Thursday 1 January 1998

It’s half way through the morning and I should be working. Why? Because, I’ve worked too little this week already, largely because I have preferred to do things with Adam, and because today he is with Barbara (they may be going to the Natural History Museum). But I am enjoying a cup of coffee and thought I would take 20 minutes to type up my first entry of the new year.

First the positive: Adam, Barbara and I are all in reasonable good health. B has her new house and, finally, we are in the situation we have been working towards for some years. Adam remains a wonderful, bright, charming child, a fabulous son and a gorgeous friend. My business has survived the arrival of its first employee and can probably look forward to further ventures.

But the negative: three deaths, that of Sasha, my stepfather. His loss was a blow, although emotionally I felt very little. I felt I had paid back all my dues and that, for many years now, we had held a healthy respect for each other. I was, though, very disappointed that he left us no inheritance. The death of Rosy was the biggest personal knock to me. Even though we did not see much of each other, she was an important part of my social world. And the death of Rosemary. This was a hard blow to Barbara and Adam, and there are continuing consequences for B because of her responsibility towards Les.

Socially, it has been a very empty year for me, and prospects for this year and the future look equally blank, and, therefore, daunting. Hobby-wise, it has been a terrible year. I don’t think I’ve written a single story; and all my attempts to interest a publisher in my short stories and ‘TomSpin’ have come to naught. A little light shone when a radio production company showed some interest in my diary material, but that had fizzled out by the end of the year. What other wise is there? That’s it, that’s my life. My little business, Adam, friendship with B, TV, and a very occasional trip out. It’s not enough.

As if to put a proper seal on the year, I spent yesterday New Year’s Eve, horribly, horribly sick. I had a thumping headache and then I became feverish and vomited. The pain was sufficient to make me cry at one point, and I was rolling around on the floor. After I had been sick, I felt a little better and watched TV with Adam in the afternoon (‘The Hoosiers’ with Gene Hackman as a basketball coach). By the evening I was largely recovered. I called Colin who was on his own and had a long chat. At about 10, I picked Adam up from B’s and we walked down to the Woolpack for our traditional New Year’s Eve visit to a pub. I read a little of ‘The Triffids’, and then I took him back to B’s. I was in bed by 11:45, but asleep before the chimes.

Saturday 3 January 1998

Another Saturday, another episode of ‘Casualty’, but not a good one. Adam loves ‘Casualty’. I let him watch him, because it provides snapshot lessons in human dilemmas, not just one a programme, but a whole basket of them. It also gives me a chance to discuss some of the problems and the relationships between the characters. He’s gone to bed now. My machine was still on because I’d been doing book work, but its 9:14 now and I don’t want to do any more tonight - Ads’ll go over to B’s tomorrow, so I’ll probably get down to more then. I may watch telly tonight, or read. I’ve got more than a dozen books on the go - none of them particularly easy reads, so none of them are being gobbled.

We’ve had strong gales today, and last night. The trees were swaying every which way and that, and the empty branches on the oaks and silver birches were swirling around as if caught in a twiggy whirlpool. I began to worry about one of the Scots pines or silver birches falling and landing across the house.

I met up with H last night - I haven’t actually been out with her alone since last summer. Her son is still in Switzerland with his father. We chatted all evening, with a couple of drinks and a simple meal. Then she came back here, and we chatted until after 1:00. She’s so easy to talk to, there’s never silence between us. Some of our conversation, however, did start to repeat on talks we’d had before. It was the first time I felt she was ready to take the relationship a bit further, and I could have made an advance; perhaps she was ready to stay the night. I tried to cut out from the conversation once or twice during the evening and consider if I should take the opportunity, but the talk was always so incessant. With alcohol, I suppose, I might have made a pass, without a thought for the consequences, but without it, I was left to make an intellectual decision, and I chose to pass.

So why? This is good diary material. It’s so much cheaper than a psychoanalyst. Firstly, there is H’s age - not in itself a barrier to an affair, or a fling. She is quietly attractive (even if lacking in sex appeal or even sensuality, actually - reasons in themselves), but she is certainly vulnerable. She doesn’t have a proper job, not much money; she doesn’t have anywhere permanent to live. I don’t feel she’s ever had many men - it certainly doesn’t come through in her conversation, and she’s quite transparent. And I like her as a friend, especially with our boys a similar age, I really don’t want to imperil that. A relationship with her is much more likely to survive if I don’t bribe her into an affair with hints of some kind of future together. Of course this sounds arrogant and presupposing; and she may be as able to cope with a fling, some night-time comfort and fun, as I think I am, but that is not my honest assessment of her.

