In the academic year 1982-83 one student from Exeter University kept a diary for a month. Read the diary and the explanatory notes written in 2013. Also included are some extracts from the novella, University Years (1984), which used this diary as an important source.
In the academic year 1982-83, I shared a house, 74 Old Tiverton Road, with seven other students from Exeter University, and for one month, October-November, I kept a diary. I never intended my daily comments to be read by anyone else, because my reasons for writing were mostly to sort out my own feelings for my own benefit. Yet, for some reason, the handful of sheets of what had become yellow paper on which the diary was typed remained among my personal papers. In June 2013, I decided to type it up electronically.
I have left the text as it was originally written. Often, I felt tempted to polish the writing and to add clarification here or there, but I have refrained from doing so. I did, however, correct some spelling, punctuation and grammar errors - something today which is so much easier now that we have word processing facilities.
The other changes to the text are minor. I have changed the names some of the people in the diary to preserve their anonymity. Of course, anyone familiar with the inhabitants of 74 Old Tiverton Road in the academic year 1982-83 will be able to substitute in their minds the real names for the ones used in the text. I have not censored the text at all, except for one fifty-word paragraph, which I removed because it consisted only of an offensive comment which contributed nothing to the on-going discussion in the diary.
Admittedly, some of my comments are embarrassing, mostly to me, but sometimes to other people too. I penned comments about others which I would not express in such terms today. Yet, a cleansed and heavily redacted diary would be of little worth. The text is a record of what I chose to write down thirty-one years ago in 1982: it was how I, twenty years old at the time, decided to portray what I understood as the reality around me. I recorded what I regarded as important and as mattering. Today, one either presents the original raw text as a contemporaneous record or one wastes one’s time creating a doctored and inauthentic past.
Our past is not another world; it part of who we are. We are the sum of our past experiences, which include most importantly all the choices and decisions we made day-in day-out. Yet, in relating to the past, people are apt to make two mistakes. The more obvious is to live in the past and become sickened by nostalgia. These people elevate yesteryear into a golden era, leaving them like someone looking out of the back of a moving train: aware of where they've been, but ignorant of where they are or where they are going. They become mentally incapacitated in the “now” where they, by necessity, always must be. Life can never be elsewhere.
Equally mistaken, but much more common, is too see our own past as something that we have used up and no longer need care about, rather like the seat on a bus which we have now vacated and no longer need. In this vein, one friend wrote, on seeing the first couple of entries of the diary, “It’s all in the past, over 30 years ago now: what’s the point in dredging it all up again?” The use of the metaphor “dredge” is significant because it equates remembering with “exposing something that is hidden” as well as the assumption that what one finds is “dirty,” i.e. the drudge on the bottom of the river. The obvious parallel in my friend’s view is between the past and the subconscious. Freud saw mental health in moving the contents of the subconscious into the conscious realm, the light of knowing eliminating the darkness of the forgotten, not locking the past away in favour of polite and innocuous myth. My friend believes in concealing, but against him I say that the more one lives with ignorance - even ignorance of ourselves - the less free one is.
Yet shining light publicly into the cracks of the past illuminates not only the author’s life, thoughts and deeds, but also those of other people. My friend who read the first few entries wrote: “People are likely to see it as an assault on their privacy and their dignity.” For thirty years I held that view, too. But I doubt whether it is any longer correct. The address 74 Old Tiverton Road and the names Brian, Fiona, Maggie, Martin, etc are unlikely to have any meaning to people other than to those people themselves. Now the protagonists are in their fifties and have very different problems and outlooks, and are far more likely to find the diary either irrelevant or of nostalgic interest, even if comments made about them in it are uncomplimentary.
I have added a few notes after the diary entries, so that the text makes more sense to readers. Also, for a couple of diary entries, I have added short extracts from the novella University Years (written in 1984) which provide a fictional colouration of the events under discussion. The diary and the novella extracts are in italics.
Sunday, 10 October 1982
It was a rather empty day today. I have just apologised to Brian for “freaking him out” when he was on mushrooms last night. The talk in Brian’s room (Martin, Brian Chris and I) was not very inspiring.
I do wish Martin would throw out this word “radical.” His whole mental environment appears to be a confrontation between the respectable establishment ideas (subconsciously represented by his parents and the adult world) and the unmasking of reality, i.e. radicalism (the rebellious student). He is so bloody idealistic.
My paper on “Class and Higher Education” which I presented to the standing committee of the Education Alliance Conference was well received. I felt pleased. Martin was supportive. I am able understand Dick and Terry better after the meeting.
