Monday, January 31, 1983
Today has been something of a blur. As usual, down in the mouth over virtually everything. I missed my Modernism tutorial but found out I finally had permission to change to American Literature.
My mood's a little better as a result. American Lit! I got a new study plan and this I rattled off in quick time. My other took hours. I want to take a course on Romanticism and one on Whitman and Dickinson. Most of my contextuals will stay the same: Modern America: Black Americans, Conflict and Consensus in American Society:1933-57, and the Modern European Mind.
Sunday, January 30, 1983
Woke up cold. We had to be out of the Church Hall by eight as it was being used, so we trudged back to our minibus and drove to a Community Centre for a breakfast of coffee, cakes and a workshop on the Loyalist working class.
Left-wing factionalism again surfaced to the full. Revolutionary Communist Group hecklers were attacked by Revolutionary Communist Party “stewards” and I saw one man being grabbed viciously by the hair before a brief scuffle erupted. Ten or twenty people rolled around on the floor thumping and shouting. There were disgusted comments, one non-aligned member of the audience leaping up and angrily yelling “what the fucking hell is going on here?” For an instant, the small unsmiling chairwoman looked put out, but within minutes everything was back in line and the darkened consciences had been soothed.
I felt like any leanings I'd had in the RCP direction had now disappeared.
We passed the hours until the 1 p.m.march as best we could. Lindsey and I sat around looking glum while the band tapped out rhythms on the chairs with drum-sticks. We got another little lecture (at least that’s how it seemed), from a woman who made me feel like a child talked down to by an adult. I have nothing to say for myself: maybe this is why I’m so scathing about these people?
As the crowd assembled for the march, there was a growing sense of anticipation. It was alternately bright and clear or blowing a blizzard and as we huddled at the playing fields assembly point, thick snow flakes swirled around us. It was bitterly cold and it took hours to assemble, but at last we were off in lines of four (me in one with Barry, Derek, and Lindsey), a forest of banners, the air filled with ragged shouts. We trailed up through rundown suburbs, passersby watched us anxiosuly, the green arm-banded RCP stewards egging us on, leading the chants. I saw two film crews.
By the time we'd got to the main shopping street into Whincliffe city centre we had stopped the traffic. It was interesting to watch the expressions on the faces of the people trapped in cars and buses as we passed by, mild impatience from the odd one or two but mostly just blank stares. Someone on the top deck of one bus repeatedly stuck two fingers up at us as we trailed past.
We approached the city centre and started to attract more and more attention. High above us, leaning over the parapet of a multistorey car park was a gang of skinheads who watched us silently as we went by. Some of the RCP hard men pumped the air with their fists as they chanted: they were much in evidence throughout the weekend, and most of them wore the RCP uniform of Doc Marten boots/shoes, crew cuts, round NHS specs (I lost count of the number of pairs of these I saw over the two days). I got the impression these were the people who dealt with any trouble—men like Ken, another London RCPer, whose job was to run up to the police film crews and stand inches away from the camera, blocking their shot..
Finally at the Town Hall. I thought of the storming of the Winter Palace or something as we reached the steps and all flooded upwards, some of us running, others turning to stand with banners, defiantly. chanting. “Get ‘em inside,” the police shouted at the stewards and we surged through the narrow doors into the ornate Town Hall, milling chaotically in the entrance way, three policemen watching us from behind a glass door. There was a powerful and spontaneous, almost explosive feeling filling the packed hall, militancy in the air.
Tom McKee from Sinn Fein was one of the speakers. He's an ex-British Army soldier and now in the RCP. “This is crap!” he shouted and hurled his medals from the stage. He got two standing ovations. Another speaker ranted on repetitively for a long time, and finally causing someone behind me half-shouted “alright, you’ve proved your pointI”
Lindsey and I stayed seated during the first speaker but during the second sheer conspicuousness finally forced us to stand. Sinn Fein's Finbar Doyle was due to speak but someone said he'd been arrested on charges of violating the Prevention of Terrorism Act and was being held overnight.
Confusion now towards the end, a woman speaker was introducing the absent Doyle. There was scattered applause and yelling and the chairman was mumbling protestingly that “this speaker is not down on my agenda.” The hall was emptying quickly, everything chaotic, disorganized.
We waited for ages in the bitter cold out on the town hall steps. Finally we left around teatime and got back into London late in the evening and caught the last train back to Watermouth.
Saturday, January 29, 1983
Overnight I managed to escape into sleep for a few hours: I was very conscious of Lindsey lying next to me on the floor. Some people didn’t sleep at all, and we rose to find a wintry sun blasting in through the window above a vista of terraced rooftops and scruffy backyards. We hung about for a long time waiting for word, being treated to RCP Carl and co.’s early morning wit, which I do not like at all.
Finally we set off for the conference. Lindsey and I didn’t want to go but everything was very structured and regimented and there was no way out of it. So we walked in a freezing wind to the Trades Union Hall where we were hand-stamped and ushered into a large seated auditorium. Along the back wall, behind the stage, stood an array of banners (Irish Freedom Movement, Troops Out Now! etc.).
Carl advised us to take notes. Patrick and Phil and Fiona were there too, Phil in a serious and earnest mood. The day began with an introduction by a small humourless woman from the Whincliffe RCP who acted as chairperson throughout proceedings. She introduced Frank Richards who seems to be one of the leading figures in the national RCP. He looked to be about 30, with short black-hair, glasses and prominent front teeth. He spoke with what sounded like a slight Germanic accent and talked about the Irish question.
Much of what he said made sense to me, and once I even felt fired up with enthusiasm. Question time followed, and a few trade unionists rose to query him or applaud him for his comments. When the RCP reps spoke to the crowd, they strode to the front of the stage, as if to emphasise their presence.
There was a fair degree of political back-biting going on, especially toward the end when an arrogant young woman named Joanne leapt up and condemned Workers Power and the Revolutionary Communist Group for their lack of participation in the Irish Freedom struggle. “You have no right to question us—look at your own record!” she yelled as the session ended, before demanding money from the audience in a patronizing and irritating fashion. She raised £229.
We broke for a lunch of samosas, fruit and salad and I sat there eating and feeling thoroughly out of my depth.
