Sunday 13 July 1997

Rosy Gibb died at 4am this morning. She is the first of my few friends to die. Many, many people will miss her colourful social presence, her boundless enthusiasm for, and interest in, everything and everyone.

I am staggered to discover, after trawling through my journal entries for this year, that I have not mentioned Rosy or Andrew once. I know I have been making entries far less often than in the past, but I thought, at least, I was documenting the main elements in my rather dull life. Apparently not. I hope the fact that I did not make mention of her illness does not demonstrate callousness on my behalf - perhaps it does, I have barely been able to shed a tear over Sasha, nor over Rosy, nor over Rosemary. Although I have thought about Rosy a bit in the last months, and talked to Adam about her situation, I have not thought about her often.

Rosy has been seriously ill for much of this year, though I cannot remember when exactly she fell ill - I think it must have been April when Andrew took her into Charing Cross hospital. She had a major operation, and was in hospital for some weeks recovering. I visited her there twice, I think. Once briefly, early on, and once again later when she was much better. She had a room of her own, a private telephone line, a couple of televisions, and lots of attention. Friends were visiting all the time; Raoul was on hand as he works at Charing Cross. He told me on those visits that the cancer was very aggressive and he did not expect Rosy to live much longer.

Rosy appeared to recover well from the operation and went home for a short time during which she had to take food through her side, straight into her intestines. About six weeks after the first operation, she went back into hospital for another operation and a course of radiotherapy. The last time I saw her was on 27 May. She was bright as usual, but very thin, quite demanding with her family; but it was a pleasant meal. She started the radiotherapy a couple of weeks later and I didn’t hear from her or Raoul in the intervening period. Andrew says they went out a lot, visiting places and friends.

Then, last weekend, she suddenly worsened and didn’t want to go out. By Monday she was so jaundiced that Andrew took her into hospital. Raoul rang me that evening to tell me Rosy was dying and would only last a day or two. He was worried about Andrew. I tried calling a dozen times but couldn’t get through. Finally, when I did get through, on Friday, Andrew talked to me for a while; he said Rosy was quite peaceful, but that it was very difficult for all of them. In fact, he was very maudlin. I don’t think I’ve ever known him so emotional.

After Raoul rang this morning with the news, I tell Adam, and we are both sad for quite a while. We talk about her and Andrew and our holiday at their house in Spain. Adam says he would like to go to the funeral. If I can, I will take him. It’s hard getting my head around the fact that Rosy’s gone. She was one of those people to whom the description ‘she was really alive’ fits well. She was a flawed person, as we all are, but she was vivid, open, good-hearted, and alive, always alive, feeling everything around her in sensations that most of us learnt to dampen down soon after childhood.

Intellectually, not emotionally, I feel somewhat guilty for my part in her early departure from the stage and for some of the difficulties she experienced as she got older. Although I made a similar claim against myself in the case of Sasha, I feel I have more of a case to answer with respect to Rosy. I am the direct link that led Rosy to a life of clowning - over the last 20 years, she never tired of introducing me as the person who introduced her to clowning. I met Rosy in a radio journalism class at the City Lit, and, at the same time, (or perhaps a little bit earlier) I was doing a mime course at Action Space. At that mime course, I had met Harold and the two of us were clowning about in parks and stuff. I took Rosy out once clowning and it changed her life. I think she had trained as a teacher and, most recently, had been working with gypsies. Over time, she gravitated towards dramatic clowning - breathing fire, walking on glass and similar tricks. They won her quick acclaim and lots of attention but, as has now been made clear, they fucked up her body. Indeed, the stomach cancer that killed her is probably directly attributable to the years of breathing petrol for her fire breathing act. Only recently, she rang me up to ask how she could get hold of a new refined oil product, made by Shell, that she had heard was excellent for fire breathing - she thought I would know because I write about energy!

