From July to October I continued living and working in London, seeing friends and looking forward to leaving for Bruges on October 15th to continue my research on Belgian Symbolism. I spent time in Norway over Christmas and the New Year.
After that, I was back in London, looking for a new job. In the ‘Job Vacancies’ on the back pages of the New Statesman I saw a job advertised for a ‘gallery assistant’ at ‘The Workshop’ gallery at 83, Lamb’s Conduit Street. When I went along for the interview, I found that my ‘boss-to-be’ was Mel Calman, the cartoonist.
Mel was a quiet, gentle,melancholy man, who took one look at my CV ( deemed me to be ‘over-qualified for the job’) but, no doubt, sensed that I was a depressively neurotic but mostly cheerful girl, and thereby perfect for the job.
The menage at Lamb’s Conduit Street was complicated. In the basement flat lived Mel’s ex-wife, Sue McNeill , a magazine designer, with their two enchanting little girls: Stephanie and Claire. I would see them ‘coming and going’ most days. Meanwhile, Mel lived ‘up the road’ in a flat with his current wife, a flame-haired artist, called Karen Usborne. Karen seemed to spend a lot of her time going to see her ‘analyst’.
The overall ‘atmosphere’ in the gallery was ‘tense’, although trade was quite brisk and I was usually pretty busy. However, Mel would go into a deep gloom most days as he had to draw and then deliver his ‘little man’ cartoon to The Times every day for publication. The pressure to do this weighed heavily on him. In Who’s Who he listed his recreations as ‘brooding and worrying’, and he did a great deal of both. However, once the drawing was despatched to the printers, Mel would cheer up.
Harold Evans, the editor of The Times would call in a great deal. He was funny and extremely charming and polite. Journalists and cartoonists would call in or phone. We stocked work by Bill Tidy, Patrick Garland, Hector Breeze ( my favourite cartoonist) and many others, including Michael Heath and Jon Jensen. Gerald Scarfe, Derek Boshier, Philip Sutton and the journalists Jill Tweedie and Alan Brien would call by or buy work by a number of artists. I recall that prints by David Gentleman and drawings by Quentin Blake always sold well.
I was truly happy in this job, although I was paid very little. The warmth, generosity and kindness of Mel – and the sheer fun and good conversation that was had – more than made up for my tiny salary. And I was also given lunch most days: a fried egg sandwich and tea from the ‘greasy spoon’ next door.
My social life as a flaneuse, and ‘girl about town’ didn’t stop either. Although I missed and remained faithful to my current flame, Harald Bruusgaard ( now back in Norway), I went out on ‘dates’ with Richard Layard and George to a variety of ‘venues’.
On one particular occasion – April 29th 1972 – I watched a fracas occur at a Poetry Symposium on ‘Publishing Poetry’, chaired by Ian Hamilton, with Alan Brownjohn, Michael Schmidt and Charles Monteith of Faber. Suddenly, a young poet in the audience, Bernard Kelly, started yelling and protesting. Peter Porter, the poet ,cuffed him on the head, Lady Dufferin, who had organised the event, became a bit hysterical, and everybody joined in the uproar until the police were called and he was arrested and thrown out.
On May 23rd, I wrote in my diary: ‘I’m happy working for Mel and Karen, and I want very much to extend this job for a few more months, as the work is pleasant and congenial’.
I didn’t realise then how important their presence in my life was to be in the coming months.