Then back for the second half and a talk by a leading contributor to The Next Step, whose speech was full of humourous anecdotes which had the hall roaring with self-congratulatory laughter and gave me the impression that he was making light of what is, after all, a particularly unfunny situation. I sat unsmiling at the back. A final word from arrogant Joanne about a badge everyone is wearing that quotes Trotsky saying that every socialist who doesn’t support the struggles of the Irish people deserves to be shot: much cheering and clapping at this.
It all sounded so crap coming as it did from what is essentially a middle-class audience, many of whom (I thought to myself) would no doubt grovel shamelessly at the sight of a gun, yet here they were talking coldly about shooting and bombing people without, it seemed, fully appreciating what it was they were talking about. However, this did make me see another side of the argument.
It does seem hypocritical to condemn the IRA as murderous psychopaths when the British Army does things that are equally bloody, this the British Army whose soldiers gun people down mercilessly too and repress them to a greater degree than the IRA. Yet they are always blindly supported in this by the British press. After all, we are all here in Whincliffe to commemorate the gunning down fourteen civilians during Bloody Sunday in 1972.
For the first time I began to see a clearer picture of the situation in Ireland. But somehow I hated the cold way it was all discussed. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I don’t, and so my mind boils with confusion. Is this all there is? IS it the answer?
While the rest of the conference settled down to wait for the evening social, Lindsey and I left to walk into Whincliffe. I drew out £10 from the cashpoint and we found a Pizza Land and ate one huge pizza each, followed by ice cream. While we ate we discussed our doubts.
Carl counters the internationalist arguments against supporting the nationalist and sectarian IRA by stressing the need to follow the stages of economic development laid out by Marx. If Ireland is still fundamentally an agrarian nation Carl says (echoing Marx), it must first become a capitalist and bourgeois one. But this seems to me to be using the IRA and the Irish people as pawns and not fully explaining to them why the RCP supports Irish liberation.
This difference was thrown into perspective by a story we both heard later; the red-faced, beery members of the Glasgow Provo youth band, hired to entertain conference-goers, were seen ridiculing a made-up and lipsticked member of the Revolutionary Gay and Transgendered Caucus. The Provo lads didn’t know about Marx, didn’t know about the intricacies and the ideological wrangling over Ireland, or the factional tensions and differences between the RCG, the RCP, WP, the SWP etc. They didn’t know and they didn’t care. They were just ordinary lads from the back streets of Glasgow.
And yet all these “ideologically sound” middle class RCPers clapped and cheered them, echoing their shouts of “Up the Provos!” with upraised fists. It felt (and feels) like a pantomime of solidarity, because come the actual revolution, the RCP will be the efficient and cold apparachniks while the lads in the band and people like them will be the poor bastards who are being mobilized into ‘labour armies.’ I can’t help being so cynical, because this is how it will happen.
Lin and I returned to the social; strange walking back through Whincliffe on an ordinary unconcerned Saturday night. Somehow it seemed safe, it seemed real, and that other place didn’t. In a way it was like walking back into a dream.
We got back to find everyone plunging into festive oblivion (“See? Communists know how to enjoy themselves as well”). I noted with detached contempt those people we'd traveled up with from London as they leaped stupidly around the dance floor—mustachioed Dennis, whose monologue to me in the motorway dark about the history of N. Ireland ended with “Yeah, but do you get to study any good books?” when I’d told him about my American Studies course; droning, boring, arrogant Kate with the (stereotypical) short hair, heavy face, large mouth, monkey-boots. Are these the people we are to hold up as revolutionary examples? Will everyone be like this one day?
The band finally struck up again towards eleven, three flag-bearers at the front before the stage, legs apart, flags held at chest level, their young faces scowling, the band roaring out pipe and drum tunes, the drummers thrashing their drums with violent grimaces. One little group stood up to watch and clapped along, cheering, shouting “Troops Out!” and smiling broadly as they thumped the air in time to the beat. Down in front, a small kid hurled a baton high into the air.
Finally, back out into the night, organised chaos for quite a while, minibuses everywhere, dark figures hurrying to and fro. Tonight we were destined for a Church Hall somewhere. Patrick, Barry, Carl, Lindsey, Michael (another Barry Duckworth communist friend) and I are upstairs in a small room while the majority are downstairs in the main hall. Carl, Patrick, Michael and Barry have each other in fits of laughter.
I feel subdued and somehow worthless. At least tonight we have heaters.
Friday, January 28, 1983
I took a calculated risk and missed my tutorial for American History, anticipating I can change course on Monday. So I ligged in bed until one instead and got up to find Barry and Lindsey packed and ready to go. Whincliffe beckoned.
We got the train up to London with Susie (who was going home) and Rowan (who was catching a train to Durham to visit a friend at the Uni there). I couldn't tell whether I was looking forward to it or not, but we reached the big city mid-afternoon and were soon on our way to the Polytechnic of Central London.
We were riding up an escalator in the tube when Barry bumped into his friend Derek. It was just incredible: in mannerisms and speech, Derek is an identical replica of Barry’s RCP friend John. He had the same quick-fire wit and dry humour which came from a strangely creased sharkish face and downturned mouth. Susie, Lindsey and I smiled disbelievingly to one another at Barry’s apparently nationwide network of revolutionary communist friends. He seems to meet them everywhere!
After a short walk to PCL through dark and familiar streets hemmed in by concrete and glass, we found RCP Carl sitting in the bar downstairs with a mate Don, who was a quiet old-fashioned looking bloke with short back and sides. He reminded me of a 1920s miner or something. A few drinks and several packets of crisps later we left, said goodbye to Susie, and caught the tube to Hackney to meet our ride to Whincliffe.
Near Hackney town hall we were greeted by a group of dark figures huddled around a white minibus. They looked frozen to death, and I was so dispirited as we clambered in the back that I briefly contemplated doing a runner, leaping out and going back to Watermouth. . . . The back of the bus was heaped with bags and people and spare tires and I settled miserably into my 'seat.' In the blackness all around me the others shared political in-jokes about “Workers' Power,” “Sparts” (Sparticist League) and, their favourite target, liberal CNDers and the “Greenham Gals.”
Carl was in typical cynical form: what was it someone said about cynics knowing the price of everything yet the value of nothing? Hours went by before the other minibuses from the North and South London branches arrived and we could finally set off. We reached Whincliffe in the late hours of the evening.
