PREVIOUS CHAPTER: TWENTY: MINERVA ROAD
10th January: Adam to Nigeria to chair an Economist conference.
11th January: Still ashamed at failing my maths ‘O’ level exam at Calder High School, and now a mature adult, I buy a copy of Maths for Dummies. Can’t make head or tail of anything after Chapter Two.
12th January: Huge earthquake in Haiti. Temperature falls to 5 degrees C. in my kitchen in Minerva Road. Heavy snow in England.
Don’t you dare, Linnéa!
16th January: Still reading Proust – Part II, Cities of the Plain
6th-26th February. With Erika to Majorca. My first visit, after years of urging by Rita and Göran – for whom it remains a favourite, especially the northern coast. Greatly enjoy its mountainous scenery and beautiful small bays, brilliant Mediterranean-green-blue waters. Perhaps the most memorable sight was that of an orchard caught in the morning sunlight somewhere on the central plain, heavy with oranges, each fruit glistening with new-fallen snow. While we are in Majorca, Björn is in Panama, Dan visits friends in France, Adam and Anne are in India – so Ellie and the children are left to represent the Roberts family in the UK.
Late April: Adam has been offered a job as correspondent in India. He and Anne visit Delhi and Mumbai to see which is the better for life with young children. Mumbai hot, wet and sticky: Delhi either dry and very hot; or dry, cold and dusty; or very hot and rainy. Air pollution bad in both places. They like Mumbai for its vitality, but prefer Delhi for the political correspondent’s job based there.
We relieve Oddmund and Anne Lise from child care duties at Bearsted, so they can return to Norway. It is just a couple of days until Anne and Adam return. Edvard and Magnus are so lively, both day and night, that on the second morning we drop them off to playschool – and both collapse back in bed, sleeping on till it is time to collect them again. Where do they get their energy?
1st May: Roberts family re-united. We visit Whitstable on the north Kent coast. A charming little town with its sea-food stalls and low wooden buildings. At the beach: a stone-throwing competition, as we always seem to do. On this occasion, we launch a small plank of wood with a stone on it and watch it bob away on the tide. When it is 30 yards off, I announce that the aim is to remove the stone without touching the wood. I pick up a pebble from the beach, hurl it, and knock off the target. (One of my luckiest throws – ever.) Naturally, for the rest of that day I do not deign to take part in any further childish throwing competitions.
3rd-16th May: Erika and I visit Vienna to meet up with childhood friends, then on to the mountain town of Bad Gastein where Björn and Ellie spent their honeymoon, and then via friends in Vichy and Arthur in Paris back to Portsmouth. Vichy was holding the national finals of the French Scrabble Association, with over a thousand participants playing simultaneously in ten different halls around the city. How one knew what thousands of words were put down, and how the judges determined the best play, we never understood.
17th May: Back to polishing “Furious Driving in East Cowes” – a long job on the hard Purbeck limestone.
2nd-5th June: To Berlin, to attend the wedding of a young Portsmouth woman (a friend of Erika’s) to an Israeli bride. We soon saw that this was a ‘convenience’ wedding and the Israeli woman had no real love for her very trusting partner – she just wanted clearance to live and work in the U.K. Many of the younger people attending the wedding were gay or lesbian and their picnic in the Kreuzberg Park seemed a happy affair, but we felt deeply uneasy that our lass was being misused – and within months their relations soured and the marriage was annulled.
A highlight of our Berlin visit was the Pergamon Museum, with its amazing Syrian and other Middle Eastern antiquities – including full-scale towers, walls and gateways taken stone by stone and rebuilt in Germany. Not unlike the Elgin marbles in the British Museum. Although we felt some guilt that Europeans plundered such antiquities a hundred years ago – at least these have been saved from destruction by Islamist fanatics or secret sale to unscrupulous private collectors.
30th July: The whole family – adults and grandchildren – assembled at a camp site near Halifax and next day made its way through moor-side villages to Pecket Well. Then, up the Keighley Road and down Weet Ing Lane to my old home. Mrs Wells received us very kindly and said we were free to roam wherever we liked, so it was down to the bathing pool, now much overgrown by trees. Here, we picnicked on the flat stones where the water gushes into the pool and where so many family photos have been taken over the years.
