Monday, August 22, 1983

Suits me

I met Grant in HMV at one o’clock.

He was quiet and morose and didn’t say much, only brightening for a little in a second-hand clothes shop where he bought a shirt. I bought a couple too. In Suits Me we were greeted coldly with the comment “You’re always coming in here but you never buy anything, do you?” so we left for cups of revolting coffee in the Metropolitan up Grafton Road, another brilliant place, full of people and life.

I’m in better spirits tonight than I have been for quite a while; Lee rang while I was out so I’ve just rung him back and I’m meeting him in Easterby at eleven tomorrow.

I got a breathless and almost manically cheerful letter from Shelley today, full of the joys of her “one great social whirl” as she puts it. It was good to hear from her . . .  I think my cheerfulness springs purely and simply from getting out more recently. However much I pretend to favour solitude I’m essentially a social person—I need other people, even though I think everyone of us is quite alone and that it’s useless believing otherwise.

We can laugh and talk and get close on a social level but there’s always that last insuperable barrier which makes us ‘individuals’ in the truest sense of the word. Two minds can’t truly, fully commune because each is locked forever in the white prison of the skull. “Imagination is a monastery and I its monk.” Our tools of communication, especially the written word, are miserably inadequate at bridging the gap.

But I’ve written this down in a sort of remote objective way because tonight I feel content for once, and the morning is something to look forward to.

I stayed away from the box in the evening as Mum, Dad & Nanna P. watched another brutal and bloody war film, The Iron Cross. The house was filled once more with the sounds of gunfire and the shouts and screams of the dying.

I can’t stomach all the violence. I know it’ s only make-believe but this death and destruction is all the more terrible to watch because of it really did happen. I saw only the final credits, a quote from Brecht telling people not to celebrate at the death of one madman for “the bitch is in heat again . . .” Mum thought the film was good—but horrible—and Dad enjoyed it too, but I don’t think he really understands what the anti-war side is getting at. With him it’s simply an intellectual impossibility and as he talked about the film afterwards he just dwelled on the drama of the battle scenes and the military reasons for Hitler’s failure.

Sunday, August 21, 1983

Human, all too human

Paul Reé: “Having arrived at the insight that the world was ‘meaningless,’ his mind seems to have been paralysed by the idea: it was the end as well as the beginning, of his philosophy. For Reé, the senselessness of existence was a source of despair – for Nietszche it became the ground of freedom.”

The manic scrawl of Friday reveals that I don't have the courage of my convictions, or rather I don't fully appreciate them enough to class them as ‘convictions,’ because I don't live and act in a manner which corresponds with what I say. I “contrive to think and act as if nothing has changed.” But what else can I do? I don't act as though I accept the things I write; these ideas are so many intellectual abstractions.

Nanna B. and Nanna P. are here together today. The latter excels herself, monologuing endlessly to N.B., who staggered into the back room saying breathlessly, “By, can’t she talk!” And talk she did, in a loud strenuous voice that echoed out across the garden and the privets making Mum flinch with embarrassment.

She put Dad in a fix by innocently telling Nanna B. about a trip to Saxton that Nanna P. had made: Dad hadn't told Nanna B. this, afraid as he was that she would spread tales about the untidiness and uncleanliness of Rob and Carol’s house to others. I don’t know why he’s bothered; the fact that he is bothered seems more of an insult to Rob and Carol than anything else. Why should he care what our fuck-up of a family thinks? He's scared stiff of trouble.

In the afternoon, Mum, Dad and the two N.’s went out for a run, getting back about four. Grant rang in the evening and invited me over: I got a lift on to Lodgehill from Uncle Harold who had arrived to ferry Nanna B. home.

Grant was in a better mood. It still hasn’t really sunk in that at long last he’s actually getting away from Easterby. We went for a drink up at the Albion in Ashburn but were driven away by the deadly clientele, so we walked on to Lockley.

The streets were packed with children running, shouting, and riding bicycles, and the doors of the houses were open, people out enjoying the night air, repairing cars, talking . . . No doubting that human beings lived here, the sights and sounds of joyful activities everywhere, unlike the great grey dead cemetery back at Egley. Somehow the sight of all this life made my spirits soar and I felt that something was actually happening.

We reached West Lane and turned down towards the main road, stopping for a drink at the Woodhead Hotel at the top of Gardner Place. We enjoyed sitting outside at the back on a terrace overlooking a small garden and optimistically discussed Grant’s hopeful plans for Gloucester and all the possibilities that might unfold.

He’s not happy with the way his band Eat People is going and the “tameness” he's mentioned before still irritates him. He’s at odds with the bass player (“he wants everything to sound like a cross between Killing Joke and The Birthday Party”) and the “thick” drummer. Grant says he wants to be plunging into other, more diverse things, “real lunatic stuff.” I told him of the cynicism afoot at Watermouth. Art Colleges may be pretentious, but I think I’d prefer that to the stagnant cynicism of Uni. At least things would get done.

We sat gazing out at the now dark garden and trees and I felt wrapped in good spirits & optimism.

We rounded the evening off at the Nirmal curry house up West Lane before wandering back the way we’d come, voices and movement still punctuating the darkness. We passed a church with a towering steeple, a grim crouching chapel and the mirror-flat reservoir above Woodhead Park.

A sickly yellow moon rose behind us.

Saturday, August 20, 1983


Hot stifling weather. I went to Moxthorpe with Dad to watch a cricket match. I didn’t really want to go to be honest, but Mum cajoled me and I gave in, out of deference to his feelings more than anything else.

We didn’t stay long and came back via Beatrice Avenue and Moxthorpe roundabout. As I sidled past No. 55 I caught a glimpse of Mrs. Pearson but no Claire who presumably is in Whincliffe. It would’ve been awkward to suddenly blunder into her. I bought The Varieties of Religious Experience (1903) by William James which I remembered from Colin Wilson’s The Outsider.

I was expecting a call from Grant which didn’t materialize, so I rang his house but he was out, as was Jeremy. I even rang Stu in Basildon but he was out too, and his Dad answered. So, feeling a little at a loss, I went out and sat on the lawn with Dad in the gathering darkness, drinking beer and talking. He told me stories his Dad had told him of wading ashore at Suvla Beach, Gallipoli, with his rifle above his head to keep it dry, while men fell around him and bodies drifted back in the tide. But for that luck, I’d not be sitting here writing and someone else would be living in this house.

I felt quite content there in the dusk, looking forward to the morning and listening to Dad. Nanna P., who's here today, will be joined tomorrow by Nanna B., so I’ll go out. As I write this Mum, Dad and N.P. sit in the front room watching some brutal tale of escape from Nazi-occupied France starring Anthony Quinn again,

Friday, August 19, 1983

The world stands complete

Robert and Carol called round this morning on their way for a week at Conishead Priory. Robert was looking forward to it a lot, but Carol seemed subdued; she's just had two teeth pulled at the hospital and is suffering with a swollen face.

They were soon off leaving me to an afternoon of idleness. Mum went to the hairdressers and Dad went on one of his much-grumbled-about trips to see Nanna B. The weather was hot and sunny once more.

At four I got a call from Grant . . . I held my breath . . . a fail in Economic and Social History, a fail too in Communications Studies, but a ‘B’ for English Lit. He couldn’t believe it and was ringing me in an inebriated glow of enthusiasm after going out for celebratory drinks with RJ and Jackie. “I haven’t felt this good in a long time,” he told me, and really did sound full of excitement and just general happiness.

I couldn’t help the cynical thought that flashed through my head: it’ll be no different for him when he goes to Gloucester. It wasn’t—and isn’t—for me. I can’t help thinking that, like me, he’s one of those people who cart the source of their own misery around with them, like a prisoner his chains. But, time for celebration; more than anything he’s relieved to finally have an escape route from the trap of his domestic situation. “What have you been doing?” he asks, and I truthfully answer “nothing.”

I got a second letter from Susie and felt ashamed at her comment on my comments about boredom in my previous letter. Seeing it written in black and white puts my own situation in sobering perspective. Fool!