We drove for ages around the dark back streets and it was all very conspiratorial. For a while we waited miserably in the back yard of a towering dark terrace beneath a bright moon and scudding clouds, cut to death by the wind, before we were ushered up several narrow flights of stairs into an empty curtainless room with bare floorboards and just a pile of bricks in one corner. So this is our room for the night we thought, but no, we were off again, back down to the minibus and a short drive to the Islamic Youth Centre, “somewhere in Whincliffe.”
This was a big old house with a long garden in front and dark and empty windows. There was a hassle as the door wouldn’t open at first but soon we were ensconced in a plush carpeted room which we couldn’t use after all as it was a prayer room: we'd probably defiled it beyond redemption by tramping in in shoes and boots, unrolling our sleeping bags, etc. We removed upstairs. The building seemed to be in a state of semi-dereliction, the cold toilets strewn with litter.
Our new bedroom is similar to the last, only with a thinner and more threadbare carpet, no curtains at the windows and very cold. We quietly unpacked and everyone has laid down on the hard floor to sleep, and me to write this.
Thursday, January 27, 1983
Shawn’s birthday. At lunchtime Barry and I went up to meet him and everyone else at the Town & Gown. I was in a weird mood, I don’t know why.
I bought 3 boiled eggs just for the hell of it (16p each!) while Shawn got pissed on all the vodka and oranges everyone bought him. He was really drunk and as his eyes got bloodshot they gradually merged with the general colour of his face. He walked unsteadily back to Wollstonecraft, all the while an evil and inane grin spread across his face.
In the evening a few people went to see The Psychedelic Furs at Medusa’s in Watermouth, a surprise birthday present for Shawn, who'd been told it was sold out. Bev persuaded Susie and I to go see Julian Bahula’s Jazz Afrika at The Shelter instead. We twisted Barry’s arm until he reluctantly agreed to come too. All the way into Watermouth Susie and Bev amused us and one another with lateral thinking problems.
Tickets were £2.25 each and, as I seemed to be the only person with any money, I ended up paying for everyone. We seated ourselves at a table stuck away at the back apart from everyone else and the band started almost immediately, a jazzy sound with afro rhythms and a Weather Reportish bass player. Jazz-rock I suppose, but pretty infectious. They did no less than three sets, each one more enthusiastic than the last until finally everyone was up dancing, strange and swaying, all smiles and twitching feet.
We left before the end to get the last train back.
Tuesday, January 25, 1983
This RCP conference in Whincliffe looms. A decision presses itself in on me. What should I do? I’ve told Barry I will go, but I'll have to endure all the heavy dialectical diatribe, the leftist posturing, the sectarian sabre-rattling: I feel I can’t face it. I could stay here - I want to - and at one point I almost told Barry I wasn’t going, but now Penny tells me that Lindsey wants me to go as otherwise she’d be the only non-convert there. . . .
An example of how emotional I've been these days: after returning from yet another boozy night out at Westway Loop (God, I’ve spent so much on drink this last week: I’ve been drunk nearly every night), I found myself in my room with Penny and Shelley. Shelley: “How are you doing?” Me: “Isolated.”
But then Marco and Russ blundered in and that was that. I must’ve fallen asleep because I woke up on my bed covered by a blanket and everyone was gone.
Monday, January 24, 1983
The Modernism tutorial was OK, and for once I could speak with self-assurance, having done all that was required of me. We have to read Eliot’s “The Wasteland” for next week.
The rest of the day crawled languidly by, grey-skied out and gloomy within. Penny and her boyfriend of two years have split up: she told me this and just stood gazing out the window. Everyone else had departed out into the bleak wetness to go to the Accommodations office.
I, instead, was a vision of grey lethargy, sprawled in the corridor in the dingy light of the cold blank afternoon.
Sunday, January 23, 1983
I read Heart of Darkness all day. It’s a really good book, especially the ending. I thought about writing a lot of the lines and passages down to remember them.
Everything still feels unreal and so very strange. I laid on Barry’s bed as the blue gloom of dusk gradually shrouded the two huge feathery trees towering outside his window. Bowie played softly on the stereo. It's as if somehow I’m set apart and everyone else is living out day-to-day life while I remain marooned and isolated in an obsessive mental prison.
This same mood haunts and plagues me when I'm in the kitchen and even outside.
Saturday, January 22, 1983
I felt slightly uneasy last night around Rowan because of what she now knows about my inner torture and weaknesses. A big group of us headed to the train for our pub crawl and we had a long wait in the shelters on the platform at the University station. I was vividly aware of a hint of a look in Rowan’s eyes. . . .
In the first pub I felt very awkward and ill at ease. I’d taken the rest of my speed before setting out and although it was having its usual pounding heart and ‘nervous’ excited stomach effects, I think my tolerance must’ve crept up because my reactions weren't as marked.
Our group filled up the entire length of one wall of the pub. Shawn's face was flushed: he was on a speed binge he'd vowed in black humour after two 5s and a 4 on his exams. Meanwhile, at the other end of the row, Lindsey, Rowan, Penny and I sat in a little stilted semi-circle. Again I was all too painfully conscious of the long gaps in our conversation. I had to escape to the toilet a couple of times. We careened from pub to pub, and we lapsed gradually into drunkenness, the conversations free lowing now as alcohol loosened our tongues. We stayed longest in the last pub and I sat next to Lindsey and found it easy talking to her, even though our conversation was pretty mundane.
The riotous train journey coming back was great fun. Barry staggered up and down the carriage and I detected a wry smile or two from the other passengers at our huge drunken gaggle, arms round one other, shouting and talking. I ended up staying up all night, in the kitchen mainly, or downstairs in the common room playing pool and pinball or sitting in the foyer. For once my concerns were shoved aside.
I slept late. It's been an unremarkable day, reading Conrad’s Heart of Darkness for Monday.
Friday, January 21, 1983
I ended up back in the Town & Gown last night. Stu had two friends down, jovial lads from Basildon, and most of our group was there but I sat to one side, hunched low and morose in my seat. Apart from a conversation with Penny about Buddhism, I didn’t say anything.
