Journal of 1968

Living underground could have its advantages, I suppose. You’re away from the wind and rain, which is something to be thankful for up here in the hills. But the drawbacks can be fairly serious.

I remember there was always a musty smell, as if something had died in there already. No matter what we tried, there wasn’t a thing we could do about the smell. Well, the ventilation was bad — just this shutter thing in the end wall, and another in the toilet. Precious little air to breathe.

And the smell was all my fault, according to Les. Mister high-and-mighty Number One never took the damp as an excuse, or bad ventilation, or the fact I had nothing to use except what I could carry on my back.

It was my job to haul up the bucket, too, with bright blue Elsan slopping about over my head, terrified every second that the thing would tip in the shaft and come right down on top of me. Les wouldn’t even let Jimmy help me with the bucket. He said there were three jobs, and the sanitary arrangements were my responsibility, since I was the youngest. ‘Sanitary arrangements’ — that’s the way he talked. Jimmy and me, we called it something quite different.

Les had more important things to do, of course. He was saving the world, was Les. A big bloody hero in a hole in the ground.

Well, we were all fighting for freedom, in our own way. It was the age of liberation, after all. Or so we were told. There wasn’t much liberation in our part of the world. Just the same old attitudes, the same instinct to condemn, the implacable willingness to destroy other people’s lives. Whatever happened to ‘ He that is without sin…?’

I suppose those cold, damp walls were supposed to protect us. But really, they could just as easily have been a prison. And, you know what? If I’d been in prison, I might have had more luck with my cell mates.

Even now, I always see Jimmy’s face. I see it as clear as my own reflection when I look in the mirror. There were the three of us, up on top in the daylight. And him, down there in the dark, alone. Just a single shaft of light, falling on his face, gleaming on his glasses.

And then the falling, falling… It seemed to take so long, yet it must have been over in a second. His skull cracked like an egg.

One down. Two to go.