PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1992 - APRIL
Saturday 4 April 1992, Brussels
John McLachlan and I are going for lunch together. We must walk up a long hill to the restaurant. The next morning I hear on the news that the Financial Times company is thinking of selling some newsletters for one million pounds and I am very disappointed that the figure is so high.
I had breakfast before nine but then, for some in explicable reason, decided to go back to bed and sleep some more - I didn’t go to bed late, or sleep badly - I wonder what’s the matter with me.
All through these days I listen to the radio. I can only get Radio Four Long Wave here in Brussels which means I can tune in to all the campaign reports as well as the extended news coverage. I listen to the news five or six times during the day. With less than a week to go before the election, it is still unclear whether or not Labour will win with a clear majority or whether it will need Liberal Democratic help. The opinion polls, upon which everyone seems to rely these days, predict Labour in the lead but without an overall majority. Moreover, the polls are likely to underestimate the Liberal Democrat vote. The last two days of campaigning have centred on the constitutional issues: a Scottish parliament promised by everyone but the Tories and proportional representation promised only by the Liberal Democrats, rejected entirely by the Tories and hinted at by Labour. Indeed, it is Labour’s position on this that has raised the issue. Kinnock has said that he will extend his party’s commission looking into constitutional reform to a Royal Commission once in power and that all parties will be invited to join it. He is clearly out to attract liberal votes his way, to make up the extra 1-2% he needs for overall victory. The Liberals are actually finding it a hard policy to counteract since it does make sense to have a proper and thorough look at the subject before rushing into change.
Elsewhere, Edith Cresson has fallen and Bérégovoy has taken over as French prime minister. Mitterand’s days look numbered; he will surely have to give in to pressure to hold a referendum on reducing the presidential term from seven to five years, and then Jacques Delors will be perfectly placed to step down from the Commission to take over in France.
The Grand National and the Boat Race take place today in England but I couldn’t be less interested. I remember when I was in my twenties or even younger we used to go down to the Thames, park ourselves in one pub or other, and enjoy the day out. Now, though, I agree entirely with a man from Sheffield speaking on the ‘Today’ programme this morning who says far too much attention is given to the Boat Race. Millions will watch it on television and the papers will be full of it on Sunday, yet, the man said, there was virtually no media interest in the important and exciting World Student Games held last year in Sheffield attended by 5,000 youths from all over the world. The media are a herd of sheep, always have been and always will be; trough fed by politicians and other lobby groups (the louder and the cleverer you are the more coverage you get), and more interested in not being left out than in making independent decisions (except for the very occasional scoop of course).
Wednesday 8 April 1992, Brussels
Neil Kinnock was staying overnight, as though at a bed and breakfast, in the house where I was living. He was alone and relaxed; we chatted about all sorts of things but not about the election. He came across as a friendly warm man (Labour Party chiefs would be pleased).
My last day here in Brussels. This trip has been quiet and unhurried. I do not have much to startle my readers in the April issue but sufficient to keep them happy. Last night I was invited over to MMM’s flat for dinner to discuss a venture. On my last visit, he mentioned that he was thinking of investing in a friend’s newsletter; I told him he ought to consult me because I knew quite a lot about the newsletter business from working at the FT. He felt he needed to invite me round for dinner to tap my knowledge.
MMM’s son has grown up since the last time I saw him, he appears better behaved and more intelligent. When I arrived he was sprawled across a chair watching the end of Nicholas Roeg’s film ‘The Witches’. Brooks says he has watched it four or five times and loves it; indeed he seems to have watched dozens and dozens of full length movies, each of them lots and lots of time (by contrast Adam must have watched three films at most, and only once each). At the meal table, MMM was over attentive to his son (or so it seemed to me) and insisted, for example, that he tuck his bib under the plate of soup so as not to spill any on the table cloth - this looked very dangerous, for if he were to sit back smartly, the plate of soup would go flying. In fact, he sat perfectly still. I mention this because it was part of why, on walking home, I developed a vague opinion that he had been ‘broken in’, yes, like a horse. That’s a harsh comment which exaggerates my feeling; but is it so far from the truth? Is it not what happens to many children. Aged two to three a child is boisterous, lively, curious, naughty by conventional wisdom, yet no amount of disciplining seems to make any difference - hence the phrase ‘terrible twos,’ but it occurs to me that after the two-three year period, children are a good deal more responsive to parental command but those parents having experienced so much misbehaviour do not tone down their crude discipline; the net result is children of four to five who have lost a good deal of their spirit. Now Rowan may well have been tired and zonked from 90 minutes of television but he still had a tame appearance compared to the times I saw him last year.