My abiding recollection of the whole evening is of its unreality and of the very strange feelings inside that made mundane everyday concerns feel distant and unimportant. It felt impossible for me to participate, so I sat there feeling increasingly strange. Lindsey sat across from me at the table, occasionally flicking a look in my direction as I sank further and further into my seat. I looked so out of things and apart that I could see her and Susie exchanging low comments and glancing over at me.
Back in Wollstonecraft I paced neurotically from room to room, then down to the foyer feeling torn inside, my feelings unbearable and impossible to describe, impossible to contain. I ran my hands through my hair in desperation and I could’ve screamed, kicked something to bits, done anything!
But today those feelings are muted and at times absent. I went to my American History tutorial, an endless Alan Draper monologue about Zuckerman’s Fabrication of Identity in Early America.
Tonight we're having our now weekly Watermouth pub crawl. Evening is always that time when all my fears, obsessions and passing daylight thoughts are focused and intensified.
Thursday, January 20, 1983
What I'm about to write isn’t easy to relate: I’ve been putting it off all day. At the moment I'm barricaded in my room, afraid to show my face too readily to the outside world. I’m worried too in case I misrepresent what's happened.
It started as a routine Wednesday. I was still morose and dissatisfied: at teatime I went to collect a huge wad of photocopies I’m supposed to read, which depressed me even more. It seemed to emphasise how fed up I am with my course, and so I stamped back up the stairs in a mood and, at a total loss, went to bed at six.
I was only asleep a couple of hours and went to the coffee shop to meet Pete and new girlfriend Mo. We then went up to the Town & Gown. I sat down in the bar next to the two of them, glass in hand, and I just knew I was on my way again; as conversation raged around me I sat quietly, out of it. . . . Mo is sweet and quiet and very nice. Rowan’s friend Kathryn asked me why I didn’t come out with the usual 'How are you? Want a fag?' talk to which I gave my standard “I prefer to sit back silently” answer. I warmed to my theme with Pete and Mo, but honestly this was all probably just a defence mechanism because I’m no good at those usual things anyway.
I strode back to Wollstonecraft Hall feeling quite drunk, but not as pissed off as later events would suggest.
I can’t really remember what happened next. Somehow I was lying on my bed, Rowan standing over me, and I was sobbing like a fool while she tried to console me. I don’t know why I was in such a state. I told Rowan I needed to confide in someone . . . I don’t know what or why. . . and lay there shielding my face and choking on sobs while someone kept trying the locked door. Then I was out in the corridor and crying again in front of Lindsey, who brought me coffee and even tried (I see now) to jolly me out of it. What was wrong with me?
Today has felt very strange. I laid in bed this morning looking out the window and somehow feeling fragile. I got up at seven. I felt self conscious in the kitchen with everyone and when Shelley asked me why I was so upset last night I couldn’t even explain! A little delusion, I thought, that I played with myself to convince me I was going mad.
At teatime I bought a third of a gramme of speed from Jamie and went to Rowan's room and sat down to talk. I could feel the speed's effects—a quickening of the pulse, a strange almost jittery butterfly feeling in my gut, and I wondered aloud about Lindsey and how maybe she’s the real root of last night’s upset, but also something more, a terrible sense of pointlessness which has overtaken me and numbed me into absolute apathy. There's nothing I can think of that will satisfy or give me peace. Rowan says that the only time I seem to relax is when I’m drunk—shit, I’ve got no enthusiasm for this narrative, as my feelings are so difficult to pinpoint. How much is fact? How much is self indulgence?
It’s not easy to go on as if nothing’s happened after last night.
Wednesday, January 19, 1983
I ended up drunk once more last night, the fourth time in a week. I haven’t done any work for a while. Barry said he’d buy me a drink if I went up to Biko’s with him, Shelley, Lindsey and Marco. So I sat there over my glass like some old wino in sombre shabby clothes and was soon drunk. I now owe various people about £11, mainly for booze.
Back in Wollstonecraft Hall I fell asleep all over the place again, talking with Marco about his split with his girlfriend of eight months. I feel as if I want to pour out my heart to someone and really confide in them. . . . Pete glimpsed hand-in-hand with latest love Mo . . . so easy for some, so hard for others.
I think this American Studies decision stinks, and surely “they” must’ve known about the cuts when we applied, in which case we could’ve been forewarned. I now wish I'd gone to Brynmor—it has a better course and a year abroad too. Guy, Pete, and I are planning on seeing the Dean about it tomorrow. I just hope I can change to Lit!
I look ahead and see years of dissatisfaction, always searching for dream situations which remain so intangible and out of reach.
Tuesday, January 18, 1983
Yesterday Shelley told me that Guy came back from a meeting about the American Studies year abroad with news that cuts have forced the University to charge us £1000 if we want to go.
This news really sickens me: the year in the States was a big factor in me choosing this course. And now I can’t go, and if I can’t change to Literature either and get stuck with the History track and no year abroad, well . . . the next 3 years just stretch away bleakly at the thought.
I laid on Shelley’s bed brooding. What incentive is there now? Earlier I'd gone to see my personal tutor to choose courses for the rest of my time here, and as I looked through the options I felt totally disinterested and thoroughly deadened by my choices.
So at teatime a group of us went up to the Cork & Bottle in Sarisgate and I gratefully seized on the opportunity as an excuse to throw myself into the comforts of alcoholic oblivion for a while. I got drunk on shorts and blundered back feeling absolutely frozen only to slump around sleepily in Rowan's room. She, in bed in the dark, said, “The more I know of you the less reachable you seem. You don’t give anything away about yourself. I don’t know anything about you.” I finally went to my bed at three or so.
I had some really vivid and coherent dreams: I was back in the 1830s and felt excited at the prospect of visiting Bethany. A railway line stretched naked across the moors.
I was still drunk when I woke up and when I looked at my clock I thought it said 4.15 p.m., so I lay there for fully ½ an hour under this delusion, deciding I may as well stay in bed. But when I looked again I realised it was 8.45 a.m. and I was jolted into reality by loud voices outside my door.
RCP Carl's parents were questioning Barry about his whereabouts: he hasn’t been in touch at all or even signed on for the new term at Poly. After they’d left Barry found he'd got a postcard from Carl and Patrick. They're in Oxford: “In the city of dreaming spires, looking at it in a scientific way, seeing if wine, women, song + lobster something or other have any effect on communist convictions. We’re making these sacrifices for the revolution.”