Cynthia Dean holds Glyn 1940 (l); Björn and Linnéa 2010
Then back to the house and a welcome of tea and home-baked scones. The house interior is much altered since my day and vastly more comfortable. I ask if I may look around and naturally make a beeline for my old room. Amazingly, it is unchanged – having always served as a junk room. The same wooden door, with the same old-fashioned catch. An outdated electric light switch – probably installed by Guy and Morris in their ill-fated waterwheel project! I had quite a lump in my throat as I looked round and said what will be my last good bye.
My bedroom door: unchanged in 64 years
Finally, the long walk to school – through the wood, up the steep slopes and across the fields and stiles – to Pecket Well, a challenge to grandchildren and adults alike.
27th September: Richard and Catherine ring to tell us IMOGEN was born at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle, at 8.40 this morning. We leap into the car and head north from Portsmouth, reaching the city outskirts in dense traffic, night already fallen, with only thirty minutes till the close of hospital visiting hours. We try out our newly-bought Satnav. It leads us unerringly through a maze of streets and junctions to the Royal Victoria. Wonderful technology. Wonderful baby!
30th September: Adam and Anne, Magnus and Edvard leave for Delhi and a whole new stage in their lives begins. We are sad that they will be so far away, but know the experience of life In India will be life-changing. They will have to handle the contradiction of being wealthy and privileged in a land of widespread poverty. They will have staff to cook and drive for them and an Ayah to help look after the children (Adam will be reporting for the Economist and Anne will continue to research, and even tutor, for the University of Kent). But they handled the rich/poor issue in a decent, fair way in South Africa and I am sure they will manage just as well now.
The Roberts’s apartment in leafy Sunder Nagar, near Delhi Zoo.
Adam makes trips to Bihar, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Pakistan, Gujurat, etc. Boys start at local Ardee School, learning to march and sing the Indian national anthem in the first week. I begin to worry about their education!
5th October: Very wet. Over at Minerva Road, before renting out the house, I collect 121 snails and big red slugs in the back garden. Really, they are nightmarish – and unstoppable, as they slither in from the overgrown gardens of neighbours. Will my new tenants be too disgusted to stay?
20th October: For the past year or so, Dan has been designing and building a giant wooden tricycle. An amazing – and beautiful – construction, with its own printing press, set of tea cups and teapot, wicker baskets and Isle of Wight flag all inbuilt. He aims to cycle around in Spain, with no prior plan, simply asking advice from people who he meets on the road.
Dan on his trike
He arrives in Portsmouth on the 5.40am car ferry from Fishbourne, to a round of applause from passengers waiting on shore. One man shouts, ‘Ten out of ten!’ Dan invites me to cycle it for the next two miles to the Continental Ferry Terminal, and I discover just how hard it is to pedal. How far does he think he will get with this odd thing in Spain? Members of the family have predicted distances from an ambitious 200 kilometres to a sceptical 250 yards… Astonishingly, he persuades Brittany Ferries to take it to Santander for free because it is pedal powered, even though it takes up as much room as a car. For the next fortnight he cycles along the north Spanish coast trying to find a way up onto the Central Plateau, nearly 3,000 feet above sea level.
4th November: I catch the ferry to Santander and share the cost with Dan of hiring a van to carry the trike up onto the plateau. 5th November: Dan’s fortieth birthday, which I share with him, just as he and Björn shared my fortieth at Weet Ing, also camping, but now without any midges to torment us. We remove the wheels from the trike to edge it into the van, and then motor uphill for a couple of hours till we reach Osorno, the first town on the plateau. We celebrate our arrival and his birthday with a restaurant meal, but then spend a bitterly cold night on the metal floor of the van, jammed in alongside the trike.
Very early next morning, in a bone-chilling mist, we reassemble the machine and rope it to railings in the town square, hoping that no one will steal or damage it while we head back to Santander to return the hired van and get me onto a Brittany ferry.
Tying up the trike in an icy dawn in Osorno town square.
At the dockside, we give each other a big hug and I feel miserable to be leaving my son to carry on alone over that dreary plateau. But needs must: miss the Portsmouth ferry, and Erika and I will lose our flight to Stockholm – where Göran and Rita are expecting us.
