni would somehow make things clearer, but I realise now that I must sort myself out. Maybe I should have done Philosophy or the History of Art. This still draws me a lot (—bad pun!).
Over the last week I’ve done nothing towards my essay for my Black Americans contextual. I went to the library this morning and renewed All God’s Dangers, Life of Jim Crow, a critical text on Emily Dickinson, The Negro in Reconstruction and an introduction to Nietszche (someone who worked unshrinkingly towards his own destiny, the strain sending him mad, but perhaps that was his solution!).
I’d intended working in the library; instead I spent an hour or so looking idly through the film and art books.
At 12.30 I met Andrew and we went for a curry at the Bahawal, near the old Prentiss Lane bus station, now decayed and smashed and ragged, although you can still see the old bus shelters and pull-in spaces. I had a chicken curry. Then it was back to the library where Andrew enrolled in the record library and took out LPs by Wynton Marsalis, Albert Ayler and the World Sax Quartet. We got home at three or so.
Lee rang to tell me he’s going down to Watermouth for an interview on the 20th, the Wednesday after I get back down.
In the evening Dad reminded me that I’d promised to go with him to the Police Boys’ Club as our old neighbour and my childhood friend Roy Huber had expressed a desire to see me again after six or seven years. I really wished I hadn’t said I would and trudged unwillingly to the car.
It turned out that Roy wasn’t there for some reason. The rifle range was out of action, its licence having been revoked a few weeks back because it had failed to come up to required standards. Dad is gradually becoming embroiled in the Boys’ Club again. I hung about feeling generally conspicuous and idle while a couple of other members and young son in similar predicament measured wood and discussed technicalities. Next door I could smell the sweat and hear the reverberating clang and cries of the weightlifting fraternity.
We were visited by the head of the National Boys’ Clubs Association, a balding, fattish, red-faced man with white hair and a BBC accent. He showed interest in me and my American Literature course so we exchanged strong handshakes and platitudes and he bored me with tales of international Boys’ Club dinners in Chicago and his opinions of Henry Cooper (“good with the boys . . . a modest man”).
I was glad to get away. Dad and I soon left and went back through the crowded upstairs hall full of lounging pool players. Outside I was stared-out by two Sharons on their way home; they made some comment about me as they disappeared.
Well, yet another day has slid swiftly by, another day nearer my return, another day to tick off under the heading ‘Wasted In Idleness.’ Five days remain.
Sunday, April 10, 1983
Last night, Andrew and I to went out for an evening walk. Dad had brought Nanna B. for the day, and after two big meals and a drowsy afternoon rooted to the Sport and Grand National on TV she asked Dad to take her home and left without even a goodbye to Andrew and I in the dining room.
We walked down Foster Crescent and up through the river-side estates and the woods to Moxthorpe Common. It was very warm and our hair tickled and itched with sweat as we wandered over the rocks on the Common. The sky was unsullied by cloud, a clear immense bowl opening above us, fading from deep blue to a pale sunset glow over Knowlesbeck, Jupiter a bright yellow star in the west. We walked back home along the canal in the deepening gloom, having a good laugh talking about horror-filled days as kids, haunted by the fear of gangs of potential persecutors (“toughs”).
Later on I watched Polanski’s gore-filled moody version of Macbeth, which was brilliant. The soundtrack was by the Third Ear Band who appeared briefly in the film as court musicians dressed in flame-coloured garb and playing lutes and bohran-type drums. The music was a sort of primitive folk. Their records are very difficult to get hold of.
The climax of the film was dramatic, Macbeth storming around Dunsinane Castle, his attackers shrinking in fear at the approach of this insane, haunted figure who was driven by the burning belief that he could not be killed by “one born of a woman.” I thought of Max Demian telling Emil Sinclair that you can will almost anything if the idea or wish is “so deeply rooted . . . that it permeates your whole being.”
But as soon as Macduff says that he has been torn prematurely from his mother’s womb, Macbeth realises with horror that this tallies with the vision seen in the witches cauldron; he can only die at the hands of one born such as Macduff . . . Macduff runs him through and then decapitates him. The witches accurate prophecies have given Macbeth faith and strength of will to overcome all who challenge him. Fate is with him. Macduff’s statement reminds him of the witches forecast which fits exactly. He can't escape his Fate and so is overcome by the vengeful Macduff.
