The hidden mystery of the undeveloped film
An intense earache and sinus pain leaves me miserable
I’m up at 2.35 a.m. uncomfortable in bed. I itch in spots about my body and the heel of my right foot feels as if acupuncture needles are being driven into the bone. I get up, it is cooler downstairs. My left ear is in pain, I seem to have water lodged in it still from yesterday’s swim. I drip ‘Swim-Ear’ into it hoping to dry it out (it contains Isopropyl alcohol and anhydrous glycerin) and helps dry out excess water in ears. I take a cup of soluble Paracetomol for the pain. I don’t settle; less than an hour later having dozed on the sofa I get up, first grabbing some notes from the ‘Norman Mailer’ biography I finished last week,
4.30 a.m. Dawn approaches
The wind whistles a little across the balcony. Looking out towards the sky above cliff Tops of the South Downs I see a crescent moon so fine it could be a big-toe nail-clipping of someone who clips there nails every weekend. There’s a little cloud, like a strawberry birth mark drifts in from the East; I don’t know what kind of day it promises, the prevailing wind comes off the English Channel to the South West.
Then I turn my attention to the fifteen sets of photographs I had developed over the weekend
One film was duff; I had feared there would have been more. I recall the camera jamming on more than one occasion and opening the back of the camera when there was still an unexposed film in the back; not problems you face with a digital camera, but I use a 700mm zoom and an extreme wide-angle ‘fish eye’ lens which aren’t accessories you get with a digital camera – yet.
The earliest set of photographs were taken almost exactly five years ago in June 1998, the day today TBT was born. The most recent set of pictures I took ten days ago at Zozo’s Seventh birthday.
The others include:
A family summer Visit to Barrowby July 1998. All the cousins are there including my step-brother and his daughter.
New Year’s Eve Barrowby 1999
Then one set of photographs that in 36 + pictures captures our ten day Christmas perambulations, starting here in Seaford, East Sussex then going 154 miles to Barton on the Heath, Gloucestershire back home to Seaford, then 1978 miles north to Barrowby, Lincolnshire. .
This could be the structure for a short story (or chapter), how a box of undeveloped films reveals a story.
Seaford Wild Seas
Waves breaking during a south westerly gale against Newhaven Breakwater. I took this near to Christmas, possibly on Christmas Eve or early on Christmas Morning. Of the 12 frames I took one is badly framed, in five I miss the action, the wave hiding the lighthouse at the end of the pier rather than highlighting it (most of these are overexposed too), of the remaining six three are over exposed; of the three remaining, a sequence of three caught in rapid succession only the first would make it into the album and of these, the second is better, though it still lacks contrast and depth to make it a more than average picture; I caught the atmosphere better in words (see diary).
Christmas Morning 2002
The first picture after this shoes Zozo in bed (top bunk) surrounded by wrapping paper, she has just opened her stocking on Christmas Morning and showing off a soft toy the size of a baby guinea-pig – it is a unicorn. She looks tired, it was probably only 6 in the morning. All of these pictures are washed out, something I often get using flash. The film has been universally developed for too long perhaps. These go in the album as a record, not because the pictures are any good. In the set TBT too, on the floor holds up a multicoloured pencil, on the duvet surrounding Zozo there are unwrapped gifts, as well as a Satsuma, a Christmas tree stencil and an assortment of spectator teddies. They shift their unwrapping presents activities to the sitting room, TBT pulling off the wrapped to a Micro scooter in front of the Christmas Tree. The remaining two pictures of our early Christmas morning in Seaford show Zozo dressed in her Christmas clothes (we are off to Barton) holding up a young male guinea-pig she calls Cracker.’ He is a reddish brown colour all over with a white mop of tufty hair in the centre of his head. TBT meanwhile has commandeered my present, ‘Age of Mythology’ and is playing it on the ‘main computer’ in the study on the ground floor.
Christmas Lunch 2002
Six hours later the children are still unwrapping presents, this time 250 miles away on the sitting room floor at their grandparents. As I have done for the last six years I use a fish eye lens on my Minolta to get everyone on the room, the floor scattered with assorted colourful wrapping papers.
