PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1990 - NOVEMBER
11 07, Sunday 4 November 1990
Brighton. Bright, bright Brighton. Clear blue skies yet again; a north wind brings a colder nip in the air than of late, signifying the embrace of autumn and the closeness of winter. Such a lot of activity in this town. Last night we went to a magnificent firework display, more akin to an artist’s show than the traditional spark and bang outburst. This morning, we are about to leave for the seafront to watch the vintage cars arriving from London in the annual rally. Also in town is a toy collectors fair and a large gift and craft fair (something along the lines of Harvey and June’s fair in Australia I imagine.)
We even have a little bit of society now since we moved down to this central Brighton location. People sometimes pop in. Yesterday, Toby, Adam’s friend from the nursery, called in with his dad, Noel. They ended up staying several hours, and for lunch. Noel’s wife, or partner, is a librarian at the Polytechnic, while Noel himself works in London for the National Sound Archives which is part of the British Library. Not only does he have a beard, actually enjoys riding a bicycle in London, but he also appears to go for long walks on his own. Good lord, am I not unique. Well, the really odd thing about Noel, in the context of Brighton, is that he actually lives both with his son and the mother of his son. Such a relationship is almost unheard of in this city. On several occasions Noel said how introverted and unsocial he and his partner were, but he seemed quite able to stay and accept lunch without embarrassment. There was a tight, tense man behind the beard, with shy guarded eyes, probably like mine. He talked quite freely about his work but never once inquired about us, who we were what we did etc. which I felt was a bit strange. Does it indicate a lack of curiosity or a shyness? Nevertheless, I did warm to him, and we half arranged to meet in a fortnight’s time to take the children down to the sea.
A word or two about the fireworks last night. We would have liked to have gone to the Lewes celebrations, which are famed across the land, but they won’t take place until tomorrow, Monday, night. Instead, we caught a bus to Wild Park. It has a rather special geography that makes it ideal for some events - like a grassy valley, with woodland on higher parts of the side slopes. At the back, too, the park rises into the Downs leaving a flat green arena, large enough for a football pitch or two. For the fireworks, the organisers had cordoned off the back slopes and prepared a number of set pieces. By the light of a full moon, occasional torch beams and dozens of lanterns, one could make out a few white shapes here and there dotted around and between the bushes. Also perched on the hillside was a giant white cut-out Cutty Sark. We arrived round about 7pm, and found ourselves streaming up the park, inland so to speak, with hundreds of other groups of people. As we approached the arena so we could make out the white and coloured lanterns, and the white shapes, and the sparklers and torches and the lights from one or two stalls - B remarked how pagan it all seemed. It was true, I felt as though we could have been characters from a Hardy or Elliot novel. A man and his wife and child going to the fair.
Groups parked themselves along the side slopes and many stood in the arena near the stalls and close to the cordons around the bonfire pile and as close to the fireworks as they could get. Although it was a large crowd, there was no crowding - everyone could see the fireworks on the hillside. We had to wait 45 minutes or more for it to start. B had made watercress soup and brought it in a thermos with some bread rolls. A band assembled in the boat, the show boat, and gave us a couple of jazz numbers and one folk melody. We danced; that is B and I danced, while Adam sat around, lazily, on my shoulders enjoying the ride. No one else danced or moved at all, but we were in one of our own worlds, oblivious to all the rest, just taking our cue from the music. Several giant heads wondered into sight, while an enormous anemone hovered close by the show boat. After the musical intro, the fireworks began with the loudest crackles and bangs of the evening. Fifteen or twenty minutes later the show ended with a traditional display of golden-exploding, silver-raining, sky-filling giant rockets but in between we had been treated to simple and effective lighting of set pieces - prehistoric creatures (did I see pterodactyl?), other monsters and giant glow-worms all moving eerily thanks to the control of puppeteers. The lighting was effected by fireworks which had been chosen in style with the giant puppets: one frizzy angled creature, for example, had a silver cracker that frizzed at angles through the sky; another one with a circular rim to its head was lit by a vertically-orientated circle of roman candles. The creators had the confidence, and rightly so, to leave us staring for some minutes at a single fire work or light source. Sheer delight, the presentation, sheer delight.
This morning we trooped down, again with crowds of people, to Madeira Drive on the seafront to look at the vintage cars arriving, from about 11.30, and then one never has to wait more than a few minutes to see the next arrival. At the finish line, a radio DJ or broadcaster of some description interviews the drivers or owners on a loudspeaker system that stretches from one end of the Drive to the other. He has briefing notes on the cars and their owners so we usually know where the car has come from, how old it is and how many times it has entered the race. The interviewees talk about their ‘best run ever’, or the ‘brilliant day’ or ‘our record time’ or the fan belt that had to be changed. Sometimes the owners are asked for a pocket history of the car - ‘Well it was bought by my family in 1901. In 1904 a gasket went and it was pushed to the back of the garage until the 1950s when my grandfather restored it.’
I don’t suppose I had quite realised how big an event this rally is. Rich fanatics ship their prize cars all the way from the Continent, the US and Mexico. Imagine the expense, and people are proud of - not embarrassed by - the trouble they’ve gone to. I find it an extraordinary display of I’m not quite sure what, pretension I suppose, of money. Is this all they have to do with their time. At the other end of Madeira Drive there are hundreds of cars with trailers, vans with trailers, mini-car-transporters, lorries big enough to carry a small car and so on. Many if not most of the cars are rather shipped one way or another back to their garages where their owners or owners mechanics clean them, work on them, mend them, shine them ready for the next outing. These items are simply for show. Some owners may actually enjoy driving them along country lanes, but the real joy - for they are largely windowless and therefore cold, slow, and unreliable - has to be in being seen and admired. But there is a mite of hypocrisy in me here, for though I could never imagine myself indulging in such pretensions, I am more than happy to have our day enriched by the spectacle. I also noticed one or two thoughts of envy in my mind; envy that so many people should have such wealth to play with: the hoard of wealth jogging along reminds me how poor I am and will always be relative to these before me.
Adam was given a badge and a flag. Both sported the names of the sponsors - Kenco and the RAC - in letters bigger and bolder than the name of the race. Adam waved the flag merrily around, but I wouldn’t let him put the badge on despite his ‘please’. So I was obliged to give him his first anti-advertising lecture. This was somewhat difficult since he cannot possibly have any conception of what advertising is or isn’t, so I was confined to just saying it didn’t have any words on that I liked.
During the week, I received a very late call from B, the plumbing in Adam’s room had burst and water had come streaming down into the lounge, almost showering her computer and bringing down several lines of wallpaper. Wisely, she turned on all the taps, but not being able to find the stopcock meant she had to stand with her finger on the hole until the plumber arrived. He came promptly, she reported, fixed the problem easily, and charged her but £15. Then, late at night, the ceiling creaked and she panicked again, thinking the water heater itself might come crashing through the ceiling onto her computer. She loves this house and feels, personally, vividly, every fault.
On Friday, Barbara gave her presentation, twenty minutes to thirty or forty people - no minor task. She says it didn’t go too badly though she did read the entire talk, rather than present it, and she sat down for the duration rather than stand.
17 23, Tuesday 6 November 1990
A strange calm lull in my life - no project, no trips, no management reports, dull lodgers, no pending works on the house. Only the move to Brussels holds promise for the future but there is an unreality about that, and nothing to be done except go to Brussels and find a flat. Until I do so, I will remain in limbo. My boss has just gone away for a two week holiday and, in any case, since he hasn’t talked to me about it again, I must assume that his boss hasn’t given way on the staff/contract issue. I should decide what to do then before he comes back. I have only one strategy left and that is to suggest I be given a trial period of a year when I remain on staff.