Then there’s the other aspect, which I have written about before, that of introducing Rosy to Harold and all those quackish psychotherapy groups. The net effect, over time, was to make Rosy more selfish, more inward, and more demanding. And for that introduction, Andrew could well blame me also. But, as I’ve said, I don’t actually FEEL guilty. How can I? It was so long ago; Rosy was an adult; she fell into clowning and later alternative psychotherapy so easily, that she was likely to fall into them any way, I just happened to be the momentary vehicle.

Meanwhile, Rosemary is sinking again fast, and I do not think it will be long before she slips out of this world too.

Monday 14 July 1997

I picked most of the blackcurrants last night. A very poor crop this year. Last year, there was an abundance, it took ages to pick all of them and we made six or eight bottles of jam. It is annoying since I assume the two bushes had had no care for years until I came, and now I’ve given them some care, they reward me with less than a quarter of a full crop. It took nearly two hours to prepare the one and quarter pound of fruit, but I did it in front of the telly watching a film about black gangs called ‘Rage in Harlem’. The blackcurrants are now simmering. I can smell them.

I look out at the garden here at Russet House every day. There is much to enjoy. The heathers, in their bed of bark, now give the west side a neat appearance. The bonfire area is still a mess and I plan to do something with that this summer. I’ve uncovered the bamboos by trimming back the oak, on one side, and the goat willow on the other, which were hanging down shrouding the topmost part of the graceful stems. The grave-like rock garden is coming along a treat, even though the deer were here the other day and took a few alpine-plant-size bites out of the black-coloured pansies and the spreading sempervivums. There’s a delightful mix of plants which always repays some inspection on a walk down to the bottom of the garden. Then, next to it, there’s the small deer garden, growing in the cradle of the bamboos. So-called because nearly everything there is red-leaved and deer are supposed to enjoy red leaves better than anything. The logic is that on arriving, the deer spy the deer garden, take their fill, and then leave the rest of the garden untouched. It doesn’t work. The other day, on their first recent visit, the deer ignored the deer garden and munched their way through a row of lettuce and all the middle leaves on my newly grown runner beans. This time, they didn’t get as far upgarden as my laurels which are, now, finally, showing signs of recovery after their almost complete devourment by the dear deer last time they were here.

On the east side of the estate (!) are the three vegetable plots (and the blackcurrant bushes). One and a half plots are taken up with earlies which are now looking decidedly past it. The first few up-pullings were fine, just like last year, with the potatoes needing just a slight finger rub under the water to remove dirt. But now they all appear to have been attacked, the plants have refused to flower and the leaves are going all yellow. The potatoes themselves have lost their freshness and their skins need more attention. As I’ve said the runner beans were violently attacked by the deer. Some scarlet flowers are now showing through but I don’t know if they’ll fruit properly. Elsewhere, I have five sweetcorn still growing strong. One of them has a resident pest which makes patterns out of the leaves. There’s no sign yet of the all important flowers. Otherwise there’s beetroot, which I don’t want, lettuce, a few spring onions, carrots, a pumpkin and courgette. The plots are past their best, though, looking a little bedraggled.

On the far east, along the boundary fence, my sweet peas are not doing so well this year. I’ve had trouble persuading them to grow up the canes, and they look far less healthy and rigorous than they did last year. I used a wide selection of seeds thanks to those generous members of my family that bought me packets for Christmas (thereby denying me the pleasure of buying my own seeds). Almost nothing is growing so well this year as it did last year. The row of cornflowers that I set up in front of the sweet peas, have grown but their chocolate colour is less spectacular than the blue I chose last year. The beds are full of weeds, both annuals and perennials and it is a real problem trying to keep them under control.

Moving along swiftly, because I must see to my blackcurrant jam, there is a flower bed running along the path between the lawns and the vegetable garden. In this are two apple trees which are having a great struggle against aphids, ants and the rest, and certainly have not fruited this year, and a number of herbaceous perennials. The red and white lupins have looked handsome; something horrible attacked the perennial poppies, only one flower opened, and for the rest, I’m fighting a losing battle against the encroaching grasses.

The herb garden, between the patio and the house, is an uncontrolled mess. The sage and mint are running rampant, swamping over the smaller thymes and camomiles, and even a young rosemary is faring badly. A clematis montana, planted at the corner, is doing relatively well, and I hope to train it over the window and around the door.

