PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1992 - JULY
DIARY 48: July - December 1992
Sunday 5 July 1992, London
On her birthday, B, A and I took Grandma Barbara out for a meal to a Greek restaurant in Primrose Hill. I asked her of all her birthdays which one stood out the strongest in her memory. She found it difficult to answer saying the birthdays she remembered the most were the more recent ones. So I asked her about her 21st birthday but this was not a pleasant occasion apparently. She can remember the dress her parents bought for her and the small party at her house. Some months earlier she had been engaged to Fred but for some reason he arrived late at the party and Mum (Barbie) had to receive her guests alone; everyone sat around without talking she thinks.
So, how did she meet Fred - Fred was my mother, Barbie’s first husband, Freddie her second. Well, since leaving school at 16 Barbie had worked at ICI as a book ledger, keeping stock figures. Fred lived close by and sometimes passed her as she was cycling to work (Mum remembers wearing a pink woollen hat which she tied beneath her chin). One day, Fred asked her to go to the cinema, but she had to ask her Dad. Now, not long before meeting Fred, Dad had caught her talking to a boy in the alleyway behind their terrace and had been very angry. Dad said Barbie should invite the lad to tea so he could find out about him. After that, they started going steady, and, as I’ve said, were engaged at the time of Barbie’s 21st birthday. During this time, they used to come to London for weekends, but they would always stay in separate hotel rooms. Their honeymoon, too, was in London, and Barbie recalls the first night as being a complete disaster. I think Fred was a draughtsman who later educated himself to become an engineer. Barbie says he was a nice, generous man. I had always kept the impression that Fred had been a kind of rogue; not at all a local lad who had courted and won my Mum.
One or two years after their marriage, they moved to Stafford where Fred had got a job with English Electric. Barbie too found employment. They lived in a small company-owned hostel at first, and then in a flat, and were surrounded by many different sorts of people, Barbie remembers, particularly men. For the first time, she found herself a centre of attraction, men flirting with her (after her engagement to Fred when she was still in her teens, by convention no other boys made a pass at her). She fell in love with one in particular - a Pole called John Novac. Whereas Fred was a few years older than she, John was a couple of years younger. Barbie says they never actually had an affair together, and Fred knew about their companionship. He seemed to accept it; Barbie believes that he hoped that, by allowing her free reign, he could hold on to her. The same applied when, after John moved to London, Barbie used to go and visit him there without Fred. But still, she insists, they didn’t actually do it (i.e. have sexual intercourse.)
It is hard for me to imagine all this, because at 22-23 I still felt like a child. Even at 24-25, when I was in the heat of my affair with Mayco, I could never take seriously the prospect of marriage or having children, they were options that were for adults not for me.
In Stafford, Barbie met a woman called Edith. She was in the laundry when Edith walked in and said, ‘You look nice shall we be friends’; and they were. Barbie decided to leave Fred, and she moved with Edith to London. Fred, of course, was unhappy but still felt it was best to let Barbie do what she wanted - eventually she would come back. In modern day terms, it seems clear that Mum was never really in love with Fred, but had accepted the relatively normal conditions for a marriage partly because she was so anxious to get away from home and from Stockton. In Stafford, and later in London with Freddie, she was swept away by passion.
Life in London was not easy. John Novac’s mother sent him to France, so as to keep him away from Barbie, or so Barbie reports, and then Edith’s husband left for Rhodesia. Edith had one, or perhaps two children by this time, so they ended up living together off what Barbie could earn as a secretary. She says they were very very poor. Edith’s husband Frank said he would send for Edith within six weeks but it was six months before he did. Within this first year in London, Barbie met my father Freddie in the Cosmo. Barbie was about to leave the cafe when Freddie asked her if she would help him buy some ointment for a dog; and thus it transpired that Barbie was taken to the grand Goldsmith house in Bracknell Gardens. She says she had never seen anything like it, the size and the splendour of the furbishings. Fred’s mother, Dolly, and her mother were there and the relationship between them all was way above Barbie’s head.
The next weekend, the very next weekend, (i.e. within days of meeting) Barbie went with Freddie for a weekend to Brighton. Barbie says she had no idea that Freddie would try and seduce her, after all the men she had known up until then had all been respectable and even perhaps rather naive with respect to sex. Because Barbie had not become pregnant after three years or so with Fred, she had begun to wonder whether she was, in fact, sterile; and this explains, perhaps, a rather irresponsible attitude to taking precautions. Freddie duly seduced Barbie in Brighton, and I was the result.
I was certainly well into adulthood before I knew I was even conceived before marriage, but I had had no idea that I was conceived just days after they met. I suggested to Mum that maybe Fred knew he was sterile (Barbie’s mother, my Grandma Todd, kept track of Fred for many years and reported that, despite marrying, he never had any children), and that was why he never had the confidence to hold on to her. He used to come London, she said, asking her to come back; even years later after Freddie went to the US, but she never would. I wondered, as we finished off our Greek food (Adam was asleep on the floor under the table lying like a fallen angel), whether I could detect a certain amount of regret in her voice; regret that she ran after the peacocks and thus into emotional quagmires, when all along Fred loved and adored her, and, slowly, bettered his life.