Meanwhile, I shall go walking in North Wales. I tried to make a short trip earlier in the autumn but failed because I had too much work to do, and probably because I had a cold too. My fingers are crossed for next week, not only that I don’t get a cold between now and then but that the weather remains bright and clear. I see from the diary that I am about two weeks later than my three day walk last year. The timing was perfect then, as I got the full glory of autumn colours. This time I might be walking through landscapes more reminiscent of winter than autumn. Still I must go. I’ve chosen North Wales because its the last major area within reasonable travel time of London which I’ve never visited. One of the three days, I’ll spend walking up and round Snowdon. Then, the week after, I’ll try and have Adam for a few days in London.
Domestic politics - the best soap opera of all. Geoffrey Howe, deputy prime minister, resigned last week over the European issue. Maggie has been belligerent again, and let out her true fears about the Community cutting into national sovereignty. It was all too much for Geoffrey and he went, following other notables of late, Nigel Lawson, for example. The media counted five resignations over the Europe issue, and this was the most serious. It brought, temporarily, Michael Heseltine out of his closet to test the political waters. But, once again, he found red lights on every street. Senior and not-so senior Conservatives rallied round the Prime Minister, and most of the high back-benchers including Lawson did not seem at all impressed by the possibility of letting Heseltine in. He’s a real conjuror. He made an open attack on Maggie by sending a letter to his constituent party, and then nipped off to the Middle East. Two days later, he’s seen all the red lights and is prepared to restate his position that he will not stand against Maggie. It is quite clear, though, that had there been more open support for him following the attacking letter, he might have moved further out of the closet. As it is, he’s gone back in, and will behave himself until the next kerfuffle.
The crisis for the Conservative Party is a very real one. Maggie cannot disguise her real feelings about Europe, but the tide is moving away from her. There is a groundswell of opinion that the UK should be playing a more positive role in Europe. The Party needs a leader who reflects that view. It is only through persistent logical argument from the likes of Howe and Hurd that we have moved this far with Europe at all. The annual leadership election has been set for 20 November, so there is still time for some fireworks. But this has to be the last chance. If Maggie survives now she must stay on for the general election and a respectable period after if she wins. Personally, I think she is wrong. I think she should resign now, and thus enter the history books as undefeated. If the Conservative Party lose at the next election (which I’m sure they would do under her leadership) then she can’t be blamed, but if it wins, she’ll be hailed for her astute timing in passing on the leadership at the right time.
In the Gulf, war draws nearer.
I buy some new Clarks black shoes for £50; two pairs of house-slacks for £15 each, a yellow winter sweater for £30, and a pair of gloves for £4 from Marks. Although you can buy tracksuit bottoms for a fiver, the Marks ones are best. They are good quality material, and the pockets have zips. Adam gets new shoes for £15 and two pairs of socks. I also buy him a second 100-piece jigsaw puzzle. It is a map of the world with pictures of animals placed strategically in their respective geographical locations. Shopping in Brighton is quite a pleasure with all the shops so near.
7.00 pm Friday 9 November
In the week I see a Japanese film called ‘The Enchantment’. It is one of those low-budget, subtitled films that ‘Time Out’ raves about but which does not then fulfil one’s expectations. A psychologist falls in love with an intriguing patient who has a split personality. One of the personalities is as charismatic as she is dangerous and ultimately succeeds in wooing the doctor’s girlfriend to live with her. The film has no conclusion and nothing much to say, as far as I can see. Still it was enjoyable in its way, and I was pleased to visit the ICA again after such a long absence.
Tonight, with B, I go to the Cottesloe to see ‘The Shape of the Table’ by David Edgar. On television, I watch ‘Capital City’ each Thursday. In fact I look forward to it with eagerness - the director, writers and actors bring such life to the characters that I can almost touch them. They exists beyond the 50 minutes of the programme’s allotted time. Unfortunately, the format of a bank’s trading floor is rather limited and the subject doesn’t have the scope of the law as in ‘LA Law’ or journalism as in ‘Lou Grant’.
Lawrence Durrell has died. One of my few heroes. He was 78 years old. I am delighted to discover that he had written yet one more book, about Provence, which is due to come out any day now. His style of writing is so completely out of fashion yet I still love it, and may now be tempted to reread a novel or two.
The Conservatives do very badly in two more by-elections. Geoffrey Howe is due to make a speech next week concerning his resignation, and he says he has complaints against Mrs Thatcher of both ‘style and substance.’ Political commentators are reading a lot into that, and into the fact that he is due to make his speech on the eve of the opening of nominations for the annual Tory Party leadership elections. Will somebody stand or won’t they. My guess is that Howe resigned because Mrs T wouldn’t; and that, before the end of the month, Chris Patten will be the leader of the Conservative Party.
I’ve already predicted there will be war in the Middle East before the end of November. Bush is sending yet more troops and equipment to the region, and ex-world leaders are still queuing up to visit Baghdad and bring home as many hostages as they can before the killing starts.
12 07, Sunday 11 November 1990
I have not reported on the funeral of my uncle, Mike Goldsmith, or the subsequent developments. I have only one source of information, my cousin Mary. She returned on Friday, about a week after she had flown to France, and called me in Brighton. The situation is about as bad as one could have imagined. According to Mary, Mike’s third wife, Roxanne, says there is a will, an unwitnessed one, which Mike wrote about two years before he had an operation on his prostrate, in which he leaves everything to Roxanne. No one else has seen this will yet, says Mary, because, according to Roxanne, it is being shipped to the US along with her possessions; and no one really knows whether or not the will has validity or which law will prevail regarding his estate: that of Morocco, where Mike was domiciled, that of France where his properties are, that of the UK, the nationality of his passport.
Mary has brought one thing back from Paris, and I feel quite guilty about this. She says that when the four children and Roxanne sat around to discuss what to do with Mike’s things, they were all in agreement over one item: Grandma’s games set and that it should come to me. Everybody in the family knew it was promised to me, and no one ever understood why Mike hadn’t let me have it after his mother’s death. Nobly, Mary volunteered to carry it home; or perhaps she was persuaded to do so by Martin, who had already told me on the telephone that he was worrying about how I was going to get it. Apparently, Mary was so worried about treating the box with due care and attention that she carried it hand luggage on the aeroplane; and, once on the aeroplane, the box had its own seat and safety belt. Mum will drive down to Salisbury next weekend to see Mary and will probably bring it back with her. One small piece of justice in an unjust world.
This morning Barbara, Adam and I drive over to Highgate’s Waterlow Park. Adam and I were there yesterday, so that Adam could go to Mr Boom’s one man band singalong show at Lauderdale House. After the show, we went walking in the park. I found a perfect spot to take photos of Adam, so we walked all the way back to the car to get the camera. I had a spare film, but the counter said 18 so I assumed there was a film already loaded (even though I thought there wasn’t one!). We walked all the way back to the picturesque spot, and I spent half an hour taking pictures, trying to get Adam to pose. On the way back to the car, I discovered there was no film in the camera after all. So, this morning, we went back again. I took a 24-picture reel, mostly of Adam looking through the broken window-slats of a park bench shelter. The autumn colours are at their max. Other photos: A kissing my nose under a richly-berried tree; A and B together amid the richly-coloured fallen leaves.
Adam is as sweet as a cherry pie at the moment. He stayed up very late last night at Grandma’s. Uncle J and Auntie S were there as a well for a roast lamb dinner. Auntie S is so fat, due to give birth any day now, but in fine, fine fettle. Latest possible names are Giles, Luke and Rebecca. Luke’s OK but not really with Lyons. I preferred Joshua, but that’s gone out the window.