I had some haunted dreams. I was helping clear an old deserted house which stood back from the road. Inside it was gloomy, rooms and corridors leading off into blackness. In the first room the floor was littered with brooms and heavy blunt unidentified debris. These began to move as though someone was picking them up and was about to attack us . . . a rubber glove crawled slowly like a spider across the floor towards the broom handle. I stamped on it, bursting it fingers, but still it crawled on. . . .
The weather has changed completely: lashing rain and grey flat skies, the wind howling behind the fireplace. The prospect of work is as dulling to the mind as the weather. I hoped this would change at Uni, ‘work’ becoming pleasure etc., but no, it’s the same frustrated feeling of bridling at the thought of work. I’m so lazy. The knowledge that something is due on so-and-so date and has got to be done has a lot to do with it I think. My resentment is purely psychological.
Andrew has spent the afternoon upstairs in the ‘cell’ designing the layout for a booklet he’s hoping will published by Avon Tourist Board. I spent the afternoon in usual idleness.
Instead of calmly and “proudly” accepting the saccharine condolences of Generals, press and Thatcher, the 540 relatives of the Falklands dead should be reviling the nationalism to which their relatives were sacrificed. The whole situation makes me sick.
Both armies were sent out to kill and blow the shit out of one another, egged on by rabid nationalism at home. I always end up thinking how pathetic mankind is to always bring things down to the mindless level of war, then glorifying it and accepting that it is noble and good and commendable. The world’s problems can never be solved by these great blind govt programmes involving masses of unthinking people. Awareness must work on an individual personal level (Pirsig's “individual Quality decisions”). And I suppose that statement means that the world’s problems are insoluble.
Saturday, April 9, 1983
In the afternoon I started Demian by Hesse. Grant has read it and said he found it “naieve.” I found myself identifying with Emil Sinclair’s experiences at the hands of the bully Kromer; I had no Demian to save me.
I went to Grant’s last night. We listened to his bootleg of the Fall gig he and I went to a year ago and then we wandered through the darkening woods, slipping in the thick mud, clambering over tree roots and drinking the whisky I’d taken with me (the bottle I’d bought for that Friday’s festivities). I'd toyed with the idea of giving it to Dad and as I put the bottle to my lips for the first searing gulp I thought of this and felt oddly guilty.
We emerged from the woods and walked up to the Albion in Ashburn, but stayed for only a short while, sitting on the stairs and remembering last August in London. We decided to go to the Hare and Hounds down towards Lockley, near the great bulk of Hardwick’s Mill. There we had quite a good time sat in a corner with our shabby enthusiasms, Grant occasionally breaking into frantic jigging parodies of the trashy jukebox hits while the local youth gave us looks of sneering, smirking contempt. I had a cigarette, went to the toilets to hastily gulp at my bottle, and then went and sat in the pool room with Grant while he scrounged a couple of fags. I had another, hoping to myself this was not the beginning of a long, habit-forming succession of night-out smokes. Acid smoky taste in my mouth. Yeuch!
What more is there to say? I tried in vain to tell Grant about this idea of the willed act, the intense moment, but I couldn’t convey it with the same force with which it had struck me and soon I was too full of drink and other things to bother.
I want to meet new people, this Hilary he’s always talking about and walking distances in the hopes of crossing paths with. He seems to get around a bit. Out of the pub I lobbed the empty whisky bottle away and heard it smash in a heap of rubble. Back at Grant's we spent a sleepy hour listening to Dragnet before I walked home through Ashburn and over Bethany Road.
When I was younger I used to lie in bed and think about dying and about how one day I wouldn’t be here, about how I was going to die. It was a frightening thought and scared me so much I’d sit up in bed, my heart pounding, looking round wildly until the familiar forms of furniture, curtains, and posters dispelled the reality of death. I tried to conjure back that same feeling, that same fear, but I couldn’t, and somehow it seems as if I’ve accepted death. But no doubt if I faced it then death’d become terrifying again. Or maybe it’s my imagination’s failing me?
Friday, April 8, 1983
I was supposed to go to Lee’s today but he has relatives coming. Jeremy also rang asking me if I fancied going with him to Midgeroyd to see Ms. Hirst, but I declined.
Nothing really worthy of recording has happened. We had a dinner table discussion about Robert and Buddhism. Andrew said his Saxton visit was “tense,” and that he finds Robert's zealousness about his “religion” embarrassing and “very depressing.” Dad chipped in with a story about being trapped one morning while Robert talked at him at great length about Buddhism.