At dinner, we talked about newsletters. My basic advice was to be sure to count in editorial time when preparing a budget, to remember that marketing is absolutely essential and that the very best renewal rate you can get is probably 70%.
At the weekend, I go to a small party but meet no one in particular. On Sunday evening, I go to the cinema to see ‘Cape Fear’, a Martin Scorsese horror flic. Well made, fascinating in parts, a typically intense Robert de Niro performance, and some chilling photography. I wasn’t horrored by it, but I barely gave the world a thought for two hours as Scorsese swept me along in his almost Poe-like world.
There have been important elections in Germany and Italy (and France two weeks ago) yet by the coverage of our media you would think the UK elections are for a world government. I didn’t even know there was a general election in Italy until the day people were voting. In fact, there hasn’t been a change of government but the ruling coalition has a smaller majority. In Germany, the elections were only regional but Kohl’s party lost control of his only remaining region and, as in France, the fascist share of the vote scared everyone.
The argument though, that because fascists got 15% of the vote in one region, proportional representation is wrong, is completely unfounded, and I wish our clever-dick journalists would pick up the Labour and Tory politicians on this point. And there’s another similar point thrown up against PR: why should there be a fear that Paddy will be able to blackmail a coalition government into accepting PR when only 22% of the electorate have voted for the Liberal Democrats. These are spurious arguments. The whole point of PR is that it allows fascists to get 15% (and if 15% of the population want to vote for them they should be allowed to do so) but at the same time it is a sure fire way ever to stop fascists gaining too much power with too little support. Moreover, the essence of PR is that each party gets about as much influence in governing the country, through haggling, as its share of the vote suggests it have. Paddy can opt to use his 20% share of power to push for PR because that’s precisely what he’s told the country he is going to do. Moreover, he’s fully backed on the issue by national opinion polls showing a clear majority want PR. I think the argument can be turned on its head neatly: why should a sophisticated electorate have to choose between just two political parties offering two selections of policies; surely the electorate ought to be allowed a system where it can pick and choose policies more carefully.
17 37, Easter Sunday 19 April 1992, Studland, Dorset
I sit writing at a table next to a wide open window with a view across gardens towards copse-filled fields and, in the distance, white cliffs and a blue sea dotted with sailing boats. In the far distance, I can even see the white cliffs of Portland Bill. This is the Isle of Purbeck and we are staying in Fairfields hotel and holiday flats just on the outskirts of the small village of Studland. This is really a first for us, taking a holiday in a holiday season. In the first place, the cost of this vulgar flat (despite the delightful view) is £154 for the week but only £96 for next week (after the Easter holiday is over). In the second place, there are tourists everywhere, swarming all over the beaches, the fields, the walkways, the nature reserves; there are more cars on the Swanage-Corfe castle road than travel on the whole M25 in all the rush-hours of a single week.
I think I have come to this area twice before. I must have been to Swanage once on a weekend hitch-hiking jaunt. I know this because I wrote a short story (‘Lillian Beecham’) where the main character goes to Swanage for a break and in order to think about the way her life is going. And then I came on a weekend trip with Barbara. I remember more about the second visit - the magic of Chesil Beach (B said we made love on the stones but I don’t remember), the surprise of Weymouth and Swanage, the disappointment of Lyme Regis after years of adoring John Fowles’ work. The memory of Chesil Beach was reinforced by discovering the writer John Cowper Powys, who lived in and wrote about Weymouth, and a preface which used the idea of a Chesil stone for some purpose. Before I left London for this visit, I looked in a large bookshop and a library for one of his books without success; if ever there was a great writer out of a fashion it is Cowper Powys.
