Monday 12 April 1993, Higher Weeke, Dartmouth

From where I sit at a table in the kitchen of this farm cottage, I can see streaks of sky beyond the row of fir trees that block the view just a few metres beyond the window. Half an hour earlier I could see the sun rising too, but it has now tucked itself behind the clouds for a quiet day. And now I see there is a wind, it must be a cold wind, unsettling the branches and bushes.

We have come to Dartmouth for another in the series of our week-long holidays since leaving Aldeburgh - the first was at Malvern, the second at Studland, the third at Tenby and now one here at Dartmouth. This house, along with an adjacent one, has been converted from one side of a three sided farmhouse. Although spacious, it is badly equipped. No sharp knives, no teapot, no shelf in the bathroom, no tin opener that works, no spare sockets anywhere (to run a radio, for example, or this computer). Most of the furnishings are extremely tacky, of course, and the heating arrangements are inefficient and therefore expensive. We have to pay extra for the raeburn in the kitchen to run but even when turned quite high it doesn’t keep the large kitchen very warm and we need to have an electric fire full on to keep the connecting lounge comfortable. Nevertheless, we expect little when we come to places like this and therefore cannot be much disappointed. Last time we took a few kitchen utensils but forgot this trip, so we are without a steamer for example. It is a change to have a raeburn to keep water on the boil ready instantly to make tea, and the oven always hot to heat up the breakfast rolls, pasties or to bake spuds. Also the front of the house has a conservatory attached which, if the sun were to come out, would be ideal for lounging and reading in the afternoon. The cold bedrooms remind us of Aldeburgh and all those icy winter nights we used to arrive late and have to hurry to bed to keep warm.

Also, in the second sitting room, which we do not use, there is a coal stove which reminded me of the flat in Fordwych Road. Although I have thought of that flat and those times often, I haven’t recalled that stove for a long time. It had doors and windows and when stoked up gave the most glorious orange glow to the room. Sometimes we would sit there in the dark just watching the firelight radiate out and glow in the room. It gave out a tremendous heat and warmed the large room well when kept going. But what a fag it was to clean. Thinking about the stove led me to think about those times again - Harold and Roser living in the small side room, the visits by Mu, the occasional presence of Mayco (after she moved out), the various other women that came and went, emptying out the front room and letting it to Harvey and Noelene. How on earth did I let Harold into my life to so completely take it over. Although he eventually caused me problems and heartache, he was a real catalyst for me, and those times with him stand out now like the glow of the stove in the dark.

I have also been thinking about my early life or rather trying to quantify how few are my memories. At about 10 or 11, just before we moved to Hoddesdon, I know I went on holiday to Alderney with a boy who lived near Grandma Dolly but until then, I cannot remember a single holiday, I cannot even remember leaving London - not once, not ever. Once we had moved to Hoddesdon and I was a teenager, then I do remember trips to the South of Spain, to Chiclana, I remember walking holidays with the school, a trip to the Black Forest, and one week at a holiday camp with Julian. I say I remember, it would be more accurate, in some cases, to say I know those trips existed. I have no actual memories of the Black Forest visit or the holiday camp (other than the competition which I won to find seaweed types). But I must ask Mum about holidays before 1963.

Our drive down to Dartmouth was uneventful. We left around 6.30am and stopped for the first time in Honiton - a town which, although no longer on the main road, still bears its spirit as it stretches long and thin. B ate a big breakfast minus the bacon which A and I ate. We stopped also in Newton Abbot for no discernible reason other than we were a bit early, and then again in Totnes. Both places were teeming with people. Although I have been to Totnes many years ago (for a festival with Harold and a whole gang I seem to remember), I didn’t recall the high street or castle. I was surprised by how many good-looking and alternative people were milling around - quite a different clientele, so to speak, from Newton Abbot, Honiton or Dartmouth. We stopped just long enough to lunch in The Country Kitchen (yuk, what self-respecting town in the West doesn’t have a restaurant called The Country Kitchen - the food was edible if unoriginal). We didn’t really explore Dartmouth properly either since we were more concerned with buying supplies and collecting information. But I am much impressed, the deep water narrow estuary is truly spectacular with the forested hills on either side, the harbours and watercraft activities, the castles, and the slate-rooved houses of the town itself stretching up the hill-side.