In the afternoon, Andrew and I talked some more, this time about drugs. He hates the way the drug ‘scene’ is built up into some sort of sacred thing and instead thinks all the paraphernalia, the solemn cross-legged circles, cupped hands, mirrors, razor blades, the hunched nighttime get togethers, etc., is one big pose and “seedy.”
I know exactly what he means, but I thought of myself with the amphetamines, razor blade and scraps of secretively folded paper in my wallet. How well I conform to the stereotype. I made a decision not to smoke dope early last term as all it does is make me drowsy and silent and I kept to that apart from the occasional moment of drunken weakness. Speed has its limitations too.
I’m looking forward to going to Grant's tonight and just hope the evening doesn’t slip into a stranglehold of boredom.
Thursday, April 7, 1983
I should have continued with my notes today, but instead I find The Outsider more stimulating. “The curse of our civilization is boredom.” I have nine days left.
At dinnertime Lee rang me and said he’d been questioned by the police in connection with a fire at an empty mill near where we were stopped by the police on Sunday. For a moment I was worried, but I should’ve realised he was lying! He’s so convincing and I’m so gullible.
I finished The Outsider. The ending seems vague and somehow inconclusive. As a solution to the Outsider syndrome, Wilson says a “definitive” act is needed to “break the circuit” and offers the examples of Sri Ramakrishna, Thomas Traherne, Gurdjieff, etc. All these examples support the idea that what's needed is an act of will whose intensity puts things in their true perspective and gives life meaning and a “settled purpose.”
Is this really what all the questioning brings me back to? Is everything brought back to this one, simply stated conclusion? That to escape the boredom and triviality of life as an "intolerable shirt of flame," to achieve intensity and to cultivate Blake’s “visionary faculty,” just “make something happen” that will override the indecision without the wild, desperate grasping at straws. Am I reaching this conclusion as a matter of belief or merely because it's a “penance, . . . a deliberate burden”? Perhaps my old thing about the solitary life, the traveling life were just expressions of this same desire?
I watched film on the news of Challenger astronauts on their spacewalk. They drifted about the Shuttle cargo bay against a backdrop of a cloud-speckled earth.
Wednesday, April 6, 1983
I continue to make stuttering efforts with my notes on post-reconstruction USA.
Mum, Andrew and I went to see Gandhi at the Tivoli. Mum's been wanting to see it for a while and this was her first visit to the cinema since she took me to see Jaws eight years ago. Dad says he hasn’t been since 1968 when he saw The Battle of Britain. He declined the offer, saying he didn’t care for the pictures. He dropped us near the cinema.
The film was powerful and very moving. My heart was pounding in horror at the portrayals of racism, General Dyers Indian massacre and the like: a thousand defenceless people mown down like cattle by the Glorious Ghurkas.
Ben Kingsley’s performance was really good. ‘Men of violence’ looked small-minded. Gandhi’s non-violence requires so much strength and discipline, but that mass, non-violent, non-cooperation policy wouldn't work here because we have such a literate and willful population: too many people claiming to represent equality, fairness and liberty. In India the masses were leaderless and therefore ripe for someone to come along and show them a way out.
The Indian situation also had more clear cut examples of oppressed and oppressors. Instead our oppression is subtle and ideological, and we're numbed into bovine acceptance of job, home, mortgage and bourgeois slavery, to be called upon whenever ‘they,’ our wonderful ‘authorities,’ deem it ‘necessary.’
I'm puzzled why Dad supports regimes like S. Africa’s, but the more I think about it the more it seems only one conclusion can be drawn. It sickens me to think this of my own father. In fact it disgusts me that an intelligent and compassionate person can hold such narrow-minded and idiot notions as those of “Empire and the British Army” and yet still claim to be a ‘good Christian.'
Could nonviolence work in Ireland as an alternative to the IRA? In India, Muslims and Hindus subordinated their religious differences to fight the British. In N. Ireland, Catholics and Protestants work towards different ends, the one towards a united Ireland, the other towards the maintenance of the status quo with N. Ireland as a part of the UK. And as the Catholics are in the minority in N. Ireland, a non-violent, non-co-operative policy of civil disobedience would fail. The Catholics aren't strong enough. If only both sides could see that they should all work together to throw off all outside interference in the peoples’ affairs.
Tuesday, April 5, 1983
I got up at half-nine this morning and Mum, Dad and Andrew had gone into the Dales. I wouldn’t have minded going myself, but I declined because “I have too much work to do.”