Twelve days until September.

I read some war poetry by Sassoon and Graves, etc. I felt yet more shame that I can so blithely talk of ‘misery’ and ‘suffering’ when I know nothing of true anguish. In a perverse way I would be curious to see how war would alter me as a person, but thrown into the cauldron, I'd no doubt be mewing pathetically for “mummy” and “home.” It was bad enough for me enduring the first few days at University, so God knows what new depths of self-pity I’d plumb if I was in a war.

I was really affected by Sassoon.
I thought of age, and loneliness, and change,
I thought how strange we grow when we’re alone
And how unlike the selves that meet and talk,
And blow the candles out and say good night.
Alone . . . The word is life endured and known.
I find it incredible to think that anyone can write a poem like “Before Action” by W. N. Hodgson, incredible that anyone can marshal and rationalise their thoughts so clearly in the face of so immediate and awful a death. He asks for strength to be able to bear the prospect of losing all earth’s “delights and glories” and does so in such a calm manner; surely there must’ve been tears and despair at the thought of becoming yet another member of “the unheroic Dead who fed the guns”?

I suppose that we ‘rise to the occasion’ in such circumstances. . . .

In the evening I watched a screen adaptation of The Magus, a book I’d intended reading over summer (but left my copy in Watermouth). It left me itching to read the book and I got an inkling of how big an impression the book had made on Patrick and why he felt as though he’d been ‘dunked in a bath of cold water.’ If the novel is anywhere near as thought-provoking as the film then it must be excellent. I must read it.

Patrick read it and drew parallels with his own situation, and then he acted. He quit the RCP. It was a big step when you consider his utter involvement with them. I remember how he struggled to convey his shattered complacency to us when we did LSD, and I could see it too, in a way, but gripped as I was by my LSD-self-consciousness and natural awkwardness, I couldn’t span the gulf which separated us. I couldn’t tell him that I understood too.

Out of the film’s symbolism, allusion, analogy and pantomime I drew out the ‘message’ that there's no message. Exploration brings you back to where you started and it’s all about looking at what there is to hand in a different way. The things around us are all there is, there’s nothing more, no ancient gods to be petitioned (gods who never replied anyway). No Yahweh, no Allah, no Horus or Isis or Zeus, just frightened people filling the Void with their reassuring figments to block out the emptiness and push it from the mind. There is no other way. These lives are all we have.

And when Mum says she spent a lifetime always planning for tomorrow and now that tomorrow is here, she feels desperately uncertain, unsure, and cheated somehow, I begin to understand why the world immerses itself in the commonplace and the known: “I have suddenly awoken in midst of this dream but only to the consciousness that I am dreaming and that I have to go on dreaming in order not to be destroyed: as the sleepwalker has to go on dreaming in order not to fall.”

Mum puts her recent strangeness down to this realisation and says that “Sometimes I just want to scream at everyone and everything.” The other day she said she felt like putting on her coat and going: where is unimportant; it’s the act of going that matters. “It’s easier to philosophize at 19 than at 49” she says. It’s hard to accept that our lives have been built on sand and perhaps harder still to realise that this will go on and on and that I—helpless, unable to do any different—will also despairingly participate in this, knowing full well that the time will come when I too will be in Mum’s position.

Is my interpretation right, I wonder, or am I on the wrong track completely? Reading the book will get me deeper and tell me if I’m right and more of what Fowles really is getting at. Are we really “men moving in a mist”? I'm nineteen and I’ve ‘solved’ everything?

“The world stands complete and has achieved its end in every single moment.”

Thursday, August 18, 1983

One day . . .

I had my hair cut first thing this morning. Endured agonies of self-consciousness after the barber had finished primping, poncing and sculpting a smooth ‘50s-esque quiff of hair. This I gratefully destroyed as soon as I got home.

I’m not going there again.

Andrew went back to London at one-thirty and he moves into his flat on Sedgby Road, Hackney, tonight.

I’ve been thinking about how cynical the attitude is at Watermouth Uni is and I contrast Lee’s almost carefree enthusiasm with someone like Guy, who's caustic and worldly. The eighties is the age of cynicism, and it’s trendy to adopt a blasé seen-it-all attitude, but I know whose attitude inspires me more. Lee is an anachronism in this era of hardness.

For some reason I just can't write tonight. Word blockage. Every word is an effort, but then I never do write well in these pages because I don’t concentrate and don’t—or can’t—go back and rewrite. But this isn’t intended to be great writing or anything like that. I had pretensions once. It’s just a dumping ground for all the sights and words and feelings I experience from week to week. But I should make an effort to write something other than this, . . .

One day I’ll pick this back up and read and yawn and realise what a fool I was and probably still will be.

Wednesday, August 17, 1983

Ought oughts are ought

Another damp day. I signed on at nine and made an abortive trip to the barber’s before setting off into Easterby with Mum at half-twelve.

I missed the four minutes to one train and so had an hour to wait in the drizzle for the next one. The train crawled through the unprepossessing landscapes of Haley Hill, Nortonroyd and Mill Bridge; wet-roofed factory buildings and dark houses crouched shivering on the hillsides, and black clusters of buildings loomed out of the murk as we rattled past.

Ms. Hirst picked me up at the station and we drove to her house high above Midgeroyd, a small ivy-clad cottage perched overlooking the valley. Lee, Jeremy, and Gillian were already there, sitting uneasily across from one another in the front room. Gillian's just like her sister, perhaps a bit more easy going and trendy. Hirst’s house is small with typically arty touches--a tastefully arranged pile of pebbles on one corner of the coffee table, a heap of shells placed with studied carelessness on the mantelpiece above the fireplace, several pseudo-pointillist paintings of palm trees on the walls.

She asked me about Watermouth and asked me how it was going. I blurted out the usual spiel about the academic drudgery of ploughing through books only to write essays and told her my semi-serious idea of packing it all in. She mentioned Art History: I began to think about it seriously, but I felt very uncomfortable with her probing questions: What would I do on the dole? etc etc.

Lee made the idle, incidental comment that I should have done an Art course, but I should change me, not my course, and anyway I can’t imagine my tutors taking too kindly to my flitting from one course to another in such whimsical fashion. I came across as very undecided and lacking any real self-knowledge. Truthfully I haven’t a clue as to what else I’d rather be doing.

“Ought oughts are ought” said Hirst, meaning I’m not deserving of any reward if I don’t put anything in. Jeremy later told me I’d sounded “neurotic.”

Apart from this all was quite OK. Hirst thought Lee and I looked fresh-faced and boyish, and I thought she was her usual satirical self, quite unchanged. She made us lasagne and salad with plum crumble for dessert and told us she’s reaching a bit of a crisis point in her life, isn’t really happy with her career at Egley, and feels that, at thirty four, she isn’t getting anywhere in particular. Promotions don’t interest her and she says she needs a change.

I’m doomed to feel this too.

By now the sun had pierced the gloom and shone into the living room. We went for a walk. Midgeroyd was still wrapped in a murk the sun couldn’t penetrate, the valley bottom a jumble of shrouded outlines and silhouettes. The grass was sodden and the roads were still damp from the heavy afternoon rain. We climbed up a flight of stone steps and emerged onto the top of the hillside and finally into evening sunshine.

The valley is very narrow at this point, its sides towering over the village. Lots of steep hills and narrow streets. We saw one building with a tower, about two-storeys high, topped off with a small spire. We also glimpsed a magnificent chapel set back in its own grounds, a huge blackened building with a frontage adorned with pillars at either side of an imposing doorway.

We had a couple of drinks at a pub and Hirst let us into some of the secrets at school. It sounds as awful in the staff room as it was being a pupil there. She says the staff is boring and gave us a glimpse of the crawling careerist Mrs. St. John who “is a fascist.”

Gillian had to be back or her parents would have been on her about staying out late, but before we caught the nine-thirty train back Hirst gave me Ornette Coleman's Body Meta (which she hates); Jeremy came away with a Zenit camera. Gillian seems OK; I quite liked her.

