... or the year, or the century, has to come from Dennis Nilsen, currently on trial for murder. It's appeared in various forms, but the one I like best goes:
"I used to have about fifteen ties, but now I've only got one left -- and that's a clip-on."
I have a sneaking liking for Nilsen. Who of us has not felt, as he did when one of his victims just sat there for hours listening to records through headphones, "What a guest!" True, we don't all grab the headphone flex and strangle our guest with it, but this may not be for lack of wanting to ...
Like George Orwell, I feel that the civilization of a particular period can to some extent be judged by the quality of its murders. In The Decline of the English Murder Orwell compared the Cleft Chin Murders with such pre-war entertainments as the Crippen case. He concludes that English society in the 1940s had become corrupted and Americanized; the Cleft Chin girl killed in pursuit of a glamorous Hollywood gangster image, while Crippen killed because of his commitment to such eternal English values as privacy and respectability. ((Note to Rob Hansen; I use "English" here because Orwell does. Anyway, I'm sure Welsh murderers are a lot more exciting and romantic than that old bore Crippen.)) Orwell, I suspect, would take Nilsen as evidence that England and its murders have declined still further. After all, Nilsen, like the Cleft Chin couple, belonged to and killed within a society of solitary drifters; people who will never plant bargain Woolworth's roses, join the Home Guard, or do any of the other things Orwell thought important. I, on the other hand, see Nilsen as a sort of living novel; a gradual unfolding of a story that is one man's attempt to re-create the world around him. I think it's a rotten swiz that the defence aren't letting him give evidence himself.
I was pretty astonished when Greg or Linda confirmed that, yes, Frank's was on its way, and actually, I was late already. I was utterly delighted by the amount and quality of what actually appeared. Whoopee!
WP readers will know of my allergy to complete, detailed, mailing comments. I'm not quite sure why I have it. I think it may be a feeling that, if one's going to write criticism, one must cultivate some sort of detachment, and the convention of addressing the author direct in mailing comments tends to work against this. On the other hand, one should make some gesture towards answering direct questions, or recording what has given one the most pleasure. I've just realized, for example, that I never told WP's Margaret Welbank how brilliant I thought her stuff was until I physically grabbed her last Tun and ordered her to send some samples to INTERZONE, Yet I really hate it myself when something I've done goes apparently un-noticed - even more with "professional" articles than with fanwriting. One can at least assume, in fandom, that if the people you respect don't actually shy away in embarrassment when you appear, then they probably don't think your stuff is actually terrible. Sending a review to an art magazine, on the other hand, is awfully like throwing your work into a great echoing black hole. The occasional snotty letter from a total idiot comes as a great relief. So what did I like in Frank's 1?
I loved Dr Jackson's convention for dealing with asides and thoughts that go rambling off in the wrong direction, for a start. Made me think of all sorts of possibilities; could one, for example, create a sort of jigsaw article where the argument or subject matter changed according to which direction one chose to read it in? Of course, I'm much too idle to try, but I wish Somebody Else would. Of course I fell faint on the floor with delight at Mr Bridges, and not only because of his flattery of
Milton Keynesmyself. ((Actually, I hate flying -- in the only way I've ever done it. I always think it's such a waste of money when you don't actually get to see the places you're travelling through/over, One might as well just sit in the Tube for a couple of hours. What I would like to do, one day, is to go up in a balloon ...)) I liked Harry Bell's recipe, too. I expect I liked your stuff as well, but my mailing is predictably in several bits now, so I can't find it.
Alun Harries asks whether people mind him writing about films and things. I certainly don't, I won't be doing much of it myself, but only because at the moment I can't afford films unless I'm taken, and certainly can't afford records at all. FRANK asks for comments on timing/format. I'm definitely a Monthly, I think, and probably, though with slight regret, a Binder as well. I lose things. I probably wouldn't lose a matchstick replica of Don West, but I can lose almost anything else. So, on balance, I'm a Binder.
I'm not sure I agree about the necessity of writing a formal introduction to oneself in FRANK'S. Surely one gets to know people slowly? Bat one thing that may puzzle people in future is the odd remark about the place where I live. I live in one of the weirdest parts of London that I -- Londoner born, bred and proud of it -- know. (The only weirder place I know is the Surrey Docks area -- now that is sinister.) People often say that my address sounds pretty and romantic: well, maybe it does, but the building is a 1960s concrete council block, the long thin sort with balconies, which bends like a wooden toy snake. From my back balcony, all I can see is the garden, the other block on the estate, and a bit of a container depot. From the front, though I get a view of Poplar Church - undistinguished 18th century wedding cake -- the rectory -- nice 18th century bow-fronted, enlivened by the rector's four peacocks -- and over the magical Isle of Dogs to the river.
The Island (as us locals always call it) used to be probably the nastiest place in London, A big, marshy plain, surrounded by a huge loop in the river. The following facts are known about the Island before they built the docks in the 18th century: There was a ferry from the bottom of the loop to Greenwich. It survived till the Victorian foot tunnel was built. There were windmills on the Island. The bodies of executed criminals were hung in chains on its shores, as a warning to passing sailors. Nobody knows how the place got its name, but there has been a serious suggestion that there is some connection with the phrase "going to the dogs".
So it ought to be a cursed place, to send the shivers down you. In fact, it is a pleasant little port town, not really a part of London at all. There is a timber wharf still working at Millwall, so you still got the surreal sight of a huge Russian vessel towering over the little houses beside it. The river and the docks dominate, everything, even the climate. In spring and summer you get that wonderful light in the sky which comes from being surrounded by water. At this time of year there is a permanent white mist. You can really see the seasons change.
But it was the peacocks that made me know I had to live here.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK is Abigail Frost's contribution to Frank's Apa, November 1983. She lives among mists and mellow fruitlessness at 69 Robin Hood Gardens, Cotton Street, London E14, She is sorry this is so short but she's actually been working much of this month. What she really wants to know is, why did you withdraw from TAFF, Ounsley? She thinks she should be told.
FRANK'S APA 2 (November 1983)