Thursday 9 July 1992, Brighton
B is in London, A is fast asleep. I will be asleep too soon. I haven’t felt very well for the last week, nothing serious, just a touch of being below par, and I travelled down to Brighton last night at four in the morning. Unfortunately, the weather is miserable so it doesn’t look like I’ll be swimming in the sea during the next few days (although I am beginning to wonder whether I didn’t pick up some bug from the water the other weekend when I was swimming a lot.) The garden-yard looks fine, the magnificent buddleia which grows out of the wall has blossomed with a flourish of violet this year, the clematis has begun to open out its pinky/purple flowers; the geraniums continue to flower and the two mallow plants that Rosemary gave B have produced several splendid lilac blooms.
Last night I dreamt about a boy at my school called David Storey. He was a lanky kid, a real swot, a four-eyes straight out of a children’s comic boy. He played number two in the chess team (I alternated position three and four with my friend Rob Cutts-Watson). In one part of the dream, we were in a swimming pool; the water was very murky and very hot. I was swimming without any clothes on. In another part of the dream we were in a carriage or a train, and I was joking and laughing with some friends and Storey was sitting on a seat behind with his wife, both serious looking and straight-laced.
TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S PLAY
I have been inspired by a competition to write a full length play for 5-8 year olds. There is another category in the competition, organised by Sheffield Playhouse and WH Smith, for a 9-12 year olds play, but I think the challenge of trying to write a play for Adam will be the main spur for me. The work must be delivered by 1 October, so I have less than three months. I like a challenge. The plays must also be delivered with a pseudonym (with the name of the real author in a sealed envelope) which at least offers a pretence of impartiality. The first prize is £4,000, I think, but the treasure of course would be to have a play produced.
Of course, it is the very beginning of a project that is the hardest. Where do I even start to find a story - there is a huge fog in my head. The first problem that strikes me is that I do not know what the distinctions are between a play for 5-8s and for 8-12s; without understanding that distinction, I’m hardly likely to get very far. And then I run into a serious problem in my mind, of how to get 5-8 year olds to identify with a main character that will have to be played by an adult. On my first evening of serious thinking about this project, I give up. Instead I decide I must go to a library and try and find something on writing plays for children; get some basic information and then start again.
Well, even though it is production day for ‘East European Energy Report’, I slip off down to Charing Cross library. There is not a book on the shelves even remotely likely to have a sentence on the subject. Nor is there even the vaguest hint of a child’s play in book form anywhere. In what I expect to be a vain attempt, I try and find a heading in the subject index that might cover writing plays for children. Eventually, I do find a heading under the subject ‘children’. First of all, I go to the shelves to check there is nothing under the classification number, and there isn’t. Then I examine the microfiche - I am astonished to find a whole series of books entitled Children’s Theatre or similar. They all have the classification CX-LS. I check what this means at the counter - it means they are here in this library (and not any other Westminster library) but in the stock shelves. Can I really be so fortunate, can the library system have really come up with the goodies for me for once. Indeed, yes, all three of the books I choose from the index are handed to me within a few minutes - interestingly, the most recent is from the 1960s.
Having glanced through them already, I find a certain repetition of themes and people’s names. The 1930s book, for example, is written by Winifred Ward, and a later book is dedicated to her. All three of them have a list of recommended children’s plays at the back with minimal details on plot and requirements. Almost all of them are adaptations of well-known fairy stories or myths; it is hard to find an original play. A lady called Charlotte Chorpenning appears to have been one of the pioneers and inspirations of children’s theatre - Ward goes so far as to include a play from Chorpenning’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in her book, in order to illustrate the art of writing for children.
All the books inform me that there is a clear difference between writing for 5-8/9 year olds, 9-12 years olds and teenagers: respectively they are classified into the imaginative period, the heroic period and the romantic period. The younger age group respond best to fantasy stories while the middle group are ready for heroic tales with a semblance of realism. Teenagers over 12 appear to like their adventure mingled with romance and a touch less realism and more idealism, perhaps. Ward says the six, seven and eight year olds are scorning the familiar and reaching out for the remote, the imaginative. Brilliant, as Adam might say, brilliant, this is just the information I was looking for. I may have come to it instinctively in decisions over plots and characters but I may not, and in any case I would not have been able to fine tune those decisions without having the clarity offered by the definition of these periods. Unfortunately, none of the books, which are as much about children working at their own theatre as about adults doing it for them, offer any real insight into how best to create and play characters for the imaginative period. One of the books says a mixture of children and adult players goes down well, but if I am aiming for professional production, I would have thought one could only use children for small and non-vital parts.