Lee was in fine form and we got on very well; he had me in fits several times and as we hurried for the train he whistled loudly and regaled us with impressions from Coronation Street. Back in Easterby we said goodbye to Gillian in the station and went for a drink at the Four Pigeons, but I missed my bus and ended the day trudging home through the mist on foot.

Andrew was in bed when I got back. He’s come home to pick some stuff up.

Tuesday, August 16, 1983

Black monk time

I got a letter from Gareth this morning; he's been working, smoking dope with skinheads on his lunch-breaks. I’d said in my letter that I’d been “living like a monk” and he replies that he hasn’t. “But then I don’t live in the Third World.”

The rain streams down and has done since I got up. Paul L. and girlfriend left this morning. Jeremy rang to pass on an invitation from Ms. Hirst to go over to Midgeroyd tomorrow with he and Lee. Christine Wade’s sister Gillian is going too. If the weather is as rainy as it’s been today then I’ll get very wet, ‘cos I haven’t got a coat. I lost my overcoat last term and threw my busman’s jacket away while drunk in Easterby with Lee and Jeremy.

I have to make my mind up about Everything soon: where’s that intensely decisive act now, O wise one?

It’s getting gloomier and gloomier as the day slips away, and I feel thoroughly unexcited about my prospects. The greyness of the weather weighs in on me. I remember something which Jeremy said when he was here last, how he seemed surprised to discover that underneath this “cheerful” easy going façade I’m as fucked up as anyone else. Presumably he assumed my life was pretty well worked out and that my mind was rarely troubled by doubts and disturbances. It’s a deeply ingrained habit to put a smiley ‘normal’ face on things when inside I’m churning and raging.

It’s now mid-evening and Rob and Carol have just gone home, but will be back over tomorrow for Athletic’s Yorkshire Cup match at home to Whincliffe. Things sound very tight in the ‘paper tonight, the Chairman telling supporters that “you can forget about promotion.” The programme alone lost £250 last season and so we’ll have to be satisfied with team sheets for a long time to come I suppose.

Monday, August 15, 1983

The Horla

At twelve Dad ran me onto Grant’s. I found him in a similar mood to the one I’ve been in, very disillusioned and bored with everything around him. After the now obligatory playing of records we went down to get fish and chips from the Chinese in Lodgehill.

It was a sunny day and we sat and ate them on the wall outside and then wandered down through Lodgehill, eventually ending up sitting among the rocks near the railway sidings which overlook Three Locks Road. It was warm again and quite sticky. We perched there above the road and traffic and cursed Easterby for being such a dump.

Grant can’t wait to get away. The ‘A’-level results come out on Thursday and he needs a C in English to get in at the University of Gloucester, but if he fails again he intends leaving to get a flat in Easterby or Whincliffe. He keeps telling himself, almost as if to keep it at the forefront of his mind, that he has to move out no matter what.

“Life's a sick joke,” he declared, and said that there’s nothing to give lasting pleasure. “It’s all a big con to get us here and then Bingo, you’re saddled with a lifetime of tedium." He said that he “almost got screwed” at a party in Thornaby, “but I didn’t cotton on and the girl left with her boyfriend.”

His friend RJ has left home and has moved in with Jackie in Bavaria Crescent. He’s eighteen, she’s twenty-three, but he’s done something decisive, made a move, even if it’s for the worse—a decisive act that could go wrong and not work out, but that’s not what’s important. What matters is that he’s done it. It is the same sort of decision I look for by dwelling almost obsessively (as I did today) on the idea of packing in my course at Watermouth and doing something else. I think such an act would be a positive step, although not necessarily viewed as such in the eyes of others, Mum and Dad in particular, but a step towards that something I’m looking for. . . .

I couldn’t make up my mind about buying something to drink so I didn’t bother and we walked back up through Lodgehill in the sticky heat to the woods near Grant's house, quite near to where an abandoned brickworks chimney soars above the undergrowth. We sat awhile in the sun with our legs dangling over a shady weed-choked stream.

Back at Fearnfield Drive I read “The Horla” by Guy de Maupassant, then Grant read it and we sat in the back room in total boredom.

In the evening we went up to the Albion and I bought Grant drinks as he was totally broke. We sat in solemn silence, broken only by the occasional tired comment or little joke. He told me that February ’81 was the worst time of his life: “Before autumn 1980 I didn’t exist. I started getting pissed and behaving stupidly, and for some reason I thought I was getting on with people but they just thought I was a wanker. It was impossible to talk to anyone.”

We went back to his house and I left at 10.30, and as I walked home I interrupted a hedgehog that was scuttling up the road in the darkness. It curled up at the touch of my foot and I carried it gingerly to the bushes.

Rob and Carol rolled up shortly after I got back. Rob’s friend Paul Lyons and his girlfriend Anita from London were with them—Anita wanted to see ‘The North’ as she’d never been further than Watford, so they'd taken her for a curry and a drink at the Volunteer and then on to Cross Green where Carol and Paul had ended up in the river. They’d just got back from having a drink in  Knowlesbeck. Anita's nineteen, and Robert can’t seem to get over the fact that she was only eleven when he and Carol got married.

Robert slept in my room and I lay there for a long time as he talked and talked. . . .

Sunday, August 14, 1983

A fly buzzed

It’s approaching one a.m. and I’m sweating to death, with only the whine of the flies to keep me company. It’s too warm to sleep.

Today we had blazing cloudless weather for the second day running. Mum and Dad spent part of it watching cricket in Moxthorpe; they stayed out until eight thirty, enjoying what Mum described as a “perfect golden evening.” She says she’s worried that I don’t get enough fresh air. “You’ve hardly stirred since we came back from Calverdale,” she chides anxiously and she still thinks I could be unwell.

Not unwell, just a dullness and weariness brought about by day-after-day of unremitting—and quite self-inflicted—mental tedium. Trial by boredom. I “hardly stirred” from morning until night, watching the final day of the World Championships from Helsinki, between times pacing the house restlessly. Lethargy weighs me down as surely as if I was prisoner here. The one thing plays on the other; it’s a vicious circle and the more bored I become, the harder it is to muster motivation to escape.

I can count my friends here on one hand

Jeremy called in last night and stayed until well gone midnight. We were almost like two orphans, and spent a long and not particularly thrilling evening having a strange, ill-at-ease sort of conversation that touched on deeply paranoid subjects.

When I think of all the work I have to do my reaction is ‘What is the point?’ The academic drudge doesn’t ‘do’ anything for me and I doubt if all the effort in the world would really alter the feeling that all I’m doing is ploughing on and on through book after book, with nothing truly relevant to me as a person or the way I live my life. I wish I had the guts and assurance to just say “Fuck it” and jack it all in, strike out on some new path. But knowing me (as I do so horribly well) I’d end up vegetating on the dole, without even the cover of a degree course to give my existence some point.

Saturday, August 13, 1983

Quick work

Andrew rang to say he’d got a flat in Hackney, and could he borrow £80 for the deposit? Quick work.

Friday, August 12, 1983

Out, out, brief candle!

Andrew left at twenty-to-twelve; Dad ran him down to the station. He said he was nervous and hated himself for his irrationality. He aims to find somewhere of his own to live within the next week. As I write this, he’ll be in a pub in London somewhere. His nervousness will have gone now he’s actually arrived. He’ll be OK.

Mum's in a bit of a mood at the moment; no doubt she’s worrying over Andrew, but she seems stalled and very fed up. We watched Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation this evening which featured the famous “life’s but a walking shadow” speech from Macbeth, which Mum said didn’t help her mood.

She says she’s been brooding on the passing of time and the ultimate point of “it all” for a long while now. I copped the blunt end of her mood when she quite snapped at me. “Just because I don’t blab everything I think to everyone all the time, you all assume I haven’t a thought in my head . . . you’d be surprised.”

After dark I watched for the Perseid meteors, which reached their peak last night. In the first few minutes of watching I saw several, and after about half-an-hour I’d recorded seventeen and a handful of sporadic meteors. Most were mere sparks, flicking across the edge of my field of vision and gone in an instant. but two flashed across the sky and left trails, which I observed with binoculars.

