Tuesday, June 7, 1983


In the morning Shelley, Gareth and I went to an American Studies lecture by Malcolm Bradbury. He started with a disclaimer that no, The History Man was not literally based on the real Watermouth University, but on the once-planned (but never built) University of Bournemouth.

He then launched into his lecture, “Images of Europe in American Fiction," a promising title but a dull account and eventually he was talking to a theatre-full of fidgeting and sleepy people. Shelley fell asleep, as did tutor Ian Pugh, who when he wasn’t sleeping was rubbing his eyes or writing letters. We left as Miriam and then Alan Draper asked impossible questions.

Afterwards, Gareth and I hitched into Watermouth. It was yet another hot stifling day, the weather reminiscent of last year just before the ‘A’ levels, the same dull deadening lethargy. We got a lift after a few minutes from a barefoot Viva driver, who dropped us outside the Job Centre. We wandered about the suffocating streets, spending most of our time in record shops; I bought The Fall’s Early Years 77-79 and we hitched back at six, getting home just as large rain drops began to splash from a gloomy sky.

In the evening Susie and I went to see Palach, a play put on by the University Dramatic Society about Jan Palach, a Czech philosophy student who burned himself to death in Prague in January 1969 as a protest against the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia.

The stage surrounded the audience and we sat in the centre of a square of raised boxes which I thought was a good idea: it reversed the usual relationship between audience and actors. The latter had an advantage on us. The cast was made up of students, a mother, a father (played by Kamran) and a priest/policeman/judge figure.

The play started with the students expressing platitudes justifying their lack of involvement in politics—Greenham Common was mentioned, although this was the only direct political reference—and the hard stabs at the general collective blindness and political apathy continued. There was a rapid interchange between scenes which took place on alternating sides of the stage, sometimes to my left, sometimes to my right, sometimes behind me, sometimes in front, and at one point there was a parody of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, a series of automated and ritualised exchanges that mocked married life, each ending with a scream.

As this continued, a group of students blinked into existence to my left, watching a manic priest telling dirty jokes; then, to my right, Palach’s mundane family and disinterested girlfriend, each of them giving obviously wrong answers to the questions yelled at them by an Army officer.

Palach was finally left isolated, alone and screaming at them in frustration as the multiple voices became one voice, dirging at him from all sides of the stage. Palach and his group decided on self-immolation as a protest at this state of affairs. As he found out he was the one who had to go first. he says “Hopefully the people will need no more light than this . . .”

I was impressed and I came away thinking that I’m one of those being criticised for my lack of political consciousness –well, it's not a total lack of consciousness: I did go through that 'political' phase, albeit half-seriously, two or three years ago. But now I have an unwritten, ill-defined but nevertheless strong inner conviction that I need more than a token commitment to altruism. I need to feel something deeply (whatever it may be) and at this moment I don’t. Contemptible perhaps, but it’s the Truth all the same.

I suppose I don’t give myself a chance in this sphere, and perhaps unconsciously (my evil bourgeois-romantic unconscious?) I don’t want to, for I do fuck-all in the way of reading and research. I do Nothing.

I stayed in writing this journal while everyone else went out, and I finally switched out the light at eleven.

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