Finally, I should mention the arc of pots curving round the path that leads from the lounge door through the vegetable garden to the outskirts of the grounds and along the ha-ha. (Ha ha, all this is in less than a quarter of an acre). There are many heathers, laurel cuttings, geraniums and kniphofer grown from seed, alpine strawberries in pots which do not seem to be flowering (why not, why not!), and a few assorted shrubs.

I don’t think I boiled the blackcurrant jam long enough and I fear it hasn’t set. Never mind, I can use it for ice cream or mixing with yoghurt.

A massive protest takes place in Spain against the murder by ETA of a young local politician. I wonder what a comparison of killings in Spain vs Northern Ireland would look like. The trouble in Ireland is that Sinn Fein continue to garner widespread political support as witnessed by their election results. The new naive government keeps pleading with the IRA to call a ceasefire so that Sinn Fein can get on the train of the Northern Ireland peace talks. But they don’t seem to understand these guys; they are never going to be seen to act in response to a request made in the public arena. They are never going to kow-tow to no one. However reasonable a bargain they are offered in public, they are not going to be seen to be following orders. They need time, space, and above all a media climate which allows them to be seen to be calling a ceasefire in their own time and under their own terms.

I had a dream the other day that I got a phone call from a sister I never knew about - somebody Kate Lyons. At the time I remembered more, but I’ve forgotten the substance now.

Adam is sweet and well-behaved. He appears not to be in one of his boundary-testing periods. He recently surprised me greatly when he came fourth in the junior Elstead marathon. It was only about a week prior to the race that he said he wanted to enter, so we went out to the Common several days running, to train. We increased the distance slightly each day. I was astonished to discover he could run faster and further than me. It’s the first time, as far I am aware, that my son can outdo me at anything for real. By Friday evening, Adam was quite fired up. The event, which is organised by the Elstead scouts, has been going since the 1920s. The juniors went off first, there were forty or fifty of them, and many, if not most were teenagers, some closer to adulthood than childhood. The course was a little over three miles, I think, and ran around the back of Elstead, partly across the Common. Three 15-17 year olds came in quickly, and then, a minute or two behind, came Adam, all alone. It was a really amazing run; and, for me, he was the real winner - the others should have been in the adult race. It was amazing that he ran so fast for three miles, and that he managed to keep up a pace on his own without anybody near him, either in front or behind. I was well pleased with him, but he kept a stony face and wouldn’t express any pleasure in his achievement. He kept saying he had really wanted to come third so that he could get a medal. After a few minutes, when he’d got his breath back, he started to unwind a bit. When I wanted to go home for supper, he wanted to stay behind on his own and eat a burger and enjoy the tug-o-war. When I came to collect him, he was visibly chuffed. I asked him what he’d been doing and he said he’d just been wandering around letting people congratulate him.

And so we had high hopes for the Farnham Athletics meeting last Friday, where all the junior schools in the Waverley District compete in a range of track and field events. During the week, Ads kept talking about the meeting because he was competing with his best friend Philip to run in the only long-distance race, the 800 metres. Philip had been chosen over Adam because Adam was also the best short-distance runner. All week Adam, with policy advice from Dad, had tried to persuade the teachers to allow him to run the 800 metres. Fortunately, his class teacher, Mr Fyfe, had seen his achievement in the marathon and so I thought Adam would have to be chosen. But, then, Ads told me that the head, Miss Loveluck, had decided to hold a SPRINT race between Philip and Adam to see who was best. Adam said both he and Philip planned to run as slow as they could. This was a bad mistake, I told Adam, to allow the decision to be made in this way: the only sensible way for the teacher to have tested who should run the 800 metres would have been to run an 800 metres race. But, Miss Loveluck is not a terribly intelligent teacher. She conducted the first race, and the two boys simply kept stopping in their tracks in order to be last. So, without any sense of humour at all (so Ads reported any way), she told them they hadn’t run it properly and they should do it again. This time, both boys were a little more subtle in the way they under ran, and Adam managed to come in level with Philip so as not to be accused of trying to fraud the result. The upshot of this story is that Adam was chosen for the 800 metres, but at the athletics, he came in third from last. He was mightily disappointed with himself. Two reasons: one is that it was a single open race with no heats and no division by years, so that Adam was competing against the best 800 metre runners in the Waverley area up to 12 years of age; and, secondly, 800 metres is a very different race from three miles. Adam started well, he tells me, and managed to race past most people, but then he tired a bit, and everyone raced past him. And, unlike in the marathon race, where he later managed to catch everyone up and overtake them, the race wasn’t long enough for Adam’s stamina to allow him to re-overtake the others when they tired. I motorbiked to Guildford, to the Spectrum Centre’s racetrack, where the event was being held, as soon as we had completed EC Inform-Transport 7, but I missed the race.

