The Year That Changed My Life (Part 6)

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

Every journey must end, as the 1989 British screenplay research trip did after I “celebrated” my 30th birthday in London.

The journal picks up the story again here:

[Tuesday, Nov. 28] Abi left for work at 8:30, after stopping at the back room to chat with me when I woke up. I told her of my fears of him (Tass) and was anxious to leave the flat should he come round and be violent (he was after all highly irrational). At 9:00, I was packed and ready. I didn’t take time for a bath or even to wash my hair. I’d planned to meet Lindsay at her job across from Warren Street station on Tottenham Court Road at 4:00 today, so I had hours to kill. I took the tube from Wood Green to Green Park, where I had a roll and two coffees at a café in Mayfair. I was relieved just to disappear into the populous of London. I didn’t like the idea of lugging my baggage around London, so after breakfast I took the tube to Pimlico and walked down to the Tate Gallery, where I’ve been since 10 o’clock this morning. I checked in my baggage at the coat check and walked about looking at the paintings (most of them are down now, waiting to be rehung in Jan. 1990) and taking in a tour or two. It’s been peaceful here, after the events of last night. If I have a replay at Lindsay & Bill’s, then I’ll find a B&B near Gatwick and wait there until my plane leaves Friday early afternoon. But I don’t think lightning will strike in the same place twice. Hm?

[Thursday, Nov. 30] Another few days to backtrack to and retrieve. No, things are much better now. I got to Lin’s office at Maple House off Tottenham Court Road at around 3:30—she was looking cheerful and I told her the story of my rough two days at Abi’s. She had to work another half hour, so I repaired my map of London with some scotch tape. After 4:00, we made our way to Victoria station where we caught the train to East Croydon. They have a nice two-bedroom flat not far from the train depot in an area of office blocks, but it’s quiet—very quiet at night. I met her husband Bill—when we came in he was doing the dishes—he’s a nice fellow, and we all talked cheerfully for a while. After a bit, Lin ran up to the stores and Bill and I took a walk down to the video store to return a rented tape, After we got back we had two McEwan’s Ales, then Lin cooked some supper and we watched the news. I was dead tired from all the stress of the previous day, and so turned in early.

About Wednesday, Nov. 29: I tried to catch the coach at Victoria Coach Station to Guildford at 11am, but the coach left without us. I was standing with a sixth-form high school kid named Steven who was due for an admissions interview at the University of Guildford, so we both hiked over to Victoria tube station and caught it round to Waterloo station. It wasn’t a long wait for the train to Guildford, but I paid out more money that morning than I’d planned to. We arrived in Guildford at around 1:00, and I called Richard Jefferies from a shopping mall and caught the next local bus out to the Museum, at 2:00.

Watts Gallery is nestled in the Surrey countryside just outside Guildford in the sleepy little hamlet of Compton. I was greeted at the door by a young woman named Hilary, dressed in peasant clothes, with a neckerchief over her head and shawl around her shoulders. I saw two or three cats purring around the place (one was named ‘Simpkins’) and the walls just covered with Watts’ paintings. I met Richard Jefferies, a younger man than I expected, in his mid-40s at most, with longish dark hair and mutton-chop sideburns and beard. I’d felt as though I’d stepped briefly into the 19th century. Richard Jeffries is a pleasant, humorous fellow—and very knowledgeable about art, history, and literature. I looked at [Watts’ painting] Found Drowned and Hilary, who I’d gathered was his gallery assistant and secretary, looked over my script. We had a pleasant time discussing it and, after they started to see what I’d attempted to do by it, were enthusiastic. At one point Mr. Jeffries had to run up to town to pick up his young daughter (who later slunk about, seemingly fascinated by me) and later I met his wife, a short, quiet woman who shook my hand and disappeared. Later, he, Hilary (who occasionally got pedantically strident about her opinions on art) and I sat and drank tea in his Victorian-cluttered office, joked about Britain, art history, antiques—he even played Bishop’s “Tell Me My Heart” on an old player. He drove me to the train station at 6:30 and I got back to Bill & Lin’s by 8:00, beat but elated.

Friday, Dec. 1: This is probably the last entry I’ll make in Britain this trip. It’s a slightly overcast day here—another one frosty cold. I’m sitting at the writing desk in the back room of Lin & Bill’s flat. I’m looking forward to going home, the last leg of this strange journey—it turned out pretty much as I’d imagined it would be, like a strange dream, with joyous and nightmarish images mixed. It’ll hit me the hardest after I’ve returned home, I’m sure.

About Thursday, Nov. 30: My last day in London, and it was a beautiful day, sunny and somewhat warmer later on. I was out the door of the flat by 10:30 and on the train up to London I thought I heard someone mention the name Ellen Terry, an older voice. Then I heard a man’s deep and distinctive voice and glanced back to see sitting just behind me an actor who’d played a flea catcher on “The Good Life” [the late Michael Robbins]. When the train stopped at Victoria, I told him I enjoyed his performance and he shook my hand. “Those are about the only parts I get,” he said dryly. I took off for the American Express office in Victoria Street to exchange a travelers check, then caught the tube for Holland Park, down Melbury Road and over to Addison Road where I found St. Barnabbas’ Church (built 1829) where Nelly & Watts were married in 1864. I talked to a young man at the Rectory door who showed me in and I got a photograph of the inside of the church. After photographing the outside of the church, I walked back up to Chester Place and to Holland Park, the juncture of which I imagine was the site of Little Holland House (no longer extant). I walked up past old Holland House, then through Campden Hill, back to the Kensington High Street station. I got up to Leicester Square, poked around a bit at the Reference Library there, then walked down to the National Portrait Gallery through Trafalgar Square, and looked at “Choosing” one last time. I stopped into a few pubs on the way into and out of the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden (disappointing lack of memorabilia) and outside of Covent Garden at a pub I met an Irish couple (younger than I) who were working in London for a while, but had been staying in Boston, in the States. They bought me a half of Guinness. I had to race through Oxford Street at rush hour to get to Aldgate East station to meet Lin & Bill at the Seven Stars Pub (pictured above left) for a drink before supper. I had a pint of the cider, Bill had a whiskey and Lin a half of cider. Then they bought me supper at an excellent kosher restaurant on the corner, down from the pub and at around 7:00, we went to the AYH Auction at Toynbee Hall. It was an amusing evening; I bought two candlesticks (made in England) and a few books. Later, I joked with a few of the members there and Lin, Bill & I caught the train back to East Croydon by 11:00.


I’m cheered to read and remember that it ended so well. It occurs to me now that had I flown back immediately after the birthday night fracas, it would’ve permanently ruined what was a productive and happy journey. Fortunately I stayed with the plan to meet up with Lin and Bill, and was rewarded with generosity and community. It was marvelous.

And that exchange with the actor Michael Robbins on the train lends a sweet coda (even down to thinking I’d overheard someone say “Ellen Terry”) to the screenplay research part of the trip. Robbins, I’ve since learned, died three years later of prostate cancer.

My 30th birthday trip to England was like a strange dream, “with joyous and nightmarish images mixed” in.

A lot like life, no?

~ by completelyinthedark on April 14, 2018.

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