‘A Walking Shadow’ p. 3

Working as a Museum Assistant in the National Art Library at the V&A was a joyous experience. John Harthan , who ran the Department, was a decent, kind, scholarly man, and  was well-liked and admired by us all. The ‘paperkeepers’ and we assistants felt a  real attachment to the precious books, leaflets and catalogues that we handled every day.

Professor Peter Lasko,who had just set up the new Fine Art Department at the University of East Anglia in 1965, was a regular visitor to the Library.  He had moved – with some of his colleagues –  from the Courtauld Institute  to this new experimental ‘off-shoot’ in Norwich.

He was canvassing for potential students when he suggested that I leave the V&A, take a degree at UEA, and then return to my current job after graduating.

It was a beguiling offer, and I was soon fascinated by the prospect of leaving London for some welcome, much-needed Norfolk country air. The prospect of returning to academic work also began to appeal. I needed to stretch my mind more.

Within weeks, I had been accepted on the FAM course, and was ready to leave London and begin in the autumn term of 1967.

But, before that, I was  to attend the first Poetry International literaryfest at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank, which was organised by Ted Hughes and  Patrick Garland.  They were both keen to keep it as a ‘non-English’ event, but were later persuaded to include several ‘British’ writers, so Graves Spender, Auden and Empson  were to read their work – live!

As the poet and critic, A. Alvarez was to write:

‘If a bomb landed on the South Bank on the first week of July, 1967, it would wipe out world poetry’.

Over four nights – the 10th, 11th, 12th, and the 13th, the line-up of ‘foreign’ poets included: Octavio Paz, Neruda, Yves Bonnefoy, Pasolini, Bopa, Robert Bly and Anthony Hecht and Tennessee Williams ( among others).

The hall was jam-packed every night for four nights; and, as Julian Jebb of the Financial Times  was to write:

‘The queue of Beautiful People – many with their bells and flowers, who half-surrounded the QEH last night in the hope of return tickets was proof enough that the first of four evening recitals of Poetry International was an occasion’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘A Walking Shadow’, p.2

Time  magazine created the term ‘Swinging London’, in April 1966, but I was unaware that I was  living in such exciting times.

For me, it was  ‘metro, boulot, dodo’, and my life centred around the museum, and the little mews flat. There, I taught myself to cook from Elizabeth David’s  French Provincial Cooking, which I read cover to cover,as one would read a novel.  It was part recipe book, part travelogue, sprinkled with neat drawings and French phrases. I was utterly gripped. It was an entree  into another completely different way of life.

I had already ‘au paired’ in Brittany – for six weeks – with a delightful family during the vacation at Birmingham.  Dr G – a wealthy Parisian gynaecologist/ abortionist  –  was on his second marriage with his Bardot-look-a- like young wife, with whom he had two children: Eric (6) and Natalie (5).

My job was essentially to keep  the children  from killing themselves (  jumping out of windows and such like) bathe, breakfast and amuse them until ‘Madame’ rose at 12 noon.

I was then free to do as I please.

A cook would arrive from the village  to prepare our lavish midday lunch, at which I was always served first, as an honoured guest.

Monsieur and Madame’s hobby was their little private aeroplane, and they would fly off at the weekends leaving me solely in charge of the kids.

As I had absolutely no experience of caring for children apart from a little adolescent baby-sitting, this was challenging in the extreme. But we survived, even when I had to call the local vet when Eric’s temperature rose sky high.

They rewarded me with great kindness, a good salary,gifts of jewellery, and many years of friendship and correspondence, even when Monsieur landed up in jail for a while.

It was a marvellous introduction to the country and its people.

While the Civil Rights Movement, and Vietnam were raging in the back of our lives, the UK was having a ‘Labour moment’ with the election of Harold Wilson in March 1966 ( the year in which David Cameron was born); and we were weathering our own home-grown dramas: the Aberfan disaster; the imprisonment of the notorious ‘Moors Murderers’ ( Ian Brady and Myra Hindley); and the spy, George Blake’s flight to Moscow.

Many of my generation were concerned  with human rights. I’d heard Malcolm X speak at Birmingham University – to a packed audience – days before he was assassinated in February 1965; and went on to read  The Fire Next Time  by James Baldwin, and later Soul On Ice by Eldridge Cleaver published in 1968, which I still have on my book shelves.