The business is going OK. We have over 80 subscribers to the transport newsletter, and it continues to win subscriptions. Energy is going a little flat - I’m down to around 130 now. I did a mailing last week, and, so far, there’s been no response at all. Theo improves with each issue and I remain very happy with his work and commitment.

The FT has been obsessed with the proposed Boeing-McDonnell merger and the Commission’s investigation of same. Last week it ran an editorial on the subject which, basically, said the Competition Commissioner, Karel van Miert, was overstepping his reach and the Commission should by trying a more softly softly approach with regard to international questions of competition. The editorial started by saying ‘High noon approaches . . .’ Because I knew we had a large mailing coming up, largely to UK aviation names, I racked my brains to compose a good letter on the subject for the FT. If it had been published it would have been a superb back-up to the mailing. A better advertisement than an advertisement and free. So it was worth a shot. This is what I came up with.

‘Dear Sir, High noon may be approaching in the Boeing vs Brussels confrontation (Leader article, 9 July 1997) as you suggest, with the EU’s competition commissioner Mr Karel van Miert doing a Gary Cooper. It is a shame, though, to see the Financial Times sidling off for cover behind the saloon bar.

You rightly argue that the Commission needs to be clear about its priorities, and pragmatic in achieving them. Surely Mr Van Miert is doing just that. Under the EU’s merger rules, the Commission has not only the right but the duty to investigate international mergers that would interfere with competition in the Union. The highly successful European Single Market needs a sheriff who doesn’t walk away from big guns.

You say that the FTC is concerned about Boeing’s sole supplier arrangements, one of the European Commission’s principle concerns, but has not challenged them. In fact, the FTC has said it intends to “monitor the potential anticompetitive effects of these and any future long-term exclusive contracts”. The EU’s merger rules, however, require the Commission to be much more certain about a situation before making a decision. So long as Mr van Miert is not seen to lose the confrontation with Boeing then his highly principled stance will, apart from protecting the EU’s interests in the important aircraft production market, send a very loud message to other would-be dominants.’

Unfortunately, it didn’t get used. I think I must be running at a sent-to-published ratio, with the FT, of one in four, or possibly one in three to date.

Friday 18 July 1997

Woken in the night by a streaming ’orrible cold. Awake for hours. Feel rotten this morning. But still couldn’t help getting up at 7:00. It’s a rare day I get up later. Done a loadful of washing, although probably loadtooful of washing, because the clothes didn’t clean as well as they should have done. And I printed out a letter to Andrew which I wrote yesterday. I had resisted sitting down to write something about Rosy, because I knew it would not be easy, but yesterday afternoon, I somehow drifted into it. I rang Barbara this morning to read it to her to check I hadn’t said something silly or offensive. She started to cry.

‘Dear Andrew, I just wanted to write a few words, however inadequate, to express my sorrow at Rosy’s death. I know I’ll see you tomorrow and talk to you, but certain things are easier to say on paper. Rosy was one of the brightest and most colourful personalities, certainly that I shall ever know - but I’m sure the same is true for many others. She radiated a positive life force, one that, even for someone who didn’t see her all that often, was unconquerable, unquenchable. Difficult for me, then, to acknowledge, to realise, to understand that her force has been taken away, so unexpectedly, so early in time.