[In the event, Dan did endure a harrowing start to his journey, struggling along endless stretches of road by day, then searching for somewhere to hide his trike while he slept rough by the roadside. Once, his sleeping bag unrolled still frosty from the previous night. Later, a grain of sand lodged in his eye for 24 hours before a doctor could remove it. Two hundred kilometres on, in Valladolid, things were no better, except that he now had a Plan. He would build a raft, load the trike onto it and float 500 km down the River Duero to Oporto on the Atlantic. He caught a local bus out of town to the end of the line and discovered the ancient settlement of Simancas. There his luck changed, massively, for the better. But this story is for you to tell, Dan, and I really hope you will one day!]
On the plateau
In Stockholm, Göran and Rita laid on wonderful Swedish food, arranged meetings with old friends from Ethiopia days (and an authentic meal of injera na wat – the Ethiopian national dish), sought out a fantastic Beethoven concert, amazed us with a dancing display from southern India and ended with a visit to an exhibition of paintings by Anders Zorn. We had never before heard of this Swedish 19th century artist, but found his portraits – and above all, his portrayal of water – astonishingly good.
9th December: Ellie has an interview at the University of Surrey and we cross our fingers for her. She needs to get back soon into professional librarianship, or it may become too late. 10th December: Linnéa asks Björn, ‘Is Father Christmas true?’ Björn, after reflection, because Jim is in earshot, ‘Yes’. Linnéa, ‘So we tell Father Christmas what we want. He tells you. And you tell Amazon?’
15th December: Linnéa, on seeing Björn’s new tie, ‘It looks like a skinned bird!’ Eh? Where do they get these ideas?
23rd December: Andy, Rhian, Richard, Catherine and little Imogen join us for Christmas. Richard prepares a fine boeuf bourguignon and our annual carols evening goes wild, turns into a jazz session and ends with Andy and Rhian dancing round the room.
Late January: Erika and I flew to Delhi to stay with Adam and family. Before leaving, we had asked what they would like us to bring and Adam suggested good quality bacon, cheese and a few bottles of red wine. ‘It is illegal to import foodstuffs,’ he said, ‘but the Customs seldom check’. At this, Erika – not unreasonably – withdrew her offer, but I rather fancied the challenge, ‘Family first,’ I told her, ‘even if it means my languishing in an Indian dungeon’. My bravado lasted until we were circling above Indira Gandhi Airport and I studied the Indian Customs form. This asked, too baldly for my liking, ARE YOU IMPORTING FOOD OR DRINK – “YES” OR “NO”? I had hoped for something more subtle, something that would lend itself to a fudged answer. I hesitated, finally ringed “NO” – and then began to panic. Now, I had only one way out of the predicament: idiocy.
As we made for the plane exit, I donned my safari jacket & Aussie Bush hat, then perched reading glasses on the very tip of my nose. I also donned an inane look, and took on a limp, with one corner of my mouth drooping, suggesting only partial recovery from a recent stroke. As we passed the Customs desks, an officer seemed about to say something, so I pre-empted him with a ‘Half-past six!’ and scuttled on towards freedom. Mr Toad in his washerwomen’s outfit would have known just how I felt and I hope he would have been proud of me. I kept up the pretence through the departure hall – I was starting to enjoy it – until Erika told me enough was enough and we stepped out into the dazzling sunlight to be met by Adam.
A welcome from Adam and Irfan at Delhi airport 2011
Anne, Magnus and Edvard await us at home and we share their excitement and many hugs. We feel immediately at home, indoors, in their spacious apartment (decorated with many objéts d’art familiar to us from Bearsted, but already accumulating new paintings and curiosities from India). 71 Sunder Nagar is a three-storey building standing beside a small park, right by the Delhi Zoo. Outside, this vast and somewhat chaotic city, still feels rather scary. At night we waken to the cries and grunts of exotic species just over the wall, and at dawn to the lonesome hooting of trains heading in and out of Delhi. Two modest rooms constitute The Economist office where Adam and Indrani (who, Adam affirms, is a star) do their journalistic work. On a kind of minstrel’s gallery in Adam’s office, Anne carries out her research for the University of Kent – sometimes popping back to Canterbury to tutor PhD students. What skills and energy they have!
We soon meet, Savitri and Lydia and like their confident, direct manner. And of course we have met Irfan who drives the Economist vehicle – essential for getting Adam to meetings and the airport, the boys to school and for shopping. Driving requires a special talent: rather than sticking rigidly to the rules of the road, you must sense what is going on all around and anticipate other drivers’ next move. Normally, they do follow the rules, with cars, trucks, buses and tuk-tuks (motorbike taxis) pressing in on one another, carrying huge loads, constantly hooting. It is only sometimes they jump the red lights or speed towards you down the wrong side of the road.
A couple of days’ family fun and a trip to Humayun’s Tomb the Red Fort in Old Delhi gave us a first inkling of the sumptuousness of Moghul architecture and stone carving – as did reading William Dalrymple’s The Last of the Moghul Emperors. We then joined a dozen English tourists on a commercial tour of India’s Golden Triangle. Very standard, with the Taj Mahal, the Mehrangargh Fort and other obligatory sights – but each one truly amazing for all that. Some of the less famous places, too, stick in my mind, such as an ancient “step-well” somewhere east of Jaipur. A step-well is essentially a large collecting tank dug deep in the ground, with a series of steps leading down to the water. In the one we visited, it was said, a person could collect water every day of their life and never repeat the same sequence of steps.
Part of a step-well
Another personal memory is of the sculptors’ quarter in Jaipur where some 20,000 men and boys produce marble Buddhas and Hindu gods and goddesses, week in, week out, in dark and dusty workshops. I was less interested in their products than in their tools, as I needed three ultra-fine gouges (chisels) to carve the details on my East Cowes sculpture. Down a back-street, I met three brothers whose shop sold deities of all shapes and sizes. I explained what I needed – gouges and some marble polishing powder, to bring up a glossy finish on my sculpture at home. They called a lad and sent us off to that part of the street market which sold stone masonry tools of every possible type. I easily found what I needed, gouges and half a kilo of white polishing powder. The total cost came to £0-49p, and I looked forward to fun with my snow white substance at H.M. Customs & Revenue, Heathrow.
Purveyors of fine gods and goddesses, Jaipur
Back in Delhi, the whole family took the train to Dehra Dun in the foothills of the Himalaya and to the Shaheen Bagh guesthouse, bitterly cold at night, but beautifully located and with an amazing collection of 5,000 DVDs in an array of glass-fronted book cases. The owner had meant to dub them into Hindi, but never got round to it.
The boys anticipate rain and employ their multi-coloured umbrella
Then up a tortuous road to Musoorie from where we glimpsed the distant snow-capped Himalayas.
On the train home, Magnus who – very Tigger-like – was bouncing on a seat, then flipped backwards and had a nasty cut across the back of his head from a steel footrest. No bones were broken, but the chances of infection from a dirty footrest seemed high. Anne asked if there were any medics on board, and with minutes three or four professionals had gathered, with another getting on at the next station. Once in Delhi, around midnight, Magnus was whisked by Adam, Anne and Irfan to Accident & Emergency at an excellent hospital.
Party time. Edvard in blue, Magnus in red, with white head bandage.
He was right as rain within a week or two- he had to be: Edvard and Magnus’s 5th birthday was upon us. But immediately after their party, Erika and I flew back to Portsmouth.
April, and Dan is back in Simancas, near Valladolid, building a raft in the town bull ring. The swimming pool provided empty bleach containers for buoyancy, the mayor found timber struts and with help from an English friend, Simon, the raft was soon ready to sail.
In the town square, Simancas
On 11th May, I flew to Madrid and met Dan and Simon in Valladolid. They had been advised that the first 300km of river would present the raft and trike with serious problems: weirs, rapids, isolated nature reserves and several massive hydro-electric dams.
One of the obstacles he would have had to negotiate – had Dan continued downstream
He needed me to drive the hired van the 300km to Barca d’Alva – where the Duero flows from Spain into Portugal and then becomes navigable for the next 200km down to Oporto and the Atlantic.
Taking tricycle and raft apart and loading them into the van was made harder by the midges swarming up from the banks of the Duero, but the drive went smoothly and during the final hour we experienced a spectacular thunderstorm, the rocks and winding road appearing brilliant in each lightning flash. That night, we slept on the floor of the ruinous, deserted railway station at Barca d’Alva.
