JOURNAL - 1996 - AUGUST
12 August 1996
Mid-August, the middle of the summer holidays. I do not really have any excuse for getting so far behind with my journal entries. I have been busy in the last two weeks painting the external windows of the house, well not all of them, just the frames and sashes of the windows with leaded lights. Most of them were in a dreadful state and needed much recovery work - woodworm/rot killer, wood hardener, wood filler, sanding, priming etc. I also complicated my life by deciding to switch the colour from white to brown, but not just any brown, a brown called Etruscan Red, supplied by Farrow & Ball in the range developed for the National Trust. I bought a small pot of eggshell paint at Homebase for the front door and then decided I liked the colour for all the frames. But for those exposed to the weather (the front door is protected in the porch) I needed gloss. Homebase and other DIY stores, though, do not stock the gloss paints. I decided the obvious solution was to pick a mix&match colour as close to Etruscan Red as I could find. But could I find a colour to match? Despite the hundreds of shades available I could not accept one of them. In the end, I ordered the paint from Farrow & Ball by phone, and it was delivered within a couple of days.
I am replacing one of the sashes in Adam’s room because the hinge area was rotted and the window wouldn’t open properly. It is also the window I cannot reach by ladder. It has proved a complicated process to get a replacement window made. Instead of asking a carpenter to do the whole job, I decided to take the existing sash to the joiners workshop in Hydestile. I thought they would do the whole job themselves, but the foreman there persuaded me that I needed to order the leaded lights seperately and so I made a trip back to the glass merchants in Milford before returning the sash to the joiners. I was promised the sash (costing £50) by mid-week and when I heard nothing I called on Thursday. The foreman said he would call me back and tell me when it was ready. He didn’t and I called again on Friday. The owner answered and said I could have it on Saturday. I collected it at 10:30 but, just as I was leaving, I noticed the carpenter had not copied the lip section at the bottom of the sash and so I had to ask for that to be done. Then, when I got it home, I found the whole sash was 5mm too wide all the way round and I had to take it back to get it trimmed. So it took four trips in all to the Hydestile Joiners.
The next job was to soak the wood in preservative, but unfortunately the carpenter had given the wood a cursory coat of primer which meant I couldn’t get much preservative into the wood, except along the newly trimmed edges. Then I had to chisel out the sections for the hinges, and now I’ve delivered the sash to the glass merchant in Milford for him to put in the new leads. I should get that back on Saturday at a cost of £70-80. What a palaver.
The garden has taken second place to the painting in recent weeks, although I have taken 50 or so cuttings, of heathers especially but also of other shrubs around the garden, and cleared more brambles. There have been heavy rainstorms in the last few days and the garden looks far better for it. We continue to take courgettes, lettuce, potatoes from the vegetable plot. There are half a dozen sweetcorn growing although I am not convinced they will reach maturity. My indoor capsicum plants have grown and flowered well but only one of them is producing fruits. I have taken to trying to pollinate the flowers myself but I fear it is too late to get decent sized peppers. The blackcurrant bush has been a major success. It was filled with fruits and Barbara has made ten or so pots of delicious jam. The carrots have grown rather slowly and not produced well - I’m not quite sure why as yet. I am about to take a second full-sized cucumber from the one plant I tucked into the bed next to the courgette earlier this year.
In the rest of the garden there is not much colour. The sunflowers Adam and I planted from seed have grown to 8-9ft tall and are now flowering with magnificent heads. The sweet peas are past their best, as are the cornflowers. The lavenders are out and a lovely long stemmed scabius with blue flowers, which I bought the other day at the village hall.
During August we have had a sequence of visitors, which perhaps also explains my infrequent visits to the journal pages. First came Harvey and June from Australia. I think they come to Europe most summers, especially since they bought their run down farmhouse in central France, but they don’t come to London often and they haven’t visited me for years. June has become infatuated with horticulture and they planned to visit Wisley on their way here, so I volunteered to meet them there so we could lunch with Barbara. I didn’t realise, however, that they were planning to stay overnight and they would have seen Barbara later in the evening any way. But, it gave me an excuse for a first long outing on the motorbike. I found it slipped up to 70mph ever so easily but that the wind really unsettled me, and I wasn’t sure how much it could affect the bike’s movement. I was late coming back to collect Adam (who was taking part in an activity day at the Recreation Ground) and had to race down the A3 with the wind against me and that was even more scary.