And how much more so for you, for Tammy and Jason. The four of you have remained a tight-knit close-loving family, a hub of generosity and friendliness, for most of my adult life, through so many and varied external impacts on your lives and mine. The loss of your partner, after so many ventures and adventures, after so many squabbles and angers, and after so much caring and loving, must cause a desolate space, stretching wildly in every direction, whether spiritual or intellectual, emotional or practical.

When I was a youth, still impressed by pithy philosophies and urban ant psychologies, I would quote a line from T. S Elliot: “Birth and copulation and death, that’s all the facts when you come to brass tacks.” But it’s far, far from all the facts, although it took me a while to understand. As sentient beings we build up histories of relationships and activities which come to circle us, entwine us and ultimately possess us. Sometimes we view this as entrapment and blame the forces at work around us and struggle, to varying degrees, to find an exit. But this personal cloak of history can also be viewed as the richness, the multi-dimensional depth by which we give meaning to our life and to the life of those around us.

By anybody’s standards, Rosy enjoyed a wonderful life and this must be celebrated. She was wonderful herself, in the way she illuminated other people, from whatever walk of life, through her extraordinary interest and enthusiasm in their lives. She was wonderful in the way she was always seeking the next rung of stardom without ever realising she was a Star. And she was wonderful in that she brought so much wonder around her, brightening and colouring for many people an otherwise often dull and dreary world.

All these words and yet really all I wanted to say was that her death has brought a great sadness to me (and to Adam) and to say how much I will miss her. But also to let you know how privileged I feel to be able to carry with me such strong and good memories of her love and friendship.’

This morning Adam (for he has elected to go) and I will travel up to Sheen for Rosy’s funeral.

Last night, by distinct contrast, Adam and I drove up to Wisley where Barbara had organised for me to take part in a Wisley staff ‘It’s a Knockout’ competition. It took place on the cricket ground near Orchard Cottage where B lived for a while. Originally, we had planned simply to watch and take part in the BBQ, but, in retrospect, this would have been a little dull, especially since the weather was unseasonably chilly and the sun refused to shine. But, at the last moment, someone dropped out of the four man/woman team, known as the Lab Rats, and B called me in.

The weather was not kind, it was both dull and cold, and we spent quite a lot of the time hanging around. There were nine teams and five games, each one lasting a few minutes only. There were obstacle courses, and races where you had to fill barrows with water, and carry water-filled balloons under nets and so on. It was a very good laugh. Jane, one of the main organisers and the judge who was monitoring and marking the LabRats’ times, is Barbara’s assistant at the library.

We decided to play our joker on the first game, and we had the misfortune to be given the wrong rules by Jane who also marked us wrongly. So we were scuppered from the first. We did better and better, and won one of the races; in the end coming a creditable fourth. There was a barbecue in the middle, and one of the lads in our team slipped off to the pub and brought beer back. Adam raced around, kicking balls, trying to get more hamburgers and ice creams and generally keeping himself amused. Barbara would not have gone, but for me, and I think she was a little bored.

Saturday 19 July 1997

Yesterday was Rosy’s funeral. Adam and I were slightly late to arrive at East Sheen cemetery, partly because I was running late, and partly because the road across Richmond Park was closed, adding ten minutes to the journey time. The chapel was packed when we arrived, standing room only. There were many faces I didn’t know. A vicar, Andy and Rosy had known since Dublin, conducted the service, a friend played the guitar for a number of songs and hymns - ‘Have you seen the old man’; ‘Morning has broken’; ‘Amazing Grace’. Several friends of Rosy’s spoke - Judy from Brighton, Niema, a woman called Alida, who I didn’t know and her partner Buck, an anthropologist, and another woman Olivia whom I didn’t know. Rosy’s father Jack also attempted to speak but he wasn’t able to put many words together. Several women in the audience were crying. Both Tammy and Jason looked fairly distraught, and Andy, who stood between them kept his usual appearance of a tower of strength.

