Sunday 3 August 1997

Two weeks of idleness stretching before me (Theo is on holiday for a fortnight), to be followed by a 7-10 day holiday in Cornwall. But I am frightened, terribly frightened for idleness. Already I am cross with myself for wasting half the summer holidays. Three weeks have passed since we went to press with EC Inform-Transport 7 and what I have done, what I have achieved? Zilch, zero, nothing. I can’t even be precise about how the days have passed.

This last week, Adam was at the Freetime Camp. I spent the equivalent of a day in the garden, continuing my landscaping efforts. A further half day, and some evening time, I spent buying stuff for the bathroom and DIYing it into place. I worked for a few hours on a plan for a new EC energy policy book. I spent a few hours discussing with Theo a first EC transport book and the layout for our new website, which Theo is designing. I spent a couple of hours deciding on software to buy (Adobe PageMill, Broken Sword and the Logical Journey of the Zoombinis - the last two for Adam). Oh yes, I spent a day writing up the Agenda 2000 material for ECI-T and ECI-E. And that’s about it.

This weekend I am reorganising the kitchen cupboards. I have a very bad toe, probably gout, and am hobbling about all over the place, but removing everything from all the cupboards and deciding on how best to store them is taking up most of this weekend.

But what about the week before. Did I do anything from Monday to Friday. Adam broke up from school on Tuesday. I think I spent a day in the garden, but there were a couple of days where I didn’t feel very well and I mooched around the house. Adam and I went to Farnham for a few hours on one of the days. Theo was on holiday on Tuesday and in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday, so Friday I spent much of the time, going through the material he brought back with him. But otherwise, I am blank as to what I did.

And the week before. Well there was filing and indexing and some admin stuff, and the Friday was taken up with Rosy’s funeral and wake.

So the question remains, can I make better use of the next two weeks. Trouble is there are certain things I have to get done: the quarterly VAT returns (one day); the upstairs doors need rehabilitating (half a day); repair of outside sashes and frames (half a day); tidying up garage (half a day); further landscaping in the garden (two days); and then there’s Adam’s birthday on Monday and that will take up most of the day - so that’s one of the weeks gone already!

Two weeks ago today I had my first potentially romantic encounter for - yes it must be - years and years. It is certainly the first since moving into this area. I have not yet followed it up to test whether there is potential so to speak - both from my point of view (do I fancy her?) and from hers - although I hope to do so this week. This is how it happened (oh dear diary do not castigate me for going into detail, my life is all too empty of people). Sunday before last, in the afternoon, Ads and I had headed off down Westbrook Lane on our bikes with the intention of a trip to the river at Tilford. But we decided to stop for a while at the rope swing, which is about half way there. There were a few older lads there who encouraged Adam to play about, and there was a lady there with her son, about Adam’s age. He was a bit shy and not taking any goes on the swing. I talked a little to the mother before we rode on to Tilford. Adam took a paddle in the river there, while I watched the cricket. I was really hoping that, on our return, the lady and her son would still be there. Unfortunately, though, we must have just missed them. The following Sunday, I endeavoured to go back with Adam to the swing, in the hope that she too would return. And she did! Adam found a number of his schoolfriends there also, James and the twins, so he rushed in to play with them, while I stood nearby and chatted to the lady, Genny. I talked with her for ages and all the while her son, David, sat next to her playing with the soil. He wouldn’t play on the swing and in the water with the other lads, it was only later when they had gone and there was only the four of us that he ventured in. And then, later, Genny asked us back to her cottage in Tilford, where she gave me tea while Adam played nicely with David (afterwards he said how nice David was ‘not boasting all the time like Adrian and Philip’).

Very briefly this is Genny’s story as I’ve pieced it together from our three-four hour chat. She was born of English and Swiss parents, and grew up partly in South Africa. She married a Swiss man and lived near Geneva for the last few years. She says she tried hard, since the birth of David, to live with her husband but increasingly found herself unable to establish her own identity. Initially, she wanted to move nearby in Switzerland but he wouldn’t accept that and then, she says, he offered to let her go to England for a year or so. But they both seem to understand she won’t be going back. David’s now gone to Switzerland for four weeks, leaving Genny to focus on her freelance design activities. She has a studio in Farnham and is struggling to find enough work.

I thought a lot about Genny over the next 24 hours, we seemed to have a lot of time for each other, and both of us seemed a little lost and lonely in this area, although perhaps I was projecting a bit. She has a mother and sister nearby, I think, although I didn’t get a sense of what kind of people they were. I don’t know how old she is, perhaps 35. She has a slim and athletic build, a pretty face and she laughs easily. I feel we ought to be able to make a friendship based on our children, but there might be something more there. I’ve been a bit cowardly about contacting her - I should have done so within days - but now I’ve left it weeks.