I really don’t have very long to work on this. I think I managed the radio play in three months but I did the bulk of the writing during a completely free week in Antibes. I will have to try and organise a free week in August. For now, the important thing is to find a plot and develop a story line.
BARBARA GETS AN EXCELLENT DEGREE RESULT
On Tuesday, Barbara got her exam results. The culmination of three years work has given her a 2:1, and she has an excellent degree. I am very proud of her and happy for her. I don’t even think I would have cared (other than for her) if she failed; it was never having the piece of paper that was important, it was doing the course and learning to think and study at degree level. With the 2:1, she can be generous and joyful in thanking me for my support. No one on her course achieved a first - I think one of her friends was expected to get one but didn’t manage a very good project.
My monthly cycle of newsletters has just finished: ECE last Thursday, EEE last Tuesday and EER today. Both the monthlies now skip a fortnight, and EER skips an issue after the next one. So the forthcoming 4-5 weeks are the quietest and easiest in my newsletter year. B and I must decide on a holiday. Having looked seriously into Scotland and got excited about the idea of going, I have been put off by the Highland midge. The more I learn about it, the more I really don’t want to have to come in contact with it. Only two out of five or six books we’ve looked at, bother to mention the midge at all; yet it is a real menace during the summer season. Chris Cragg brought in a small book written by an Aberdeen biologist about the midge. It explained that the worst time is from mid-June to mid-September and that it dominates in exactly the area we were going to explore. Why then, we asked ourselves, bother going now, why not wait until we can go some time when there is no midge - when we can go in mid-May, or at the end of September? But what else shall we choose?
Monday 13 July 1992, Brighton
A pleasant, if unproductive weekend. Much rain on Saturday and today but on Sunday the sun came out now and then. Because the wind was quite strong there was more surfing activity on the beach than bathing or sunbathing.
B and I went out to the cinema together on Saturday night, it must have been the first time in six months. The much feted film - ‘The Player’ - by Robert Altman proved good entertainment. A fairy tale about Hollywood with an uncomfortable juxtaposition of a happy ending where the villain got away it - i.e. Hollywood is full of villain producers (murdering, if not killing, screen-writers by the sackful, and getting away with it).
Also much feted this weekend was a performance of Tosca performed in three different venues in Rome and broadcast live to the world. When working in the theatre, or with music or poetry too, it is always exciting to consider special venues. I remember when in Chile, some poets gave a non-stop all night reading of Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ in a cemetery. ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is a particularly successful and oft-played piece at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. It is common to use churches for performances of different types to give them resonance; and so on. However, to utilise this rather contrived mechanism for mass broadcast on TV to millions seems utterly inappropriate. Apparently, Puccini set out times and places for his creation, Tosca, and a million dollar production was set up with the first act during the day on Saturday, the second act in the evening and the third act at 6am on Sunday morning. All of it faithfully transmitted live all over the world. So what? one might ask. The opera wasn’t even performed in front of an audience and the orchestra stayed in one place far away. All the hype concentrated on the technical achievement of bringing this magnificent event off; and off it should stay. It seems to me every purpose about such an event being performed in an atmospheric setting was lost.
Tuesday 14 July 1992, Brighton
Down again in Brighton so that B can work at the RHS. I am working on a trip to Pembrokeshire now. I cannot see any advantage in trying to configure a trip abroad at this stage - I’ve done one touring trip on the continent so far this year. I think we have the calmest and most productive holidays if we take a small cottage and explore a small part of these Great British Isles.
After well over a year, we finally met up with Judy, Rob and their two children again. Adam immediately took to Sophie, although James is actually closer in age to Adam, but he is still pre-school, which makes quite a difference. How pleasant to see Judy and Rob after all this time. They have moved to a village near Guildford, and Rob works just a few minutes away by car. He seems quite content at the computer consultancy which is now owned by Southern Water. Judy has given in her notice at the publishers where she currently works three days a week, and is thinking about studying counselling for three years. We spent a pleasant morning strolling by the beach, had a simple lunch here at the house, and then went to Barcombe Mills which has become one of my favourite walks. This time, the pub with its Alice in Wonderland lawns and tea tables, right by the river, was open so we were all able to indulge in a late afternoon tea and chocolate.
Saturday 18 July 1992, Brighton
Grumpy. Grumpy weather, grumpy week, grumpy me. What an ‘orrible week just passed. It was my first week really free of things-that-must-be-done for ages. But, although there were plenty of things I could have been getting on with, I just haven’t.
