The Year That Changed My Life (Part 5)

[This is the fifth of a multi-part post.]

Movies, such as the screenplay I was writing back in 1989, consist of acts, which of course are further broken down into scenes.

In the movie that was my British screenplay research trip in November 1989, we’re now at the top of Act III, scene 1. Tensions developed. The journal tells it:


[Saturday, Nov. 25] Another long traveling day. I had to be up early to be at the Bath coach station by 10:05. I had a last breakfast at Sheridan House, sat next to the quiet older woman with buck teeth and another couple, younger, from Bristol. After breakfast I said goodbye to the Canadian couple I’d met at breakfast Thursday morning and to whom I’d mentioned the script. The walk down to the coach station was brisk and bright, the sky was blue, but it’s gotten much colder. The ride from Bath to London went without a hitch—sunny all the way and, out of Bath, beautiful sights. We stopped at one or two spots along the way, and reached London Victoria at about 10 past one o’clock that afternoon. I got my travel card at the British Rail office at Victoria and made my way over to the Wood Green station. I got there at a little past two o’clock and instead of waiting around the station, I walked up the road, asking people as I went, the way to Palace Gates Road. I eventually found it, but the couple in the downstairs flat at 64 Palace Gates Road, Julie and Hamish, told me Abi and her boyfriend had gone out only 10 minutes before, presumably to pick me up at the Wood Green station. After a while, they invited me in and Julie made coffee and I waited for Abi to return, feeling more than a little sheepish for not waiting at the station. She and boyfriend “Tass” (Nigel Tasanine) returned about an hour later and we three went upstairs to Abi’s flat and chatted for over an hour. Around 6:30 we drove out to a Malaysian restaurant for supper. I’m staying in the back room of the flat for the next couple days, then it’s down to Bill and Lin Lockyer’s place in East Croydon. Tomorrow I will call them and also Joy Melville. I talked to Richard Jeffries at the Watts Gallery on Friday in Bath. It was a pleasant chat and I made an appointment to see the gallery at Compton on Wednesday.

[Tuesday, Nov. 28] Right now I’m in the Reading Room of Clore Gallery, an annex of the Tate Gallery. It’s a grey, misty day outside. I’ve had an emotionally and psychically exhausting last two days. I left Abi’s flat in Wood Green in a rush this morning at 9:00, just after she left for work. Backtracking, here’s the story:

About Saturday, Nov. 25: Well, I’ve said most of that in the last entry, but to embellish: Dinner with Abi & Tass was a bit awkward because Tass turned out to be a well-read, soft-spoken guy—a bit of a pedant, but there was a certain tension underneath. He rolled his own cigarettes and disparaged bourgeois habits. Apparently I said all the wrong things, but he remained tacit (no pun intended). After supper we all went back to Abi’s and I went straight to bed. Tass slept with Abi in her bed. In the morning…

About Sunday, Nov. 26: They drove me in Abi’s car to Highbury and Islington station where I caught the Tube down to Euston. I walked over and photographed Stanhope Street, then stopped into a pub off Redhill Street, had two pints, and walked on to Regent’s Park. I strolled through the park on a cool, clear day … children playing, parents walking them by the zoo, couples snuggling up together … I got down to Baker Street toward the Marble Arch. Being Sunday, I decided to go over to Speaker’s Corner and milled about with the crowd and got an earful of nonsense. I chatted with a girl from Boston who’s celebrating her 20th birthday today (the 28th). After Speaker’s Corner, I took the Tube to Charring Cross and came up at Trafalgar Square. I went into the National Portrait Gallery and saw “Choosing” —it’s beautiful (pictured above right). I also saw a self-portrait of Watts. After, I walked up Covent Garden and took the Tube back to Wood Green by around 6:00. Abi stayed at Tass’s in South London Sunday, but I called over there to tell them I got back all right. I walked down to Wood Green High Street and bought a kebab sandwich for supper and cans of Stella at an off-license. That night I cozied up to keep warm, watched some television and went to bed.

