JOURNAL - 1997 - SEPTEMBER
Tuesday 2 September 1997
I asked Adam if he was sad about Princess Diana. He said he wasn’t, he didn’t know her, so why should he be sad. I explain there can be two types of sadness, the sadness you really feel inside, and a sadness you feel because the events themselves are sad; but I can tell he simply isn’t feeling sad, so he can’t say he’s sad. He has, however, been very interested in the progress of the whole story over the last couple days, just as we all have. He’s had his radio on in his room, listening to the news every hour. He came bounding down the stairs this morning to tell me that it looked like the seven paparazzi were going to be charged with manslaughter even though, following the news about the drunk driver driving at 120mph, we thought surely the paparazzi can’t be to blame. He has also taken great pleasure calling Theo and I ‘paparazzi’, or prat for short (that last was Theo’s idea, which Ads took to with great gusto!)
I find it so ironic. The media has had an absolute field day, discussing among themselves endlessly how much the paparazzi are to blame and how Diana’s life was incessantly intruded upon etc, and condemning the obsessive interest in her personal life; and yet they are simply propagating the whole myth of the woman and feeding the public’s obsession through the intensity of their coverage of the story. Every tiny, minuscule angle is being examined and reexamined, discussed with experts and then with their own commentators. It’s a frenzy. And the public are frenzied too, partly, perhaps mostly, because she was possibly the most famous and glamorous women in the world and because she visibly cared deeply for the most disadvantaged in our society, but also because the media itself is frenzied and stirring up the frenzy. I ask myself this question: what would be the proportion of volume of flowers deposited outside her home at Kensington Palace and in front of Buckingham Palace and outside the UK embassies all over the world if there had been absolutely no mention of people presenting flowers in such places, compared to the actual mountains of flowers? The answer to such a question would provide a direct gauge of the influence of the media in the public demonstration of their response to her death. I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer was 1 to 10 or 20 or even 50. The media started reporting the placing of flowers at Diana’s home on Sunday morning, then it was just one bouquet or two; now, two days later, the story has run and run, and the media is reporting, with an expression of awe, on the huge quantities of flowers being brought by the public.
I have been back at work this last two days - and early tomorrow morning I’m to Brussels. Theo has put some hard work into preparing a website presence for EC Inform, and I have spent most of today refining it a bit. Theo will do some more work on it in the next few days, and, hopefully, we can be on the internet with 10 days or so. As for the next issues, we have plenty of material, much of it dating from July, and Theo has made good progress on the transport stuff. Fortunately, I will be at the Parliament’s transport committee meeting tomorrow with presentations from both Kinnock and the Luxembourg President-in-Office.
Back to our holiday for a line or two. I think the sun and fast walking did for me on Monday, for on Tuesday I felt ill and weak, and was not able to get to the beach once for a swim. We took it very easy in the morning, and then went for a slow walk round past Llantegos Church to Bodonnick, where we took the car ferry across the northern outskirts of Fowey. We walked through Fowey looking at the shops and buying pasties to eat, before taking the passenger ferry back to Polruan. On checking the bus schedule, I discovered that, in August only, there was a bus around 3pm, so we waited for that, but even so I was fairly well exhausted by the time we returned. I had originally planned to make a very early start so we could do a nine mile walk around Tintagel and Boscastle, but, given my lack of fitness, I decided against that, which meant we were able to pack up and clean on Wednesday morning rather than Tuesday. Wednesday dawned beautifully and I would have loved to take a last swim in Lantic Bay but I figured I should keep all my strength for any walking in the rest of the day. So we left Triggabrowne, maybe for the last time.
Friday 5 September 1997
Diana-mania has continued all week, and will culminate tomorrow with her funeral and mass crowds in London. Theo, Adam, Barbara and I are all utterly cynical and find the whole thing amazing. In a chorus, which must have been coordinated in some way, the newspapers came out strongly against the Queen and the Royal Family on Wednesday for not speaking to the nation, and by lunchtime she and they had reacted. This evening we had a five minute live broadcast by Queenie herself. A carefully crafted speech, full of the right words but not an ounce of feeling behind them. She did, though, say the Royal Family would learn from the lessons of Princess Diana. And she extended the route of the hearse to Westminster Abbey, thus allowing more people to line the roads. Millions are expected tomorrow - god help them all - just for a glimpse of the coffin. Even the excuse of wanting to be there for such a unique moment, is pretty thin when you consider how much more of a real moment it would have been to see her alive. She attracted crowds when she was alive, but nothing like the crowds who are prepared to put up with horrendous conditions tomorrow just to see the car in which her coffin is riding!