Overshadowing the week, has been my interview with John McLachlan and Will Gibson, more so now that it is over than beforehand. I do not feel it went well, and have thus been involuntarily conducting post-mortems in my head. Although I have thought quite a lot about the job of editor-in-chief, my ideas and ambitions for it have been developed purely in view of projecting into the position, and I did not think about how I could bring these ideas into the interview. Clearly I did not prepare sufficiently, and I think this must have been because I was under the false impression that my record ought to be speak more obviously for me than anything I might say in an interview. I did not feel through the hour that I was doing well with my answers. On several occasions, I realised that John was repeating his question in a different format because I wasn’t answering at the level he wanted or expected. And now, with hindsight, I think I realise this is because I wasn’t providing very concrete ideas on what I would do in the job. I do have concrete ideas - like an internal newsletter, like looking more carefully at the bonus system, like trying to create bridges across to the newspaper - but I didn’t mention any of those three. And the ideas I did mention were spontaneous, not prepared for the interview. I have been thinking, for some months, about the idea of a railways newsletter and so I talked about this a little, but I hadn’t realised they would want - in fact - to strip me of all my ideas.
This morning the idea occurred to me to follow up the interview with a letter detailing some of the initiatives I would want to take. But do I want to fight so hard for this job? I cannot see any joy in working under John McLachlan; neither can I see any joy in continuing to work in central London with a bunch of frustrated ageing editors. Surely, my best long-term option is to go it alone.
Bringing this short analysis down to a more personal level, I do find it very difficult to push myself into uncertainty, to open myself up to confusion or/and rejection. I am mentally uncomfortable following the interview, as though it wounded me. Icarus springs to mind; I flew too high and my wings melted. Yet this is surely a normal process and I am no Icarus, attempting to fly where I should not dare. This job is well within an arena of my possibilities; why then should I allow myself to be so disappointed. I should be out there pushing into the world a lot more than I am.
Monday 20 July 1992, Brussels
A muggy unpleasant day for running around Brussels. I’ve been up and about since 4am. I had to drive to London from Brighton because I’d left my key/money purse there. There is very little going on in Brussels. Not only are the holidays almost upon us, but tomorrow, Tuesday, is Belgium’s national day so that many people have taken today off as well making a bridge with the weekend. In the EC buildings, I find very little of interest has happened in the energy sector. The institutions virtually close down at the end of the month, but what with the change in Council Presidency, from Portugal to the UK at the start of July, little will happen. I have come here more to do some work with Brian Jensen on the Thermie annual report than for ‘EC Energy Monthly’. I’ll see Brian tomorrow, and then together we’ll see Michael Gowen who has contracted this work. Brian intends to pay me Ecu5,000 for my part in the project. I don’t know how much he is getting but he did let on that the whole contract was worth more than Ecu35,000 (that being the limit on the Commission awarding contracts without tender).
Nick Faldo won the British Open golf championship at Muirfield. Unusually for me, I remember last year’s competition and the Australian victor Ian Baker-Finch. This week, the fourth test at Headingley starts. Lamb has been dropped from the squad at last, but Hick, who has been scoring centuries left, right and centre in the county games, has retained his place. And then there’s the Olympics starting in a few days.
It seems we are heading off to Pembrokeshire on Saturday or Sunday. We found a small flat with three beds in the centre of Tenby. I don’t understand why it is still free when so many of the others were booked up until September. I’m sure we’ll find out when we get there! I’m happy with Pembrokeshire. It is a smaller area than Scotland and therefore more containable within a week’s holiday - it would have been hell to choose where to go and what to do in Scotland, on top of that (midges apart) we would have got fed up of touring and finding places to stay. Tenby appears to have some fine sandy beaches and forests nearby. There is also the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path which is celebrating its 40th birthday, like me.
I’ve also been very happy to discover the ‘Mabinogion’. Just the sort of inspiration I needed. Hopefully, I will be able to feed in some of the ideas from the magical and mythical tales, largely originating in Pembrokeshire, into my children’s play. Things keep clicking in my researches about Pembrokeshire, they didn’t at all when I was looking at Scotland.
I was thinking, I’ve been somewhat spoilt for holidays this year. A week in the Algarve with Adam, a week in Antibes writing ‘Scarlet’s Computer’, a week in Studland with A and B, a week in the Lake District on the Outward Bound course, and now a week in Wales with A and B.
18 25, Saturday 25 July 1992, Tenby, Dyfed
Pakistan are 98 for 4 in their second innings and still 25 behind England with two days to go. Hopes are high that we might square the series. As I sit, I watch BBC which is just about to begin its coverage of the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics. Unfortunately, neither the TV screen nor the reception is quite up to scratch. Still it should be a spectacle. I can’t remember ever watching an opening ceremony before.