NOTE: (1) In retrospect, I think my attack on Martin was hypocritical, because the the views that I attribute to him were also pretty much mine too at the time. (2) Dick was president of the University Guild of Students; Terry was his girlfriend who was living in the house.
Monday 11 October 1982
I had my first seminar of term today. After a bad start it went better than expected. I was surprised how little depression I felt after listening to Jeff for two hours.
I messed up my evening by visiting Amanda. She was out at 9pm so I returned at about 10.20pm. She was just about to get into bed. We had a reasonable conversation for about half an hour. As she was having her period, my expectations were not fully met. She was kind enough to give me a wank. As always I was depressed when I departed. In Brian’s room, Martin, Brian, James, Chris and Maggie were lying around. The conversation was better than last night, but not great.
NOTE: (1) Jeff was a idiosyncratic politics lecturer. (2) Amanda is a pseudonym which I used in the original diary. I had very contradictory feeling towards her: on the one hand we were having a sexual relationship, but I felt I couldn't cope with her right-wing Tory view and friends. I treated her rather selfishly, but perhaps she did the same to me.
Tuesday, 12 October 1982
Problems have come to the fore today. I face a dilemma.
I entered Brian’s room in a vacant mood after watching a TV programme. Maggie was sitting on the edge of the bed and Brian was relaxing between Maggie’s legs. I was not surprised, but just taken aback for a moment. The reality causes problems.
What am I to do? What response should I give? If I treat Maggie as anybody's girl, I would rightly be attacked: if I treat Maggie as “Brian’s girl” I will be accused of a stupid sexism. If I go on playing up to her, they will think I am in the virility race. To behave as if I don’t care is to adopt such a stereotyped position that I would be pleading guilty by my very proclamation of innocence.
I don’t want this sort of problem right now. Should I withdraw from the much exaggerated and so called “Old Tiverton Road scene” and risk an unwanted isolation? Or do I take opposite road, attempt integration and play on in the most unfavourable climate? All of these questions are difficult to answer. It is like playing a lost chess game; you must lose, but you can chose how.
NOTE: At the start of term Maggie and I had been the first to arrive in the house. I made a pass at her which she rebuffed. By the first week of term, my sexual feelings for her had largely vanished, but when Brian started a relationship with her I felt embarrassed, especially in front of Brian and Maggie. I didn't desire Maggie any longer, but I wanted the problem to go away.
Wednesday, 13 October 1982
This stupid matter is becoming worse. I came back from university in a bad non-talkative mood. Brian is also acting negatively.
How large is the problem? Did I ever have a chance or desire of forming a relationship with Maggie? I think not on both counts. But now Brian “has her” (to be sexist) it is impossible. To engage in anything which could be interpreted as a struggle for Maggie would over amplify her importance and sour my relationship with Brian. I would create a negative atmosphere in the house and there would be no victory to win.
Yet there is still now the more difficult task of integrating into the much exaggerated culture of Brian’s room. Brian, Fiona and Maggie form a heaving bloc to confront. My playing around with Maggie can form a very powerful weapon in the circumstances. But on reflection I don't think that I can afford the emotional energy.
What affects me and draws me into the situation is the sheer self-satisfaction in Brian and Maggie’s eyes which I saw when I burst into Brian’s room last night. That shows real aggression of the most traditional order.
Solutions are difficult to find. but first, I must slowly reintegrate, at a less committed level, into the bedroom culture which is so hegemonic in this house; second, I must build a bridge to Maggie which appears more sensitive but less sexual in orientation. A strong relationship with Martin, Chris and James will bring Brian into line quickly.
All of this is very silly, but stupidity is often the reality. If I do nothing or act in a negative manner, a nail will be driven into the coffin of interpersonal relations in this house.
NOTE: (1) Quite clearly, I feel that my pride has been hurt and it is troubling me a great deal. I obviously deeply regret flirting with and having made a pass at Maggie and am trying hard to extricate myself from the consequences. I am playing politics in the house to bring that about. In the novella University Years there is a fictional account of a bedroom in a student house which serves as the sitting room. (2) There are, in fact, several differences between the fictional room and Brian’s room, though the atmosphere described is similar.