Lunch at Wisley was a rushed affair because B had to get back for a meeting and we sat in a noisy place. June wanted to purchase a large number of horticultural books and Barbara offered to buy them for her at a reduced price and this took some organising. Both June and Harvey looked bronzed and fit. June as ever talks non-stop and Harvey is as laid-back as ever. They arrived at Russet House late in the afternoon and we went for a walk on the Common which looked magnificent with all the heathers in bloom.
In summary, this is the news from Harvey and June. Their business, running craft fairs in Australia, is doing reasonably well, although they had to retrench a few years ago to just two fairs a year from the four they had tried. They have bought 10 acres of scrub land by a river about 70km out of Sydney where they are building a new house and swimming pool. They also have a couple of acres and a number of derelict farm buildings in France, which they are slowly restoring. I don’t think any of it is yet properly habitable, I don’t think they have electricity or water yet, but they do have a telephone! So far they have restored the roofs on a couple of buildings they aren’t using, and bought some furniture for the main accommodation area which was already water tight. They showed photos but I could see they had bought a dream without any conscious recognition of the time/money/difficulty between reality and the dream. And I think the project is desperately flawed since they only plan to come to the property once a year for a few weeks. And when they are in Europe, they always want to be moving around, travelling and visiting.
In the evening, we strolled down to the Woolpack for a drink, and later, Harvey and I watched the Olympics on TV over a nightcap. Harvey showed me a video of his one-man show in Sydney. He wrote to me about it at the time, and I was pleased to see he had composed the show around the poetry of T. S. Elliot. I’m not sure if Harold and I introduced him to Elliot, but we were certainly quoting him all the time during the period when we met Harvey and he was living in Fordwych Road. I asked him about his sculpture and where it was going but, from what I could see from the video, he has not moved on or changed much, and is encarcerated within a post-modernistic form. I did notice, in one or two of the sculptures, a human form, and he admitted that he had experimented with bringing in some human elements. I don’t think the show got much attention and, reading between the lines, I think he was disappointed. He recognises that sculpture is a victim of fashion and that in today’s world, it is artists like Damien Hurst (dead sheep in perspex) who are attracting attention.
They left late morning on their way to visit some of June’s many relatives in Devon.
On the following Saturday, Colin arrived with his daughter Elizabeth. I had encouraged him to come and stay for the weekend on route to Cheshunt where he was going to decamp with his parents for a couple of weeks.
19 August 1996
Another very hot day, probably over 30 degrees. Although there were a few cooler days here last week, Ads and I were on the Isle of Wight, where the temperature was scorching every day. I can’t remember the last time the sun went behind clouds!
Ads is writing his holiday diary, we didn’t have any time to do it during our four days on the IoW, we were too busy packing as much in to the time as possible and keeping out of the sun at the same time. I, too, must record a few details about the holiday. My version of our travels is unlikely to differ much from Adam’s because, prior to his writing each day’s journey, we discuss what we did and where we went. He is adding personal touches but it is largely a record of events and there is not as much character in the narrative as there could be. This is for two reasons: firstly, he is anxious to provide an end product which I will approve of and thus avoid having to do it again. Secondly, he is already spending a long time on it, and any diversion into a discussion of his own interests would take him even longer. He is writing three or four pages about each day, his writing is neat, about the neatest it’s ever been, and his spelling and punctuation are certainly improving. I am not at all worried, however, by this, what one could call a parental straightjacket, because my priority at the moment is presentation and attention to detail. He has more than enough imagination and, as soon as he has honed his technical writing skills, I am sure he will be able to bring more colour and character to his writing.
THIS IS AN AMAZING FACT ABOUT ME!
There’s not much stuff going round in my head at the moment. And here’s an irony. Now that I have the perfect meditation place - i.e. the Common - the perfect place to wander around, to examine my soul, to seek after answers, I realise that I no longer need to do any kind of soul searching. If I were to go on the Common, I ask myself, for a good think, what on earth would I think about. I used to do it so often when I was younger. I used to go to the cemetery, the Heath, the beach, wherever, and sort of wallow or float in a kind of mental marsh. I sit here and try and remember what I used to think about, but I cannot really touch those feelings. I suppose there was a pain that I liked to touch; there was a lot of thinking about girls, and my relations with friends; a lot of trying to work things out, bring some order to the chaos. Nowadays, of course, I have no need for that kind of soul searching because I have no relationships that need constant analysis. But I am sure there were a lot more indefinable ideas, concepts, feelings that I used to wallow in, and these days there are none of those left. Yes, of course, I can shoot off to the Common with a specific topic in my head: should I expand my business or not? how should I plot the next chapter in the children’s novel? what kind of hobby should I take up? But there are none of those deeper, poetic, spiritual questions disturbing me any more. Absolutely none.