I notice a small comment by a Yorkshire coroner who says he was staggered that Dodi Al Fayed’s body was dealt with by the French authorities without a postmortem and then buried so quickly. And I don’t think a postmortem was carried out on Diana either - I bet they were both full of drugs. How else would you allow a drunk to drive you at 120mph. Dodi’s father has released video footage of them all leaving the Ritz hotel together to show that the driver was walking straight and couldn’t have been drunk. Who is he trying to kid. If I were the French authorities I would be prosecuting the hotel. And the British ambassador should be making a complaint in the strongest terms to the French for not policing their hotel facilities better.
I’m back from Brussels where I had an unspectacular time. I sat in on the EP’s transport committee, which was less interesting than I had hoped. Kinnock spoke only about TENs financing, and the Luxembourg President-in-Office gave a wishy-washy presentation. At least my Virgin flights were quite on time, an unusual occurrence. We didn’t even circle round Heathrow once on the way back. But I didn’t achieve much. I met the new First Secretary for Energy at the UK rep, Colin Imrie. He’ll be chairing the energy working group during the British Presidency in 1998, so I hope he’ll be a good contact. In the evening, I went to see a film, ‘Conspiracy Theory’, directed by Richard Donner and starring Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts. Fun but utterly unmemorable.
After leaving Triggabrowne, Adam and I headed for Devon and Julian’s cottage. We stopped, first, though at Tintagel, and took a morning to stroll along the dramatic cliff edges and, on the way back, through the deep and dark St Nectan’s Glen, glistening with dripping ferns and littered with fallen tree trunks. I thought I had been to Tintagel but I couldn’t remember the ruins at all. I wasn’t interested in paying to look at them closely, but was very happy to see them from a distance from other headlands. Later we drove on through Boscastle (too crowded to stop) and took a detour, while still in Cornwall, to find Trengayor Copse, the patch of primeval woodland mentioned in one of my books. Unlike the beautiful old and stunted oaks I had found on Dartmoor, a year or two back, this woodland, tucked in a stream valley and therefore sheltered from strong winds, was full of very straggly oaks, all trying to compete with one another to get to the light. It was nowhere near as attractive as the Dartmoor wood, yet, in its own way, it had life and spirit.
At Bude, we wondered around the town and took tea. I listened to a group of old ladies next to us, recounting tales of excess - one of them told how she had eaten 24 chocolate eclairs once! Adam bought some excessively sweet fudge and we drove on to Barnstaple, where I bought flowers, and from thence to Churchill, where we found Julian reading the paper.
Saturday 6 September 1997
Another ‘historic’ and ‘extraordinary’ day, the day of Diana’s funeral, the day a whole nation, usually so reserved, gave vent to its sorrow and the loss of its princess, its cinderella, its brightest, shiniest, most beautiful royal this century. I, like most other people in the country I suppose, apart from those actually joining the crowds on the streets of London, or the M1, or the numerous other places around the country where people joined together for mourning, was glued to the television, where I had the best view of the whole proceedings, the best view of the slow procession of the gun carriage carrying her coffin to Westminster Abbey, the best view of the crowds lining the streets to watch her pass (a route incidentally that started off as a mile but which was extended and extended until it was four miles to give more people the chance to see the flag-covered coffin), the best view of the millions (they say a million bouquets of flowers have been deposited around the palaces in London), and the best view of those arriving at Westminster Abbey (Hilary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Mrs Chirac - not a diplomatic collection of people but rather a more personal collection - taken from her Christmas Card list, I heard) and the best view of the funeral service itself. Every BBC and ITV presenter and reporter in the land must have been hauled in for this one, they were omnipresent, round every bend, sometimes it seemed as though they might have been positioned in tree-tops or floating on clouds, and with every last possible tidbit of information ready to slip in to the seamless commentary whenever the reporting on the movement of the gun carriage and the people watching it threatened to wash over the margins of tediousness. What I found so extraordinary was that so many people - two million? was it the largest crowd ever in London? - gathered for what was essentially an empty sight. There was nothing to see. I mean huge crowds gather for the Lord Mayor’s annual bash, for concerts in the park, for carnivals, but there is something to see at all of them. And, as if to emphasise the irony of it, here were the largest crowds ever (if they were), not making a sound - looking at almost nothing and pretending they weren’t even there. Huge and massive silences reigned over the enormous crowds, even the commentators seemed to be whispering into their microphones. Occasionally, a round of applause slipped out from the crowd but it was soon drowned by the most respectful silence.