It has been a long day. We planned to leave at 4am because I wanted to be certain to miss any build up of traffic. But, Mark and his friend came in at 3:20am and made a fair racket, waking us in the process. I couldn’t get back to sleep so we ended up rising before 4. By 4:30 or so we were on the road, and not long after 6 we had crossed the Severn Bridge. Amazing how quickly, one can cross the country with a good motorway and little traffic. This is the route I travelled so many times during my student days in Cardiff; I can almost remember the flavour of certain roundabouts, and the frequency of traffic at 4 in the morning. I used to travel through the night so as to keep as much time as possible free at the weekend back in Hoddesdon. These were the days when I still valued my friendships with the people in the youth fellowship (SPYF) more than any new relationships I was making in Cardiff. Often, it would take me longer to hitch through the night, because cars were more scarce and people less willing to pick me up. I remember often being very cold and waiting hours at some lonely motorway exits. I also remember many of the overhead bridges on the way - the ugly and the aesthetic. It really surprised me, though, how quickly we got to Wales from London. B suggested we go to Cardiff and inspect my old haunts, so we did. I got lost around Roath Park before eventually recalling that I lived in two different locations next to it. I had remembered the park as much simpler geographically, and forgotten entirely the large lake with the clock tower standing at one end. The route through Splot, from Roath Park to Uwist, had precisely the same feel to it as I remembered but I was suddenly surprised by the sight of the cemetery. For it threw up emotions which I couldn’t catch or pin down. I must have spent time walking around there, as I did in Roath Park. UWIST and the surrounding institute buildings were much as I remembered.
I tried to recall some of the places I’d lived and the people I’d lived with. The first year: a term in a boarding house followed by time in a flat with Roger, a Christian, and several others. Bob Dylan was always on the record player, we had a pet bread pudding called Rodney upon which we encouraged different moulds to grow. I pinned up pictures of models from the Sun newspaper on our living room wall. I can’t remember where I lived or with whom in the second year, although I have a vague recollection of the living room space in the flat. In the third year, I lived opposite the park and shared a room with Paul Williams, a postgraduate. We had not time for each other at all, but ended up sharing a room, I suppose because neither of us could find anybody else to live with. I must have been a pretty abominable kid. Paul Williams was certainly gross to live with. Driving through Cardiff, I could only think that a different person had lived there; I had no culture then, no inquisitiveness, no interest in place or travel. I can’t have explored the City, just as I didn’t explore the Welsh valleys. Such a waste. I was far too young.
16 18, Sunday 26 July 1992, Tenby
We drove through from Cardiff to Carmarthen - an ugly town but with a friendly, lively population. Even before nine there were several cafes open, all next to each other, serving breakfast and full of customers. From there we drove to Laugharne, better known as Llaregyb, or bugger all in reverse, from ‘Under Milkwood’. Dylan Thomas’s village proved to be a quiet, dignified and unspoilt sort of place, with magnificent views across the sand banks of the Taf. Thomas’s home, which is precariously situated on a hillside next to the river estuary, has been preserved and turned into a museum. Patios, gardens and walkways have been built all around it, so that it doesn’t look at all like it did when Thomas was around; however, just along the path is a single room hut (or garage) where a desk is situated at a window overlooking the river. This has been preserved just as it was in Thomas’ day. Through the door window one can see the old furniture, screwed up papers on the floor, and an untidy desk - this does throw up an image which might have fitted the Welsh poet. I have the famous BBC recording of ‘Under Milkwood’ on a tape in the car so we spent time listening to Richard Burton and the rest of the magnificent cast, recite the fabulous poetry - even Adam likes it, the words makes such music.
From Laugharne (which I have no idea how to pronounce) we drove along the coast to Tenby - through the hills it was fine, but when the road dropped to the sea and beach, there was traffic galore, cars trying to park, cars trying to get in and out of camping and holiday parks, people meandering across the roads with their beach equipment. Tenby proves to be a tight little town, swarming with tourists and with virtually no room for motor cars. We have a permit to enter the restricted area inside the castle walls, but we have to drive at 5mph, because the people have taken possession of the roads as though they were malls. Our flat is on Crackwell street, just one road back from the sea; and the flat is at the top of the house with one window in the lounge looking out Northeast across towards one of the beaches. It is a poky, tacky flat, with no bath and only electric equipment. Still, we booked up so late, we were lucky to get any accommodation at all. Having a self catering flat gives us much more freedom than we would have in a bed and breakfast.
After settling in, we took a stroll round the town. It is quite spectacular in its way, with a dense maze of old town streets packed, as I’ve said, within old town walls, and standing atop cliffs which jut out into the sea. The cliff formation curls round in a blunt hook, upon which the remains of the castle stand amidst well-kept lawns. On one side, a small harbour protects a few boats, and on the other a beach sweeps round the rocks below and gives access to a small island, upon which another fort can be seen. At high tide, though, the beach and access to the island is covered by the sea. Tenby is an attractive place full of interest, but it is so teeming with people that at times it is difficult to enjoy.
The cricket has moved along a pace. We bowled the Pakistanis out leaving us needing just 99 runs to win. Gooch made good progress and Gower is now holding off the lethal Pakistani bowlers - we are 71 for 4 and bad light has stopped play. In the Olympics, our two medal hopes in the 100 metre breast-stroke - Moorhouse and Gillingham - finished 7th and 8th in the final.
Sleeping in the same room as Adam, I again find myself woken by his finger sucking. Even at nearly five, he still does it through half the night. It isn’t a gentle sport, rather he sucks madly at his fingers as though trying to draw out of them some elixir.