What seems to have happened (and this must happen to most people) is that I have or had a kind of threshold, below which my conscious and unconscious self remained discontent enough to challenge myself constantly in search of further riches, but that I have now climbed over that threshold, into a state in which my daily, monthly, yearly life has sufficient rewards (of whatever kind), to keep me from staring over the abyss any more. I am sure this is another way of saying what I have written about many times previously in my diary: contentment is a kind of death.
Without any shadow of any doubt, Adam is the main cause of any contentment I have. And yet, when I consider that it is nearly ten years since Adam was born, ten years since I came back from Brazil, I am staggered at how my life has dwindled by. I am now almost assured of never reaching any kind of position of respect or stature in this society, and yet as time dwindles on, so the advantages or import of such respect become increasingly obvious.
AND SO TO THE ISLE OF WIGHT
This was a quickly-organised holiday. Without a real holiday, so to speak, I had to make sure there were activities for Adam during the summer. So far, he’s had a pretty good time of it. Unfortunately his day of football tomorrow at Farnham Park has been cancelled, so this week will be rather bare of activities. Out of the six week period, B and I decided to take one week each to be with Adam, mine was last week, and B’s is next week. Earlier in the year I had joined the YHA, and I was determined to make use of my membership and introduce Ads into the YHA fold. When I looked at a map, the IoW seemed to stand out as one place near the coast that I hadn’t been to for a very long time. I booked a night each at both the hostels there, leaving one free night in the middle.
We set off very early on Tuesday morning, and arrived in Portsmouth before the local rush hour. I had more trouble than I expected finding cash and petrol and we ended up parking right in the centre and eating a cooked breakfast at a greasy spoon under the railway bridges. We checked out the ferry to IoW - £50!!! for a half hour journey return. Scandalous. If we went before 9:30 it was going to be a fiver extra. I couldn’t work out whether to wait or not - a fiver’s a lot, but not when grafted on to £50. Ads didn’t want to hang around, until I offered him the fiver instead if we waited until a ferry after 9:30. My mind was made up when I found out my parking place was free until 11am, and the Naval Dockyard, which I thought would be fun to visit, didn’t open until 10am. We didn’t go in any of the old ships, all of which cost money and would have delayed our departure even further, but had a good eyeball at HMS Warrior 1860, a sleek black lethal snake built by Queen Victoria, and HMS Victory, Lord Nelson’s flagship dating from the Battle of Trafalgar. We also looked in on an exhibition which gave us some history of the dockyard, displayed some of the various skills needed in a dockyard; and Adam tried out a few knots, but we couldn’t see anything of the Mary Rose which is housed inside a special hall.
After a short wait at the ferry terminal we caught the 11am ferry to Fishbourne. It’s a while since Ads was on a ferry and he ran around for most of the 30 minutes. The views of both Portsmouth and IoW were splendid. Arriving at the IoW we drove straight to Ryde, as I figured this was our best bet for a first and quick swim. But it turned out to be a boring, busy seaside town with little charm. Our parking place had an hour on it, and we only just managed to get to the sand, have a swim and get back in the time. At this point I discovered that I’d forgotten to pack any towels - we could have managed if we’d been staying in B&Bs but not while using Youth Hostels and sleeping out. I did end up buying one towel but I didn’t allow us to use it on the beaches so I taught Adam how to dry himself and leave a sandy beach as sand-free as possible.
As far as I could tell, Ryde had no saving graces. We turned its name into Fryde and every time we saw a name with Ryde in it, we called it out with Fryde instead - Fryde Baptist Church, Fryde Greengrocers, etc. From Fryde, we drove further east looking for a place to eat our picnic lunch. We chanced on a lovely quiet spot overlooking Bembridge Harbour and St Helens beach. Later we walked down through the Duver, a National Trust property, to the beach for our second swim.