Friday 8 August 1997

Hot humid weather. I have not managed to make much profitable use of this free time. I had an idea to start on an original novel, written as a diary from 1 January 2000 to however far into the new century I could get my male character. I decided on a scheme whereby he would write an entry once a month on the first of the month, starting from when he was about 10. Rather ambitiously I also wanted it to be a vehicle for discussing the relevance of Darwin’s ideas to our every day life. I calculated that, if I could possibly write just one day of this journal every day, it would still take me over two years to complete. But Darwin apart (and I hadn’t even begun to imagine how I could really bring evolution steadily and smoothly into the diary), I found a major problem with events and people. Not only would I have to make up world events (for no diary is complete at least without the occasional mention of a major aircrash or a new war), but I would also have to make up TV programmes, films, scientific inventions, new artists, the names of politicians and so on and so on. Without reference to a smattering of external events, a diary such as this would be banal and self-obsessed. If ever I had a still-born idea it was that one.

And as I have no other project to get stuck into, this summer will be devoted to little odd jobs, indeed it is half over and that is the way it has gone.

The business is dead. Not a phone call or fax all day, all week. I have been out in the garden, but it is hot and muggy and not very conducive to sustained activity. This morning I started at 7:30 to try and get some work done before the heat. I’ve been levelling and preparing the area behind the bonfire, and I’ve planted up some of the heather cuttings I raised. And I’m also trying to establish a walkway behind the bamboos, while at the same time firming up the ditch wall that I’ve built with two-by-three paving stones. As often as not I get sidetracked by weeds and half-an-hours trip by just trying to pull up the horsetails and bindweed from one of the vegetable plots. And talking of the vegetable plots, there’s not much left. The beans are fruiting, although after the deer, caterpillars have been having a good munch at the flower stalks; the sweetcorn stalks are paltry, the peppers (in pots) never even flowered, and the lettuce have all bolted.

So having tried to explain exactly what I did last week, let’s see if I can do the same for this five working days that have just passed. Monday was Adam’s birthday. He had a very parent-oriented birthday - no tea party, not even any playing out in the streets with his friends. He’s fallen out with the twins. He opened his presents here - a Beatles CD, ‘Lord of the Rings’, four other novels picked largely at random in W. H. Smiths according to the blurbs on the back cover, a more complicated version of Cleudo, a harmonica and instructions for learning, and two CD-roms neither of which had arrived in time. He was really keen on getting a harmonica. I think I started work on my accounts in the morning and then both Ads and I went to B’s for lunch.

The toe has been absolutely excruciatingly painful (so much so that I couldn’t sleep one night and took a painkiller at 3am which finally allowed me to drop off). After talking to Mum and reading medical books I decided to take anti-inflammatory tablets given to me by the Doc ages ago for my knee. These helped, but I was left exhausted by the sleepless night and spent half the day dozing. Ads went to B’s in the afternoon, and we had a birthday cake at 4:30pm just before leaving for Farncombe train station and the train to Waterloo.

I had kept Ads in suspense about what we were doing in the evening, I hadn’t even told him we were heading for London. B had prepared a picnic supper which we ate on the South Bank by the Thames. We then strolled on to the Olivier Theatre for ‘Guys and Dolls’. Adam had finally got some clues from me - I had told him it was about gangsters, but he didn’t believe it could be about gangsters and have songs in. I knew I had seen the National Theatre’s revival of ‘Guys and Dolls’ some years ago, that I’d taken Barbara. But it was B who reminded me that I had originally bought the tickets for Sasha and Michele (who couldn’t go). Without much thought, I had assumed this was just a few years ago, but was staggered to realise that this was 15 years ago - ‘Guys and Dolls’ was first revived in 1982. I know we saw it during its first run, in the production that featured Bob Hoskins and Ian Charleson, so it must have been that long ago. That production had been absolutely fabulous, and I supposed Adam couldn’t fail to warm to the singing and acting and magic of a really tremendous show. In fact, the show, which the National Theatre now keeps on its books for the tourist trade I suppose, has gone down market. The acting and singing are no longer really top notch, and the dialogue is a little worse for wear. Nevertheless, it is still an excellent show, running to nearly three hours, and Adam did enjoy it. At one point he told me he was tired, and I could see him lounging about all over the seat, but he tried hard to concentrate and his efforts were rewarded in the second half with the magic of ‘They’re rocking my boat’ song and four encores. We weren’t in bed much before midnight, but at least I slept well, the anti-inflammatory pills having done their job.

Tuesday and Wednesday, Adam spent at B’s house. These two days are a bit of a fog in my mind. I wasted a lot of mental energy and time trying to psyche myself up to ring Genny. It is hard to believe isn’t it, that at the age of 45 a man can still play endlessly childish games in his head over such things. Tuesday night was the only night in the week that I was certain not to have Adam, and so it was Tuesday night that I thought to invite Genny out. But why had I left it so long? By 3pm, I still hadn’t rung. I had thought to ask her out for a drink or a meal, but what would I say if she was busy that evening. It was as if I wanted to have all possible conversation mapped out in my mind like knowing all the moves in a game of chess. I mean it’s so ridiculous. Although I was fairly sure I would like her as a friend, I was far from certain that I wanted anything more. Why oh why then all this messing around in my head. What saved my circular thought patterns was finding that there was jazz on at Pizza Express in Guildford and this seemed a strong enough premise to invite her out. So I sat there with the phone in my hand unsure whether or not I really was going to dial her number. Anyhow, I did ring her and, despite a slight hesitation, she agreed to meet that evening. We actually talked quite a long time on the phone because she told me she’d been given notice on her cottage. After I’d put the phone down I was so relieved, not that she hadn’t rejected my approach, or that she wanted to meet me, but simply that I had actually made the call!

