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UNCOLLECTED GUARDIAN PIECES

JTS columns from the Guardian newspaper

 
8. Holidays Without Tears

I spent my holidays this summer in a tiny chalet with a po under the bed at Gray's Holiday Camp, Hopton-on-Sea; they lasted about 24 hours. When I got back there was this big duty-free, traveller-type carton of Peter Stuyvesant in the middle of my desk. Another locked room mystery. Then they ask you where you get ideas for your stories.

The Grays are selling out this year, if anyone wants to start their own concentration camp. With all the happy-go-hurry, rah-rah-rah, jolly good will in the world you can't escape the sinister undertones of Patrick McGoohan's "The Prisoner" or those cut-price, studio-lot nightmares of "The Avengers". In fact Steed with his cardboard smile might wow the mums and dads and grannies who seem so reluctant to join in the night-life.

"Come on now, I can't hear you, louder, louder, I'm in the mood for love..."

Sitting three inches from Jolly Jack's electric loud-hailer, Jane and I held a romantic conversation in the way counter-hands shout food orders through a speaking-tube then clap their ear to it; we were using each other's ears.

"Why don't we take our drinks out to the car?" I screamed. "Why don't we take our drinks outside?" she cried, wildly. "What does it matter, whether, each little dream might fade..." Phewwwwww. You wonder whether people who go to such places are on holiday from ball-bearing grinding machines; I choose this so I can mention that I once fitted a noise-meter on one of these monsters. There is very little I haven't done in one slip-shod way or another.

"You drive 200 miles just to see me for one evening?" Jane said. I explained about being a lunatic now, though in truth she is beautiful enough to fight dragons for (anyway, I expected it to be a longer evening). We met through a friend in Hampstead (who, luckily, reads The Times) and I just happened to notice her name and address. Poised between high school and university and doing a holiday waitress job, she wears thick, jet-black hair down to her hips and has the serene eyes of an Indian squaw.

I don't often go on like that, do I: it's a good sign.

Among the bad signs are that I can't turn my ignition key with my left hand any more and I'm practising dictating to a machine, though my style is going to change. "All I can say is 'hello, testing, testing'", Margaret Powell told me when she tried a similar experiment.

The return journey had a less happy ending. The free cigarettes are welcome enough but I'd missed Maggie by 24 hours; she's picked up her medical supplies, failed to find her belongings and gone back to Brussels on another three-month permit. So I thought I'd get away from that subject and read a book.

"Famous jazz band leader Jack Trevor Story came off the dais," I found in Michael Moorcock's new novel "The English Assassin", "followed by his Negro singer Maggie..."


Am I driving everyone nuts?

"You go on and on and on and on about her," Ross said on the phone the other day. "You never write about me". Ross's latest book ms, "A Dream of Buffalo", is about a man who goes into a TV western rather the way Alice went through the looking glass, and it's very good. So there.

And talking of westerns, film men Chris Mankeiwicz and Harry Bernsen blew in on a taxi which they left ticking outside for an hour.

"What's your schedule for the next six months?" Harry asked. I told him I was going to sit and get pissed and bore everybody to death about Maggie. "Maggie who?" he said. The reason the jet set is out of touch with all the major human issues - and that we get the films we do - is that they spend all their lives 40,000 feet in the sky.

"Would you be prepared to come and work with me in Rome?" Chris asked. I shouldn't think so.

"If you want to remember a telephone number," Bill said, after they'd gone, "write it on the window with your finger." He demonstrated. "Then any time you breath on it the figures appear again." It's nice to get back to normal.


Among Bill's security projects which I'm now allowed to mention is yet another western epic, "Bounty Hunters". This is a game which only three or four hundred thousand people can play - all being sharp-eyed customers of your local supermarket or multiple or even side-street stores. There's a big prize for anyone who can spot the deliberate shop-lifter. See someone popping the odd bottle of vinegar into his pocket and make your claim to the manager. If it's a bounty thief you could earn yourself ten thousand pounds. If it's not, too bad for the pilferer.

"Instead of six store detectives watching a multitude," Bill said, "the multitude is watching for the pilferers - this stops petty thieving and keeps the prices down." Doesn't this turn the public into Big Brother?

