14.3.70 [two aerogrammes]
Dear Mum, you’ll be glad to know that the cold seems to have been dealt a blow on the head, in a way I hadn’t quite anticipated: but at least it’s been gotten rid of. I explain how, presently. [Actually I never get round to explaining why!]
You know, it seems to be one of my things in life (I remember Margaret saying that everyone seems to have a particular thing: she says she had never had to worry about money, for instance, it just appeared) to be picking up lame ducks and attempting some sort of repair job; though it’s only in the last couple of years, or even less, that I’ve really been reasonably capable of doing it. [That might have been overstating the case, I think.]
Remember Jimmy Wilson at school? He must have been about the first. Well, you will recall that in my recent letters when I talked about the PO class, I mentioned Jerry Levy? I’m afraid (no, not afraid, but...I don’t know what the word would be) he’s my latest acquisition. He has let drop the occasional hint of some unhappiness at home (he’s 38, has a boy and a girl, and ‘a wife of independent means’ as he puts it) and quite obviously doesn’t have a happy marriage. Anyway, yesterday after work, we finished up at Wren House, getting our lockers etc in order for next week ˗ we will work there in future (right next door to St Paul’s; what more inspiring locale could you have?). Jerry, who normally rushes off, mentioned ultra-casually that I might like to have a cup of coffee if I wasn’t pressed for time? I wasn’t, and so we went to the nearest joint. One thing led to another and we finally spent the whole evening together talking and drinking, and he finished up on half of the bed at the flat here. I slept on the floor on the mattress part of it ˗ quite comfortably; in fact, I suspect I was better off altogether.
It transpired in the coffee shop, after a little prodding and coaxing from yours truly, that Jerry wasn’t going home that night, again ˗ he’d spent the previous night in some hotel ˗ and he suggested going and having a drink. He was obviously not looking forward to spending the remainder of the evening on his own, and so I said if I could have something to eat I’d have a drink or two. We went to a place still nearby, in the newly-built St Paul’s Piazza or whatever-it-is, and over the meal we got to talking and I got some more out of him. To be fair, he did some prodding and prying of his own, which made me feel less rude (rude? not the word either). But due to this conversation and the ensuing very lengthy one in the St Christopher Wren, just round the corner (it could be very old ˗ it could be very fake) we seemed to discover that we were sort of soul-mates, to put it in an odd way. But do you know what I mean? When you find that someone is quite content to be in your company and to talk and be rude to you and laugh at your jokes and put with all your foibles (while also pointing them out!) and you are equally content to be in his.
At that stage of the evening I hadn’t really felt in the position of assisting his lame-duckness ˗ we were quite on a par, friendship-wise, and just sitting around talking, keeping each other alive. Jerry, it seems, has had a sort of recurring thing where he goes off and leaves his wife ˗ or is told to go (I think the latter often as not), and after a while they somehow come back to each other, through some indefinable ‘x’ factor that holds marriages like his together. On the last bout, he went off to Spain for two months until he was forced to return because he couldn’t get any more work, and he doesn’t know how long he’ll be away this time. He was off to find a bed-sit when I last saw him today. It’s terrible, isn’t it? But it’s nice to know that the Good Lord looks after everybody, really. This guy is so no particular believer, or any more good than the next guy, but somehow or other our paths have crossed, and, last night, at least I was able to fill a gap for him.
He’s mad on old films, too, and for much of the time we just talked favourite film scenes. He was amazed that I’d seen so many films that were made before I was born even, and at one stage said, in a sort of grateful way to no one in particular, that he had to meet up with some bloke from 12,000 miles away before he could talk on his own level about a subject like this. It’s all rather incredible, isn’t it really?
I gave up thinking about going home at any particular time in the end, and just let the evening go on unplanned. One of the strangest things of the whole rather strange evening however was when, after I’d been to the loo and had come up the stairs thinking ‘I wonder if he’d sooner come home to the flat and spend the night there; (rather than spend it in a bleak hotel room in Kings Cross as he planned?) and had practically decided that I couldn’t really ask him, he then turned round and asked if he could kip down on the floor at my flat! Now, that is odd. I was very glad he’d asked and naturally said, Yes.