One of the books I’d borrowed from the library described a walk around Brading, and I thought we could do that. But it was very hot and Adam didn’t fancy it. Instead, we drove briefly around Brading, with its gaudy and heavily publicised wax works museum, a Roman villa and Morton Manor. I was tempted to visit each one, but, on reflection, decided against forking out good money for what I expected would be a second rate attraction. It was on this first day that I had the most difficulty in resisting the multi-coloured, multi-faceted, multi-fantastic entertainments. The island is choc-a-bloc with tourist attractions of every ilk, most of them quite expensive - £3-4 each per person. I felt I ought to be visiting some if not all, and on first appearances, each one looked unmissable, and I felt mean for not taking Ads. But Ads did not care much. When we stopped at the entrance to Morton Manor, an old man gave us a summary of the attractions. There wasn’t much for children, he said, but added that there was a pond with lots of carp and it was quite fun to count them. At the moment, Adam didn’t say he wanted to go, but later he said he wanted to visit, and it became a kind of running joke, because he knew I wasn’t going to take him there. The more I examined the leaflets describing a particular attraction, the more I was convinced I didn’t want to bother. By the third day, I had no problem ignoring every tourist attraction and just concentrating on the island’s natural attractions.
From Brading we drove up to Cluver Cliff, for the bracing views, north towards the caravan sites and Ryde and south towards Sandown. On the Ordnance Survey map I’d spotted an old fort and thought we could explore, but, whereas for every other similar potential attraction on the island I would arrive and find a ticket office, in this case it was simply closed off behind barbed wire because it was private property.
Once in Sandown I had some trouble locating the Youth Hostel, I’m not sure whether this was my own stupidity or the poor directions given in the youth hostel guide. To my mind, Sandown was no better than Fryde, and I was disappointed that neither the town nor the Youth Hostel had any character. I made up our beds and we went down to the beach for our third swim. We ate fish and chips in one of the crowded cafes. After Adam had gone to sleep, I went out again to phone B and buy provisions for the following day. Before retiring myself I watched the news and weather to establish that the next day and night would remain fine and free of rain.
I did not sleep well. The dormitory was a large one, and every time I was about to fall into a deep sleep someone snored or coughed or chatted to their friend or got up to go to the toilet. And then later in the night, I was woken constantly by Adam shuffling around in the bunk above and by the creaking and groaning of the old wire springs of the bed.
I had booked and paid for breakfast, which was supposed to be served at 8am. We were sitting down and waiting at 8am but so were the rest of the hostel’s visitors, and our breakfast wasn’t called out for 20 minutes or so, and even worse, tea did not arrive until 8:40pm! I sat there for 40 bloody minutes waiting for the tea.
I was also disappointed by the atmosphere of the Youth Hostel. I suppose each hostel takes on some of the character of its location, and Sandown is a common-old beach resort. I talked to one young Dutch man, who, with an inter-rail pass, had already been to Italy, Germany and Poland this summer (and perhaps a dozen other countries as well), but otherwise we spoke to nobody and nobody spoke to us. I had been really hoping for Adam and I to engage with others. I was not Sad to leave Sandown. We drove into Shanklin and found a place to park right down on the beach and took our first swim of the day. I’d brought a number of sports items, such as Adam’s new baseball bat, a football and the tennis rackets, but we only ever used each of them once or twice. On this occasion it was the baseball bat.
All the books had talked about Shanklin Chine (a kind of ravine) and I was keen to look at it, but when I found it cost money, I chose to walk up the cliff-side instead and round through the village back to the car. Shanklin has slightly more interest for being built on the cliff-side but it was packed with coach tours and I found myself in a hurry to get away.
After we left Shanklin, things started to improve. I went inland in search of the Appuldurcombe ruins, near Wroxall, only to discover that English Heritage had got there first and put up a ticket office. No, I wouldn’t be bought. Instead, we parked a short way away and set off on a three-mile walk, past the mansion grounds and back through Wroxall village. So often with ruins and castles, it is the view of them, rather than a detailed examination, which gives the most pleasure. In fact, Appuldurcombe looked like a well-kept mansion from a distance, and the gardens too looked upkept. We had a splendid walk and started discussing a new story based on the name Blackgang, which is a place near the southernmost tip of the island.
