No 5 - 1982
Part of the Story
(Four English Letters)
Tuesday, 15 July.
I send you the enclosed cutting for your delectation :-
(EVENING STANDARD - 14 July 1975)
The Underground moves one step closer to busy Heathrow Airport on July 19 when Hatton Cross station is opened. This new Piccadilly Line station on the Great West Road (A30) will serve the maintenance areas on the south side of the Airport and the large housing districts of North Feltham and Bedfont. There is at present no car park but London Transport hopes to provide one later on. Hatton Cross will be served by 900 trains a week. On Mondays to Fridays, trains will run every four minutes in rush hours, every ten minutes during the middle of the day, every 7½ minutes in the evenings. Trains on Saturdays will be 10 minutes apart and on Sundays, 15 minutes.
So there you are : don’t think I don’t know the facts. But it is comforting to realise that the authorities now actually believe that there are real people living in Bedfont. Civilization and all it portends is, I’m afraid, unavoidable. No longer is Hounslow the end of the world: it’s creeping slowly westwards. Today, Bedfont - tomorrow (dare one say it ?) - STAINES. The mind boggles, does it not? Anyway, you now have no excuses left for not coming into London proper, or at the very least, the Hammerswith Butterwick. Get on a train, sailor. Why, you can actually, by divers moves, now travel as far as Ilford - & you know who lives there. Or don’t you?
Apart from that, things are still in a kind of limbo. I drift around in a dream, to work, from work, waiting for something to happen, for the telephone to ring. It never does. I find the weather oppressive and ominous. Dark grey skies and, underneath them, a cloying muggy clamminess. Spike came round yesterday evening. He wanted, at first, to know where you were. I looked at my watch, saw that it was about 8.30, and said that you were probably in the Black Dog on the Staines Road talking to an underwear salesman. You usually are talking to underwear salesmen, spastic viola players, mystics from Gerrards Cross or even further afield, lorry drivers from Hampton Wick, airplane washers from Hanwell, und so weiter. Spike didn’t believe me. He also didn’t know what I was talking about when I asked him about Wales. So much for human communication. Does anyone, I ask myself, really know anything at all about anyone else ?
Spike said he wanted to ask my advice about changing his job. Shad-well is beginning to depress him. Apparently. But he seemed to talk most of the time about someone called Sylvia (a Mrs, no less) Wacker, who appears to have some rather eccentric habits between the sheets. Spike, though, appears to find them intriguing. I suppose for a doctor’s son, they are, or must appear so. I’ve never heard of her before, have you ? She sounds, from S’s description, rather middle-aged otherwise, though interestingly rabid. There’s no Mr Wacker in evidence, it seems.
Don’t know what to think about anything. There’s a Boeing going over the roof it’s so loud I can’t hear the kettle boiling. (Come to think of it, there’s probably a Boeing going over you too right now - maybe even the same one by the time I’ve written this - so we have that much in common, at least.) No one walking in the Avenue tonight. They’ve finished exiting from the park gates opposite a long time ago all those bright young, mostly foreign, things with their white shorts and tennis rackets. I used to be like that once. Hard to believe. It’s 10 o’clock. I feel jaded and very old. Just tried to ring Dorothy &/or William - no answer. It’s one of Those Nights again.
Have so far managed to avoid Mrs Fletcher, though I’ve heard her door opening and shutting several times this evening and feet on the stairs. Several Greeks appear to have moved into the basement flat. There is now a collection of souped-up Minis covered in fog-lamps, aerials and rally stickers parked outside. Premonition of impending doom (of some kind). It’s too hot. Something’s got to happen soon, I feel, somethings’s going to crack. Maybe it’s me. Don’t know. Can’t speak. Can’t read. Have no thoughts about anything at all. Have you ? So, farewell. I shall go into the bedroom, put out the light and wait for darkness and silence to cover me. Not, of course, that there is ever really either in London at night. I shall listen to the fire engines and ambulances wailing their way up the Kilburn High Road. What exciting times we live in, don’t we ?
Yours etc., Tormented of North London.
