Falling Towards England
"When London began to swing in the early Sixties, Clive James was there. But he was flat broke. When we last met our hero in Unreliable Memoirs, he had set sail from Sydney Harbour on the Bretagne, bound for London, fame and fortune. Idealistic and uncompromising, if short on cash, he planned to engage himself in a low-paying menial job by day and to compose poetical masterpieces by night. 'When I got off the ship in Southhampton in that allegedly mild January of 1962,' Mr James reports, 'I had nothing to declare at customs except goose pimples under my white nylon drip-dry shirt.'
"Scarcely daunted, he moved purposefully beyond 'the Valley of the Kangaroos' (otherwise known as Earls Court) into a bed and breakfast in Swiss Cottage where he thoughfully practiced the Twist in his room, anticipated the poetical masterpieces and worried a little about his wardrobe. There followed a succession of other digs which included a large paper bag in Tufnell Park and a coal barge in Twickenham.
"Having promised himself he would never succumb to such stop-gap occupations as publishing or advertising, he was happily unsuccessful in landing a job in either - at least initially. Positions with London Transport and as a wine expert were likewise denied him. But employment in various forms did materialise - from librarianship to light metal work - if only as a temporary submission to capitalist values, naturally, and this nearly kept him in Woodpecker cider.
"James had been offered a place at Pembroke College, Cambridge, but since he would not qualify for a grant until he had been resident in London for three more years (mercifully knocked down to two) this poignant and raucous phase of his life went on slightly longer than was beneficial to the social services. Benefits to the author (and the reader) prove many, however. Already movie mad, he goes opera mad and persists in his efforts to drive young women mad. No one else could have captured the absurdities and sublimities of the early Sixties or the rigours of being an alien in the motherland with such aplomb."
This is the second volume of my unreliable memoirs. For a palpable fantasy, the first volume was well enough received. It purported to be the true story of how the author grew from infancy through adolescence to early manhood, this sequence of amazing biological developments largely taking place in Kogarah, a suburb of Sydney, NSW, Australia. And indeed it was a true story, in the sense that I wasn't brought up in a Tibetan monastery or a castle on the Danube. The central character was something like my real self. If the characters around him were composites, they were obviously so, and with some justification. The friend who helps you dig tunnels in your back yard is rarely the same friend who ruins your summer by flying a model aeroplane into your mother's prize trifle, but a book with everybody in it would last as long as life, and never live at all.
From the Jonathan Cape hardback edition, 1985.
This book is subtitled Unreliable Memoirs II.
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Last modified: January 2, 2002.