Extract from the novella University Years
Brian’s room was the focal point of the house. It was by far the largest room and well stocked with comforts, ageing a little now as they had been bought at the end of the holidays after Brian had left school when he had slaved away in a woodwork shop. The powerful stereo system next to Brian’s beanbag was separated from the wall by a row of over one thousand records. The unlicensed colour TV stood in another corner where it could be seen from the unnecessarily large bed consisting of several adjacent pieces of foam. Brian knew his bed could sleep three easily. Above the bed on the ceiling was a large mirror into which carefully positioned spotlights shone to illuminate the room and to provide soothing lighting for the endless discussions that his room hosted.
Posters held on by blue-tack covered the walls. Some depicted startling photography, like the one with the soldier about to depart on the train leaving behind a brave wife and a tearful child. Others were of concerts which Brian had or had not attended, and yet others were political and - apart from the picture of the hungry child with an outstretched hand yanking the emotions – the rest had been provided by Martin who had visited the Soviet Union the previous summer. From the wall Lenin with headmasterly sternness stared down into the room where Helen and Brian had joined their bodies, and where they all, save Martin, smoked dope which was readily available whenever money was. Marx, erudite and distant in his poster, just looked on.
Brian’s room set the communal atmosphere for the whole house. The portable gas fire humming away warmed the room to give it as cosy an atmosphere as any student house could have. The beanbags and two settees provided ample seating. So popular was Brian’s room that not only was it the living room of the household, but the constant ringing of the doorbell would mean an endless flow of visitors to share that comfort, each bringing drink, drugs and problems. Sometimes they were welcome; sometimes they had to be kicked out.
Thursday, 14 October 1982
The situation has improved drastically today. After a brief reticence Fiona and Maggie were keen to normalise relations, as I expected, Brian Fiona and Maggie had discussed the situation.
We were all keen to normalise things. I had a very “deep” discussion with Brian in which I mentioned my paranoia, my inability to trust people and my difficulties in relaxing. I made some attempt to tie matters into past history, but this is difficult.
Reintegration into Brian’s room has been achieved. To some extent I have made my relationship with Maggie slightly less sexual. Fiona, much too middle class and “sensible” has had nothing to do with any of this.
I lost an important debate at the executive of the Labour Group today: this has annoyed me all day. This evening I went to a ward meeting which went quite well. I ended the evening with a long discussion with Roger Smith.
NOTE: I seem to be slowly achieving what I want. I don’t really know what my paranoia was: I strongly suspect it was a load of nonsense, invented with the intention of allowing Brian to play psychologist with me. The purpose of this would have been to re-open a line of communication with Brian that excluded Maggie. The “Labour Group” in the diary refers to the Association of Labour Students at the University. The “ward meeting” is the local branch of the town Labour Party. Roger Smith was a printer and trade unionist who died young.
Friday 15 October 1982
This is the day of the year when 74 Old Tiverton Road sits in the Amnesty International cage in Princesshay, Exeter. Martin and I sat there for an hour from 12pm to 1am. It was fascinating because we met ex-criminals and drunks.
Fiona and Maggie followed us. It was quite stupid to put two pretty fair-haired girls in the city centre in the middle of the night in an exposed place. What made matters worse is that they had drunk too much Greek liqueur, which helped to attract a mob. When they finally returned home they were distraught.
Brian, Chris, Maggie and I stayed up throughout the night. Brian and Maggie were stimulating each other. The only problem was that it is difficult to have a conversation with this sort of thing going in front of you. Is one to become a voyeur?
I think Brian is not used to his new relationship. It is clearly based on sexual attraction and little else. Screwing, without personal attraction, has emotional costs. Many of the characteristics of this petty little affair brings back memories and reopens debates inside my mind which I thought were closed.
I must pose a central question for Brian to answer. In what way is too much with Maggie similar to excessive eating, drinking, drugs, etc? Perhaps there is a parallel here which had not yet seen? As for Maggie I believe she will have a credibility problem in this house.
In the long run Brian must confront the legacy of Sue. He must measure the extent of his being which is devoted to sensual pleasure consumption and that which is given to disciplined objectives (after all he is very competitive at heart). Brian is clever enough to know that “growing up” alone won’t solve those problems. I shall be interested to see how he answers, but it will be even more interesting to see how new questions arise in his personal struggle.
NOTE: Erecting a symbolic cage and sitting in around the clock was obviously a publicity stunt by Amnesty International to highlight the incarceration of political prisoners. Students volunteered to sit there during the night. Sue was Brian’s girlfriend who was studying in Germany for an academic year. The problem that is concerning me - and one that I also projecting onto Brian - is about how one should go about getting sex, how sex connects you to another person and how much time should be devoted to it. That was and still is very much a young man’s concern.