The weather has not improved today and has remained dark and gloomy with bouts of rain. I went for a long walk along the south beach called The Burrows between 8 and 10am. Already there were a number of runners and walkers enjoying the wide expanse of sand with the tide out. This week the difference between high and low tide is about 7 meters; whether the tide is in or out really changes the appearance of the geography around Tenby. In the near distance, one can see the island of Caldey - the home only of a monastery; but with a really low tide, it no longer looks like an island since a line of rocks link it with the mainland. I strolled through the dunes at the back of the beach for a while and discovered a marvellous sign on a public footpath with a golf course on either side. It was large and red and read: Army Practice Range, Do Not Touch Anything, It might explode and kill you. I went mainly to think about the child’s play but didn’t get very far. I think I have to start writing soon and see what happens.
For the middle part of the day we went for a walk through woods near Tenby but we lost our way and ended up walking rather a short distance. Still, our picnic was pleasant, on the brow of a gentle hill in the middle of a field, overlooking the bay and the sea.
This afternoon, A and B went for a swim and a play on the beach but didn’t stay long because of rain. I am having a lazy holiday so far, watching the cricket and Olympics on television; I haven’t even had a swim yet.
7 49, Wednesday 29 July 1992, Tenby
A and I went off in the car to one of the Pembroke peninsulas. I aimed in particular for Musselwick Sands, a beach at the far end, one that looked quite difficult to get to and one that got cut off at high tide. We went straight there because I wanted to catch the low tide. However, the journey took well over an hour to drive. We walked through fields to the cliff tops and the coastal path but when we got to the access point of the beach, it was so steep and difficult that I dared not take Adam down. Instead we sat on the path and ate a small picnic looking down at the beach and along the cliffs and out to sea. This was our first real good look at the Pembrokeshire coast and it looked fine, a mixture of beaches, rocks and cliffs, rather unspoilt and wild in parts.
We drove on to Martin’s Haven from where the boats to Skomer and Stokholm depart, and then eschewed Marloes Sand in favour of Dale, which proved to be a lively place full of dinghy and windsurf enthusiasts. We sat at beach cafe eating chips and pastie (I accidentally put a piece of cucumber in a pile of salt - something Adam found so funny we are still talking about it) and watching young and old boys alike trying out various sea craft, while womenfolk, in general anyway, sat on the pebbles looking after bags and sandwiches. Our third stop was at Monk’s Haven near St Ishmael’s. This was my favourite place so far. A pretty church sunk down in a stream valley away from the village and near an old manor house, now in ruins. A short walk took us past the old walls, through a wood and by a pond before reaching Monk’s Haven itself, a small shingle beach covered in seaweed. A huge wall stood alone at the back of the beach indicating some past private splendour.
From there we drove back towards Pembroke, through refinery land, and over the toll bridge. I wasn’t very interested in going inside the castle at Pembroke so we walked around it, and I told more of the story of why there are so many dragons in Wales. Finally, on the way home, we stopped to have a look at Carew castle. These Pembrokeshire castles are quite splendid, the outside fortifications are in good condition and provide a strong atmosphere. Pembroke castle is rather cramped by the ugly town around it, but Carew stands majestically and alone by the side of the river. Nearby a restored tidal mill operates for tourists.
A FABULOUS DAY’S WALK ALONG THE COASTAL PATH
Tuesday was my day out. I endeavoured to organise a long walk for myself. This turned out to be relatively easy with Christopher John Wright’s excellent guide to the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and simply involved setting out Westwards from Tenby along the Path. I set off a little before 6:30am on the Tuesday morning. The skies were clear and the air quiet and restful. A few runners and dog walkers were already about making tracks across the South Beach, but not many. Along this two mile stretch of flat sand (which I had walked on Sunday), I managed to think a little about my play; most of the day though my mind was too busy with the route and things to see, or my body was too tired.
The first stretch of the route took me across the cliff tops to Lydstep Haven. The views out to Caldey Island and along the coast are spectacular; the cliff walks often stray close to the edge and one can look down to some inaccessible back of a rocky haven. There are also a number of zawns, so close to the path, one could accidentally trip over and be gone for all time. I was too afraid to stand close to the edge and look right down, but the echo of my voice indicated the depth of the hole; in one I could certainly hear the sea, which had come in right underneath the cliff. The coast is characterised by caves and other amazing rock formations; I was constantly surprised and awestruck by the beauty and interest of the cliffs.
Lydstep Haven is rather ugly because a caravan holiday park has taken over the hinterland and dominates the beach. In general, there were two types of beaches I came across: those ruined by ugly holiday developments and those not. The rural parts of Pembrokeshire, including the coastal villages, are all rather poor and uninteresting. Much of the cottage building is modern and there is little that reminds one of a distant age. It as though the castles and large towns always dominated without any relatively rich infrastructure building up otherwise - no manor houses or large old farms seem to have survived. By contrast, the army has owned and used huge chunks of the land along the coast, although some of it is now being returned to public use.