None of the other pictures come out
Hating what my flash does I tried taking portraits of the family in low light they don’t work.
In the next film I begin with a sequence of five pictures of TBT and Zozo sitting on the back of the sofa in the ‘snug’ or ‘TV room’. In each there is something amiss, the lighting is fine, but one of the children is either looking away, caught in a squint, making a silly face or waving their legs in the air. I decide I can live with three of them; while TBT is posed and still, smiling happily towards me, in each Zozo is being silly or has got her face behind the shadow of TBT’s head.
My efforts to get pictures of the family as we walk along a narrow Cotswold lane in dreary weather are even worse
Everyone looks tired, aging or literally ‘under the weather.’ Although out of focus, or more likely blurred if I was using the long lens on a slow speed setting, I keep a picture of TBT in because his face is the smiliest of everyone’s he gives me a bright, loving smirk. TT is there, a woollen hat pulled over her ears, talking with her father, and I have the children climbing on an aluminium gate to look at some Jersey cows. The sequences ends with TBT cocooned amongst the deep cushions of the sitting room sofa, wrapped like a large and precious present.
Norman Mailer and writing notes
Harlot’s Ghost is one of the best lessons I have had in novel writing.
In the first chapter he creates a setting, tosses in several hooks and fills in some background detail about each of the principal characters … Mailer sets his stage.
I like this as it relates to ‘driving blind.’
‘On that moonless night in March, returning to the Keep, I took the road from Bath to Belfast, the road that goes by Camden. In every cove was fog and it covered one’s vision like a winding-sheet, a fog to embrace the long rock shelf offshore where sailing ships used to founder. When I could no longer see anything at all, I would pull the car over; then the grinding of the buoys would sound as mournful as the lowing of cattle in a rain-drenched field. The silence of the mist would come down on me. You could her the groan of a drowning sailor in the lapping of that silence. I think you had to be demented to take the coast road on such a night.’
And so Mailer goes on, setting up the danger of black ice, then later skidding. The protagonist calls his wife who had had a premonition. It intrigues me that all the towns have British names; is this the same across the Eastern Seaboard of the US of A?
‘The road had become a lie. It would offer traction, then turn to glass. Driving that car by the touch of my fingertips, I began to think once more that lying was an art, and fine lying had to be a fine art.’
The protagonist in Harlot’s Ghost is pre-occupied with thoughts about skullduggery. He hits ice and nearly loses it because instead of concentrating on the road he is thinking about his wife and mistress.
‘Driving that car, my heart in my teeth, and the road ice in my ice-cold fingers, I knew all over again what Chloe gave me.’
‘On a night of driving so unsettled as this – sleet on the cusp of freezing – there was no way to meditate for long.’
‘My car went into a severe skid, much longer now in memory that it takes to tell. The wall of forest on one side strutted up to me, and my front end yawed when I spun the wheel, whereupon car and I rushed viciously across the lane towards the other wall of pines at the far shoulder, now suddenly the near shoulder. … I was looking down the road at the turn I had just come out of. Then, as slowly as if I were in a whirlpool at sea, the road began to revolve. Interminably.’
Idea: Boy in alien captivity, aliens seek out his girlfriend to create a breeding pair.
Mid-morning, bright, arming up, our first Spring morning, a BBQ is possible. Friends call from Lewes, they are coming down to the seaside playground. I offer lunch. We do a 90 minute tidy up, Zozo joins in cleaning the windows. I make soup with defrosted stock (a minestrone base without the meat). I add swedes, turnip, sweated onion and garlic, and three kinds of beans. Yum. The mums confer over what the children will eat, I learn that various parts of the Pizza would be rejected so we opt for backed potatoes with assorted fillings instead.
My idea of reading and note taking while supervising the kids is shot to pieces, but it feels great to have these spontaneous visits. I might even have spent an hour or so in the garden starting to rake in six months of compost into the boarders; perhaps when Darlingest and the kids are away (when I ought to be writing).
I ought to be writing
The schedule for the year had me writing ten hours a week then for a day each weekend; I doubt I’ve had more than six hours in any week, none with the kids ill and me in bed.