The first was a bright bluish ball of light which whizzed across the sky leaving a pale glowing train of ionized gas in its wake. This persisted for at least thirty seconds before it gradually distorted and broke up. I managed to drag Mum and Dad away from the television and into the darkness, and their patience was rewarded with a few meteors and a satellite.

After they’d gone in with aching necks, I tracked a couple more satellites as they glided silently towards the horizon and extinction in the earth’s shadow. It was a breath of the old times: when I spotted the first and most spectacular ‘fireball,’ looking for all the world like a firework rocket, I got a thrill of adrenalin, a real kick.

Thursday, August 11, 1983


Robert came across for the day and he, Mum and Dad went for a walk in the heat to Tunscarr Edge; Andrew and I went into Easterby. On the bus in I saw but didn’t speak to Louise Taylor, who looked trendier than in her sixth form days.

It was fairly pleasant wandering about Easterby in the sun.

In the afternoon Nanna B. was brought back from her convalescence in Heber. She was locked out of her flat and so spent the afternoon here looking as fit and healthy as ever. Her stay in Heber has caused Mum and Dad much trouble, Dad being harassed for runs out which he's acquiesced to in usual fashion.

Wednesday, August 10, 1983

Psychosomatic eye

Dad suffers at the moment with a rash on his neck and an inflamed eye, which looks a mess. Mum thinks it’s a nervous reaction to the enormity of a whole year on the dole just sinking in.

He’s in low spirits because never did he believe he’d be out of work so long. I feel sorry for him. The applications for jobs still go out regularly but I can’t see him getting what he’s looking for, and I reckon he’ll either have to look farther afield or work part-time, because now the dole cheques have stopped.

Tuesday, August 9, 1983

What else is there?

Grant rang today. He’s off on a caravan holiday until Saturday with Nik and co.: “We’ll wander about looking for pubs: what else is there?”

Monday, August 8, 1983

Drink the long draught

An evening of drinking, boozy laughs, leg-pulling and teasing with Jeremy, Lee and Tommy Whelan. It was my first night out for weeks.

I got to Jeremy’s house at nine, two hours late, and as it wasn’t worth going out, we went to an off-licence instead and bought half-bottles of vodka and whisky. Jeremy rang Tommy Whelan and when he came up he brought another ½ bottle of whisky.

We had the usual falling apart scenes, Jeremy forcing Lee to drink some vile green-coloured mint liqueur while Tommy (baggy black suit, white collarless shirt, white shoes), laughed until he could laugh no more. I fell into a drunken reverie while the others crawled about on the floor giggling. Lee didn’t feel too good, but we ventured forth long after midnight and weaved our way out into the orange darkness.

As a dare, Jeremy shuffled across the road with his trousers around his ankles. Lee puked in the street. Jeremy really was quite reckless, urging vandalism and trips along the train tunnel of old, but we had to go back as Lee felt ill.

Another night on Jeremy’s floor.

Sunday, August 7, 1983


I’ve been nowhere over the weekend. The things I’ve achieved since last Friday are best expressed by one word: nothing. . . . 

Saturday, August 6, 1983

Triple word score

I languish in my self-made cell cursing my psychological prison bars. Time slips away while I sit here anticipating the next day, and the next, and letting each go by wasted. Work sits gathering dust . . . A few games of Scrabble to enliven the monotony.

I’m an oaf.

Andrew leaves for London on Friday. I’ve enjoyed his company this time and I’ll miss him.

Friday, August 5, 1983

Do it tomorrow

A sunny day that's passed typically enough: letters to answer, Claire to contact, work to think about. . . .  And always I say “I’ll definitely do it tomorrow.”

Thursday, August 4, 1983

Night country

I’m now virtually fully recovered. My throat hardly hurts at all and I can swallow as normal and I’m relieved it was only tonsillitis and nothing more serious.

Today another day like all the rest.

I sit inside watching the light change from dull to bright and dull again, while the clock ticks on and on and Dad lays prostrate in sleep on the settee next to me, snorting from time to time. Next door in the dining room Mum is sewing; upstairs, Andrew moves about and whistles while the sounds of Return To Forever drift down the stairs.

He’s moving to London next week. When I think of what a huge step it is I can appreciate in a small way how scared he must be. My days however are empty. I keep promising myself “tomorrow, tomorrow,” but tomorrow always finds me sitting about in a limbo of inaction, scheming for the future: “The evolutionary wound we bear has been the creation of a thing abstracted out of time yet trapped within it: the mind, by chance distorted, locked into a white-ribbed cage which effervesces into air the moment it approaches wisdom.”

The big trial of IRA men has just ended in London and they’ve been convicted on the evidence of IRA “supergrass” Christopher Black. Three of them have gone down for life. I’m infuriated by the blaze of British propaganda. What is murder to one is assassination to another and vice versa; the IRA are described as murderous psychopaths, while the British Army (themselves no innocents at terrorizing civilians) are the heroic boys in khaki, defending the Glorious name of the British State. Although ‘imperialism’ sounds too sloganistic a word to use, it’s the one that springs to mind. “It’s a pity they can’t pull a plug and let Ireland sink into the sea,” says Dad, self-assuredly.

Last night, as we watched scenes of Iranian Imperial Guards gunning down protestors, Andrew said, “If I thought the British would do a thing like that I think I’d leave now.” Peterloo? Bloody Sunday? Stinking hypocrisy! A select few strut and shout and wield their power for Money and Self, or is it Flag and Country? I end up ranting in some sort of naïve New Puritan rage that “all leaders are criminals and bastards.”

There, I’ve exorcised my demons for the day.

I’ve been reading Loren Eiseley’s The Night Country which, oddly enough, is full of none of the things I’ve just been gibbering on about. According to Eiseley, the half page above springs from the beast within; it’s my animal-side struggling to the surface. I’ve nearly finished it and it’s enthralling stuff, similar in style to Ray Bradbury, all about the night things, what they’ve meant to him and his recollections of a life hunting fossils in America.

Wednesday, August 3, 1983

Shaheen is cool

I signed on in the morning and on the way back, Dad and I stopped to wander down past Cardigan Park. The white walls of the ground were quiet and smelled of dereliction. At one end of the ground a demolished wall let us see into the ‘stadium’ (ha ha) and out across the weed-strewn Easterby End and onto the luxuriously green pitch. “Shaheen is cool,” says the graffiti on the wall.

In the afternoon, Andrew and I went to see Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life at the Farnshaw Odeon. It was OK, not as funny as their efforts of old, and as to solving the riddle of life's meaning, I suppose they got quite close: sex, food and death, with a lot of pointless bits in between.

After tea, we watched a programme on Beeb 2, Iran: The Revolution Betrayed. The overthrow of the tyranny of the Shah’s regime was followed by the usual in-fighting between the various factions, resulting in the ascendancy of the Mullahs, Iran's most powerful authoritarian group, who now exert a more terrible power than the Shah ever did. We sat in our comfortable armchairs and watched an interview with an imprisoned and tearful sixteen-year old, a victim of rape. Two hours after the filming, he was shot.

The Iranian revolution rolls on with the fanaticism and blindness from which it sprang. Just as in Russia, the conspiratorial, elitist subversion of a revolution creates a conspiratorial, elitist and authoritarian state. ‘My Party Right or Wrong.’ Look and learn, RCP! (but look at me! Sitting on my complacent bourgeois backside and patronising a world’s revolutions in one breath!).

I sometimes think there's something wrong with me. I’ll turn into a bitter old crank one day. The TV fills me with disgust at adverts and programmes alike, raging against grey-suited newsmen, government officials, everything, anyone. . . . “You’ll never become a Buddhist,” says Andrew, half-smiling, half-serious, after one of my regular tirades against all and sundry, tirades which start as a joke but which always have a grain of sincerity to them.

Peace of mind is far away.

[Audio version]

Tuesday, August 2, 1983

Heavy clout, heart out

Lee and Jeremy called round which cheered me up a lot; I haven’t had contact with anyone but family for a fortnight and I think it’s been getting me down a bit.