Because my toe was still not better, I stuck indoors doing my accounts (rather than venturing into the garden). I spent half the afternoon watching the athletics and a Columbo film. At around 8pm, Genny arrived and we drove straight off to Guildford. I didn’t feel exactly nervous, but I did forget to take any money, which was a little embarrassing. Pizza Express turned out to be crowded and noisy. There was a jazz pianist and saxophonist but Genny and I were too busy talking to pay any attention to anything else around us. We must have stayed until midnight. She’s very easy to talk to. There was a long conversation about religion (gosh, how long is it since I had that kind of conversation) - she has some interest in spiritual things, astrology and so on but not overwhelmingly so - and another one about travelling in South America. She’s been to the Galapagos Islands and Peru when younger (she said she was 18 when she first went to South America in 1980, which makes her 35.) It was late by the time we got back. I asked her in for a cup of tea but she declined. I should have opened up a definite reason for meeting again soon, but it didn’t occur to me at the time. Also, I still don’t know whether to try and take the relationship any further. The conversation never stopped or slowed down for us to reflect on each other much, and I’m still unsure whether I find her attractive, whether I desire her or not.

Saturday 9 August 1997

To finish this catalogue of my oh so boring life, on Wednesday I spent a little time in the garden, although I found the heat made it difficult to do too much. I did some more on my accounts, and tried to write another couple of days of my 2000 diary idea, but without success. In the evening, I gobbled up two hours by watching an old Morse. Adam returned from B’s house on Thursday. We started work on a den, although again the heat kept me out of the garden most of the day. We went into Godalming for shopping and stuff. One of his CDs arrived - ‘The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis’ - and we spent some time playing that. The fourth Test Match began, and there was more athletics to watch. How easy it is for the days to slip by. Friday was no more constructive. We took a trip into Guildford to Spectrum swimming pool in the afternoon and watched more athletics and cricket together later in the day. In the evening, it was the last episode of the excellent ‘This Life’ series about five young adults (most of them solicitors) living together in a flat. One of the best dramas on TV for ages; another of them - ‘Our Friends from the North’ - is also repeated at the moment and I do find myself watching it on Saturday. It is after 8pm. For an hour or so this morning, I carried on with garden work and helping Adam create his den. We read a bit of a Discworld novel (we should finally conclude it tomorrow), and, in the afternoon, took a motorbike ride to Frensham to swim in the ponds.

We have not done well in the Athletics; no golds, and very few other medals; and we are losing the Fourth Test.

Tuesday 12 August 1997

It is still very hot, very hot and muggy. I only have to stand in the garden for a few minutes at this time of day (4:30pm) to break out into a sweat. I’m off shortly to London to meet with Andrew, for a play at the Riverside and maybe a meal after.

So what have I been doing today. I started in the garden at 7:30. I think I’ve completed the path behind the bamboos. The brick path, which I had built in the winter, runs from the lounge door to the far right hand corner of the garden, but stops abruptly by the largest bamboo clump. At the time, the area behind was clogged up with rubbish and brambles and was impenetrable, but I have, over the last year or so, cleared it. At the same time, I’ve been defining the course of the ditch so that there is now is a reasonable area between the ditch and the back of the bamboos and rock garden.

I’ve started my annual repotting binge. This involves repotting house plants, planting up cuttings which have survived from last year, and, most time-consumingly of all, taking new cuttings from all the shrubs and heathers I can find. Within a couple of weeks, I expect to have over hundred small plant pots littering the patio. The slugs and ants love it.

I also did a few minutes on the exterior wood work, but found myself lacking exterior polyfilla. After my heroic efforts last summer to repair and paint the rotten sashes and frames (mostly those on the front and side), most appear to have survived well. The paint has broken substantially on one or two and in parts they need the full treatment again, scraping, sanding, wood hardening, filling, primer, top coat.

I took a shower and dashed into Godalming but everything was slow: the traffic, Sainsbury’s tills, and the man in the builder’s merchants who helped me lift two paving stones into the car (I’ve bought 18 now to fit along the ditch - the first six which nearly wrecked my car, the 10 I had delivered and the last two today) - I also need some chicken wire to finish off the last bit around the trunks of the goat willow that bends low across the ditch and into my garden.

Sandwiches for lunch while listening to ‘Worldly Wise’ on the radio, hosted by Peter Hobday. Not a very good programme. It’s slow and the guests have nothing of interest to add; it seems to have sunk to the level of Nigel Rees’ ‘Quote Unquote’.