On our way back down to the coast, we stopped off at a grassy area above Ventnor to eat our picnic lunch - just bread and cheese, Shiphams sardine and tomato paste, crisps, fruit, water. From there we drove down to the botanic gardens. Adam wanted to visit the Smugglers Museum first, the entrance to which was at the car park. This was one of only two tourist attractions on the island that we ended up paying for. But I felt, at least, this one would give us some useful information for our money. The exhibition, all of which was underground in caverns, was, as Adam would say, ‘cool’. There were models of how ships hid their cargoes of whisky in the old days and explanations of the never-ending battle between the Revenue and the smugglers, and there were displays on more modern smuggling methods. Ads was particularly taken by the car mascot that looked like it was made of cheap metal but was all gold inside. He bought a Smuggler’s notebook at the end and used it for the rest of the holiday to note down car number plates. If we were in a traffic jam and he had enough time to record a number, he would say when he’d finished writing it, with a big smile on his face, ‘I’ve booked ‘em’.
Although the tropical house cost a small amount, the botanical gardens themselves were free, and they were worth it. Very well set out, well looked after, an amazing number of plants in flower and an excellently-positioned tea house right in the middle by the pond.
We walked along the cliff top, and then along the undercliff, a wide grassy track between one older and vegetation-covered cliff and another down to the sea. This makes for a very pleasant stroll. We stopped for quite a long time at Woody Bay, which was largely deserted (if you discount the huge house and terrace built at the back of it), because Ads was climbing on the rocks. I would have liked to have swum but it was very stony and the water was full of weed. I watched a very pretty girl who I’d seen in the botanic gardens. She was with a couple too old to be her parents; they may have been her grandparents or guardians, but they never took their eyes off her. When she strolled down to the water, gingerly stepping between the stones and put a toe in the water, they never let off watching her, and when she returned to sunbathe on the towel, one of them got up and organised a pillow for her. And when I looked over at her, because she looked stunning in her bikini, the old man glared at me.
By this time, the afternoon was wearing on and I wanted to find somewhere to sleep for the night - I had in mind a beach, but so far I had not found one not surrounded by houses. On the map I identified Chale Bay as the most likely possibility, so we drove on passed St Catherine’s Point and Blackgang Chine until we came to the first entry point to a long beach area stretching along the whole southwest coast of the island. There was a parking area, a path along the top of Whale Chine, and rickety steep wooden steps down to the long empty beach. There were only half a dozen groups of people on the sand as far as the eye could see both ways. We swam, for only the second time that day, but the beach was far from beautiful because its backdrop had no vegetation and was just crumbling, eroding soil. This might have been ideal for sleeping but for the fact that the tide might well rise up to the cliff edge. Certainly, there was no grass or shrubs which would indicate permanent areas above the high tide level. I asked a woman if she had been there at the last high tide and she said it had come up almost to the edge. So then I thought I needed to drive on to look for somewhere else but Ads suggested we sleep on the cliff top. The coastal footpath passed by the top of the wooden stairs and, although one side of the path was mature corn field and the other was the cliff edge, the path itself was quite wide and grassy just beyond where the steps arrived at the top; i.e. not between the steps and the carpark but a few metres further on. On reflection, I thought this would be the best place. It was near the car park, it was deserted and there would be little risk of interruption in the night, and we would have the benefit of the wind to keep insects off. I did drive further down the coast for a further recce without finding anywhere better.
We then drove back to the urban sprawl of Shanklin and Sandown looking for the cinema at Lake where I had read ‘Mission Impossible’ was showing. It was a tiny cinema, but none the worse for that. We booked our tickets, drove back to the Sandown YHA to collect a book I had left there, bought fish and chips, which we ate by the car. I then had a few minutes to prepare our bags etc. for sleeping out, before we left the real world and immersed ourselves into the world of ‘Mission Impossible’. Adam enjoyed it, even if he barely understood the film’s plot. Tom Cruise and Jon Voight starred but the story was over-burdened with a complex plot, stupid effects and too little of the wit and cleverness of the original series.
Thenafter (why doesn’t this word exist, like thereafter) at about 10:30pm we drove straight back to Whale Chine. Adam, not for the first time, went on about whether we really did have to sleep on the cliff top, and he said he was afraid of falling off. At first, I thought he was sort of joking but then I realised his fear was genuine. Sometimes it is hard for me to understand how Ads can be scared or frightened of something that I am organising - the mental process goes: surely he understands that I would never do anything to harm him. When I realised his fear was genuine, I spent time explaining all the reasons why it was safe and why he need not be scared.