7 22, Friday 16 November 1990
A miserable morning, light only reluctantly pushing through the thick rain clouds; I need a lamp to sit here and write. Winter is upon us and there is nothing to be done but bear it.
I have been on a short walking tour in Snowdonia to reconstitute my spirit with real fresh breathing and the sight and feel of wild places but as I sit here, just two days later, my body and mind hardly remember the benefits, so heavy is the inner city pollution of crowds and litter and noise and stagnant air. It is mostly the same in my life now, that as I move around, sights, things, people, art, experiences leave very short-lived traces, like a firework rather than a contrail. When young a new experience might live for days and weeks in the mind, constantly re-impinging itself on conscious thought; not so with age as each sight, thing, person, piece of art (be it film, theatre, painting, music, book) or experience has so little impact that it is only apparent in the moment. I try to counteract this effect through recording my daily life in this journal. Thus, as I come to write about my days walking I will relive the experience directly for the last time, probably, and only recall it again when I come to read the journal. As I consume books and plays and films and TV, I am increasingly given to thinking that my input-output balance is all wrong - and the fact that so little new input stays around in the consciousness is a symptom of this. I mean, I should be giving out more in terms of talking to people, writing, giving talks, and even perhaps adding more opinion to my newsletters. I should be acting more and receiving less. But this is all beside the point.
It was a struggle to get away just for a few days. I left on Sunday night and returned on Wednesday night allowing me to go into the office on the Thursday and check how the newsletter was shaping up. I had decided on North Wales since I’d never been there - perhaps the very last major region in the UK (north of Scotland excepted because it’s so far away) left for me to visit - and because Snowdonia promised real mountains and real wild places. A four hour train journey took me to Llandudno Junction from whence Conwy, the start of my walks, was but a stroll across the Afon Conwy bridge and past the castle. I had decided to use a book of circular walks, from the Landranger series. Consequently, I was obliged to try and link up the circular tours by walking or hitch-hiking, this was not so easy sometimes, and the first day I spent several hours walking on roads, albeit back roads without any cars.
I kept my small backpack to the bare minimum: extra jumpers as I carried no jacket other than a waterproof, one set of extra clothes, my camera (last year I was surprised by how many photos I wanted to take) and one novel to read. Otherwise the weight included the guide book and the day’s food and drink rations. The boots I bought last year served well and not once did my feet have any trouble at all - not a blister, not a mark.
A huge castle dominates the town, one of several magnificent fortresses - Caernarfon being the most famous - built by Edward I in his struggle against the Welsh in the 11th century. I arrived quite late in the evening, just in time, though, to book a B&B room (without towels, without heating, with a horrible soft bed only the wall’s thickness from a main road, and even without an egg in the breakfast meal - you might gather the tourist season was over and the house owner was doing me a real favour taking me in at all) and to slip down to the pub on the quayside for a whisky. Despite the time of the year and the time of night, it was warm enough to sit outside and study my guide book. Across the bay, I could see the lights of Llandudno, around me groups of youths ranged from bar to bar or stopped for a chat at the harbour’s edge, giving the place a lively air.
In the morning, the town showed up its true and rather shabby character. Sure, it is pretty with the castle, the castle walls and one or two interesting houses (one of which is NOT ‘The Smallest House in Britain’ which, when open in the season, costs 20p to visit - if the smallest house in Britain is really so small how can it be worth 20p to look inside?) and the quay with its few fishing boats, mostly beached on the estuary mud when the tide is out. So long as one keeps one’s eye on the castle all is well, especially with the autumn-coloured backdrop of a hill-side wood, but parts of the town near the quay are a rather haphazard sprawl of buildings without any real communal sense of style or character. In fact this was true of all the Snowdonia towns and villages I visited, with the exception, perhaps, of Beddgelert. There is none of the quaintness of the Cotswolds villages or the prettiness of Cornwall, or the starkness of Yorkshire villages, or the cute simpleness of Ireland’s southwest. I am not sure why this is. The places I visited were all dominated by tourism, but not by the tourist in search of prettiness, cuteness, quaintness but one more interested in the outdoor pursuits of climbing, walking, canoeing: the biggest and brightest stores in some of the towns were climbing equipment shops. So both tourists and settlers are likely to be of that ilk rather than in search of harmony between man and nature. This is just a theory I’ve made up as I write.
Conwy, to my eyes as I walked along the estuary shore before heading inland and up the Conwy mountain, seemed a mess. For a start, mud banks look a mess at the best of times but when they stretch across most of an estuary with built-up areas on both sides, they are even worse. And worse, the estuary was full of works, dredgers, motors, cranes; and masses of construction along the edges. The map shows that a long road tunnel is being built diagonally under the Afon Conwy. I suppose the narrow bridge that connects Llandudno Junction with Conwy gets very blocked in rush hours. This bridge is ugly too, with other unused and rail bridges alongside it but at slightly different levels. On the quayside, the houses all seem a disharmonious jumble.
No sooner had I left the town and started walking up into the hills than the wide open spaces began to infiltrate my senses and wake me up. I almost cried at one point to be alone and surrounded by hills and forests and enormous unpopulated spaces. The walk took me along the ridge of Conwy mountain so that for a long time I could see the Afon Conwy stretch out towards the sea. I had been afraid I might have missed autumn colour, but the weather has been so mild that deciduous trees were still fully burdened with leaf, golden leaf. Often it seemed like I was walking through a dazzling world of yellow gold, as though someone had put a yellow filter on the world. There was little in the way of red or purple or even brown leaf, yellow dominated everywhere. The most attractive vistas were those of hillsides with evergreens interspersed among the deciduous varieties to produce a gorgeous mottled effect. Sometimes I was walking inside this gold-yellow panorama (I wrote on a card to Adam that ‘I am in Autumn’ when walking through woodland’s filled with oaks and larches), but more often I was walking on grass or moorlands witnessing the autumn spectacle all around me. Bracken in particular coloured many hillsides, and did provide a full range of tones between brilliant yolk yellow and crispy bacon brown (what makes you think my metaphors have been affected by bed and breakfasting). At the top of the mountain, I walked through one large patch of deep brown bracken, among which several deep brown horses were camouflaged, although they seemed intent on nibbling away at their camouflage. Here was the first of the three animal portraits I snapped.
I was disciplined with my camera in the sense that whenever I saw a possible picture I would mechanically stop and take the camera out of the bag. The bother of doing this (it was all wrapped up in plastic bags and so forth since rain never stopped threatening and in any case I didn’t want to carry the camera separately over my shoulder) was sufficient, at first and until I disciplined myself, to pass by many photo ops, especially when going up hill, or when I was a little tired in an awkward place, or when pushing on to get to some targeted place before having lunch. Something similar takes place while driving. It is hard to stop the car just to take a photograph. I took about 25 photographs, not the whole film as I planned, but then I never saw the sun, and on the Snowdon walk the rain and fog conditions weren’t exactly conducive to snapping.
After following the Conwy mountain’s ridge for a while I dipped down into a valley and onto some farm tracks before hitting the minor roads which were to take me to my next circular walk. Unfortunately, I failed to get a lift for ages, and was obliged to walk on the tarmac for several miles. On reaching a less minor road, I did win a lift and reached Trefriw with enough daylight left to attempt a lakes walk. This day’s journey, with its quite long but not arduous treks, proved a useful trainer for the trip up Snowdon on the following day. The lakes Llyn Geirionydd and Llyn Grafnant (llyn being Welsh for lake), largely surrounded by sloping woodlands, are havens of peace. Barely one or two houses can be seen, a farmhouse here, a forestry hut there, or a stone cottage used in the summer to serve teas or give out fishing permits. The mild and windless weather only served to enhance the tranquillity surrounding waters. At one point I stopped at the lake side, took off my boots and socks, bathed my poor feet, and just lay silently on the grass imbibing the silence of ages.