Speaking of radio, I got a letter from the Bristol-based producers asking me for further extracts from my diaries. A couple of months ago, I replied to a small ad in the ‘Radio Times’ asking for people to send in extracts if they thought their diary was fascinating. I spent some time sorting out four pages of journal bits, each page connected by a particular year and, where I could manage it, by the development of a theme or two. Martin Weitz Associates have just written back and I can’t resist quoting from the letter: ‘We thought that your diary was very well written and interesting to read.’ It’s as though that one phrase suddenly, after all these years, justifies spending such a large proportion of my life writing my journals. But the pleasure does not last for long. A few minutes after receiving the letter, I tell Barbara: ‘Your worst fears have been realised, somebody actually might want to publish extracts from my diaries.’ Unlike my lovers when younger who enthused over my diaries, Barbara has always denied them: she has never wanted to read them, or been interested in them in any way.

The truth is, of course, that I have never written my diary with a view to publication. That is not to say that I have not considered that a good editor could turn it into a good read. I have always said that I probably represent an interesting example of an ordinary screwed-up guy trying to making his way in the world. However, it is also true that, apart from an early period, I have never been unaware of the fact that somebody might read the diaries one day, and I do, therefore, conceal a little (although I would argue that the little I do conceal is rather unimportant and there is never complete concealment any way). My diary, therefore, represents, in my view, probably one of the most sustained and personally honest and self-analytical accounts of a life that exists anywhere.

I ended up spending almost all of Monday selecting a new batch of extracts for Martin Weitz as he requested. He had asked for extracts from different periods of my life, and so I had to make selections from boring years and from diaries not yet typed up on the computer. The second selection started in 1979 with the failed Sunshine Theatre adventure, the meeting with Jan and a trip to Brick Lane Market; the extracts for 1985 and my life in Brazil begin with the telephone call from Ryser in Sao Paulo on New Year’s Eve; the 1990 collection is a mixture, some about writers and some about Adam; and 1992 is largely about my decision to leave the FT.

In his letter Martin Weitz says that I would be paid if they made use of my diary material but that anything I send at this stage is still speculative. He also asked for a brief resume of my life. Here is that resume: ‘I was born in Hampstead in 1952 to a Yorkshire mother and a German man, born in Berlin of Jewish parents, naturalised in the UK. My father left for the US when I was about four, and my mother remarried a man, also originally from Berlin, who I came to think of as my father. Later they had two further children. We lived in Hertfordshire for most of my teens.

I moved away from home at 18 and went to University in Cardiff where, in 1973, I gained a 1st class honours in Maths/Physics. Unsure of what career to pursue, I messed around in London for a year doing odd jobs before heading off for a three year trip around the world. I travelled through the Middle East, Asia and the Far East; got caught in the Darwin cyclone of 1974; and then spent a year in New Zealand working as a medical rep to earn enough money for the second leg of my travels in South America. I spent a year travelling through the Andes, including a period in Chile where I worked at an English school for three months.

I returned to England in 1977. I found a flat in Kilburn, London, and later bought a house there. I worked in market research for a year, spent a further year trying to write plays and stories, and, having finally decided on journalism as a career, got a job as a chemical industry journalist. Around about this time, I met my real father in New York. But on the second visit we fell out and never saw each other again. He died some years ago, and I write regularly to his widow. In 1985, I moved to Brazil, where I worked for two years as a freelance reporter covering everything from oil exploration to airforce procurement.

After an unconventional ten-year relationship with Barbara, a librarian also living in Kilburn, we decided to have a child together, but without marrying or indeed living together. Adam was born in August 1987, and has been at the centre of our lives since then, as much in my house as at Barbara’s. We remain the best of friends.

Also in 1987, I began work as an editor of energy publications for a division of the Financial Times which publishes newsletters. I successfully launched several new titles at the FT. In my spare time, I took a part-time MSc in Biological Anthropology at University College. In 1993, after five years, I left to start my own small newsletter company specialising in news about European Union energy and transport affairs. This involves monthly trips to Brussels. I have also written several Management Report type books on energy policy.

When Barbara’s work moved to Surrey, we both spent a couple of years relocating but now are settled in separate houses in this small village near Guildford. I still run my business from home, but this year took on my first employee. That’s it, that’s all.’

I wonder if some hypothetical person were ever to read all my diaries and be asked to write a resume of my life it would resemble my own.

Saturday 16 August 1997

What I’m about to write is the sort of diary entry that is 100% self-indulgent and the sort that I would least ever want read by anyone else.

I have been crying today, am crying now, and yet there is no good reason. The immediate cause appears to be my ‘date’ last night with Genny. How do I even dare write down these expose’s of my childish emotions. I think, for I am far from sure, that I had hoped to begin an affair with Genny last night. We got on very well on our first casual meeting at the river and then during our evening at the pizza place in Guildford. Then, when I faxed her at work during the week, suggesting we meet again, I got a very quick fax back, preferring Friday and a pub near her house. I thought, perhaps, this is the best chance we will have to start something, because her son David is still away, and she can easily invite me in after the pub, and so on. Thereafter, I’m off to Cornwall with Adam, and David will be back soon. It would be more complicated with the children around. But I was still not sure (as I think I’ve written) whether or not I was really interested in her. So I showered and prevaricated with myself over clothes and shoes to wear; I thought about possible conversation topics, and then I drove slowly over to her house in order not to be too punctual. All as normal as normal can be, I suppose, for a 16yr old; but what about a 45yr old? It’s probably quite normal too.