Sunday, 17 October 1982
Because of my all-night activities on Friday/Saturday, I am one day behind with my diary. I have done very little today, except, perhaps, prepare for my first General Meeting as secretary.
I have volunteered to readjust the Yondercott Rent Account and pay in some rent cheques tomorrow. That involves a journey into Exeter, so I hope that I get up in time. I am in a new official mood today.
Earlier, I had to see Fiona in her room: she was surprised to have me knocking at the door. When I entered, I did not make my purpose known immediately: she was frightened. So my image is confirmed yet again.
Brian is with Maggie again, but today I care less than ever. Maggie’s image, which I mention in my last entry, is changing accounting to expectations.
A real problem is developing. When I wish to relate to Brian, Fiona, Maggie, Chris and James, Martin is inhibiting. And when I wish to discuss a matter with Martin, Brian et al. are inhibiting. I hope this does not prove to be too great a problem.
NOTE: (1) The General meeting for which I am the secretary refers to the association of Labour students at the University. (2) Fiona, a friend of both Brian and Maggie, was a well-adjusted but upfront-emotional person, whose personality contrasted with my introversion. She alleged that at times she felt intimidated by me. (3) The problem with Martin was that I related to him differently (i.e. more honestly) than with the others, and, therefore, it was stressful at times, when we were all together.
Monday, 18 October 1982
Massive disruptions and ruptures have developed inside the Labour Group. We held a heavily attended meeting today where Julian attempted to destroy the Marxist orientation of the Group. Without a fight there is little chance of sense and a correct line prevailing.
I bought a new jumper today at Marks and Spencer’s for GPB 15.99. I am quite pleased with it as it gives me a new “image” - personal revolution!
Who invented sexual attraction? Why do we not try to abolish this form of human relation? I feel so much respect for Fiona who is so “respectable” and “responsible” and is to some extent reserved.
In a discussion with Martin the question of Brian’s power arose. Brian is not powerful in an omnipotent way, but only in relation to personal connections - very paternalistic. If Brian is the “father figure”! at 74 Old Tiverton Road, does that make Maggie Mother? Is Fiona a widow or a spinster? And who are the lodgers?
NOTE: (1) In 1982 sixteen pounds was a great deal to spend on a pullover. It was well over half of my weekly spending money. (2) Julian was a public schoolboy prodigy who had gone to Oxford as a teenager. He had a loud mouth; he viewed politics as a source of entertainment.
Tuesday, 19 October 1982
I had a reasonable tutorial on Marxism-Leninism with Maurice Goldsmith. My appetite for work has grown.
I went to see Amanda again. Conversation and sex were much better, and I feel much closer to her than previously. Yet at the same time I do not want a relationship with her, as there is insufficient empathy in the fields of personal and social thought. Only emotional inadequacy and bitterness could prevail.
My personal (non-sexual) relationship with Fiona is strengthening. I am pleased because I admire her a great deal; we talked for about five minutes today in Brian’s room. Maggie is improving: her course laugh is attenuating, and my relationship with her is satisfactory at present. I shall not comment on our little “love story” in our house today.
Martin has still not decided whether to resign from the Labour Group committee or not. I have decided to give the Ideological Committee some initiative. Julian is still an obstacle.
NOTE: (1) Martin and I had taken a third year politics course in Marxism-Leninism. Professor Maurice Goldsmith was the course leader. (2) Though Fiona was classically attractive, and I liked her very much, I never once desired to have sex with her, in part but not wholly, because it was completely off the agenda from her side.
Wednesday, 20 October 1982
I have a cold. I worked today, but did less than I intended. Chris C. came for dinner this evening; only Brian, Chris C. and I were here. We went out for a social drink at a pub which is new experience for Brian and me. I began to understand Chris C’s grass root feelings and his Irish background. He is more of a humanist than a socialist.
Terry is back from London and Dick was here. Brian was dislocated in his interpersonal power relations which Dick, Terry and friends arrived.
Brian’s relations with Maggie appears far more tenuous. He remembers, while stoned, that it was peculiar having someone who laughed all the time beside him. Only Chris C. was in the room, apart from me, and he did not understand.
NOTE: (1) Chris C. did not live in the house. He was a political activist in the Labour Group. Though I liked him at this time, he turned out to be completely politically unreliable. (2) It seemed to me at the time that Brian tended to relate only to people he knew well. He disliked strangers, particularly strong-willed ones.
