Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this article to email@example.com
This article is taken from PN Review 14, Volume 6 Number 6, July - August 1980.John Fairfax
Although my recalling is probably blurred and somewhat sanded down by the passage of thirty years nevertheless the time David and I shared a couple of cottages in Cornwall remains startlingly full of images, anecdotes, and experiences which have later had shape and substance. But that's another story. "Nostalgia? Like you I prefer/Times past to present, for I am not there." That's David's preface to his series of poems called "Zennor Revisited" which he's generously dedicated to me, and I echo every nuance behind, under, through, and in those two lines.
We shared two places in Cornwall (we were friends before we fetched up down there). Our lives at that time almost exclusively revolved around three things: the writing of verse, getting enough beer at the Tinner's Arms (or whatever), and the constant wrack to obtain enough cash to keep alive and accommodate the first two.
I was speaking to David and Pip in Yorkshire a while back and David and I naturally enough began to recall some of our Cornish episodes. Pip, who is most perceptive, broke into our reminiscing and told us that we were both speaking as though our mouths were stuffed with iron filings. . . I guess one always carries some dark and hard experiences just beneath the skin and only allows them to burr when one is with a friend who experienced the same things?
It is not my intention to develop that side of that time. Instead I've selected the following light, sepia-tinted, snapshots from Cornwall and from an Irish trip we made.
David's tall figure draped in an ex-army gascape, his white hair straggling in the wind and rain as he strode across the moors on the way home from the Tinner's Arms chanting "Royal Willie Leonard" with his lungs at full stretch.
At Tregarthen: A storming rag-tag night. David seated in a chair staring at the rain beating at the window. He goes white as this paper and jumps up shaking his fist at the night. "The Devil," he yelled, hurling a book at the window.
Right enough reflected in the rain-run glass was a blurred and horrible head. It filled the pane. Tregarthen had that sort of atmosphere. David bounds to the window. "I think it's a bloody cow."
But we were never sure.
At Cove Cottage: Rain and gale. David with gascape draped over himself and rucksack. (Me the same.). Rucksacks contain provisions-hard won. We slither and slip down the steep, narrow track past disused tin mine. Much of the time on our backsides or twisting onto our faces to save the provisions. At last at the cottage we find that in David's rucksack a glass funnel for the oil lamp has survived the falls.
David seated in his chair on the right-hand side of the large window at Cove Cottage. The view is the Atlantic. On the wooden arm of his chair he'd be drumming out the rhythm of a new verse he'd written.
At parties David picked up the rhythm of music either by putting his hand on the piano or record-player. Sometimes he could pick up the rhythm through the floorboards.
To catch a song David learnt the words, and I've seen him place his fingers lightly on a singer's throat to get the rhythm.
Great Ormond Street: David's flat. Late in the evening sitting reading and being introduced to a huge and friendly grey rat that lived comfortably on top of one of David's crammed bookshelves.
David and I arrange to meet at a party given by Dylan Thomas (I believe it was one he gave just before his last trip to America). We have a challenge. David stands one side of a table, I stand the other. Between us on the table is one of the many punch bowls. The challenge is to drink glass for glass as long as we can. Fortunately after a short time I caught sight of a beautiful girl arriving at the party. David and I agreed to a truce while I went off and attended to the girl (she is my wife).
Irish Trip: David and I try to organize money for reviews (we both reviewed occasionally for the same magazine) to be sent to us at three poste restante places in Eire. The best laid plans...
We set off to walk from Dublin to Cork. Take bus from St Stephen's Green out of town. Discover that the buses stop at pretty well every pub en route. Don't get very far the first day. David wants to find out something about a branch of his family (the Murrays I believe) who had lived in the South. To this end we explored many country pubs and David spoke to local old-timers. We supped plenty of ale and heard many fabulous tales, but as far as I recall we never came within a hemisphere of his ilk.
Cork. Still no mail. Between us we had £3 and one penny.
At the harbour we found an old boat that was heading for Liverpool. The fare was 30s. each. We took it. And a long haul to Liverpool it was. David's deafness stood him in good stead. The only place to sleep was on hard boards right above the engine-room. David settled down and slept.
At Liverpool we had to spend the night wandering around until our coach departed for London the following morning. We spent most of the night gassing to a night-watchman
who let us share his brazier. The one penny we had left we put on a tramline and watched a tram fold it into a V shape. I still have that penny.
A Birthday Oration-(sorry David)
I knew David before he was thirty
(but not before he was thirsty)
writing verse, and believing in God,
making the rest of us seem dumbly odd.
I hear his laughter in my bones
make a sound like tumbling stones.
I guess Cumbrian moors abound
with creatures that know his sound
each lifts a head or beak or eye
as David John Murray Wright rolls by.
Listen, my friend, sixty's no catch
-altho' we drink to you from The Thatch-
pass it by with a steady trot
another thirty is in the plot.
David Wright at Cove Cottage, Cornwall
This article is taken from PN Review 14, Volume 6 Number 6, July - August 1980.