P.S. (Wednesday) Have just found your letter on the mat. Interesting that, about Wilson at Liverpool St. What the hell was he doing there ? Escaping somebody probably, knowing him. I’ve heard nothing. Thank God you found that jacket. I was beginning to imagine the worst. “The Undoing of L.S.” rings a curious kind of remote bell with me, Maybe it’s one of the MSS I lost. Who on earth ace the White Wind Press ? Just looked at the A.L.P. list and they’re not there. Not that that means anything. Thanks also for reminding me about the Owens. Of course I hadn’t forgotten Clarissa but, after what happened that day on the river at Marlow, I thought I’d better stay clear altogther : thought it might be tempting Providence, or whatever ambivalent and mindless machine looks after our destinies, too much. Still I’ll think about it some more. Meanwhile....Ave atque Vale.
Monday, 21 July.
Hello and Goodmorning (I think : not asking myself too many questions today, it’s safer that way - just play it from moment to moment and see what happens.) Anyway, it was good just to sit in your room last night and talk again and drink coffee. I always feel relaxed there I think it’s got something to do with one’s origins. Those 1930s green metal window frames ; stair wells with circular portholes half way up ; the whole ethos of suburban arterial road architecture : it’s where I come from.
Every time I pass by those shops in Hounslow on the way to your place - the old Regal and Dominion, the Lampton Road - that I used to look at as a child and adolescent, I remember all those bleak spaces of my childhood. Things I’d forgotten totally come flooding back. I remember coveting a very large model biplane that I saw one day in a shop window in the Lampton Road. It was a very secret desire I thought about it for days and never told anyone about it. The shop’s gone now, it’s a laundromat run by Sikhs. Lonely Saturday night walks to the Odeon and back. Driving now through those streets I always acquire a feeling of how it was for me then3 of how I felt, a vision of myself as a child. I feel a nostalgia for that little boy who’s gone forever. I was, I think, in a very odd way happier then than now, and yet unhappy at the same time. There were, I remember, so many things I wanted (to have and to do) that I couldn’t have or do. Maybe I was happy because I didn’t know I was unhappy. Or something like that. I don’t know. It’s all a long time ago, isn’t it? And Hounslow’s a different place now! brown skins everywhere you look, all those nubile Indian girls in jeans. New glass and concrete and neon structures replacing the old world. I can’t prove I was even there. Maybe I wasn’t. Maybe it’s all an illusion.
Goethe (here’s a good one for you) : Alles vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis - Everything that passes is only a likeness, which I interpret to mean The real things, the important things (not their pale surface imitations) never change. How does that sound ? But, of course, what exactly are the real things and, for that matter, what is real ?
Enough of this metaphysical waffle. I got back home round about 1.0 a.m. and went straight to bed. It was only this morning that I found Sophie’s note pinned to the door. It said : I CAME ROUND. WHY ARE YOU NEVER IN ? How’s that for nerve ? I spend, as you know, hours sitting by the telephone, or trying to ring her. Never mind - we talked about that all last night (for which, thanks). There are no simple answers, are there ?
You remember that oriental-looking young thing who drove past us on her Honda 90 last naght while we were talking outside The Load of Hay ? (Yes, I saw your little eyes lighting up). Well, I can now tell you she was on her way to a Rendezvous. When I left you I drove up the road to the Wellington Road traffic lights. I didn’t want to have to go through all that nostalgia course again in Hounslow so I turned left at The Duke of Wellington into Wellington Road North. Went past the West Hounslow Foul Sewer (Consulting Engineer, A.C.Randle, C.Eng,. M.I.C.E., F.I.M.N.E., F.I.H.E.) - what are they really doing there with that bit of wire netting and that wooden shack stuck between two 1930s back gardens ? - and saw her again outside The Flower Pot. Straddling her saddle and wriggling her thighs in anticipatory fashion on either side of it and being chatted up by a couple of Mrs Fletcher’s pet hates with Hair. Two Sikhs in T-shirts eyed her lasciviously as they walked past. I think one of them said something to her but she took no notice. One of the Hairs was jigging up and down as if he had a built-in transistor in his head. I didn’t sound my horn. It’s not time yet for the Last Trump. Give life to this fossil, Lord, let it chirp merrily in the sun - for a while yet.
