Memories of 1980s Oxford, for the second time this month. In the same week in which I received an invitation to the Osma Centenary Symposium, Andrew informed me that he’d turned up a cassette tape from 1982 while looking (inevitably) for something else. He digitised it and emailed the result to Bernard and me.
It was a recording of a gig which our band, at that time called Inside Story, had played in October 1982 at the Jericho Tavern in Walton Street. I remembered the event but didn’t recall there being a tape. After I’d had a listen I decided that I had heard it before. Or maybe I just remembered the gig? Anyway… it didn’t sound too bad. Not perfect, but not too bad. Pleasingly, it was a vigorous performance from four young men. The following year we played a few more gigs, maybe one more in 1984, then I left Oxford permanently for London. That was the end of that… until we reformed in 2013.
In the olden days we covered other people’s material, although not very often, and this tape includes three songs we never played again: “Shake Some Action” by Flamin’ Groovies, “Alone Again Or” by Love, and “Things We Said Today” by The Beatles”. (Bern thinks our version of “Shake Some Action” is better than the original but I daren’t post it on the web for fear of getting a right telling off from the copyright-holders.) It was just a week or two before my trip to Russia, where I played that same Lennon-McCartney song on a wonky guitar.
Here’s Bern’s song “Same Old Love”, as recorded at the back of the upstairs room at the Jericho. What my guitar solo lacks in melodic content it attempts to compensate for in emotion!
It was a chaotic period in my life… and not a happy one
For the previous 12 months I’d been cohabiting with a feisty young woman in a two-bedroomed flat in Temple Cowley. It was a fair bit out of town, but a quick enough journey on a bike. The flat, owned by Lady Krebs, widow of Nobel Laureate Sir Hans Adolf Krebs, had been built in the 1960s, and through the large, badly-insulated windows leaked our expensive, fan-heated air. Unfortunately the winter of 1981/82 was bitterly cold, with the temperature falling one night to -20C. We were snowed in for the best part of a week.
We then enjoyed a warm and pleasant summer. I was young and in good health; I had my own place, good friends and a busy social life. I made long bike trips to isolated Oxfordshire villages where not a lot went on. I even made some watercolour paintings, which has never been my forte.
I should have felt happy and settled
In the previous year, 1981, my translation of seven poems in Catalan by Narcís Comadira finally appeared in print, followed by my version of bleeding chunks from a novel by Javier Marías. At the time I submitted them my D.Phil thesis was progressing well. I was Vir Probatus (an impressive title Queen’s College likes to give its Junior Deans) at the Florey – with free accommodation, free use of a phone and some free money to boot. I was also in charge of the University language lab and on a graduate student consultative committee. I had the right contacts and credentials to have carved a niche as chief translator and ambassador of the Spanish “new wave” of writers. All I had to do was take the opportunities that would shortly come my way.
I could have been a contender
But then… I visited a bookshop while in Madrid and tripped over a book by Juan Paredes Núñez on the very theme I was researching: the cuentos of Emilia Pardo Bazán. It had been published a few years earlier (in Spanish only) but I’d never heard of it! It was a monumental piece of work, in size at least. Rightly or wrongly, I was very discouraged, and for a while I thought of packing it in. Although I did decide to carry on I never felt the same enthusiasm for my subject.
And then everything seemed to go wrong
My grant had run out and I kept my head above water by writing abstracts and translations of academic papers and taking on more teaching. And crucially, it has to be admitted, on handouts from Mum and Dad. In September 1982 Margaret Krebs decided to sell the flat and we had to move out. By then the feisty woman and I had decided that we couldn’t live in the same house.
I found somewhere to store most of my possessions and imposed myself on friends for a while. I was living at my fellow band member Bernard’s house at the time of the Jericho Tavern gig, as he mentions on this recording! Of course he said it to raise a laugh – but in truth he’d recently got married and they didn’t really want a lodger. That is quite understandable, and many years later I found myself in their position.
But I digress, do I not?
Absolutely I do, but that’s what this blog is all about. The half-decent musical performances on the cassette do not matter half as much, even to me, as its long disappearance and unexpected recovery as a dateable object. It’s the remembering and forgetting (whether accidentally or otherwise) of things we did today (or didn’t), events what could have happened but never did, that really interests me. Solipsistic musings, one might call them.
When it comes to writing about episodes which are not amongst your greatest moments, it is hard to keep delusion and self-pity out of the frame. I no longer worry about that, but a certain amount of anonymity and redaction is necessary to protect the innocent, as well as the guilty. And so you end up merely hinting at what was going on. But that is OK. If a novel did not beat about the bush would it be worth reading a second time? Is it too late to make a determined effort to get to grips with Proust? Probably.