The funeral was brilliant, especially because of the genius of Elton John. He adapted one of his well known songs, ‘Candle in the Flame’, with new words, which he played at the piano in Westminster Abbey. It ended by calling Diana a legend. I expect it will be number one in the charts within days, and Elton will donate all the profits to the charity that has been set up in Diana’s memory. There were hymns, both well known and new - including a moving piece by the living composer John Taverner, which fades out to a silence and signalled the minute’s silence across the country requested by the royal family. Diana’s sisters read some poems and her brother gave a surprisingly personal and pointed speech. He made clear his adoration of his sister, his hatred of the press that hounded her, and his determination to ensure that her children, Prince William and Harry (who we saw walk with bowed heads, along with Prince Charles and the Duke of Edinburgh, behind the gun carriage for a while before it arrived at Westminster Abbey) would have an open education and a wide experience of life. It was a clear warning to the Royal family not to straightjacket them.
I was even glued to the telly after the service when the hearse was being led by an arrow formation of police motorbikes up along Finchley Road, past Brent Cross and on to the M1. People lined the streets the whole way, 10-15 deep sometimes, and they even found their way on to the motorway near the junctions and lined all the bridges. All for what - to get a glimpse of a black hearse.
I had planned to get quite a bit of work done, but the ‘quite a bit’ turned out to be no more than quite a little, and now I’ll have to spend more time tomorrow. This morning, though, I did manage to get the final bits and pieces sorted for our web pages, and now all they need is proof reading. I hope Theo has done them in such a way that we have no problems when we try to pump them on to Demon’s web server.
Barbara and I had a summit the other evening, and we have tentatively agreed to an Adam-sharing arrangement. Essentially he will be here at Russet House from Sunday morning through to Thursday morning, and at Barbara’s from after school on Thursday through to Sunday morning. The weekends, however, will remain highly flexible, so that B might have Ads more one weekend, like this weekend when I am on production, and less the following the weekend. And there should be no problem about swapping Saturdays and Sundays around. We have also tentatively agreed to eat all together on Sunday evenings. This seems like quite a good plan to me. I was worried about Ads moving backwards and forwards during the school week, and felt he needed some stability; but, I had to reconcile B’s need to have half or nearly half of the week. Cubs on Friday is B’s area, and Saturday she quite often takes him to the cinema. Also with this arrangement, she only needs to organise leaving work early two days a week. It leaves me in charge for the bulk of the school week and on Wednesdays when we go swimming together. It also clears some evenings for me to get out and about - if I can ever get around to arranging any kind of social life.
It’s 10:40pm. I always have difficulty writing in the evening. I ought to be able to work through to 11pm, especially if I haven’t had a hard day. But it is rare for me to do so. An overwhelming feeling always takes over - its either tiredness, or can’t-be-botheredness, this latter especially when its any writing other than work. It’s as though the day’s over and there’s just no way I’m going to achieve anything else. I might as well give up right now. Only very occasionally do I find myself writing my diary this late at night.
I still have stuff to report about our holiday. We had a pleasant enough time at Julian’s although the weather was rotten. We spent a lot of time talking about his business. Adam and I tucked the bikes into the car and headed down to Barnstaple to do the Tarka trail to Bideford. The trail is great, just like the Camel Trail, flat and through pretty countryside. The estuary is ever present on our right and we perch up at a dune beach with Bideford and its beaches visible across the water. Another time, Julian and I trek into Barnstaple to have a look at an auction, and later we take all the children to the coast. But the wind and rain are howling away, it is actually uncomfortable even to walk on the beach, let alone swim, something which both Adam and I had been considering. Never mind, we get back in time to watch ‘Eastenders’. Will Bianca tell Ricky she’s pregnant? Will Phil go back to the drink? Can Grant and Tiffany really be so happy?