Quite a few visions one way and another. It was Darby & Joan club time outside the Black Dog. Soon be your turn, won’t it ? Or mine. All those senior citizens (there must have been about 25 of them) sitting under those orange and yellow striped sunshades with MARTINI written round their edges, sipping their ruby wines and pink gins (“Time for a chota peg, Carruthers ! Abdul ! Abdul ! Where the devil’s the fellah got to ?”) and a huge main road three yards away. The gay life in Costa del Bedfont.
Just before I got to the Wellington Road junction, to complete the total picture, I saw another great thing coming down over the Bath Road, wings spread and flaps down, like a giant bat with headlamps for eyes (“Damned things,” my friend Alistair used to say in Warnford Hospital days long ago, “they’ve only been up there fifty years” and he’s dead now),a double-barrelled trail of slime silting up the sky way out behind it over Hounslow Heath, still there long after the thing itself had disappeared over your rooftops behind me. What a world, it’s really quite unbelievable in its hideousnessness. What ever happened to things like Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Idealism, etc.? This is not a time for Brave Words any longer
Never realised you’d given Maud sanctuary. Be careful you don’t get had, you know how unscrupulous she is. The fire engines are starting up again. I’m going to sit back and listen. It’s unreal up here, too, if that’s any consolation to you. Whatever happened to today ?
Regards to The Others....
Wednesday, 30 July.
Are you still alive down there in your concrete wasteland ? Safe within that distant, echoing event-horizon, moving but not moving, being but not being ? If you are....
Well, I’m still here - just - but the last 24 hours have been pretty bleak. Last night, for instance, the whole flat seemed filled with ghosts. Kept hearing walls creak. When I was in the living room I heard noises in the bedroom. Went in there : nothing. The usual rubble. Then I heard creakings, ticks, etc., from the living room. Went back nothing. Everything where I’d flung it. Then I thought I heard tapping on the front door. Opened it, expecting to see Sophie. No one there, of course. Up the stairs above me I heard Mrs Fletcher open her door almost immediately (she has the most extraordinarily sensitive hearing: she’s a living proof of E.S.P.) so I closed mine quickly. Heard her feet come down the stairs, pause outside my door, then go on down. I hardly dared to breathe. A few seconds later she came up again and closed her door.
I kept inside, picking up books and putting them down again. I tried ringing Sophie but no one there answered the phone. Tried Spike without success. Presumably he’s between the sheets somewhere with Mrs W. Tried reading, in turn, Tatlin ! by Guy Davenport, The Island by Robert Creeley, Vergil’s Death by Hermann Broch. Couldn’t concentrate on any of them. Made two cups of coffee one after the other. Drank both. Tried working; picked up and put down some sheets of paper I’d scribbled over with various words and phrases the other day. Made a few jottings, but nothing substantial. It started to rain. I listened to it beating on the windows for a few minutes, then decided I couldn’t stand being here any longer and went out.
Got into the car and sat there in the rain and smoked a cigarette. Thought : if only I had Wilson’s happy, piratical attitude to life, taking what he can get when he can get it. If only one could be as conscienceless as that, things might be more bearable. But I daresav, if one dared to delve into it deep enough, he’s got his problems too. I needed to talk to someone. I thought of you, but it s a long drive from my wasteland to your wasteland and besides, I thought, he’s probably pissed somewhere an someone’s floor, inert and happy. Why can’t I do that? But I can’t, so there you are. To each, his cross. And so on. So instead, I drove across to Hampstead in the rainstorm and saw a light in Dorothy’s front room. I decided to pour out all. my troubles on to her willing shoulders. I was feeling pretty ruthless about doing this. Anyway, she loves hearing other people’s problems.
Nothing happened for a long time after I rang the doorbell. I tried three more times. Water was running down my neck and I was getting angry. Finally, I heard a noise, the door opened very slowly and I saw Dorothy. She looked amazed to see me. She said, several times “It’s you, it’s really you.” “Of course it’s me,” I said nastily, “who else do I look like ?” Then suddenly she grabbed hold of me, crying and mumbling between chokes things like, “Thank God it’s you, it’s so good to see a real friend, it’s really you, it’s been awful, you’ve no idea what it’s been like, I’ve been so miserable” and so on and so forth. Oh God, I thought, not another one, the whole world’s full of people who feel like this. Do you know, I think it must be something to do with the weather, or the Russians, or some odd, totally unexpected conjunction of planets. Someone should know, I don’t.