Thursday, 21 October 1982
Martin and I had Bob Witkin’s lecture on Youth Culture today. It was nostalgic, taking me back to my sixth form A-Level sociology course. The lecture was excellent.
We had a meeting of the Labour Group Executive in Chris C’s room. Julian and Paul were absent, but there was a new face, Celia - the secretary to be. Never before had the meeting been so amicable and constructive. I learnt a great deal today and last night from Chris C’s humane, gentle and essentially justice-oriented approach to politics. It taught me, if nothing else, that the divisions in the Labour Group were not so extreme. Only now that I have finally resigned (as secretary), do I fully realise what an impact I have had on the Group. To a large extent the goals and structure of the organisation have been moulded by me. I believe that I have a cause to feel pleased with myself.
I went on a walk through the Beacon Hill housing estate this evening. I was hit by the peace and structure of privatised working class life. The experience connected in well with the lecture earlier this morning. While I was walking I passed two girls; they were dressed in tight jeans and carried heavily decorated faces; they must have been around sixteen years old. The interesting thing is that for the first time I felt too old to be decently sexually attracted to them.
I was in a good humour when we made toast this evening.
Friday, 22 October 1982
Friday is my free day; there are no lectures or tutorials. It was my turn to cook. I went into town to do the shopping and lugged it all back. The preparation of the meal, the shopping beforehand, and the washing up afterwards are very tiring.
NOTE: We had an admirable system in the house. There were eight students: every day one student had the job of doing the shopping (stuff for the evening meal plus wholemeal bread and peanut butter), bought with money we all placed in a kitty. That student then cooked the meal, served it and did the washing up. Cooking the evening meal formed the basis for a fictional account of the same such thing in the novella University Years. It should be noted that the fictional account below is just that, i.e. fictional.
Extract from the novella, University Years
The evening meal at 47 Sunview Street was the high point for all the residents of the house. It was the only time during the day when the four friends were together, and all thought about essays and seminars could be forgotten. That night it was Martin’s turn to cook.
Like most things in the house the cooking arrangements were devised by Brian. Money had to be put into the kitty weekly from which the milk, newspaper and daily evening meal was paid. Brian, Fiona, Maggie and Martin each took turns to buy the daily provisions, cook for the household and clear up. Indeed the solidarity which existed in the house was so complete that not once had any of them defaulted.
But it was Martin who made the most out of the cooking. Each time that it was his turn, he cooked something different from a variety of cookbooks which he kept along with much else under his bed. The problem for the rest of the household, which they endured with amusement or at least good humour, was that Martin cooked so absurdly slowly. It had been informally agreed that the evening meal would be ready for seven, yet through Martin’s sheer inefficiency at lighting the right gas under the right pan at the right time – or more often by running to the corner shop for this or that – the meal was seldom ready before nine. Maggie, and to a lesser extent Fiona, kept telling him that if he concentrated rather than talk over the television to Brian about politics he would be quicker.
‘How long do you think it will be?’ Brian asked Martin a little impatiently.
Brian looked at the large frying pan of vegetables which were cooking slowly. He half wished that the other three would abandon the laudable principle of vegetarianism and meat could be eaten for a change. Right now, though, he was hungry and irritable, not least because he had done very little that afternoon, and had an experiment to write up.
‘Maybe about forty minutes.’ Martin consulted the pans.
Martin’s reply prompted him to leave for his room. He retreated to be alone with his studies and his thoughts. He activated his expensive stereo system with the music which since his sixth form days he found relaxing and conducive to deep thought. He collapsed onto his mattress which lay on the floor.
Monday, 25 October 1982
We had a successful Labour Group meeting. The speaker from NOLS did not turn up but discussion was fruitful. We must, however, achieve something concrete soon.
When I arrived home after two two-hour seminars, I went straight to Brian’s room because music was playing. He was not to be found, so I entered Fiona’s room and found her working. She allowed me to make her tea. We had a constructive conversation; I was overjoyed.
In the evening after the meeting and after seeing Amanda, I sent into Brian’s room. Fiona was there; we had beer and muesli which Brian was kind enough to fetch. What was of interest was that Fiona specifically asked me to sit on the floor, something I have hitherto deliberately refrained from doing. Am I to enter Brian’s bloc? Overall, Fiona’s evaluation of me is improving. This is acknowledged by Brian implicitly by Maggie. I must make an altruistically inspired adaptation to the new demand on me, while at the same time maintaining my character and my system of priorities.