The fact is plain and simple, and I can see myself repeating it to myself ad infinitum in these pages. I want a partner, at least 10 years younger than me, and I want to have two more children with her. Much as I like her, H is just too old to be that person, or even to want to be that person. And the sad sad fact is that what I want is what every single male in their 40s want; and I am far less well positioned than many many others to find such a woman. I’ve received the Sirius magazine, which lists 5,000 names and summary details. There are very few women in their 20s and a disproportionate number of them are overweight (there’s a category for that). There are a fair number of women in their 30s but a lot of them smoke, or are less than slim. If I were to take all the women in their 20s and 30s from the list, who didn’t smoke and weren’t fat and lived in south London or the Southeast region (i.e covering Lewisham to Kent to Wiltshire I suppose), there might be 50 or 60. How many of those are going live within a reasonable distance; and, then, here comes the crux, how many are going to be even reasonably attractive, and how many would I consider beautiful. I mean the chances of there being even one person on Sirius lists, who might be even close to compatible with me, are likely to be 100 to 1. Should I pay £400-500 to find that out. And Sirius appears to be the largest reasonable introduction agency. So what else can I do. Help.

I talked with Adam a lot today about Jack Straw and his son. He had listened to the news a bit and to a discussion on ‘Any Questions’, so that, when we were walking through the woods of Crookbury Hill, he was quizzing me on my attitude to the situation, and telling me his. I was amazed at the maturity of his thought and his ability to have clear opinions with good strong reasoning behind them. I mean he’s only 10. I said, I thought Straw should resign, although there is no press opinion to that end, and the Conservative Party are holding fire over the issue. I find the hypocrisy of politics, the press and public opinion quite amazing. I mean here we have a senior cabinet minister in charge of the Home Office and all policy relating to the police and drugs, and his 17 year old son has been caught, not just smoking cannabis, but selling it! How can we, the public, have confidence in his decisions on the best way to run a drugs policy in this country, if he cannot even run a good policy in his own family. But the conspiracy out there in the world - the press, the public, Her Majesty’s Opposition - exists because it does not want to recognise (cannot cope with) the responsibility that parents should really feel towards the behaviour of their children. Of course not every last character trait of a child is 100% under their control, and there are genetics and coincidences and luck and misfortune and family tragedies and so on, but far more of the behavioural end product of a child is the making of the parents than most people are prepared to accept. They cannot throw stones at Jack Straw because they are afraid someone might turn round and examine their own situation. I hope I have the guts to blame myself if Adam goes off the rails. I can see myself now poring over my diaries, year in year out, trying to extract information to shed light on where I made mistakes with Adam.

As my journals will testify, though, I do not suggest for a moment that we know how to bring up children. The development process is so complicated, and human beings are so stupid and selfish. All the really important mistakes, I am convinced, are made when children are really young, but the full force of the consequences do not become apparent until much later on. Hence, as parents cannot link any of their own recent behaviour to why a teenager might have gone off the rails, they are convinced that it cannot be their fault.

Adam’s view was that Straw should not resign because 17 year olds are very much victim to peer pressure and that it could happen to any parents regardless of the way they’ve brought up their children. This was a point made on the radio which Adam heard and took on board because he agreed, but he also made another point which I didn’t hear any where. He said it was a good idea for Straw to stay on because then he could set a good example for everyone and demonstrate how to deal with such a situation.

Adam has been such a wonderful companion ever since he was in nappies, but he just goes on becoming more and more wonderful; I can’t find any other word. All day, we laugh, fight, talk, play, work, watch TV - he is even becoming more of an equal partner in the things we do than I would have imagined this early in his life.