Two days later, trike and our worldly goods perched on the raft, only just above water level, Dan and I rowed out into mid-stream and began our voyage. The full story is Dan’s, but I cannot resist including two photos. [Watch a video of Glyn playing the ukulele on the Duero here].
Just one of several lonely gorges on the Duero, with Dan fighting the current while I clamber up the rocks to get a good photo.
A peaceful break for afternoon tea
I arrived back in Southsea on 23rd May, and during the night of 24th May I suffered agonising pains caused by acute urine retention. The old prostate had finally closed up completely. Had this occurred at night in one of the uninhabited gorges of the Duero the results would have been disastrous. As it was, Erika rushed me to A & E at Queen Alexandra Hospital. There, they shoved a catheter into me and I could finally pee again, an immense relief; but the whole business of carrying a bag around strapped to the leg, emptying it, getting in and out of bed, was new to me and very tedious. The pain had gone, but it soon became clear that medication could no longer solve my prostate problem; only an operation would help. The operation, as such, did not worry me, but the idea of a general anaesthetic did, as I have always hated the idea of being knocked out by a drug – ever since the dentist clamped a gas mask over my nose when I was a small boy.
To my relief, I learned that – if one made a case for it – the prostate operation could be done with a spinal anaesthetic. However, no date could be given for the job – other than it would not be delayed more than three months! I could have gone private, but I do think that we should use the NHS as a matter of principle. Waiting with a catheter strapped to me was bad enough, but I then developed a urinary infection, leading to stays in hospital and strong antibiotics. It was during the last stay, when Adam, Anne and the children visited me that Erika enquired if the operation could be done as an outpatient and I was suddenly offered 1st August for the operation. The best birthday present I could think of!
While waiting, in Southsea, I spent much time on “Furious Driving”, using the fine pointed chisels, grinding stones and the polishing powder I’d obtained in Jaipur. (Alas, HRW Customs just waved me through.) Also, with various friends in East Cowes, we built a small wall at the junction of New Barn Road and York Avenue, in which to install the sculpture.
Peter Lloyd, Mayor of East Cowes, who – with his wife, Margaret – helped with so many of my carvings.
“Furious Driving” was unveiled (4th June) in East Cowes, Adam and family visited from Delhi and Daniel finally arranged freight for his tricycle back from Portugal, flying home to a happy family reunion in Southsea and at Chilworth. Also, Ellie had confirmation that her job had been extended at Guildford University, which was great news, and Jim had a school report describing him as, ‘A delightful boy of real character’.
On 9th July, Erika and I met up with Björn & Co at West Wittering. The beach and waves looked superb, with bright sun glittering on the blue-green waters stretching out to the Isle of Wight, though the wind was relentless and blew sand in our eyes. After fish and chips in Bosham, we all came home to Southsea and Erika made everyone welcome and saw to it that we were well fed. It means a lot to her to know that she is fully accepted within the family.
22nd July: A White supremacist has exploded a bomb in Oslo. He then shot dead 77 young people – members of the Norwegian Labour Party – at a summer holiday camp. We are utterly shocked. We later send a message of support to the Hammerstad family congratulating Norway on the humane and civilised way it deals with someone who carried out such an evil deed. Oddmund replies that he and many Norwegians do not support the Labour Party, but that all, except a tiny body of extremists, agree that civilised procedures must still be followed.
July: Have an idea for a book to collate the sculptures I have made on the Isle of Wight, and some of Daniel’s public art. To be called “Curious Carvings”.
Late August, a technical break-through. After seven years without a telephone, mobile or smartphone, no emailing, no Googling – and enjoying the serenity it gave – I finally bought a smartphone. If I was to promote my new book, I would need an email address and the most appropriate seemed to be email@example.com.
In late August, too, Erika and I drove to the south of France for a three-week holiday, much needed after the stress of my operation. Based at St Cyr, between Marseille and Toulon, we explored the mighty Gorges du Verdon, the sea-green calanques along the rocky coasts, and terrain around le Mont St.-Victoire – beloved by Van Gogh, Cézanne and other Impressionist painters. We particularly liked the small port of Sanary sur Mer and the splendid 19th Century cinema, erected for the brothers Lumière in La Ciotat.
Sanary sur Mer (l) La Ciotat (r)
9th November: Curious Carvings printed by Studio 6. Good old Lindsey!
29th November: Björn signs a contract with The Forest Trust. He much welcomes the opportunity.
Adam reports that 2011 has been a good year for them in Sunder Nagar despite storms, floods, an earthquake, a fire and a terrorist attack at the nearby Delhi high court, plus the bomb and terrorist attack in Oslo while Anne and the boys were there on holiday. The boys now go to the American Embassy School that has enormous resources/facilities and a very liberal, encouraging philosophy of education. In some ways, it sounds like Lon Dene School. I hope so; it will give the boys confidence
27th December: took Linnéa and Jim to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Festival Theatre, Chichester.
If 2011 had been the Year of the Prostate, 2012 became the Year of the Sinus. I’d already had aches in my left cheekbone in December, but in the first week of January it turned nasty. A “headache and a tooth ache are battling out over possession of my left eye socket” (January 6th). I had a hunch that the pain had something to do with an upper molar that had felt tender and “different” from all my other teeth, but the dentist dismissed the idea and my GP said there was no connection and put me on antibiotics. Long delays to see consultants and dentists and finally on 13th September (!) a different dentist opened up the tooth and found it “very, very infected”. Even then, it took two more months before a CT scan showed that the infection had gone right through the jaw bone and completely filled the maxillary sinus with pus that wouldn’t drain. I was back at the dentist that same day to demand its extraction. By 4pm it was out, and by the next day I was feeling far better. The improvement has continued, but the infection is still there, somewhere.
In January, I visited Chris and Dot in Berrick Salome. Kind and lovely relations! Chris designed an excellent website to promote the sale of Curious Carvings; now my task to get it known and “visited”. Its official address is isle_of_wight_sculpture.info, but it also seems to come up quite readily if one Googles “curious carvings isle of wight”. (You can visit the site by clicking here, too.) Besides this, I contacted Holiday Fellowship, the University of the 3rd Age and a dozen Rotary Clubs on the Island and most of them invited me to come and speak and sell copies of the book.
Shanklin Rotary Club invited Erika along, too, and at the end of the meal the Chairman said, ‘2012 is the Diamond Jubilee Year of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and our club wants to do something special to mark the occasion. Glyn, would you be willing to do a sculpture for us?’ I quailed, fearing they wanted a royal crest or something equally formal. It must have shown on my face for he quickly added, ‘No, no. Don’t worry. We know your quirky style is based on Isle of Wight stories and we think we have a good one dating back to the 1950s.’ He then told the story of “Jarge” (George), a porter at Shanklin railway station whose customers were regularly pirated by local school boys, some of whom are now pillars of Shanklin society, including the mayor and members of the Rotary Club. It was a funny/sad little story, and such a relief to escape doing a royal coat of arms, that I decided to give it a go. (The £2,000 commission was welcome too – even if half of it went on materials and the bronze plaque.) In November, I made the clay maquette for the ever-helpful Carol Jaye – a good friend of Daniel – to fire after Christmas.
In February and March, Erika and I made a second visit to India, immediately made welcome by Adam and Anne in Sunder Nagar, where Edvard and Magnus celebrated their sixth birthday with a great party in the landlord’s garden.
We met up again with Savitri, Irfan, Lydia and Indrani – all of whom are self-confident, while being very helpful in their roles.
Savitri, Lydia (l) and Irfan (r)
We also saw their school – the American Embassy School – which seems to enjoy fantastic resources. I gave an illustrated talk to the boys’ classes about crossing the Atlantic and ended by passing round one of the three yellow ducks that had actually made the voyage. The school has a lively science programme and Magnus’s craze for making paper aeroplanes was put to good use later in the year when Adam and Anne set up a scientific experiment with them to test his hypothesis the “the more folds in the paper, the better it will fly”. (In fact, the reverse occurred – but that was a scientific finding too.) On this second visit to Delhi, the strangeness of the city had largely gone and we felt much more relaxed, even at home.
We then flew to Chennai to join a Jules Verne tourist group that took us through much of Tamil Nadu and southern Kerala. The stories behind the building of several of the temples are extraordinary. Priests once clearly exercised great power. For example, near Gangakondocholapuram, they told one king who was very ill to build a huge temple – in red sandstone, with a single carved block weighing 80 tons dragged to the top by elephants along a ramp 6.5km long. When the king did not recover, the priests decided the temple was in the wrong place, so a replica was built twenty miles away. He still died.
In Madurai we visited a modest, somewhat run-down Gandhi Museum. One small display highlighted the Englishman A.O. Hume who had played a leading role in forming the Indian National Congress (he was its first General Secretary) that later won independence for the country. He is described as ‘the first to speak up boldly for the nation’s human rights’. Apparently, Hume is now largely airbrushed out of Indian history books and records of the independence movement, but this museum shows group photos with him in the centre, and Nehru, Jinna and other political giants sitting on either side.
Giving credit to A.O Hume
In some ways it was a relief to cross into the more prosperous, educated Kerala and travel a couple of days by wooden boat (tourist) up the inland Backwaters to Cochin (Kochi), though the temper-ature hovered in the mid-thirties. There, we left the tourist group and checked in at the old colonial Cochin Club, overlooking the entrance to Cochin Harbour and Adam, Anne, Magnus and Edvard joined us a day later. The tended lawns, low buildings, cricket nets, huge billiard table (Adam beat me), all a bit shabby, spoke of a bygone age. On the wall in the billiard room hung a list of past presidents and secretaries of the club. Up to the mid-1950s, names were very British: Jackson, Trollop, Fortesque-Smythe – but then changed abruptly to Mukherjee, Singh, Banerjee, etc. (Names made up, sorry.) We explored old Cochin before flying back to Delhi and finally shared another few days at Pataudi. This is a small town a couple of hours west of the capital which once housed the Nawab of Pataudi in his palatial home. He had been captain of the Indian cricket team in the 1940s and 1950s, as several sepia photos in the long corridors showed.
Tea rooms in Cochin
Outside were a cricket field, trimmed lawns and a superb swimming pool with peacocks strutting around. It was a great place to relax in, to play Coppit and table tennis or make/fly paper aeroplanes (Magnus) but I still felt rather uncomfortable about our luxurious lifestyle, as I had done on the tourist part of our trip. Nevertheless, Adam and Anne could not have done more to make our stay happy, healthy and interesting.
Edvard chases a peacock at Pataudi Palace (l), Relaxing by the pool (r)
Back in England, it was great to pick up once more with Björn, Ellie, Linnéa and Jim and we saw more of them this year than ever before, sometimes having one or both of the children for a day or two, minus parents. This felt quite a privilege. You get a different relationship with a child on their own – they become so much more mature than with a sibling present, and this is different yet again from when parents are around. It was wonderful to see how all four grandchildren are developing into lively, bright, articulate, helpful kids – a credit to themselves and to their mums and dads. Edvard and Magnus currently enjoy an inspiring, ‘liberal’ approach to education, and I hope they make the most of their opportunities in India. They may get a shock on moving back to Britain or when Adam takes another foreign posting – as I certainly did when I left Long Dene School and confronted Yorkshire school discipline. Linnéa and Jim already follow a more traditional English line – and are doing fine, especially in science and maths (Jim proud that he knows square roots and talks of ‘random numbers’). I just hope that they will find inspiring teachers to strengthen self-confidence and originality.
All four love being set problems to solve, football and cricket, where Linnéa bats and bowls very correctly. She’s also is a very quick runner. Jim is devoted to Albury Eagles soccer team, while Edvard and Magnus play for ‘Kicking Lions in a similar boys’ league in Delhi, playing with great enthusiasm. Edvard proved a brave goalkeeper and Magnus was only one goal off being top scorer. Besides all this sport, the grandchildren have been keen board-games players, ‘Coppit’ being a favourite, but now they have acquired DSI games-players they do seem to spend a lot of time poking about on the hand-held screens. Adam and Anne say these are now rationed to weekends.
In March, we put Erika’s house on the market. Our reasons for moving were various: we wanted somewhere quieter. Victoria Road South is a on a main road and every fire engine, police car and ambulance seemed to switch on its siren outside Number 97 as it neared the crossing with Marmion Road. We also wanted a house with fewer floors (we had six different levels), easier to keep warm and needing less maintenance. And if possible, we’d love a view of the sea. Lastly, I still felt that I lived “in Erika & David’s house”- not that Erika gave me any cause to do so. Still, I needed to be on a more equal footing, even if I could never match her fifty-fifty financially.