By Lydstep, I was already hot and anxious for a swim but with all those caravans around there was no chance for a nude dip - something I felt I ought to be able to achieve as I was walking so far. Indeed, at the very next beach, I was enchanted. Skrinkle Haven (I called it Sand Trinkle Haven for Adam) is famous geologically for being on the fault line of the Devonian Old Red Sandstone and the Carboniferous limestone. I found access steps which took me down to a small beach where boys were playing. On the Wright maps, I had seen reference to natural arches and to something called the church door. On the westerly cliff of the beach, a small, door-sized hole, dropped down through the rock to sea and light a few metres below. It was rather dark through the hole plus it got narrower the further down you went. I dropped my bag and climbed down. The sea was rushing in at the bottom and filling the hole, but I thought I would take one more step, and, sure enough, I got sight of dry rocks and another beach beyond. The beauty of being able to get through to the other part of Skrinkle Haven’s beach was that there was one other exit point on the far side saving me from having to retrace my steps.
I endeavoured to make my way through, what I assumed must be, the Church Door. Sure enough, by waiting for the sea to retreat after a wave, I managed to slide through on to dry rock and clamber and climb my way (with some difficulty) across to the other beach. There were boys playing here too, and two or three fisherman rooting around in a net of seaweed, checking whether they had caught any fish. I thought the beach was so charming - completely surrounded by high cliffs, covered by vegetation at the back, and truly secluded. I rested so long, that the boys and fishermen eventually left, and I was able to strip off clothes, socks and boots and dance around on the sand and swim in the cool water. I thought to myself that next to love-making there isn’t anything in life that gives me quite as much pleasure as being alone and able to dance around naked on a beach on a warm sunny day and splash in and out of the water and swim in refreshing clean waters. Gorgeous. I kept my eye on the Church Door and on the access steps but no one disturbed me.
From Skrinkle Haven I cut across country to Manorbier. The coastal path actually misses the castle out, but my route took me right by it. Like the Pembroke and Carew castles, this one too is majestic and beautiful. Manorbier castle is just a few hundred metres from the sea, located in a stream valley, quite hidden from view for the most part. A lovely Norman church and churchyard sits on the hillside across the stream. The guide books tells me that once there was an orchard, a mill and fish ponds around the castle. I haven’t really delved into the history of the region, but White tells me that Manorbier is famous for being the birthplace of Gerald de Barri, grandson of the castle founder, who was born about 1146 and died in 1223. He became Giraldus Cambrensis and struggled with Henry II to create a Welsh National Church by making St David’s independent of Canterbury. He was passionately Welsh and left books written in Latin about Wales and Ireland. It is a rather beautiful spot, although probably better known these days for the beach at Manorbier Bay. About two thirds of the bay shows as rocks on the map, but at very low tide the sea retreats leaving long stretches of sand.
By Manorbier Bay, I was desperate for water as I’d forgotten my bottle, but the cafe marked on the map was not yet open, so I made the decision to walk the next three and half miles to Freshwater East and hope that fruit would be enough refreshment. This was a challenging few miles with many ups and downs, and the sun was beginning to really beat down. The spectacular views of cliffs and beaches, or rocky outlets and impressive limestone formations continued but, by this time, I was simply walking to reach refreshments at Refreshwater East. This beach and bay turned out to be about as ugly as Lydstep Haven with houses, huts and caravans spread willy-nilly in the interior and car parks full of families traipsing with all gear for a day out on the sands. When I finally got to a grubby little beach shop and drinks takeaway cafe (no shady sit down) they had no small bottles of water so I was obliged to buy lemonade. I lay on the grass and tried to cool my body down. A dehydration-caused headache threatened, and I had to decide whether to walk another three miles to Stackpole Quay or give up here and now and make my way home. I had planned, without knowing distances, to try and make it to Bosherton. After half an hour or so, I decided to give it a go. I wet my shirt with sea water, draped it over my head and set off for the cliffs again.
This was a similar stretch to the previous one, only I was more tired and the sun was stronger. Most of the track is well trodden and marked so there is no real need for map-reading. Wright’s sketch maps though are well drawn and entertaining with pointers to all sorts of interest - zawns, fulmars, stacks, good view, steep path, arches, access to beach, cave, razorbills and so on - so much so that one wants to keep referring to them and spotting what he has drawn. I met very few people on the path; one real walker with a pack, a few intrepid couples keen on bird watching, and day-trippers straying off the beach for a short stroll up the mountain.
Stackpole Quay, like so much of the coastal park, has been taken over by the National Trust. It has converted an old farmhouse into flats a few metres from the stone beach, and an old quay is still present from where limestone used to be exported. The quay is in disuse now but many tourists park here and walk across the fields to the unspoilt but popular Barafundle Bay beach.