Wednesday 14 April 1993, Dartmouth

We have not been lucky with the weather this time, it has been rather cold, and every day there have been showers of longer or shorter duration. Only occasionally do we see the sun. This morning is grey and grisly. I have not yet begun to relax properly. Some of the signs are that I begin to take photographs, that I go for a swim in the sea and that I make up stories for Adam. My mind has been a sort of blocked drain, full of the dregs of our daily life; I find no jewels of any shape or colour there to enliven this record.

The most unusual event so far has been my putting unleaded petrol in my car inadvertently, something, I’ve never done before.

Day One, Sunday. After breakfast we simply walked out from the farm well wrapped up and with our wellingtons on, across the fields to the farm and houses at Little Dartmouth, from where one can already see the sea. We passed a beautiful white house, set apart from the hamlet, with a grey-tiled side facing the sea, and a lovely garden spilling down from the house on several sides. Just beyond that house we came to the coastal path and then followed that all the way round the headland to Dartmouth Castle. B and A were much impressed with the array of wild plants in flower; one grassy bank was covered in bluebells on the lower half and the bright yellow of gorse across the top half, the contrast or combination of the two being delightful. B spotted a large metallic blue beetle which also caused delight.

The path undulates not far above the rocky outcrops of the coast before falling to sea level near Compass Cove and Blackstone point. Although when we started out we were alone, by the time we reached there, the path was as busy as Totnes High Street on Easter Saturday. From Blackstone Point the path leads up through a forested section until arriving at Dartmouth Castle before very long. After our long walk, it was cruel to discover the tea shop was closed. The area around the entrance to the Castle is pleasant with church and a graveyard and lawns. We each sat on different benches and watched Adam climbing about over gravestones. The trek back up the road to Higher Weeke was a bit laborious but all part of the fun.

In the afternoon, we drove west past Slapton Sands, to have a look at Halsands and Start Point. North Halsands, in particular, reminded me of Dunwich as both places have suffered severely from sea erosion. I don’t think Halsands was ever a thriving Middle Ages port in the way Dunwich was, its erosion took place at the beginning of this century and largely because large quantities of shingle were removed for construction work elsewhere. Now there stands a hotel on a small cliff above Halsands beach, defiant, and proud in its isolation. Yesterday, we saw old photographs of the village - one of them showed a cart full of furniture being pulled up the village street as the sea claimed another building.

At Start Point, all three of us skipped along the path towards the lighthouse as the sun came out for a few minutes (just a quarter of an hour earlier the rain had driven us off Halsands beach). Adam clambered about over the rocks and B admired the liberal sprinkling of primroses in the fields.

Shall I go for a swim this morning, or not? It looks ever so cold out there, and wet. The sea is but a liquid iceberg, I tested it yesterday. Go. I must go.

Friday 16 April 1993, Dartmouth

Yes, dearly beloveds, it is only 4.47am. I am yawning away but unable to sleep. All night long I have tossed and turned, I have barely been able to stay in one position for more than a few seconds without wanting to scratch or change my position. My very best attempts to fool myself and channel thoughts elsewhere have failed miserably. It is though my mind is afraid to fall asleep for what it might encounter there, yet I can find no trace of what its concerns might be. The only possible explanation is that I suffered a very slight sunstroke yesterday or perhaps a burning of the back of the eyes (they feel rather sore this morning). I did catch a lot of sun yesterday and there was a constant glare from the sea I now remember. Last evening, I felt slightly feverish with a headache and a hot face and ears and had to douse myself with cold water. I went to bed before 10, so my rising now, at 5, is not that early. I just wish I had slept a bit more up to now.

Yes, dearly beloveds, sun. Yesterday was the most glorious June day, such a contrast from the miserable grey wet cold February days of earlier in the week. Yesterday was a day for shorts and t-shirt, but I was up and on my route far too early to know that; I wore three jumpers and carried a spare anorak in my pack. But what a glorious walk, from St Mary’s to Kingswear along the coast path. But I have a problem of chronology. Much as I would like to write about my day’s walk yesterday, and much as that walk is freshest in my mind, I feel it would be awkward journal-keeping if I weren’t to cover the earlier days of the week first. (Thank god I have something other to record than my daily perturbations over EC Inform subscriptions, though all that will be back with me before a couple of days have passed.)