I got a typed letter from Duncan Verity asking me, if I had the time, to look up various ‘haunted’ places in Watermouth. He really knows his topography! It seemed so weird reading this blast from the past as I wandered back through the foyer of Wollstonecraft Hall.
Since hearing this news about the year abroad yesterday I’ve felt at such a loss. Do I know why I’m here? What do I want? There's got to be more.
Monday, January 17, 1983
I finished the essay for my Modernism tutorial last night: I didn’t find it too difficult: it's an argument I’ve made time and time again.
We had another interesting time in the tutorial itself, firstly discussing the essay topic and then John Barth, an extract of whose we’d read. Dr. Bonnycastle showed us Barth's novel LETTERS and read us an extract from his story “Glossalalia,” the words fitting the rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer but describing something completely different. Quite interesting. Bonnycastle sent away with instructions to read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
Afterwards, Lindsey and I went into Watermouth. I was planning on getting a large 180 x 210 cm piece of canvas for my wall so I can start an enormous wall-painting, but instead all I did was buy The Fall’s Room To Live.
I used to criticise The Fall for their monotony but now I find that enjoyable, although Room To Live isn’t as good as Grotesque or Hex; Gareth said it lacks humour, and is full of intimations of foreboding.
I enjoyed the trip and I think Lindsey did too.
Sunday, January 16, 1983
Shelley's been strange for a while now, so when she vanished again last night at 3 a.m., saying she was “going to the lake,” I went after her, worried it wasn’t safe among all the dark trees and thinking that perhaps she wanted to talk. But perhaps she wanted to be alone too, although I never considered that. I caught up with her fairly quickly and we strode together to the dark, silent water to sit awhile beneath the stars and clouds. Then we headed up the road into the hills overlooking campus.
Shelley wanted to climb to the very top and watch the sun come up, but we didn’t get that far: instead, we sat at the side of the road in the blowy cold of the early hours, looking down towards the University, which was a sprinkle of white flickering lights buried amid a blanket of black hills, the orange street lamps of distant Watermouth and the motorway casting a glow into the sky.
We were quiet a long time until finally Shelley said: “All the people we know are down there, in those lights. I never want to leave: I want to stay here forever.” Later, Penny told me that it’s as though Shelley is trying to push herself so far that she’ll actually believe she really does want to end it all; this is what the incessant late nights and the drinking every night are designed to do. It as if she’s trying to prove something.
We decided we'd better go back so we walked back down the road. Occasionally the searing glare of passing car headlamps froze us for an instant in their light, the drivers no doubt wondering what we two were doing out there at this hour, who we were, etc.
Today I made Grant a birthday card and wrote a letter on the inside of the card, but other than this, a boring yawn of a day, a day so stiflingly ordinary that I started to feel I have no purpose or direction in my life. What am I doing? I wandered to and fro from room to room or to the kitchen and back, the heavy hand of confusion upon me, “moving in a mist.” It's depressing. Is this all there is to life?
At eight p.m., everyone was in Stu’s room having a big debate on the validity of poetry, Stu declaring all poetry pretentious--he argued that only if it’s put to music does it have any validity, although he faced united disagreement.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. It was a tall gaunt hippy type wearing an embroidered smock, dirty red and white striped trousers, baseball boots, a small green woolen skull cap perched on his head. He carried a huge white sack. He came in holding out a cigarette and nodding strangely with tiny birdlike movements and sat down. The atmosphere grew heavy with scarcely-stifled laughter. Gareth was red-faced and hilariously sarcastic in the corner, and a couple of people rushed from the room.
When the man spoke his voice was small, distant, and barely audible. He asked us if we had any biscuits and whether Stu had any Grateful Dead LPs. Who was he? Where had he come from? He said his name was Steven, but little else was forthcoming, and he was virtually impossible to talk to. He started to mutter something about Hobbes and Leviathan (which both Stu and Barry are reading), but soon progressed onto Jim Morrison, black crows, astrology, and something about a Chinese man. He’s been in Watermouth since Thursday he says, sleeping rough in the railway station: he’d come to the Uni. because he used to know someone here.
He vanished out to the kitchen where he pulled plastic carrier bags from his white sack that were filled with grubby tins, jars, odd boxes of teas, a piece of licorice honeycomb, and numerous crusts of heavy bread. Then he proceeded to tear the bread into stodgy lumps and tried to grill it, sitting with his back to us, facing the dark window, while we nervously paced the kitchen behind him, whispering various theories about his condition. Maybe he's a social psychology student conducting an experiment? Maybe he has amnesia? “No, he's an acid-head,” said Jamie. Gareth told Steven he could kip on his floor
Then, all of a sudden, three hulking uniformed security men appeared from nowhere, officious and all hard no-nonsense words. Did I know him: Was he my friend? Had I invited him here? Who was he? I had my name taken and Gareth was asked to show his Registration card; he was quiet and angry. We’d been all for leaving him be but Emily and Shelley had complained to Security.
For a few minutes I pretended I'd invited him to stay but the patience of the three security men was wearing increasingly thin and despite Steven's quiet protestations (they, half-smirking, cutting in, “yes yes, come on!”), they led him by the arms and out of the kitchen. “It’s been the same all along the line,” he said as they bundled him through the door, like a 'piece of shit on the pavement' as Marco might say.
I was upset. We were split into two camps: Gareth, Stu and I in one and everyone else in the other, and for a while I hated them for their practicality but this soon faded; I could see that Shelley was torn with remorse and upset that we'd fallen out. “Are we still friends,” she asked me, so I apologised and said I wasn’t upset with her, just at the whole shitty situation.
So Steven sat in the Taylor Hall security office shrilly trying to explain himself, the subject now of laughing phone calls to the police (“. . . yes, he’s gabbling on now . . .”) .
It's been a strange evening.
Saturday, January 15, 1983
Another orgy of self-indulgence last night. A big group of us hit Watermouth for a pub crawl. Tensions between Russ and Graeme: on seeing Lindsey and Susie, Russ said, “Why the fuck did you bring those two?” and continued to mutter angrily about wanting a “lads night out.”
Phil and Barry rolled up at nine, Phil already drunk and slurring in typical excited fashion. They were both broke. They asked Graeme if he’d cash a cheque for ‘em at the bar, but Graeme said, “Well, I don’t know about that. I don’t know if I can trust you to pay me back.” So me and Phil went down to the cashpoint and I drew out a tenner between us.