Monday 5 January 1998

A marathon night in front of the TV. First - ‘Eastenders’. The Ian and Cindy saga continue, but its being played for drama as opposed to truth. There is a new character - a priest - who I like, he has some depth and is being drawn into a number of different story lines with interesting links to the other characters. Second - a programme about neighbours at war. Ironically two new series on exactly the same subject have started on the same night within an hour of each other. Apparently, someone defected from ITV and made a very similar series for BBC and scheduled it earlier than the ITV programme, so ITV brought it forward. Lovely. I saw part of one of them - and yes ‘Neighbours at War’ and ‘Neighbours from Hell’ match their descriptions perfectly. The voiceover told us that one in fourteen households complain to the police about their neighbours! In so many cases, though, I’m sure the conflict arises and is maintained because it fills up a vacuum in people’s lives. Third, on video - part one of a new series of ‘McCallum’. This stars David Hannah, he who looks like me, who plays a detecting forensic pathologist. I like the oddball set of characters, the unusual murder stories, and the fine atmospheric photography and direction. Fourth - a drama about leek growing. This was formulaic stuff but none the worse for that. Two old rivals bet their house on a leek contest. The son of one is screwing the daughter of the other and she gets pregnant. As the contest approaches, both families move into crisis and the friction is only resolved when one of the leek growers nearly dies. Everything is suddenly put into perspective and personal relationships are restored.

Sunday 11 January 1998

I watched the dawn this morning through my bedroom window, glorious pink clouds drifted into view, then slowly across the light blue background, until entering behind the dense mass of oak tree branches, where they lost their colour and vanished for ever. I was so delighted by the picture, that I called Adam in to enjoy it with me. The trouble with calling Adam into the bedroom, though, is that he always starts messing around with the bed, or the sheets, or the duvet; and we end up having a fight over the duvet. After breakfast he slipped off to Yalta for the day.

The other notable thing about this morning was that I woke up with a brilliant idea for a novel. It wasn’t a dream as such, or not that I knew, the idea simply drifted into view, across the light blue background of my sleep, and then entered in the dense mass of my brain cells.

There’s this butterfly (although it could be something else) arrives from outside the galaxy in a meteorite. It’s been protected by a huge rock encasement that was created during the explosion of its planet. Big coincidence, but out of the way at the beginning. This butterfly or whatever has extraordinary powers and, eventually, becomes ruler of the world. Nice simple idea. So one strand of this plot would be the convoluted path taken by the butterfly or whatever from the moment of its arrival on earth to all powerful ruler. It would know nothing about this world, but learn quickly. All of its achievements would be enacted by people, so it would start in the ownership of whoever found it, delivering a few miracles, and it would move on to be a local oddity, then it might be owned by a collector, then by a cult, then by a country, then by a multinational organisation, and finally by the United Nations. There would be the opportunity to comment on everything and anything, but especially the hypocrisy and materialism of modern man. Then there could be some sub plots following the lives of several people from different parts of the world as they work to achieve their sole ambition in life which is to worship at the altar of the butterfly.

I spent the morning in the garden. My coal bunker broke down last week. This coal bunker served one key purpose, holding up the washing line. The washing line, needless to say, was full, and all the clothes fell onto the dirty wet floor. (Although, miraculously none of the dirt seemed to stick to any of the items, so I was relieved of the need to wash any of them again. It may not have been miraculous, it may have been wishful thinking combined with a healthy dose of not examining the clothes too carefully!) So, I spent this morning clearing away the broken concrete slabs that made up the bunker and erecting a single fence post to hold the end of the washing line. I also planted up some cacti that I bought at Secretts. I have one window sill in the lounge which now holds half a dozen cacti. I’ve been inspired by cacti ever since I saw a collection in Bratislava.

Mum drove down yesterday and I then drove her and Adam to Poole to a gallery opening for Tony Piper’s paintings. We stopped for a pleasant stroll around Winchester. Mum and Adam explored the longest cathedral in Europe, but I refused to pay £2.50 for myself (although I did pay for the others of course) (I don’t approve of paying to visit Churches - they’re either museums or they’re not, and the Church is still an immensely wealthy organisation). But I got the better deal, for I found the interesting barracks area of the city, and some of the ruins of Henry III’s fortress, including the Great Hall with its Round Table actually hanging on the wall. What a thriving busy centre Winchester has, and pretty parts.