I made notes on Reconstruction, 1877-1901 (“The Nadir”) in the latter part of the afternoon, then watched TV for a while and mooched about inside. Outside it was bright and sunny with a clear sky.
They returned at seven-thirty, tired and tanned. I wished I’d gone. Time is slipping away, the holiday’s winding down. . . .
Monday, April 4, 1983
Robert, Andrew, Dad and I went to Cardigan Park to see the clash between Athletic and Astlow Town, who are near the bottom. We'd at least expected a victory from Easterby and when we saw the ball glancing off Newlands’s brute head and bulleting into the net after just three minutes, we felt sure we were going to see three or four goals.
But as the game progressed and half-time came and went, Easterby started playing structure-less football and seemed to hang back pathetically, almost as if they were waiting for Astlow to score. And soon enough they did! Someone handled the ball in the area, and the referee threw out an avenging finger toward the spot. Ackroyd dived the right way but the penalty went in. 1-1.
And that was that. No more Athletic attempts to reclaim the lead. A handful of the Astlow fans kept making ape noises and gestures whenever Keith Scarborough touched the ball and I got so angry I felt as if I could’ve killed some of them.
When the whistle went we streamed out in despair. I was sickened. Robert tried to be philosophical about the match but I couldn’t throw off all my feelings just like that. I feel for the team when standing there watching a game; it can be heart-breaking seeing them go down, and sometimes when I hear a bad result it spoils my day. It’s stupid. . . .
Mum had a big dinner waiting for us.
In the afternoon Dad, Carol, Robert and I went to Dengates to get moss for the newts and frogs. It was blowy and bright, everything fresh and damp, but somehow I still felt a bit down—I just couldn’t shake off an air of “heaviness,” a claustrophobic feeling almost that had its roots in my reaction to Athletic’s performance but now was now more that. . . .
Robert said he felt the same and called it “sadness,” but over what I don’t know, and he wandered slowly along, hardly speaking. I do occasionally get these days when I feel leaden, like there’s an unenthusiastic atmosphere hanging around me. The only thing I can liken it to is that mood I used to get in on the Sundays before school at the end of a holiday.
As we walked back on the canal bank Robert told me he tried to tell Andrew about his meditations on death and felt that Andrew thought the whole thing was “a bit corny.” We paused awhile in the sun on the swing-bridge across the canal & Dad tried to catch some fish we could see huddled nervously in a shoal near the bottom. Robert said sometimes he feels as though he just wants to go off and live on his own, away from Carol even.
Robert & Carol left at teatime and shortly after Mum & Dad took Nanna P. back, giving me a lift up to Jeremy’s on the way. We went out for a drink at a couple of pubs in Kerforth, eventually relaxing into laughter and crude conversations.
I left his house at midnight and it took me an hour to walk home through Farnshaw & Moxthorpe. In Moxthorpe I was accosted by an ex-Egley friend of Steve Brown’s – I didn’t remember his name – who was pissed and kept insisting that I sleep at his house as I had such a long way to go home: “Yoew! Yer can kip at ahr ‘ouse”. . .
When I finally got back home everything was dark and quiet.
Sunday, April 3, 1983
It was a typical Sunday. Mum, Dad and Nanna P. went out for a ride round in the car and came back late afternoon.
I'd been planning to do some work but when they got back I was watching a hippy-influenced dramatization of the life of St. Francis of Assissi by Franco Zeffirelli, which had some interesting bits, despite being on the sugary side: the future St. Francis hurls his fine fabrics out the window to the scrambling crowds below, imploring them to renounce their material possessions; he's dragged before the fat earthy bishop and jeering townspeople, silences them by calmly telling them what he believes; strips off completely naked and walks out of town back to his ruined retreat.
He found a way out. I’ve picked up The Outsider by Colin Wilson and I read it this evening. It's really an interesting book.
Tolstoy . . . cites an Eastern fable of a man who clings to a shrub on the side of a pit to escape an enraged beast at the top and a dragon at the bottom. Two mice gnaw at the roots of his shrub. Yet while hanging, waiting for death, he notices some drops of honey on the leaves of the shrub, and reaches out and licks them. This is man, suspended between the possibilities of violent accidental death & inevitable natural death, diseases accelerating them, yet still eating, drinking, laughing at Fernandel in the cinema. This is the man who calls the Outsider morbid because he lacks appetite for the honey!I'm not advancing myself as an ‘Outsider,’ but I think that anyone who spends just a little time dwelling on what’s behind existence must necessarily tend toward this category, if not in actions, then certainly in mentality. The majority of people don’t think about these things, preferring instead to live out lives in a blind and battling slog.