They arrived on their bikes after dark and stayed for an hour or so. When I’m forced onto my own resources for any longish period of time it seems I always end up tending towards morbidity and self-pity. The last half-dozen pages vouch for this.

Monday, August 1, 1983


My throat is still as sore as ever. I went to the doctor in Farnshaw this morning and he told me I either have tonsillitis or—if my throat is still as bad in a week—glandular fever. He gave me a prescription for antibiotics. I hope it’s not glandular fever, because that’s supposed to drag on for months.

Dad, Andrew and I watched New Zealand win the Test match by five wickets. I fell asleep in front of the TV and spent much of the afternoon oblivious. I felt better at teatime, and even my swallowing seemed easier and less painful, but now, in the evening, it feels sore again.

A few names from my past have been cropping up recently in the papers; Carol Lancaster is making a name for herself in tennis circles and has just finished her first year on a tennis scholarship at Plotinus University. Christine Wade is off to France for a year, and Mark Pittock got a scholarship to a University in Utah.

In the evening Andrew and I watched a programme about the music of Anton Webern, George Liggerty, Stockhausen and John Cage. I make no claims as to a personal understanding of it, but I’m fascinated by the atmosphere of this music. Andrew says atonal music always sounds unhappy and never carefree, but I wonder why people prefer melody and tonality? Is it because it’s soothing and less disturbing? Perhaps atonal music demands thought and effort and this repels people, pushing them back towards the ‘easier’ works of more ‘tonal’ composers?

“There is no pre-ordained correspondence between truth and happiness; between what is true and what is pleasing; the genuine inquirer must be indifferent to ‘peace of soul or happiness’; or at least must not seek them, for if these are the objectives, he must go aside from the path that leads to those truths that are ugly and repellent.”

Sunday, July 31, 1983


I had another poor night. Over the last two days my throat has worsened and it’s now painful even to swallow liquids.

Mum and Dad seem to think I have tonsillitis, but when they saw my anxious face they reassured me that having tonsils taken out doesn’t necessarily mean hospitalization. I haven’t been in hospital for even a night since I was born. I spent the day in idle lounging, justified for once by my illness.

In the afternoon it started raining and kept on steadily into the evening; a grey depressing mantle descended upon the house. Dad, Andrew and I watched the British 250cc and 500cc Grand Prix from Silverstone on the box; in the latter race, two riders were killed and we saw one of them lying motionless on the track, his helmet spinning uselessly nearby. The race was halted and run again, and the Americans took first, second, third and fourth.

I’ve just read a leaflet commemorating the death of the Bishop of Whincliffe last month. “We rejoice in the certainty that he is now in that great company which no man can number, who now see Jesus face to face.”

No, he lies in the ground, face to face with nothing but the black earth and the worms, while this blind eternal carousel spins on indifferently above him, as it will above us all eventually.

Saturday, July 30, 1983


It was hotter than ever this morning, not a breath of wind, and after we’d packed everything into the car and Mum’d brushed out the caravan we bid our field goodbye and left.

Despite Mum’s tense-faced anxiety, we all insisted that we should take the Howgate Rigg route home. We turned off outside Thornscar and began the crawl upwards: far below and behind us, green and tree-filled Calverdale lay spread out in the sun, a sharp contrast to the bleakness of the moors all around.

Fosshag Bank and Black Mea rose menacingly up on either side of us. The road wound precariously along the edge of the hillside, a wooden fence all that separated us from a deep plunge into a steep-sided gulley. But we came upon the crest of the hill sooner than we’d expected and quickly dropped into Riggdale. Gill Cave Fell was dark and flat-topped on the horizon.

Further along we stopped to see isolated Foxbergh Falls, a 100-ft waterfall spilling over the edge of a limestone cove, the white torrent falling lazily into dark green waters and had dinner beside the Cluder, which is called Hessleton Beck at this infant stage.

We got back to Egley at 2.30.

Two letters awaited me, one from Susie, the other a belated birthday card from Pete. I also got a bank statement telling me I’m £109 overdrawn, which is £32 more than I thought I was.

The rest of the day has been an anti-climax. I don’t feel very well and I fell asleep on my bed. I didn’t wake up until everyone else was coming to bed.

Friday, July 29, 1983

Time bandit

I woke up today feeling fairly rough. My throat has been swollen at one side for a couple of days now and it’s painful for me to swallow, so I stayed here at the caravan all day while Mum, Dad and Andrew went for a walk from Owlands along Ansett Scar. They said it was still and very hot, and quite tough going, and I was glad I’d decided to stay behind.

Rob and Carol went for a walk along Blea Gate after the others had left, returned to pack their tent and finally set off home at one o’clock, leaving only a flattened patch of grass at the back of the caravan to say they were ever here.

All day the wind roared fiercely through the treetops and battered the caravan and it was brilliantly sunny.

I fell asleep in the afternoon and woke up when Mum and Dad came back, by which time the sun was casting long shadows. Langbole Hill directly opposite, framed in the caravan window, was furrowed with light that picked at the ditches and mounds which corrugate its surface. The valley here is narrow and the slopes opposite looked sharp and near, green against the pale sky, striped with dark shadows of trees and walls.

We took a last customary stroll along Blea Gate and were rewarded with a sighting of the female deer, which spotted us immediately and bounded away into the open fields past unconcerned cattle and grazing sheep. We’ve seen deer every night since we arrived, and we’ve decided they must lie up during the day in a large patch of deep meadowsweet which clings to the slope that drops into the fields from Blea Gate.

As we walked back I caught myself wondering how much I’ll go through before I’m walking along this path again. I’ll be sad to be leaving Calverdale; I’ve enjoyed this week. It's flown by.

How swiftly time robs us, leaving only memories and wistful final evenings of sun and shadows. I wonder if the Honeycotts take this place for granted. I suppose they must, for unlike us, they’ll have nothing with which to compare it.

Thursday, July 28, 1983

Pinball wizard

I’m sitting alone in the caravan, it’s mid-evening and it’s growing gloomy. The sun has just set behind the hills above Kearshaw. Purple clouds tinged with dull red are framed between the silhouettes of the wall behind the caravan and the leaves of an overhanging sycamore.

Everyone else has gone to the pub for the evening. I declined for no real reason apart from a general desire to laze about here, plus I was aware of these pages calling me.

We’ve been on a longish walk today. For once the weather suited me perfectly and as we tramped up the road from our field towards Forefield I felt as full of zap as I’ve done all week. It was a windy day and the sun and clouds played constantly across the lone bulk of Pinshaw Hill across the valley.

We could see Thwaitegarth and Stonesdale, two small insignificant grey smudges on the long shoulder of the hill which was stained with the colours of shale and heather. That great hump of rock rising majestically from the valley was impressive and reinforced how small and limited the valley bottom actually is. Calverdale is narrow and when you're down in the fields most of the high hills are lost behind the nearer horizons that frequently only extend up as far as the topmost fields.

From time to time the sun broke through and warmed us for a while but it was a weary slog until we reached the summit of the road. Once there we branched off across the moor and Calverdale opened out below us, the white streak of the stony path we walked on up above Gilsey visible against a gloomy grey hillside.

Up and up we trudged, across terrain littered with rubble and patches of shingle, passing small cairns until finally we reached a fence which marked the boundary of Greetsdale. Last year Mum and Dad were caught up here in a fierce thunderstorm and the area is notorious for lightning strikes that often kill sheep. Just beyond the fence we stumbled across two tiny ponds and Dad and I explored them, finding several discarded dry skins of dragonfly larvae still clinging to the tips of the reeds. We also found several frogs and both larval and adult newts. 

By this time we were all ravenous so a few hundred yards further on we sat ourselves on a partially overgrown slag heap to eat, and spent a good natured, light hearted and ridiculous ½ hour before walking back. We had a good view down into Greetsdale itself, a bleak and sinuous little valley amid heather and a wide flat dreary expanses of brown moor. Down at the head of the valley we could see an old railway carriage being used as a sheep shelter, and last time Mum and Dad were down there they found a wooden sled, built to be dragged behind a horse.