After the service we followed the coffin up through the cemetery to the grave. The 100 or so people crowded round as the coffin was lowered and then helped shovel the earth into the deep pit. Andy read a poem, Loreena McKennitt sang an ode, and a piper played music in the background. The rain held off but the sun didn’t shine, not until later in the day. People started talking as we stood around the grave waiting for the earth to fill in. I talked with Raoul and his son Jack, and with Niema, and her daughter Ronneet who had flown over from the US, and Tim. Raoul had to go off to a meeting so he left Jack with Adam and I. We walked down to the car to collect three hypericum cuttings I had grown. I wanted to place some real flowers on the grave, ones that would continue to grow and I though hypericum was just the job, with its bright yellow flowers emerging at this time of the year. It was a bit awkward though planting them with my hands and amidst hundreds of cut flowers.

I’m having a difficult weekend. I don’t think it is really Rosy’s death and funeral, but rather the fact that I am now eating into my summer free time without doing anything at all concrete. The weekend is slipping by, and I see my future stretching before me, without any social framework - in stark contrast to Rosy’s world.

After the funeral I drove, with Adam and Jack, back to Aycliffe Road where food and drink was on offer. There was a sombre mood to start with but it soon livened up and became little different from one of Rosy’s usual parties. Tammy and Jason had their own friends, and Andrew was always in demand. Whereas Jack stayed with the adults and talked quite a lot with Richard, Adam found things to play with, especially up in the attic room, where he stayed most of the time. I had the deepest conversation about Andrew with Richard.

Apart from the regulars, I talked with a man named Simon who runs a family piano business. He was kindly and interesting. He has three children but appears to have run into a terrible trauma in that his wife has decided she must have a separation and divorce. She was adopted, I understand and then had a breakdown when she found her natural father only after he had died. She is also considerably younger than Simon and decided she wanted to savour her youth before it was all gone. The three children (10, 7 and 5) will live with Simon from Thursday night to Sunday and with his wife from Monday to Thursday. His oldest child, Noel, was at the funeral and wake, and, like Adam, stood for ages by the side of the grave watching the earth fill up over the coffin. But they didn’t get on. I would have invited Simon to visit Russet House, but for the fact that he lives in northeast London, hardly even day-trip distance.

I had expected to go back relatively early, so Adam could get to Cubs, but, by 3pm, I realised I was not willing to face the rush hour traffic, so I relaxed and we stayed until the evening. I was quite interested to talk with Loreena, who has played such a large part in the lives of Niema and Tim, and, to a lesser extent, in the lives of Rosy and Andrew, but it never quite worked out. Then, in the evening when Niema asked if I wanted to go and eat with them all, I agreed because Adam had been getting on well with Niema’s friend’s son Joe. I failed to realise, though, that neither Andrew nor Richard were going to the restaurant, so I got lumbered with driving people over to Hampstead and then not wanting to stay to eat with them and having to drive back again. Such a silly mistake. (We tried to visit my mother to garner something out of the trip, but her car wasn’t there - I’ve since discovered she’s gone to visit Audrey in the West Country.)

Tuesday 22 July 1997

Well, I was wrong on Northern Ireland. The IRA has called a ceasefire, or, at least, a resumption of the ceasefire started a couple of years back. They justified the move through the media as a response to having all their demands met. The Protestants are furious that the government has made such significant concessions over the decommissioning of arms, something that the previous Tory government, only held together in Parliament by the support of the Ulster Unionists, was unable to do. It’s difficult to imagine where the peace process can go though, with the two sides so intractably wedded to very different futures.

Adam’s last morning at school, he’ll be home for the summer holidays in half an hour. Theo has taken the day off and will be in Brussels tomorrow and Thursday. The sun is shining and I am still not recovered from a strange bug that has made me lethargic and given me a funny tummy.