And for what? “These men are in prison: that is the Outsider’s verdict. They are quite contented in prison—caged animals who have never known freedom; but it is prison all the same. And the Outsider? He is in prison too: nearly every Outsider . . . has told us so in a different language; but he knows it. His desire is to escape.”
My “semi-mania” and “half-belief” in myself is motivated by this desire to escape, a desire to throw myself wholeheartedly into something which I know to be right and true, because I drift without rhyme nor reason through life. I need some act needed that shows me that I too have “power over my doubts and self-questionings.”
I don’t know . . . What do I do? At the present time I just don’t have the courage or the conviction to act on undefined beliefs (so undefined I can’t even grasp ‘em myself) and to change. Going to Uni. has shown me that changing surroundings and friends doesn’t do a thing. This I knew already, although I tried—half-romantically—to convince myself that it wouldn’t be so. . . .
The change has got to come from inside, be in me as a person, but I don’t know how or what I have to do and be to change. I sometimes think that perhaps the answer lies in books, literature etc., but I can see a lifetime spent in searching, searching and, at the end of it, still just finding emptiness and confusion.
What I said the other day about living on a plane of intensity utterly removed from the meaningless half-boredom of everyday life is put into sharper focus when I read about the need for a “definitive act.” Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov found that act in a murder, and from then on moved with “a firm purpose.” Says Wilson, “Extremes of crime or extremes of asceticism, murder or renunciation, both have the same effect. Both free the Outsider from his fundamental indecision, so that the problem is carried to a higher stage.”
Zeffirelli’s St. Francis finds his spiritual ‘feet’ after returning, nearly destroyed, from a war. “’Pure will’ without the troubles and perplexities of ‘intellect.’” I need something that's worth doing, really worth doing, but the more I write the more these questions slip frustratingly out of focus in my mind. I really can’t get anything clear in my head . . . confusion . . . lack of purpose.
All the time these insoluble questions possess my mind my work goes untouched and neglected. I've a fortnight left at home and what have I achieved since I’ve been back? Two books read, notes made on one . . . What am I at University for . . .? I'd hoped to find so many answers through living and in books during my course but the reality is nowhere near what I’d dreamed, and really I suppose, what did I expect. . .?
Jeremy rang around nine this evening. He told me that Colin Baron’s Dad died at Christmas of a “massive heart attack.” It was quite a shock to hear this.
Dad told me about his recent bad dream. He was lying in bed alone; everyone else was downstairs and he could hear the “racket” of my music. He felt there was something indescribably evil outside his bedroom window, something nameless, faceless, but terrible all the same, and it was trying to get in to harm him. He didn’t know what it was and he was totally isolated, unable to contact anyone. Whatever it was finally burst through the window and that’s when he woke up to Mum’s anxious “what’s the matter?”
She told him he’d been tossing and moaning in his sleep.
Saturday, April 2, 1983
Another dream, also very strange and vivid. I had Helen Vaughan’s decomposing head in a plastic carrier bag, which for some unexplained reason I was carrying around with me. I forget now the insane logic behind everything. Even though I daredn't look, I knew it was her by the hard ridge of her Roman nose imprinting itself through the plastic. It kept banging accidentally against obstacles as I walked. I saw a huge reddish spider-crab type creature which crashed aimlessly through the undergrowth and scared me as it rushed this way and that.
Andrew was up early and off to Robert’s and Nanna P. was brought by Mum and Dad. In the afternoon I finished making notes on Up From Slavery and listened to Athletic lose 2-3 at Cumberhead on Radio North. Outside an unpredictable mix of sun and snow.
I fancied getting drunk in the evening so I called Grant, but he wasn’t yet back yet from his job at the El Dorado. I kept ringing but no answer. The thought of staying in made me feel bleak, bored and frustrated.
No one else to call, Lee a hermit by choice. Paranoid thoughts. “Keep Silence, like the point of a compass / For the King has erased thy name from the book of speech.”
Friday, April 1, 1983
The weird dreams continue. I and several others were performing in front of an assembly in Egley Grammar School dining hall. For some reason we were dressed in skin-tight black body-stockings that also covered our entire heads. Inexplicably, I was then fighting a fire on a Task Force aircraft carrier, squirming and clambering quickly in a narrow claustrophobic space between wooden decks.