Anyway, after we’d finished up at the C Wren, he suggested going along to the Spanish Bar which is near Leicester Square, just for a last drink, or some similar ridiculous excuse. So we went, and eventually found ourselves in the hot and smoky and atmosphere-laden basement bar: it was as phoney as a film set, and full of real Spaniards and phoney ones. Jerry was one of the phoney ones! He has Spanish ancestry not very far back, and with that and
the recent Spain trip, and the fact that he is quite a linguist: (he has German and French up his sleeve too) he was able to speak quite reasonable Spanish to the people who would talk to him. Actually the atmosphere was quite friendly, and people were talking on the most casual bases. But, for some crazy reason, he was determined that he shouldn’t be an Englishman for the night, and neither should I and I finally wound up being, at his decision, a Norwegian! And the funniest thing was that we had a couple of people on! A little Indo-European man and his Derbyshire girlfriend were the victims ˗ Jerry’s victims I hasten to add; I barely said a word, though I rather put my foot in it. I was not supposed to be able to speak English, and Jerry and I were talking in awkward German as a sort of mutual language (I can’t remember whether he was supposed to be a very linguistic Spaniard at this stage or not) when the girl asked how long I’d been here, thinking no doubt it was strange I hadn’t picked up any English. I said, like a fathead, in a mixture of sort of bad German and bad English, 18 months, and she then said to Jerry, assuming that I wouldn’t understand that it was a bit odd that I hadn’t learned any English in that time ˗ how on earth did I get around? After that I shut up and pretended to be a homesick Norwegian or something, and looked especially gloomy, and Jerry carried on bantering them in Spanish and English and heaven knows what! All extremely mad, and highly improbable, but never mind.
It got fairly late and we were there till nearly closing time in the end. (They do have a sort of cabaret at this place ˗ Spanish dancing and guitar-playing, done on an infinitesimally-raised level, so that you to be six-foot tall to see; but since you don’t pay any special price, this is what you must put with.)
Anyway, Jerry and I wended our way to a bus and eventually got home. By this time he was starting to fall apart quite a lot, which surprised me really, as he seems generally to have bags of energy. We got home and he must have nearly gone berserk trying to figure out who all the people were ˗ it was one of those nights when they all arrived one after the other, and there seemed to be no end to the stream. So finally David and I put him to be, as it were, and shut up shop. But he kept making me feel as though I was making him a special guest of honour and showering him with riches. I told him to shut up in the end, and he did, pretty well. But in fact I wasn’t really treating him any better than I would have done if Mike had come or someone like that.
To hark, way back, to the lame duck bit; this seems to have come about late in the evening, when he lost some of his verve, and I became sort of father to the child if you see what I mean. So that’s the general picture of our Odyssey (the situation reminds me somewhat of James Joyce’s Ulysses where a young man and a middle-aged man become friendly over the space of one night).
Why do older people get on with me at all? I ought to make them feel out of date or something, shouldn’t I, by the law of the average statistical man? I think though, last night’s happening(s) came about partly by my new policy of trying to be open (at the risk of getting another mess) the same as I did with Margaret (who incidentally hasn’t yet been any bother, and if I have room I may be able to explain why I think this is so). And if it’s going to help somebody through an otherwise miserable and lonely night, I’m glad to do it, because I’ve had the same sort of loneliness myself at times. London is a terrible city for this, and I don’t intend to let it do its damage to anyone if I can help it. (New Policy Ruling Number Four!)
Thanks for your comments on the CIB (not CID, mother!) business. You’re not being old-fashioned in what you say about the financial side of things, though I must say I have the feeling that these days the girl herself contributes more to the marriage that she might have done 20 or 30 years ago, finance-wise. But I don’t rely on that. I must admit to feeling a little too impoverished to even be contemplating such a thing as marriage, but since there is not a great deal I can do about that at present, I can only save as much as possible (more possible in this job ˗ though not when I’ve spent the night drinking!) and remember my promised daily bread. And it does come. I don’t really get too uptight about money matters; whenever I do, I think, This is ridiculous ˗ I’m ten times better off than a lot of folk.
Jerry and I were discussing marriage quite a lot last night actually, though not from this point of view, and it would seem I’m pretty idealistic about certain aspects of it. But I don’t think I’m foolish about it. I know marriage is bloomin’ hard work, and I think I’m prepared for that.
So! What a funny letter. I hope you don’t think I’m taking up with all sorts of odd people ˗ no, I’m sure you don’t ˗ but helping them helps me, and I’m one of the most incredibly selfish people around!
Rod, one of the flatmates, has a party on here tonight, so I don’t expect much sleep. I think I’ll go up to the laundrette actually! Lots of love, Mike.
I haven't been able to identify the two pubs mentioned in this post: I think the Christopher Wren may no longer exist, and perhaps the Spanish Bar is now a restaurant. But perhaps not....