A selection from Simon Gray’s diaries

Being Filmed

I’m currently -€“ even as I write this -€“ being filmed. There’s a camera on me, being held and pointed by a tall, pleasant, smiling young man called Patrick. Crouched beside him Margy, the director, holds a metal box with a screen in it which shows her what Patrick the cameraman is filming. Behind Patrick stands Andy, a shortish young man, also generally smiling, who is recording the sounds of my typewriter, the keys of which are clogged from months of disuse. I am in my study, at my desk, at my typewriter, pretending to be me…

Take Out a Book

The girl beside me is starting on her third paper cup. I don’€™t think I can go on doing this without describing her in detail, and I’€™m anxious these days not to write out of hatred, so I’€™ll take out a book. All the books for serious reading are packed into a capacious leather bag that’€™s been checked in, but in my floppy briefcase there is a last-minute chuck-in for the plane, I’€™m not sure what it is, but think it’s an old Penguin, yes, I remember choosing it exactly because it’€™s an old Penguin, yes, an orange Penguin. The Light and the Dark

A pile of…

Oh Christ, there’s a pile of crap on my lavatory floor. I just popped in for a pee, and there it was, not a pile really, but little sausages laid neatly, side by side, so a row really. A row of crap. Theoretically, in a house of six, there are six suspects, but three of them, the two humans and the dog, can be eliminated without further thought. This leaves the three cats, Errol, the neutered stray, whose psychological profile doesn’t fit, has no protests to make, no further territories to secure, is perfectly adjusted and gastrically sound. So, by process of elimination, we come to Harry (the large, female grey) and Tom (the sleek black female with elegant white patches on chin, throat and forepaws). Of the two Harry has numerous previous convictions, having been seen arriving at or hurriedly departing from one of the areas (there are about four, not counting her current favourite, my bathroom) subsequently found to be despoiled, and has now and then been actually observed in the act of despoiling them – not that she hurries off, not until she gets to a corner at the top of the stairs, and even then she merely picks up a bit of speed as she trots down the stairs. Tom, more elusive, has fewer clear-cut convictions, but has been caught just often enough to confuse the issue. (Enter a Fox, Faber and Faber, 2001)

Hacking at the text

Simon Gray, Axe Murderer, has a convincing ring to it, as a potential headline, though probably of a small item on an inner page. I’ve often, when trapped in the mire of writing a play, with drafts on drafts half done or phonily completed and totally hopeless therefore, longed to murder myself, and violently, but I don’t see how one could do it with an axe, how get the leverage and balance required to swing the heavy blade in on oneself – except for the crotch, that would be the only easy target area. (The Last Cigarrette, Faber 2008)

One of those days

When it comes down to it, today was simply one of those days I’d remember only because I’m making a record of it. Just another day in which I sat in my chair, chain smoking and sometimes concentrating and sometimes failing to concentrate, turning towards my Standard, rising to my feet and molesting Harold with an enquiry or a proposed alteration. One of the things I have realized about rehearsals over the years is the memory of individual days recedes very rapidly, blurring into one long day, without definition, except for little dramas here and there which I can never place in any sensible chronology when trying to remember them. On the other hand, it was probably one of those days in which the actors made progress, almost unnoticeably. Or regressed, unnoticed. (5th June 1984, An Unnatural Pursuit, Faber 1985)

Cambridge

I went up to Cambridge with Eileen Diss to look at various rooms in Trinity that might serve as models for Stuart’s rooms. Of all the places in the world I hate going to, I hate going to Cambridge most. I was there for nine years, and almost all my memories are in some way associated with the train, sliding along the longest, I believe, platform in England, or the United Kingdom or even Europe, I can never remember which, either carrying me from loneliness to a sour love affair in London, or depositing me back from the sour love affair to loneliness in Cambridge. I seem to recall a train that left at about six in the morning, on Sundays, and arrived in London around lunchtime – which must be memory being true to the experience, but playing fast and loose to the facts as usual – and thinking, after a few hours without breakfast, the dust from the seats in my nose, and the heating on (it was surely summer), my head aching, my tongue parched, that I’d at last found the perfect expression of all that was worst in my Cambridge life, my London life, appropriately achieved midway between the two. About the only time I’ve been back in the last twenty years was to see a production of one of my plays, which I’m happy to report provided me with a thoroughly shaming evening in the theatre. So I dreaded my trip up, even with Eileen. (15th February, 1984: An Unnatural Pursuit, Faber 1985)

Posh-bashing

Things look bad for tomorrow, according to a television weather-woman – rather pleasant-looking and young – say forty-eight, or so – but with a nasal and downward-sloping voice – when I first came across that sort of voice I assumed that compassion-politics were at work, high-profile jos for the vocally challenged sort of thing, but I’ve since been told that they’re trained to speak like that, the idea being that they should sound not just not-posh, put positively anti-posh – posh-bashing, I suppose it could be called – so that what I was hearing from this pleasant-looking young woman of forty-eight or so was a posh-bashing weather report, promising rain tomorrow. Time to count my blessings, not out loud, though, nor on yellow paper. (The Smoking Diaries, Granta 2004)

Reading Sex

Is one ever aware of one’€™s sex when reading fiction that isn’€™t erotic or pornographic? I have an idea that I feel more manly when reading Tolstoy, but what about henry James? What sex does one feel -€“ do I feel -€“ when reading Henry James? I haven’€™t read him for years, I don’€™t believe I have the powers of concentration any more, at least for the late ones, The Golden Bowl, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, with their endlessly unwinding and rewinding sentences – but of course they were dictated, the late novels, they were dictated to a lady with the name of a spin bowler, Rhodes, no, no, Bosanquet. I can’t be making this up, surely? (The Last Cigarette, Granta 2008)

As you hope it would be

Here I am, sitting at my table, pigeons hopping about in the sun, little birds with yellow chests settling on the rim of my fruit punch, in front of me the sea in Caribbean blue and green, and from it the occasional purr and cough of small boats, the roar of a speed boat, brief and violent, and behind me the clatter of waiters laying tables while they talk to each other in incomprehensible Bajan – everything very much as you hope it will be when you’€™re in London during Christmas, longing to be here. (The Year of the Jouncer, Granta 2006)

Only rollocks

I’m in the bar at my table at two in the morning, only Rollocks, the waiter, in the bar with me – he is laying the tables for breakfast, strolling in his measured way from table to table, occasionally looking towards me to check whether I want another Diet Coke -€“ I don’t -€“ the truth is I don’t really want to be here, last year and all the previous years I would come every night and write and talk to Rollocks, now I stay on my balcony, reading or writing or looking towards the sea, or sometimes looking down into the bar, where I can see Rollocks moving between the tables, and I feel a yearning to go down, but I don’t… (The Year of the Jouncer, Granta, 2009)

An Untroubled Mind

“A few yards from where I’m sitting, writing this, is a very fine-looking, stiff-backed old gentleman, with fine white hair and a calm and steady gaze. His smile is cryptic and serene. He is holding a magazine, which he now and then consults, but mainly his gaze is fixed ahead, making it seem not only calm and steady, but inward-looking, as if his past were some vast landscape that he can keep unfolded, his to survey and command. His wife is possibly younger than he, perhaps a decade younger, but then his stillness and nobly contemplative air make him seem ageless, while she looks as if she’s been at the same age for most of her life – perhaps since she met him” (The Smoking Diaries, Granta, 2004)

Sexy computer

“I’€™m sitting in front of a new computer, these are my first words on it, and I worry that they may be my last – it really is so neat and compact, compact -€“ yes, that’s the word -€“ no, the word the man who sold it to us used was ‘€˜sexy’€™ and indeed it’s a lady-like thing that reminds me of face-powder in small containers, silk stockings, a pistol half the size of the slim and dainty hand that holds it, a knife in an especially fitted thigh-clasp, a poisonous lip-stick, and a two way mirror, not to mention a two-way bra and a pussy-whip -€“ perhaps that’€™s what he meant when he called it sexy” (The Last Cigarette, Granta, 2008)

Love Law and Order

“Distracted from distraction by an hour of television -€“ an old Law and Order. Stroke of luck that it was on, and that I came in near the beginning. I love this series – love? Love Law and Order? – did I love my father? I don’t think – Do I love Law and Order? I know I do. Is it the word that’s at fault, or is it my use of the word, or is it my self, my incapacity?” (The Smoking Diaries, Granta, 2004)

Another day of rehearsals

“Twenty-sixth day of rehearsals, I believe. And, my God, how deeply sick I’ve become of this diary, but, having gone so far, I suppose I’ll have to go on to the end. (I reminded myself frequently that Simon Callow had reported himself – in his admirable book, Being an Actor (published by Methuen) – unable to continue his diary of rehearsals after the tenth day. This helped to keep me going.)” (Saturday 23rd June, 1984: An Unnatural Pursuit, Faber 1985)