I watched an interesting TV programme about Hieronymus Bosch. One critic advanced the theory that Bosch’s obscure symbolism and bizarre figures are easily explained if they're looked at as Biblical episodes. Bosch was pious and “obsessed with sin” and so (the theory goes) his canvases are filled with sin and sinners depicted in loving detail. Perhaps he’s frustrated would-be sinner enacting his fantasies in paint? Maybe I’m being cynical (sin-ical)?
I was supposed to be making notes on Booker T., but I instead lazed about and watched footage of the 40,000 or more CND demonstrators who formed a 14-mile long human chain at Greenham Common. This enraged Dad who came out with some pretty bitter and bigoted comments, much to Mum’s annoyance; she's greatly impressed by the CNDers commitment.
Britten’s War Requiem provoked further friction, and as usual nowadays, I was left feeling lost as to a personal response to this sort of issue. I don't think CND’s peaceful thousands will achieve anything. Perhaps if they stormed the airbase and smashed it up. . . . But then down would come the scandalised cries from the nation’s righteous millions and the hypocrites in Parliament. Stripping a capitalist country of its armaments is like taking a knife away from a psychopath; either cure the psychosis or he'll simply find another weapon.
Dad’s hypocrisy (over Easter this time) again irritated Andrew and I. While Radio 3 hosted a programme full of bland sentiment about Easter’s Christian message, Dad sat conspicuously on a stool in the middle of the floor, hanging in rapt attention on the churchman’s every word. Andrew said it’s as if he does it for our benefit.
He uses these sporadic displays of zeal to prove to we his sons that he’s a committed Christian. Yet he still comes out with thoroughly unchristian tirades against the things he detests, denouncing Labour politicians as “pigs” etc. If he’s so full of Christian fervour why doesn’t he go to Church?
In the evening Andrew, Mum and I watched Woody Allen’s Love & Death, which we found really funny.
Thursday, March 31, 1983
I went into Easterby with Dad and while he got fixed up with temporary specs I bought trousers and The Myth of Sisyphus and The Fall by Camus. It was rainy and miserable as I wandered about the slippery streets.
In W.H. Smith’s I saw a picture of Watermouth Uni. in a book and it suddenly struck me how difficult it will be to carry over the resolve I sometimes feel to change my situation in that place, in those circumstances and among those people. They are all so different from my mental scenarios about them.
When I got home I finished All God’s Dangers.
If any good can come from something as pointless and horrific as war then it’s the threat that death is a real possibility. This strips away the trivial concerns of mundane everyday existence. The true problems we face loom large as a result, and everything ephemeral goes in an instant. After such an experience it must be difficult to slip back into the unthinking numbness of ‘normal’ existence.
I don’t want to live with the fear and possibility of losing my my life or my legs but I do want that intensity and the mental clarity and singleness of purpose that goes with it. I need something to escape the ‘dullness’ of ordinary day-to-day living.
But how? With what?
Wednesday, March 30, 1983
I dreamed about Lindsey. Oddly enough, the footballer Pelé was kissing her on the lips as he passed her by. I felt odd as I lay there semi-conscious in bed, but Dad was harassing me to get up. . . .
He ran me over to Tesco’s where I scrounged for a night-shift job over the summer. Like a recurring bad dream all the same faces swam before me as I blustered my request. Mr. Thynne, the Personnel Officer, didn’t seem to hold out much hope but gave me an application form anyway, which I filled and posted this afternoon.
Domestic tragedy: Dad lost his glasses so he can’t read or write and will no doubt get very frustrated and miserable. Mum’s face sagged as they hunted round in vain.
Again I didn't do any work, preferring instead to spend the afternoon sorting through old papers Dad rescued from the garage: police diaries from the ‘50s, exultant scribbled entries announcing Robert’s birth, trips to see Laurel and Hardy at the Tivoli, Athletic results, letters from Mum to Dad before they were married.
How different the Mum of 1952 seems from the Mum of 1983. I can’t reconcile the the breathless girl of the letters with the weary, drained and unenthusiastic figure who slumps in the chair.
Tuesday, March 29, 1983
Dad dropped me at Grant’s in the grey dismal rain of early afternoon.
After listening to a few things by The Fall we set off to walk into Easterby, pausing at the entrance to Woodhead Park to hang about for Lee, whom I’d arranged to meet. He didn’t turn up (I think we were too early), so we carried on up through Lockley past the hut where I used to go to cub and scout meetings. The fact that the Lockley cubs and scouts have long since folded because of a lack of support seemed to emphasise all that has gone.