Much confusion . . . different groups in different pubs, everyone getting progressively drunker . . . I drank shorts once more, double whiskies, vodkas, Southern Comforts galore, Lindsey very pissed also. Susie, Barry and I got into a loud slurred debate about the revolutionary capacities of art and its relevance to ‘the struggle’ etc. Can art change consciousness?
We caught the last train back, Lindsey in a not-often-seen state of openness, greeting strangers on the train (who were mainly teaching students from the College, but also a quiet blond-haired man in his early twenties huddled silent in the corner—he crops up later). Lin and I thrust our heads out the carriage window to look for ‘the others,’ yelling hellos to passersby on the platform, waving to ticket attendants. . . . Then, the journey over, we all staggered off arm-in-arm at the University stop, impossible, incredible Phil dominating our little group with his loud unstoppable friendliness.
We found a disco in Taylor Hall but it didn’t seem very popular. While Phil and Lin danced on the near empty dance floor I found our train friend wandering about in the back room where the ‘bar’ was. He was like some sort of Mark E. Smith figure with his straight longish blond hair, earring, grey overcoat, grey boots and shapeless trousers, especially as he was from up North and had a quiet, serious and thoughtful air about him. He said he was a postgrad doing Thermodynamics or something and I joined him at his table where he bought me cans of pale ale, filled up my glass with cider, and we talked. He told me he writes poetry, has had some published already, has written a novel but discarded it as unsatisfactory, and once met Adrian Mitchell. . . .
I was inwardly glad I’d found him and invited him back to the kitchen and introduced him (looking back now) with a trusting drunken naivety that makes me cringe and today reduces me to silent self-crucifixion.
When I woke up, Rowan and Yvonne brought me tea, baked potatoes and bacon in bed. Gareth reminded me what I’d come out with last night: “This is John. He’s a poet.” I was mortified and wanted to dig a hole for myself and hide from the world. “He saw you coming,” said Gareth, and proceeded to frame how it was that John had bought this pissed idiot (me) a few cans and told tall tales of poetry which the idiot swallowed with wide-eyed blustering gullibility. Had a bit of fun at my expense, etc.
Everyone was very subdued and quiet.
I've just written to Claire and I'm reading the intro to Turgenev’s Fathers & Sons and looking forward to Bazarov.
Friday, January 14, 1983
Today’s tutorial with Alan Draper was a bit off-putting. I missed my nine o'clock slot, so went with Pete to the one at eleven.
It was a pathetic group, including a girl with a nasal foghorn voice who droned on at Alan D. about the difficulty of getting books (“We’re finding it impossible”), and a North country lad who came out with the word “doddle”; AD didn’t understand, so the lad apologised for his “provincialness.” Minutes into the session someone else stuck up his hand and asked if he could go get a drink. When he returned he had a can of Coke and a cheese roll; Pete smirked at me with eyebrows raised in disbelief.
As the tutorial progressed, Foghorn Girl slumped further and further into her seat, her leg dangling wearily over the arm of the chair, and adopted a pained and bored expression; once she even glanced at her watch, which prompted Alan D. to say, “Thanks a lot…” The tutorial didn’t go well and Pete was pretty sickened off; neither of us have much enthusiasm for the future. I'm glad I’m making an attempt to switch to Lit.
In the afternoon Pete and I went with Barry and Lindsey to their Sociology lecture given by Dr. Howard Kirk on “Positivism and Idealism.” It was incomprehensible. However, it did give me the idea that attending lectures unrelated to my courses is a good thing. Earlier in the day Barry went to a lecture on the Theory of Capital as part of his own self-imposed study of Marxism. He's aiming to read a hundred pages a day, starting off with The German Ideology. This is one aspect of him I admire.
It would be great to have some sort of course of study or specific interest of my own to pursue but, as I’ve written before, I find no ideology or structure that satisfies me. They all leave me with a disquieting feeling that there’s something missing. I want something all-encompassing.
Thursday, January 13, 1983
Last night we all went out and got very drunk for Shelley's birthday. We started out at the Town and Gown: Phil came across from Watermouth College and brought his girlfriend Fiona.
I got drunk on numerous whiskies, vodkas, Southern Comforts and a couple of pints of cider. Beverly was legless; I’ve never seen her so pissed before and she gazed about with that big, broad toothy ear-to-ear smile of hers, and when she stood up she could hardly walk: we stumbled arm-in-arm back to Westway Loop bar where I talked with Shelley about family and her mental tortures.
She says feels no different than she did before and told me it was useless trying to help her, that we are all trapped in our little boxes, unable to break through to one another on a deeper, more important level. No doubt because of my alcohol-sensitivity this realisation upset me and I was almost in tears. I get too emotional over nothing.
Back in Wollstonecraft I drunkenly stumbled from room to room, wandering upstairs with Pete and Lindsey to watch a cellist and a violinist play in the upstairs kitchen. I really don’t recall too much else; suffice to say I got to bed somehow and woke up late today.
Wednesday, January 12, 1983
Tuesday, January 11, 1983
I worked solidly from ten until one in the library with a book I reserved last night. I’ve been quite conscientious of late.
Patrick and Carl left at teatime. Sunday’s vehemence and hostility wasn’t a true reflection of how we got on, as they were OK and good to be with 99% of the time. It's just when we got into heavy political debates that tempers started to fray. There was another instance yesterday with Marco.
Rowan was irked by Patrick and Carl's continued presence: she said they'd introduced a “sexual element” and were “upsetting the balance.” Yvonne spent quite a bit of time with Patrick, and Susie was with C. continuously from Friday afternoon on too.
The Modernism tutorial points me away from Kerouac: I now see the limits of his method and content. I read a little of Lonesome Traveler on the train down from Easterby and this reaffirmed it. But I still think he's a good author.
I bought three albums for £9: John Coltrane, Archie Shepp and Freddie Hubbard, the last of which I'm not too keen on. I'm listening to Transition by Coltrane at the moment, “new recordings never previously available” (recorded June 10, 1965).
