Author Archives: Geoffrey Grigson

Tangiers and the comeuppance of Mr Lodge

The first time Burgess and his wife Lynne visited Tangiers, it was as part of a Mediterranean package tour. The couple were joined by

a decent middle-class herd of meagre drinkers and unadventurous eaters.

Their dragoman was a Mr Lodge,

who put on a little woolly cap like Dr Spindrift’s so that he might be identifiable to his flock when he led them through mobs of redolent pickpockets and bottom-pinchers.

One day, Lynne was slow in boarding the airport bus, and

Mr Lodge publicly rebuked her.

Big mistake. The opportunity arose for Burgess to pay Mr Lodge back for his insolence.

Marrakesh

Burgess writes that his wife Lynne

felt very ill and was plainly exhausted when we reached Marrakesh. The French proprietress of the Hôtel Maroc blamed her sickness on the cuisine espagnole. I drank heavily and alone in the hotel bar. In our bedroom I found a young Berber in a striped waistcoat preparing to get into bed with Lynne and arguing about how much she was willing to pay for his services. An American lady, he alleged, had given him five hundred dirhams. He had to be punched and thrown out by a weary husband. There was no repose on any of our holidays.

Wellington

In Wellington, writes Burgess,

blandness was merely the thin surface of a bubbling muddy unrest among the young. It was as the author of a novel they considered subversive, though it was merely theological, that they tried to force drugs on me, affirming that I would write better stoned.

At the airport after their tour, Burgess and Liana

drank cocktails called Death in the Afternoon while waiting for the afternoon flight to Fiji. A girl named Helen Bradshaw, one of the New Zealand secretaries in Brunei, appeared in hail and farewell to mourn Lynne’s death. ‘She had death in her face. It always seemed to me that she wanted to die.‘ Too much death altogether before a flight to Fiji.

Tangiers

Burgess writes in his autobiography that Tangiers was

all junkies and pederasts.

He confesses to carnal longing:

I would have liked to seize one of these kohl-eyed houris in a yashmak and kiss her from her neat brown ankles up.

Rotorua

The waitresses at the motel, Burgess writes in his autobiography, were

glorious Maori girls.

He was in Rotorua to open a convention of booksellers, who, he says,

exulted in their thriving greeting-card, paper doily and Barbara Cartland businesses and disparaged literature as a nuisance — hard to sell and it got in the way of the doilies. The next morning I thundered about booksellers’ responsibility and attacked suburban philistinism.

Gibraltar

Burgess wrote in a 1967 article:

A rock of preposterous size with a town crowded around it. A bit of geographical Spain — sun and balconies and yellow stucco — but with British-looking bobbies in the streets, and pounds, shillings and pence in the emporia. The claustrophobic atmosphere of a besieged garrison, but also a sense of immense width: on a fine day from the top of the Rock you can see the time on the town clock in African Ceuta; from Moorish Castle you can find — like a lost coin — the bullring in Spanish Algeciras. The biscuit-coloured beauty of the girls, an Anglican cathedral in the form of a mosque, baroque processions on Corpus Christi, Sherry from Jerez, tepid bitter from Burton-on-Trent.

Morocco: Burgess and the pederasts

Burgess writes in the novel Enderby Outside:

Pashas and the Beni-Ouarain and camels. Mulai Hafid and Abd-el-Kadir. The light-coloured Sherifians, who claim descent from the Prophet. Palmetto and sandarach and argan and tizra. Leopards here, bears, hyenas and wild pigs. Bustard, partridge and waterfowl. Dromedaries and dashing Barbary horses.

Tangiers, Burgess points out,

once belonged to the British — part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza, Portuguese queen of a merry monarch. A pleasant enough town, no longer very distinguished, with some deplorable specimens of architecture. The beach is deserted. This is not the tourist season and, besides, it is the hour of the siesta. The beach cafés are garish, the paint peeling on many, but some of their names are rather charming. The Winston Churchill, the Sun Trap, the Cuppa, the Well Come.

Those Hebrew letters

mean kosher. It is three consonants, the Semitic languages not greatly favouring the alphabetisation of vowels. Arabic too is a Semitic language and is similarly vowel-shy. Why then do not the Jews and Arabs, aware of a common origin in speech and alphabetic method as well as genes, taboos and mythology, get on better together? There you have the eternal mystery of brotherhood. As Blake might have said, Let me hate him, or let me be his brother.

In Tangiers, Burgess explains,

you have expatriates of Northern stock, water to the oil of the Moors and Berbers and Spaniards. Many of them have fled their native lands to escape the rigour of the law. Yes, alas, crimes. Expropriation of funds, common theft, sexual inversion. The term means nothing more than philoprogenitive urges deflected into channels that possess no generative significance.

And among the exiles from the North

are artists, musicians, writers. They have sinned, but they have talent. Desperately they exercise their talent here, dreaming of bitter ale and meadowsweet but cut off for ever, yes for ever, from the Piccadilly flyover and the Hyde Park State Museum and the Communal Beerhall on Hammersmith Broadway. Those are the British. The Americans weep too nightly into their highballs for the happy shopping evenings in the Dupermarket, the drive-in colour stereovideo, the nuclear throb of the fully automated roadglobe. But they practise their arts. It is writers mostly. Up that hill lives a man who has already produced 25 volumes of autobiography: he tears at each instant of his pre-exilic past as though it were a prawn. Another man, on the Calle Larache, eats into his unconscious heart and mounts the regurgitated fragments on fragments of old newspaper. Another man again writes sneering satire, in sub-Popean couplets, on an England already dead. They are small artists, all.

There is in the town

a rue Beethoven, also an avenida Leonardo da Vinci, a plaza de Sade. But no artist here will have a square or thoroughfare named for him. They are nothing. And yet think what, on three sides, surrounds them, though the fierce Atlantic will give a right orchestration to the muscularity of what, to the sun’s own surprise, has sprung out of sunbaked Africa and Iberia. The glory of the Lusiads and the stoic bravery and heartbreak of the Cid, and the myth of Juan and the chronicle of the gaunter Don on the gaunt horse. Clash of guitars up there and the drum-roll of hammering heels in the dance, and down there the fever of native timpani. And, east, the tales told to the cruel Sultan Shahriyar, and the delicate verse-traceries of Omar this and Abdul that and Sayid the other thing.

Gibraltar: the Rock Hotel

Burgess had been barred from the Rock Hotel in the forties. He behaved badly there when he returned in the sixties.

Christchurch

Burgess writes that Christchurch

seemed grim and dourly northern. A foul wind blew in from the Antarctic. There was a fair amount of resentment down there, resentment of big Australia, which called Kiwis ‘Poms without brynes’, and of a distant Britain which was neglecting its Commonwealth, and New Zealand mutton, to become Europeanised.

Burgess and Mohammedanism

Burgess, who in the late 1950s flirted with conversion to Islam, wrote in 1989:

The old opposition was between the Free World, so-called, and the Communist world. But now Marxism is seen as an out-of-date philosophy based on 19th-century materialism, and the new Europe, which means the overseas Anglophone world as well as the polyglot Continent, will be, if not Judaeo-Christian, at least liberal and humanistic and nostalgic for some kind of faith. The opposition to this will not be atheistic Communism but fundamentalist Islam. Islam cannot be absorbed into the new comity. I foresee its becoming more and more intolerant and also militant. We are going back to the Middle Ages.