Notes for JTW from the Eastbourne Herald
25 year old killed when his car careered into a block of flats. Thrown from his car when it mounted the kerb, sliced away part of the wall of the flats and landed on its roof. treated by paramedics at the scene of the accident but died. Returning from a St Valentine’s weekend with his new girlfriend. 6.11 at Bexhill. Regular at a nightclub. Hung around with the boy racers as a teenager. Family and friends laid flowers at the scene of the crash. Second fatal accident at this spot in three months.
(Nutter who gets planning permission by ‘forcing’ accidents)
Fire-fighters used Acro jacks to secure the house. Residents had to be dug out of their homes. Lost control of the high-powered limited-edition Vauxhall as it passed from the 40 mph limit into the 30 mph zone and entered a right hand curve on the downhill stretch of the dual carriageway. The car hurtled off the road, demolished a 30 mph sign and a tree, flew down a steep bank above the pavement and into the front of the flats. Cartwheeled into the air and came to rest on its roof 20 feet further down.
Fire-fighter tried cardio-pulmonary resuscitation as the dying driver lay in a pool of blood …
Guys on a motorbike who ran into the back of Mr Laing, crashed, then ran off. One was hurt, but wouldn’t let me catch up with him, to ensure he was OK and perhaps take him to hospital. Other grabbed his bike and sped off.
Drink drive liar
Two lagers and shared a bottled and a half of wine. Erratic driving. Made up an excuse/justification. Banned for three years. Fined £400, paid £55 costs.
JTW Woman wins Porsche three days after passing driving test by doing a handbrake turn and stop in a marked area.
More from Mailer
‘I was misrepresenting myself to myself. I was not writing it for presentation, but for myself. Such self-deception is analogous to looking in the mirror and not meeting one’s eyes.’
This last phrase takes me into a world of my own, the possibilities of a short story, or its aptness in describing someone who has lost all sense of who they are or the capacity to see themselves for who they are.
I need to buy time
Research traffic accidents. National Newspaper Depository. TRL. School of Geography, or Cranfield ?? Road Safety Campaign Charities. Various motor museums and ministries. Drive the routes. Decide on the location for the story, the North East, Cotswolds or South Coast.
TV ‘Taken’ and film ‘The Bride’ – neither any good, flicking between the too and turning to ‘Harlot’s Ghost’ I just about entertain myself after Darlingest and the kids have gone to bed.
I’ve just read ‘Tough Guys Don’t Dance’ by Norman Mailer and ‘Super-Cannes’ by J G Ballard.
I’ve just read ‘Tough Guys Don’t Dance’ by Norman Mailer and ‘Super-Cannes’ by J G Ballard. I’m now back with Mailer:
Norman Mailer’s ‘Harlot’s Ghost’
‘Some good novels can start far from one’s immediate life and derive instead from ones cultural experience and ones ongoing imaginative faculty. Over the years, that faculty can build nests of context on to themes that attract it.’
I pluck these quotes to justify my kind of writing (the currently unpublished, egotistical ramblings of an obsessive lifetime diarist). I liked this:
‘Novelists not only live their own lives but develop other characters within themselves who never reveal their particular intelligence to the novelist’s conscious mind until, perchance, the day they come into one’s working literary preoccupations.’
I’m full of them, full of it and always on the look out for more; you’re probably in here too (the fiction that is, not the non-fiction). Talking of which, I liked the way this was put:
‘Some non-fiction awakens the imagination. Its personages take on the lustre of good fictional characters, that is, they seem as real and complex as men and women we know intimately.’
This is how I’d describe David Waller’s non-fiction account of the Mercedes-Chrysler merger ‘Wheels on Fire’
It reads as well as a novel in characterisation, milieu and narrative structure. Go and buy it; I’ll get him to send you a signed copy if you like it. I did, even though he’s a mate of 22 years standing. He then said this (Norman Mailer that is).
‘It is the author’s contention that good fiction – if the writer can achieve it – is more real, that is, more nourishing to our sense of reality, than non-fiction.’
Can I feel the same way about visualising a film?
‘Novelists have a unique opportunity – they can create superior if imaginative histories out of an enhancement of the real, the unverified, and the wholly fictional.’