NOTE: NOLS was the National Organisation of Labour Students
Tuesday, 26 October 1982
I had a fruitful seminar with Maurice Goldsmith today; Martin was leading the discussion and did so like preacher in a bible reading group.
Today, it has occurred to me that Maggie is more isolated than I though. It seems to me that Brian has rejected her. Realistically, there is little to worry about if this is the case because their relationship was not serious.
Although it is clear that Maggie does not want a relationship with me (which I now don’t want either) she is receptive to anything that looks like me showing a sexual interest in her. I reinforce her image; it is unfair, but I do it.
NOTE: By now I had manoeuvred myself into the situation where it was largely Maggie who was isolated not me. I had no intention of flirting with her.
Wednesday 27 October 1982
I had an emotionally charged encounter with Maggie today. When I arrived back from St. Lukes, I went to see Fiona. She was in, so I volunteered to make her tea. Maggie then arrived. We started talking about my so-called paranoia and then about Maggie’s paranoia about being “looked at.” In the spirit of a verbal game, I isolated Fiona from Maggie by getting Fiona to admit that she was not intimidated when I “looked” at her. Maggie was foolish enough to acknowledge that she hated Brian staring at her. In consequence, I was able to say that it was not I “the starer” who had the problems, but, on the contrary, the person with the problems was Maggie. The logic was too cruel and compelling. It did not matter that the conversation was meant to be light-hearted; a nerve was touched and Maggie stormed out of the room. Although I did not deserve sympathy, Fiona understood of my point of view. Brian almost took my side completely when he mentioned the matter later; Maggie, it seemed, forgot the incident quickly.
Saturday, 29 October 1982
The whole of 74 Old Tiverton Road, except Terry, went to a party at number 63. It was terrible. Martin and Brian, and perhaps some of the others distributed socialist literature for a joke, and in welly-dominated party the reception was not good. There was a complete political, psychological and style of life clash of images. Hilary, whose party it was, was very angry, so much so that I think she is a mental case.
It is difficult to know what to do at such a party. The females dress like sluts: it is impossible to imagine any relationship with them outside the sexual cattle market. The only other option is to have a boring conversation, above the disgusting music with a drunk. Brian hated the party even more than I did.
When we got home we jeered at the spectacle; Maggie was hurt. By attacking the party we not only attacked Maggie’s friends, but to some extent Maggie herself.
NOTE: The party formed the basis for a fictional account of such a party in the novella University Years. It should be noted that the fictional account below is just that, i.e. fictional.
Extract from the novella, University Years
It had just got dark the previous night when the three students slammed the door of 47 Sunview Street, and set out on the short walk to Francine’s house. With a continual stream of car headlights dazzling the walkers, they made their way down the Victorian terraced street. Martin and Brian walked ahead of Maggie.
There would be no doubt where the party was as Francine’s house was shaking from the full volume of a stereo system. A dim red light shone from Hugh’s ground floor room and Brian could see a large number of people through the window, some standing and talking others dancing. A kind of boredom overcame Brian. Again here was another student party where nothing new would happen. There would be a group of lads getting drunk; a few would start a new relationship that night, or more likely a one-night-stand, disappearing into one of the bedrooms; and there would be the permanent queue for the toilet for those who did not want to relieve themselves in the garden.
They didn’t need to knock because the front door was open. Once inside there was a jam of people in the hall and thick clouds of cigarette smoke. Brian was fed up already as Francine came towards them.
‘Hi there, hippies,’ she said with artificial joviality.
Brian was annoyed even more. Martin didn't hear as he had already started a conversation with an ex-private schoolboy who was in the Conservative Club.
‘Put your coats and valuables into my room. It’s strictly out of bounds for the duration of the party.’ She pointed to a room upstairs.
Maggie started a conversation with a student whose glasses had thick lenses. He was an accountancy student called Phil, whom Brian found so boring he could hardly think of the boy as human.
Clutching the leaflets in his left hand, Brian made his way to the kitchen to get a can of beer - perhaps even one of his cans which Francine had so efficiently taken from him in the hall. He wondered when he would meet up with Martin and start handing out the leaflets.
Brian felt increasingly ill at ease. There was nobody he really wanted to talk to. He meandered aimlessly from one room of the party to another, finally finding himself upstairs in Charlotte’s room. In one corner Maggie was listening to a group of young men talking about the salaries they could earn in the city. She said nothing, but stood and watched the students in their clean jeans and rugby shirts exchange views on their possible future. Brian felt a wave of revulsion towards the group – their clean-shaven faces covered with arrogant and artificial smiles. By what right did these men and their tarted-up girlfriends possess the future? His hands tightened around the leaflets; and he felt angry that nobody had noticed him and his leaflets.