At the southwest end of Llyn Grafnant, I cut down through a horticultural station and found my second animal portrait, two sheep skulking under a gnarled oak amid the long scruffy grasses. For a minute or two, as I walked across the forested saddle from one lake to the other, I saw the sun and a snatch of blue sky. I record it here, since sometime in the future, historical meteorologists may want to collate independent sightings of the sun in Wales.
I didn’t complete the walk around Llyn Geirionydd: the afternoon was fading fast and with it the light, and I needed to walk on to Betwys swiftly. At the tip of Llyn Geirionydd, I stalled for a while to investigate an old deserted tumble-down cottage. It was wonderfully situated for views over the lake and I couldn’t understand why no one had claimed it. Such an old-fashioned construction with, in the middle, just a main room or two, dominated by a huge fireplace and a cramped upstairs, and, on either side, not internally connected, what looked liked animal housing taking up perhaps half the covered floor space. Thick old stones, damp and cracked, lined the bottom of the walls, especially on the side towards the hillside away from the lake; and the timbers had been rotting for decades, I suppose.
Arriving in Betwys a little before dark I found a B&B without too much trouble. There is a prejudice against singles though. Without exception, every B&B I tried had a knee-jerk reaction to my request for a room: they wanted to know if I was single, and on learning that I was alone, they bundled me off as though I had the plague. The three places that did take me in - one each night - followed the knee-jerk rejection with a reasoned afterthought, and gave me a room that contained a double bed and a single bed. Now, I can fully understand that in high season when a proprietor expects to fill every bed in his establishment on every night he, or more usually she, does not want to let go a double room for a single price. But, the plain fact is, that in mid-November I was turned away by some B&Bs that had no guests at all, and certainly would not have expected to fill up that night. It is not even a question of washing double sheets instead of single sheets, since each of these rooms had a single bed. I might add here, again just for the record in case future mattress historians should want independent evidence of conditions in North Wales in the early 1990s, each and every mattress I slept on was softer and less supportive than a pile of custard.
The husband and wife team that gave me shelter in Betwys were clearly committed to the B&B way of life. They loved to chat and chat and chat, we talked for four days about the problems ‘singles’ encounter in searching for accommodation. In the morning, the husband was dressed up, as though for the office, standing over the breakfast table. I was down a few minutes before eight, so we talked about fishing in Anglesey - something about which I am rather expert - and, on the stroke of eight, he said I could start my cornflakes.
Betwys disappointed. I found no village centre as such, and consequently no village atmosphere. The pub I chose to eat in was hollow, and the food tasted infinitely better drowned in sachet salad cream. Whilst waiting to be served, I amused myself by studying the decor - I needn’t have bothered because I could have tasted it in the food.
11 36, Saturday 17 November 1990
Unusual to have a Saturday free and alone. I decided not to travel to Brighton until early tomorrow morning so that I can go to Rosy and Andrew’s party tonight. I know exactly what it will be like, but I really can’t afford not to go since their parties are the only ones I ever get invited to these days. The truth is simple. I no longer have a social life.
Which reminds me of one of the few thoughts I had on my walk. I considered my action of going on a walking tour and I thought, don’t ask me why, how utterly ridiculous it would be for my stepfather Sasha ever to go on such a walk. His life is led absolutely sheltered from the elements. When he visits foreign countries, he stays in five class hotels and takes taxis everywhere. He cannot possibly know what it is like to be alone on top of a mountain with nothing but the weather, the openness, and one’s own thoughts for company. This much is obvious, this much is not new for me, but it was new to then take the thought a stage further and ask myself whether there was some action as inconceivable for me to take as it is for Sasha to go on a long distance walk. Since we live in different worlds, am I being as shuttered as he? And yes, I realised that I would not dream of going on drinking binges with colleagues or perhaps more apt, I would not dream of locking myself into a week with strangers at a health farm. Consequently, if I am to rise above my own self-satisfaction at doing long distance walks where Sasha (as a random example from the other end of the spectrum, if you like) would never dream of such a thing, then I must consider taking actions which I would never dream of. Having thus described the thought, I would also stress that there is but only a very slight smugness about my walking, and I should not care to go anywhere with it in comparison with others - it is personal achievement, a personal gain, arising out of a personal need to stretch myself physically even battle somewhat with the elements, to cleanse my lungs with some days of mountain air, to restore a contact with my old friend nature, she who forgets me so easily when I lose sight of her.
As ever, when I am away, I thought about B and A in only the most warm and glowing of ways. I cannot imagine how empty life would be without the love and caring that flows between us. My life could hold more than it does now, life could be richer, but it could be infinitely, infinitely poorer also. Whenever the cool and sober mountain air fuels my thoughts, I am always stirred to remind B how much I love her. More than anything in my adult world, her love of me has, if not healed, then calmed the festering of those wounds left over from childhood.
I had doubts about when I should walk up Snowdon because of the inclement weather. Weather reports on Monday night suggested that by lunchtime on the morrow, the cold front would have passed and the skies have cleared, so I decided to go then - after all Wednesday might be worse. There are five or six main routes up the mountain, so I linked up two to make a sort of straight line route from one side over the peak and down the other side. Rather than starting out straight after breakfast, I thought I’d leave a couple of hours later so that I got to the top as the clouds cleared and the sun shone.
From Betwys, I walked along the river to the so-called Miners’ Bridge from whence I hitch-hiked to the start of the Watkin Path in Nantgwynant. Unfortunately, I was left at a junction where there was zero shelter, zero cars and 100% drenching rain. This was only the day’s beginning, I hadn’t even arrived at the start of the path, and my trousers were soaked, my body cold, and my backpack beginning to leak from the force of the wind and rain on it. Still, I knew the cold front was passing quickly (the wind was so strong) and before very long, the rain would cease, the clouds would lift and the birds would sing again.
For about an hour I did really enjoy the Watkin Path, the rain had indeed stopped, the clouds did seem to be lifting, Snowdon was going to reveal itself to me. I was going to conquer the great British mountain. Like several of the tracks, the Watkin Path is wide enough and sufficiently well-made for a four wheel drive car. The first mile or so took me gently up one of the valleys dominated by a waterfall cascade; quite picturesque in fact, since the rivers and streams are so full at this time of year, the cascade was abundant with white water - picturesque enough to warrant a photo or two. Scattered through these hills are abandoned slate works and the stone housings that went with them. I think there were some metal (copper, for example) mines also. A railway used to exist along this valley, you can still see the straight edges of the cuttings made for it stamped on the mountainside, and the path zig-zags across it, and even follows it for some way.
Above the waterfall and round a bend, the Watkin Path follows the river for a while and then heads directly north onto the ridge east of the valley, my track, a less well-defined one, took the westerly ridge. At this point in my walk, I had dried out somewhat and was feeling quite optimistic. I could see the whole valley before me, and even though I lost the path, I could cut across the rough grass, climbing across the steep hillside to a fairly clear point in the craggy ridge, where the path swung round to head more directly for the Snowdon summit. It didn’t hinder me either to see a school group, which hadn’t lost the path, heading for the same gully as me. In fact, I sped ahead of them, and I don’t think they followed, for soon after either the cloud came right down or I climbed right into it. Climbing through the gully was somewhat tricky, since I had to scramble on slate and scree, and was far from sure where the path led. Once on the ridge, I never saw more than twenty metres in any direction until I was half down into Llanberis on the other side. In fact, from that point on the walk became a real challenge, not only because of the mist (the path was clearly visible for the most part) but because of the driving, horizontal rain and the extremely strenuous nature of the climb. The wind and rain became so fierce at times that I felt impelled to take shelter behind any huge rock I could find, it was as though I just couldn’t go on, and standing took as much out of me as moving. I might have been better able to withstand the weather had I had waterproof leggings. Sodden trousers left my legs, and consequently the rest of me, vulnerable to cold and possible loss of energy. At least I had a decent store of provisions and, as my will and energy seemed to be giving out, I took regular nourishment. On one or two occasions, I began to think I might not make it, and on such occasions kept seeing the warnings printed in the guide books about hikers needing to be fully prepared if they venture off the roads - but they recommend so much paraphernalia that it’s a wonder anyone but a weightlifter actually adventures onto the hillside.