And just to prove I can fill a page with cuttings without mentioning a school-run, a swimming trip, the state of the my health, the health of the family, the weather (ooh isn’t it warm for the time of year) or the height of the tide as I write on the pebbles 152 yards from where I am sitting, here’s another quote. I might need these one day. Help yourself, they’re all from Norman Mailer and all in the ‘Author’s Note’ to ‘Harlot’s Ghost.’
‘I have done enough indifferent writing myself over the years, and have spent so much time contemplating why it is bad, that by now I can read another author’s work and penetrate on occasion to what he is or, even more important, is not really saying.’
On Henry Miller and self-discovery
Who am I? Where do I belong?
Rain on the attic windows . Bed the night before pre-11.
No wonder I’m up at 5.00 a.m.
A dream remembered
I wanted to recall a dream, get a brief from my psyche on my current mental state (as if I wasn’t already aware of it). It was a common theme; they are almost taking on the significance of a recurrent dream.
(Photo credit: U.S. National Archives)
We, a troop of soldier buddies, are holding a badly defended barracks cum out post on a Pacific island.
The Japs are on the coast but are leaving us alone, we become complacent and relaxed. A gate guard leaves the wire mesh compound to take a leak and is leapt upon by a Jap and his throat slit. I, and others, retreat hurriedly to the cover of a set of tumble-down outhouses but are quickly overwhelmed. I wake before the inevitable.
What could be clearer? I feel trapped, hemmed in. But by whom? Or what? The Japs (the enemy) are they TVL? Home? What do they represent to me? Curiously enough as Japs I see them as Mowden Hall school boys playing a serious game of “Japs and Commandos.” They are “us,” just on the other side. They are more canny, more conquering, more determined than my lot are. The wire-mesh fencing is an inadequate defence
Our attitude is too laid back
So? Am I saying that I am ill prepared? Poorly defended? Weak? Enough of this.
When I first woke (4.30am) I was reflecting on the ebb and flow of my moods. Swings from impatience and anger to cynicism and contentment.
People provoke me by looking too closely over my shoulder.
I remember (to my shame) an outburst of anger when a fellow student at the SCA tried to learn more about a particular project, how impossible I was to work with and never settled down with a creative partner and how techy I get when anyone (except the client) wants to play around with my programmes.
[23 years on from this event and 18 years on from this diary entry I find I am 8 months into cognitive behavioural therapy. deep feelings of hurt provoked by my parents divorce when I was a child have wounded me; I cherish praise, loathe criticism. I seek applause, or retreat, or fight it.]
Volume 4 of Anais Nin’s Journal
I wish I could have begun with her childhood diaries, or at least 1931 in Louciennes, Paris. I can commune with an ageing woman who evidently attracted much attention from younger followers.
One thing which could soon influence this journal of mine will be an increasingly descriptive stance on the world and the people around me and not deep and tedious introspection.
No longer the book of self-analysis but the book of observations.
As a teenager I was clear in my mind that I was a born observer.
I stood apart from the world the better to see it. I would go to parties not only to take part but to tick off another experience and then write about it. Adulthood brings with it a crusting over of earlier enthusiasms Adulthood brings with it a crusting over of earlier enthusiasms, unless of course the indulgent world encourages and develops those early desires.
Character sketches. Like drawings.
Can I do them? I must.
Can I picture the people with whom I am familiar , let alone newcomers?
Dad, for instance, (give me two years and several million words), or Mum, neither of them simple people in analytical terms. Are any of us? Dad would hate me to say it to his face but Dad is taking on many of the traits of Granny. Surly, though (as yet) not so specifically commanding. I have few doubts that his desire to have me and Darlingest resident in Eden Hall are selfish as house sitters and pet providers while he’s away, as part-time cooks when he’s home and as free labour as decorating continues to be necessary, The traumas of his current break up with wife No 3 could turn into a Hardy-esque catastrophe , if only he wasn’t so public school and conservative. He stamps his foot and thinks P will return to him to cook his meals and do his washing. He sulks and becomes ill to persuade N to give up things which matter to her so that she will nurse him. Selfish and egotistical people don’t change Selfish and egotistical people don’t change.