This time we have come for a week. Our week in Malvern last spring was a superb holiday and we do not expect to reproduce that. Yet, already, B and I have gone through a number of expectation undulations. In the first place, I booked this flat simply because it was close to Swanage, yet in a small village and near the sea. As I read up about the area, I found I had chosen a rather prime spot, one noted for its beaches and scenic countryside; my hopes rose that there would be much to discover. Then, while in Salisbury, cousin Mary likened it to Southend-on-Sea. On arrival, yesterday afternoon, we were depressed by the staggering volume of tourist traffic and the numbers of people swarming all over the beaches and hills. Moreover, the flat turned out to be serviceable but charmless, with the single exception of the view from the bedroom. Studland itself proved itself little better, thatched cottages mingle with modern houses, while scruffy, tasteless gardens and driveways sit haphazardly through the village. To cap it all, the flat does not possess a radio. B and I can live without a TV, but the radio is our lifeline.
Two moments stand out from today as vivid, sensational even. The first was a skinny-dip early this morning in Shell Bay, and the second the sight of a smooth snake just two or three feet in front of me. We elected to get out into the country early this morning before the crowds blocked our path. We drove first to Haven Point where a ferry shuttles back and forth to Sandbanks on the Bournemouth side of the Poole Harbour. The road, which runs parallel to the long Studland beach but without access, has been recently renovated for the tourist traffic and a toll post (plus car park) erected close by the ferry. It costs £1.80 to cross the tiny gap of water, and £1.00 to park anywhere along the road or in the park. Fortunately, we arrived before the commercial day had yet got under way, and we found ourselves alone on the beach with a pleasant sun shining through a patchy sky. Although there were several sailing vessels out at sea and a huge ferry moving slowly past, I decided to throw caution to the breeze and plunge myself naked into the ice-cold water. A and B ran about on the wet sand, while I splashed in and out of the water trying to overcome the pain of cold. I ran wildly along the shore, breathing sharply in, shouting out my joy at the sensation of it all - I love it, I love the freezing water, I love racing naked along the wet sand and flying into the water, splashing myself all over. Adam, too, was wild with excitement racing backwards and forwards along the water line. B, meanwhile, had found the camera and was trying to snap me in the all together.
From Shell Bay (where, incidentally, we vowed to go early each morning for a run) we drove into the heart of Purbeck. Corfe Castle stands so majestically atop a giant mound of a hill that one cannot fail to be impressed on passing by. We thought to visit it but as I parked the car along with several other family-full vehicles we thought it would better to visit during the week when less crowded. Corfe Castle village is a veritable show piece of grey stone cottages complete with village pump in the village square - the smell from the bakery was tempting, but it didn’t open until 10.00am. I thought to look in the National Trust office, the largest shop in the village, but it didn’t open until 10; indeed, the whole village did not open for business before 10, the opening time of the castle.
On to Arne our real destination for the morning’s walk. Whereas I had thought Studland would be a quiet corner of England, and clearly isn’t, I was sure Arne would be, having only chanced on a mention of it in an old and wordy guide - ‘Portrait of Dorset’. It is a tiny village tucked away in the back corner of Purbeck at the end of a no through road; enclosed by Poole Harbour and marshes, and not mentioned in any of the glossy brochures. Unfortunately, I failed to realise that there is an RSPB bird sanctuary around Arne and that the woodland/heath walks are de rigueur for bird watchers on Easter Sunday. Still, we arrived early enough so that our walk was only properly disturbed by hoards on our way back to the car.
There is something scruffy about the heathlands of Purbeck; they are not entirely marshy, nor entirely bracken-covered; there are woods and slight hills scattered among sparser bits of land. It is though man has interfered too often and too much, with his clay pits or sanctuary fencing, with his small conifer forests or his attempts at agriculture. The walk through the tiny village of Arne (with a massive modern house, just feet away from the lovely old church set on a steep grassy bank) and the sanctuary were pleasant enough; and then the views across the harbour and marshes were fine. B had forgotten her binoculars and so looked on enviously as all the fanatics - with their tripod-held giant single lenses slung over a shoulder - trudged off into the brush to find some hide or other. After a mile or so, we came upon Shipstal point and a small beach, and then wended our way along a small track round a segment of Arne Bay. We saw a whole host of waders in front of us on a sandy crest, oystercatchers perhaps, but dared not venture further for fear of disturbing them. On our return back to the main track, I was deeply embroiled in telling Adam a story about a magpie (for we had seen several) when I was suddenly startled by a two-foot long snake right on the path right in front of me. Now, it is the honest truth that I do not think I have ever seen a wild snake in this country (or any country for that matter) - this may be a myth I harbour but I honestly cannot remember any sighting, despite so many walks and travels through this and other lands. My reaction was of complete astonishment; a tinge of instinctive fear, perhaps, soon overcome by the overwhelming joy of actually seeing a real live snake in the wild. I shrieked to Adam to look at the snake; we both got a good eyeful before it slithered away into the undergrowth at the side of the track.