On the way back from Devon, we were due to visit Peter and Tony in the afternoon, but that left us time to use B’s National Trust card if I could find any visitable properties on the way. I chose two, both of which took some arriving at, and both of which were closed when we arrived - I had been stupid enough not to check the opening times, even though I had a current handbook in the car! The first was the only thatched windmill left in southeast England, or England, or the UK, or Europe, or the world etc! I cannot remember exactly. We could see it OK, but we couldn’t get in. Fortunately, there was a plum tree with branches hanging over the wall, so we took some fruit from the otherwise wasted journey. Similarly, at another place I had wanted to visit, Friday was the one day in the week it was closed, but there were orchards along the drive and we took away some apples. We ended up, finally, at Montacute House, because it was the only sizeable property open in the area. This is where ‘Sense and Sensibility’ was filmed. There were the strangest hedges in the gardens, very tall and very long, unbroken, but not cut flat edged, but all squiggly and crooked, in the shape of a rock face, perhaps. There was no discernible pattern, although every now and then I thought I saw a giant face topiared in (it’s a shame but I don’t think the verb ‘to topiar’ exists). Our tour round the house was largely dictated by a quiz sheet Adam was trying to fill out - I found the questions difficult enough. Overall, the grand Elizabethan mansion was interesting enough, but it was all presented in a rather jaded fashion - the display notes, for example, might have been 20 years old and contained numerous spelling mistakes, and the volunteers manning the various rooms, were over attentive and superior. On the way out of the car park, we ran into Julian and his family. They had intended to visit a different NT house (one that I’d already been to) but found it shut on Fridays also and so had ended up coming to Montacute too on their way to Peter and Tony’s.
On arriving, Peter sat us down immediately to eat, and piled stuff on to our plates, cold meats, cheeses, lasagne, in any old order. Both Peter and Tony appeared no different from last time I saw them (although I hear from Mum that Peter is having trouble with her eyes). They are a real comedy duo the two of them. Tony is always smiling, always, like a naughty boy, trying to get away with little successes, either in what he eats, or what he says, against Peter’s will. She, more often than not, keeps a serious face and tone, a stern matronly character, telling Tony off with almost every breath, whether it’s for using the wrong kind of spoon, or not warming the teapot enough, or for mentioning a particular anecdote that she regarded as hers. My mother arrived after a little while, so the conversation was spread out more thinly. Together we visited the nearby church where a small flower festival was in progress. Then, a bit later on still, Julian and the girls arrived. Adam and I left about 5, I think, and drove on to Salisbury.
Roger’s sculpture exhibition was taking place in a kind of alternative art and craft centre which also has galleries. There were four other sculptors, as well as Roger, exhibiting; all five of them met on a stonemason’s course and are all working on Salisbury cathedral, as well as doing art stuff in their spare time. It was a very warm and friendly exhibition opening, lots of people who knew each other. The sculptures themselves varied from small and serious to large and amusing; Roger’s piece were all well crafted - with smooth surfaces and familiar or nearly familiar shapes and themes, but they mostly had a slightly ironic, slightly amusing purpose often highlighted or defined by the title of the piece. Later, I was told that Roger had sold almost all of his work, more than any of the others; so, by any gauge, it must have been a very successful show. I didn’t talk to either Roger or Mary much, but I did meet Barbara’s friends Liz and Christine and I chatted to them for a while, while Adam played with Liz’s son Sam.
We arrived home at about 10, I think, and Barbara was waiting for us - very happy to see Adam, although Adam was pretty tired by this time.
Friday 12 September 1997
EC Inform is launched on the web! We have 5MB of web space, thanks to our internet subscription with Demon. Theo developed the framework of the pages during the summer and I edited the text a bit, and earlier this week we threw up the pages for all to see. It takes about an hour to rejig the issue pages, and boot them up, by Fetch, to our site. It’s a fairly rudimentary site, with seven basic pages: the home page, four issues pages (the two most recent issues of EC Inform-Transport and the two most recent of EC Inform-Energy, a subs info page, and a free copy page including a form. There is also a hidden page which carries a counter, so we have some idea how many ‘hits’ there have been. We’ve been checking it all week and it goes up by one every time we look. Of course, no one anywhere in the world knows about it yet - but they will.
Both September issues are bit heavy with material from July, but I really am happy with having August free and I don’t think the punters mind too much - after all they’re mostly away on hols too, and nothing much happens in early September either. It was a fairly easy week, although Artigraf cocked up yet again, and sent energy out a day late. I must make a determined effort to look at alternative printers this autumn.
Adam rang half an hour ago to report back from his first Cubs meeting since before the summer. ‘Guess how many badges I got?’ he says. ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Guess.’ ‘Three.’ ‘More.’ ‘Four.’ ‘More.’ ‘Five.’ ‘More.’ ‘Six.’ ‘Six, how did you get so many?’ ‘One for story writing, one for gardening, one for handyman, and three for athletics.’ ‘Gosh.’