On Easter Monday, B stayed here at the farmhouse to catch up on some data entry while I took Adam to Totnes for the day. We started with a swim in the municipal pool, which was remarkably free of people. Our next stop was the Dartington Cyder Press Centre, although why it continues to use the Cyder Press bit in its name, I don’t know. There is an old wooden apple press standing in the grounds (Adam has drawn a picture of it for his diary) but there is no working cyder press there today. The place was already busy and the car parks filling up. I had chosen to come here on this holiday day because I thought there might be more activity than on a weekday. Indeed this proved to be so. We encountered a Peruvian harpist, whose tinkling filled the air for most of our time there, we enjoyed an excellent clown/juggler busker’s show, and Adam spent half an hour making a clay Panda at the workdesk of a potter in one of the galleries. There were also some Appalachian dancers, whatever they are, which we watched for a minute and no more. There are shops for Dartington glass, local artists, food and wine, stationary, gifts, plants. There is a Cranks restaurant and one other tea stall but, on this crowded day, the service was very slow.

We went back to Totnes, I’m not quite sure why, and walked through the town. We spent a memorable half an hour in a quaint tea house with a vast selection of home-made cakes. Deciding on one was a horrible, horrible task. We sat right next to an old Victorian collage screen and played I-Spy with it. Adam has become really quite smart at I-Spy and can often beat B or I. For example, whereas I stuck to objects such as ‘cat, door, doll’, Adam moved on to words such as ‘stripes’ or ‘decorations’ when the easy ones had gone. And when we were playing it while walking through a wood on the Sunday, he was cleverly picking out species of plants rather than just the word ‘flower’ or ‘tree’ and, in so doing, often won a second or third go.

Saturday 17 April 1993, London

After a week in a house full of rather tacky furbishings it is a pleasure to return to my house in Aldershot Road, even if it has a faded, ever-so-slightly grimy feel to it these days. I drove back via the M5/M4, which made the journey dull but shorter than it would have been otherwise. The traffic was light and the route unnaturally devoid of road works.

The situation in Bosnia, Srebrenica, has worsened during the last few days and the Serbs are about to take the city. Srebrenica has become a focus of international attention with a United Nations presence there protecting the remaining Bosnian Muslims. But the Serbs have laid the town to siege for weeks and are now about to take it. Serbian advances across other parts of the former Yugoslavia have been taking place regularly over the last year, with much killing. Srebrenica is different because of the UN presence and the international attention being focused on it. A peace plan brokered, as they say, by David Owen and Cyrus Vance, which would bring in a cease fire and the delineate territory, has been talked about for months but seems no nearer acceptance by the Serbs. There are increasing demands for the United Nations to lift the sanctions and allow Muslims to arm and defend themselves, and for it to take more decisive and positive action against the Serbs. The UN has, just, unanimously agreed to demarcate Srebrenica as a safe haven but has not agreed any powers to police the decision. All attention is now on efforts to negotiate a surrender of the city and the safe retreat of tens of thousands of civilians. I understand little of the detail of this conflict and neither can I find myself holding a strong opinion about what should be done. I remember my ex-correspondent Nada forcefully telling me the West should use military force to stop the Serbs, and I remember, two years ago, Maya telling me that the conflict would go on, and the only thing the West could do would be to let the civil war rage and help pick up the pieces afterwards. The main stream of Western political thought is that military intervention will be costly, go on for a long time, and would not necessarily lead to success.

After that diversion into European events, I must return to the banality of our tourist activities. Tuesday was a rather wet and grisly day. B wanted to visit Bigbury-by-Sea as she went there a lot as child. I thought we would be able to cross from Bantham by ferry but, as the ferry only runs on holidays, we were instead confined to wandering around the Bantham sand dunes and looking out across the estuary towards the bungalows of Bigbury and Burgh Island, which can be reached on foot at low tide. Agatha Christie, who lived for many years up the Dart at Greenway, wrote one famous book, the name of which I cannot remember, set on Burgh Island, I think. Adam enjoyed the dunes and finding secret passages through them. B wondered silently along the shore line making footprints in the sand. Just as the rain came, we took to the car and drove around the coast but found much of it spoilt and little to like. The cute sounding Inner and Outer Hope, set beautifully around small beaches, have been ruined by thoughtless development. Eventually, we came on Salcombe, a small hilly town, and, like Kingsbridge and Dartmouth, a river estuary harbour with much boating activity. An astonishingly narrow high street curls within a few metres of the harbour edge and barely admits a car and a pedestrian at the same point. Battling against the rain and a parade of restaurants with micro-wave menus, we eventually won out and found a delightful place, by the water’s edge, which served fresh fish carefully cooked - both B’s salmon and my sole were excellent, and the banana sundae we shared for desert was wickedly large and deliciously delicious.