Eventually, I got her inside the house and sat down. William wasn’t there. She clung on to me the whole time while she gave me a pretty lengthy exposition of her tragedy. She’d quarrelled with William two days before and he’s gone off in a huff (I really can’t imagine William in anything even remotely resembling what might be called a ‘huff’) in the car to Yorkshire to see Mummy. She’d tried ringing me apparently - I can’t understand why I never heard the phone. I’ve been in practically the whole time except for when I was out, which may (I suppose) have been more often than I can remember. Maybe Sophie’s right. Briefly, Dorothy’s woes came to this nobody cares for her, everybody uses her, she’s unappreciated, no one understands her. “You understand me, don’t you ?” she kept saying, yes, of course I did, she knew that, etc., etc. This, surprisingly, seemed to help. But really I don’t know what’s been going on. It would seem that just about everything’s got so screwed up for her somehow and the meaning (if there ever were any, which I doubt - but I couldn’t say that to her, could I ?) has got lost somewhere somehow. Anyway, aren’t we all unappreciated ? I was all she had left to rely on, she said. Where she got this idea from, I’ve no idea. I played it down, thinking to myself, what a fate for anyone to be left with me. Outside it was still pouring down. She’d been drinking heavily, too, and heaven knows what else besides, knowing her. There were quite a few empty Scotch bottles lying around on the furniture and the floor. She looked as though she hadn’t washed for some days. And she certainly wasn’t dressed. In the midst of all this, I’d forgotten what I’d wanted, what I’d come round there for, to say more or less the same things to her and William - perhaps, on reflection, more to William than to her because he doesn’t say anything. Anyway, the same things, but perhaps rather more elegantly expressed.
I gave her what comfort I could - at least I listened, made her some hot milk, gave her two sleeping pills and put her to bed. I couldn’t help taking in as I did so some nice patches of shoulder and even once a rather delicious looking (but presumably unwashed) tit that rather surprised me into feeling slightly randy - I’d never felt like that about Dorothy before, as you know. Anyway, I tucked her up. She was pretty woozy by this time. “Don’t go away, promise you’ll stay, I cant sleep in this empty house on my own” she said. Etc. So I promised. I didn’t feel like going anyway. I was too bothered by everything to move.
Went downstairs, turned all the lights off and tucked myself up on the sofa in the living room with a blanket, listening for a while to the World Service. It was nearly 3.00am by this time and I felt exhausted. I had no idea what was going to happen tomorrow and didn’t care two buggers one way or the other. What a day. It’s another morning now and I’m still in her front room, thought I’d let you know. I may be here, I have a feeling, some time. Am typing this on Dorothy’s (or William’s) typewriter. It’s 9.00am and she’s still asleep and you must be off to work on the No 216.
Keep taking the tablets, etc.....
A small note from me at the last point in England, in the needle’s eye, to you in your concrete and plastic wilderness, in the eye of the storm. Or something like that. There’s nothing here but hundreds of white caravans and huge continental lorries with trailers, and seagulls screeching. End of the line, terminus, the Last of England. The future is a blank - white cliffs fading bravely into the distant mist - the present is terrifying because it s so irreversible, and the past is a chaotic mess that adds up to nothing and is best forgotten.
“Alles vergängliche ist nur em Gleichnis.”
Don’t be surprised by any of this. I’ll explain later when we’ve got somewhere else. Right now, everybody’s got somewhere to get to, it seems. Down by the docks, it’s like the Voyage to Cytherea - the pleasure boat is about to start the trip to the Island of Love (it’s over there to my left behind the gasometer and the cranes) - except that really Everyone is going this time and there’s more than one boat and they’ve all got red and white funnels and are all labelled either SEALINK or TOWNSEND-THORESEN.
I don’t know. I could say “I feel as if Heaven lay close upon the Earth and I between them both breathing through the eye of a needle.” In fact I feel nothing at all. A big bold blank. Courage, mon brave. We who are about to....etc.
For half an hour just now I sat on a wall and watched several seagulls fighting over a small, sodden cardboard box. Now there’s a good image for what it’s all about....
Finally, you do seem to reach a conclusion of some kind, even It it’s purely negative. Perhaps it’s better this way. Thinking, like education, only seems to make everything more complex in the end
Keep treading those paths, Head high. Hail & Farewell.
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