I slipped once on loose rocks which fell across my left leg and injured me into a short panic and the need for rest in shelter. This was my biggest worry. Should I have injured myself to the point where I couldn’t walk, then I could have been in serious trouble. The way was such that barely two steps passed by without having to negotiate rocks, whether small or large, and it really would have been easy, especially as weariness and exhaustion closed in, to have lost concentration and twist an ankle.
Nearer the summit, I was not able to take more than a few paces at a time, the sheer effort of climbing had become too much. For a short passage, about 100 metres or so, the track levelled out on the lee side of a rocky outcrop; I sang out with joy, such a heavenly stroll. The views must be stunning, for most of the ridge was fairly narrow (down to the width of the two-foot wide track at some points with sheer falls on either side) and dropped sharply on both sides; for much of the way Snowdon’s summit must be in view too, so that one is walking towards something. Me, I was just climbing in a fog, I could have been on a tread-wheel slanted at 45 degrees, with dry ice filling the room.
Then, suddenly, just twenty metres ahead of me a great rectangular shape looms out of the mist as if it had been beamed there by Scotty. How odd to have walked for so long and climbed so hard without any evidence of man or man’s doings, to have battled the elements to get here, to be at the highest point in England and Wales and then to find what? a concrete building. Well, I knew the railway station and cafe would find me eventually, if I just kept going but still it was a surprise. The station is a few rocky feet from the summit. I did nip up to touch the trig point but didn’t stay long because, if anything, the wind and rain and cold seemed to be hitting down at me even harder than before. Well, I suppose on the very summit there can be no shelter at all. Shame about the weather forecast, the views from here are said to be stunning. I thought I might have met someone, or seen some sign of activity, though I didn’t really expect the cafe to be open - as, I supposed, it must be serviced by the railway line which had stopped operating. I did think that, with all the concern about walkers acting responsibly on mountains, the authorities could have put a shelter here at the summit. Despite the station buildings, there was not a single place I could actually get shelter from the rain or the wind.
I raced on down the track which follows the rack and pinion railway line (opened in 1896) to the point where several tracks diverge. I had intended to go back down along the Miners’ Track past two lakes but fearful of the time, of a track that might have similar gaps in it as on my ascent, and cognisant of the fact that I couldn’t see anything anyway, I chose to take the easiest and straightest route out of the clouds, the one which continued straight down with the railway track into Llanberis. At one point I was debating the finer points of my descent when, out of the mist, five men, well-togged up and without packs, marched straight for me. ‘Was there a McDonalds at the summit?’ We swapped ironies about the weather and the weather forecast. They did not go onto the summit but switched to descend by the path I had been intending to follow. They gave me the time which, being already nearly 2pm, further convinced me I should take the safest route back down the foggy mountain.
The way down did turn out to be straightforward and hurdle free. The path was wide and well maintained. Before long I slipped below the cloud and rain level from whence I was able enjoy views across the huge valley and down towards Llanberis and Llyn Peris and Llyn Padarn. By the time I reached Llanberis I was certainly tired. I took tea in the first place I could find, and rested my aching legs. The shop-owner pointed across the way to a small mountain and explained that until the power station inside it was built, he only opened in the summer seasons. Just this year, the Prince of Wales opened the large building at the base of the mountain which is an information centre and starting point for the guided tours of the Dinorwig hydro station. We also talked about the huge quarry scars on the side of the same mountain. There were bright patches of autumn woods interspersed with the grey ugly slate areas. He told me of concerted efforts to reclaim the steep sides by using a special sort of earth or peat which sticks to the slate. The patches of woods, he said, were in fact planted just fifteen years ago or so. Later, I talked about the mountain scarring with a lady who gave me a lift. I told her how the Brazilian mining company (CVRD) was obliged to restore scarred areas it created in the Amazon as near as possible to the original forest, and how scandalous, therefore, that we do not even follow the same creed here - though, of course, the scale is very different. There’s no doubt the quarries add a certain character to the area - as I was walking down from Snowdon, the scarring dominates the panorama.
I bath with pleasure and relief on my last night. As it is still light, I go for a slow and slight walk down by the lake. I take a tea and date cake in Pete’s diner, which seems to be the main eater for climbers; and later I eat fish and chips in the deserted streets, before settling down to watch the news about Heseltine on the B&B lounge television.
15 56, Sunday 18 November 1990, Brighton
Barbara and Adam have just left for a quick visit to the playground before it gets dark. We have already been out this morning - to Glynde and Glyndebourne - so I don’t feel any pressing need to go out again. Besides, a late lunch still sits heavy on my stomach. I drove down from London early this morning, leaving at 5.45 and arriving just before seven. The journey seems to take an hour and ten minutes however fast I drive. This morning, I had, what seemed, excellent good fortune with traffic lights, and there was rarely sufficient traffic to slow me down below 60mph. From the M25 through to the outskirts of Brighton, I maintained a more or less constant 70mph How is it then that I didn’t manage to improve on the 70 minutes which the journey takes even when the lights are against me?
Last night I did two things. Firstly, I visited my Belgian neighbours who live in the flat under David. Their house, 15 Aldershot Road, was burgled over the weekend while they were in Amsterdam; David himself has been living at his parents for some weeks so the house was empty at the time. The thieves took a mass of things - videos, cameras, TVs, jewellery, even clothes and an iron - from both flats. This is doubly disturbing: I am distressed for both David and the Belgian couple (Anna and Geoffrey), and because it opens up the horrible prospect of we at 13 being robbed also. I went round to commiserate with the Belgians and also to try and gather information.
Anna and Geoffrey believe the thieves had keys to the front door and to David’s flat. A front door, locked with just a latch, leads onto a porch area from which two identical doors, with a single two-foot square pane of glass at shoulder-to-head height each, lead to the two flats. The door to the Belgians’ flat had been forced open, but that to David’s flat suffered only a broken window; moreover glass on the lower ledge was left in place (making it extremely difficult to climb through) and the glass was largely in the porch area and not inside the flat as one would expect if the glass had been broken from the outside. Add to that knowledge the fact that David had entrusted his keys to a rather shabby and unsatisfactory letting agency while he was in the US, and you have the very real possibility that the agency gave the keys to a prospective tenant who had copies made before returning them. Biding his time to deflect suspicion, the thief could have used telephone calls and observations to establish David’s absence and an appropriate time to ‘visit’. When the Belgian’s returned on Sunday night from Amsterdam and called in the police they tried to explain this reasoning, but were told there had been twenty other robberies in the area that weekend and were generally made to feel their problem was rather irrelevant.
Having talked to the Belgians, I am somewhat easier in my own mind about the risks to my own house. It is highly plausible that the thief had keys because it is such a risky business blindly robbing a house in Aldershot Road. The doors are so near the pavements and there is no back access or exit. For someone to beat down my front door, in the middle of the night or in the middle of the day, would have to do so regardless of the consequences. What a wicked world we wander in.
