The final day of The Public Image – Scottish Lady Tiger – before the storm. Photographs by Innes Graham
A refreshingly game bundle of curious guests graced our new apartment in Rome.
James Thin was a stationer in Edinburgh.
Muriel Spark wrote her work in long hand in ring binders she ordered from James Thin.
Muriel’s lifelong partner Penelope Jardin would type out her manuscripts.
This was Sylvia Plath’s typewriter. Penelope Jardin never used it. Ever.
clack clack click. clack click clack clack.
ring ring “Hello? What? NO! Use your own damned typewriter!”
clack clack clack clackity clack
She is used to this sort of thing.
So I managed to finish the book I didn’t like – I made myself a night sandwich and a glass of peach juice.In the foreword the book is described as her strangest and most jarring work…it was a struggle but towards the end the book finally takes shape and little themes, which have only been suggested, become clear: our accumulated doubts, unfinished business and broken dreams.There are some very strong and hillarious images of women dressing up in their wealth, in old times in contrast to the looser late sixties fashion; she shouts (when asked if their jewellery is real) “they are as real as you people”, which ultimately is not an answer.I’m thinking I should make a piece of Jewellery but don’t really have access to tools or time maybe I will make it in my head.I am also returning to the Muriel makes a joke video and imagine our inability to meet up as a chaotic meet up where everyone is dressed their best; I would wear my hair like I used to when I worked in a bar and hold my wine goblet, it would suit the occasion. Maybe we could agree to all speak different languages – it wouldn’t make much difference to the sense of understanding or lack there of, but I feel it would be grand, all friends of Michael are underneath grand, this I am sure of. I wish I could come and see your work Grand Lady of Tigers, Sparks and Scotland. It sounds so amazing, but Dundee is far away… It’s easier to go to Italy.From the Hothouse by the River
The Comforters ~ Gwyneth Wright
I am asked to write. A clear command.
Commandeered almost. It is the last minute.
While I am writing I can hear a voice. It sounds like someone writing and thinking out loud.
I recognise the voice as my thoughts. They sound like my thoughts but it’s not my voice. My skin activates.
I am by the window with the dawn light and the wind rudely pressing in. I am lying on my bed. I can feel the skin all over my body come alive.
I think to myself lazily, “the thoughts I am having, my own thoughts not these other voices….won’t they lead somewhere if I just let them, not just anywhere?”
I awaken, I am sitting on a couch in a room in Hampstead. I can see myself there but I can’t feel myself breathing.
I can see I am drinking coffee and brandy and indulging in a night time introspection with the Baron.
He is wearing himself lightly over his concealed and eminently patient, if somewhat shallow selfless persona. He is amiable but not interested in the voices. I’m not sure that the woman on the couch cares that much either but the voices have an imperative and will press on regardless.
He sits patiently in his dressing gown. Sipping and thinking of silk hats and feathers.
“Why are you writing this?” The voice asks.
It sounds just like a thought I had a moment ago, and it sounds like me.
I look around but I can’t locate it.
I try to explain to the Baron, from my dark bedroom now, via the tiresome woman on the couch, that the voice repeats what I have been thinking in another voice then it adds something of its own at the end.
“Where do you think you are going with this?”
Just like that.
These are my thoughts. They land in present time as I write them. At least, they landed a moment ago. And now they are gone.
“Who do you think you are..to be writing? And to no one in particular?”
I hadn’t thought this until now. “Am I mad?” Where did that come from.
“Mad, you are mad” says the Baron in a harsh and punitive voice, quite out of character for the Baron.
I am slightly shocked. This isn’t part of my story.
I never though I could be mad at all before. I feel indignant.
Madness is perhaps something unspeakable in 1950’s Hampstead after all, even if it was an edgy middle-class Bohemia and R D Laing still a child and not yet out of short trousers. I panic. He’s still in Scotland. It’s too soon. Too soon to be mad. I am panicking but I get a grip. I must send a wire to Kensington to my fiancé. I can make him wait for me and I will be saved by the comfort of being known to another.
My breath catches. Thoughts ricochet blindly. Or do they? I wonder. Am I really feeling this or am I caught in a terrible narrative?
“Don’t I matter?” “Does IT matter?” The voice says.
It sounds like a statement rather than a question.
There’s another voice, a more determined and insistent one.
I look around my dark bedroom. There’s a haze emitted by the screen against the smeared lenses of my reading glasses. But I am not reading. It is my phone and not a book and I know it should be a book. A vague panic that I haven’t finished the book yet shifts by.
Has the clock stopped ticking or is it sliding off the mantelpiece? Is there a clock at all.
And am I even thinking at all?
I think I feel I am.
The insistent voice has come out of the darkness and has all the weight of darkness behind it. The pressure of this voice relieves something. It is dark bristly and uninvited, yet it is assured and takes its place.
My heart resumes pulsing like a jelly behind the ribs. I am reassured. The pulse slides.
“Can’t you hear the voices?” I ask
There is no one there to reply.
The question travels. It moves beyond place to a room in Peckham and settles over a Peabody tenement flat in Camberwell Green. It is 1991.
It isn’t easy to see the green for all the cars and buses. Not like Hampstead. I choke.
There are residual ghosts and thoughts among the crowds. Future lives wasted among the scattered newspapers.
There is no one there.
There is a story. And a woman with a typewriter. And the thoughts playing out in the voices of others.
She is here.
…it was Tilly…
“Poise is perfect balance, an equanimity…”
‘Really’, Greggie said to Jane, who was emerging from the telephone box, ‘this club has gone right down. What are visitors to think? Who’s screaming up there on the top floor? It sounds exactly as it must have been when this house was in private hands. You girls behave exactly like servant girls in the old days when the master and mistress were absent. Romping and yelling.’
(The Girls of Slender Means, Macmillan, 1963 – I was 1)