We walked into town through the serried repetitious ranks of box-like flats, all identical and circled by lines of flapping washing and groups of playing kids, an odd contrast between the unnaturally angular houses and the living moving people. We passed rows of Victorian terraces, some roofless and derelict, scraps of brightly patterned wallpaper still visible on the interior walls through the gaping windows.
By the time we tramped down Fawcett Road toward Easterby the rain sprayed down in a fine drizzle, and gusted in great curtains across the open spaces away in the distance. We commented on how miserable it made everything appear, the big black factories with their grey windows, the churches beneath their stark spines on the horizon, the long lines of bleak prewar ‘modern’ terraces with their mucky white plaster faced fronts & empty curtain trimmed windows. . . .
We went to the flea-market to look through the bootleg tapes of The Fall, The Pop Group, Hendrix, The Birthday Party, etc. The usual crop of raincoats were there (sez I), but as I don’t have a cassette player it was pointless me buying anything. I left feeling vaguely dissatisfied and sickened off, whereas I’d felt OK before. I tried to draw money out from my cash-point but I’d forgotten my card and thought maybe I’d lost it, and so we wandered about in Easterby with scarcely a pound between us. I had 12p.
We sat for an hour or so in a café up Dyson Street which was filled with tables of loudly chatting women with babies and bags, men with newspapers, and office workers in suits and ties totting up figures. Out we went again into the wet slimy streets, ducking into the Eastgate centre for warmth and comfort. At Smith’s I saw Myth de Sysyphe, The Fall, and The Happy Death by Camus.
Grant was now silent and seemed bored. All avenues of talk (even mindless hysteria) had dried up. He says he’s still writing poetry about mental states and is seeing Nik tonight and on Friday practices with his “tame” band (a “tameness” he’s irked by). I don’t have the confidence to set a poem down on paper and anyway poetry has never beckoned me as such. Jack of all trades, master of none. Grant said goodbye with scarcely a comment or a smile and was gone, leaving me on the bus.
I have read a little more of Nate Shaw and as I write Radio 3 strings slide their way through some hard and spiny atmospheric 1980 composition by Richard Rodney Bennett. The weary-mindedness has again crept up in me like a cancer.
Monday, March 28, 1983
Dad came back from the library with an illustrated and abridged version of Frazer’s The Golden Bough which I want to read.
Reluctantly, tomorrow I have to turn my mind toward Uni. work. I spent the afternoon reading All God’s Danger’s, reminiscences by Nate Shaw, son of an ex-slave, arrested in 1932 for shooting at white sheriffs who'd come to confiscate his neighbour’s farm and stock. He spent twelve years in jail, and died in 1973 age 87.
In the evening Janet rang to tell Mum that she's expecting another baby in November. As far as our branch of the family is concerned, I can't see Robert and Carol starting with kids now. As for me, I can’t see myself as a father.
Disturbing thoughts later about owners of the factory ringing the police.
Sunday, March 27, 1983
Andrew rang up at teatime yesterday from Leicester Forest Service station and said he was coming home. Dad picked him up from Holdsworth Square at about eight thirty. It was good to see him again so while Dad watched a William Walton concert on TV, we whiled away the evening talking about music. He’s reading a definitive history of jazz by James Lincoln Collier.
Mum and Dad went to bed early but Andrew and I talked long into the night. He’s worried at the thought of having to get a job over the summer, afraid he says of falling into a rut and getting cut off from society. He doesn’t want to go work in Denmark because he feels that would be too easy and sort of running away from his problems. He says he's in a self-created prison, and it’s up to him to change it, that it’s no use fleeing because he's his own jailer and drags his chains of bondage around with him wherever he goes.
He likened his psychological condition before he went to College to that of a “mental illness.” He says he was “scared to go out and yet I hated my loneliness and isolation, but when the phone rang I was terrified. . . .”
Why are we three so screwed up!? What is it about our upbringing that's made us like this? Andrew says he’s a different person now but is still haunted by the same paranoid fears with which I'm plagued. “I tried to keep a diary once but it was too embarrassing. I found all my emotional disturbances depressing.”
It took me hours to get to sleep.
I woke up remembering that I’d promised to meet Lee at Geoffrey Road, this time for definite. I set off mid-afternoon and was soon walking up through the cold and empty wind-blown streets by the Art College.