After a drink and discussion with the Belgians, I drove on over to Shepherd’s Bush and the Gibb’s party. As usual, I found an extraordinary collection of colourful drop-outs and desperados from most walks of life. Old faces and new, as ever; never expect Rosy to have gone by a year without collecting a few more extravagant souls. Of the old faces, I talked to Tim and Niema of course. Tim is currently engaged on a project in Wales to commercialise a mineral water bottling plant. Niema has been travelling around the globe during the summer. Roneet will come back from California for Christmas. I talked again to the Moroccan who works at Amnesty International, I forget his name, who I met at Niema’s book publication party. He tells me he has set up a publication on Sudan and another more general magazine. These he does with his expertise of the areas but without using his name which might compromise his Amnesty work. I think he intends to leave AI eventually and edit some of these worthy documents about Africa full time. I don’t think I talked to anybody new.
And so to my final day in Snowdonia. Having missed out on the Snowdon path that crosses several small lakes (through deciding to come down from the summit on the easy and direct path), I chose to walk up that route as far as the larger of the lakes with a causeway crossing. I hitch-hiked to Pen-y-Pass, the famous starting point for climbing Snowdon, and one that is already 1,000ft above sea level. There was no one else in sight, so again I had all of Snowdon to myself. The track, like the Watkin Path, was wide and well-maintained. I strode along it, relishing the morning, the mountains, the life of the hiker, passing one of the lakes and on to the second and larger one - Llyn Llydaw. There is a mysticism here. I might not have quite described it as such then when I was there before, but on learning that Llyn Llydaw is the very lake of the Excalibur legend, I am not surprised: it has a rather hidden and secret location; it is overlooked by Snowdon and its craggy ridges - not that I could see them, but the dense cloud hanging down round the peaks above gave an equally intense picture; and the increasingly barren mountain-sides slope down quite steeply to the lake.
Having seen a pipeline on the map, presumably a hydro facility, that dropped down from Llyn Llydaw to the valley and followed precisely the route I wanted to take towards Llyn Gwynant, I was keen to witness the lay of the land for real and assess whether I could walk along its side: the map showed no footpath at all crossing from the Miners’ Path to the valley floor, meaning I would have to return to Pen-y-Pass to find a legitimate track. I could see how the pipeline dropped down through two rocky gullies which might prove problematic; some of the flatter bits also looked very marshy. Still, since I could save myself two or perhaps three miles if I could make it, I opted to chance it. My doubts were not fanciful but neither was my chancing it a foolhardy risk. The way was difficult and fraught on occasions. Even a fast flowing stream proved difficult to cross, for example, and the steepest of the grassy banks threatened to send me flying down across treacherous tree routes and into thorny bushes. Nevertheless, it was an exciting descent, and the only time in my three days that I was actually off tracks. I walked along the river for some way before reaching Llyn Gwynant, where the track then climbed into the heart of an old oak and ash wood. Later a farmer told me that the ashes in the area were all suffering from an unknown disease that stripped their tensile strength by up to 90%. Indeed, there were many fallen trees through the wood. The farmer explained that the ash problem is quite common in England. It had been thought to be caused by an over-abundance of nitrates but the presence of exactly the same problem in Snowdonia, where the nitrate concentration is much less, had thrown that theory to the winds. Throughout the region and my walks, it was always the oaks that impressed me the most, with their bright coloured leaves, their ancient and impressive trunks, and the carpet of dead leaves and acorns at their bases, feeding animals and re-fertilising the soils.
Apart from the dying ashes, this lovely wood had another ill: rhododendrons. In London, we get reports in the newspapers of the terrible plague of rhododendrons taking over the hedgerows and wild places. Well, here was a prime example. The evergreen dense bushes certainly stood out in this wood, and a little later I saw that they had taken a strong hold right up the mountainside across otherwise fairly barren land. The same farmer who told me about the ash, also gave me information about what he called the ‘rhodes’. Big grants were already available, he said, to dig them out of the nature reserves (such as the wood I had walked through) and where income from farming was looking less viable by the day, this new work could provide an income for life. But, as for beating them off the non-nature reserve areas, such as on the mountainsides above Beddgelert (to where we were headed in his car), man had already lost that battle. I asked about any possible predators, and when he mentioned that there were 40 wild goats in the area through which I’d walked, I thought for a moment they might have kept the rhodes at bay; but not a bit of it, the rhode leaves are poisonous for goats.
In Beddgelert, which was the most village village I visited, I took some soup and a toasted sandwich for lunch in a cafe-come-antique-come newspaper shop. I had intended to do another circular walk before returning to Llandudno Junction and catching a train back to London, but I was already quite tired and weary. I thought to hitch into Caernarfon. Failing to get a lift after fifteen minutes, I returned to my original plan which was to hitch back the way I came, through Betwys y Coed, Trefriw and Conwy. I wanted to visit the Trefriw wool mill shop (having passed by it on the way down) and besides Caernarfon was a big town and getting back to Conwy would have been complicated. Apart from the young, red-cheeked, cheerful mustard man, who gave me a pot of his home-brewed brand, and the climbing group organiser who was racing from one group to another in his car (having run down a mountain with a pack on his back), there was very little of note in my trip back to Llandudno Junction. I was aiming for the 4.15, but there wasn’t a 4.15 and the train I did catch was a local two wagon effort which chuntered merrily along the coast for a while and dropped me at Crewe. From there, a fast Intercity sped me into Euston, stopping only the once at Watford Junction. The train journey had been a more settled affair: I read the ‘New Scientist’ and ‘Newsweek’, which had an article about ME, and started on ‘Justine’ - which I decided to re-read in respect of Durrell’s death - and for the last hour or so I talked to a lively anaesthetist working in Bangor. On the way back I had only ‘Justine’ to read, and no one to converse with.
8 10, Thursday 22 November 1990
Journal be useful, be the confessor!
I wake up these days with depression hanging off my back and a whole pride of chips sitting on my shoulders. How can I best describe and explain this for there are little things that happen to me in the day which frustrate me endlessly, there are deeper frustrations about my work and not utilising my potential, and there is such an underlying self-annoyance about my inability to establish a social life, be it with friends or lovers. Certainly, these concerns have again come into focus since my Masters thesis was completed and the two-year college course finished - they are not new.
Perhaps disappointment that I can’t advance faster work-wise is biting harder now. I feel I’ve exploited any potential there was at FTBI to expand my responsibility and there is very little place for me now to go. It galls also that, although I feel I’ve done very well this year - with ‘EC Energy Monthly’, with the Management Report (latest sales 361, higher than Andy’s even ), with ‘European Energy Report’s’ profiles and East Europe supplement - there has been virtually zero recognition of this from either my colleagues or my masters. This week, the FT published an article by Tim Dixon that was pegged to the same news which I tried to sell it some three weeks ago. There was nothing new in the story, and my three-week old story had contained more detail.
Other things upset me. On Tuesday I went into college for a seminar on consanguinity and discovered the examiners’ meeting had taken place that morning. Robin came bounding into the postgraduate room and told me I’d passed. Well, I knew I’d passed anyway. What he didn’t tell me is that I’d got a distinction, for the simple reason that I hadn’t - and I knew I wouldn’t. Everybody in the room congratulated me, but I didn’t know what to feel or say because I’d already known I would pass. What I wanted to say was ‘Why didn’t I get a distinction?’ and ‘Aren’t any of my results worth publishing?’ My thesis was focussed, came up with highly significant results and a new theory. Moreover, my thesis had infinitely less input from Robin than that of his other student (who got a distinction) - surely that should be taken into account. But the truth is, I suspect, - and here comes the full weight of those chips on my shoulder - that, given a certain competence and commitment, a thesis is more likely to be marked up if it embraces the ideas and comments of a tutor, and if the tutor can feel that he/she has guided the student’s thought processes. Apart from Robin’s murmurs of approval at the first draft, not a word of feedback has come my way.