We are reading ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’ at the moment, for a change from Terry Pratchett. I’ve stopped doing any lessons at all with Adam at the moment, so we’ve also put ‘Hamlet’ aside as well. We weren’t bored with it, but it was definitely part of the cycle of morning lessons, which have now been stopped. I think Adam has been trying to do his own lessons in the morning - he tried Spanish a couple of times this week, but I told him it is really silly to be doing Spanish when someone is trying to teach you French at school. He’s also spent some time this week reading the ‘Tyrespinners’ on his own. He seems to have read the whole book and enjoyed it. But, unfortunately, yet another publisher has returned it.
It is 9:40pm, and I have had a stiff whisky and will go to bed in a minute or two.
Scotland has voted Yes to a Parliament, and yes to tax raising powers. This is perhaps one of the most concrete results of the Thatcher years, and Major’s postscript. Wales votes next week. I have no particular opinion about this business other than that I have long felt the time is ripe for a redistribution of decision-making powers away from central government - down to the regions and up to the EU. There is an efficient level for every political decision to be made, and, as often as not, it is not at central government level. The nation state and dominant national government is only an historical phenomena - here this century, gone the next.
Here is a joke I had off Theo: I say, I say, I say, what’s the difference between a Skoda and a Mercedes? Why, Diana wouldn’t be seen dead in the back of a Skoda! Yes, Dianamania has continued. There is talk of renaming Heathrow airport after her, Elton John’s rerecording of ‘A candle in the wind’ has gone on sale, and he hopes to make £10m for the Diana fund (the government has agreed to forego the VAT!). The postmortem on the driver has shown conclusively that he was definitely drunk, and that he was doped to the eyeballs on Prozac and on a non-aggression drug. Fayed, the foreign scum and wimp, has finally admitted (after a ridiculous attempt to try and pretend he was OK), that the driver should have been sacked. Prince Charles and his kids have received, so far, 300,000 letters of condolences, many of them with presents. All of them will be answered, the news tells me - what a stupid thing to say, unless you want to encourage further millions.
Tuesday 16 September 1997
A bright sunny morning - maybe I’ll go to the common this afternoon and take some pictures. The last set of slides I took - mostly in Cornwall - were poor, poorly composed and poorly executed. There’s a couple of a cow in a field on Bodmin moor, and one of Adam in profile which are reasonable, but not one is worth printing up. I am thinking of buying a compact camera to take a series of photographs of the garden from a fixed spot - one every day for a whole year, perhaps once a week would be sufficient. I bought some camera magazines to inform myself, but there are so many cameras with so many features, it’s tricky to choose. Also, there is a whole new camera and film format out - called APS - which relies on electronics. The film case is simply dropped in (no messy pulling out the lead and fixing it on the ratchet), you can choose three shapes of picture, and you automatically print the date and a code word onto the picture. The film is still expensive and there isn’t much choice of film either. I don’t think I’ll try it. Digital cameras - through which you can take pictures and download them onto a PC - are also fast coming down in the price. But, as with camcorders, I cannot get excited by the prospects. After all, what can you do creatively with camcorders apart from record family and friends horsing around. Maybe, if I downloaded some of my arty-farty photographs onto a computer, I could enhance and improve them; I could even make them more arty farty I suppose, but then the skill and creativity in that would be a very different craft from that of taking photographs, and I could have messed around with painting/drawing software on the Mac for years, but I’ve never been interested. I could get a colour printer and print off my photos, but the quality would never be good enough for pictures any way, so why not stick with slides and machine prints.
A relaxed post-production week this one. But this really is the week I have to get on and do some sorting out. I’m supposed to be organising clubs and classes but so far, as so often before when I’ve tried to stoke myself up with activities, I seem to be getting nowhere.
I’ve just got over a bout of ringworm under my arm at the back of the right shoulder. I didn’t notice at first, and, although I spread Canestan on it couple of times a day, it seemed to spread quite fast across the skin in a kind of ripple. It took about two weeks to get rid of.
Friday 19 September 1997
Ah! the rain at last. I was worried I would have to get the hose out yet again, because even though its mid-September, the sun has been shining so consistently that many parts of the garden, including the grass, are parched. I sit here in the lounge, at a lovely old-fashioned oak dining table that I bought a few weeks ago for £25, by the garden window, looking out across the lawn to the magnificent oak. I am tapping away at my Tosh, which, after all these years, I still use and still enjoy. B has taken the old Apple machine to Moors Lane, so I have resurrected this old portable. I doubt I could ever sell it now because the Windows programme has become so universal that machines with too small a memory to carry it are redundant. It’s not ideal because I would still wish for a portable that I could use for a couple of hours without the battery running out, and without worrying whether I was going to exhaust the internal memory and flumux the settings.