We retraced our steps through a chaos of old mine workings and turned right along the edge of the Calver valley. Robert and I lagged behind talking and for a little while I forgot the tiredness and weary stumbling of my boots.

Robert argued strenuously in favor of pacifism and opposes “lobbing bricks and splitting heads open.” As so often happens, I was pushed back on my heels, falling quiet and turning my eyes earthwards.

-- “You watch your mates who are in the RCP and see how much unhappiness and annoyance they leave behind them,” suggested Robert.

I immediately thought of Susie’s open dislike of the RCP, Shelley’s cool reserve, and Pete’s uneasy parrying of Carl Cotton’s sarcastic comments. I thought also of Barry’s claim that Universal Utopian Happiness would be attainable if only we could fulfill mankind’s material needs. I at least had the confidence to shoot that one down in my own mind. Robert said that he before he came across Buddhism he felt like a pinball being flicked helplessly to and fro from desire to desire and thought to thought. I could identify only too well with this familiar feeling.

I am that pinball at this moment, and have been for the past few months. I’m all at sea, rudderless, rolling from this to that, drifting onwards without a gleam of hope. All my past thoughts, opinions and decisions are insubstantial groundless cries, and the more I hear, the worse it gets, the more desperate I feel. The only things I’m certain of are mortality and how an appreciation of this can alter peoples’ perspectives in ways that are ‘meaningful’ and constructive. Any real political change only happens on the inside. I should use these truths as the foundation for my own new beginnings.

When Robert talks about pacifism I feel ashamed at my own loose agreement with the use of force as an instrument of change. When I read about Reagan’s moves in central America in the 'papers, his branding of the independent Roman Catholic Sandinista regime as a Communist threat, and Thatcher’s nauseatingly predictable defense of this policy, I’m filled with vengeful desire for retaliation.

To what extent is it justified to assassinate those leaders who, as a direct result of their personal decisions, threaten defenceless people? On a moral level, I suppose the answer is ‘not at all.’ “You make yourself as bad as the people you oppose once violence is used,” says Robert, but what good is a moral victory if you’re being beaten, humiliated and trodden on? He believes pacifism is effective eventually, and he uses the impermanence of everything to back this up, arguing that non-pacifists always fail to acknowledge this point and therefore fail to realise that violent change is fruitless.

But doesn’t this reduce everything to senselessness—even morality? Isn’t this just a morbid crumbling into hopelessness?

There’s got to be some personal standard set I suppose or we would all just disintegrate into gibbering despair.

Wednesday, July 27, 1983

Corpse road

Robert had to leave in the afternoon to drive to Bishophill for one of his Buddhist meetings so we did a short walk, setting out from the caravan along the road towards Owlands.

We turned off the road at Washfold Farm and followed a path alongside the river; here and there we could spot the overgrown and partially hidden remnants of Blea Gate. We picked up a walled section of the Gate again near Owlands and looked around Owlands Church, which wasn’t as dirty and dusty inside as I remembered from last time. We had a good pub lunch before wandering back.

Andrew and I diverted to Stonesdale and had a drink at The Plough, and got back just as Robert was setting off.

In the evening we went in search of the deer along Blea Gate. Sure enough, we spotted the female in the same field as before and watched her grazing and slowly wandering alone in the long grass for half-an-hour.

We walked right along the Gate to Sleightshaw and were accosted by a talkative Teesider who held us captive for twenty minutes or more. It came in dark quickly and Dad started to tell stories about hauntings and mysterious voices he said he'd heard outside the caravan. After this, Carol and I walked back at breakneck speed, both of us wanting to run but not daring to, our eyes darting nervously here and there.

We didn’t expect Robert back until tomorrow but he rolled up at about eleven, having driven back from Bishophill in only an hour-and-a-half.

Tuesday, July 26, 1983

Motionless world of time

I’ve felt much better today; my blankets remain dry and I'm not subject to the overbearing fatigue of the last few days. Mum's much better too; she felt fit enough to come with us.

We left for Foss Clough at about nine, parked the cars, and set out in sun and an already uncomfortable heat up towards Ansett. It was slow progress. We saw a pool filled to overflowing with toad tadpoles. Robert, who is like me, complained frequently about the heat, and after much suffering and sweating we reached Sedcott Falls, ate, and I bathed my feet in the cold brown waters of the Calver.

The next part of the hike was hellish; there wasn’t the slightest hint of breeze and the sun was merciless. As I stumbled up through the bracken on the slopes of Sedcott Hill, dogged by my usual cloud of flies, I complained constantly about the heat; it was so unbearable.

We finally staggered into Thornscar which was full of old ladies on coach outings who dominated the centre of the village, walking slowly from their coaches to either the gift shop or the tea place, talking in loud voices, all dressed identically. I can’t imagine myself old, but then everyone supposedly believes themselves immortal. I huddled in the shade of a building.

We walked back along the river to Foss Clough. It was still very hot, so we stayed awhile beside Foss Clough Beck and had our photo taken as a family. “One for the album” said Mum, fondly, and no doubt I looked my usual raggy self. We had a look around the church before coming back. The cemetery is full of Angrams and Arngills and Honeycotts, the names stretching back into the eighteenth century, beneath our feet the bodies of breathing, smiling, imaginative people who once looked out on these same horizons, entire family histories engraved in rock and remembered there alone.

It's a humbling thought.

The people in this area still cling to a kind of rugged practicality tinged with a kind of isolated oddness. We’ve had encounters with a few locals and they’ve all struck me the same way. On Sunday night as Andrew and I sheltered from the storm beneath a tree we were joined by an old wizened woman and her two sheep dogs. She oozed an old-fashioned eccentricity and spoke to us in such a low mumble we couldn’t hear a thing she said. She looked everywhere but at us as she spoke.

Our host at the caravan site is Mrs. Honeycott, and she seems the least like this of anyone I’ve encountered, and no doubt most people around here are thoroughly approachable. Robert remarked that the majority of people regard their urban lifestyles as the norm and all this rural slowness the exception, but really, the opposite is true, or certainly was so for many centuries. It’s as if we in the cities have forsaken so much that's worthy and of value, so much that gave us peace and helped us come to terms ‘with ourselves’ (for want of a better expression).

I’m not sure what it is I’m trying to say here, but in cities we're ruled by clocks and fret over things which are so unimportant and so inconsequential. Countless lives are expended in groping despair, in a misery of trying to find a lasting happiness that, I’m coming to think, just isn't there.

I think of Mum as I write this and I could cry as I remember her the other day sitting in the caravan. She's never at peace and the happiness she wants for us all so rarely seems to light up her own life.

Monday, July 25, 1983

Ill at ease

A hot tiring day in Bladeham. We wandered in usual tourist fashion around the town and Mum, Dad, Carol and Robert walked along the riverbank to Bladeham Abbey, I stayed instead around the town square looking for bookshops. I found just one and sat for a long time watching the crowds slide past in the heat, feeling ill at ease.

We got back to the caravan and Mum and I both felt ‘under the weather’; Mum stretched herself out feeling sure she’d got tonsillitis; she could hardly speak, was dizzy and uncoordinated, and by the time we turned out the lights she’d resigned herself to a day spent alone and suffering in the caravan. We were all worried.

I too was overcome by tiredness and a headache, and I could feel my pulse pounding in my throat. I sank into sleep, but woke up again at about ten as everyone returned. For the third night in a row they’d watched a pair of deer chasing one another through the grass before loping off across the fields in the direction of Thwaitegarth. The magic of the encounter still lingered in everyone’s minds.

I felt muzzy with sleep but went out into the dark field for a little while.

Sunday, July 24, 1983

Cloud of unknowing

I had another poor night and woke up amid soaking sheets. I felt clammy and thoroughly out of sorts.

Everyone else was up making sandwiches, packing flasks and preparing for our hike. We set off in the cars to Gilsey and parked near the cottage where we stayed last time. Everything had stayed as it was; it's as if this place will endure forever.