Brian’s eyes focussed on Martin who having a difficult conversation with a group of Sloane-ranger girls. Brian knew how normally Martin was able to accommodate himself an any social group, and it amused him to see how Martin was failing here. As far as he could hear Martin was extolling the virtues of feminism, but they were virtues falling on deaf ears. Martin could listen and contribute something on nearly every subject under discussion but what he couldn’t cope with – and indeed he had very little experience of coping with – was being laughed at. The girls seemed to be saying, ‘What kind of man are you? If you don’t want to fuck us (and we wouldn’t let you anyway), then you’re a wimp or a queer. All this feminism stuff is not hiding the truth from us.’ And while of course no such words passed their lips, the meta-message was clear enough. In humiliation and desperation Martin extricated himself from the girls and came over to Brian.
‘Jesus Christ, this party is worse than I imagined.’ He looked to Brian for agreement and support.
Brian was direct. ‘Let’s give out this Labour stuff, and get out of here. Let’s do it.’
Brian took the leaflets in both hands and thumbed through them. Martin extracted his from his pocket and straightened them. They looked at each other as if each student needed the permission of the other and then moved forward to give them out.
‘Can I give you one of these?’ Their first target was the group of Sloane ranger girls, who had ridiculed Martin only a few minutes earlier.
One of the girls took it and the other two, rather than take their own copy, huddled round the first girl to have a look. The girl who had taken the leaflet was contemptuous.
‘Take it away, you silly idiot, we haven’t come here to read your Labour stuff.’
Martin refused to take it back. Behind him Brian was about to tackle the group of chaps in rugby shirts. His attempt to hand out the leaflet disrupted the group just as one of its members was about to finish a story of how he’s got pissed one lunchtime while doing work experience in London.
‘What’s this shit you’re giving me,’ bawled one of the listeners. He looked over the leaflet and Brian with equal disgust. At the other side of the room, Martin became embroiled in an argument and the whole atmosphere in the room was changing.
Charles had edged his way into the group of chaps and was angry.
‘Just put those bloody things away will you. Look… this is our party and we don’t want you mucking it up’
‘There’s freedom of speech, isn’t there?’ Brian responded.
‘Look, don’t be so fucking childish.’ Charles was almost yelling.
The atmosphere of anger was growing in the room. Maggie was just dumbstruck and stood glued to the spot watching the scene. Martin meanwhile had had his leaflets handed back to him, and had more or less accepted defeat.
‘Now, stop giving out those things - or get out’ screamed Charles now enjoying his feeling of power in the room. It was his house and he was standing among a group of his friends.
‘I’ll try the response downstairs,’ said Brian attempting to extricate himself from the situation without losing face.
‘Like Hell, you will.’ Charles snatched the leaflets from Brian’s hand. ‘Now get out.’
Brian attempted to grab the leaflets back. He failed, but his sudden movement inflamed the situation. He had moved into Charles’ personal space, and Charles not hard and with a half closed hand hit Brian in the face. A flow of blood gushed from Brian’s nose.
Brian had never been hit before. He felt humiliated but sober, and an inner voice was telling him that the situation was hopeless. Nobody wanted to inflame the situation further – even Charles who was obviously shocked at what he had just done. Martin announced publicly that they were leaving.
The configuration in the room had changed. Francine had come in and blocked the door to the large number of would-be onlookers who now realised that there was an incident in progress upstairs. Maggie was standing in the middle of the room alone. Her conversation partners, realising that she was Brian’s girlfriend and one of ‘them,’ had left her alone.
Francine took charge of the situation.
‘Look, please go Brian and Martin. This is meant to be a party. Chas, give them their leaflets back.’
Obediently, Charles handed Brian the now screwed up bunch of leaflets. Brian was still shaken and needed to mop his nose. But now more attention was focussed on Maggie who was standing in the middle of the room crying. It was clear that she was expected to go too, although she wasn't actually being thrown out. The assumption of student house loyalty was strong.
Maggie moved over to Brian, who refused to look at her. Now Brian, Martin and Maggie were standing in a group apart from everybody else. Maggie knew that she was now fully labelled as one of the ‘left-wing hippies.’ Francine, Hugh and the whole of the accountancy class would now reject her and withdraw any residual sympathy. There would be no acts of charity or companionship offered to her in the future; and these thoughts pumped more and more tears. But as she cried the disgust of the accountancy students increased.