Well, my heart was pounding and I was trying to give Adam a clue as to how I felt about this surprise, but he was far more interested in knowing what happened next in the story. Two minutes later, I tell not a lie, after the path had widened out slightly, two men stopped us and pointed some 20 feet into the bushes where two adders were engaged in an exotic dance, entwining their bodies around each other and standing up almost vertical out of the shrub, twisting off in different directions. These two snakes were much further away and more hidden than the one we had just seen, but it was clear these were a different species (adder, the men said) where our snake was almost certainly a smooth snake. There are only four snakes native in this country - grass snake, adder, slow worm and smooth snake - and we saw two of them within minutes of each other.
19 16, Monday 20 April 1992, Studland
A and B arrived at Aldershot Road on Thursday night, so we spent Good Friday together in London before leaving for Dorset. Mum came visiting on the Friday, and so did Peter (the girl) and Tony. I had to look them up in my diaries. I may have seen Peter briefly more recently, but the last time I saw Tony was while I was living at Iverson Road; and prior to that the last time was when they handed over their flat in Fordwych Road to me for the princely sum of £1,000. M, with whom I had been living in a small Chelsea bedsit until then, moved in with me. I thought having a flat of our own (plus garden) would solve our relationship problems but it didn’t at all and within three weeks M had moved out. My diary documents the pain of it. Soon after, I found Harold (or he found me) who moved in and proceeded to change and enrich my life. I lived there for nearly 18 months, I think, before being thrown out by the new owner of the property who knew I was not the named landlord. In order to justify asking for £1,000 from me, Peter and Tony had always promised they would continue to say they were still living there in order to protect my rights. In fact they never did, and when the new landlord moved in upstairs and said he needed my flat for his disabled mother, and offered me £500, I decided to go. From there we (Harold, R, I and our hangers on) moved to the dump of a flat in Leyton. But the Fordwych Road period - 1978 - was a magic time, and I suppose I have Peter and Tony to thank for that. Prior to my world travels, I had worked for Tony’s building and decorating company, and in three months with him I learnt much of value.
I can see clearly that Peter’s face has more lines, while Tony’s is rounder, otherwise they have barely changed in fifteen years. Tony’s laugh percolates through a conversation, and Peter is as opinionated and nosy as ever. They now live rather idyllically near Bernau in the Black Forest; and Tony has become a locally-celebrated artist. In England he strived to be a painter but could never find success. The irony is that Tony, English to the core, loves it in Germany, although he still struggles with the language, while Peter, who is fluent in German and part-native longs to come back to England. Mum has been to visit them once, Julian and Sarah twice. Perhaps we should go one year and take advantage of their hospitality.
We broke our trip from London by visiting Mary and Roger in Salisbury. As we were a little early, we strolled round the market and bought a pot of gold-coloured crysanths for Mary. No sooner had I paid out 40p to enter the Mayor’s Easter Fair in the town hall than B pointed out that she had been to this very event on many occasions before - and it was always a waste of time. Indeed so. Salisbury centre and market were all a bustle early in the morning; it seemed such a long time since I had been present at a provincial market.
Cousin Mary and hubby Roger were still engaged in breakfast when we arrived a little after 10am. Although B has been twice to the house they bought after inheriting some money from Mary’s mother, I hadn’t been there. It is a large terraced house, similar to mine in Aldershot road, and in the same part of the town as the shop and flat they previously owned. Roger’s stone carvings are scattered throughout the house and garden, evidence of the three year course in stone-masonry he is about to finish. Mary continues to be involved with St Edmunds art centre, situated nearby in the converted church, and works part-time in an office from which she earns more than she ever did running the craft shop. Adam was entertained by frogs both in Mary’s garden and in the pond of the neighbour’s garden.