We arrived at Bournemouth University just after 6:00. The gallery, within the main university building, was rather small, and probably not the right place to advertise Tony’s large £4,000 paintings. They looked fine the way they were hung, most were old paintings that we’ve seen before, although there were a few new drawings (Mum bought one for £160, because it reminded her of Peter when she was much younger - she’s a year off 80 now). There was a fair crowd there, all friends and relations. I think Peter and Tony were disappointed that more of the University’s art students didn’t show up; and the gallery organiser clearly hadn’t made much of an effort. Roger and Mary were there for a while, so I talked to them. Martin’s wife in Paris, Valerie, has a second child now. We discussed the rights and wrongs of the relationship. Unfortunately, I didn’t talk to anyone new - I don’t really know why. I suppose everyone was in their own little cliques, perhaps seeing others they hadn’t seen for a long time. Some of Tony’s relations were there, including his brother and two nieces, one of whom seemed strung out on something, and whose boyfriend looked as queer as I might have done at that age.

We ate fish and chips in the car before whizzing home. I managed it in just over the hour - from Poole, for goodness sake, which is only a short way from Swanage and the delightful Dorset coast. Winchester was only about 30-40 minutes away - whenever I go to London, I always spend 30-40 minutes getting there, almost always more, yet I’ve never even remotely considered going to Winchester for the evening.

Sunday 18 January 1998

Sundays are turning into work days by default. Adam now spends Saturdays with me and Sundays with B, this is largely because I go to volleyball on Sunday evenings, so it’s easier for Ads to come back to me just before school on Monday. And, with Ads not here, there’s little else for me to do but make myself comfortable at my office desk and get on with work. This morning, for example, I’ve got my admin up to date, written a letter to ‘Which’ about a bad mistake it made over a report on an EU Directive, and I’ve checked out our website, only to discover there are several mistakes. Now I have a cup of coffee and am catching up on my diary.

The bad news - a bill from the Inland Revenue for over £9,000. The good news - we are all in good health. The bad news - the ground is waterlogged and I cannot look out of the window without thinking about the roots of the poor shrubs. The good news - no problems with house or car. My life is too boring to go on with this format.

Mayco was in my thoughts this week. Last month I got a letter from her saying she was coming to London in February. I got excited about this. I thought the timing was rather quick and so I sent an e-mail asking if they knew the dates of their journey and inviting them to stay. I started worrying about whether I could get the bedrooms decorated in time. But then, last week, I got an e-mail back from her husband saying they wouldn’t be coming because of lack of resources. It struck me as odd, and I wondered if there wasn’t some dispute between them over this. Any how, on Thursday night I found myself alone and lonely. I had all the lights in the house off and was dancing to a tape of Mercedes Sousa, when I suddenly remembered that I had a tape of Mayco singing, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had played it. So I put it on. Not only was there singing on the tape (including a song she sung to me on the boat from Buenos Aires when I fell in love with her) but she talks quite a lot also - so suddenly there she was talking to me. The tape dates from before the trip to New York when she was due to marry. She encourages me so strongly to come to Buenos Aires saying she and La Negra will look after me. I shed a few tears for her, her love and friendship, and for the fact that it was all so long ago, and my life (Adam apart) has become so barren of active friendship and involvement.

An e-mail arrived from Manu in Berlin this morning. I thought we’d lost contact but he’s still there on the end of a thin thread of friendship. His father (a well-known painter) died and left him the house in Ibiza where I first met him. He’s been there this winter - ‘I went to swim’, he says. How long is it since I swam in the Mediterranean in the winter. How I miss it when I think of it. And how cross (no cross is not the word, disappointed I suppose is a better word), how disappointed I feel when I remember I have inherited nothing from my fathers - there is no luck left in my life. Luck has left me behind - there is nothing out there waiting to happen to me, to freshen up my life, to refurbish it - I can imagine how being left a house on Ibiza (or Antibes) would transform my world. And my business is so slow. I can see now, it is never really going to take-off in a way that will make me rich enough to indulge any fantasies.

Given this morbid view of my future, I decided to take the plunge and sign up to an introduction agency - at a cost of over £400. I spent time examining the brochures and drawing up a list of advantages and disadvantages, scoring them, and then giving the scores weights. The advantage of this process is that, if the score comes out against the action being considered, then the brain soon reconfigures the scoring mechanism in order to come up with the right answer. Thereby proving an infallible mechanism for finding out what the self really wants! I thought I would get a phone call to arrange for an interviewer to come round, but it hasn’t happened yet. So, in fact, nothing has happened yet; and I wait with bated breath to see whether or not anything could come of it. The night I was deciding to decide, I spoke to two people on the phone and told them both - Raoul, who was somewhat astonished, I suppose, and Tammy who thought I was very brave. Very foolish is what I think; I think, probably, I’m paying £400 for a lot of trouble. But then, I am a desperate man.

