CAMBRIDGE (4): GREEK DRAMA
Six of us, crammed into the intimate
interior of a portakabin; our first seminar
in Greek Drama. We are all unknown
to each other; anticipation, tension
simmers in the small space.
We give our names to the tutor, and
a little, unexpected drama of our own
unfolds. The woman sitting next to me
appears to be twenty years older
than the rest of us. When she gives
her name, there is a slight intake
of breath by our tutor. He hesitates;
says a man’s name, questioningly,
and she is suddenly revealed to be
the wife of a prize-winning novelist.
I have never heard of the novelist,
but feel a thrill of awe. I am sitting
within inches of – I could actually
touch – the wife of one of those
fabled beings: a writer. And not just
any old writer – a prize-winning novelist!
The novelist’s acolyte; could she
initiate me into the sacred rites?
With her as my guide, could I
enter those hallowed groves,
and walk with the gods?
Yet she seems so normal,
so human, even slightly gauche;
laughing nervously, shaking back
the fringe that hangs, curtain-like,
over her eyes.
This is the fourth episode of my on-going autobiographical poem recounting my student days at Cambridge, back in the long-ago days of the late nineteen-seventies. The main character in the poem – the “wife of a prize-winning novelist” – turned out to be Valerie, wife of Barry Unsworth, who was later to go on to win the Booker Prize for fiction, with his novel Sacred Hunger. Valerie and I became great friends over the following three years, and I was a regular visitor to the family house on Garden Walk, where I also got to meet their three charming daughters. Later on the marriage broke-up, I moved to London, and, eventually, lost all contact with Valerie and the Unsworths.