By Barafundle, I was desperate again for a swim, to cool myself down. I had been walking through the heat of midday and needed a rest. I marched straight down to the water’s edge, changed into my swimming costume (well there were hundreds of day tripper families) and flopped into the cool precious water. Wonderful. Wonderful. It makes all the difference to a long walk if one can have a swim every now and then. I didn’t dally long as the pleasure was only in the cool water not in the place, since it was so full of people; in any case the day was moving on fast. From Barafundle, the walk took me through the first woods of the day - a pleasant change but for the irony that the sun went in at the same time for the first time in the day. A pleasant stroll took me along the bank of one of the Bosherton pools - a system of interconnecting fish ponds which extend finger-like over 80 acres. Hundreds of fishing points are marked out along the wooded paths that go round the lake. A shingle bank and broad sand bar at Broad Haven dam the flow of natural spring water which filters up through limestone creating unusual flora conditions. In particular, water lilies - now flowering - cover much of the water area and make for a grand site.
And that was the end of my grand day, for it took me two hours to hitch-hike back to Tenby. I was getting extremely frustrated, stuck outside Pembroke on the right road for an hour or more. Fortunately, a bus stopped, even though I wasn’t at a bus stop.
In the evening, I took A and B back to Manorbier, to show them the castle and to spend half an hour at a donkey derby. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a thing. It was quite amusing for a few minutes but I doubt the donkeys enjoyed being exploited so. Adam took a ride on one, and ran in an impromptu boys race. But we left just as the betting was beginning to heat up.
12 59, Thursday 30 July 1992, Tenby
Well, the week is nearly over. We haven’t managed to do much as a family at all, although I have had quite a good time with my walks and swims. This morning, I raced off to walk along the coast again - this time a short walk, to Rocky Point that I’ve been looking at all week from the window. I judged it could only be about two miles so it wouldn’t take very long. The first part was through woods but after a mile or so I found a route that took me off the main path and down a difficult access to an empty beach. I stripped off, swam, and did some exercises. The water was clear and clean, unlike last night when I went to Tenby beach with Adam. Unwilling, as always to retrace my steps, I endeavoured to make my way round the rocks to the long beach one can see from the window here. At one point I had to jump down from a rock that folded in underneath and looked rather difficult to climb, so, if I had to have turned back I would have run into difficulties. Then, a little further on I came to what seemed an impassable rock face. My gym shoes were slipping all over the slippery rocks, and I faced a long haul back the way I had come. I noticed at the back of the beach an open cave with a shaft of sunlight filtering in. On investigation, this way led easily around the impassable rocky outcrop, and from there on it was an easy rock scramble to Monkstone Beach. A few people had begun to arrive by the time I got there, but still it proved to be a splendid beach with lots of interest around some little islands connected at low tide.
Back to the flat to work on my play. There are so many difficulties with starting a venture like this. Ideally, one would have several weeks clear of other obligations in order to get ideas into a coherent order. I decided I should start writing dialogue. So far, I’ve got Fred at the foot of Grandma Tilly’s treehouse after about 30 seconds of dialogue in the forest with Axlegrease, but I can’t seem to get into the house very easily - I’m not sure why. A few good ideas are beginning to hang from the crude structure and characters I’ve imagined.
Yesterday, Adam and I had a splendid trip around Caldey Island. Adam doesn’t get much chance to go on boats especially small ones in which one feels the roll of the waves but I think it is important for him to get such experience when he can. We sat on the front deck of the small passenger ferry and were rocked around considerably, but A loved it and hung on well. The captain gave us occasional information about the buildings on the island or the wildlife - seals and birds - or even the geology. The tour lasted just over an hour and we saw several seals basking on the seaweed covered rocks, several beaches, the lighthouse, lots of caves and interesting rock formations, and masses of birds, such as razorbills and gannets, although I didn’t spot any puffins which are supposed to live there. The island has had an interesting history - for several centuries it has been dominated by religious owners. Today the only inhabitants are monks. Boats full to the brim ferry people across every few minutes during the day and they walk around a trail before being ferried back. A profitable business for the monks who get a landing fee.
Much of the time, I’ve been in the flat I’ve been following the Olympics - there’s almost blanket coverage on BBC1 and 2. I must have seen Boardman win the cycling gold medal on his revolutionary new bike a dozen times. The athletics haven’t begun and the focus has been on swimming. The Brits aren’t very good in the pool and our few chances have been wasted. We were doing well in the three day equestrian event but when Ian Stark pulled out because his horse Murphy Himself went lame, our team medal hopes vanished. The story of the day has been about three of our competitors who failed dope tests and have been sent home - one sprinter and two fighters. Such a disgrace for the Union Jack. We always thought we were above the fiendish tricks of the US and East Bloc countries. Redgrave and Pinsent have beaten all their opponents in the qualifying heats so stand a good chance in the final, and Redgrave could win his third successive gold. The gymnastics as ever are spectacular to watch.
Paul K Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG