PREVIOUS CHAPTER: EIGHTEEN: AMITY ON THE ATLANTIC
The year began for me on the Atlantic, but I’m home in Gosport by late January and learn that Adam was offered a staff job at the Economist as a writer on foreign affairs. His persistence has paid off! Much work mending and decorating Little Anglesey during the spring, planning to put it on the market in April.
The co-skippers relax during a quiet spell on the Atlantic
Björn spends much of the year with Scott setting up the Tropical Forest Trust, and working with it through to 2006. During this period he works in Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brazil, the USA and Canada.
May: Adam visits Albania/Macedonia during Kosovo conflict. Long article on refugees. Visits Cortona, Italy, with Anne.
4th July: Björn rang to say he is engaged to Ellie. Wonderful. Sigyn would have been so pleased. Dan lost for words, but delighted too. Gran talked of spider plants, but at least she didn’t say, ‘Never mind’. Dan invited me to celebratory meal at the Fishbourne Inn. July: Adam does a long article on child soldiers. Carved a door bell stone with a snoozing-but-watchful cat, to fit into the wall at 1 Binstead Hall.
Binstead hall. Sunny, warm. Mowed the wild area, avoiding the rare bee orchids. Croquet on the lawn. Much work still at Little Anglesey. September: Adam and Anne on long trip to Syria and Jordan. Amazing castles and waterwheels. But people afraid to talk politics. Goran and Rita visit B.H. for a week. November: Adam visits Tanzania (death of Julius Nyerere) and Uganda. Bjorn moves to Oxford. Christmas: Adam/Anne, Bjorn/Ellie/Dan and I at Binstead Hall – Mexican meal with burnt cork moustaches, beards and ponchos.
Erika Collins rang to say that her trio’s violinist has moved to Scotland and would I like to join her (Erika – piano) and ‘cellist Dr Andrew Williams. I tell her that I am not good enough to play chamber music by Beethoven, Dvorak, Mendelssohn and Hayden, especially as my sight reading is pathetic, but she urges me to have a go. She posts me the fiddle part for a Mendelssohn piano trio and I struggle with the first movement for a couple of weeks. Timing is hardest, but Dan is encouraging and plays my part on the piano.
Our first rehearsal at Erika’s is a disaster. I can manage the bits where I have the tune, but I just cannot judge the lengeth of my pauses. Counting ‘One, two, three, four – one, two, three etc.’ in my head for a few bars should be easy enough, but I lose track again and again, coming in with my part either too soon or too late. I feel ashamed and angry with myself. Later, I buy a C.D. of the trio, learn the musc by heart and it suddenly becomes clear. I know intuitively when to join in – mostly. Week by week I start to discover a delightful new world of music-making – so simple, and relatively quiet, with only a few instruments, yet so moving. I begin regular weekly rehearsals at 97 Victoria Road South.
Björn doing research at the Swedish Agricultural University. Has prepared a long dissertation. Summer: Binstead Hall. Grandma well established in the big front bedroom. I in the smaller room at the back. Rooms for Dan and visitors on the top floor.
Sunny, warm. Mowed the wild area, avoiding the rare bee orchids. Croquet on the lawn. Much work still to do at Little Anglesey.
Charlotte Hofton of the Isle of Wight County Press interviews Grandma Ruth on the lawn.
September: Adam and Anne on a long trip to Syria and Jordan. Discover amazing castles and giant waterwheels. They find that people are afraid to talk politics, but eager to have news of the outside world.
Rita and Göran visit Binstead Hall for a week.
November: Adam visits Tanzania (My hero, President Julius Nyerere, has died) and Uganda. Manages to get an interview with a particularly nasty general of a militia (who had banned the Economist from any of his interviews) by pretending to be with Reuters, and makes the most of it in his subsequent interview.
Christmas: Adam, Anne, Björn, Ellie, Dan, Grandma and I are at Binstead Hall – we have a Mexican meal while wearing burnt-cork moustaches, beards and ponchos.
15th January: to Oxford with David and Erika. Visited Chris and Dot – ever so welcoming. Lunch at the King’s Arms near Wadham with Bjorn & Ellie, Richard and Charlotte. Then a walk in the evening sunshine. Lovely light on the old stone buildings. 17th Trio at Erika’s. Made real progress in the Dvorak tonight. I found it easier to keep time in the fourth movement and Andrew kept up in the second. New sounds. Work on Little Anglesey, plus learning some George Brassens songs – La Belle Helene, le Nobril d’une Femme d’un Agent de Police.
24th January. I spoke at Jackie Hoogendyk’s funeral , Golders Green Crematorium. Jan and Jackie, had been two impressive, courageous people with the right values. Jan’s courage to oppose his South African Boer family – all of whom were very pro-apartheid, only Jan working against it and daring to be a member of the ANC. Later, he became a dynamic Chairman of TFSR
February: travelled by coach to Stokesley to meet Sue, Martin and Joan (Leveridges). 20th Feb: walk with Adam, Dan and Bjorn near Winchester. Bright sunny day. Wine and sandwiches. Good chat, lovely atmosphere. ‘What a lucky father I am.’ 21st Feb: Built seven steps into the path leading down to the beach from B’ Hall, so Ruth can get up and down more easily. Monthly session in Cowes with John and Judith Fulford’s Books for Africa group. Same idea as TFSR, but books rather than tools. Both projects face similar definitional questions, e.g. ‘What is (in)appropriate to send out to an African workshop or community library?’. Bought a large ceiling rose for Grandma Ruth’s bedroom. The white plaster rose had a pattern of buds, leaves and flowers which she bade me paint in lurid purple, pink, orange, gold and green. I did my best, but it looked awful up there, even slightly masked by the lampshade. Gran sometimes showed a surprisingly exotic taste in decoration and she particularly liked touching things up with gold paint. I remember a time in the mid-1980s when she had a decorator cover her hall and stairwell in a heavily textured gold and brown mossy wallpaper – like a shabby Indian restaurant – but which she insisted on his hanging horizontally.
4th March: That evening, I gave an illustrated talk about our second Atlantic crossing to the Gosport Cruising Club. I asked my listeners to signal to me if they had questions during my talk, rather than wait till the end. I launched into our adventures and, dutifully, a woman at the back kept raising her hand to head height, but then kept lowering it again. Although an urgent voice inside me warned, “Do NOT on any account say that!” – the words just bubbled out: “Did you have a question – or were you just picking your nose?”
“What a wonderful thing is the human mind.
This powerful machine serves us faithfully from the time of our birth to the moment when we stand up to make a public speech.”
Author? And was this written with me in mind?
Steering Amity, after our wheel broke in mid-Atlantic
Still more work refurbishing Little Anglesey. 9th April: Dan acquired an old motorised wheelchair for Ruth and fixed it up. Adam talked her into trying it and she reluctantly did, then rather enjoyed it… But a couple of days later, the accelerator jammed and she shot off round the garden. Lads caught up with her and brought her to a halt, but her nerve had completely gone.
27th April: Gran taken ill and rushed to St Mary’s Hospital in Newport. Minor heart attack. Kept in for seven days.
30th April: Göran and Rita, Erika and David Collins visited. An enjoyable day, but David very unwell on our walk back to the ferry at Fishbourne. 1 May: Ventnor with Göran and Rita, never-to-be-forgotten chips and fish fresh from the sea. Some interest in buyers for Little Anglesey. 12th May: Adam left for Vietnam/Thailand for a stint. 17th May: started letter to Directors of TFSR on the need for dynamic ideas and courage to stand up for our ideals. 6th June. Guy Davies (Weet Ing) funeral. Golders Green. Adam, based in Bangkok, sneaks into Burma, then to Vietnam. Visits Goran and Rita in Hanoi.
9th June: Gran taken ill again after bending in the garden weeding. Dizzy, sick. Ambulance to St. Mary’s. 28th June: Finished “Ellie & Bjorn’s Round” (for four violins), for their wedding. Very simple, but OK. Still going over weekly to Little Anglesey to keep it trim.
4th July: contracts for sale on Little Anglesey exchanged. Feeling of relief. 11th July: Day trip by catamaran to Cherbourg with Dan & Zoe. Adam in USA to report on exiles/refugees in America.
10th July: Clearing out rubbish from the garden shed in Little Anglesey, and despite vengeance due to fall on anyone who dared to enter (“KEEP OUT! OR DIE!”) I demolish a wooden partition built years ago by Adam and the Pirateers. I find cutlasses, a pair of battered binoculars, flags, maps, a dozen numbers of the Pirateers’ news bulletin – largely written and produced by Adam himself. Most intriguing of all, was to open their TOP SECRET Club Book: In it were codes, drawings of secret tracks to Path Bay, ideas for future activities and two pages of names, headed ENEMIES (the woman next door, various school mates, The Pig Man on the allotment…) and ALLIES (Ben Russell, also of the allotment). I was a puzzled, even a little hurt, that neither Sigyn nor I figured on the list of Allies – we had done a lot to help them, after all. I flipped through the remaining pages – nothing – until on the very last, we appeared, “Mum” and “Dad”, under the carefully printed heading: RESOURCES. [Note from Adam: Glyn subsequently wrote up this account for Readers’ Digest, and loved to retell the story.]
14th July: Last day at 1 Little Anglesey. Mowed the lawns, trimmed the hedges, did some weeding, swept up, picked flowers for vases, took Welsh dresser to Gay and Phil Gray (old friends from Flint Street days) for storage, took photos of all rooms. Everything for the very last time. Sad and happy. Played music in various rooms: Adiemus, Satie, Holst ‘Venus’, Brassens, Alice Tegner (for Sigyn and the boys’ childhood). Said thank you to the house for looking after us all. Locked the front door. Walked down the chequered tile path, past the stone girl with flowers I’d carved for Sigyn’s birthday, closed the garden gate. Good bye.
Carving of Millennium Stone for Binstead Hall – showing out family and the sun rising on 1st January 2000 – almost finished, but Ruth will not have it put into the wall. She says it will fall out and kill someone. I explain, with drawings, that it will have bronze pins inserted so that it can’t fall out, quite apart from the fact that it leans inwards and will be cemented into the stonework. She remains adamant.
5th August: Green & Away tent gathering near Gloucester. I gave my talk about TFSR “Values before Tools”. Good discussion. Sunny and warm. Harry Iles and Tony Care in fine form. They really are like brothers to me, as are Arthur and Göran. 14th August. Met Abbott of Quarr. Agreed to make a terracotta triptych to celebrate the Benedictine community’s 100 years on the Island. 19th August: Bjorn’s stag weekend – embarrassing challenges for him to undertake in & around the New Forest.
6th September: Medina High School. Met the B Tech Drama group and discussed various Amnesty-supported prisoners of conscience around the world. Suggested we make a play about them. They chose two comedians in Myanmar/Burma – knowing absolutely nothing about the country or its repressive politics. Over the next 10 weeks we studied the situation in Myanmar, wrote a script and rehearsed it. Weeks into the rehearsals I wrote. “Amnesty group at Medina: Terrible! All sorts of tensions within the group. Not to do with the play, but they really put little effort into it. Forgetting lines they knew last week.” Still, invited the Burmese Embassy to send a representative to the public performance. But the dress rehearsal before an audience of school students went well.
8th Sept: drove to Stokesley with Dan and Zoe. Met Bjorn, Scott, Alicia, Adam, Anne, Andrew Sides at Chapters Hotel. Drinks. Dinner at the Spread Eagle. Great evening.
9th Sept BJORN AND ELLIE WEDDING. Church service with Father Storey – ancient but radical (too radical for his previous Stokesley congregation, so became Chaplain at Hull University. Brought back specially for the wedding.) Small Strings group from the BBC Northern Orchestra played part of Bach double violin concerto (for Sigyn) and other pieces. Ellie looked beautiful in her gold and cream dress, rather like a wood nymph; Bjorn fine and very proud. Although a Catholic service, conducted by old Father Storey, I could not but agree with just about everything he said. Thank goodness Ellie and Sue stuck out for their old priest rather than accepting the younger, doctrinaire one who had proposed to oversee the occasion.
Björn and Scott (to his right) carry Ellie from the church
Sue had arranged for a cake with “Bjorn & Ellie’s Round” on it and flowers, all done in fine icing. Dan’s fabulous wooden sculpture/machine slowly spinning round, with leaves, hearts, a book and a candle. Adam did paintings and a mock-up of the Economist magazine starring the bridal couple on its front cover. After a great evening, we fired two rockets into the night sky – memories of Paris 1966 – which exploded and panicked all the Stokesley ducks.
“Björn and Ellie’s Round”in icing
11th September: I climbed Roseberry Topping and chose a rock just to the east of the summit, perhaps 40 feet below. Carved “Ellie [heart] Björn 9.9.2000” into the rock face just above a Triangulation mark. Drove back to Portsmouth 320 miles, and found I couldn’t pee when I got home.
15th September: Adam and Anne left for holiday in Thailand and Vietnam. 6th October: Working in clay on the Triptych for Quarr Abbey – first panel, showing monks’ being expelled from France.
October: Arthur rang – a buyer for Amity in Antigua. Excellent. Adam and Anne, Bjorn and Ellie arrive. Good weekend together. Went to Quarr Abbey to see the first panel fired in the Abbey kiln. Excellent; no breakages.
3rd November: Quay Arts Centre in Newport, “Guilty: of Humour” our play about Myanmar went brilliantly! Kids really acted. I was so proud of them. As an educational tool it worked, too. Eighteen months later a member of the cast, by now working for Sainsbury’s, rushed up to me in the frozen food section, calling, ‘Sir, sir, isn’t it great. Aun Sang Su Ki has been released!’ She said the play was the thing she best remembered of her school course.
13th November: “A.m. Wanted to change washer on the bath shower attachment, BUT you can’t change/fit washer without removing a gadget inside the shower fitting, and you can’t remove gadget without unscrewing bath spout, and you can’t unscrew the spout because it snags against the feeder pipes – so the whole shower fitting has to be disconnected from the feeder pipes. But you can’t do that till the hot and cold water is switched off, and you can’t switch off without getting access to the stop cocks, which can only be done by unscrewing the end panel to the bath. Well, we did that, coating the spanner in Sellotape and using plywood so as not to scratch the gold plate on the various nuts, fitted the washer and tried to put it all back into place …. And that’s when the trouble really started.” No further details are given in the diary…
2nd December: Gran talks of moving back to Gosport and into the Abbeyfield retirement home there. I cannot but agree that it would be better for all of us. We had four good years together, but the steep stairs up to her room, her long periods of isolation when none of us was home, and – more significantly – the growing stress recently when we were all together – suggested that she would be happier in a small community and closer to Gosport friends of twenty years’ standing. 8th December: Made Christmas cards, “Amity on Christmas Day, 1998”. 13th December: Examined the second panel of my triptych fired at Quarr. Again, no breakages.
Adam had long articles in the Economist on Internally Displaced People and on Vietnam. Anne in Geneva for a few months, researching UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Dan’s “Spyglass” sculpture/machine working well in Ventnor, coins pouring in as boat with Smuggler Pete spins round to reveal mermaid underneath. Adam back from Oslo and visit to Hammerstad family.
13th Jan: Gran’s birthday. Cold and bright. Made her a “This is Your Life” book of 14 cards illustrating key events/holidays/houses of her past. Otherwise, no celebrations. She wants no fuss.
23rd Jan: This week, on four main TV channels (quite apart from the “rubbish” stations):- 7 British films, 2 French, 1 Russian, 1 Indian and 42 films from the USA. Cultural imperialism! There must be many wonderful films available from other countries.
1st Feb: Dan and I moved Gran and her effects over to the Abbeyfield home in Privett Road, Gosport. Quite a nice room. Garden. Six other residents. I got rid of her Binstead Hall TV the very next day.
13th: Adam safely back from Ethiopia/Eritrea/Kenya.
19th: Started the third panel of triptych for Quarr
March: Adam to the Washington Bureau for one month. Cover story urging America to welcome more refugees and migrants. Other stories on US prisons, gay marriages, census. Anne joins him for two weeks.
25th March: Now Grandma has left, I can finally install the Millennium Stone in the back wall of Binstead Hall. Scaffolding pretty rusty and wobbly. Cutting out space for insertion of Millennium Stone and time capsule. Old flint stones very hard to cut. Quite dangerous perched up there. Another tricky step will be sliding the sculpture out of my bedroom window and onto the platform….
On wobbly scaffolding, round the back
15th April. Installed the Millennium Stone. Also, behind it in a sealed jar, a note to future generations, signed by all the residents of the Hall:
To You Who Open This Jar – be it in 10 years, 50 years, 100 years – GREETINGS!
We are the people who live in Binstead Hall at the start of the Third Millennium. (Yes, we have lived in the 1900s – does that seem very long ago to you?)
It is still a beautiful place, surrounded by woods, with a path down to the beach, and we hear no traffic, just the bird song in spring and an occasional hoot from the Portsmouth-Fishbourne ferries when there is fog. However, much of the world is in turmoil and there is evidence of climate change and global warming.
We erected this stone in the hope that you who live on the Isle of Wight in years to come will continue to protect it – from erosion, from pollution, from ugly buildings and dense traffic. We hope that the Island will develop along lines that are economically sustainable and environmentally friendly.
We hope that your generation will have found ways to give each person a long, healthy and fulfilling life, and that you are at peace with each other and with the world.
26th March: Visited Grandma. Got home to find Dan and Zoe with news that Adam had rung and he has been offered post of Southern Africa correspondent for the Economist in Johannesburg. I am worried about his safety, though it seems a great opportunity. But that’s only half the news. He and Anne have decided to get married already in August. So, another great day to come!
13th April: Bjorn and Ellie move into new house in Kidlington, but then join Adam & Anne and Dan here at Binstead Hall for Easter.
Easter eggs and coloured wool treasure hunt in back garden. Adam and Anne exchange plastic engagement rings out of chocolate eggs.
20th: Adam and Anne leave for a visit to see Jo’burg.
26th April: Visited Grandma. She seems happy in her new home, though she finds the other residents are not interested in world affairs. Later: Grandma rang to hear if I had taken her false teeth with me back to the Island.
27th April: Grandma rang again: Would I double-check in my pockets and clothing to make sure that I hadn’t “inadvertently” walked off with her false teeth.
28th April: Adam phoned: Wedding set for 19th August! Grandma rang to say false teeth found – in the sweets drawer. But not, she insists, in the bag of aniseed balls itself.
8th May: I leave for Vietnam. Approaching Hanoi, I see an incredible number of water-filled craters – result of the USA’s carpet bombing during the Vietnam War.
The next three weeks were super-charged with activities:
9th May: Met Rita at airport and drove in to Hanoi. Met Göran. Amazing number of cyclists. Perhaps 100-150 wait at traffic lights for them to turn green. Drinks. Foot massage. Walk in back streets. Pagodas
Two cyclists in Hanoi
10th May: Old Hanoi. Each street has its trade. Late evening: Metropole Hotel & Press Club. Lecture on traditional wood prints
11th May: Old Hanoi. Apricot Gallery. Chuong paintings. Museum of Fine Art. Temple of Literature. Symphony Orchestra at Opera
12th May: Over the Red River to crafts village, pagodas, sheep, & Dao Anh Khan painter/sculptor/actor Great house
13th May: Walk round West Lake. Fish dinner. Temples/pagodas. Ho Chi Minh museum. Chinese dragons.
14th May: Bus Hanoi-Han Gai. 4-hour boat ride through Ha Long Bay. Caves. Amazing steep-sided islands. Cat Ba.
15th May: Viet Cong hospital in deep cave; 5-hr walk over 6 mountain ridges. Jungle. Hot. Swim. On to Cat Ba.
16th May: 4-hr boat trip through Ha Long Bay and bus to Hanoi. Walked back to house via back streets. Lively.
17th May: Helped Rita prepare tonight’s party. Read Kim Van Kieu. Great party & sing-song with 23 Ministry of Health staff.
Sing-song with Goran’s colleagues
18th May: Did the galleries seeking sculptors. History Museum. Chang sculptures. With Goran to water puppet show.
19th May: Phoned artists. Cycled out of Hanoi, over Red River to Dong Anh. Rice fields, villages.
20th May: Very hot. Helped Hoa Binh Tours rewrite their brochure introduction, as their English version was so terrible. Walked streets. Home. Rested
21th May: Rained. Read The Lover by Marg Duras. Evening lantern festival at Khan’s. Police intervention.
22nd May: Fine thunderstorm. Beaux Arts, Dau Chau Hai sculptor. Women’s Museum. Concert at Culture Palace.
23rd May: Rita left for Stockholm. Read Kārlekens Innersta Rum. Backstreets walk. Galleries
24th May: My favourite street in Hanoi Duong La Tranh – trades, workshops, amazing. Lenin Park. Institute for Eastern Medicine. With Göran to fish restaurant. Old Hanoi. Jazz Club
25th May: Bike to Ethnographic Museum. 5 hrs. Fascinating. Composed a song for Ministry of Health anti-smoking campaign.
26th May: Day trip to Nin Binh (90km south of Hanoi) sculptors’ village. 100 families. Evening at Hanoi Song Club.
27th May: Early morning street exercises. Corrected 33 pages of Ministry of Health funding application that Goran had devised, the Ministry had revised, but with various linguistic errors. He later told me it successfully brought in $5million.
28th May: Practised my song. Made T-shirt. Hanoi Station event. Sang 3 times. Doi Can. Crashed US B52s. Jazz Club
29th May: Helped Goran with Ministry of Health letter. Children’s paintings on show. Huong la Tranh & Doi Khan markets.
30th May: Ministry of Health, WHO anti-tobacco gold prize. Sang song. Flowers. MoH car to airport. Warm good byes.
Goran had been Public Health policy adviser to Vietnam for some years and was especially involved in their anti-smoking campaign. Over 70% of Vietnamese men smoked at the time and tobacco companies were targeting developing countries to replace lost markets in the West. (One of George W. Bush’s first acts as President had been to stop all US contributions to the World Health Organisation’s anti-tobacco programmes.) The Ministry of Health had organised a national campaign for children to paint a picture/poster urging people not to smoke. Goran was invited to choose the 100 best – out of 64,000. Also, a train loaded with anti-smoking materials was due to go from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City with a big send-off planned for 28th May. Goran asked me to write an anti-smoking song and sing it to guitar at the station. I borrowed the tune and some of the words from Lonnie Donnegan, and it went as follows:
When I was a young man I smoked my first weed
‘Cos I thought that smoking would help me succeed
Then I met a pretty girl who said, “Just you see –
If you are a smoker, you’ll never kiss me!”
Cigarettes will kill when you get the addiction
Bronchitis and cancer kill husband and wife
Your breath and your clothes smell as bad as a toilet
A waste of your money – A WASTE OF YOUR LIFE
Cigarettes are a curse on the whole human race
A man is a monkey with one in his face
A girl thinks that Marlborough gives her allure
But then gets a cancer that no one can cure
At Hanoi Station there was a huge crowd stretching right down the street, and loudspeakers on each street light. I really hammed the performance and was gratified at the roar that followed. The organisers urged me to sing it, ‘Again, Again!’, which I did, to even louder acclaim. After drinks (ice-cold water) with the station master, I came out of the station and was immediately urged to sing it a third time – with the same crowd response. Thus, my career as a pop star began and ended – all within half an hour.
Göran claps time while I sing outside Hanoi Railway station
Well, not quite. Next day, in an impressive public building Government ministers and foreign ambassadors gathered for a presentation to Vietnam of a gold medal for its outstanding national anti-smoking campaign. After various speeches, I was asked to sing the song again. For which I received a bouquet of 50 white roses and a Ministry car to rush me to the airport just in time to catch the plane back to Heathrow.
June: Adam moves to Johannesburg to find a house and begin work.
6th to 22nd July: trip to Sweden with David and Erika, meeting their relatives, Göran and Rita, and my Swedish family around Lake Vāttern.
18th August: Dan, Zoe, Bjorn, Ellie and I flew to Oslo and were soon out on a small island in Oslo Fjord for a picnic and wine with many others, organised by Anne and her family. Beautiful sunny evening, warm and very still. More and more friends arrived, from Norway, Sweden, USA, UK… Slept at the Hammerstads’ home.
19th August: ADAM AND ANNE WEDDING at a lovely old traditional building in Oslo. Anne looked lovely in white and Adam very smart as they stood on a small balcony, the rest of us standing in the courtyard below. Drinks outside until the Registrar turned up (she by bike, in her lycra shorts – but she did change into something rather more formal). Ever-so-sensible exchange of vows on the balcony, then a splendid meal inside. Afterwards, many speeches and songs from a very international gathering. (I did one about International Relations and had made a jig-saw from a large photo of A & A.) Then there was dancing late into the night which, for once, I rather enjoyed. Several pleasant days in Oslo, while Anne and Adam flew off to Corsica for honeymoon.
24th to 28th August: Portsmouth Festival of the Sea. I had volunteered to act as a Liaison Officer, knowing Portsmouth well and speaking French and Swedish, and was allocated the beautiful French cutter La Recouvrance of Brest, Captain: Cedric Boissaye. The whole crew was so friendly and we were soon singing songs together (the guitar helped). On the 21st, we sailed out into the Solent and to my pleasure and amazement Cedric handed me the wheel, asked me to take her back from Spit Sands Fort into Portsmouth Harbour and disappeared below. Unlike Amity, La Recouvrance was very slow to answer to the helm, and once she started, she just kept on swinging – all of which was quite unnerving with a 90 foot vessel. Several wonderful days followed, with hundreds of visitors on board by day, me dealing with various administrative problems, translating, and much else. By night there was singing and dancing and good discussions with the crew. Lovely people. Slept on board the night of the 27th and next morning Cedric offered to sail me back to Binstead Hall. A fabulous crossing in the morning sunshine, singing to the guitar. Then, as we reached shallow water, down into an inflatable and motored in to the shore. Rolled up my trousers and paddled the last few steps with guitar in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. Walked 100 metres up the path and into my very own back garden as La Recouvrance headed home to France.
22nd September. Dan, Richard Otterbeck and I fixed the Quarr triptych to the north wall of the church, just to the left on entering. At 7.30 that evening a good crowd had come along to see the sculpture unveiled by Miss Maisie Holt, aged 101 – so just one year old when the monks first landed on the Isle of Wight.
26th-27th September. From concrete, made a substantial, non-slip doorstep outside our porch at B’ Hall, to help Ruth, when she visited, to cross the drive to our lawn. Later came home to find a neat little plaque in plastic cover standing on the step, obviously the work of next door neighbour Richard Otterbeck. It read:
“Doorstep” – a Sculpture by Glyn Roberts
This sculpture marks an astonishing new step in the artist’s career.
Fresh from last week’s triumphal unveiling of his more conventional
Quarr Abbey triptych, Roberts gives us further concrete proof of
his abilities. This bleak post-modernist slab is surely symbolic of his
life-long sympathy for the downtrodden and it will certainly have
paved the way for further commissions.
Roberts may now be on the threshold of an exciting career. He has
done the groundwork and should now be on a firm footing. Whether
this step-by-step approach will ultimately succeed none can say,
but he has certainly laid a good foundation.
My reply to Richard went:
Richard, thank you! Finally, a review by an Art critic who truly understands. As you have rightly sensed, I have moved on from the terracotta of Quarr to the terra firma of Binstead, washing my hands of clay in all its guises and cementing relations with new materials. In the enigmatically named “Doorstep” I try to capture the poignancy, the anguish even, of the excluded rectangle, lending it both volume and weight as it butts against – yet fails to penetrate – the overwhelming bulk of the polymorphic Hall.
Note the rhythmic mathematical progressions along vertical and horizontal axes, the upper surface pitched with thorny outcrops which seem to cry out against Man’s inhumanity to Man. Note the surrounding gravel, not caressing but remorselessly chafing (and yet, ironically, supporting) three of the four sides. Can it be that this gravel symbolises the to & fro of life, ‘the little man’ trampled by each step of Fate? And perhaps most telling of all … [Enough, enough – Ed.]
11th to 16th October: To France with Richard Otterbeck and two friends to experience a 100% eclipse of the Sun (only 98.5% on the Island) and to visit battlefields of the Somme. Both experiences were very moving. We were on a highish hill, close to a Bronze Age menhir when the birds fell silent and a vast shadow came racing towards us across the plain. On other days we walked by ploughed fields and found bullets, shell cases and barbed wire – even a hand grenade – sticking out of the soil: a dreadful reminder of the hundreds of thousands who perished there in the mud and blood. I brought home a short length of rusty barbed wire.
30th October: Dan has made a beautiful page turning device out of varnished wood and brass rods, much smaller than the huge one he made before, but still a metre or so high. Everyone is so impressed by the finish – and it does actually turn pages too.
Dan’s page-turning device
24th November: The Edel Trio (Erika Collins, piano; Andrew Williams, ‘cello; Glyn Roberts, violin) put on a musical afternoon at Binstead Hall in aid of Isle of Wight Amnesty. The programme included Beethoven’s Op. 11 (IV) Theme & Variations; Dvorak Op. 21; Mendelssohn Op. 49, first and second movements. Dan then played Scott Joplin and Debussy, though not – as the programme points out – their entire works. In the interval I sang one or two funny songs by Tom Lehrer. (A few days later I received a complimentary letter from Amnesty, saying that all the music had been enjoyable, but – in the opinion of the letter-writer – my songs had been the “Coup de grâce of the whole event”.)
1st January: Erika retired as a GP to look after David, whose health remains precarious. I was over in Portsmouth that day, and went with her on her two last home visits and to her two surgeries, where she said good bye. End of an era.
3rd January: Bought a fine violin and bow from Martin Restall’s in Winchester. Made in Saxony in the 1860s. Mellow tone and easy to play, to the extent that any violin is “easy”. Tried several other fiddles – French, German, English and some new Japanese, but none felt as right as the very first I picked up, the one from Saxony. Edel Trio still going strong.
Adam condemned as a spy by the Zimbabwe Government for slipping into the country and reporting illegally.
April: Adam and Anne have lunch (ten people in all) with Nelson Mandela.
Adam co-edits book on Jo’burg. Published by Penguin. Proceeds go to an orphanage for children with AIDS.
Around this time, Dan and I made great efforts to clean the 200 yards of beach between our garden path and the little river. This was part of a national campaign, not only to clear up our beaches, but also to record – from the biggest chemical canister to any tiny fragment of cotton bud – every single item collected on a given afternoon each month. This information then went to a national data base, with the aim of identifying at least some of the major polluters. On one occasion we found a huge, spherical shipping buoy, crusty with barnacles, with which we struggled home, for it to become an impressive ‘nautical feature’ in the front garden. A year or so later (dates unsure), I helped Dan to sail a friend’s newly-bought boat from Hayling Island across to Wootton Creek. Strangely, the marker buoy to the creek entrance, clear on the chart, was nowhere to be seen. We felt quite indignant – then realised that it was sitting in one of our flower beds.
Spring: Days after returning from Angola, is Adam asked by the Economist to fly to Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway to write a 12-page special Nordic survey. Somewhat outside the remit of Southern Africa, I’d have said, but naturally Adam accepted. In June his Nordic Survey was published and discussed at a seminar in Upper House of Parliament in Stockholm. Anne, Björn, Ellie & Linnea attend.
July: Daniel arrives in Johannesburg and he and Adam go skiing near the Lesotho border. Daniel relishes the excitement of being in a new place, and the thrill of getting lost in a potentially dangerous part of the city, while driving a friend’s car. Other trips, eg to Drakensburg mountains, safari with Adam and his friend Hans in Kruger park.
Spring, doing my Income Tax returns, I saw how a fall in interest rates was making my savings worthless, so I decided to look for a cheap house to buy and rent out. Property cheapest in East Cowes. The second house I looked at was 3 Minerva Road. Its front garden looked south onto a large green recreation area, bordered with old oak trees. It had good bus connections and a small shop nearby.
3 Minerva Road, East Cowes
August 1st – told Erika I had that day bought myself a birthday present – 3 Minerva Road.
After thirty six years absence, put off by the cruelty of the vicious, communist Mengistu (in office 1977-87) and later regimes, Göran, Rita and I finally returned to Ethiopia for a month’s visit. We wanted to see again the extraordinary country that had played such a part in our (and Sigyn’s) early years together. We looked forward to enjoying once more the national dish, injera na wat, because once you’ve developed a liking for both the texture and the taste of the fermented, slightly sour bread, and the eye-watering stews (with their berberry seasoning comprising eighteen different spices) you start to crave for it. But of course we also wondered about the projects that Goran and Rita had helped to launch in the 1960s, especially the School Building Programme, run jointly with the Ministry of Education. Were the buildings still standing and used as schools?
It was wonderful to be back in the clear sunshine and eucalyptus groves of Addis Ababa, which seemed very little changed from our time, and we set about hiring a vehicle. Here came a pleasant surprise. Once the car rental boss heard of our role in the School Building Programme, he said, ‘But I went to just such a school! And it’s still going strong. Thank you for all you did. I must give you a special discount and a really good driver for your trip’.
Next priority, on that first heady day back in Addis, I must see again the house in which Sigyn and I once lived. A long walk down a familiar, litter-strewn road. Eucalyptus trees and low, dusty buildings, glimpsed above heavy sheet-metal gates set in high walls – and there it was, long and low with its corrugated iron roof, and garden sporting a few straggly plants, almost unchanged since the day we left. As I peered in the gate, a woman emerged and when I explained that this had been my old home, she invited me to look around and meet her family. Children were called in; most spoke some English, and all wanted to hear about our time in the house while Ethiopia was still ruled by the legendary Emperor Haile Selassie. Tea and biscuits appeared. I told tales of Ato Gebere’s masenko making, of Sigyn’s sewing project, of how I had built a fountain in the garden… However, the more eager the questions, the more we laughed, the more I felt a nagging doubt as I glanced around. The place was definitely different. New sweet-meats were passed round, my cup was refilled, more chat and laughter, we were fast becoming friends – but I now knew for sure: I was in the wrong house.
Too cowardly to admit my blunder, I checked my watch, jumped up, backed out amid friendly protests and hurried off down the road. On the corner of the very next junction stood our house – unmistakeable – though shabby and with an angry dog snarling at the gate. I retreated: I had made my pilgrimage.
A few days later, heading north to Debre Markos, we descended the Blue Nile Gorge. After the USA’s Grand Canyon, this is the second biggest canyon in the world – 5,000 feet deep – with just one bridge crossing a wild and desolate five hundred mile stretch of river. Half-way over this bridge, we stopped to take photos of the valley, but as we reached the far side we ourselves were stopped at a checkpoint by soldiers who demanded the film from our cameras. They shouted that we had photographed the bridge, a serious breach of security. We insisted that we had photographed only the gorge, upstream and down. Our driver, poor fellow, took the brunt of their abuse, polite but unyielding. The harangue lasted several minutes and just as I thought of fooling them by handing over a roll of unused film (an unoriginal ploy that might have gone badly wrong) they ordered us to drive on and take no more photos till we were out of the valley. Perhaps they were simply bored, maybe they wanted money – and as privileged tourists we enjoyed a measure of protection – but the heated incident left us all shaken.
On the way to Bahr Dar and Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, we slept at some pretty grotty roadside places, particularly the toilets and wash rooms. Our days, though, were rewarding as we visited one primary school after another and found each in good material shape, full to bursting with eager children and appreciative staff, who knew the background to our visit. Once again, though, the blackboards and exercise books suggested an over-academic and theoretical syllabus, reminiscent of Ugandan schools forty years earlier. I looked at the children’s excited, trusting faces and wondered if they really needed to grapple so early in life with algebra that was quite beyond me as a fifteen year-old at Calder High School, Mytholmroyd.
School head, Göran and Glyn
At Bhar Dar, we took a small boat to the area where Lake Tana’s placid surface begins to stir itself and then become a river leading to the Blue Nile Falls and Gorge. This ill-defined point is generally considered the source of the Blue Nile. Watching the current form and gather pace, we felt genuine awe that the grey water swirling around us, about to flow through Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, snaking through vast and empty desert, down six cataracts, past Luxor, Lake Nasser, the Pyramids and the bridges of Cairo would finally – after 2,500 miles – merge with waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
We drove on to the ancient city of Gondar, once the home of kings, their royal palaces still standing, and rather European in appearance. An unusual feature was Emperor Fasilides’s baths – indeed his swimming pool – the waters of which had been heated by two boilers as early as the 1600s. Even more impressive, after we’d driven through 200 miles of wild, even weird, mountain landscape, were the rock churches of Lalibela at an elevation of 8,000 feet. Each of these thirteen churches was carved in the 13th century out of the living rock, either by cutting sideways into a rock face, or by digging and chiselling down vertically into the stone. Besides the architecture, we were enthralled by the Ethiopian Orthodox (Coptic) services going on, unchanged over many hundreds of years, with chanting, singing and prayers; the priests in embroidered vestments carrying ornate golden crosses, ancient religious books and heavily-fringed purple umbrellas.
Rock church, Lalibela
From Lalibela and Gombolcha, we edged down the escarpment that separates the chilly Ethiopian highlands from the Danakil Desert, some of which lies below sea level. At the town of Bati, we looked out over the scorching wastes, white with their saline deposits, and remembered the burning, smelly crossing when we (and Sigyn) had driven through the Danakil, from Assab on the Red Sea, in 1965.
In Addis, we met up with old friends Almaz and Gunder, who wanted us to examine their lavatories. There was nothing they would rather discuss – at a conference, on a walk or at a dinner party – than the prototype toilet they wanted to see built, by the thousands, across the globe. They had received grants and travelled to many countries preaching the benefits of this special design: it was cheap to construct (basically keeping liquids and solids apart) which meant better hygiene and safer use of the materials for organic fertiliser. We drove out of town to see one and, yes, it looked fine, but when we asked them how many more had been built, and how they planned to multiply this to the thousands needed in Addis alone, they grew rather vague. They were great enthusiasts, initiators, Almaz and Gunder, but had Goran been involved in their programme, I suspect much more would have been achieved.
VALUE YOUR LIFE, Addis Ababa, 2002
Another campaign needing widespread promotion in Ethiopia concerned HIV/AIDS. As in so much of Africa, the illness has devastated whole communities already weakened by poor nutrition, inadequate housing and poverty. There had recently been a campaign in Addis Ababa to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and walls still carried posters and hand-painted messages. One of these was so stark, in Amharic and English, that I took time to sketch it. It said simply: ‘VALUE YOUR LIFE’.
2nd January: Dan paid £2,200 to a Mr Joe Dinsdale, a ferret of a man from Haworth, for yacht “Orion” that he said he recently sailed over from France in rough weather. Dinsdale, with a nice North Country accent, seemed trustworthy, and she – Orion – looks elegant, though old.
4th January: Down to Orion, took out dirty rubbish and found some rot, but hopefully not too much.
Mid-January: painting & decorating Minerva Road and sanding/varnishing front room floor. Had bill from Scottish Power for £1,000 for electricity used in December when I was scarcely at Minerva Road! Realised that the electricity reading I’d sent in to Scottish Power – 071202– who now believe I’ve used 3,000kw hrs – was not electricity used, but the date: 7th December 2002.
27th January: Björn rang to say LINNĖA CLAIRE born at 5.45pm. 8lbs. WELCOME!!!
29th January: With Dan to Oxford, where we both held Linnéa and beamed. She’s lovely, not wrinkly, lots of hair, sleepy, peaceful. Ellie looking fine and happy. Björn said by hospital staff to be a “model husband”, which I can well believe.
We show Linnéa the mobile made by Dan for Björn and Ellie’s wedding
Erected the cot that I’d made for Björn back in 1969, and which was later used by Dan and Adam as babies. Carved Linnéa’s initials and date of birth on one of the runners.
3rd February: Cast the concrete base for the “Knot Likely” poem in East Cowes. Poem itself posted in the poetry box on the ferry waiting room – the first of a dozen or so boxes that Dan was to erect around the Island. Together, we ourselves devised a poem inviting people to write something and put it in the box. We promised to publish it, one way or another.
WRITE A POEM!
If you should post a poem here
Or message, penned in verses wry
We say this, just to make it clear
It may go forth and multiply!
These boxes spread about the Isle
Are nests in which to lay a song
And some fine day you may well smile
To find yours hatched and taken wing.
You see – it needn’t even rhyme!
Just say what moves you, more or less,
And you may spot your piece in time
While leafing through the County Press
It could appear – you never know –
Beside a bus stop, on a tree
Gigantic letters in the snow
Or in hushed tones on Radio 3
Or chiselled in the living rock
Or cast in bronze on Yarmouth Pier
Or planted out in bulbs, to shock
Those walking in the park next year!
And don’t be shaken if you find
Tattooed across a mermaid’s bust
Your work, anonymous or signed
Put there by Island 2000 Trust.
Discovered that “Orion” is rotten from stem to stern. Try to sheathe deck with bits of marine plywood, but a waste of time, effort and money.
10th February: Gran, back from London last night, tells us how she was alone in the railway carriage apart from four drunken youths. One staggered down to her and breathing beer fumes demanded, ‘You awright then?’ Alarmed, she dabbed her eyes. ‘No, I’m afraid not. I’m just coming back from the funeral of my dear old Mother’. Soon, all the lads were sitting around, comforting the distressed 93 year-old, too tipsy to work out that her dear departed mother must have been 112 if she was a day.
15th February: To London – 1 Million people in Anti-Iraq War protest.
21st February: Adam with us for a few days. Linnéa visited – and smiled!
22nd March. Coach to another Anti War demo – Hyde Park. 200,000 people. Great feeling. We KNOW that Tony Blair and his government are lying. First, they answer questions vaguely, then they come up with evidence, then, as each new bit of evidence is shown to be phoney, they keep shifting their grounds for argument. They clearly disdain the intelligence of ordinary people. Blair is definitely in Bush’s hands.
Björn Ellie and Linnea move to Gland in Switzerland, by Lake Geneva, to work with the TFT
12th March: Unveiled East Cowes “Knot Likely“ poetry stone.
Joe Dinsdale proven to be a rogue. He didn’t only diddle Dan. A meeting at with other boat owners reveals that he conned one old gent out of £20,000 life savings. Dan’s boat a write-off – and Joe Dinsdale has skipped off to Spain.
11th May: Piano trio (Erika, Andrew Williams and myself) outside performance of Schubert, Beethoven trios – rapidly curtailed by a rainstorm and ended up playing inside the removal van with piano, ‘cello, fiddle and audience packed in as well. A group of hikers came by, braving the rain, and goggled when they saw and heard us.
21st June: To London and the House of Commons with Dan to set up his mechanical sculptures exhibition. Life size model of Grimaldi the Sad Clown (Grimaldi’s Last Show) sat between us in front of van. Commons Security didn’t blink an eye at the clown next to the driver, nor did they check the contents of our van. Just put a mirror under us to make sure we had no explosives. A great day.
In the summer, I flew out to Gland to spend three weeks with Bjorn and Ellie and get to know my little granddaughter, who was growing fast. For the first few days, Linnéa was very dubious about this bearded, bespectacled man taking such an interest in her, and hid behind Ellie’s skirts. We all made trips across the lake to France and up into the Alpine pastures where, unbeknown to me, a tick attached itself to my stomach and began to gorge itself on my life-blood. Back at the apartment, Linnéa still kept a wary distance from me until one day, when Ellie had popped out to the shops, she happened to drop Pink Cat, her favourite soft toy. Instead of handing it back to her, I got down on all fours, barked, ‘Woof!’, scuttled forward, took Pink Cat gently between my teeth and held it up to her. Gingerly, she took it, then tossed it away. ‘Woof!’ I barked, crawling off to retrieve it, and once more held it up to her. Again she hurled it, this time with a smile, and much further. Again, I brought it back. When Ellie returned, I had retrieved Pink Cat perhaps twenty times, my knees hurt and I was aching, but from that moment on, Linnéa and I were buddies.
Shep the trusty sheepdog
Living with this happy trio was a lovely break for me, only spoiled a couple of days from the end by my discovering what I took to be a rapidly growing mole on my stomach. Our family tends to have moles on our skin, but we have always been reassured that they are not dangerous unless they begin to change. Well, this one was not even there a week ago and now it seemed to be growing before my very eyes. Clearly, the cells were doubling every few hours, and that could only mean one thing – cancer. I said nothing to my son and daughter-in-law, as that would have spoilt our time together, but I determined to see a doctor as soon as I got home.
At Geneva Airport, after saying good bye to my little family, I was taken aside by an airport official once my bag had been scanned. ‘We think you are taking explosives onto the aeroplane,’ he said. “Please unpack your bag.” Confident of my innocence, I decided to enjoy the novel situation, but made a show of sighing and tossing my underclothes here and there, still undecided whether to show annoyance or magnanimity when he had to apologise. ‘Well?’ I shrugged, with nothing left but a small gift from Ellie: a soup tureen & lid, both of good Swiss chocolate, given traditionally each year to children in Geneva to mark a surprise attack in 1602 by the Duke of Savoy’s men. As they began to scale the walls, an old woman – La Mere Royaume – had tipped boiling soup from her cauldron onto the soldiers beneath. ‘Please lift the lid,’ said the official, so I did, to find the tureen full of chocolates – and fireworks, symbols of the conflict. Unsmiling, he confiscated my fireworks, and my chocolates, while I repacked and slunk off to the departure lounge.
Back on the Isle of Wight, I made an urgent appointment to see a doctor, and that night – under a strong light and with a magnifying glass – examined my evil looking mole. I saw that it had not only grown, but was undulating and seemed to have four tiny claws. A tick! Relieved from the fear of cancer, I pressed a gin-soaked pad of cotton wool on the tick, giving him such a booze-up that he had dropped off next morning, surely with a terrible hang-over.
November: Adam and Anne buy 2-bed flat in Herne Hill, and later visit Argentina and Uruguay (flying from South Africa) with Barnaby and Nicole.
I continue writing letters for Amnesty International, appealing for the release of prisoners of conscience and for others where Amnesty feels justice has not been done, especially where a prisoner may be executed. One letter from the Governor of Texas explains that he personally does not support the death penalty, but State laws give him no alternative concerning the prisoner on Death Row about whom I had written. He assures me that Texas state officials are very careful: no mistakes were made in this case. I am not convinced – especially as his letter begins, “Dear Binstead Hall…”
January: Whole family joined Dan and me for 10 days round the New Year. Decided to put Binstead Hall up for sale after problem replacing slate on my roof by sliding down the slates on my stomach with a rope round my waist held by Dan and Bjorn. Really taking my life into my hands.
The trio goes well. Very satisfying and wonderful to be part of such music making, though I must practise a great deal since I am such a poor sight reader.
27th February: Dan and I had to scrape the snow off the Binstead carving for the official unveiling this morning. Councillor Ernie Fox and 8 school children present, plus various friends such as the Otterbecks and Andersons.
Adam co-edits second book on Johannesburg—on Soweto–also published by Penguin South Africa. Proceeds to Soweto children’s home.
March: Gran increasingly unwell at Abbeyfield, one or two minor falls or other problems. Short stays in hospital. She is reaching the stage when she will need nursing care, which means a move – to Brookside? She doesn’t want to go.
Problems with the Binstead Hall sale. I discover that No 1 does not own the land that its garage is built upon. Apparently sold off around the time we bought the place. But how? Negotiations with neighbour to get him to confirm that morally it is ours and can be part of the sale. (He never gave us that confirmation in writing.) Several people interested in buying, and we finally sold to Nicki Short and partner, but they didn’t exchange contracts right up to day of moving in. So a worrying time.
Mid-March: Dan and I worked hard to move furniture downstairs, pack things, clean the house and move loads (including piano) in hired van to Minerva Road. Trips to the dump. Working till 2.45 in the morning. 21-22 March the most exhausting couple of days and nights, with me also going over to Gosport, as Ruth not well, and taking documents from solicitors for her to sign.
23rd March. Early start. Over to Gosport to get Ruth to sign the vital Deed of Transfer. Reached Abbeyfield to find ambulance in forecourt. Had six chance in seven that the sick person would not be Ruth, but entering her room, found it empty and in disarray. Rushed out and jumped into ambulance as it was leaving. Gran semi-conscious. Had fallen and lain some time on the floor of her room. Arm damaged. Reach Q.A. Hospital, where medics took over and I had to wait in the wings with the Deed needing her signature. Several hours until I could be with her. She already woozy with medication. Felt terrible asking her to sign the Deed, especially as she could hardly move her right hand and had nothing firm to write upon. But her determined spirit showed through – as ever – and she sat up and painstakingly signed her name, and managed a good signature, too. Felt even worse when I told her I now had to rush back to the Island to get the document back to the solicitors before they closed, but she understood. A long bus ride through Portsmouth to the harbour, a ferry to Ryde and passed my car with a parking penalty notice on it as I ran up the hill to the solicitors. Then back down again to the ferry, and another long bus trip to Queen Alexandra Hospital, arriving about 7 pm. Gran still awake, even perky, and when a doctor asked, “Mrs Roberts, can you tell me the name of the Prime Minister?” – a standard questions to assess whether she was confused – she retorted, “I certainly can: it’s Blair, and what a liar he has turned out to be. He and Bush have got us into this Iraq mess and …” or words to that effect.
When the doctor left, she relaxed: “I am a bit tired now, love. You go back to the Island. You’ve a hard day ahead. Give us a kiss.” I gave her a kiss, headed off – and never saw her again.
24th March: Back at Binstead Hall, we were having breakfast when the hospital called to say that I should come immediately as Ruth was fading fast. Her systems were shutting down one by one. Before I could get to the car, the phone rang again to say that she had died. We spent the rest of the morning packing. At mid-day, the new owners of 1, Binstead Hall took possession and we drove with the last remaining boxes to 3, Minerva Road – a three bedroom house packed to overflowing with the combined furniture and possessions of – in essence – a seven bedroom house, i.e. 54 Village Road plus 1 Little Anglesey, Alverstoke.
But that wasn’t the end of Ruth’s impact on my life. On March 25th, Dan and I went to the Abbeyfield to sort out her room and found her will and the following poem, written in June, 2001:
TO MY SON
As I walk on the shore of the regular and rounded sea
I would pray off from my son the love of that infinite
Which is too greedy and too obvious; Let his Absolute
Like any four-walled house be put up decently
Let him accumulate, corroborate while he may
The blessedness of fact
Which lives in the dancing atom and the breathing trees
And everywhere except in the fancy of man
Let him have five good senses
The feeling for symmetry
And the sense of the magnet
His mind deft and unfluttered
To change gear easily
And let not the blasphemy
Of dusty words deceive him
May he hit the golden mean
Which contains the seasonal extreme
May he riot in the diving sun
And die in the crystal stream
May his good deeds flung forth
Like boomerangs return.
Unusual words that I still don’t fully understand.
Her will also contained a bombshell. My mother had always disliked waste and it pained her that some old Leylandii logs had lain stacked at the bottom of our garden for seven years. The will requested that I make a funeral pyre of the logs and cremate her body on it. Apart from the natural reluctance one has to setting fire to one’s own mother, this posed several practical problems. We no longer owned Binstead Hall. Even if the new owners let us have the logs, they might not relish a bonfire in their front garden. (Actually, having got to know Niki and David better over the years, a family of true free-thinkers, they might well have taken it in their stride.) So, where should we build a pyre, where the smoke would neither get up people’s noses nor onto their washing? Were the Leylandii logs sufficient to do the job, and how should we lay the timber? I searched on the Internet, which advised several tons of wood to do a proper job.
But was it even legal? The hospital could not advise me, nor the Coroner‘s office, nor the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, but I sensed a general feeling of disapproval. By contrast, the Natural Death Society sounded quite positive when I called them. ‘The Law is unclear on the legality of home cremation,’ they enthused, ‘It may not be strictly legal, but increasing numbers of Asian families are in a similar predicament. We would welcome a judicial case to test it.” I said I’d a lot on my mind right then, but would think it over.
Finally, to my relief the Cremation Society provided chapter and verse on the illegality in the UK of any cremation ‘other than in premises properly designed, built and licensed for cremation’ – and Ruth Roberts departed this Earth in Portchester Crematorium on 14th April, 2004. A remarkable woman; highly principled, determined, often inspiring, sometimes maddening. She wanted no gravestone or memorial, and almost no one at her cremation, just the boys and me and a couple of close friends. We found a tape recording of Paul Robeson (a favourite of Ruth’s) singing “Old Man River”, intending to play it at the crematorium. But we forgot it on the mantelpiece, so had to sing a capella, not very successfully, before her coffin disappeared behind the curtains. Ruth wouldn’t have minded: she hated a fuss being made of her.
While on the subject of death – but taking it fairly lightly – another event occurred in 2004 that is worth recalling. This year marked the tenth anniversary of Sigyn’s death and though she had been cremated and her ashes put into a dark green plastic urn, we had never been able to decide on a final resting place for her. Sweden seemed so far away, our time in Gosport was over, and who knew how long we would stay on the Isle of Wight. I simply kept her in a bedside wardrobe and felt completely at ease with her so close to me each night. On the other hand, the years were passing and I did not fancy any of her Swedish relatives asking where she had been laid to rest. With Sigyn’s tenth anniversary approaching, the lads and I agreed to make a decision. We felt that the one sure, permanent place for Sigyn would be in the churchyard with her parents, close to the farm of her childhood in Daretorp. We contacted the Swedish family and they agreed, so on 12th May, Bjorn, Dan, Adam and I flew to Sweden taking Sigyn’s ashes with us. On the 15th, some 55 family members (and Goran & Rita) gathered in Daretorp churchyard for the urnsättning (lowering of the casket into the family grave). Several people paid tributes to Sigyn, to her beauty, common sense and integrity, and once the casket had been lowered into the ground, everyone laid a flower over the hole.
The family gathering
The ceremony over, we were all leaving when the churchwarden approached me and said, “That was very beautiful. Now all I need is the import documents for the ashes.” Import documents? Apparently Swedish law requires full documentation when bringing a person’s ashes into the country, papers which of course I did not have. Must we now dig up the urn again, get certificates to export it from Sweden to Britain and then acquire further documents to bring it back to Sweden again, before once more burying it in Daretorp churchyard? My heart sank – until Sigyn’s brother, Birger, took the churchwarden aside for a little chat. We do not know what was said, but a little later they returned, the churchwarden nodded to us and everything was fine.
May: Anne graduates from Oxford with her D.Phil and wins the Bapsybanoo Marchioness of Winchester Thesis Prize for Oxford Talent Ballet dancer, academic – is there anything this girl cannot do?
In Late May, Dan and I saw a small house, 12 Lodgeside, East Cowes, for sale at a reasonable price and I was able to snap it up, thanks to funds from Binstead Hall. Now Dan had a home of his own, the rooms mostly painted an awful puce. I also began to rebuild my garage, with part of it becoming a workshop for stone carving.
11th July, Dan and I flew to Johannesburg and joined Adam and Anne, Barnaby and Nicole on a fascinating trek to the Kalahari – bitter nights (minus one Celsius) camping, with lions giving blood-curdling roars just beyond the rickety wire “protective” fence. Then on to the stupendous Fish River Canyon and Salvador Dali-like sand dunes of Namibia, where we had an exciting day paragliding and I turned out to be the instructor’s oldest-ever trainee. Deeper into the desert, at Dead Vlei – a salt pan with an occasional tree skeleton in it – we renewed an old Roberts tradition: playing a few overs of cricket in the most unlikely setting possible, using a proper bat, ball and stumps. This occasion was particularly successful for we had hardly begun when a party of tourists and their guide happened on us while the game was in full swing. Surprised? Astonished!
Three days later, we drove 1,200km straight across the Kalahari to Gabarone, where Adam interviewed Alexander McCall Smith while we drank redbush tea in M’ma Ramotswe’s favourite café. Adam’s 30th birthday around a camp fire.
Back in Johannesburg, we visited the Apartheid Museum in Soweto and the Orlando Children’s Home (their parents had died of AIDs) to donate £1,000 from Grandma Ruth. Getting this money, in Rand, meant several visits to a cash machine – nervous visits, given the amount of street crime in that city.
In September 2004, Bjorn visited South America. October: Adam in Douala, Cameroon. I wrote Andrew Turner regarding casinos. Preparing my talk on the lottery for Wales lecture organised by Tony Care and Welsh TFSR. Installed wood-burning stove in shed. Made little gates for top and bottom of stairs so Linnéa won’t climb/fall. Dan finished poetry box and poem for Newtown. Looks good.
11th October left for Barcelona with Richard Otterbeck. Enjoyed the architecture, a visit to Salvador Dali’s museum up the coast and the autumn sunshine.
In November, started the Shell House carving (Freddie Attrill and the Prince of Wales).
29th-30th October: Bjorn/Ellie/Linnea arrive Minerva Rd: celery soup & garlic bread, then to Dan’s for flan, chips, salad & Vienetta ice cream. Linnea can almost count to ten (some trouble with 6 and 7). To Quarr Abbey, then Havenstreet to see Percy the train. On to Freshwater Bay to see the sea, play football, watch the lifeboat being launched. Home. Vegetarian sausages, lasagne, peas, spuds and gravy plus fruit salad. Made my famous potato salad, but only found it in the fridge when everyone had gone home. Good chat. Music. Linnea a happy little girl. Ellie has quite a tum – expecting in January. Bjorn looking for an office in Winchester?
Adam and Anne climb Kilimanjaro.
Early November: carving “Shell” sculpture. Started on Erika’s father‘s Civil War memoirs. Planted a magnolia for Ruth on corner of Well Road and York Avenue, East Cowes. No memorial plaque, just a beautiful tree.
December: enjoyed reading Thomas’s account of our Atlantic crossing (finally produced, six year late!), cross-referencing it day by day with my own diary. Amazing how we recorded very different impressions. It seems that Thomas was ravenous for most of the trip (Bjorn had warned him that Arthur and I would not buy enough provisions to cope with his mighty appetite, but he hadn’t believed we could be so uninterested in food). Again, where I had described in detail our panic at finding Amity, one evening in mid-Atlantic, awash with water right up to the cabin sole (floorboards) and possibly in danger of sinking, this seemed to have made no impact on him! Nevertheless, he wrote very movingly at times about the beauty of the sea and the skies, and he had observed relationships on board that had largely passed me by.
Christmas with Björn, Ellie, Linnea and Dan at Kidlington. But a terrible tsunami in the Indian Ocean devastated coasts in Thailand, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka on Boxing Day. Many Swedish holiday makers lost their lives and for a while we feared for Goran and Rita. On the 28th we scattered Grandma Ruth’s ashes round an apple tree at Chris & Dot’s garden at Berrick Salome. At least we didn’t keep Grandma’s ashes for ten years.
So ended 2004.