Grosvenor Square: On Not Getting to Paris

By Iain Sinclair


There were discussions about the events of ’68, but nobody left for Paris. Direct action never got beyond the screenplay. After a morning scouring South London markets, we read American comics in the park, near Waterloo, waiting to meet Judith and Anna on their lunchbreak. Tom chews his thumb and frowns over Army War: Sgt Rock (DC’s Startling New Combat Team).

I had been in Grosvenor Square with Tom, demonstrating in favour of a study of crowd behaviour, tidal movement, involuntary peristalsis, as much as anything else. The shock of the horses, their size, coming straight at us: the lengths to which the state would go to protect American interests, the embassy with its oversize eagle. I didn’t understand how these streets worked but it was clear that we had been boxed in, there was no way out. The violence, if you weren’t in the front line, those who attempted a direct assault on the embassy, was spasmodic. Unconnected frames would have to be edited together, much later, to achieve meaning.

Tom was trapped in this demo because he was researching politics for a film that would use the Irish Troubles as a backdrop. The producer Michael Klinger, who was looking for a new project for Michael Reeves, suggested that they exploit the success of Bonnie and Clyde – an inspiration to Germany’s Red Army Faction – by finding a suitable plot involving Thompson sub-machine guns and blood-spattered, slow-motion bank raids. Tom suggested Belfast or Dublin in the Twenties.

While we were penned in the gardens of Grosvenor Square, Tom told me a story about Paris. He’d heard it in Rome. This man, a scriptwriter fallen on hard times, decided to kill himself. But first he wanted to enjoy a great meal, premier cru, at a favourite neighbourhood restaurant. He chose his bottle, poured a glass, lit a cigarette. He opted for the steak, the biggest they could provide. This was, he told the patron, a special occasion.

‘Another film, perhaps? For the Americans?’

‘Much better than that. Believe me.’

‘My congratulations.’

Prime beef overspilled the white of the plate. The patron, satisfied, went back behind the bar: polite conversation with the standing drinkers. The suicide took up the steak, slippery with butter and garlic and, gagging, crammed it down his throat – until the passage of breath was stopped. Tom didn’t stay if the writer went blue or if he choked on his own vomit.


Invisible to his own eyes, standing at the tall window, aware of Anna, her intimate movements as she heats last night’s coffee dregs on the gas ring, he watches the man in the garden follow the petrol-mower to the end of the grass, rest, lean on the handles, make his turn, follow the spluttering machine back.

Shimmering morning in the city.

Geoffrey squats, deep into silence, on the bare floor: white flesh outline, yellow satin trunks. As Chris, his brother, chooses this moment to manifest himself. When children rapped at the window of a Dublin café, hooting ‘Jew Jew Jew’, he permitted himself a smothered smile of pride. His eyes are bulged and veined with ingestion of print. Tight facial skin has been picked raw by an almost hysterical sensitivity. He paces our single room using a dud clockwork razor as a prop, shaving blisters that have formed in the night over the blisters that were already there.

Coffee steam rises from the bowl of Geoffrey’s cupped hands. When will he vanish?

‘I can’t communicate with you,’ he tells his brother. ‘Until you take acid.’

Chris, moving in smaller and smaller circles, agrees, almost, tends towards agreement, driving the base of his hand back through the electric fuzz, prepared for execution, but not now, this moment, not yet. He is disembodied, unplaced. East Coast America is the immediate nightmare he faces. The cabin-trunk already at Liverpool. He has overprepared the event, read too much and been unscrambled by it. That mythic America – of Melville and Faulkner, Charles Olson, Thomas Jefferson, de Tocqueville, Robert Frank, Andy Warhol, Howard Hawks, Minnelli, Douglas Sirk, Anthony Mann, Sam Fuller, Phil Spector, Jayne Mansfield, Ken Kesey, Malcolm X, The Mothers of Invention – is coming apart at the seams. Chris will put himself through anything for the experience. It happens and he lets it go.

(Haverstock Hill, 10 July, 1967)

(after-images of In the Country, a film by Robert Kramer)

instead of a child, a gun

she, with clotted nose
clean underwear
aura of Alice’s rabbit
and loose (here)
as a garden flower

he, inside the real
Bobby Kennedy
blocked and angry
nostrils aquiver
with burning he
can’t smell yet

and all within
the imperishable
ring of America

is this what you really want

(26 February, 1969)

(or, Allen Ginsberg in London)

this kindly crab

hung with his roseate
necklace of chamberpots
squats in the smoke
red-shirt London
a banner to his ommmm

washed extremities to earth
the bearded shadow falls backwards
in straining
to stay straight

(July 1967)

From BACK GARDEN POEMS (Albion Village Press, 1970)

Iain Sinclair is a writer and film-maker. His upcoming publication, Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire, a documentary fiction, from which the above is extracted, will be published in October by Hamish Hamilton.