There was no moon this night, and therefore no light. I was perturbed by the presence of several cars in the carpark, but we made our way to the chosen spot. We could see the path, fortunately, because it was a sandy light colour, but I knew it also ran close to the ravine edge. I held Ads tightly and walked very slowly. The wind was up. We could hear the sea down below. I was able to recognise the top of the stairs and locate the grassy area where we were to sleep. I suggested Ads take off his clothes before climbing into his sleeping bag but he preferred not to. I gave him a jumper for a pillow, and I used my clothes for a pillow. He lay cornfield side, tucked up tight against me, and I was about two metres from the cliff top. The stars were out in abundance. The sea roared on. The wind roared on. We both had difficulty in sleeping. At one point, I thought I saw someone coming along the path with a torch but it must have been a distant headlamp. At some other point, Ads woke in a fright because he couldn’t see me, but then he turned over and realised he had simply been facing the other way.
We woke a little before 6. There had been a heavy dew and our things were damp. We ate biscuits and drank orange juice and then went down to the beach for a swim. It was too cold for Ads, but I was able to swim nude and take a run. I felt like I was waking up for the first time in ages. We drove inland next and did one of the walks from the guide book. This started at Calbourne mill and took us through the amazingly picturesque Winkle Street in Calbourne village, but otherwise the walk was pleasant if unspectacular. I wondered why the guide book (AA/Ordnance Survey) had picked this as one of only three walks on the island. If the Calbourne mill complex had been open, I might have paid for us to visit, but there was still nearly an hour until its opening time of 10am, and besides, when I looked carefully at the details, I realised it wasn’t actually making flour any more. I like old mills, but only when they’re doing something. We drove on towards Newport in search of breakfast, and then back passed Carisbrooke Castle. Again I wasn’t keen to go in. When I asked Adam what he wanted to do, he chose the beach, so we drove back to the southwest coast, a very similar beach to the one we had slept by. Here we had fun body surfing on the waves.
Back inland in search of a place for lunch. Fortunately, because it was boiling hot, we found a short walk to the so-called Longstone, on top of a small hill with fine views. While Ads was busy chewing on his apple, I climbed up the monolith, which was 12-15 ft high and with straightish sides. I sat there high above Adam waiting for him to spot me. It took him a while but when he did, he let out a massive gasp of surprise and said ‘Awesome’. That was lovely. He wanted to come up too, but it was really quite tricky and I couldn’t see a safe way for him to do so. The sun continued to bake us and I dozed for a few minutes in the shade near the car.
The one museum-ish place on the whole island that I really wanted to visit was next. On my rough plan for touring the island I was sweeping round the coast clockwise with forays inland at various points. We were due at Totland Bay Youth Hostel that evening and Dimbola Lodge, the house of Julia Margaret Cameron, in Freshwater Bay, was on the way. Cameron is usually regarded as the most famous Victorian photographic portraitist. The story goes that she visited Tennyson on the IoW, fell in love with the place and bought Dimbola Lodge to which she added a rather ungainly gothic tower. Three years later, around the 1860s, she was given a camera and never looked back. She was somewhat influenced by G. F. Watts (is that he of the gallery at Compton? - I must check) and by the pre-Raphaelite movement, and seems to have developed a soft-focus style which romanticised her subjects. Technically, the photographs do not seem to have been very good and I suspect her fame rests on the fact that her subjects were famous people rather than anything else - Tennyson, of course, Lewis Carrol (who took similar photographs), and Charles Darwin among others.
Dimbola Lodge is under reconstruction with help from Olympus Cameras, and several rooms have recently been reopened. One shows the reconstruction process, a second shows work by some artist or other, and a third shows Cameron’s own photographs. They are not particularly stunning, and are only interesting, as I say, for the subjects. I was also surprised to see how few of her photos there were. Since returning home I have looked in my various photography books, and she does figure quite strongly.
There was an excellent tea room, where the tea had flavour, where the carrot cake was all crumbly, and the flapjacks were all hot and bendy. I was so pleased to have a good cup of tea that I went up to the volunteer (someone like my own mother who is doing stints at Fenton House) and thanked her for the best cup of tea I’d had since leaving home; and then, without thinking, I left the tearoom without paying.
I can imagine that, in Cameron’s day, the area was pleasant enough with the beach only a short walk away. But today it is a messy tourist conglomeration. We had to get further into the west of the island to the Tennyson Down and Totland Bay area to escape.