We spent Easter Monday in a similar way to Sunday. Our first port of call was Shell Bay, only we arrived an hour earlier this morning so we could explore a bit more. Unfortunately, the air was full of mist and chilly; we could barely see out to sea or along the beach. A and I took our shoes and socks off but the dry sand was freezing, colder even than the flat wet sand or the water. The tide was way out so we walked for ages looking at seaweed and shells. I did not, though, go for a swim this morning, it was cold enough just walking. From there we drove into Swanage and strolled around. I think I remember the very row of houses where - in my mind, in the story - Lillian stayed. We thought to warm ourselves up with a second breakfast but couldn’t find a teahouse or cafe that appealed to us. Swanage’s front is rather swamped by tourism; its innards are a dense network of Portland stone-built houses and cottages rising up quite sharply from sea level. We didn’t explore very thoroughly but rather moved on a few miles south to Worth Matravers for our morning walk. Here we did find a tea-house to refresh us before walking the mile or so down from the village to the coast. Despite our early start there were already plenty of people about, and all the way down to the sea shore. The walk took us to Winspit, the last of the stone quarries in the area to be worked. Huge areas of rock have been carved out of the cliffs leaving football pitch size areas of flat rock to wander around on, and deep square caves to explore. Grass and other plants have begun to colonise the area again so that the whole has a rather unkempt appearance. Apparently, derricks or ‘whims’ were constructed in order to lower the stones down onto barges floating on the sea. I could only see treacherous flat rocks at the waterline but perhaps the barges could approach at high tide - still in stormy weather it must have been a difficult job. The wretched cold sea mist hung there upon us all day and we never saw the sun.
After lunch I took Adam down to the beach again leaving B to work on her project. During these two days, I told Adam the longest story I’ve ever made up on the go. It started because B was explaining to Adam that when he saw a magpie he should say ‘Hello Mr Magpie and how’s your wife’. Adam took this up, and kept saying it. So I started telling a story called ‘The Magpie’. It was the magpie that stole the jewels from horrible Aunt Mabel and not the sweet young maid Tilly, nor Timothy the hero who followed the magpie, found its nest and the jewels.
15 46, Wednesday 22 April 1992, Studland
We have spent two exhausting days roaming around the Dorset countryside - one day around Weymouth, full of the seaside, and one day around Dorchester, full of ancient sites. Overall, though, B and I are not picking up a sense of specialness or magic, if you like, about the region; the magic that exists around the Malvern hills or indeed around Aldeburgh. It is hard to pinpoint why this might though think there might be a couple of possible explanations. In the first place, the geography does not stand out. I have grown fond of the white cliffs at Harry point which I can see through this window, but the rolling hills which are well cultivated have no real character, while the heaths of Purbeck are too scarred as I’ve mentioned before. Dotted throughout the countryside are glorious greystone manor houses, austere in design but retaining the grander of former times - these are a joy to discover. However, more often one comes across small villages with many thatched cottages interspersed with modern houses - new building everywhere we go. There may be new housing estates in Suffolk villages but they don’t seem to impinge on the traditional feel of the centres in quite the same way. It is true that inland of the coast, Suffolk is rather banal also, but some of its villages are a delight, whereas I cannot say the same here. Corfe village is but a showtown, Wareham, with its Saxon history and which we strolled around this afternoon, is pleasant but none of the other inland places we’ve passed through or visited have been at all memorable.
ADAM’S AFFECTION AND JOY WITH JOKES
Adam as usual is a perfect delight. He’s taken to reacting when I tease him - such as calling him a rascal pie, or telling him he’s talking piffle - he starts pulling a face and hitting me. It’s a bit of an act but he insists he’s not a rascal pie and that he’s not talking piffle. On one or two occasions, he has tried a serious sulk but it never lasts very long because he’s always got some new subject of conversation to begin. Indeed, Adam probably talks more than B and I put together. His endless stream of conversation keeps us all entertained. Some of it is purely inquisitive, asking about things he sees, or things he hears us talking about; some of it is pure music hall comedy; and much of it is a series of questions about very little which seriously borders on piffle.