For the afternoon, I had chosen a visit to Overbeck’s Museum and Garden as likely to entertain both A and B. The building, although itself rather plain, is beautifully situated at Sharpitor, a little up river from Salcombe, on the hillside high, providing stunning views along the estuary. One enters the house through a small conservatory crowded with small potted citrus fruits. The lady at the till takes over £9 from me for entry to the house and garden and does her best to persuade us to join the National Trust (family membership, she says, is only £48). I have no objection to paying the £9 but when I then have to pay further money for very thin leaflets one each about the house, the garden and a children’s quiz, my enthusiasm becomes tinged with suspicion. The museum is written up as especially good for children because it has a secret room, and Adam was given a secret message as we entered. However, it seems every child gets exactly the same secret message (find Fred the friendly ghost) and finding Fred (an inch high knick-knack hidden so as to be visible only through a small mirror in a toy’s house display) was only something an older child could manage alone. Adam did enjoy the secret door, leading out of the hall, but not the toy room exhibits. I was disappointed by the museum; there were only three or four rooms, some with a mediocre natural history display, and some with mediocre odds and ends concerning the local region. I was even cross with the children’s quiz - as with the secret message, it seems to me it would have been so easy to provide activity on two levels, one for smaller children and one for near-teenagers. I felt the secret message and the quiz had been composed years ago and never changed or made fresh or re-thought about.

By the time I got to the garden, my support for Overbeck was fading fast. If it had not been for the steep hillside setting and a few palm trees able to survive in the sheltered warm climate, there would be little to commend this garden. B noted there was no master in charge. It was pretty enough but not worth the entrance price by any means. To cap it all, we took tea in a grand room with lovely old tables and wood panelling but the huge ornate teapot we were given at £1.50 for a two-person pot, was filled only half full and contained just two teabags. It was a suitable symbol for Overbeck, showy and expensive but without much substance.

Disappointed by man, in this instance, and urged (as always) by Adam to go on a walk, we turned to nature and strolled along the cliff top towards the sea. Despite a very muddy path, we were rewarded with sunshine (for most of the day it had been raining quite hard) and stunning views towards the sea and out across the river mouth. We found a circular route that took us on a somewhat precipitous path, much to B’s dismay for she hates anything resembling a height (for which A and I now tease her), nearer sea level but which was equally enjoyable.

Sunday 18 April 1993, London

Adam and I meet Raoul and his four children in Hyde Park at nine this morning. He says I look well and relaxed, he looks about average but much whiter of hair. Jack and Sophie get into an early scrape together and Adam looks on bewildered. Afterwards though they play together without incident for most of the time we are together.

As I write this, Adam is finishing off his holiday diary. It will be his sixth after France, Malvern, Portugal, Studland and Tenby. It is still a bit of struggle to get him to draw the pictures and dictate the text and I have to prompt him quite a bit. But, overall, he does enjoy doing it and loves to have it afterwards. This one is a satisfactory combination of the main events of the holiday and the little and more personal ones that stick in a child’s mind. He has done line drawings mostly, which are a bit sloppy but they do show originality and imagination, and, for the first time, a real desire to put in the occasional and unexpected detail. For example, he just showed me a picture of himself climbing up one of the Tors on Dartmoor and two of the large rocks had very black, rather untidy bits drawn on them; these, he said, were the shadowy parts.

We spent Wednesday morning pottering around Dartmouth. I tried to find a barber and failed. B did some shopping. A and I spent half an hour in the Dartmouth Museum, which at 90p for the two of us, was so much better value than Overbeck. It was full of model ships, wooden ones, glass ones, ivory ones, miniature ones; there were lots of ships-in-the-bottle and lots of pictures of old ships. Adam particularly liked the Mayflower and the small glass ships. The house itself reeked with age, with ancient floorboards sloping down one way, and the ceiling sloping a different way. The museum leaflet cost just 5p (as opposed to 35p at Overbeck). In the afternoon, A and I had a lovely walk, again over the nearest hill past Little Dartmouth and down to the coast. On the way Adam asked if we could do one dodgy thing. I said I’ll think about it but before long I’d spied some steep steps cut into the grassy bank which looked ideal as a ‘dodgy thing’. I left Adam sitting still on a safe tuft of grass, and checked out the path. Although it was a bit steep and slippery (it would have been too difficult for B) we managed it without a problem. At sea level, we found ourselves alone in a small pebble-strewn cove with lots to explore. The tide was ebbing which made it possible - without wellingtons - to wade onto a small rocky island and round a rocky edge to another tiny cove. All exciting stuff for a five year old. I left Adam to play alone for a while while I tried to develop a story line entitled ‘The Books’ for a children’s short story competition. At one point, both A and I heard a noise in the cove but we had no idea where it had come from. I looked up and saw a person walking along the the cliff top above the cove, and I assumed he had knocked or thrown something down. I spent a few moments wondering whether we were at risk from stones and decided that the chances of being hit were remote. Then, half an hour later, Adam spotted a dead rabbit near the back of the cove in a place I’m sure I had walked past earlier. The rabbit looked well dead and quite bedraggled with its fur very patchy. A few minutes later, it occurred to me that the noise could have been the rabbit falling. We poked the animal and it was all stiff with rigor mortis, but I did not know whether this meant it had died recently or not. The dead rabbit intrigued Adam.