Since I have precisely this same problem at college as at work, I must conclude, as I have done many times before in my life, that the problem is all mine; but how can I be humble and uncertain enough about my ability to attract peer responses when in practice and position I seem to be forever trailing behind my potential?
The onset of winter and cold weather does not help my mood. Regular yoga may be helping. I am taking a religious daily service at the altar of French linguaphone, and there is some good quality television at the moment. On the social front, the ice-age continues. I am still disappointed by the fact that Jenny Kent decided not to call me back. I should have been more astute and taken her number. Because these episodes now seem to happen to me about once a decade only, they assume an importance rather above their worth - hence another chip on the shoulder albeit self-lacerating.
Update on British politics: ‘Twin Peaks’ has nothing on Maggie the Ass. The very same qualities of stubbornness and self-confidence which saw our prime minister such a success in the 1980s have now led to her undoing. I really cannot believe that she has not read the history books or understood what happens to leaders who hang on too long. Does she not ask herself why, in so many modern states, the constitution actually prohibits leaders standing for more than one or two terms? The facts are these. Heseltine ran a splendid campaign. He and his supporters restrained themselves admirably, during their many interviews, from attacking Maggie directly and stuck clearly and precisely to the policies, they got their arguments across despite the virtual heckling of interviewers, notably David Dimbleby on ‘Panorama’ on the eve of the leadership poll. Thatcher’s team however appeared to be using canons against Heseltine’s flurry of arrows, and as such were penalised by many of the MPs to whom she had promised a clean fight about policies. She chose to set a tight timescale which meant she would be in Paris signing the impressive disarmament treaties with other world leaders when the vote was taken. Her aides in London, meanwhile, used all the persuasion of a sitting leader, and demanded loyalty from the Party. Despite such an overwhelming advantage and despite the fact that Heseltine had no big names on his side, he still managed to force a second ballot - Maggie having failed to get the 15% surplus number of votes above Heseltine to win outright.
It is interesting to note that however much Maggie’s supporters bemoan such an ‘archaic’ system (which of course is not the slightest bit archaic but a modern replacement for an archaic system), the system has done its job astonishingly well if one assumes that the right thing for the party is that Maggie should go. I am not alone in that view: opinion polls say Heseltine has a far better chance of winning the next election than Maggie for the Tories; several of the right wing newspapers, the FT included, have stated their view that Maggie should go; reports have certainly suggested that many a cabinet minister thinks she should go; and, of course, we know that at least 45% of MPs also believe she should go: 204 MPs voted for Maggie, 152 for Heseltine, and there were 16 abstentions.
Within minutes of the vote being announced on Tuesday evening, Maggie, in Paris, rushed out to speak to the congregation of journalists. Without any hesitation (one could surmise that she had a resolve formed before the vote was announced) she beamed at the press and told them she would stand in the second election, next Tuesday. It took Heseltine about 45 minutes to speak to the press waiting outside his London home. He seemed less cheerful, more hesitant and more serious. He, too, said he would stand in the second poll.
Back in London, all day on Wednesday, there was speculation that senior cabinet and party colleagues were advising Thatcher that she would lose in the second round against Heseltine - there was no doubt, by the end of Wednesday that Heseltine’s challenge was gaining momentum. But Maggie stood firm and having listened to advice from all and sundry she came out fighting with a decisive statement about continuing the battle and being determined to win. It was reported that Douglas Hurd and John Major, who had nominated her in the first round, had also nominated her in the second. Neither Hurd nor Major’s support for her, though, appeared solid, not that they said anything against her, indeed they pledged not to enter a contest against her - no one in the cabinet actually said a word against her - but by not appearing on our screens and on the airwaves, the message was coming across loud and clear.
I was outraged all day. I really couldn’t believe the Tories would let her go on so long, and that she herself couldn’t see the sense in resigning before it was too late. . .
17 15, Friday 23 November 1990
Yes, I had planned to finish off the 22 November entry with a more detailed description of how Maggie the Ass was resisting an avalanche of opinion against her continuing to fight the Heseltine challenger. However, as I was actually writing that entry yesterday morning, Maggie was telling her ministers at the Thursday cabinet meeting that, having slept on the advice of all those around her (having read the newspapers perhaps?), she had decided to throw in the towel after all. This left just enough time before the midday deadline for Douglas Hurd and John Major to be nominated as potential leaders in the second ballot - much as the political pundits had suggested. My own favoured candidate, Chris Patten, was seen nominating Douglas Hurd, and since no new candidates are allowed in the third ballot, Patten cannot possibly make it to No 10 this time round.
Thursday was a busy day for us ordinary folk. I had the radio on in the office most of the time, but if I turned it off for just five minutes to try and write a letter I found myself suffering from news starvation, as though I’d been travelling up the Orinoco for three years and not had any contact with the outside world. First there was the news of her pending resignation (how did it come about? what changed her mind? how did she announce it?), then there was the announcement of the Hurd and Major nominations (why did they both put themselves forward? who was nominating them? what were they aiming for?), then came Prime Minister’s question time (what a reception for Maggie - such a transformation from wicked witch to glittering queen all made possible by the magic words - I resign); then came the no-confidence motion brought by the Labour Party in the hope of rallying the Tories around Maggie who, until her resignation, offered the leadership most likely to lead to a Labour victory. Nobody was really interested in Kinnock’s speech once Maggie had resigned; but Maggie, what a performance, having shed all the shackles of power she was able to summon the very best of her piercing rhetoric and of her common wit; and she had every Tory behind her as though she had just won a general election. Then came the news journalists and political commentators trying to assess the likely chances of Major, Hurd and Heseltine, none of whom really wanted to say very much. Heseltine, most of all, was quite insistent at not talking politics and elinquising the day to Mrs T glory. Hurd, however, made a terrible mistake. By appearing on ‘Newsnight’ live at the end of several most exhausting days, he stuttered and fumbled through a long interview with Peter Snow as though he were either drunk or so tired that he could not even get his grammar right.
9 50, Sunday 25 November 1990
In a few minutes we will leave for the Science Museum. Adam is downstairs tidying up his toys. So far today he is being quite angelic. Yesterday, just before Mum came for tea, Adam and I had our biggest fight ever, and he got his first real bottom spanking. Apart from that one episode, though, he has been an absolute treasure of late. His intelligence surprises me every day. Yesterday, he said two words, by chance, that rhymed and without any prompting at all, looked at me and said with a smile arising out of understanding ‘that rhymes.’ So now we have rhyming conversations all the time, and list, one after another, real and imaginary words which rhyme. We have a reading lesson each day. I write out three new words at the top of a page, and then write a sentence or two using the new words several times and other words I know he knows (is, are, likes, cat, dog, and so on). Sometimes he catches on very quickly but today, for some reason, we have a really difficult time with the words ‘television’ and ‘animals’. I thought they would be easy because he could identify them by length, and the first letter as with ‘umbrella’ which was one of the first words he learnt, but this was not so. He seemed to have a real block against the words, and would only be able to read the sentences if he could remember the flow of words. However many times he has read the word ‘animal’ to me at the top of the page, as soon as I put it into a new context he fails miserably. On the other hand he has absolutely no problem with ‘we’.
