RECKLESS FRUIT BOOK TWO, Chapter 6 – Sixteen in the Lower Sixth
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This chapter – extracts from my diaries at school, 6th form – contains a bit of source material to the recent London series of drawings. It is valuable to return sometimes to what I wrote then. I’m glad I kept it safe.
The paradox is: we sixteen-year-olds suffer the same pangs of isolation today as forty, fifteen or a hundred years ago, whatever our background. So who could say we are lonely? Scratch any culture deep enough, this shared experience emerges. Nowadays it is intense, through social dysfunction. We all were and are sixteen. It is our common ground. Why are we embarassed about how we dramatized ourselves, and what we felt or wrote? For some it was boys or girls, for others it was the gauche spiritual awakening. For me it was both.
school roughbooks 1: “Satchels”
My journal, Spring 1966
We clattered downstairs to the warmth of the coffee bar. It is subterranean, small and narrow, with potted plants, soft lights, alcoves and a maroon wallpaper of the Eiffel Tower. Through the curtained door you see the steps going up to the alley, past the auctioneers’ rooms.
La Ronde was empty when we settled ourselves with coffee, squash and biscuits, except for a few old ladies – remnants of the afternoon’s shoppers under a glorious day. Two 6B girls came in with a Honey magazine, and then some Tech boys. Carol and Pat and I made small talk; gradually the place filled up with Taunton School chaps. Heather Boyce came in barefoot – the Tech boys teased, and she said she’d dropped her shoes in a bin.
Pat had to go at half past – her mum makes a fuss if she catches the later train, so Carol and I waited for Jo who was late. We talked about Sussex university mostly, and I came more or less to the end of my lemon squash – I shall have orange next time. Quarter to five, and still no Jo. Davina, another 6B girl, came in once or twice, but there were no seats left. Nervous.
The darkhaired chap I see about town sometimes, came in, squeezed next to the 6B girls, and shared their Honey. At about five to five, in came Harold. “Where’s your better half?” “Busy busy. I wrote to her last night, you know …” He sat down with them offhandedly. I hoped he couldn’t see me in my corner. After the concert last week, he came backstage, he was so nice and funny – he prides himself on being a Bad Boy at Queens’ – but on Monday I passed him in the street and he just looked right through me. Carol and I decided to give Jo another five or ten minutes, then we’d go. My bus was at ten past anyway.
I was quite keyed up by now. Perhaps Charlie would come! I longed for this, and felt terrified. We listened to clatters on the stairs and footsteps through the passage above our heads. The bar was full of cigarette smoke, it began to glow; and our voices carried no resonance. Lots more people came in, and suddenly there was Jo’s round face, brown cow eyes and streaked hair peering round for us – we waved, and she squeezed in – she’d missed the bus here – she’s popular. I moved up opposite Harold. He looked up and smiled at me: “Hallo!” – that broke the ice. Jo asked Pru and the other 6B girl to pass over their Honey. We looked at it, and talked about the Coffee Princess winner at school who’s in it, modelling clothes in Kenya during the Easter holidays.
Michael came in with another chap. I decided to catch the twenty to six bus instead. The 6B girls went. “Move up, change partners,” said Harold, and we were all together. “You come down here often? We absolutely HAUNT this place.” I wondered what Jo was thinking – she’s got a crush on him, and he was talking to me. I was terribly nervous, but didn’t make any hopeless bungles. Harold has level, cold grey eyes. His face is slightly brutal, with a charming smile. He plays clarinet. He began to boast as usual of the depravity at school, and his famous story of the Head carpeting him for three hours – a record. He said Queens College is an absolute dump, and moaned about the dead scene in Taunton. He comes from London.
I glimpsed Michael now and then, looking fresh faced, sporty, spick and span. He was at another table with a chap talking to Davina (who had at last found a place).
The dark haired fellow with Harold seemed nice, much quieter than Harold. I see him around Taunton. We began to talk about music, and Jo kept chipping in and saying how she saw nothing in it at all.
Davina went off; we were by now monopolizing the conversation, so Michael and his chum joined us. Michael said “Hallo” and smiled very sweetly whenever he caught my eye. We got together at the Queens dance, but I was pining after Charlie. London was the topic now – and Soho – and dance and party facilities around poor old Taunton. The chaps started to move. Michael stood up and said “You coming?”, so we gathered up our gear and climbed out. Up the stairs, and we waited for the boys in the passage – Michael pretends to people that he’s gone to kiss me, I don’t mind – and then went our ways; Carol and I towards Parade and Jo with the boys towards Trull.
I felt radiant at the bus station, and chafed at the solid five-thirty traffic jam in which the 201 bus was stuck. I’d found a “hole”.
To Lose Myself …
(DIARY, Spring 1966) I’m going to Cambridge over half term. I’ll stop off at London, both ways. If I meet any blokes, I’ll try to be truthful.
I’m mad about the Troggs record “Wild Thing”. It is so raw, so sexy. There’s some good strong beat stuff coming back after the frilly “folk” IN thing. Wild thing – you move me … and the drums are relentless … oh, it’s exciting, like primitive stuff.
Charlotte Ashton, Private Brown and Lady Bucket came to play quintets with Mummy and Daddy tonight. Private, very much a woman of the world, made ribald remarks about purple hearts and Tone Vale mental hospital. Dear Lady B didn’t quite cotton on, but said sweetly “Yes … yes dear. Yes, how nice. Now, where was I? O yes, poor Timothy – well alas, he died … “ and I’m afraid we laughed.
I was drawing them all in the back of my drawing book; much mirth all round at the results. Charlotte zoomed through all my Taunton Black drawings, and when she got to the bottom-of-beat one of people kissing on the wall, she said “You cheeky so-and-so! Wherever did you see them?” She’s the first person to react in that way. Everyone else talks eruditely about Naked Souls Laid Bare, and that sort of thing.
120: Lady Bucket and Mary. My parents had many local friends, with whom they played chamber music. Lady Bucket was a gentle, fluffy person in her seventies – a viola player. My mother is wearing her stripy cotton skirt.
121: Peter Adams and Jo Brown. Another dedicated violist: she was known as Private Brown, because of her sharp voice and military behaviour. You can see, from the erasures, that I often began a drawing from the feet – especially so, with musicians: their contact with the ground.
Sometimes life bounds along like a cork in the swirl of the tide, sometimes it catches in side-shallows, drifting tortuously round one slow tired pool. I just wasn’t keen today. I hate A Levels. I spent ages trailing round a wet town in a daze, looking for a present for Anne-Marie – who’s sent me some marvelous French EPs – the town was disordered, everyone in summer clothes braved the unexpected persistent rain. Yet looking back, this motley coloured stream of people is very beautiful, drifting through the grey streets all day. And if I open my eyes, each person is new.
I saw Aos and Michael – a glimpse from the bus of yellow and black scarves, Aos’s black face, the glass doors and interior red plush of Morello’s – they were just coming out onto the crowded pavement. I was reminded of London. There’s a lot of discreet demolition and re-building going on, behind wooden boards and Business as Usual.
After homework – ploughing through Lear, Paradise Lost and Passage to India (I like the way he draws Aziz from that adorable Maharajah of Dewar in The Hill of Devi) – I completed the Piccadilly Circus drawing. In between finishing touches, I started to trace “I love Charlie” on my finger tip, but suddenly decided his face mustn’t interfere with my London drawings. Sometimes this last week or two, I started to be very much in love with him – goodness knows why, I haven’t seen him or anything. It is like waking from a numb sleep. I was always too busy before, feeling miserable because I minded him chucking me, to be happy that he exists. Perhaps the delicious piquancy is in forgetting and waking. Ages ago, we kissed at that dance; between then and now, is a sort of tortuous abstraction. One becomes resigned to the fact that forgetting and beginning afresh is sometimes impossible. One DOES get intense over a chap. The feeling, the excitement of sex overshadows every other possibility – and it all gets wrapped around ME.