I should be in the office working on EC Inform business, but this is a post-production week and I usually allow myself a little self-indulgence. Later this morning, I will drive into Godalming to check out the furniture auction and, possibly, buy a lot or two at a book auction which I scouted yesterday. There wasn’t much for me nor for B, but there were a couple of fun boxes - one full of Biggles for example - that might be worth getting for Adam. For £30-40 I can buy a box of 10-12 interesting old books. Compare this with my trip to Dillons yesterday when I spent over £70 on just four new hard backs: ‘Figments of Reality’ (‘The evolution of the curious mind’) by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. I really dithered over buying this book. It has a glossy cover and was well displayed, in quantity. I knew there was one recently published book on the subject that I wanted to buy after reading a review but I couldn’t remember if this was it. And I didn’t know either of the authors, nor is there a proper bibliography. In the end I decided to buy it, because it is so directly about one of the key areas I’m interested in and, at the very least, if it is bad, I would be inspired to pull it to pieces.
‘Enduring Love’ by Ian McEwan. There are a few authors that I will buy hard back - Ian McEwan is one of them. The reviews of this book gave it a thumbs up although with reservations. Also I got it priced down, and signed. ‘A Song of Stone’ by Iain Banks. I have not given Banks enough attention and now I intend to. ‘The Merry Heart’ by Robertson Davies. One of my favourite authors, and he had the affront to die recently. This is a collection of his essays, just published - I have only ever read his novels before, but this book was well reviewed.
I am still working through my last book purchases. This morning I finished Irvine Welsh’s ‘Ecstasy’. Welsh wrote ‘Trainspotting’ which has been such a successful film. ‘The Observer’ has said ‘Welsh is the undisputed leader of the new wave of contemporary British fiction.’ This is a statement I utterly dispute. ‘The Sunday Times’ sums him up much better: ‘Welsh’s world is spiky, trashy and brutal. It is also brilliant, hilarious and infused with a kind of punkish morality.’ There are three stories in ‘Ecstasy’, all of them revolve around drugs and drug culture. Welsh writes fascinatingly about both, and the reader is given insights into the highs and lows of a social life dependent on drugs. There is not much else, though. Once you take away the insight into drugs, there is not much left of the stories, no real short story craft, no original surprises, not even enough narrative or action.
I am also still working my way through, with difficulty, Umberto Eco’s ‘The Island of the Day Before’, which, for my head, has far too much detail about battles, and battle technique, clogging up the story. Also, I have still to make headway in Davies’ ‘The Cunning Man’.
In the mornings, at about 7:15 with my first cup of tea, I tend to sit for half an hour in the chair behind me, also overlooking the garden, and read another chapter from Gould’s ‘Dinosaur in the Haystack’. The essays are a usual Gould pic’n’mix of quotations from literature, reassessing the life and achievements of past scientists, and stressing the brilliance of Darwin and his ideas (plus a sprinkling of reiterating his own ideas on punctuated equilibrium).
Last night I nipped up to London for the evening - I took my bike on the train and cycled up from Waterloo to Dillons (where I bought the above). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Going to London now is a real trip. I notice, so much more than when I lived there and in the same way I used to view cities I visited as a tourist or traveller: I notice the glorious skylines, the impressive panorama of huge buildings old and new, the exciting views from the bridges; the density of traffic and volume of people urgent, tense, hurried. All the sights are so vivid.
Then I moved on down to the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden, to taste Luke’s latest offering. ‘Twelfth Night’. This is a busy little actors’ centre, with a bar and cafe, studios and class rooms. Luke himself does teaching here - Shakespeare I think. I got friendly with a girl - an actress - in the audience, who turned out to be a friend of Edda. They’d met on an advert shoot in South Africa - for tampons. After the show we all sat around in the bar and Edda explained how she had been chucked on the cutting floor, her friend, though, was retained for two seconds. Edda talked about the £17,000 in royalty cheques she had got from one advert for Ford, and so her friend was drooling with the thought of the royalty cheques arriving before Christmas.