In the evening, we all took the ferry across the Dart and strolled around Kingswear for half an hour to take advantage of the sunshine. The lower car ferry, which holds about 10 vehicles, is somewhat unusual in being a simple floating platform with a ramp or lip at both ends which can be raised and lowered for the cars to drive on and off; it has no engine or visible steering mechanism, rather it is controlled by a tug which fastens itself on to the side and directs and propels the motion. The actual journey takes but a few minutes as the tug pulls out from the ferry loosening one rope and turns round to face the new direction it then drives back into the ferry’s side and refastens the ropes. At land’s edge, the tug simply pushes the ferry onto a concrete ramp and the lip sits tidily on the ramp, with a moveable wooden wedge tucked in to lessen the bumb as the vehicles drive off. Passengers pay 40p one way, a real rip off, I think. If, as I was contemplating one evening, we had taken the ferry over for a drive, it would have cost the best part of £5 to get there and back. Rip off, but then demand must dictate the price. Even at that price and in the middle of the week, the ferry was extremely popular, especially at rush hour times. It must be a nightmare in the summer.

Thursday 22 April 1993, London

Life rumbles on. B, A and I in our hermit cave.

Business was brisk while I was away - there were seven cheques waiting for me, including six fresh orders; and on Monday, I got another three orders. However, the rest of the week has been as quiet as the graveyard. So far only one order has come from the April mailing. Still I mustn’t grumble, I have over 50 paid subscriptions in less than four months, if I carry on at even half this rate, I should meet my 100 target by the end of the year and probably be eligible for VAT registration, which is something to look forward to. The biggest question-mark at the moment is over ‘EC Energy Review’, my new quarterly. Over 1,000 went out earlier this month with the monthly, and today I have finalised a mailing of 400 to libraries worldwide. But, as I am selling the quarterly at only £90 an issue, I need to pull in about three to every one of the monthly for the same marketing spend. I calculate that if the quarterly doesn’t fly I can just continue it as a free supplement for the monthly subscribers.

As to what is going on in Brussels, I have no idea; it is though I go into hibernation for two weeks or so every month and lose touch with all developments.

Adam has started his new school - Emmanuel on the corner of Mill Lane and West End Lane. The car journey takes between 5 and 10 minutes each way every morning and afternoon. Crossing the Kilburn High Road is the biggest pain in the morning; and in the afternoon, the biggest jam occurs around the school itself as parents jiggle and juggle their cars around the school entrance. So far so good. Adam is rather quiet and undemonstrative when he comes home from school, but he seems far less socially-agitated, if I can use that phrase, than he was on his return from St Mary’s. Only time will tell if he settles down more comfortably. Personally, I don’t much like the look of the teachers, the parents or the children, but then I always was a misanthropist, and notorious for making ill-founded snap judgements.

But back to our holiday, the memory of which already disintegrates into a jigsaw with a thousand missing parts.

As usual, on these cottage-hiring holidays, I took one day to go on a long hike alone. In Malvern, I walked the crest of the Malvern Hills, and when in Studland and Tenby, I did a day on the coast paths. Through our daily wanderings, I had explored most of the coast path nearby except for the stretch south of Dartmouth from Brixham to Kingswear. And as I wasn’t feeling fully fit (I don’t know why), the ten mile stretch was about right. I took the bus to Brixham’s St Mary’s Sands and began walking back round the coast towards Dartmouth. The weather was glorious from the start, perhaps too glorious, for it meant that there were more people on the coastal path than there would have been otherwise. I was much disappointed in the coast, to start with, I could only notice the crumbling untidy cliffs and the scruffy cliff-tops, but I soon changed my mind as I left behind Sharkham Point and moved on towards Man sands. With little wind and the sun shining hot I was beginning to wonder whether I would actually manage a skinny dip. Man Sands, itself, was a delightfully quiet place, with a green shallow stream valley sloping down to the sands. A rather lovely old and isolated cottage sat at the back of the beach by the side of the stream with some remains of brick-making or pottery around. Unfortunately, there was an old man and a young boy on the beach. I stopped for a short chat. He said the National Trust, which own the land, rents out the cottage. It is also trying to keep cars from the coast although there is a track which reaches down to the beach.