To accept myself as I am, NOT to TRY, and to just get on with it … is that the inner peace, is it happiness?
school roughbook 126: “Cool”
I met Fish and another girl; we went up to the Merlin and squeezed in between a row of Mod blokes and Deb and her boyfriend in the corner. He’s nice, with freckles and a beard. The Merlin sits at the far end of the High Street. It peers out through gloomy windows to the other pavement, beneath sun-baked scarred walls. There seems to be more Business as Usual going on over there, too. The Merlin scrutinizes you, unsmiling. I’m never at my ease in there, but it’s a fascinating hole, narrow, grey and dimly lit, with prints and wooden seats along the smoky walls. The juke box booms in the ceiling; the ice cube in the small lemon never properly melts, the smell of Espresso wafts in and out of the murmuring talk, and one of the Merlin peoples’ little girl in a smock endears herself round the corners of chairs. It’s not a lively place. It broods with cold, cheeky passion. Someone played the Stones’ new record on the juke box. Wild, wild, what a RAVE! Talk fell away. Knees and elbows drove to the relentless thrashing black rhythm; eyes glazed.
The Call of God
Pat, Jo and I are going down La Ronde again tomorrow we hope. I must NOT let my blessed imagination run away with itself, pre-constructing events.
(a) Nobody we know will come down.
(b) If they do, I shall make an absolute fool of myself. So there!
I’m on a new picture – a pavement in London with a sexy PVC girl, left foreground. It is beginning to take shape. It is very funny the way I “absorb” pictures on the spot, then diligently regurgitate them weeks later – rather like swallowing a pill, only the other way round.
The La Ronde project fell through …
This evening Lady Bucket and Private Brown came again, to play quartets. They are such a funny combination – Lady B with her sweet old voice and grandmotherly innocence, and Private very wicked and worldly. I sat and immortalized them all sawing away, and wondered between laughing at them and the drawings, whether I’m interested in the technique or in the person. If it is the technique, ease in execution would soon become a boring pastime. If it is the person, the easier – (with technique) – one can capture them, the better.
I long to TALK to someone – preferably Mummy – it doesn’t matter about what. I got into her bath this evening, and we rattled about French and Miss Kent, but she had to go to bed because she’s getting up early tomorrow morning. If I could feel I had someone in my confidence, I wouldn’t be so easily self conscious and awkward elsewhere. I’m on the fence the whole time. It’s fun if you’re on the fence religiously – wavering pleasantly between belief and non-belief – but not so much when you’re plucked off whenever you begin to feel secure there.
London and Cambridge next week … how near and how far! Crisis – only four more blank sides left in my drawing-book, and a few drops of fixative left in the bottle. If I could talk to someone, my world would no longer be mine … To lose oneself among a pavement of different coloured people and nationalities beneath their towering city-dimmed edifices – it is a form of making love.
It occurred to me when we were on the Quantock hills – lovely blowy walk through the birch woods, though I was thinking too much, as usual – that man’s sudden mastery over his environment scientifically, was like the sudden production of antibodies from a living organism: a sort of mutation. The artificial serums with which he kills bacteria and destroys disease, are the discovery of natural anti-toxins till then unexploited. Everything on this earth is rooted to the core of life. However outwardly synthetic, you cannot get away from primal Earth-material. I don’t know how I got onto this. I suppose I was thinking about adders and snake bites.
Coming back with Mummy to fetch the car, I had quite a twinge. The Aisolt evensong church bell rang softly and compelling over the little wooded valley. I was irresistibly drawn to this Christian faith upheld by a vast body of humanity, all of it spun from the Earth. Exquisite bell notes are spun from the Earth. Here, I could belong, could worship with millions of others – it doesn’t matter what. Perhaps the earth, the hills, the sky, the sun, are meaningless without religion as an art to exalt them.
And yet how terrible to have to depend on God, on faith, to make things beautiful – to depend on an unseen stimulant to inspire joy. Better to exalt in them as true, true to themselves, without the human meaning. What a defeat somehow, to slide into accepting them as the expression of Divine Power Above, and into loving things and people only as its products – like chained slaves.
But I was drawn to religion as to a beautiful art. When we came back, we passed the parson scorching down the lane because he’s late, with his dog collar on and his choir in the back seat. I almost thought “Lucky him.” “One day, quite suddenly, Jane felt the call of God …” What a nice soppy novel that would make.
One night before sleeping, at Kettles Yard, I drew the rooves of Cambridge under the night, by streetlamp light, an intense accumulation seen from the attic window, of tiles, gabled windows and old brick chimneys, around the huge “Visitation” of John’s College chapel. The great square tower, floodlit in the black sky, sits on the roofs but doesn’t crush them. It rises out of vivid pockets of yellow light and deepest shadow.