I also got talking to another actress, doing one of Luke’s classes, who said she had done a lot of campaigning, especially for Transport 2000. She said she had become disillusioned and was feeling guilty because she hadn’t done much for ages. I told her that, in fact, change is taking place all the time, and that the problem with the green movement, so often, is that it expects changes to take place in lumps, in big steps, all at once. Whereas, the reality is that change takes time and happens incrementally and never creates headlines. Ten years ago environmentalism was the preserve of loony left groups, now no politician can afford to ignore the subject. A huge effort is under way at every level to improve the urban environment, to resolve the insoluble conflicts of transport policy and so on. She seemed quite relieved to hear it.
But, mostly, I tried to snatch conversations with Luke who was, as ever, much in demand. His eldest daughter Harriet, by his first wife, was there with her boyfriend. Many years ago, I went with Luke and his two children to the circus in Battersea, I haven’t seen her since, but she has a lovely smile and an easy way about her. She’s studying at Sheffield and will go to the US next year for an exchange. Will, his son, also lives with Luke and Edda and is studying for A-levels. There’s two other children, Sid, the child of Luke and Edda, who’s seven now I think, and Edda’s daughter.
Luke reminds me about his Doctorate on the role of gender in English theatre, or something like that. At the start of the evening, we, the audience, were subjected to a 10 minute scene from Hamlet (with all the characters played by men) and then asked to answer a questionnaire. Luke said it was for Middlesex Poly or Uni, I don’t know which any more, but it was actually for his own PhD research. He says he’s taking six months off soon to write the thing up, now most of the work is done.
Now, I’ve spent most of the morning writing this up and typing in some 1984 entries from Diary 24. It is the period at McGraw-Hill before I knew I would go to South America. But I clearly was finding it very tough. I write about being lonely and depressed a lot. There is not a lot of difference today! And, presumably, in many other periods in my life. There is nobody I know whose social life is so thin, so poor.
I have been making a little effort this week. I have signed up for line dancing classes in Farnham! I have tried to join the squash ladder at Godalming baths, but it’s not working at the moment. I have looked around the Willows squash and exercise club, but at £380 it seems a bit expensive, even if I do manage a couple of squash games a month. I intend to seek more information about a volleyball club at Spectrum.
Monday 22 September 1997
I go to the doctor. It is about a short fainting spell. She is at her home rather than the surgery. She spends ages talking to me and I begin to wonder about the other patients. But as we talk more, I realise there can’t be any other patients and she has wanted to spend this time with me.
I am in a crowded room and Harold is stoking up opinion against me. He is pleading with me for the fireplace. He tells me has just the right place for it and he wants it. I tell him no. But the crowds are so with him, he continues to insist loudly, and even manages to stop me replying. I hurry away and find myself wandering through empty streets in the dark. I seek out an area where no street lights reach. I am worried because Harold could simply engage one of the people living in the house to remove it for him. I can’t watch it all the time. I consider tightening the screws so tight they can’t be removed, but that doesn’t seem possible. I consider removing it altogether.
Then I am lost trying to get back to a hotel where my clothes are. It is a mountain village or town. There are cars everywhere. It is the day of the Princess’s wedding and I am her sister so I must be there. It is only half an hour to go, and I realise I have gone the wrong way. I find the right way but then there are obstructions and I have to go round them. When I get to the village where my hotel is, I can’t find the hotel, they all look so similar. Someone is helping me, I don’t know who but I trust him. He knows where to go, but suddenly he opens a door and his finger is trapped in a horrible device and he is screaming his head off because of the pain. I look at it closely, half his finger has been all but pulled off, but a thin part is still caught up in the contraption. I don’t know what to do. Somebody arrives with a pair of scissors and cuts the finger at the thin point which relieves the pain. I find the hotel I am looking for but it is not clear that my clothes are here. There are some clothes though. I find myself trying on a pink shirt, but there is nothing right to go with it. So I wear a red shirt with a pink tie and pink shorts! I rush to where I am supposed to join the procession. By this time I am also wearing a grey jacket over the red shirt and pink shorts. I am there just in time, to fall in behind the other members of the family. I seem to be imagining what a radio or TV commentator is saying about my clothes.
Tuesday 23 September 1997
Still brilliant sunny days - cool in the mornings and evenings, but bright and hot in the afternoons. I’ve spent the last couple of days setting up a few more pots of cuttings, and planting a few odds and ends, pyracantha at the side, a variegated hebe along the drive and a ceanothus ‘Blue mound’ in the bonfire area. I’ve also dug up newly sprouted rhododendron and replanted them along the front border.