In consequence, I watched, last night and this morning, the whole of a TV series I’ve had stored on video for month - ‘The Crow Road’, an adaptation of Iain Banks’ novel. This was a delightful drama about a young Scottish lad’s coming of age, in terms of girls (of secondary importance to the story) and in terms of his family’s history (the primary narrative). Bill Patterson played the boy’s father, and reminded me of me, a little. He held a dogged belief in atheism, and brought rationality to every human endeavour, yet had a kindly approach to his children, always willing to explain things, often with the aid of stories. I think Adam would have enjoyed the drama too, now I think about it.

I have not read Banks, because ages ago I started with one of his science fiction books, which I just could not get into. But now I’ve seen ‘The Crow Road’, I might try him again.

And talking of adaptations, I am reading a fascinating evolution book by Daniel C Dennett - ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea’. I bought it some time ago, but it’s dense and has over 500 pages, so I’ve only got stuck into it recently. It was a complete surprise to discover that he was the co-author, with Douglas Hofstader, of a book called ‘The Mind’s Eye’. Hofstader being the author of the fabulous ‘Godel Esher Bach’, and ‘The Mind’s Eye’ being the sequel, sort of.

Dennett says this in the preface: ‘This book is about why Darwin’s idea (natural selection) is so powerful, and why it promises - not threatens - to put our most cherished visions of life on a new foundation.’ Now I personally believe that the idea of natural selection is immensely powerful and its consequences and impacts have still not been properly tackled or understood. For example, in another book, which I’ve dipped into regularly over the last year or two and recently finished - ‘Evolution and Healing’ by Randolph Nesse and George Williams - the consequences of natural selection for medicine are discussed, and the general conclusion is that there is an immense need to take into account the evolutionary principles lurking behind the cause and symptoms of illness, and that many a medical practice (patient treatment not doctor’s surgery) is founded on a misunderstanding of the body’s physiology.

But to return to Dennett. His latest book is an attempt to debunk a lot of myths about Darwinism and to explain, in relatively simple terms, how far and deep the theory of natural selection actually reaches. One idea he uses to good effect is that of cranes and skyhooks. He shows how many a scientist in the past and in the present day keeps looking for skyhooks, a mythical apparatus for hanging things from the sky, whereas, in reality, a series of cranes (smaller ones to build bigger ones) provides the actual mechanism for explaining the evolution and existence of mature-seeming complex biological attributes, such as the eye or a bird’s wing.

Then, in the middle of the book, he moves on to a fascinating attack on Steven Jay Gould. Gould is a writer who has done more for promoting the idea evolution and natural selection than anyone, probably, since Darwin himself. I have read most of his books (I am reading one at the moment - ‘Dinosaur in a Haystack’), each one of which is largely a collection of essays, and I enjoy the way he draws on all aspects of life - literary and sporting for example - to drive home his messages on evolution. He is particularly good at reevaluating past scientific figures and their work, and pointing up their relevance in today’s world.

Dennett, however, has a serious bone to pick with Gould. Gould has argued strenuously against many evolutionists who take a strongly adaptationist view. As I understand it, Dennett’s beef, although partly aimed at Gould’s actual work (he believes Gould is, in some senses, himself seeking skyhooks), is more profoundly critical of the effect his work is having. He believes that, because Gould is debunking some of the work of evolutionists (which may well be a correct thing to do), the whole concept of natural selection is taking a beating and giving ammunition to skyhook seekers. I am only at the beginning of Dennett’s theory on this, but as, in general, Dennett tends towards the Dawkins model, and I tend towards the Gould model, I am very interested to see if I can be persuaded.

Adam came home with his school report today. It is not good and I have shouted at him. It is full of Mr Fyfe’s criticism of his lack of concentration, his fiddling, his disturbing of other children, and his poor presentation. It is no better, and perhaps slightly worse than last year’s report. I am also really cross with Mr Fyfe. I think Adam is probably the cleverest child in his year in almost every subject, and yet there is not the slightest inkling of this in his report. According to Adam, and I only have his word to go on, he was on a par with year six in many of the subjects, but this is not acknowledged or mentioned. It is as I feared, this coming year does not look promising for Ads, and I don’t see how I can help him.

August 1997

Paul K Lyons


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