I particularly wanted Adam to get the feel of arriving at a Youth Hostel after a reasonable walk. I organised it so that we walked in a large circle around from the car on to Tennyson Down, across Headon Warren and down into Totland. The Youth Hostel turned out to be better upkept than Sandown and calmer in atmosphere. Only one other bed in our dorm was taken, and the hostel had a quiet garden area as well. This time I chose not to buy any meals but to use the Members’ Kitchen. I ran out to buy tins, and then supervised Adam as he cooked us spaghetti, chicken curry and carrots. This took quite a long time, and afterwards Adam fell asleep on his bunk while I caught a few minutes of ‘Eastenders’ in the TV room. I woke Adam to brush his teeth and take off his clothes and then he went out like a light. Later in the evening I tried to wake him again because, on reflection, I had decided that he might like to see the local firework display due to begin at 10pm. But, however hard I tried, I just could not wake him. I went to bed early too, but the other person sleeping in our dorm made so much noise that it was hours before I got to dreams.
On our last day we set off early, a little after 7am, and retraced our steps back on to Headon Warren. For me, this morning was the best of the holiday. The views across the heather-covered hills towards the Needles were spectacular. No one else was about and the mist hung low in the valleys leaving full sunshine higher up with us. As we strolled through the heather, listening to the fog blasts of the lighthouse and passing ships, the mist slowly lifted leaving more of the Needles in view, and brightly lit. We explored old batiments and dropped down into Alum Bay. This is a beautiful shingle and sand beach, somewhat spoilt by a monstrous cable car housing. I took another nude swim; the water was so fresh and clear even Adam came in this early in the morning. I ran and swam, ran and swam for ages, enjoying the freedom and tranquillity and the views across to the Needles. As the morning began to roll on, we climbed up from the beach, past the ugly fun park at the other end of the cable car, and made our way back across Tennyson Down to the car.
We stopped in Yarmouth for breakfast. This is a pretty village-town, with lots of harbour and an old castle hidden in the depths of the centre’s buildings. We took an English breakfast in a cafe overlooking the pier and then Adam bought a few packs of Devon (!) toffees for B and himself. I also bought him a mini-book about bikes for no other reason than that I saw it and I liked it. I said it was for him but he wanted to share it with me.
Our last venture was at a place named Newton over 700 years ago. We didn’t go for the old and odd village hall, or the unusual evidence of parallel streets from so long ago, but rather for the walk around the interesting harbour area and natural reserve. A rickety one-plank-wide bridge spanned 100 yards or so from the shore across the muddy estuary area, which filled up during high tide, to the solid ground of the harbour side. The bridge had a sign saying it was maintained entirely by private enterprise and warning that it would only hold a maximum of fifteen people; and it asked for donations. This was a lazy, pretty place and obviously much visited by bird fanciers.
From there we hot-footed it home. We had a frustrating half-an-hour arriving at, and waiting in, Fishbourne, unsure as to whether we would get on the first ferry. The sun beat down something terrible as we waited in line eating our sandwiches and crisps. But we did get on board at about 2:30 and we were home in Elstead before 4pm.
This was not the best of our holidays together, but it was quickly arranged and was, after all, only four days long. Adam, as ever, was excellent company. He enjoyed almost everything we did and, as far as I can remember, he never complained about anything. For us, his parents, that is such a boon - a child that doesn’t complain or nag - I’m sure we must take it for granted.
Thursday 29 August 1996
A and B have gone off to an entertainment place, I think it’s called Thorpe Park. There was much discussion this morning about Adam’s height. If he is over 1.4 metres he is classified as a Big’un and has to pay full price and can go on all the rides and stuff, but under 1.4 metres he’s only classed as a Cool Cat, pays slightly less and can’t go on the most exotic rides. In fact, he weighed in at 1.3 metres, according to my wall measure.
They’ve been away all week, from Sunday until last night. They stayed at B’s parents and went off on excursions each day: Greenwich, Crystal Palace, London Dungeons (‘Not all it’s cracked up to be’ according to Adam) and Chislehurst Caves (‘Bit of a disappointment’). Tomorrow, Ads is off on a fun day organised by Farnham Sports Centre.
Even with an empty house and nobody to look after or clean up after, I have not been very productive this week. I don’t have any project up and running and so I couldn’t get my teeth into anything; nor had I planned to get anything particular done by the end of the week. That is always fatal. If I give myself a real task and deadline, I almost always achieve it. The trouble is I do have a number of projects at an uncertain stage - I can’t get on with them, but neither do I feel the need to discover a new project. This is beginning to not even make sense to me, let alone to me the reader in two years, or five years, or ten years time.