I walked on, back up to the cliff top with beautiful views of the rocks and beaches below, and on until descending again at Scabbacombe Sands. By this time, so hot was the sun, I was convinced it was the middle of summer. I was alone for a while on Scabbacombe Sands but several groups of people began to arrive within minutes, even though there is no road access at all to this beach, and they looked like they had come to stay. I parked myself at one end of the beach by some rocks and near a small waterfall and determined to entirely ignore the presence of others. I ate sandwiches and then changed into my swimming trunks. But I couldn’t get into the water, even after accustoming myself for 15 or 20 minutes. I’m sure the water was colder than normal this year, and the coarse stony sand didn’t help as I couldn’t cope with the pain in my feet. I talked for a while to a lady who lives nearby and had brought her daughter to play. After that I took a plunge and did manage, finally, to fully submerse myself before rushing out. Ah, but it felt so good, so refreshing, I could have stayed on that beach all day, sunbathing and taking freezing dips every now and then; but I had to get on with my main business of the day.

The coastal path only descended once more to near sea level before Kingswear and that was at Pudcombe Cove, above which there is an NT garden spreading down the sides of a small stream which leads into the cove. Although I was getting tired and kept on hoping the path would turn into the Dart estuary, Scabbacombe Head was an unexpectedly wild and beautiful spot, with grassy slopes along the cliff tops and sharp drops down towards coves and rocky headlands, often inhabited by lone cormorants or shags. At Inner Froward point, one discovers a whole series of disused military buildings - gun emplacements, storehouses, and, presumably, dormitories and shelters.

I was back in Dartmouth, somewhat sunburnt on the face, a little after two; and half an hour later I met A and B arriving off the ferry boat return from Totnes. Later in the evening, we went for a drive round Dittisham and Tuckenhay. Dittisham has some of the feel of Aldeburgh, although as a river village, it looks very different. At Tuckenhay we chanced on The Maltsters Arms for a drink, only to discover it is a little bit famous in the area for its food.

In the evenings at the farmhouse, we watched television but I tended to want to read. I am still reading Beaverbrook’s biography; I’ve started a book by Burgess on language, although I cannot match his enthusiasm for the subject as I feel I’m supposed to as a reader; much more to my taste is Roger Bickerton’s ‘Language and Species’ which I bought and read a couple of years ago. He uses the study of language for a reason, Burgess just seems to wallow in the structure of language for its own sake.

Saturday 24 April 1993, Brighton

On our last day in Devon, we resolved to explore a little of Dartmoor. B has very fond memories of the region from her Plymouth childhood and was keen to run around on a patch of Dartmoor just as she did when small. I felt we were staying a bit far away from Dartmoor and that our holiday was really a coastal one and that we should come back and do a week on Dartmoor itself, but B’s will was firm. I had trouble picking one place to go and one walk and in the end it took us the best part of an hour to drive there. There were three good bits to the day: a short walk to Bench Tor, a delicious lunch, and a wonderfully relaxing hour sat by a riverside, near Hexworthy.

The walk was taken from a short book of walks. We parked the car and walked an unpromising mile or two over very flat Dartmoor land. But, as promised by the book, the walk led us to Bench Tor, a collection of craggy outcrops like all Tors, with a remarkable view down below into the wooded but not yet green Dart valley. The woods, of which there was no evidence until we arrived at the Tor, began just the other side as the land dropped steeply and steadily down towards the river. The view into the valley was largely one of soft grey/brown tree-tops and was made rather special because, as you look down, the Dart has a right angle in the centre of the view, with a straight line on either side, giving a sort of mirror image.