 

 

 

 

 

‘A Walking Shadow’ 1965-75 p. 1

My university ‘adventure’ had  ended; and now I had to find a job.

I had acquired a shelf of books, but had no shelf to put them on. I was homeless.

I’d   read as much philosophy as I could. Extracts from the great philosophers, and all about Kant, Wittgenstein and Heidegger from Bertrand Russell’s  The History of Western Philosophy.

A friend, who worked at the Natural History Museum in Kensington, put me up in his home in Putney. He suggested that I walk over to the V&A and ask if they had any job vacancies.

There was a menial Civil Service job available  in the basement office. I was accepted. In  a year’s time I was promoted to Museum Assistant in the National Art Library.  I had taken the first steps on a career ladder.

A colleague offered me accommodation in his poky ,flat in Harley Street Mews.  The BBC ‘head honcho’, Lord Grade, parked his chauffeur- driven car beneath us.

I had time to read and write a little. I went to poetry readings and met George MacBeth, (‘Mr Poetry’ at  the BBC), and Mike and Frances Horowitz.

I had a risque  poem called ‘Consummation’published in a magazine called  Poetmeat.  It published other young ‘new’ poets: Penelope Shuttle, Lee Harwood and Dave Cunliffe. I also had poems  accepted by Scrip, Breakthru, and Preface.

Like Birmingham University, the V&A had been partly designed by Aston and Webb in 1909. The two buildings were so similar.

London was ‘swinging’; and I was at the heart of it, buying my clothes at Biba every week and wearing the shortest skirts possible.

And I bought a book of poems, which I really loved:  North from Sicily. Poems in Italy  1961-64  by Alan Ross Published by Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1965.

I really loved these fresh, direct, very modern poems. And had no idea then that in 2001, Alan would publish some poems of mine in the last two editions of  London Magazine  shortly before his death; and that all those years in to the future, I would attend his memorial service on Tuesday, 30th October 2001 at St Paul’s church, Covent Garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘From Heidi to Heidegger’ p. 17

When I phoned my father to tell him that I’d left university,his response shook me.

‘Well, what are you going to do now. You can’t come home’.

I wasn’t too shocked by his reaction. ‘Home’ was a hellish place, where my father lived with his violent mistress, and where I was never welcome. I had spent five  years at boarding school, managing to find friends to stay with in the holidays, to avoid ever  staying there.

From the age of sixteen to eighteen,  Dad had allowed me to come home to study for my ‘A’ Levels, much to the fury of his girlfriend. She had been violent and abusive to me; and I would lock myself in to my room to protect myself from her. My sudden, unwanted presence would cause her to become even more aggressive to my father.

Then, my father suggested something quite strange. He suggested that we meet in his local pub. I had never known him go to a pub, but it was a place where she could never find us.

After a brief exchange, where he berated me for choosing the wrong university in the first place, he handed me some money, and an address of a friend of his in London.

‘Go there. He will help you, and put you up’. I went that night. Straight away.

My mother also lived in London, but I couldn’t turn up on her doorstep. She had made her  dislike and complete  lack of interest in me clear for my entire life; and had abdicated all responsibility for me  when my father – astonishingly – got full custody of me in their divorce case in 1950.  The ‘go away and leave me alone’ message still applied.

My father was a curious mixture of libertine and Victorian moralist, and dispensed ‘mixed messages’ in with the contraceptives he gave me, and the sex education advice he expounded. An exponent of ‘free love’ he’d say:

‘Sleep with whoever you want to, but don’t get pregnant’.

Curious advice to give  to a rather shy, insecure blue-stocking, who was at the mercy of all and sundry.

I only learned about periods/babies/sex and so on from my schoolgirl friends. No mother ever prepared me.loved me or guided me in the ways of men and the world.

Once again, I really  was on my own.

‘From Heidi to Heidegger’, p. 16

When I achieved 3% for my ‘end of term’ examination in Logic, I began to realise that my attempt to study Philosophy had failed.

Peter Geach, my renowned tutor, and husband of the even more famous G.E.M. Anscombe, and I would suffer painful one-to-one tutorials, where hardly a word was spoken between us, as I struggled to make sense of ‘truth tables’.