Jim and Mam’s old Trinity professor friend came to dinner. He is quite a dear, a Dean, to whom the mentality of his undergraduates is a puzzle. They talked about relaxing the rules in college. The Professor couldn’t imagine why students wanted to stay out till two in the morning – there are no dances or clubs at that hour. Jim ventured that perhaps they wanted to talk about God … “Oh no!” scoffed the Professor, “what nonsense!”
London was windy and bewildering, and myself rather tired. Got in a train compartment with a fearsome old dame and her hen pecked husband, and a couple of sleeping army officers with enormous boots. I didn’t find any of them inspiring to gaze at, so I spent most of the time in the corridor. There was an exciting bloke standing with his suitcase further up, probably Greek or Italian, whom I must draw some time. The compartments were filled with families and schoolgirls in ghastly uniform going home for Whit.
I walked round the Liverpool Street area and City quite a bit – tremendous and rather overwhelming. Vast vistas of demolition and stark rebuilding on the rubble and dust – the streets faintly black with people – it was all space, I couldn’t condense it into distinct, drawable impressions like I could last time, around Soho and Piccadilly. It is all too big. Then I revived myself with a Horlicks in a busy coffee house, watched the swarms on Liverpool Street, then boarded the train for Cambridge which was packed tight with drawable types. I made friends with a young negro and his beautiful wife through a misunderstanding over seats. I thought of the drama one could spin, drawing the unspoken relationships in a railway carriage – handful of people flung together. An Indian not far from me, who hadn’t perhaps been in this country for long, the way he was looking around him … this country with its pinks and greys and fogs must look SO DIFFERENT from his own, from where he grew up.
I’ve been slogging away at an EPIC WORK these last two afternoons – a crowded Tube train interior, very underground. I like it, and so does Mummy. She asked me if I’d met that little man with shallow puffy face and greasy black hair – I hadn’t – he turns up in all my London pictures. I suppose he’s a prototype for me, of a north Indian type or middle Eastern face which I can’t get off my mind. Mummy said he looked like “one of those London Jews.” I’m supposed to be doing an English exam on Monday …
(DIARY, Spring 1966) Tonight Mummy and Daddy had a Quintet together playing the Cesar Franck – Terry Girdlestone, Mr Rikkards and an unknown friend of Terry’s. It is very unusual for them to have chamber music with men – subtle change in refreshments – a vast stock of beer in the fridge. Mummy and Daddy have been practicing the Cesar Franck like mad. It was arranged for Terry’s benefit, and his friend.
Mr Rikkards (we don’t know his name) arrived first. He wasn’t at all shy and lugubrious, but rather jolly in a quiet way, with considerable capacity for enjoying himself. Then Terry, bronzed and beaming from his holiday in Cornwall – he should have gone to Ireland, but couldn’t, because of the strike. Then just as they sat down to play the Faure Quartet instead, the Unknown First Fiddler from Yeovil – Terry’s friend – showed up in his car. He was about 35 with prematurely white hair, a cultured voice, and rather stiff.
The evening was a disaster. Terry Girdlestone enjoyed himself and pounded away at the piano with all his might and main, flinging his arms around, rolling on the seat, screwing up his eyes and making enamoured popping faces at the music. He is a fantastic sight reader. Mr Rikkards knows and adores every note of the Cesar Franck, and though he made rather a hash of it, they say he’s nice to play with because he enjoys it so much. But Mummy and Daddy and Terry’s First Fiddle didn’t get on at all. Daddy scraped away looking furious. Mummy tried desperately to come in at the right places. The First Fiddler (I believe his name’s Ian) was very shy and on his guard, and didn’t know the music at all. When his tone came out, it sounded quite nice, but his fiddle was awful.
It was very odd to sit and watch them. They were forced to sit in the same room and make a vaguely coordinating noise together – each his separate entity. I was a little astonished when with some effort I could fit the sounds they made roughly together into an incoherent give and take – a civilization. They blundered half way through the first movement, then Daddy put down his fiddle and said “THIS IS FRIGHTFUL. I havn’t a CLUE what anyone else is doing out there.” I felt sorry for Ian. They all moved up closer together, and started again.