I think he is enormously intelligent although it remains very difficult to gauge this. His mind works along extremely logical lines and his memory is splendid. Whenever we go on a walk in the country, or along a beach, or down a track, it is always Adam who wants to stay longer; he can never have enough of nature. He does not like the towns half as much but he never complains. At the moment, he is writing and drawing his holiday diary. He finds this a bit of a trial. One of us sits with him and tries to talk him through the day’s events. The idea is simply to record those things he has seen and done which have left the greatest impression. We are reading another Dahl story - ‘The BFG’. It is wonderful to read and captivates Adam.
Adam has remembered and learnt a number of good jokes. This was his favourite from a new joke book: Who is the boss of the hankies? The Hankie Chief. He told and retold the joke a dozen times. Other favourites are: Where do cows go on holiday? Moo York. What do frogs drink? Croak a cola. And he made this one up today: Knock knock, Who’s there, Car, Car who, Carshula (Carshula is the name of his favourite and oldest teddy - I remember him making the name up when he was just two).
By Tuesday, the weather had settled into an overcast and cool pattern. It was mid-morning before we decided to take a trip to Weymouth. We parked right by the Old Quay which was bustling with fishing boats and pleasure craft. Weymouth is larger than Swanage and has a busy life of its own apart from the tourist trade. We strolled through the main shopping mall which led us right to the seafront in time for a Punch and Judy. We ate fish and chips on the quayside in lovely sunshine although it didn’t last long - the fish was awful with batter as thick as a car tyre and chips as greasy as a garage floor. We walked up and over the Nothe Fort gardens, very pleasant with views across the harbour and over towards Portland Bill and Chesil beach. We stopped for a few minutes by the remains of Sandsfoot castle and watched a group of youngsters play football on the grass in front. The small gardens were ablaze with blood red and brilliant yellow snapdragons; just the sort of view for a modern house that had been built right at the entrance to and overlooking the garden. This garish house had two first floor balconies, each one occupied by a large afghan hound with long cream-toffee coloured haired. When we drove past the house a few minutes later, a middle-aged woman in fancy pink clothes stood on one of the balconies - her hair a huge globe of cream-toffee colour candy-floss.
We stopped for a while on the what seems to be the isthmus connection to Portland Bill and traipsed up the ridge of stones to sit by the waves on Chesil Beach. There was none of the magic of our last visit since the wind was cold, and there were plenty of other people around. B spent the time collecting stones, I threw stones at a rock and Adam played around with the waves getting his feet wet. It is difficult not to be impressed by the sheer scale of Chesil Beach, there are just so many stones, and all of roughly the same size. One imagines on first sight that all the stones are a dull grey, but far from it; it doesn’t take long to find stones of unusual colour or pattern or shape. After a while Adam was also turned on to the stones and collected as many ‘Easter-eggy stones’ as he could find. Much of Chesil Beach’s 22 mile length is truly deserted because it cannot be reached without a trudge along the stones; this is because a brackish mere, an inland lagoon - the Fleet - runs for nine miles along the pebble ridge.
After Chesil we drive around the Isle of Portland. It is a strange place full of different sorts of character, with towns and forts and countryside, but the terrain is terribly scarred from endless quarrying. The several small townships must have grown up to serve the stone business and look rather dull, but there are stunning views from the hilly routes around the island. Towards the Bill, the land flattens out and becomes more entirely given over to tourist traffic with car parks at the lighthouse and a whole area of beach huts, even though there is no beach.
In the early evening, I went alone to the beach. It was almost deserted but there were one or two people strolling around and so I was obliged to wear my trunks. But I had such a fine time, splashing in the water, running up and down the beach, covering myself in the sea water, doing exercises, splashing myself again, dancing on the sand and in the sea, singing sometimes, wetting myself some more, running and exercising; the water was truly cold (my forehead actually hurt the first few times I splashed water on it) but I did slowly get used to it. I would have swum, if the water hadn’t been so shallow. It was all so exhilarating. And I did something I have never done before - a headstand on the sand, facing the sea and at the point where the gentle waves were just pushing the water around my brow. Wonderful. I must have been on the beach virtually naked for the best part of an hour, despite the cold air and sea.
