Change and decay in all around I see
Many thanks for the kind comments, both online and in person, on my last posting.
What I didn’t put in that article was the way I dealt with the upheaval emotionally. Cathy accused me of being extremely phlegmatic about the whole thing, and I had to disabuse her of that. I tend to do my grieving in advance over things that I can see coming. There were certainly tears over leaving Fillongley; it definitely wasn’t for want of trying to get work that I fell into financial trouble with the bank, and some alternative outcomes of one of the eight or ten interviews I had in the first half of the year might have seen things turn out very differently. Not all of them would have left me in Fillongley: I was contemplating moving to Nottingham (though one job I interviewed for was eminently commutable), Sheffield or Cheltenham at different stages, all as a result of interviews I had (some of which went better than others), whilst jobs I applied for ranged from local to quite far-flung. I was even beginning to look at jobs in Europe (though most of the ones I saw were for German-speaking call centre staff in Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Poland or Romania). But things worked out as they did. The first interview I had in 2014 was in Leicester, though that was for a joke of a job that probably wasn’t even what the advert said it was. The company were total clowns as well.
So I was pretty secure emotionally as my last evening at Fillongley came around. I had a meal, and finished off a bottle of single malt that it wasn’t worth packing. Then I went upstairs to spend a bit of time online, only to find out that Graham Joyce had died. And I can tell you that I wept, and wept bitterly. That news acted as a focus for all the stress of the previous six months.
Graham Joyce was only 59. For those who do not know his work, Graham wrote edgy fantasy novels, all set in the present day or within living memory, and all concerning the impact of the fantastic (or the ‘might-be’ fantastic) on fairly ordinary people. I first met him in 1979, when we worked together. In fact, I suspect I introduced him to science fiction and fantasy fandom, as I was fairly active in fanzine fandom at the time, and, finding that Graham was involved in amateur arts publishing in Derby, took it upon myself to introduce him to the world of “real” fanzines (at that time, fanzines were associated with punk rock by most people, and the history of fanzines from the 1920s and their role in spreading science fiction fandom was little known). Oddly, I also found that he came from the next-door village to the one that my parents had just moved to, and where I was to end up living for 28 years.
After I left that job, we only saw each other infrequently, but he was always delighted to see me, no matter how long between meetings. And then, a few days ago, this recollection of Graham surfaced and I felt I had to share it.
As I said, I first met Graham when we worked together on a job creation scheme in 1978-79. (The British Government’s reaction to unemployment then was to find useful jobs for people, and even to create some temporary ones where that was a good solution, rather than send people to work for nothing for big employers who could afford to pay them but would sooner accept state subsidy, as happens now. Sorry. Political rant over.) (Though Graham would probably approve.)
We were employed by the Derbyshire County Council in their Schools Resources Centre. We were part of a team building a new catalogue of audio-visual resources; the previous catalogue was ten years out of date, since when there had been some major reorganisation and two collections merged into one. One of the services this centre offered was what used to be called the “Schools Museum Service”, which was a small collection of artefacts that were circulated around schools in the county. As I remember it from my junior school days, these mainly consisted of stuffed animals, though there were also archaeological finds and a number of original oil paintings and watercolours, amongst other things.
When we got around to cataloguing these artefacts, we had to open up every case, and in one we found an ORIGINAL Greek Hoplite’s helmet. The case it was in was liberally plastered with warnings about how fragile this helmet was: it wasn’t in fantastic condition, and part of it was corroded away to a thin shell.
Graham could not resist this helmet. He was quite blown away by the fact that here was a 2000-year old artefact, that unlike other historical exhibits was recognisably a thing, and that had a direct connection to someone long since dead and forgotten. He carefully looked around the storeroom we were in, and then gently put the helmet on. It was a tight fit – Graham was quite a big chap, and the helmet was rather small anyway – but he was able to put it on, and take it off again without damage.
The sense of power he felt, Graham later said, was palpable. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that he later went to live on a Greek island for a time. I don’t recollect any Hoplites in his novels, but the awe he felt at handling and wearing that helmet was typical of the man and I think is echoed in some of his later writings. Almost the last thing he wrote was this blog post: http://www.grahamjoyce.co.uk/?p=409 and it is a suitable epitaph.