So we drive on down to the pub. It’s only 150 metres but Genny prefers not to walk (I suppose, on reflection, it may have been a safety thing, rather than a physical laziness). We park ourselves at a table and then natter solidly until closing time. The conversation ranges wildly but, crucially, does not get that personal, at least not in terms of current or recent relationships. She does say that she still is searching for Mr Right, and I antagonise a bit by asking her how many Mr Rights there might be out there in the world. There is no eye contact without conversation, and, crucially, there is no chemistry. I continue to worry about her age, for example, closer to 40 than I thought, and I find her dress sense rather dowdy - maybe she has deliberately dressed down. Just occasionally, I did find myself getting slightly bored with her flights of fantasy, but, on the other hand, she is very easy to talk to. After closing I drove her back to outside her house; I really thought she would ask me in, but she didn’t and so that was that, I said we should meet again and get the kids together.

So why I am so miserable? Because I set up a scenario of expectations and they didn’t work out? Because I mishandled the situation and wasn’t able to direct the evening towards getting laid? These may be true but I cannot believe them of myself. What I think is this. I have two major problems in my life that can be summed up in one word: loneliness. The first is the lack of any ongoing social life outside of Barbara and Adam; and the second is my need/desire/determination to find a partner to share the next 20 years of my life, and preferably one with whom I can have more children. If I could resolve the second problem, the first would diminish substantially. And here comes the crux of my argument: I think I had vaguely hoped that Genny (with her son so similar in age to Adam) might possibly be a potential solution for problem two; at least someone with whom it might be worth a dance, so to speak, to see whether or not such a possibility did in fact exist. And if that was so, I could look forward to an interesting affair, even if only a brief one, which could provide some social colour and tone to my otherwise dim leisure life. But, yesterday, I just couldn’t get excited about her, certainly not physically or intellectually. And, although I doubt I’d have spurned an easy opportunity to go to bed with her, I was not able to be deceitful, I suppose, and take responsibility for moving us towards intimacy.

So my tears are welling up from deep inside me in consequence of realising, once again, how terribly terribly hard it is going to be to fill the gaps in my life. It is hard from both the simply practical point of view of finding the solutions (I mean is there a woman anywhere who a) would have what I want (what on earth is that?); b) be available; and c) be happy with what I have to offer), and doubly hard because of my own personal difficulty in making any kind of effort towards finding the solutions.

Such a long involved explanation, but I wouldn’t be feeling like this now, if Genny had invited me in for a cup of coffee and we had snogged on the couch and she had invited me to stay over, and we had had a slow breakfast in the garden, and perhaps made plans for meeting later in the weekend. Have I just obfuscated like mad to avoid the painful acceptance that I simply cocked up a first outing for my cock in a long while!

There, that’s made me feel 5% better. The old confession trick, it works wonders, well 5% wonders. The fact is I’ve still got an empty weekend to face.

Sunday 24 August, Llantegos by Fowey

We have come to Triggabrowne for a second time. This is the first time that I have ever hired the same cottage twice. Well, strictly speaking it isn’t the same cottage, because there are two semi-detached houses made out of this delightful slate cottage, and this time I have taken the smaller of the two. We (B as well) came here three years ago, when Adam was seven at the start of August. This time Adam and I have come alone and we have come at the rump end of August, by chance it is Carnival and Regatta week in Fowey, which has provided some entertainment. Also by chance, but not by luck, the weather has been dull and rainy.

We left early on Wednesday morning, and drove swiftly, without any traffic problems, to Exeter. Desperate for a stop by then, and with an annual National Trust card from B, we took a small diversion of the route to Killerton, a property owned for centuries by the Acland family. The tea shop was our main aim, but we also looked around the gardens, developed by generations of the Veitch family, and the house (which was not very interesting). The Veitches were largely responsible for introducing exotic plants which later became more widespread in the country. I particularly like the Lucombe oaks at the far end of the garden, and the large rock garden created recently out of an old quarry in the grounds. Adam was intrigued by the Bear Hut, so called because the Aclands kept a bear in there. There are three small rooms in the hut - one with a pebble floor and a basket ceiling, one with tree trunk cross-sections for the floor and a ceiling of sacking and pine cones, and the tiny third room with a floor made of deer knuckle bones and a ceiling of deer hides.

The landscape was a bit odd, the garden splayed out to one side of the house, but in front there was a small formal garden with a wall holding it back from the fields. Further along to the side, a ha ha provided the border between the gardens and the fields. I joked that my new ha ha at Russet House was much better, but Adam wouldn’t agree.

We pressed on southwest and, arriving a little early in the area, we stopped for a walk down to one of the beaches near here - Llansallos Cove. It was swelteringly hot and humid and I wanted to get to the cottage as early as possible so as to unpack and relax a bit, so we didn’t stay long. The cottage was as pretty as I remembered it, all covered in slate tiles, with a small lawn and flowerbed at the back, and otherwise surrounded by fields, full of sheep, cattle. There are even ducks and hens looking for attention as you cross the field between the cottage and the car parking bay. The house itself is well appointed with a twin bedroom and bathroom upstairs, and sizeable lounge and serviceable kitchen downstairs. The bedroom and lounge windows look across the garden and fields.