21 42, Friday 24 April 1992, Studland
What a miserable day it has been today, our last on the Isle of Purbeck - cold winds, rain and dark cloudy skies. As it was B’s day off, she stayed in the flat and worked on her project. Adam and I went out on three different excursions. In the morning, we visited Corfe Castle, which, because of the pouring rain, we had almost to ourselves. Eventually, I found the story of Corfe written up on the tapestry behind the glass panels around the walls which helped me read and explain the story to Adam. William the Conqueror built the castle, although there had been fortifications before then on the strategic hill. In the 1200s, King John made it bigger and better and turned it into a prison as well as a fort. In the 1600s it became a private home but, during the civil war, was destroyed by the king. The castle is thus extremely unusual for not having fallen into disuse and become ruined but for being ruined by a wilful act of destruction. And it shows. Many of the massively thick walls look in tact except for the fact that they are lying on the ground or at a cock-eyed angle having broken away from the main construction. Oddly, the tallest remaining structure is on the very highest point of the hill. There are dozens of windows and arches left standing but the whole makes for a complete jumble. The model village, also called Corfe Castle, was built to some extent from stones taken from the ruin. The castle is most impressive from a distance.
We drove on around the Isle of Purbeck. I wanted to get to Lulworth Cove, but the army had closed the road for firing practice and I didn’t feel like driving all the way round. We looked briefly at Kimmeridge village, but a £2 toll on the road put me off driving down to have a look at the bay. In the afternoon, we strolled around Swanage again, A and I, and on to Peveril Point. It was a pleasant enough walk with only a few people around but I can’t say I’ll be dying to get back.
Saturday 25 April 1992, Brighton
Brilliant sunshine this morning here. It only took about two hours to drive back. We set off at 7, caught the 7:10 ferry across Poole harbour and were in Brighton by 9. Apart from the last section from Chichester, there is either motorway (M27) or dual carriageway all the way with scarcely a sense of the cities being passed - Bournemouth, Southampton and Portsmouth.
But there are one or two sights concerning our week’s holiday that I have yet to record. Dorchester was nothing special, in fact as a town it reflected the whole area - rather dull, poor planning and too busy. Perhaps I’m hard on poor old Dorset. There were two delightful bits of the town. I had left A and B to look around a small museum that promised lots of buttons and moving puppet-like characters, and was strolling around. Just a 100 metres or so from the very centre of the town I ducked down a tiny alley, to find myself by a fast flowing stream (a tributary of the Frome). On one side of this small river there was a bank of grass which served as the play area for a terrace of houses, on the other side, the country stretched un-interrupted as far as the eye could see. What a place to live, that terrace of houses, a view over the river and across peaceful fields and yet three minutes walk from the centre of town.
I then walked across the other side of town (I was keen to find a second hand book shop but no such luck) to the Maumbury Rings. Today the Rings looks like a large circular ridge of grass (20ft high) with two openings opposite one another. Originally, this was an iron age earthwork dated at 2000 BC. It was used, according to experts, as a religious place. Along the ridge on the inside, a number of cone shaped pits were dug (possibly forming a circular shape) and used for burial of sacred objects - chalk objects representing phalli have been found, for example. Each pit was only in use for one season, the experts believe and, because of the amount of work involved (antler picks being the only implement - many were found in situ), the site must therefore have been used for a very important religious occasion.
Considering the proximity of this site to the hustle and bustle of the weekly market on the other side of the road, the place exudes an eerie charm and peacefulness. Later, when the Romans came and built the town Durnovaria they turned the circle into an entertainment arena by lowering the central floor and raising the height of the circular bank. The historians can unravel nothing more of its history until 1642 when parliamentary forces used the structure to defend the road to Weymouth. In the 1700s, a gallows was erected in the centre of the ring and was in use until 1766; the crowds that gathered for the hangings did much damage to the earthworks, according to one expert.
