(This journal entry from this morning was very difficult to write. But it felt good once I'd finished it, as if I'd brought something out into the open I'd been trampling down for too long. I reproduce it here not as a work of literature or some kind of failed attempt at prose poetry. It's just writing, free writing, first meant for what Ginsberg called my "soul's ear", now offered to my friends as some sort of partial explanation of my eccentricity, my anger, my anything that needs explaining. "This is the creature I am!" -- or at least some of him. I hope anyone bored enough to read it will forgive its imperfections and at least commend its honesty.)
While I progress slowly--and it must be slowly--through Blake I'm also reading the diaries of Harold Nicolson. He was the husband of Vita Sackville-West, you may remember. Nicolson's language is beautifully clear and precise. You'd never know he was a civil servant in those years of World War One and immediately afterwards, rather than a professional writer.
But his photograph on the cover of the book reminds me of Geoffrey Bellamy, my English teacher at Westfield, for some reason, despite the fact that they look nothing like each other. Mr Bellamy must have been in his late forties or his fifties when he sat in front of us. But that would have made him the survivor of another world, Nicolson's world, a long-gone world whose habits and customs he was trying to hold onto. His last great writer would have been Kingsley Amis, probably, who they called "angry" but whose writing now is redolent of an educated ruling class which has all but disappeared. No wonder old Geoffrey seemed so exasperated by tousle-haired, sloppily-dressed, irreverent scum like Hodder in the third row (who, funnily enough, fell in love with poetry when old men stopped trying to persuade him of its beauty and nobility, and now--occasionally--even gets a poem published here and there).
Mr. Bellamy once made me get down on my knees in front of him and the whole English class so he could demonstrate the correct way to tie a tie. Even then I thought that was abusive--deliberate humiliation--but what could I do once he had set himself on that course of action? I had no balls anyway thanks to all the bullying I was put through in the corridors (every day of every year for the five years I was there). And if I'd defied old Geoff he only would have misrepresented my behaviour, and his behaviour, and got me caned by somebody above him.
My career as a political outsider and a malcontent was probably decided the moment I got down on my knees in front of Mr Bellamy. And yet, he may not have meant to sour me forever to a vile system where power is abused by those who've stolen it, and all their friends will link arms with them and collude in any lie they tell so that the abused and dispossessed can never have a portion of that power.
Nicolson's diaries refer to the common custom of shooting deserters from the British Army in World War One. The England that Mr Bellamy had lived to see the passing of was a much tougher England than the one we live in now. The Establishment back then never doubted its divine right to sit on top of everybody else and smack down anyone whose conduct deviated from the norm. It was done for them. For England and for God.
Mr Bellamy might well have assumed, looking back as I am now, aged 44, that humiliating me a little would be morally improving. Help build a strength of character, or a proper sense of obedience to the rightful ways, that I wasn't getting from my parents (one of whom he knew, and must have considered a thoroughly bad example).
So thank you, Geoffrey, if you wanted to improve me by making me feel hot, embarrassed and ashamed in front of children who delighted in doing exactly the same to me every time your back was turned (and how often it was turned). They do say, after all, that it's the thought that counts.
But writing this thirty-odd years later, I still feel my heart pound and my head ache when I remember what you did. I wish you were around still so we could sit down and discuss it man to man, Old England; but to you that might be less appealing.