We sat around for ages there climbing the different rocks, and trying to work out what type of trees they were. A elderly man came up to us and asked if we’d found a letterbox. I had to confess we didn’t know what he was talking about, and, like a genie out of the lamp, he gave us an encyclopaedic discourse on the topic of Dartmoor’s letterboxes. Simply stated they are metal or plastics boxes which have been hidden all over the moor (some 20,000, he claimed) and which contain a rubber stamp and a visiting book. Letterboxers tour the moor hunting the boxes, signing the visiting books when they find one, and stamping the boxes mark into their own record book. Each stamp is supposed to have some connection with the moor - a plant, animal, piece of history etc. Our raconteur, a retired history teacher, got quite carried away with his stories about how different letterboxes came into being while, his wife of just six months, came to stand patiently by him. He showed us a slim book wherein, he said, were listed some 2,000 letterbox coordinates and a short clue. This book is regularly updated for fanatics and appears to be the only way to collect a goodly number. Before pushing on to his next letterbox, he gave us instructions to find a couple of boxes nearby. One I found - Barn Owl - and the other I contrived for Adam to find. How strange that I have never heard of letterboxes, it’s a culture that quite appeals to my nature. I doubt I could get quite as enthusiastic as our initiator but it might be fun to explore Dartmoor and letterboxes with Adam at some point.

And what a fine lunch of rabbit pie and fresh vegetables in a Dartmoor pub - I would certainly go back there again if in the area.

After lunch we chanced on a small parking area from where one could explore the river and its stony shores. I sat on the grass and read the paper, B walked upstream a while, and Adam went on adventures by crossing stepping stones to islands in the river. There were one or two other children there, and the road wasn’t far away, but still it really was a delightful stop; we didn’t realise quite how lovely it had been until, after returning to the car, we drove on a few miles to Dartmeet. B had wanted to visit Dartmeet but it was nothing like what she remembered: there was a huge carpark with hundreds of cars, a couple of mobile burger vans, toilet buildings, and people milling round everywhere. Yuk! B said her memory of Dartmeet was much more like the place we had been resting at, with its grassy tree-lined banks and its many boulders and river islands.

On the way back we stopped at Dartington Hall to give B a view of the gardens. The whole place is an utter delight; if I lived in the region I would be visiting regularly to stroll through the lawns and imbibe the restful atmosphere and lovely sightlines.

Saturday saw us leave the farmhouse a little after eight and race back to London on the M5 and M4. It took us a little over four hours. Adam behaved impeccably. Thus ends the chronicle of our South Devon holiday.

Monday 26 April 1993, London

Another Monday gone, tomorrow it will be Tuesday. On Wednesday I go to Brussels for my May trip/issue. Life wobbles on.

Adam appears to be getting on fine at his new school Emmanuel’s. I see children smile at him, which never happened at St Mary’s, and so far, after five full days, he has not chewed once. At St Mary’s he was coming home every day with both sleeves soaking from having been chewed all day long. As for me, well I dislike having to make the car journey twice a day; crossing the Kilburn High Road is a pain and there is always some hold up or other. Apart from the wear and tear on the car, there’s the wear and tear on my car driving sensibilities.

I have bought a new computer programme for Adam - ‘Spelunx and the caves of Dr Seudo’. Ah what fun. It has been built using the hypercard programme and, fundamentally, is not much different from the alphabet soup game B and I developed for him. Spelunx is, however, a dozen orders of magnitude cleverer, more fun, more complicated and intriguing. When I consider the amount of time B and I put into making our hypercard game, Spelunx is a steal at £30. Basically, one moves around the screen by clicking the mouse. As the programme opens, one has to go down in a lift to Dr Seudo’s caves. There are three caves each of which has its own geography and each of which contains dozens of activities. One, for example, looks like a giant teapot, but when you click in the right place a door is revealed which leads into a forest. There is a clearing with four leaves on the floor and a lamp hangs from a tree. Clicking on anything but the lamp does nothing, but once the lamp is lit, each of the four leaves can be moved to reveal a button. Each button when pressed lights up a distant part of the forest and, by clicking, one can move to that part and encounter whatever activity is waiting there. There are word construction games, music-making games, drawing and picture games, a number of different activities designed to introduce simple scientific principles, gravity, cartesian coordinates, thunder and lightning, chemicals. In order to move between the caves, one must navigate along a simple system of tunnels; however, there is also a mechanism, using a secret code, to change around how the caves are connected and to add new tunnels, which must then be navigated with the aid of a map. Although initially I was disappointed that Spelunx was in black and white (colour hypercard has yet to diffuse through to the UK), having explored the caves myself a little (!) I am quite pleased with it after all; and Adam loves it.