Nearby Dorchester is another, but grander, earthwork - Maiden Castle. This one, like British Camp in the Malvern Hills, takes up the entire summit of an oval-shaped hill which boasts superb vistas in all directions. Also like British Camp, there is very clear evidence of the ditch and rampart system protecting a large flattish area. At the entrance a more complicated arrangement of mounds and hollows is difficult to interpret without expert help. There is evidence this site began life as a simple place of refuge in neolithic times, was slowly developed during 500 years and then abandoned for a 1,000 years until the iron age (300 BC). At this time, wall-like ramparts, supported by timbers, were built around the summit behind v-shaped ditches. When the timbers decayed, stone walling was added as support, some of which is still in evidence today. Throughout the period leading up to the Roman invasion in AD 43 the fort was further strengthened with further rounds of ditches and ramparts. By AD 70 at the latest, though, it must have fallen to the Romans who deserted the hill-top huts and built the new town of Dorchester. Interestingly, archaeologists (particularly Sir Mortimer Wheeler) have uncovered evidence for a pagan temple from AD 360, long after Christianity was established. The idea, therefore, has been proposed that pagans continued to worship their old gods on the old site long into the Christian era, indeed up to around AD 600, since when the site has been sheep grazing land. (All info on ancient sites comes from ‘Exploring Ancient Dorset’ with George Osborn.)
Thursday was my day off, so I endeavoured to walk a goodly chunk of the long distance Dorset Coastal footpath which finishes at Shell Bay. The day dawned brightest and sunniest of the week so I endeavoured to be my on way early. The first stretch took me along a well worn path to the chalky stacks shaped by the sea and affectionately called Old Harry and Old Harry’s Wife. A heavy dew lay on the ground with many a snail out for its morning beverage (it’s amazing how I begin to see and experience things in a way that is all ready to tell Adam; I no longer search out the interesting anecdote or the bizarre thought for recording in the diary or passing on to my partner, rather I collect mental material to present to Adam). Just before reaching the point, I walked through a small copse but it was like walking through a Mediterranean kitchen the smell of garlic was so strong: the floor of the wood was covered in wood garlic, a carpet of dark green blades and small white flowers. From the chalk stacks, I walked on along the cliff towards Swanage, I could see the odd fishing boat sputtering along the coast line, a number of seagulls and cormorants perched on the cliff’s edge, otherwise all was quiet and serene. The descent in to Swanage gave some fine views, especially across the banks of flowering gorse. Fortunately the tide was out on the beach, so I had the shortest possible walk around the curve and didn’t even have to climb over the rotting wooden breakers.
I marched on through the town and up the hill on the other side towards Durlston Country Park; I didn’t stop to look around because I’d been once before I think and, in any case, I needed to move on swiftly if I was going to reach Weymouth. After Durlston, there was a long trudge along the grassy cliff tops past many quarry sites and their caves - the Tilly Whim caves, Seacombe and Winspit, which we had already visited. At first, I was rather bored by the somewhat monotonous scenery, just sheep fields to my right, the sea to my left and the wind in my face. But, after a while, when I realised how isolated and unspoilt the whole area was - not a building in site anywhere - I became more tuned in to the beauty of the coastline.
17 06, Sunday 26 April 1992, the train between Brighton and London
After the brilliant sunshine of yesterday today has been wet and miserable. I spent half the morning building a giant lego pirate ship with Adam - I like to encourage activities at which he spends a long time - and the other half at the swimming pool where we met up again with Christopher and his Dad. School starts tomorrow; A seems quite keen to go back which is a good sign; I would feel uncomfortable if he ever said he didn’t want to go.
This weekend, I started building a model aeroplane with A. I haven’t done one of those since my own adolescence. I actually bought the model bomber in Swanage from one of those old-fashioned stationers that have a whole array of cheap and high-turnover children’s toys, and in which a gang of school children can always be found pawing over how best to spend their pocket money. I didn’t buy it with the idea that A would be able to do it, rather I thought it might be quite fun to do it together if we had a long rainy day in the flat. In fact, A managed surprisingly well in helping me to locate and break-off the pieces and indeed to glue some bits for me. I’d forgotten how difficult it is to keep glue off one’s fingers and ultimately off the model; moreover, I failed to proceed slowly and methodically enough and so missed a key instruction. I have yet to sort out to finish the model - we’ll do it another time.
Paul K Lyons
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