Lee was there with Jason Douglas (ex-Farnshaw Art College) and they were doing some objective drawing of the interiors of derelict houses. Lee enthusiastically told me about an empty factory he'd discovered last week and all the stationery and equipment they’d walked away with. We hopped over a wall and entered the black doorway of an old house, squeezing past a door that swung precariously on one hinge.
Downstairs in the cellar it was pitch black and the only light we had was Lee’s weak torch. He showed me several old tin WW2 helmets which had almost rusted away to nothing, scattered fragments of gas masks, numerous old-fashioned cork-stoppered bottles and dusty porno mags strewn on the steps. He also showed me the sack full of telephones he’d ripped off from the factory.
Upstairs he’d found a way through into the derelict factory and offices of the Montreal Woolpacking Co. next door. It was quite literally amazing to walk around in there, down the office corridors and into rooms filled with notepaper, account books from the ‘fifties, office equipment, everything as if the office staff had just put on their coats and left. A calendar on the wall said November 1982 and some of the account books went up to last summer.
The dark hulking rooms of the factory stood silent and were littered with bales and bags of wool. In one room there were a lot of bottles of various acids and ether, all quite full, and we even found a small green bottle with a cork stopper that had ‘Poison’ printed on the label. The contents smelled strongly of almonds, so we immediately thought of arsenic or cyanide. I put it in my pocket.
In another room was a safe and a huge typewriter, both with lot numbers chalked on them. The rooms were strewn with papers and debris. Lee said a spiral staircase which ran up from the ground-floor had gone since last week. We crept about, speaking in hoarse whispers . . . I was amazed at this place. Lee said his tutor had told him not just to do this for the adrenaline kick, but to utilise it “artistically.”
We now ventured further afield, into an empty house in Crossley Street and then down towards Leckenby Road and yet more factories. We found our way into one; the skylights at the back had been smashed and the lead had been ripped out. Glass littered the factory floor, which was empty save for a minivan, wheel-less and on its roof in the darkness.
-- “We’re taking a short cut.”
-- “Where are you going?”
-- (Feebly) “Over here, Leckenby Rd area.”
-- “You’re not collecting scrap metal by any chance?” said he, suspiciously eyeing Lee’s dust blathered boots & jacket.
So we departed the scene feeling a bit rattled, cursing our frightened explanations and thinking of all the things we should’ve said as we made our nervy way back towards our ‘base’ at Geoffrey Road. We were slowly walking up a road flanked by old mills and empty houses when we heard a car approach us from behind. “It’s them!” cursed Lee so we strolled onwards self-consciously as the police car drew alongside.
We had our names and birth-dates taken, and endured the usual questioning. We told them we were drawing derelict buildings and Lee showed one of them his drawings. Eventually, when the ‘all-correct’ came through from HQ.
-- “I can’t tell you to clear off as you’re legitimate, but next time be more specific than ‘we’re taking a short cut.’”
Feeling shaken, we decided to call it a day. I dropped my poison down a drain and we went home.
Saturday, March 26, 1983
I left the house last night at seven just as it was coming in dusk. I walked to Moxthorpe in optimistic mood. The sky was immense and vacant and darkened away towards the emptiness above Keddon, bounded only by a banked range of pale clouds striding distantly across the sky in the east, tinged ghostly white by the dying glare of the setting sun. Above me the dazzling blip of the moon. . . .
In Moxthorpe I bought a half-bottle of whisky and caught the bus to Grant’s. He was waiting with his coat on in the back room with denim-clad friend RJ, someone I vaguely remembered from Lodgehill.
It was bitterly cold as we walked up to the Magpie, had a drink there and then to the Hare and Hounds which is across the road. Grant was waiting expectantly for the arrival of people he’d met there two weeks ago, including droning Pat from the Poly and her friend Hilary. But as it became apparent they weren’t going to come, he slipped slowly into a bored and brooding silence.
I could feel myself starting to feel very pissed off. Even conversations seemed too much effort amid all the sighing and yawning. By the time we ended the evening in the Brass Cat I was weighed down under boredom and frustration. The lively evening I’d expected had come to naught, whisky remained unopened, my speed untouched. . . .
I walked home via Grant's, which only added to my morose mood. I left Grant and RJ listening to tapes. . . .
Today Athletic went down 0-3 at Keyling Common. Dad was angry and embittered as a result. I think the monotony of this place is getting to me.