By HARRY GUEST.
WE WERE EXACTLY the same age but, somehow,
dark experience behind him – about which of course
at the time I knew nothing – gave him authority,
enigma, a sense of distance. I was awed by his
experience – indeed current experiencing – of love,
rare in those Cambridge years when ardent males
outnumbered doubtless equally ardent females
thirty to one. To many, mind you, this was
of little consequence.
ground-floor rooms in Queens’ looked south
across a wide field where a grey shire-horse
grazed and cantered occasionally if it seemed
worthwhile. My supervisor, Douglas Parmée,
lurked beyond so this was convenient
for dropping in on Peter. You reached
the modern block beyond the Cam
by the odd bridge fashioned of wood without
a single nail. Mathematicians gleefully
took it apart in the eighteenth century
but couldn’t put it together again so now
it’s been screwed and lost its secret. Peter,
who favoured a slanting view of science,
hugely enjoyed this paradox.
a tape-recorder (the first I’d seen — roughly
the size of a grand piano) and we’d read
our poems proudly on to reel after reel.
He got me to deliver speeches from Racine.
It was the first time I had heard my voice.
Rather a shock to be honest. We listened to
visiting writers (live) like Vernon Watkins,
Angus Wilson and George Barker who
delivered News of the World without the the.
Once Peter got into a fiery argument
with the Director of the National
Portrait Gallery. Walking (inevitably)
to the pub afterwards I said the chap seemed
rather heated. “Don’t worry, Harry,” he said.
“I had my sword-stick at the ready.”
Years later at Falmouth he and I had
a late-night disagreement (I think Penny
had wisely gone to bed) which was
entirely amicable on both sides
(I was remembering that sword-stick)
but I couldn’t take his theory that carved stone
depictions of the phallus were in fact
in honour of a tiny, far more intimate,
less flaunted feature common to women.
I asked him mildly how those prehistoric
sculptors saw them in the first place and he told me
“They used mirrors” but I still suspect that glass
was pretty hard to come by in the Stone Age.
And they had no bronze.
to my 21st birthday party bearing
a beautiful copy of Gilbert White’s
Natural History of Selborne
illustrated by Edmund New.
Peter loved the helpless leveret
suckled by a cat and relished
the reverend author’s obstinate belief
that swallows didn’t fly come fall
to warmer climes but hibernated in
“the same benumbed state as reptiles”.
Peter never in his final year attended
a lecture or tutorial. How he managed this
I can’t imagine. He claimed he’d give
the Tripos a treat by composing
limericks. Timorous, I worried for him
not getting a degree but couldn’t help
a soft, endangered admiration for such
daring, oh! such unorthodoxy.
a photo of his wedding since in 1955
I couldn’t just nip back and forth
from Paris. We sent each other poems
for a while and his letters mocked
his job with magazines like Yachting Monthly
and The Turkey Farmer. (He added a double
“gobble” to the latter.) Alas, geography
began to mean we saw each other all
too rarely. Time passed. The last
communication was by telephone.
I needed poems from him and from Penelope
for an anthology to come out in Japan.
So good to talk again and share once more
absurdities which made me hear his laugh.
As his names imply, our Peter holds the key
to his novel otherworld where scarlet oaks
and larches spring from the ever-living blood
of fascination and surprise – and sunrise,
dyeing clouds an even richer crimson, never fails
to thrill, to edify, to shock and to delight.
Harry Guest’s latest publication (from Impress) is A Square in East Berlin, a translation of Torsten Schulz’s acclaimed novel Boxhagener Platz (which has been successfully filmed). He reviewed ‘Anthony Rudolf’s literary Wunderkammer’, silent conversations, for the Fortnightly here. Harry Guest’s poem, ‘Links from a forgotten chain’, is here.
This work was modified 22 June 2104 to permit the correction of an editing error.