I am reading so many books at the moment, although I don’t spend very long reading any one of them. I’ve just finished the ‘Underground Man’ a first novel by Mick Jackson, and I’ve nearly finished ‘Song of Stone’ by Iain Banks. The first I bought while doing Christmas shopping because the dust jacket talked about a man digging tunnels (my unfinished rats novel still gathers dust); and the latter I bought because Banks’ reputation is growing fast and I thought I ought to give him a chance. Oddly, they are rather similar in that the narrators of both are aristocrat owners of a castle or manor. In the Banks novel, the world is falling down around the narrator’s castle, while in Jackson’s novel, the exterior world is stable, but the man’s interior world is crumbling. Neither of them set me alight. They are both competent works, but they both lack a strong narrative, and there are no compensating features, such as truly rich language, or unusual insights into life. I am still wending my way through Robertson Davies essays and speeches and, with Adam, I am making headway through Wyndham’s ‘The Day of the Triffids’. I am, though, stalled on Adam Thorpe’s ‘Still’, Huxley’s ‘After Many a Summer’, and Davies’ ‘The Cunning Man’.

I’ve started two science books, both feted: ‘Figments of Reality’ by two British professors, and ‘How the Mind Works’ by Stephen Pinker. Both of them are summary works, in other words the authors have used their own discipline as a launching pad to write about much broader subjects. Pinker is a language expert and his earlier book, ‘The Language Instinct’, was very well received. But now he has tried to draw in information from a much larger range of science. Similarly, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, both authors I’ve not come across before, are aiming at the explanation market, rather than trying to propagate their own science. I have made no judgement about either, as I’ve only just started.

Mo Mowlem received a good press over her visit to the Maze; and the government’s document on the future of Northern Ireland has been accepted by the all-party talks as a basis for negotiation. Unlike the previous Tory government which only looked for political advantage and possibly only ever made an effort in order to be able to offer concessions to the Ulster parties in order to keep them voting on the right, one must believe the Labour Party is genuinely interested in exploring for solutions.

Algeria has blown up again after more massacres. I really hate those commentators who start their columns by criticising the world for only just waking up to the Algeria problem. This is just rubbish. The world and its press is fully aware of the Algeria problem, but it’s not in the headlines every day because there is a news blackout and few journalists are there; and, more importantly, there is very little the world can do. There is not much the European Union can do, since its foreign policy powers are limited in theory and practice. And there is nothing the United Nations could do, unless the Arab states themselves are ready to take action; and that seems unlikely considering that the internal war is being fought because a Muslim party was kept out of government by force. And then, I ask myself, why is the commentator commenting about it now; he’s got the space in the media, he could have written about it every week for the last three years, if he felt so strongly about it.

A poem - goodness knows where this came from or why. I just seemed to hiccup it up. I haven’t written a poem for a decade. Perhaps this is why! - If I had to write a poem; I wouldn’t; If I wanted to write a poem; I’d know what I wanted to say; If I did write a poem; Well, it would be written; So why, why, why am I pressing these letters into words and these words into nothing.

Sunday 25 January 1998

A cold weekend, although it was bright for a few hours yesterday. The garden looks very bare still, the spring bulbs are throwing up their greenery, and buds are visible on the shrubs if I look carefully. I’ve got one stunning plant in flower just now, which I inherited and have nurtured. I know about it by chance since I heard a conversation on the radio on Friday - the stinking hellebore. It’s a British wild flower that was so in demand in past years with people digging them up for their gardens that it was under threat, although now its widely available through garden centres. It has pale green flowers made up of sepals which rise up above the darker green leaves, the sepals stay on to protect the seed pods, rather than fall like petals. And when the seed pod is ripe, it exudes a sticky substance of interest to snails and some of the seeds are dispersed by sticking to the snails. Traditionally, it was used to cure worms, but it is also a poison if taken in too great a quantity. Why stinking? The discussants on the radio didn’t know, it has a pungent smell but not one that would be called stinking.