Bank Holiday Monday 25 August 1997, Llantegos by Fowey

The day has dawned bright and sunny, the first such day since our arrival in Cornwall. As usual, we raced down to Lantic Bay beach for a pre-breakfast swim. We have visited Lantic Bay beach every morning, but one, and every evening so far. Most times I manage to swim nude, which, as my diaries surely testify, I love to do. Sometimes on our way across the fields and down the steep path to the beach in the evenings we can see a few people on the beach, but usually they are preparing to leave and I only have to wait a few minutes before stripping off. The beach is invariably empty in the mornings when we go, but it has been colder. This morning, though, there was the gorgeous sun, the bright clear air, and a calm sea.

I have been cross with Adam a few times this holiday, but never for long. He told me yesterday that he actually practices keeping his anger under control. I tell him that anger has its uses and that it is important and/or useful sometimes to show one’s anger spontaneously. I give him an example . . . Adam then explains himself more clearly. He says that, when he’s feeling angry or cross about something, he tries to clear the bad feeling from his mind quickly because there’s no point carrying on feeling bad. Sometimes, Adam really surprises me with his understandings.

At this moment, he is practising his harmonica, which B bought for his birthday. He has a beginners’ book and is trying to learn the basics. He does 5-15 minutes practice every day without me reminding him. It’s still a very early stage, but I have some hope that he might persevere with it. After all, it is such a useful instrument to play - so easy to carry around, whether on walks, on a boat, in the garden and amuse oneself; and, if one can play a good tune, then it serves for parties, pubs, school plays whatever. Moreover, it can help him develop a reasonable musical ear. As complete incompetents in music, B and I would love Adam to have a better connection.

While on the subject of Adam’s abilities, I should also say I have been stunned by his amazing stamina. Earlier this year, as I’ve said, I was shocked to discover he could actually run further and faster than me. But on this holiday, he has shown a real strength on his bicycle. We have been tackling some pretty tough hills and, even though Adam’s bike is a child’s one with only five gears and I have an excellent 21 gear bike, he can cycle up the steepest of hills; and, on the flat and gentler hills, he cycles as fast as me even when I’m doing a fair whack. And, on our walks when we are climbing back up the hills from the beach (and it is a pretty steep hill up from Lantic Bay Beach), he certainly keeps pace with me however fast I walk and climb, and if he tries he can go faster. I might not be the fittest of 45 year olds, but I’m still in fairly good shape, especially when it comes to walking and climbing, so I think Adam’s ability to keep up with me is fairly amazing. He doesn’t shy from swimming either like he used to. The first day at Lantic Bay Beach, when the wind was up and the waves were huge, we couldn’t swim, but he loved dodging the waves and occasionally being hit by them, and within a few visits he was learning to stand and float a bit further out, so that he could bob up and down with the waves before they started to crash. He’s still not proficient with swimming breast stroke in the sea, i.e. with his head above water, and tends to do doggy paddly, but he’s getting better.

Any way, to return to this morning, it was the first time I was actually able to dry myself properly in the wind and sun after my swim, every other time it has been too damp and dull, but it hasn’t really mattered because I dry off a bit with exercises and five minutes of yoga and then my t-shirt soaks up the rest and soon dries. We never take a towel to the beach, although Adam doesn’t quite understand this. We never need one, we’re always dry by the time we get back to Triggabrowne.

After returning, we took our breakfast outside, although we had to move the table onto the sloping grass to catch the sun. I calculated it was a gradient of about 1 in 8. The egg yolk was almost rolling off the toast. Now we are both writing our diaries. In a little while, we will head off along the coast in the car to do a walk near Kingsand. There’s a raft race at 2pm, and I thought it would add a bit of interest to a circular walk, if we hit Kingsand at the time of the raft race.


We didn’t manage to set off until about 12, and because I chose the coastal route we often got stuck behind Sunday drivers, I mean 20mph bods. We drove through Looe, which is pretty, and along the Whitsand Bay coast, which reminded me ever so slightly of the South of France. I knew I was running a bit late so I found myself more frustrated by the slow drivers than I would normally be. I finally got to Cremyll just before 1pm, which gave us exactly an hour to do the longer half of a six mile walk. I’m not one to miss an appointment, so I raced along the coastal path, through the very attractive Mount Edgcumbe park. It has a formal garden, a tea house, large lawn areas for recreation and its own small beaches backed by lawns, and in one case a lily pond. There were quite a few people already settling in for a day of Bank Holiday pleasure; we should perhaps have taken it a bit slower and explored or had a swim, but I pressed on through the forested coastal path, passing high above Picklecombe Point, with spectacular views over Plymouth and its Sound. The circular route, from an Ordnance Survey book, took us along some grassy banks above Cawsand Bay and into Kingsand. Both Kingsand and Cawsand are pretty little villages, largely free of traffic because of their tiny lanes, nestling in small bays on either side of a promontory. There is, apparently, a kind of rivalry between the two villages which I suppose is only of a friendly kind today. There are lots of welcoming pubs, tea shops and small beaches as well. We arrived with only a few minutes to spare before the start of the raft race. There were lots of people on the beach and all the rafts’ crews were in fancy dress. I weaved around a bit trying to get some photographs, but both Adam and I were very hot by this time, and we took shelter in a shelter to eat our sandwiches. We watched the start of the race and the dozen or so rafts more interested in splashing each other than moving fast towards Kingsand before returning to Cawsand. I don’t know who won, and I don’t care; but I’m glad we got there in time to see the colour and feel the atmosphere. This was very much an event for locals; the rafts looked well used from previous years, and the teams well used to battling each other.

The second half of the walk, indeed the second half of the day, was disappointing. The route took us uphill in the hot blazing sun, without much shade and we had no energy to explore the bramble covered forts we passed. I was hoping that the guide book’s information on a tea house near Maker Church was still current, but it wasn’t. Instead we stopped in Maker Church to cool ourselves down. The one jewel of the afternoon was that a young woman was playing the organ in the church. I think she was just practising but, after she spied us in her mirror (for we entered very quietly), she played several fine rousing tunes, which made for a very pleasant stay in the church. I clapped her before we left and said thank you and she gave an embarrassed giggle.

I drove back the long way on A roads through Liskeard to avoid any possibility of being stuck at the narrow bridge in Looe. It was about 4:30pm when we stopped at Lansallos for a swim. It was still hot, but somehow we didn’t much enjoy the beach this time, apart from a little fun with Ads’ inflatable ring, and I found myself getting cold quite quickly. So that was it for Monday. We played a game of Cluedo, which I won again by just a few spaces, ate chicken and pasta, and watched ‘Eastenders’. I also watched the second part of a drama called ‘The Beggar Bride’, adapted from a novel by Gillian White.

5:30am Sunday 31 August 1997

I wake up a little before 5am and I am crying or thinking I’m crying. I am just coming out of a dream in which Raoul has died and I’m about to die.
I am diagnosed as having cancer. I am in a hospital and Raoul has checked my blood. Something makes him think my blood type is different from that of the diagnosed person and for a brief moment I think they may, despite many tests, have got it wrong. But they haven’t. Then Raoul himself is dying of cancer in the hospital. I ask him if alcohol and aspirin are the best method for killing myself if my illness gets too unbearable. Then, later, he himself seems to be in much pain and I ask him he if wants my help. He says yes. I rush off to find some aspirin. I race through a room and a person, who seems to be my dentist, says I was due for a visit, and I shout back that I have cancer. I go home where I don’t seem to be able to find any money. I ask my mother who has to make a quick call to her new cleaning lady. Meanwhile, I find a few coins and buy some aspirin from a chemist. But the person serving me says, cryptically, ‘Glasgow’, and I wonder if I have asked for Glasgow instead of aspirin and I am slightly paranoid because I know for what purpose I intend to use the aspirin. Then, I am concerned because maybe I have got it wrong and it is paracetamol that people use for killing themselves. I see my mother and give her hug. I still cannot believe I am going to die, possibly soon, because I do not have a single symptom. I think about a play I heard some years ago, in which a father pre-recorded tapes to be given to his son on various key birthdays in his life, and each one carried messages for him relevant to his age then. I think about doing the same for Adam. In my mother’s arm I begin to cry as I think I do not want to die.

At 5am, the news comes on, Princess Diana has been killed with Dodi Al Fayed in a car crash in Paris. I want to write down my dream so I get up. All the TV stations are covering the news as it breaks. I am going back to bed.


All the TV and radio stations have been running special programmes all day long about Di - coverage of the news from Paris, of statements by world leaders and friends of Di, and of the events of her life. I’ve just watched a potted biography, for example, drawn largely from official footage of royal visits and occasions. It showed Charles and Di very happy for a while, and then starting to draw apart, but it did not really try and explain the turning point. Was it that Charles’ jealousy of Diane’s popularity led to her becoming difficult and he thence punishing her? I haven’t read Andrew Morton’s book, although I suppose I must have gleaned all the main points from the newspapers at the time. The book does seem to have had a crucial impact on the progress of the relationship. One can wonder whether if, without it, the two might have been able to patch things up and transform the marriage from a romance into a more normal formal royal marriage.

I must catch up and record a few events from our holiday for tomorrow I will be back on the EC Inform treadmill.

Not only did I fail to get any guide books out from the library which I always do when going on holiday, not only did I fail to bring essential food things like salt and mustard which I always do when renting a cottage, but I also failed to shop for any food at all before arriving at the cottage. So on the day we arrived we went down to Polruan, to the tiny local store called ‘The Supermarket’ to buy a few essentials. On the following day our schedule was dictated by my need to find a true supermarket so we drove all the way to St Austell. Although I wasn’t keen on visiting the town we found the port area of Charlestown interesting. We spent an hour or two in a shipwreck museum created out of some old china clay mines. I spent about £40 in Tesco, and that shop served us for the week. Adam helped the embarrassed management catch a mouse.