Monday, January 10, 1983
I had my Modernism tutorial with Dr. Bonnycastle at eleven, which promises to be very interesting. There are just three of us (two blokes, one girl) and Bonnycastle asked us each our opinion about select examples of modern art—Picasso (both representational and cubist), two pieces by a C20th composer, Ulysses, plus modern novels like Burroughs. I was quite vocal: my argument was basically that modern art is confused because the modern world is confused: art reflects society, and so dislocated events, alienation, isolation, confusion and a lack of order find their reflection in modern art. It can’t be anything but, can it? It looks like a really promising course.
We were sent away to write in response to the question “Whatever happened to Modern Art?” for next Monday.
At four-thirty I met Julian Banner to see about changing from the History to the Literature track of my American Studies degree. We had a high-speed conversation: I rushed through my ‘reasons’ for wanting a change (“my outlook has altered since applying through UCCA” etc.). I left feeling none too optimistic.
Lindsey saw her tutor to collect last term’s report and was humiliated; he effectively told she should take a year off, and now she’s been plunged into confusion. Shelley said L. was in a funny mood all day and she does seem quieter than normal. Penny got back today, brown from the Australian sun but in a muddle over her course and whether or not to leave Watermouth. Shelley hates her course too and is threatening to leave if things don’t buck up before the end of this year.
Sunday, January 9, 1983
Rowan, out of the picture to date, reasserted her presence in our thoughts again last night. From her room came the sounds of heavy objects being flung against the wall, of glass smashing and, above that and David Bowie, the shrill screams of female voices. Shelley contrived an excuse to get Rowan to come out, which she did, saying (oddly), “we’re having a ‘Lord of the Flies,’” a term she repeated, embellishing it with fluttering upraised arm movements. Then she crunched back through broken green glass into her den.
Later we got more glimpses of the weird goings on; Rowan was really going to town, along with a girl from downstairs and her blond friend Katie. Rowan's door opened for second giving us a glimpse of Katie's leaping figure: “Its great” she screamed, “we’re going mad, just letting everything go! When Barry mentioned a presence in this room I thought he was joking. I’m not so sure now. . . .” The screams and wails continued into the early hours before the three of them disappeared downstairs.
I was up all night in Stu’s room with he and Pete, thinking up names for a hypothetical band. Quite fun: The Delinquent Roundheads?—hysterics—but we finally settled on Trotsky’s Head Wound. I didn’t go to bed until seven this morning.
Now it's almost five p.m. and I feel angry in a way I haven’t for a long time. This stems directly from an argument I dropped in on in Yvonne’s room between Yvonne, Pete and Patrick (a friend of Barry’s who's been here since Barry got back on Wednesday with Carl). Patrick's about twenty, triangular-faced when smiling and, with his long greatcoat and blond hair, has a sort of Rupert Brooke innocence to him.
But I'm infuriated by the self-assured Marxist crap he was coming out with and the arrogant way he expressed it; the debate got heated and he got personal and offensive. I hated him for it. He subjected me to caustic, cynical, and arrogant insults about jazz (“it’s just a pose . . . I don’t even think you like it”), a more intense and cutting taste of what I’ve had from him all week. I seemed incapable of speaking up for myself: I was silent and dumb, as though numb-headed and impotent in the face of this self-proclaimed “intellectual superiority.”
Why can’t I express my beliefs? I've arrived at no clear cut conclusions about anything, only a vision of a “world on fire,” a confusion of ideas and beliefs about what is best, but no concrete vision of what 'best' means or how it might be achieved. While Patrick, Carl, and Barry surround themselves with RCP and IRA pamphlets legitimising violence, I wander aimlessly from idea to idea, “lost in a mist.” Carl's been plugging an upcoming RCP demo’ in Whincliffe to commemorate the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, but I can’t in all honesty say I want to go. But Lindsey is going, which almost persuades me.
I wonder if I'll be plagued by these doubts and insecurities all my life? Most of the time I ram them into the background but they’re always there, popping up mercilessly and nagging me to death. The political question bothers me a lot. I have a lot of little opinions on most subjects but I don’t have any all-encompassing philosophy to tie them all together. What’s my position? Anarchism? Buddhism? Nihilism? A bit of each maybe. . . .
I’m such a lazy slob! Carl says he reads a bit of Marx everyday. Should I be doing something similar? What do I believe in?
Ulysses to read for tomorrow (!).
Saturday, January 8, 1983
A few of us visited Empire Lane to watch Watermouth Trinity play Tremelyn Rovers in the fourth round of the Counties Cup. We got there shortly after K.O.; it was a very scrappy game totally lacking in atmosphere. The first half was appalling, but mid-way through the second half Tremelyn scored and from then on looked the better side; the Tremelyn contingent exploded at the goal and continued to bounce up and down until the final whistle.
The rest of the game was full of goal mouth scrapes and exciting end-to-end stuff. I was fascinated by the colours; beneath the floodlights the pitch glowed a vivid chemical green and everything looked super real—the crowd, the hoardings and beyond, a green sunset sky smeared pink by banks of cirrus still lit by a sun long gone beneath the horizon.
Friday, January 7, 1983
A big group of us went to Ted's party in Parliament Place, Watermouth. His flat is in an enormous house set in a plush, affluent area towards the edge of town, Jags parked on the corner, etc. The party was OK and I got quite drunk. Susie and RCP Carl gradually fell into one another’s arms as the night progressed.
Thursday, January 6, 1983
After looking at my books, I realise that most of them are Literature oriented: this is the field which interests me the most, so today I went to see about changing course.
I talked with the School Secretary and she put me in touch with someone else who told me I had to make an appointment on Monday. I have to fill out a form and spell out my exact reasons for wanting to make a move. This is difficult to articulate, but I came away at least satisfied that I've set the wheels in motion. I got a letter from Claire too.
The rest of the day was spent in the usual indolent lounging in Stu’s room with Stu, Gareth and Shawn. We had a wide ranging argument about the Sex Pistols, rock-n-roll and the Pistol's influence on music. Stu and Shawn argued that the Pistols had “destroyed the music industry,” which is just crap, while Gareth and I argued that the punk thing was nothing new, as nothing ever is, and is just another form of youth protest and rebellion like the hippies of the '60s, who in turn grew out of the Beats. If anything, the rock-n-roll revolution of the ‘50s was more shocking and had bigger repercussions than the Pistols, who existed in an already-jaded world of porn, flower power, dyed hair, bomb outrages etc.