Francine repeated herself in a firm but polite voice though it could be seen that she was not as sure of herself as she was pretending.
The three made their way through the crowd of onlookers at the door, but downstairs the party was continuing as if nothing had happened. Outside a gentle rain had started, and through the drizzle they made their way home. Nobody spoke. Brian was thinking hard about what to say to Fiona.
Sunday, 31 October 1982
Last night everybody except Martin and Terry played an interesting game. We asked questions like, “Who is the person in the room who is most likely to vote Conservative?” Everybody had to write the name of a single person on a slip of paper and give it to Maggie. Maggie and Fiona did not answer any of the questions. Only one question caused an upset. In answer to the question cited above Maggie was unanimously named. She was a little hurt by the incident which underpins the notion that she is sensitive to being thought of as superficial. The incident was unfortunate.
NOTE: At no time do I ever recall wanting to hurt Maggie. However, in the interpersonal politics of the house, I did my utmost to achieve my own interests.
Wednesday, 3 November 1982
NOTE: this is the last entry in the diary and here I try to sum up my feelings about the whole situation.
Events in the house have speeded up; the whole structure of life has changed rapidly. At the centre of the household's affairs, as at the centre of my diary, is the Brian/Maggie question. Both these characters lend themselves to public spectacle.
Some days ago Brian wrote to Sue explaining and justifying his new-found relationship with Maggie. Essentially, Brian saw this as the thing to do, telling “the truth” while practising “moral liberalism.” This letter crossed in the post with one from Sue explaining her isolation and loneliness in Germany.
Although upsetting for Brian, he placed the problem under his belt. But several days later Rachel, Sue’s close friend, received a letter from Sue not only reiterating her depression, but criticising Brian’s conduct. Rachel exaggerated the content to Brian.
Yesterday, the process of daily life and constant relationship were shattered. We were all involved to a greater or lesser extent. Brian broke down during the afternoon - the degree of honesty in this I shall leave open. He was comforted by Fiona. Martin was excited and overwhelmed by the matter which was right up his street. By late afternoon everything was approaching boiling point. Brian had sent a telegram to Sue demanding that she clarify the situation. In the event her phone call served only to expose Rachel’s misrepresentation.
Yet, there was one further complication, Maggie. At 74 she was never fully integrated in the “culture;” her weak personality led her to derive strength from her relationship with Brian. But now it appears that everything is against her: her friend, Fiona, was never keen on the Brian/Maggie relationship; furthermore Fiona was a close friend of Brian and Sue. Maggie has partially rejected (the people at 63 Old Tiverton Road). Poor Maggie was isolated; she responded by taking a weekend at home.
Brian was quick to reassert himself. While he was clearly to blame for this mess, his crying and winning sympathy from Fiona exempted him from the full weight of criticism. Then Rachel complicated the affair by insisting that either Fiona or she explained matter to (the people at 63 Old Tiverton Road).The idea was daft and could only undermine Maggie still further. But we must remember that the main aim of Rachel is to protect Sue by punishing Brian and Maggie as much as possible; she is a horrible person.
Like all situations of this sort the answer can only lie in the participants recognising a reality. If a person behaves without contradiction, matters of this kind do not arise. Brian cannot have a traditional relationship with Sue, which involves a whole set of moral imperatives, yet sustain a relationship with Maggie on “ideological grounds to which none of the participants fully subscribe. A human relationship is a Frankenstein phenomenon; it grows out of all control and controls us.
Traditional ideas enslave Brian as much as they force Maggie towards mental breakdown.
We have not yet generated a student emotional life which sustains us. We are trapped in the old of contradictions: radical and traditional attitudes towards relationships. We are all hypocrites, especially Fiona, Brian and Martin. Brian should solve the contradiction and force the answer on Maggie and Sue, not cry like a little boy who is hurt because he has offended his parents. Fiona and Martin must learn the lesson and stand aside; they can advise but decide. As for Rachel her motives must be understood.
Yet to some extend the solution is being negated. Brian wants his cake and to eat it and is employing a tactic of surprised innocence. Quite wrongly, the most insecure of us, Maggie, is paying the price. But in my view the most unfortunate thing for everybody is that a price is being paid without an understanding.
NOTE: On that rather depressing note on Wednesday, 3 November 1982, I ended my only ever period of diary writing. All the key figures mentioned in the diary continued living at 74 Old Tiverton Road until the end of the academic year in June 1983.