Geach was a legendary figure and eccentric at the university. For a term, he went around in someone else’s duffle-coat, which was several sizes too small for him, so that he looked like some vast scarecrow out of a Hammer horror film. We could only feel sympathy for any undergraduate wearing his enormous coat, in exchange.   Sometimes,Mr Geach ( we never called our tutors by their  first names in those days) would lie down on the floors of the Library, where he could read the spines of the  book titles more clearly,  much to the consternation of the librarians, who thought that he had had a fall.

He and Elizabeth Anscombe were followers, pupils and close associates of Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose philosophy was very au courant in the Sixties.  Anscombe was to become one of Wittgenstein’s  literary executors, and was present at his death-bed.

Wittgenstein affectionately referred to her as ‘old man’; a treasured friend and colleague of his. She greatly admired his work and translated his many articles, books and texts from German into English.  She and Geach also translated the work of Gottlob Frege.

I enjoyed the lectures given on ‘moral philosophy’ and the ‘pre-Socratics’, but was restless. I took  a supplementary course in French History ( given by Professor  Douglas Johnson) , and managed to get a couple of As for two essays. Really, this was the moment when I should’ve ‘jumped ship’ over to the English Department, but I lacked the  confidence to do so.

Instead I hung around the offices of the student magazine Mermaid,  which was being run and edited by Martin Robertson, Andy Sims, Gay Search and John Saunders. I had three dreadfully pretentious  poems accepted – one dedicated to the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, whom I much admired at the time.

I also wrote a piece on the journalist, Dee Wells, the wife of the philosopher, A.J.’Freddie’ Ayer.  She was a formidable woman, and had come to Birmingham to judge a debating  final.  I only just managed to hold my own with her in the interview, but, at least had done my research on her quite thoroughly, describing her as  ‘one of the select coterie of women journalists and pundits writing under the brand names of Laski, Whitehorn, Brophy, Dunn, Sharpley, Wells and Mortimer’.  It was ever thus. This was in 1965, and I was almost 20 and was to learn my first lesson in the crushing put-down of the older woman, when I asked her, innocently: ‘Do you have any opinions about provincial universities, Miss Wells’.

‘Actually, no. I spend all my time in Oxford’.

At about this time, Gay, Martin, John and I all decided to rent a flat together in the leafy suburb of Moseley. We were a happy quartet – two couples living together. So grown-up!  But it proved to be a short-lived set-up, as relationships between students in these times shifted constantly.

I had other friends then: David Kilburn, David Silver  and Alan Munton; and Ralph Steadman and his girlfriend, Anna, were a delightful couple, and Ralph was kind, funny and generous.  However, I had made my mind up to fail my exams, and to leave the university completely. I thought, misguidedly, that this would ,at least ,please my father.

I could not have been more wrong.

‘From Heidi to Heidegger’ p.15

My first sight of the imposing Accrington redbrick Edwardian  ( Ingress Bell and Aston Webb) architecture  of the University of Birmingham  ( c.1900-09), crushed my spirits and filled me with dread. These were the domes of an industrial Xanadu with its ‘great hall for mechanical, civil and electrical engineering’, and  I had never felt more ‘out of place’.  My father’s bitterness that I had turned down  a place – on the building site of the equally off-putting very new University of Sussex – had confused me even more. There, at my interview, I had met and been intimidated by the sight of the uber- sophisticated  Jay ‘twins’ in their Paco Rabanne boots – and had fled.

Thankfully, ‘Freshers’ Week’ lessened my fears. The Philosophy Department had only a tiny group of students – and we huddled together. I warmed immediately to a girl called Pat Wardle from Newcastle-upon- Tyne, a stunning blonde, who announced that she had  come to Birmingham purely to find a husband. Her wishes were rewarded, when three years later, she graduated with a third class degree and a young trainee dentist called Mike Bellwood in tow. They married the following year in Durham cathedral.  At least Pat knew exactly what she wanted in life.

Another passionately ambitious Geordie – two years ahead of me –  was Andy Allan, who graduated with a First, and was to become a major  grandee of Central TV; and, who was later to jilt me six days before our intended wedding on August 31st, 1968.

But more of that later.