I have little doubt that through-out school he was the horrid dictatorial prefect that I became at 13 before a rebelliousness and individuality was given free rein, no doubt let loose because there was no parent ready to counsel me and contain it. It made me kick the system. I wouldn’t credit him with the wit or adventurous nature of a Flashman, more the rule observing nit-picking Granny.
Everything must be just so.
Thankfully he has in recent years chilled out. Though clambering over the carpets of Eden House in bare feet must be one indicator of the Granny who is trying to get out, as is the need to park cars out of view should he look through his kitchen window. Mum is an artist Mum I honour with the title of artist crushed by the middle class moves of the North East. Had she left the area to study art, had she travelled more in her youth, had she never committed herself to the first gallant youth in a sports car who turned her down, had she never given up her own ambitions (more worthy and lasting if less profitable than my father’s), then perhaps she’d now be the cranky, Bohemian, artist she wanted to be. (and the kind of nutty arty types she gravitates towards).
A recent one week intensive course in fashion drawing at St. Martin’s School of Art released a natural flare which had previously been confined by a rigidity of formal technique (art as geometric drawing). Suddenly her work has more life (though she’s yet to find her own style, her personal Voice, if she ever will. Years of running the house, four kids, a daily help and various au pairs meant that a clichéd pride in the house put crisp tidiness before the liberal jumble of books, pots and pans, newspapers and prints you find at the P’s in Barton. They have always been the kind of family to whom I have aspired to belong. Not pushed by greed, never threatened by what the neighbours will think. Continental, laid back, pots and pans in the sink. Continental, with J, whose wit and intellect I admired long before I met Darlingest.
I don’t have the nerve to be as blasé about money as Henry Miller, though in my better moods of “truth” I believe it matters little to what I hope to do with my life, though a little (enough) to have our own home, to run a car and to ski each year would be welcome. What in fact I crave is enough money to do more of this, precisely this, whether it makes a bean or not!
A diary is not book-keeping with words
Finding Anais Nin and Henry Miller (at last) as allowed me to escape the book-keeping approach to my earlier diaries. Then the intention was to do little more than catalogue the events of the day, the week, the year (the cycle).
Now, hopefully I can do much more.
Here I can let vent, discuss, record, consider, practice my observations, try lines, invent words and phrases. Now, reading like a graduate, I can put notes in here (not in the Arch lever files). As before I will dip in years later and find (or not find) reflections on those years gone by.
[This visit comes over seven years later – 9th January 2000. & I return on 27th February 2010]
Dare I compare myself with the likes of Anais and Henry?
In my teens and early twenties I shared much of Anais’s sexual hunger (I adored the erotica she wrote and knew her for this alone for a decade or more). Today I relish the gutsy frankness of Henry Miller, flavoured by sticky fingers and his insatiable appetite for cunt. He didn’t have to intellectualise about loving a person the way we did. I hardly enjoyed (or enjoy) sex for sex’s sake.
There must be a person at the other end.
“There’s nothing wrong with it if both people enjoy it opined Suzi on one of our very few affair like reprieves in September 1989. She was justifying her repeated infidelity, a trait I worried about in her when I first met her aged 15 in 1978.
If I’d known Anais Nin in my youth (20’s) I would have been her Hugo making money not in the City, but in the cash crazy world of advertising in the 1980’s. Hard when my inclination was to scrap it all and do a Henry Miller . If only my hunger had been to find a personal voice and not a public (and paid) one. Though I’m struggling with “Tropic of Capricorn” after the narrative and journalistic rumpus of “Tropic of Cancer” I am still inclined to pick out a few truths.
I am still keen to hear someone else’s voice justifying and provoking my difference:
“At this a faint smile panned over his face. He thought it extraordinary that I should remember such things. He was already married, a father, and working in a factory making fancy pipe canes. He considered it extraordinary to remember events that happened so far back in the past.”
And so Henry Miller goes on to indulge his memory on a rock fight that killed a boy when they were only 8 years. Like HM I relish dredging up, reliving and reviving childhood events. I love to dissect the pain and pleasure of past relationships too, especially the passion and punches of yours truly and ‘Suzi Bean’.