As night gradually pressed the evening light into an electric glow this side of the French window glass, things began to knit together a little more. Some of the piano passages were dreamy, and I enjoyed them – Terry isn’t afraid of being heard. Break for refreshments – my beer was gorgeous – Whitbread Brown, it went down like silk. I thought poor Ian – who was supposed to be leading – played quite nicely. Daddy said afterwards he’s terrible, because he hadn’t practiced, and he doodles around the beat. After the Cesar Franck, they had a bash at a bit of light entertainment – the Schumann quintet. The quick-scales-passages movement became a colossal race, each man for himself to get to the end first. Needless to say, it broke down. (Poor Michael Levy, the quiet tenant next door – he didn’t go out this evening.) Finally when everyone got up to go, the “Next Meeting” was politely proposed, and Daddy said quickly that we would be too busy with farming and raspberries, for any music.
The empty, sleeping house is full of cigar smoke and beer and the echoes of that haunting, inner-driven melody through the Cesar Franck. Daddy said Terry lost pints of sweat into the Cesar Franck – at the end, he STANK.
I’ve been drawing determinedly. Monday evening I had a bad time with a Circle Line platform I’m doing, because I had dried up as to faces and people, and could only produce worn businessmen in bowler hats jutting out of the foreground peoples’ shoulders in an aggravating way. I rubbed out and rubbed out. And there was nothing to listen to on Radio Lux or the French pop station.
Mummy and I discussed it in the bathroom later. She suggested I put Patrick Symons in – Patrick, her painter cellist friend who knows all about mushrooms, with his pale seamed face, long dark wodges of hair and dirty artists’ shirt and tie – he would be ideal. So in he went, Tuesday evening, and then the picture progressed very slowly but didn’t look back. I’d got the darkness and living-planes atmosphere now. Daddy came upstairs to have a look, chuckled (always a sign that he likes it) and said something about “another splendid international gathering”. It isn’t obsessively international – one African man and two Indian women, one very striking and the other not so much because she’s Europeanised herself – she has an architecture of hair. I saw them both at Liverpool Street or somewhere.
The woman draped in white marmalade-straining muslin has marvelous eyes – rather clouded and deep, very Indian, their expression says to me, that sound, RANA. She is beautiful. Her beauty has a quality unknown to us. It belongs to another sunlight, another earth, another culture. Western eyes cannot quite comprehend it – like Oriental music. She is the real thing.
It is so difficult getting the Tube station details right. If only I were Giles! who recalls and draws each detail with fluent accuracy – the City-scapes and signboards behind the general hullabaloo – what an artist. Sometimes I get very emotionally involved with the crowd I’m doing. This one, not so much. Yet it is closely knit together, even if it doesn’t have the exciting atmosphere I tried to develop from the Indian girl’s eyes at the beginning, and which I feel I lost.
I must finish drawing London, or else I shan’t be fresh for it next time I go there. I’ve still got several Tube crowds lined up …
122: Meditating. There is a sense here, of “Work in Progress,” or even “Business as Usual” placards, as old ways of life tumble down, and are replaced.
By the summer term, I was too busy coping with my first regular boyfriend, with A levels, with leaving school, and with preparing to live in France for a year, to do any more “serial” drawings.
Journal continues: Taunton School Dance
… such and such a bar where the piano rippled, and such and such a tune which was really lovely – before long we were kissing. The dance glowed with warm light, and everyone was doing the same, the band played down at us, rather aloof. Everyone tried to get into the middle of a great sardine-packed scrum by the stage. Sometimes we went and sat down, telling each other we were sleepy – blissfully – I heard the queer cracklings in the amplifiers – the breath of the players, the rustlings of sheet music, the whisperings; then we flung ourselves up into a Charleston. Masters with their wives twirled around in efficient walzes, whacking boys with their girls off the chairs – Joe got a big box on the ear. They switched the bright lights on. Rumour went round – the staff are furious with all the “bad behaviour”…
… We went back inside the school gates and had a long soft one under the dark and dimly lit trees, like waves lapping on the sands. Then we saw the Morris Minor, greenish in the lamplight, so we walked out to meet it, and I introduced him. Mummy and Quince teased me about my come-down hairdo, as we drove home through the thick, glowing night. I felt rather delicious.
123 : Canvas Chairs. I like this, as a drawing: the relaxed weight of bum in canvas seat, desert boots, and elbows on the chair arms.
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