What a busy weekend. On Friday evening, B and I had our appointment with Tomorrow Today International at Hendon Hall Hotel. I had been promised a free week’s holiday if I attended an exhibition and answered some questions, lasting no longer than 90 minutes; what a fiasco. After a gruelling time trying to convince salesmen I had no interest in timeshare (I had been promised this was not about timeshare) I was given the promised enveloped with a holiday ‘any time in the next 18 months’ but it turned out to mean that we’d only be offered one holiday one time, with 14 days notice, leaving from any airport in the UK!!

Early on Saturday morning we drove down to Brighton. Early on Sunday morning Peter and Tony turned up our doorstep, having arrived half a day earlier from Germany than we were expecting. And, in the afternoon, we had to drive to Stoke Poges for Phoebe Bull’s christening.

Peter and Tony Piper have come to the UK for a month or so to look at the possibility of returning to live here; they’ve been in Germany for 15 years.

Wednesday 28 April 1993, Brussels

A calm balmy summer’s day here in the capital of Europe. It was cold and windy when I left London but on arrival this morning (an hour late) the temperature was around 20 centigrade. There is a heat wave across central Europe, so I understand, which is just bordering on Brussels. I have the windows wide open and can feel the occasional warm breeze drifting across my face. The first such days in the year always turn my thoughts to love and romance.

I slept for a couple of hours this afternoon (so often I need this sleep after arriving in Brussels but for no discernible reason) yet I am still tired now and it is only a little after 10 - 9 in UK time. Perhaps it is because I had a beer earlier. Wanting to enjoy the air, I strolled over towards St Catherine church and sat in the square drinking a Stella and watching the people at the other tables.

Earlier this evening, I saw an unusual sight, one I can’t ever remember seeing in the city. As I went to open the window a bit wider, a large jet black bird swooped down, in a nose dive, from the roof of this building to a hole in the brick in the wall opposite. Quick as a flash, the crow had pulled a small sparrow out of the hole and hauled it across to the gutter of another building. For a while it just stood there with its prey pressed down by its feet, then it began to peck away with its vicious sharp beak until soon feathers were being discarded in the air, to waft away slowly in all directions. Once the meat had been defeathered, the bird plucked up its food and flew away.

Yes, we entertained Peter and Tony for a morning, although Adam and I escaped to the swimming pool for an hour or so. I should report that for the first time, Adam really tried to swim with both his hands and feet outstretched and making a huge amount of splashes. Up to now, he has only ever attempted a much safer and less risky type of doggy paddle. Of course he still had his arm bands on but I could see that he is beginning to worry far less about getting water on and around his face.

Peter chatted non-stop and managed to inform me further, completely unprompted, of a number of things about my past; things she may have told me before and which didn’t sink in, or fresh information. For example, she went on about how my mother really wanted to Frederic to leave and that his going off to the States was not a one-sided decision. She also implied that my mother was having affairs at the time. Most importantly, though, she confirmed to me that Frederic was actually devoted to me and took me around with him all over the place. I have always felt this must be the case because many parts of my personality seems to stem back to him and because I feel quite certain that his leaving scarred me. My mother has always insisted that Frederic did not much care for me and that I didn’t notice it when he went. Well, everything I know about him and about psychology now tells me that cannot have been true. I had no recollection, for another example, that she gave me a key to her flat, when I was about eight, in order that I could escape from home if necessary - but what for, were things with Sasha bad in those early days? I’ve no idea.

It took us less than 90 minutes to drive to St Giles Church Stoke Poges, where Melanie and Julian’s first born - Phoebe - was being christened at 3.00pm. The vicar used his allotted time to press home a few Christian truths and made a point of pronouncing christened as CHRIST-ened. At one point, he was talking about sin and told the congregation that they probably knew much more about it than he did - I’m sure it was a mistake but he said it as though he knew and we knew and we knew that he knew that we were all underworld criminals. It was like a sort of in-joke between him and the congregation, only the congregation weren’t part of it, and it sounded really quite rude.

At the Bull stately suburban mansion - a large modern house and a large garden - where refreshments were being served, a dozen or more young children had collected. Adam soon made friends with Christopher Bull, one of the children of one of Julian Bull’s brothers. Christopher was quite at home in Grandpa’s garden and led Adam off to all sorts of secret hide-outs and passages. For about half an hour all the children were treated to a magic show, they then spilled out into the garden again to enjoy its various delights.

May 1993

Paul K Lyons


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