Adam makes a little progress on the drawing front. He can execute a simple join up the dots picture with help and encouragement and yesterday he drew a picture of a boat which I would say is the first real picture he has ever drawn. However, he remains uncertain as to either how to hold a pen or crayon and even which hand to use.
At eating, he becomes less messy but still needs a bib. There is, though, virtually nothing he won’t gobble up. He can also take down and refit most of his trousers, although taking off a jumper is more difficult. He is a magnificent sleeper, and always goes to bed without a peep. Last night, I put him to bed a little after eight, but when I went down about an hour later to get my supper he was still awake, yet he hadn’t made any noise or the slightest bit of fuss. At Grandma Barbara’s the other day we were in the middle of dinner when Adam just became so tired that he couldn’t eat any more. He took himself off to Grandma’s bed all on his own without a murmur. Sarah was suitably impressed, she can barely believe Adam could be so good. In the mornings too, he is angelic never disturbing us earlier than we’d like.
Adam’s most consistently advanced ability is conversation. He has retained this remarkable characteristic of always managing to add something fresh to something we say. I wish I could remember some of his gems - I must try.
Here’s one, for example. I’ve just given him his supper - a bowl of chicken, cottage cheese, cucumber and raw mushroom, along with pieces of my bread, which he loves. He seemed to be eating all the bread first so I asked him to eat his supper before he finished the bread. ‘I’ll eat the bread to finish them both at the same time,’ he volunteered immediately. In the cemetery children’s park earlier this afternoon, Adam turned the hut into a bus and drove me to Paris. He asked me where I wanted to go and I said Paris. He was just about to leave when he said the bus was actually going to Scotland so I got out. Then he said the bus was going to Paris after all. He took my ticket and told me the journey would take six minutes. After our walk around the cemetery, we got back in the bus (which was now an aeroplane) to go back to London. This time he wanted money, not a ticket, which he planned to give back to me when we arrived in London (in one minute). When we got off the aeroplane and were beginning to walk home, he told me we were actually in Scotland because the plane was going to Scotland not to London.
We had a fine time at the Science Museum. It is worth arriving at opening time (11am on Sundays) because that way we get to use the Launch Pad before it is over-crowded. I’ve taken Adam once before but he was too young to profit from any of it. This time round he loved winding the pulleys that moved conveyor belts on the grain-moving machines, he liked controlling the buttons that made laser lights move on the opposite wall, he enjoyed building an arch bridge with curved bricks, he was thrilled to go inside the kaleidoscope of mirrors where he could see a hundred Adams and Daddys.
There was more than just the Launch Pad though. Upstairs we found the Lego Motor Show - a display of magnificent futuristic car models all made out of lego. There were also several lego pits crowded out with children who’d never had the chance to use so much and so many different pieces. We also found the Sainsbury exhibition of Food for Thought which had a number of interesting things for Adam to do and look at. Most interesting for me were the larders from different times during the century showing what stocks an average family might have had at a given moment. Adam liked the video shows with their own telephone, not that he listened, he just liked being able to turn them on and off. And he liked the baskets of model fruits, vegetables and food packets - he kept picking up the different examples and sticking them under my nose ‘this is a model isn’t it Daddy?’ One of the video screens asked questions about foods and you had to touch the right answer on the screen. Again Adam wasn’t interested in what communication was taking place, rather in having control over the processes.
9 00, Friday 30 November 1990
Mum calls at 5.45 am this morning to tell me that Sarah has given birth to a baby girl - on the exact day - Thursday - predicted by the doctor. Tonight, I shall probably go to Queen Charlotte’s hospital with Mum to see the happy couple and their newborn. As I was trying the get to sleep after the phone call, I thought of the name Zoe, the only name that came to me. I quite like it Zoe Lyons. No doubt they’ll call her Rebecca - that was the hot favourite for a girl last time I talked to them, but I can’t say I’m very fond of it - she’s bound to get called Becky.
The United Nations Security Council has approved a resolution to give Iraq a deadline of mid-January to pull out of Kuwait, after that date, force is sanctioned.
John Major has reshuffled the cabinet. Heseltine has been given the job of sorting out the poll tax - unfortunately he’s already allowed it to overshadow the environment white paper. Chris Patten has become party leader - which, if he can do the job well, should inject fresh life and a youthful image to the party and its grassroots. Kenneth Baker has been given the Home Office but I’m sure he will be out of the cabinet at the next reshuffle. Cecil Parkinson has resigned from the cabinet and will not stand at the next election. He will not be missed. Interestingly, the only other resignation has been Michael Spicer who was also at the Department of Energy until not so long ago.
On leaving 10 Downing Street for the last time, Maggie, having waved goodbye to the cameras, was seen to shed a tear while getting into her car.
To my mind, Major has already made a mistake. Having not appointed a woman to his cabinet, he was forced into responding to Labour and media jibing from by suggesting that a woman might be in his cabinet after the election, and then, later in the day, appointing Gillian Shepherd to a senior Treasury post (although not in the Cabinet).
Adam and B have had bad colds this week. B reports that A woke up two nights in a row hardly being able to breathe and with an awful heaving chest. When I spoke to him, he sounded poorly enough for a visit to the doctor. B got nasal drops and antibiotics from the doctor, which made her feel more relaxed, knowing she had some medicines for him, but, in the end, didn’t use any of them. We are always in close agreement over these things, and B could not be more sensible and responsible when our dear child is ill. How difficult it must be to have one’s child live with someone whom one does not trust.
At work I mope around. I take today off to do nothing. I must find the next project quick.
Last night I met up with Andy and Raoul for a night at the theatre and a few beers. We saw a revival of Jean Anouilh’s ‘The Rehearsal’ - beautifully staged and superbly acted. I revelled in the cerebral wit and games running through the plot.
Raoul says he has had the worst two months of his life - I think he exaggerates because I’ve heard such statements before. The problem, apparently, stems from the fact that none of the doctors in his new hospital are referring any patients to him. After twenty years of treating patients for breast cancer, he finds he no longer has a patient. Under the peculiar system, there appears to be nothing he can do about it. Going to doctors and asking for referrals is a humiliating position for the head of a hospital. He thinks it is just another way in which the staff are trying to freeze him out. The job never was going to be easy, but this is one problem he hadn’t envisaged.
He tells me an interesting story. His equal at the Royal Marsden - the professor of cancer surgery - has just committed suicide. According to Raoul, the main reason was that he was responsible for the study, published some months ago, that so strongly criticised the Bristol alternative cancer clinic: it appeared to show that patients who used the alternative methods at the clinic stood a lower chance of survival. The study turned out to be badly flawed, but much damage had been caused by the huge press coverage of the claims.
Andy has been knocked for six by seeing a man of his own age move into No 10 Downing Street. He still dreams of being a Richard Branson or a Jonathan Porrit, he admitted.
This week I have been watching Nicholas Roeg’s ‘Castaway’, based on Lucy Irving’s true story about going to live on a desert island with a man met through a ‘Time Out’ ad. Despite my love of Roeg, I disliked Irving so much - both who she is and what she did - from her media appearances, that I really didn’t want to go along with the hype around her story. But it is a beautiful film. Roeg tackles the subject supremely well, and makes the most of the beautiful tropical island, of the flora and fauna and of his unknown actress, Amanda Donohue, who remains nude through a large chunk of the film. Oliver Reed is well cast, even though he doesn’t get his hand on a drink; his thick orange beard takes over his face and helps him with the needy teddy bear and aggressive wild bear images. I think the film is probably very kind to both characters. It goes no way to explaining why Irving stopped sexual contact with Geoffrey after their arrival on the island - this is the single most important question about the relationship and is crucial to the way the two behave through most of their year’s sojourn. The man’s motives are clear, not so the woman’s.
Paul K Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG