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
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
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
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
"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
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 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
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
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)