We took the track up the eastern side of Gilsey Beck and sweated through bracken-choked woodland until we came out at an area where the beck widens and is bordered by wide grassy meadows at either side. Here, the grey refuse from lead mining is piled into small slag heaps. We stopped for a little while before pushing onward up the Beck. The lethargy of the previous day still seemed to dog me, weighing down my feet and deadening my responses to everything.

Finally we reached the ruined shell of an old lead mining office and Andrew took my photograph, just like 1980 when we were last here: I posed again in an identical stance, leaning against the same wall like before. Inside the structure, weathered carvings were scored into the stones, the dates and initials of people long forgotten. Across the narrow steep valley we could see another, more complete ruin staring back with empty windows.

We rested at the head of Gilsey Beck and ate our sandwiches. While everyone else went off up another little valley which led off into the hills, I fell asleep on the grass, but soon began to feel uncomfortable in the hot sun. I was disturbed a few times by inquisitive sheep.

An old grizzled shepherd descending from the hill tops with his white panting dog talked to us about his memories, as a six-year old, of this “fine, wild country.” Mum told him about our deer sighting and he wondered if perhaps it had escaped from a deer herd at Steadbeck Lodge: "I've only seen two my whole life.” He bade us goodbye and limped off up the track behind us with his dog.

It was a long wearying tramp back along the opposite side of the Beck. We followed the dusty straight track as turned up above Gilsey, and plunged down into the village on aching feet. We got back to the caravan at about four.

The evening was sunny, marked by a typical piece of Robert philosophizing and a silly argument between Mum and Dad after Dad tipped the cooking oil away. He felt humiliated in front of us all and sulked off on his own down the road while Mum sat sleepily in the caravan with a long face.

After the plates had been cleared away we got into a general discussion. Robert asserted that death gives life meaning and that it’s only because we lose sight of the inevitability of aging and mortality that we adopt shallow, transient attitudes. “Death could come next week or next month; people don’t appreciate that.” He pointed me out as a perfect example of this thoughtless attitude with my lounging and lethargy—(Robert:“I do it too!”)—and I felt my face colouring and heat springing into my cheeks.

But Robert doesn’t know how my thoughts go. I acknowledge these facts which condemn us all. For a moment too an old familiar sensation caught hold of me, a feeling of helpless not knowing, a sort of sudden desperate realisation that I’m not sure of anything and really am ‘all at sea’ as far as certainties are concerned. It’s a feeling I really didn’t expect to experience here. But what's the use of talking like this when I give myself up to sloth so consistently, so willingly?

Andrew and I wandered off after this, and we stood in the corner of the field gazing across at the adjacent mound. “I hate the mysticism and sentimentality attached to these places,” said Andrew quietly. Poor old practical Andrew. To him it's all just fields and trees and moors, which in a way I suppose it is, and nothing else. I can see why he says what he says, but I also appreciate the mystery of this place.

We went for a walk up the Forefield-Stonesdale Road, in the direction of Forefield. It was a soft evening, a hint of sun tingeing the stone walls, and Andrew had to go back because he’d forgotten his camera, so I stood and waited for him, leaning on a gate gazing across a field. As I did so, an old wellington boot-clad baggy-suited figure came clumping down the road towards me, and as I gave him a glance he turned, staring at me with hostile eccentric eyes.

When Andrew came back we climbed up and up, getting quite good views over towards Sleightshaw and the dark silhouette of the moor beyond. He took a few photos of the dark seething clouds rolling in before we had to sprint down the road amid a terrific downpour.

Back in the caravan we huddled in dim fluctuating gas light. Outside the sky echoed and shook to the thunder: in the enclosed valley, the reports of the thunder were much shorter and more concentrated Rob and Carol set out in the torrential rain for a walk along Blea Gate but we stayed behind watching the lightning fork all around. Mum, as usual, began to get worried at Rob and Carol’s absence, but after an hour or so they returned having just seen a family of deer quite near the caravan.

Robert was full of the “eeriness” of the area.

Saturday, July 23, 1983


We set off at about half-past ten. It was drizzling and cloudy, but the sun began to break through as we drove through Gillrigg and Washgram. We met Rob and Carol in Stonesdale in the early afternoon, after a journey of over eighty miles.

We had a cup o’ tea and cheese-on-toast at a café in Stonesdale, the same café I remembered from three years before. Once again the family was all together, Mum and Dad and their three sons and daughter-in-law, together for perhaps the last time in a long time.

The caravan, a cream and brown contraption, sat in a corner of a small field near Friar Beck Farm, under great sprawling trees which darkened the sky. We unpacked quickly and wandered along the road towards the moorland by the ancient mounds of Wath Hill. It grew very warm; there were quite a few picnickers sitting about by their cars reading newspapers and eating.

We climbed up the short rabbit-cropped grass amid junipers and grey rocks and sat awhile gazing out over the haze-shrouded valley. Andrew took a few photos and Dad and Robert disappeared in search of what they thought was a shrike. We didn’t stay long and walked lazily back along the narrow road to our field beneath the trees.

I didn’t feel too good. Again I was overcome with tiredness and I slipped into sleep in the caravan. I don’t know why I’m so tired. I wonder if it’s anemia or something similar? I’ve not felt too good all week and when I wake up my sheets are sopping wet. I feel drowsy most days too. Too much inaction probably.

We had a quiet tea followed by a walk along the medieval Blea Gate, the wall of which skirts the lower end of the field in which our caravan stands. All was still, a silence broken only by the occasional chatter of a farm machine or the calling of sheep. Robert wandered off by himself.

He and Dad get on famously; as Robert gets older he slips more and more into a sad, melancholic and contemplative frame of mind which seems to strike a chord in the part of Dad that Robert springs from.

I felt so tired that I seemed to be having difficulty generating interest in anything; my eyes felt heavy and my feet leaden. We spotted a lone deer, standing solitary in the fields, watchful and alert below a clump of trees; two tiny fluffy wrens were rooted to a wall in static panic, desperately hoping they wouldn’t be seen.

As we approached the caravan, a group of Oystercatchers screamed and wheeled across the sky, circling round and round the ancient fortified mound that stands behind the caravan in a field. In myth, Oystercatchers are supposed to be the lost souls of drowned sailors, long dead. Around they flew, screeching and calling hauntingly, before winging their way across the fields away into the dusk.

It’s now nearly dark and I’m sitting outside the caravan in a camp chair, listening to the hiss and quiet roar of wind in the leaves high above my head, while in front of me Dad and Robert are deep in conversation about Alan Garner and Arthur Machen. Robert’s voice is insistent, exuberant, Dad’s low and droning.

They’ve just gone in. The wind is whipping at the pages.

[Audio version]

Friday, July 22, 1983

Dole penicillin

I got another cheque from the dole office today, this time for £47.30. So in a week I’ve received nearly £120; maybe I’ll be able to afford to go to Greece with Gareth if I’m very careful. I revealed this idea to Mum and she reacted predictably: “You young people make me sick”—the word spat out—“you’ve got all your priorities wrong.”

This signaled a bitter tirade against me over the bike incident from a year or so ago (“Thirty pounds for a rusty, unused bike . . .” etc.) and I was angry that she was dragging out this skeleton.

Jeremy rang and says that Lee is keeping to his friends from Easterby College and going out a lot with them. I haven’t rung Claire—I’m a stupid bastard, and no doubt my thoughtlessness and paranoid uselessness has reaped the harvest it deserves. I promise myself I’ll do something about it as soon as we get back (we're leaving tomorrow for a week in Calverdale).

There’s been much fussing and packing from Mum the last two days but now we’re set. Dad has been cleaning the tanks in preparation. This morning, he, Andrew and I went to Dengates to let a dozen or so little frogs go. The grass was teaming with them.

The weather has been warm again today after the drizzle of the last few days; thunder and lightning rumbles and flashes threateningly in the distance, beckoning us into the empty spaces and the sweeping skies.

Thursday, July 21, 1983


We went to see Nanna Beardsley at Easterby District Teaching Hospital, where she's had a hysterectomy. The sister told Dad that the operation was straightforward, but Nanna B. looked weak and pale, stranded in her small white bed like a whale.