Half way through Sunday and I’m supposed to be working all day today, and I haven’t even started. I spent an hour or so getting my finances in order because I have to pay a £9,000 bill to the inland revenue next week. I spent 10 minutes beating the computer at chess. Then I listened to ‘Mediumwave’, an excellent radio programme, discussing, among other things, the government’s handling of the dome project, Geoff Boycott’s press conference denying that he hit his girlfriend, and President Clinton’s troubles.

The latter has become a huge story over the last few days. ‘Mediumwave’s’ angle was to look at why such a hostile subversive underground (or not mainstream) press had built up against Clinton, despite his popularity, and despite the fact that Clinton is exactly the kind of President one would expect the alternative world to be more supportive of than, say, Reagan. The view was put forward that there was a whole generation of Sixties flower power and beatnik types who resented the fact that one of their own - a dope-smoking, womanising, draft dodger - had risen up so high to become President.

Of course, it is clear that the main thrust of the sustained attacks on Clinton stems from right wing Republican interests. The attorney, Starr, I think his name is, who has developed the Whitewater prosecution, appears to be acting as a man obsessed, out to get Clinton, at any cost. The latest difficulty for Clinton is another young woman who claims she had an 18 month affair with him, and also that he asked her to lie if asked about the affair. Washington has been rocked, not by the uncovering of another possible affair, but by the request to lie. The whole thing is made more serious because there are tapes of Clinton’s conversations and phone calls with this woman. All his past affairs have been washed over with a flood of denials and semi-denials and doubts and half-truths, and the public has forgiven Clinton. But this one may be all too much in the public’s face, with the tapes broadcast, and pictures of them together and so on. But Gore Vidal, who I heard speak on this a couple of days ago, agrees with my own view. This whole thing is really a Republican conspiracy, not perhaps a deliberate one, but if you keep pressing enough buttons, one of them will fire up, and be fuelled by the wretched press’s addiction to headlines, whether there’s a real story or not. Thus, a small story becomes a big one, because there’s no other big ones. Indeed, on ‘Mediumwave’, I heard a commentator from Washington say just how bored and frustrated the journalists have been for the last year because there’s been so little for them to get their teeth into, and now they are walking around with grins on their faces.

The Millennium Dome is another non-story. Certain agente provocateurs have been stoking up the press because there are no details about what will be in the dome yet. But why should there be any details yet, when they are still being worked out. No doubt hundreds and thousands of people are working on ideas and they will be selected and publicised when it is time.

I’ve had several late nights in a row, unusually. On Thursday I went to London to meet with Andy and Raoul. We went to the Donmar for a play called ‘The Front Page’. They had done a splendid job in reproducing the atmosphere of a county jail press room prior to a hanging, as in the 1940s-50s? film with the same name. I’ve just looked the film up in my reference book and I understand my confusion over the date. ‘The Front Page’ was originally a stage play by Ben Hecht and Charles Macarthur. This was turned into a film in 1931 (which I don’t know if I’ve seen). But what I have seen is a 1974 remake with Jack Lemmon and Waltar Matthau, which must have reproduced the earlier age, creating the confusion in my corrupt memory. The play was great fun and I think the lads enjoyed it. Afterwards we went to an Indian restaurant, and Raoul had the idea to call over Richard (even though I, myself, failed to respond positively to the idea and Andrew had seen him the day before). Richard soon took over the conversation and was going on about quacks in India, and how it was so terrible, and India was a terrible place, and so on. I started getting really irritated at his kind of privileged Western attitude, and when I started to put forward my view, he started going on about how many times he’d been there, how many countries he’d been to; he was even justifying his view as an expert by saying he’d done yoga for 25 years! For about half an hour I was pressing him and pushing him into a corner, where he finally admitted he would prefer to live in Burma than in India. Andrew and Raoul stayed utterly silent, and, after, as I was rushing to catch the last train, Raoul was telling me he couldn’t believe I had said all that to Richard. I asked him why he didn’t argue more honestly with Richard, and he just said ‘you know, too much history and stuff’. Afterwards, I felt a little guilty because I had stretched out Richard’s religion, laying it somewhat bare, and I realised he was really rather vulnerable, perhaps Raoul knows that vulnerability much better than I. Still, I just can’t put up with all his crap. It seemed to me that he had finally, after five or six visits, come to the same conclusion about India that I had come to after one visit, but whereas I was prepared to accept my dislike for India was the result of the huge gap between its culture and my own, Richard was blaming his dislike on India itself, on the terrible behaviour of its people to each other etc.