About Monday, Nov. 27: My 30th birthday started off well, but didn’t end that way. I’d called Joy Melville on Sunday night and we agreed to meet at Waterloo station at 10:30 Monday morning. So I got up early, bathed and dressed and got to Waterloo by 10:15. There was a bit of a mix-up finding her, but I got my bearings and saw her car outside on the street by platform #4. She drove us to her place in Clapham. I showed her the script, she made coffee and lit a gas fire and we talked for a little over an hour about Nelly, Godwin, Watts, and everything related to the story. I told her about Dr. Hinton’s attempts to save Cameron House and she took down his address. She corrected some bits of the script involving class and diction, and I made a mental note to go over those more critically at rewrite. She seemed pleased with the idea about a film, and when I mentioned that I thought Maggie Smith would make a good Julia Margaret Cameron, she said her sister is good friends with “Maggie” and thought she’d be too pretty to play the dumpy-faced Aunt Julia. We both agreed that Vanessa Redgrave, in her younger days, would have made a marvelous Nelly. At around noon or 1:00, she drove me to Waterloo Bridge and I walked across the river to Covent Garden. I wanted to see the Theatre Museum, but it was shut for the day. I had a ploughman’s at a pub near Long Acre in Bow Street with two or three pints of Bitter. From there I got it in my head to go to the Victoria & Albert Museum, which was open, and didn’t see much there I liked, the lighting was all wrong—though the costume exhibits weren’t too bad [a lot of students there sketching]. Out of curiosity, I walked down Cromwell Road to Queen’s Gate Mews to see if David Puttnam was in at Enigma Productions. I found the place and went straight in. There was an attractive brunette secretary and another gentleman there. I said I’d come to see Mr. Puttnam, that I had with me the first draft of a screenplay on Ellen Terry that I knew he’d be interested in. The gentleman told me that “David” wasn’t in and that Enigma was up to their ears in scripts. I showed Colin Vaines [the gentleman] my script and he breezed through it, asking if I had an agent who’d refer me. I said I was a first-time screenwriter and had a property I knew they’d be interested in. “I believe in impertinence and pluck, like Mr. Putnam’s.” The guy seemed amused. He offered to take my script and read it when he had a chance, but I said I couldn’t leave it because it’s a working first draft. I said I could send him a treatment when I returned to the States and he gave me his card. As I left I said: “Don’t forget, this will be Enigma Productions’ 1995 Academy Award winner!” They seemed amused. I was feeling like I could do anything after that sort of day [Ms. Melville is meeting the Weares on Saturday and they will discuss my idea of an Ellen Terry film.]

About Monday, Nov. 27 night: Abi and I met at the door of her flat at around 6:00. I intended to go uptown for a meal and a few birthday drinks when the “ceiling caved in.” Tass had called and jealously told Abi he was dumping her things out of his flat and into the street. She’d have to go and pick them up. She was in tears and wouldn’t listen to me. She phoned family and friends for advice. According to Tass, I suddenly became “that fucking American gigolo.” He was sure that Abi would cheat on him. Abi had confessed to me that he was an alcoholic who’d probably beat his second wife (a divorce was pending) and all under the age of 35! I think he was probably drunk. We drove down to his place in South London to pick up her things and when she rang the door, he shouted out of the top window: “Go away! I don’t want to talk to you! If Abi wants me, she knows where to find me!” We picked up the garbage bags full of her articles, packed them in the car and left. When we got back to her place, he’d left messages full of invective on the answering machine. “Tell your American friend to learn the language before he writes a book!” It was nightmarish. We talked for a bit, then I shakily went to bed. As you can imagine, I didn’t sleep well, the phone kept ringing all night with his vile messages. Abi was on the phone to friends until all hours. By morning, I’d already packed and was more than ready to go home.

In hindsight, it was probably to Abi’s benefit that I arrived when I did and (inadvertently) aided in her breakup with Tass. If he was abusive to his former wife, you can sure bet he would’ve done the same to Abi.

As for this American needing to “learn the language before he writes a book”?

Well, only time would tell about that.

~ by completelyinthedark on April 1, 2018.

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