I felt painfully uneasy with cousins Susan and Mark and his tight-faced wife in yellow dress. I’ve never met Mark before and I felt so uneasy. I stood silent at the end of the bed parrying questions, red with embarrassment.

Susan made some comment about “wogs” as we sat waiting outside the ward. Dad erupted into laughter and Mum flashed me a meaningful look.

[Audio version]

Wednesday, July 20, 1983

Y-reg Chevette

I signed on again today and got home to find a £47.30 dole cheque waiting for me. My overdraft now stands at £77. I also bought Mum a card and present in Farnshaw; she’s forty nine today.

I got a letter from Shelley who's very busy in Watermouth. She has a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Penny has a temporary job as a receptionist in a psychiatric unit which, predictably, “is cracking her up.”

I started a library book on Nietzsche but did so with little-to-no-enthusiasm. I aborted it a half-dozen pages in. I’m suffering through a state of majestic boredom, an almost irretrievable state of brain death.

Outside in the nightmare suburb, everything’s frozen into an afternoon calm; the petty little domestic rituals and the soft sound of the garden hoe are the only evidence of human activity. No strife, no “anti-social” behaviour permeates this self-satisfied little world of privet hedges and Y-reg Chevettes.

Easterby is a shit-heap and doesn't raise its sights above its own red-tiled rooftops. But then I suppose the whole country is the same.

Tuesday, July 19, 1983

TV eye

I got a dole cheque for £23.65 today and a postcard from Lindsey. She's in London at the RCP Conference; Pete’s there too. She sounded surprised at herself for enjoying it.

Carl Cotton rang me last night, very late, just after I’d gone to bed under a cloud and feeling none too healthy (I haven’t felt too good since I went out with Lee and Jeremy at the weekend and I keep getting irritating aches and pains that are probably my body’s protest at enforced inaction). My absence I put down to poverty (coward), but I went back to bed thinking I probably should have gone, if only for my own good.

Suddenly wide-awake, I lay in bed thinking about Carl and the RCP. I felt my mind filling with a great empty nothingness and I couldn’t focus properly on anything. I finally lay my head down unable to think at all. My ideas were indistinct and weakly formed, like I was seeing them vaguely beneath the surface of mud.

I watched two TV programmes with Andrew and Dad. Both were on the subject of war journalism and censorship. The first roused no comment from Dad, but the second raised his hackles and he came out with all the hoary old arguments and platitudes, and the old huffing puffing “I love my country, I’m patriotic” crap.

I just couldn’t see how he could trot this out yet again after sitting through two hours of (what seemed to me) fairly honest stuff. How can anyone be so blinkered and totally bigoted? I felt an impossible anger—anger that he should be so infuriatingly blind to military ideologies, anger at the lies and falsehoods and that censorship keeps people from understanding the true horror and violence of war, and anger from wanting an end to the fucking mess once and for all.

But I think I ought to shut up now as there is nothing so boring as a zealot and I suppose I’m the wettest liberal of all in that it takes a TV programme to get me going.

Monday, July 18, 1983

Genius Loci

In the afternoon I went to the library in Easterby and wandered around at a loss. The weather has turned and it was a breezy perfect day.

Dad and I went to Dengates in the evening and collected moss for the amphibians. The marsh field bloomed in all its high summer splendour, a tangle of green nettles intermingled with yellow ragwort and purple thistles that grew three feet high in some places. Dad found a large common toad and two small frogs, but let them all go. I found a newt and, in the long grass under the trees, a number of little frogs that hopped away whenever we approached.

Dengates is idyllic, especially past the gypsy camp where the grass is short and meadow-like. This area is dotted with rocks, and bordered on the lower side by the reedy marsh itself, on the top by the weathered decayed ruins of an ancient stone wall, half-hidden beneath trees and bushes.

Dad and I sat amid the pink grass, admiring the view beyond the stone-walls of the fields across towards Keddon and the dark moors brooding on the horizon. In the foreground was a long low red brick factory with twin chimneys at one end, drifting blue grey smoke across the valley. Dad says the area is called Marystown.

Sunday, July 17, 1983

Black dog

I had a hard uncomfortable night on the floor, and I woke up to a thunder storm rumbling a retreat across the grey dawn. I got a lift back to Farnshaw in Jeremy’s boss’s Mercedes: Jeremy works a weekly gardening job at a £110, 000 house in Keddon. I got home at eleven.

I reread what Lee had read in my journal, from last August, a description of Claire’s soap smell. Mortifying! I couldn’t help the hot flush that crept into my face. These words are too dangerous to leave lying around for all to see.

I’ve spent the day nursing a sore head and doing fuck all. I blew £6-£7 last night and didn’t even get drunk. In the evening Lee rang, a guilty, conscience-stricken tone in his voice: “I’ve just remembered what I did . . . I’m going teetotal from now on.”

Thunder and rain returned after tea. The weather has broken and now it’s cloudy skies and cool breezes.

What a fucking waste of time all this is.

Saturday, July 16, 1983

Pink and white

Robert drove over in the morning and then, while he, Andrew and Dad walked to Moxthorpe to watch a cricket match, I went into Easterby.

I didn’t have any enthusiasm for going into town, but I thought I’d hate myself even more if I didn’t make the effort, so at four I finally got up off my backside and got the bus. I went to a second-hand bookshop, took my trousers to a dry cleaners to be altered, and bought 2 books, a William Blake anthology and a critical book on the 'Romantic Imagination.'

Jeremy rang not long after I got back and asked if I wanted to go out for a drink. I met him and Lee at twenty to nine, forty minutes late (quite good for me), and we went straight to the Four Pigeons, mainly because we’d never been there before.

It stands painfully alone, surrounded by grey '60s concrete and glass. We sat out on the grass but retired inside when it got chilly. Lee was his usual distant self, maybe a bit more noticeably uneasy, but we talked and laughed until Jeremy told me that last year Lee read my diary and knows about my infatuation with Claire.

I shrank blushing—embarrassing! “I know, I’m a cunt,” said Lee, laughing cheerfully. They continued to tease me with booze-ridden affability (“she was yours to have” etc, - oh God, don’t say things like that!), but I was to have my revenge.

Because we'd had quite a bit to drink, things deteriorated accordingly. Jeremy threw my jacket onto the roof of a shop on the corner of Queensgate where it hung above our heads while we blundered hysterically around for twenty minutes, Jeremy swaying astride my shoulders before he fell face-down onto the pavement as Lee tried to climb up on top of him.

I eventually retrieved my jacket with a long stick we found on a nearby building site. For want of somewhere better to go, we descended on Jasper’s and sat downstairs in the “wine lounge,” the name they’ve given to what is nothing more than a huge meat-market. White and pink are evidently this year’s colours, and the now familiar legions of girls in said outfits sat in silence with crossed legs, waiting. . . .

Lee and Jeremy squeezed in alongside one such girl in white skirt, white jacket, with blonde blowsy hair, and while Lee struck up a conversation with her, Jeremy and I drifted around, to the bog, or back and forth to the bar. Before we knew it, Lee and the girl were snogging, burying themselves in the soft upholstery of their seat! With a disbelieving laugh Jeremy and I left him to it, marveling at the ease with which Nature has her way with even the most wayward of her sons, who was all scorn and condemnation one minute, all entwined arms the next.

We went and climbed up onto the roof of the row of shops on William Street opposite Jasper’s and cased them up then headed back to the club and interrupted Lee to tell him our taxi was due. He and the girl in white parted without a word.

We teased him mercilessly on the ride back and he took it all in stride, with eyes closed, a mischievous smile across his face. We got to Jeremy’s as it was approaching three.

Friday, July 15, 1983


Dad took Nanna B. out for a run. She’s had a prolapse and is going into hospital on Tuesday for an operation; Mum says that at her age it's quite a serious thing.

Andrew and I were left to lounge in yawning tedium in front of the television watching the cricket.

Outside a breeze has taken hold, although it’s still an oven both inside and out. The setting moon is a dim reddish crescent.
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