The following night, I went up again to London because Vic Peeke had invited me to a leaving do at a bar near St Paul’s. I went because I hadn’t seen Vic for years and because I thought there might be some people I knew from the past. But, when I got there, I could not believe the place; it was so crowded, so noisy, and I couldn’t find Vic or anybody I knew. It was horrible, so I left and walked back to the South Bank. More or less at random I chose a show, running as part of the London Mime Festival, in the Purcell Room. It was a two-man show based around one man’s skill with blowing soap bubbles!. It was the gentlest and lightest of entertainment one can imagine - so good natured, professional, but oh so inconsequential. I was intrigued by three people sitting in front of me, two men and a woman, all about my age. I liked their faces, their clothes, the snippets of conversation I heard. They had an easy friendship about them, I thought it might have been man and wife and wife’s brother. How nice it would be to have people like that as friends.

Then, on Saturday Ads and I spent much of the day with Genny and David . . .

Half an hour later

As I started to write the last sentence I realised we had not been back to the Moat to rescue D&A Aldeburgh (our new name for the red and yellow sailing boat we bought in Aldeburgh when Adam was one - D&A is instead of HMS). Genny and David came over in the afternoon and we walked down to the Moat, risking life and limb through the swamps and flood plains spilling across the Common. David was playing with the motor boat and I gave D&A Aldeburgh to Adam to set it off for a cruise. Unfortunately, he tightened up the main sail, so that it had great trouble catching any wind and going anywhere. It danced around in the middle of the pond for so long we had to leave it eventually. We had intended to return first thing this morning to retrieve it from whatever bank it had come to shore at but, as I was about to record these minute events of our lives, I suddenly remembered we had forgotten all about it. So, I called Ads up at B’s and we went on a rescue operation. At least the boat was there and it hadn’t been halfinched this morning, but it was stuck in the reeds some 3-4 metres out. I had to wade in up to the depth of my wellies, and then hook the mast with a long pole and swing the boat over the dangers.

That was just now, but yesterday we came back here for tea and cake, which Genny had made and brought, and then later Ads and I went over to Tilford for supper and for the evening. Ads spent much of the time playing with David’s hamster; and I talked to Genny about sculpture and many other things. We didn’t leave until after 11.

27 January 1998

A cold Tuesday night, Ads has just gone to bed. Straight after school we went swimming at Spectrum for about 45 minutes. I do 20 lengths, Adam does 10; we do some diving in the diving pool, and then we play a version of bulldog, usually in the shallow end, although we tried it in the deep end today. We stopped at Spar on the way back to buy milk and apples, but Ads was in a hurry to watch the first episode of a new ‘Grange Hill’ series, so he ran back. I cooked an early supper, yesterday’s leftover rice, with green beans, red pepper and tomatoes added, and chicken sauce from a tin, followed by banana, yoghurt and cherry jam. Ads was reading a chain letter he got from Philip, which required sending six letters and a postcard. After supper, he finished off the little work I had given him this morning. I read a few more pages of Pinker’s new book, and then a chapter of the ‘Triffids’ to Adam. We’re wading our way through, but it’s a tough book to keep Adam interested in. We listened to the ‘Archers’, I watched ‘Eastenders’, while Ads practised a coin trick which uses a small sheet of latex rubber and is quite tricky to perfect. Then we both watched ‘University Challenge’. Cardiff was one of the teams – all those many years ago, I went to Manchester to watch Cardiff (well it was still called UWIST then) compete. Then Ads went to bed.

I stood around, wondering what to do. The office is cold, so I didn’t want to go back to work, although I should have done considering I had finished work at 3:30 to go swimming. I could have read, but I’ve never been able to spend a whole evening just reading. Reading always seems to me something to fit into the interstices of one’s life - of which I have a lot. So I plugged in the old Tosh, and I’m battering away at these keys. I do love this keyboard. I thought I might do a bit of ‘Trapped Again’, but I’ve started it on the other computer, and I can’t remember where I’m at.

I wonder if I could make up a new Sparky story, on the spot so to speak. No. I can’t - that was another time, another age.

February 1998

Paul K Lyons


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