restricted access CHAPTER TEN The Slow, Dangerous Ascent 1962–1963

From: JG Farrell

Cork University Press colophon
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Garry Arnott, bespectacled economist, had a good memory for faces. In the summer of 1962 he was with Rothschild’s Bank, and weekend visits back to Oxford were a relaxation of the past. He blended in with the bowler hats and rolled umbrellas of the Square Mile, the archetypal City gent, but one clue to his singularity was his choice of a scooter for speed in traffic, instead of the expensive car he could so easily afford. He was weaving along the inside lane by Victoria Station on his Vespa one June day when his attention was caught by a gaunt, tanned figure emerging slowly from the station. Pulling up at once, he shouted, ‘Jim!’ Meeting Garry was fortuitous, because Jim had nowhere to stay in London and no money. He gladly let Arnott take charge and accepted a lift to his large flat in Bayswater, glad to find a free bed. They knew each other well enough to rule out any sexual misunderstanding, and when occasional future gossip misinterpreted Jim’s solitary lifestyle and limp mannerisms as homosexuality, Garry was highly amused. ‘If Jim had been in any way susceptible,’ he always put the record straight with scorn, ‘I would have known all about it.’ Set apart even more now by his Gallic shrug, his use of phrases like ‘Sans blague’, and his fondness for Gauloises and wearing existentialist black, Jim’s urgent need on return was to find a source of income. The fact that his parents were still subsidising him, underwriting travel and providing a small allowance, was a sore and complex subject, and one suggestion could be examined straightaway, without commitment. His Oxford friend Brian Knox Peebles, whose best man he had been, was shouldering the responsibilities of marriage by working on the Kent & Essex Courier, and in an earlier letter had floated the idea of journalism, adding that Jim could come to stay to check it out. Brian’s young wife, Rose, was CHAPTER TEN The Slow, Dangerous Ascent 1962–1963 138 now expecting a baby, so a girlfriend had been included in the invitation; a brief rendezvous with Gabriele von Sivers at their house in Rotherfield, Sussex, was already in place. Fatalistically, one of the two contrasting ventures might pay off. Jim had taken care to warn Gabriele, though, about his attitude to provincial journalism. ‘The thought of throwing away two years of my life in an English suburban town when there are so many other things I want to do and so many other countries I want to see is infinitely depressing.’ He accompanied Brian on his rounds for several days and, as expected, abandoned the idea. ‘My final decision,’ he confided by post to Russell, ‘was that 95% is utterly futile and that the 5% which isn’t is done by people who are probably not professional journalists anyway. [It] is boring and petty and leaves a nasty taste in your mouth.’ Journalism was not the only prospect to prove illusory. He had looked forward to re-meeting old friends, but though he found Brian as congenial as ever – ‘kindly keeping my shattered body and incandescent soul together’ – the fact that he was married made a difference. Jim was so curt with Rose that Brian had to leap to her defence on one occasion, pointing out furiously that she was only nineteen. Jim apologised and employed his charm, but mentally rearranged the perimeters of the relationship. His agitated state had less to do with old friendships, however, than with the arousal of intense new feelings of his own. Two years of confessional letterwriting to Gabriele had not prepared him for the playful ease he felt when they managed to overcome the initial awkwardness of meeting, or the wonder of her response when they became lovers. Until now, self-sufficiency and powerful motivation had prevailed over his yearning for intimacy; the sexual and emotional revelation while under the Knox Peebles’ roof in Rotherfield was overwhelming, despite being downplayed by post to Russell later as being only a little better than ‘these things’ with him usually were. ‘I can’t begin to describe what you have done for me,’ he would soon attempt to explain to Gabriele on paper. ‘It makes so much difference to think that there is somebody else in the world I can care for besides myself.’ For a man so adept with words, he was uncharacteristically awkward, and self-analysis was of little help. ‘Another of the...


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