Here I was, a naive,18 yr-old pitchforked in to this dazzling new world, clutching my copy of Gilbert Ryle’s Concept of Mind, pretending to like beer and deadly No.6 ‘gaspers’;doing grown-up things like joining Amnesty, CND, and the Debating Society,and feeling utterly lost in spite of the good friends and company around me.

‘From Heidi to Heidegger’ p.14

We girls were all sleep-walking our way into university. With a clutch of ‘A’ Level passes, and ‘S’ Level distinctions, we’d leapt the hurdles of the Cambridge Proficiency exam in English, won our County Major scholarships, and some had even  managed an ‘O’ Level in Latin during our two years in the Sixth Form. We had all passed the obligatory two foreign languages at ‘O’ Level as well.

We were poised to be part of a social experiment in education. This was the era of the Robbins report (1963). A ‘new mini- wave’ of 50,000 of us were  about to enter the popular Redbricks and the so-called ‘Plate Glass’ universities founded in the 60s: Sussex (1961) – still a building site –  Keele (1962); UEA (1963); York (1963) Newcastle (1963). During this period the number of universities had doubled from 20  to 43. We numbered only 0-5% of the population who were eligible for university entrance in those days.

We were poorly prepared. None of us were groomed for Oxbridge entrance. The UCCA forms had to be filled in. We were allowed to chose six universities – rating in preference from 1-6.

We pursued innocent pleasures in our ‘free’ time.. We danced to Bill Haley and the Comets’ ‘Rock Around the Clock’, Johnny Ray,Elvis Presley and The Everly Brothers.  We were on the cusp of Beatlemania ( I bought ‘Love Me Do’) by the Beatles – their first single  – in  1964. I still have it.

Fascinated  by British New Wave cinema I  read the books and saw the following films:’A Kind of Loving ‘, ‘The L-Shaped-Room’ (1962), ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’, ‘A Taste of Honey’,’This Sporting Life’. Suddenly, Northern cities became sexy –  I went for interviews at Leeds and Birmingham ( not quite northern!) universities. E.P. Thompson’s ‘The Making of the English Working Class’ was also published in 1963. Class and social barriers were breaking down.

And then there was ‘Billy Liar’ and my  60’s  crush of the  actor Albert Finney, ,to engage my thoughts. I saw him on the stage in ‘Luther’,too,  stood outside the theatre and got his autograph, Wrote him a fan letter; received a reply, which I still have , dated 8th November 1960, and addressed from the Cambridge Theatre, Earlham Street/London W.1

‘Dear Amanda/ Thanks for your letter/It was smashing/ My hair is auburn and my eyes are blue-green/Hope you enjoy the shows/ Yours sincerely/ Albert Finney.

The theatre now became an enchantment. We ‘A’ Level English Literature girls travelled up to see the ‘revolutionary, 1962 Peter Brooks’  RSC production of King Lear with Paul Schofield as Lear and Alec McCowen as the Fool. Two mesmerising performances; burned into my memory for all time. Interestingly, in 2004 the Daily Telegraph published a survey in which RSC actors voted for the ‘greatest Shakespeare performance in history’ – and the winner was Paul Schofield as King Lear.

I did a little ‘Am/Dram’,too, when our school and the local boys’ schooll ( Sir Anthony Browne school, Brentwood) put on a joint production of ‘Romanoff and Juliet’ by Peter Ustinov. I somehow landed the part of Juliet, and got to ‘snog’ my first major heartthrob and ‘crush’ – Brendan Braine, who played Romanoff. For a boarder, starved of male company, this connection was  deeply appreciated. The first taste of a boy’s lips.

I even- very briefly- considered – then swiftly rejected  – the idea of going to drama school.

But we were not well-heeled young women, so theatre visits  to London were a rare treat. We were more preoccupied with which  subjects to read at university.  I longed to read English, but wasn’t encouraged to. Many – if not all of us- chose the wrong subjects – French or Geography,simply because we were ‘good’ at those subjects. ‘Sociology’ – because it was ‘trendy’, and lastly Philosophy, because as young people we were questioning the world around us. We were all confused and misguided – indeed not quided at all. So, when I received an acceptance from Birmingham University from their prestigious Philosophy Department I took it blindly, but not before my English teacher, Miss Vashon-Baker said to me:’Why on earth aren’t  you taking English, Amanda?’

‘Because you, Miss V-B, never told me to.