Firstly, there is the possible expansion of my business by starting a new newsletter EC Inform-Transport. This of course is a major project, but can I get down to any hard work on it? No. I have worked out a rough schedule of activity; the editorial side can be done from start to finish in about a month; the subs admin is no problem; by far the most difficult aspect will be getting enough names and addresses to market the new newsletter. I have decided that one key way to do this will be through the numerous industry associations, and I will need to approach them all. However, I have also decided I can do nothing concrete until I’ve sorted out an assistant. This is no easy matter. For a business to go from one person to two people is the biggest change it will probably ever make. I know the proper route would be to hire people on a temporary and part-time basis until the work builds up sufficiently, this would also allow me to try people out. But I have a problem, firstly, with finding people, because I live and work in such an isolated way; and secondly I have a problem with the cost, in terms of time and money, of using part-timers. So I have decided to fork out £300, yes £300, for a tiny advert (one column inch, by 4 cm) in the Creative and Media section of ‘The Guardian’. Here it is blown up much larger: ‘Journalist with interest in EU affairs. Business/technical writing or editing skills necessary. Small company seeks self-motivated person who values independence and a challenge. Involvement in newsletter launch and all aspects of production - work/rewards to expand with ability. Home working possible (although 2-4 days in Brussels and 4-8 days at Godalming office required each month). French an advantage. Please reply with short cv and informative letter to PO Box 145, Godalming, Surrey GU8 6YW.’
I think my chances are 50% or less of finding anyone suitable. My requirements are so unusual, I might only get a few crank replies. Well, then I’ll have to think again.
Secondly, there is the house. This house is a big project. I’ve achieved the main task for the summer, which was resurrecting and painting the rotten window frames. But there are many other frames to be cleaned and painted. There is much to be done inside the house. I did finally get around to thinking about the kitchen and bathroom this week, and I made a plan of what needs to be done and by whom. That’s a step forward, but there’s no point in calling in the tradesmen until I’m ready to proceed.
Then there’s the garden. There’s a big project if ever there was one. But here again, I’ve done a lot of bits and pieces but I’m stuck by the need for an overall plan and major work to be done. I’ve thought about the garden off and on all year. One day, before the summer, I spent making a scale plan of the existing garden and, another day, I started working on a re-design. The trouble is I sort of feel that moping around, thinking about the garden, using a few colour pencils and trying out designs is a great way to waste a day. Unless, I’ve done something concrete, something real, achieved something, I find it really hard to allow myself the space and time to do that kind of thing. And so, instead, I mope around watching the telly, listening to the radio, doing tiny bits of EC Inform admin (which is much more efficient to do on block when it’s built up a bit) and finish the day with less than nothing done.
In fact I did spend one day this week trying to think hard about the garden. I decided I had done enough mulling and now was the time to make a move. I don’t intend to do much with the front at the moment. I’m waiting for a quote on thinning out the wild cherries at the front, and when that’s done I’ll plant a few more hedging plants there. As for the back, I’ve decided I need a patio stretching in a quarter circle from the lounge door across to a line with the concrete bunker. I’ll have a small raised bed in the middle, and perhaps a low-lying wall to border it. From the patio a path will run down the east side, getting closer to the fence the nearer the bottom of the garden it gets, so that at the end the path will lead between the bamboo and the fence and then round the back of the rock garden (joke!) in front of the oak tree to the lawn. There will be a series of vegetable plots with a thin flower bed running down the fence (as at present and along the line of the path). I’ll have the whole lawn re-turfed or seeded, but with a curvy bed all the way down the line of the conifer trees (to be filled with heathers).
Clearly, what I need is a new writing project. I think I need to attempt a full length book this time, for the first time, but should it be fiction or non-fiction? Am I ready for the Rats again? Perhaps I should do another ordinary children’s book. Ads and I have a lot of material now, about the Black Gang on the Isle of White or about the Mossheads, Stickwigs and Fronds. But with ‘The Tyrespinners’ complete and out there in the world looking for a publisher for the very first time, it seems more sensible to give that a chance first.
I try and go out on my Kawasaki every day for a short spin. I had thought to go to London today for the first time, but the weather forecast was not good.
Paul K Lyons
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