I said the rise of rock-n-roll was linked to the demise of danceable jazz and the onset of post-swing solo-directed stuff like bebop, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker: jazz was the youth music of the '30s and '40s and all that was changed by rock-n-roll. This was something I’d never thought of before, yet the more I went on about it, the more plausible it seemed. I also said I don't like mass movements and the mass mentality; originality is hyped and ripped off by a world that drags everything down to the lowest common denominator.
I worked out my finances after paying my rent yesterday. I have £201.44 in my account, and if I can get away with spending £25 a week all term I'll have £170 left at Easter.
Wednesday, January 5, 1983
I eventually went out for a drink last night with Pete and we got very drunk. At one point I could hardly focus my eyes: the world swam and my speech was heavily slurred. We rushed about pestering people who were revising for exams tomorrow. Thank God I’m free of such worries until next December. I ended up in bed by two, although I don’t remember getting there at all.
The inevitable pangs of remorse tinged with shame bedeviled me when I woke at nine. I got up at ten, proud to have upheld my new term's vow in one respect at least.
In the afternoon, Gareth, Stu and I headed into Watermouth where we ran into Gareth’s friend Ted as we exited the railway station, so we all wandered around town looking in record shops. I bought Coltrane’s 1965 album Ascension, which is some of his freer stuff, and my fifth album by him. It plays as I write. It's interesting to trace his musical progression from the straight melodies of ’57’s Dakar, through 1964’s A Love Supreme, right up to the final improv free stuff of 1965-67.
Anyhow, we said goodbye to Ted until a supposed all-nighter at his house in town on Friday. We picked up my boxed records and record player at the station and struggled back with them on the train.
It's good to get everything set up and hear my records here in this setting. I’ve spent the evening in, listening to discs, apart from a couple of quick drinks at the Town and Gown. The Art Ensemble's Reese and the Smooth Ones has appalled everyone—especially Shelley, and Charlie Parker lasted thirty seconds, if that!
Tuesday, January 4, 1983
I got back to Uni at four thirty: it only took me six hours on the train, which isn’t bad going. I reached Watermouth as it drew in dusk and I felt a slight heaviness of heart, but this evaporated on seeing familiar faces as I boarded the University train.
There weren’t many people about in Wollstonecraft Hall apart from Shelley, Lindsey, and a couple of others, but most rolled up in the evening. Only Rowan and Barry are outstanding from our two corridors.
Monday, January 3, 1983
A disquieting dream about an air-crash: stiffened corpses in a temporary morgue, etc. It somehow had something to do with Uni.
Robert came to see the match at half-eleven. I didn't go because I’m short of cash; I've got just £5 left (a gift from Nanna P.).
Sunday, January 2, 1983
A quiet day, supposedly devoted to reading Simmons. Inevitably, I got little done.
Jeremy rolled up unexpectedly at teatime; he doesn’t go back until early February. We talked along the usual lines and Claire’s name cropped up. Bluntly he asked me, “do you like her?” I hedged in typical embarrassment but he pressed home the point: “Come on, you don’t have to deny it!” Me: “It’s purely platonic, we’re just friends, there’s not anything more!”
Apparently, she's the only one who remains ignorant of my feelings. But I'm also conscious that this is something I've built up in my mind that's separate from the reality of how and who she is. I create an idealised image of her.
Saturday, January 1, 1983
“Another year over and a new one just begun,” and so far it hasn’t really been a very happy one for me.
New Year's Eve night was clear with a full moon. I wanted to go out, so I called Grant and met him in Ashburn; he lent me back the money I’d given him earlier for a record and we set out for the Albion. I suppose I should've known that these occasions always depress me: my inadequacies are thrown into stark relief and I end up feeling bitter and angry towards ordinary people. . . . I’m so painfully awkward.
The Albion was impossibly crowded so we walked miles to the Iron Duke, where we saw in the new year, standing sullen and cynical to one side, sneering at the revelry, talking loudly about how so few people seem worth the effort. I always end up turning into a fascist in these situations, “Line the bastards up against a wall,” etc., which is probably just my frustration and inferiority complex talking. Truth is I wouldn't have minded immersing myself in the sea of lecherous embraces.
Finally the Hour dawned, and we could hear Big Ben faintly above the festive roar of incessant shouting, the clinking glasses, the laughter. We joined in the usual drunken rendition of “Auld Lang Syne,” singing “Fuck off you cunts” instead.
How bitter can you get? I got home to find Andrew and Dad slightly drunk. I felt pretty sickened off with the whole ‘scene’ so I went to bed after the Old Grey Whistle Test's ‘Pick of the Year.’
An inauspicious start to 1983 on the football field. Dad, Andrew and I drove to Whincliffe for the much-anticipated Yorkshire derby game with Athletic. It was wet and dismal and the seven hundred or so Athletic fans were herded to one end of the ground, open to the elements. The rest of the ground was quite full. We met Robert inside.
Athletic began well but after only a few minutes, a cross ended up in the Athletic net and then almost immediately Whincliffe scored again with a penalty. The Athletic fans were plunged into restless, despairing silence, before Newlands pulled one back with a simple header past the motionless keeper.
In the second half things looked a bit more even and Athletic seemed more willing to attack, but Whincliffe looked very very good in spells, especially going forward. And sure enough, after yet another fluid, penetrating Whincliffe raid we saw the ball crash past a statuesque Nussey to make it 1-3. Seconds later they had another and Athletic were broken. They were all over us now, Easterby’s ragged defence looking slow and unsophisticated. Shortly it was five; Nussey was playing terribly, never moving for the ball and showing a total lack of anticipation.
Finally Whincliffe’s sixth stuffed the defeat home and the home crowd rose to roar its triumph at us. It was good to see the Athletic following give the team a standing ovation at the end. There was troubled talk between us of how the break seems to have left us a poorer side. Are we going to be relegated? Will we get a new ‘keeper? Outside the ground the streets were congested as hundreds of cars and thousands of people flooded up Purswell Road towards the town centre.
Distinct feelings of dissatisfaction with this journal again. As I said earlier, it's a feeling that it ought to be more, that it isn’t enough as it is. I'm still only ½ way through Simmons and Ulysses beckons, all six hundred confusing pages.