I’ve bought a new camera - it’s tiny. An Olympus Mju II. It cost £120 but it’s autofocus, has f2.8 lens and enough features to keep me busy. I’ve bought it for snaps and to take a weekly photo of the garden.
On Sunday I nipped over to Spectrum centre and joined in a volleyball club. It is no have-a-laugh fun night, but serious sport. The session lasts for two hours, and much of it is spent practising. Well, for me, that was just as well, since I haven’t touched a volleyball for ten years. There are two nets set up - one is for the men who can really play, and the other is for all the others, most of whom are women. But the guy in charge did a good job of setting up the practice sessions to keep everyone busy, and even though we didn’t play a proper game because there were too many people, there was enough activity to satisfy me. I hung around afterwards for a drink. I’ll go again and see how I get on, but I can already sense that without any prospect of becoming a little bit better than average (which will be the case for me), I’m always going to be an outsider in such a club. It boasts a national team, for example, and several local league teams. If I’m going to devote one night a week to a club, I should do so in an area where there’s a long-term prospect of involvement. How can it be so difficult to find the right sort of hobby/sport/club?
Theo’s in Brussels, and I will be there next week.
Saturday 27 September 1997
Through the leaded lights of my office window, and above the amelanchiers, which are already losing their leaves, I can see, for a moment, a glorious orange ball, more like the moon than the sun, for it is veiled heavily by a swathe of clouds. All week, we’ve had bright balmy days, blue skies - no rain as yet - but today, finally, the weather seems to be on the turn. The orange ball has vanished now, with a thickening of cloud.
I always try to toon in to ‘Jazz Record Requests’ on Radio Three between 5 and 6 on Saturday. The last number is playing - it’s from ‘Guys and Dolls’ by the Miles Quintet, but I don’t recognise it. I spent this afternoon in Farnham because I had to take Ads and another Cub (Jason in the year below Adam at St James’) to a quiz contest, hosted by the Farnham group. As I had two hours to kill, I determined to . . . it was ‘If I were bell’ . . . spend some time in the library making initial investigations for a ‘History of Elstead’ study. A vague idea has been sloshing around in my head for a while, but I gave it more substance last week and decided to look at what has already been written on Elstead’s history. The ones I need are in the specialist library in Guildford, so I’ll have to go there. Meanwhile, I’ve taken a few more general books out from Farnham library. I also checked out the Farnham auction, but there was nothing of interest for me. Now that I have a table for my kitchen, I’m not in any immediate need. I will, though, eventually need furniture for the upstairs bedrooms, but it will be a couple of months before they’ll be painted and decorated. I did a bit of shopping at Sainsbury’s and took out £400 from the Bank (to pay the Brussels’ rent) before returning to the Scout hut. I found all the kids hovering around three barbecue sets desperately trying to brown their sausages on the end of sticks. Mostly, they were messing about and the sausages were falling in the ashes.
I’ve just had a visit from the police - this was my second actual visit, and my third direct contact with them since I’ve been in Elstead. It’s beginning to seem more dangerous than Kilburn! Yesterday, late afternoon, I wandered out into the garden, as I do quite often, and I saw small flames near Adam’s den. I rushed to the back of the garden and found two or three children playing with the fire. They said they were trying to put out the flames, but I suspected they were actually trying to fan them. One of them was Lee - who was in Adam’s class last year (but who is now at secondary school), and who Adam hated because he was so popular yet a bully as well - and his younger brother Jamie. There were a couple more children further back in the woods. I grabbed two of them and insisted they empty their pockets. None of them had any matches. I was angry but wasn’t sure how to act. I let them run off through the woods, but then decided to follow them. When they reached Red House Lane, they ran off down to the Thursley Road where I saw an older boy on a bike. I walked home, took another look at the damage to the den, and found an empty lighter on the ground. This made me even crosser for some reason, and I marched back out to the road to find Lee and his brother heading home. I told them I would have to tell their parents. The younger one started squealing about John having started it. I told their mother I was sorry I had to come round but I felt it was really dangerous if the boys carried on playing with fire. Their mother knew they must have been playing with a boy called John Strange, who has already had dealings with the police about fire attacks. She told Lee and Jamie off for playing with him. I asked if I should call the police, and she said I should. I said I wouldn’t mention Lee and James, but that I would say that some children mentioned John’s name. So I called the police.
Paul K Lyons
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