Friday we spent at the beaches, cycling to one of them, and doing lots of rock climbing. We probably played a game of SuperCluedo, a game which Adam insisted on bringing with him and which Barbara had bought for his birthday. I notice from my journal in 1984 that we bought Adam ordinary Cluedo for his seventh birthday during our last stay at Triggabrowne. One evening we spent about an hour taping a conversation between us, but, unfortunately Adam knocked the microphone and turned it off by accident so that more than half the conversation was lost. I had intended to fill a 90 minute tape but we never got round to it again. Mostly in the evening we watched a little television. There was ‘Cadfael’ one evening, and ‘Eastenders’ on other nights. I had planned to go to an open air performance of Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Wyrd Sisters’ one evening, but the weather was just too bad and the venue too far away.

We had a fairly action-packed weekend. On Saturday, we drove to Bodmin, parked our car near the Camel river and cycled the Camel Trail to Wadebridge. The Camel Trail was created from a disused railway line from Padstow to Camelford - our section was just six miles long. But it was a joy to ride, lots of other cyclists, hardly any walkers and no cars; and it was flat all the way. We moseyed around Wadebridge for a while, partly because I was hoping to listen to a bit of folk music - the three-day Wadebridge folk music festival was on - but there was nothing suitable until much later in the day. We ate our sandwiches, took a tea and cake, and headed back to Bodmin. The cycle back was just as pleasant, but then we elected to follow a sign that said town centre half a mile - it turned out to be nearer one mile and a half. Still the route took us passed the old Bodmin jail and I took a few photos, and then we looked around the church and I took a few more photos. We also popped into the Bodmin town museum which gave us a little more information about the jail - 60,000 people attended the execution of one man there, a display said, and many of them came by the now defunct railway from Wadebridge and Padstow.

On our way back home, we stopped at a National Trust property, Lanhydrock, which is situated overlooking the Fowey river valley. Although dating back to the 17th century much of the house was rebuilt 100 years after a fire. There are nearly 50 rooms open inside which take forever to visit. It gives a very clear idea of the riches and splendour of the Victorian aristocracy - indeed the whole place could have been a Cleudo game come to life, but for the want of a body.

As usual, we nipped down to Lantic Bay beach for a swim before eating a hearty supper and driving to the top of Polruan. Although we missed the carnival procession, we did not miss the finale of Carnival and Regatta week. At 9pm there was a torchlight dinghy procession along the estuary; but in itself it wasn’t much really, more fun was the fact that all the moored yachts and boats had lit many of their lights so that the estuary looked like a Christmas Tree at night. For a while we listened to a folky sort of band on Fowey Quay. There were a lot of people and a good atmosphere so I jigged around a bit, much to Adam’s consternation. Then, for the finale, a firework display was let off from the Polruan side, largely for the Fowey crowds. By this time, we had returned by ferry (50p for adults, 30p for children) to Polruan and joined the hundred or so people on the Polruan quay to watch the fireworks. It was quite misty and much of the detail of the higher fireworks was lost as they lit up the mist instead. Still, it was a worthwhile display. We trudged up the hill to our car, and, because the mist was so thick, I drove back at 5mph. Adam was in bed by 10:40pm, and I followed not much later.

I was fortunate to discover, by chance, that a reservoir with watersport facilities was having an open day on Sunday. The weather was still not too good, but, after breakfast, we drove back into the centre of Cornwall to Bodmin moor, north of Liskeard to the Siblyback Reservoir. It’s a fairly undeveloped reservoir with no houses around it but for the watersports centre. Several marquees were in the process of being erected, and Southwest Water was in evidence everywhere. We found a tent and a table and two people taking bookings. I signed us up for half an hour of kayaking (which Adam particularly wanted to do) and half an hour of dinghy sailing in a Pico - it costs £1 per person per half an hour. The whole thing was a bit disorganised to begin with and we ended up with nearly an hour of kayaking in the first instance. Our instructor was a real old-timer, and he clearly was not keen to unpack himself from his well-patched kayak to give the initial instruction for each half-hour group. By contrast, the instructor on the Picos was so raw that he did all the intro and exercises over again on our second try out, and when all of us had been sailing before. His instructions were a bit simplistic - he told us to pull in the sheet if we wanted to go faster without any reference to the wind or boat direction. Adam thought he would like the kayaking best because he’d done some at Charterhouse, but he really took to the sailing, which gives me hope that we may be able to do a proper course next year.

Between bouts on the Picos, we trekked up the hill to a tor. This took us away from the crowds that had started to build up, and gave us a lovely view across Bodmin Moor and the reservoir. In the distance, we could see some of the old tin mine water pumps as well as other tors. After we’d finished with the watersports, we drove round to Minions (have I got that right) to have a look at the Hurlers, although we didn’t walk the distance to the Cheesewring. Adam and I had a bit of dispute about the Cheesewring which we still haven’t cleared up.

September 1997

Paul K Lyons


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