"Public cooperation is what Police Five is all about," he told me. "We'll have our own TV show. A mock-up of a super-market, a bounty thief at work in the crowd, a panel competing to spot the crook."

Bill, who used to be with Green Shield Stamps (I wrote "Something for Nothing") is giving the whole thing a western adventure flavour to reduce the stigma of being honest.

However (I like words like "however" and "moreover") stop shop-lifting and how is the acting profession supposed to live? Legalise pot and what would the police do for pocket money? A South African businessman whose quiet shrewd judgement I respect enormously (he thinks the Guardian is further "right" than the Times on most issues) pointed out:

Plenty of pot-smokers get busted but never any peddlers. Your police force would find it most unprofitable to stop it.

Invited to dinner this week with the Nick Palmers and Lord and Lady Willis I intended to get Dixon of Dock Green's opinion on this, but then chickened out. I'm a miserable sod in company these days; what with toothache in my arm, a homeless room and no sex for days at a time I'm inclined to walk out like a lame prima donna who's just remembered she left her bath running.

Anyway (I like words like "anyway" and "furthermore") the big American tobacco companies already have their marijuana packages designed and printed ready for the "day". Only social hypocrisy and high prices keep a harmless, pleasant and healthier than drink or tobacco pipe-of-peace from the brain-washed world. That, and the fact that the governments would lose revenue if tobacco slumped and chest cancer disappeared.

Although (I like words like "although" and "nevertheless"), as Alan Brien said in a recent column, I would never smoke grass myself; even the smell of it around places like the House of Commons reminds me too much of Potter's Asthma Cure.

Bill said - rather expertly I thought: "The trouble is Jack has this romantic condition at this point in time..."

Since writing that last line I've had my neck X-rayed from two angles by an attractive radiographer called Pat down at Lawn Lane. "You must keep still," she said, at the fifth attempt. I told her why I couldn't keep still, starting in June. Abbreviated, the whole thing is trivialised, like the century retold by the old major in his cups. First there was the war, 10 millions killed, then after that we had the Henley Regatta. "Have you got any false teeth?" Pat asked, when I'd finished.

"You've thrown your corn away," Christopher said, accusingly, himself a survivor, often in the Bear. "Does that mean you've lost hope?" Remember the corn picked on the last picnic - a window-cleaner bunged it in the dustbin. A tailpiece, then, for the Maggie-strip addicts, of which Chris turns out to be one; more than one, a significant bit of the past:

"Our hit number when I played with the group," he told me last night (he's now an art teacher) "was 'I Can't Let Maggie Go' - remember that?"

Remember it? We both sang it, thought it highly unlikely but kind of nice, at the time it came out. What a fool's paradise and how it evokes (you have to admit it) Zelda's happy pre-Scott Fitzgerald schooldays when she wrote the ditty:

I do love my Charlie so.
It nearly drives me wild.
I'm so glad that he's my beau
And I'm his baby child!


Followed, on the far side of the schism, after marriage to a self-obsessed writer, by a sadder ditty:

"I determined to find an impersonal escape, a world in which I could express myself and walk without the help of somebody who was always far from me..."

And finally a poem on pink paper found (it serves me right) when I was burying all Maggie's belongings in deep freeze so that she'd make a double channel-crossing for nothing and spend a long cold winter in Brussels:

Why should not young men be mad?
Wrote W B Yeats.
Why should not young girls be mad
Write I.
I know an old man who is mad
But he is happier than I.
He has learned to accept all the things
That I can't.
Things about people and life
That I find confusing,
That make me unhappy
And mad...

Well, as Joe E Brown said at the end of "Some Like It Hot", we can't all be perfect. During a long tossing and turning night, inspired, I sat down with 200 Peter Stuyvesant and a glass of scotch and wrote a love letter. To Jane, that is, at the holiday camp. The inspiration was for a special five-year course, without much in the way of grants, it's true, at the best university I know. Me.


(The Guardian, Saturday 9 September, 1972)

 

Jack Trevor Story's texts copyright   the estate of Jack Trevor Story 2002. Not for reproduction. Copyright in all work by Jack Trevor Story is the property of the author's heirs. Permission for use of this material can be obtained through Jackie Edwards (Story), Peter Story, Lee Story or Michael Moorcock. Reproduction of copyright material whether in text, visual or audio form by unauthorised sources strictly forbidden.

 

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