We suddenly saw Erika’s old house with fresh eyes and found just how much work was needed to attract a buyer. Months followed of mending, painting, decorating, digging, planting… and tidying the place up each time an estate agent brought somebody to view. April 17th: ‘Mowed lawn, trimmed edges, painted & sealed cracks round Annex windows, washed frames and guttering, put clean draw strings on light switches, sealed cracks on top landing and painted over, painted hand rails, vacuumed Conservatory…’
Despite these efforts, we had few viewings and July-August went by without a single visit.
April: Adam and Anne’s place on Hamble Street in Fulham also needs maintenance and repairs. They hire Dan and his friend Bill to carry out the work. One task is to cure a squeaky floorboard. With the board raised, and it being 1st April and time for pranks, Dan emails Adam to say he has found a box of curious-looking pills and tablets. ‘What shall I do with them?’ he enquires innocently. Believing them to be drugs, Adam suggests Dan flush them down the toilet or, if he prefers, take them to the police. A little while later, though, a new email from Dan reports finding a stash of £20 notes, ‘seemingly pushed through a hole in the wall from the neighbours’ side’. (He sends a fake photo: a wad of notes that Anne had advanced for buying materials.) ‘What shall I do with these?’ Dan asks. ‘Lucky you!’ replied Adam, ‘It’s on our property, so why not just keep it?’ Moments later, Björn rings Dan, very concerned. ‘Adam has rung me,’ he says, ‘This is clearly drug dealers’ money. Don’t touch it with a bargepole. Just put everything back where you found it and seal up the floor.’
Realising that his trick is now going too far, and not wanting to end lamely with an April Fools message, Dan decides to make the next communication so ridiculous that they must catch on. He emails: AS I WAS TRYING TO PUT THE MONEY BACK, AN ARM REACHED THROUGH FROM NEXT DOOR AND GRABBED THE CASH – BUT WE MANAGED TO TRAP THE ARM. (Trick photo supplied of Dan’s hand clenching notes, protruding from the floor.) Adam then calls from Delhi and all is revealed. Gallantly, Adam details the whole incident on Facebook, concedes that he had been well and truly had – and vows revenge.
On 5th May, we heard a curious item on Radio 4. Listeners had been asked to nominate the piece of writing in English which had made the most significant impact on literature world-wide. Elliot’s Wasteland was mentioned, as were several other predictable works such as Hamlet. But then an academic from (I believe) Worcester College, Oxford, named a single letter written in 1155 from England to the court of the French king at the time. In it, the writer stated, “It is for love and lovers that knights do noble deeds,” and this provoked a great debate, first within the court and then further afield. Why? Because, the academic claimed, before this point Love had been treated in literature as a mere distraction or sub-plot to the greater value: Heroism. After the debate, Love and Romance took centre stage, a valid end in themselves. Romance connects etymologically with the French roman – a novel – and this led to the flowering of a whole new form of literature.
In May, too, Adam got to Abbottabad, Pakistan, the day after Osama Bin Laden was killed. He rang the doorbell to Bin Laden’s house, but got no answer. Erika played a Mozart piano concerto with the Southsea Practice Orchestra, to her delight. She does a great amount of music these days: Tuesday afternoons, she plays piano or ‘cello along with two flautists (Anne & Sue); Wednesday evenings it’s the Southsea Orchestra (‘cello) and Thursday evenings we have either trios, quartets or quintets here at home, where she plays the piano. Mostly: Beethoven, Mozart, Dvorak, Brahms and Schubert. Lovely to hear, though I’m listening from our little study upstairs.
In late May we spent a week at Glencanisp Lodge, Lochinver, as part of a house party celebrating our neighbour Judith’s 60th birthday. It was a self-catering affair and the wonder was that all thirty of us pulled our weight, decorating, entertaining, cooking and washing up (rather than wandering off after a meal assuming that the table would miraculously clear itself). The area has some fine mountains, including Suilven, and a beautiful wild coastline, only a few miles south of the fabled Cape Wrath. We learned that Wrath does not relate to anger, but has Viking origins: on their raiding expeditions to western Britain the Norsemen turned south at these cliffs. Wrath means “turning”.
We also learned that Judith’s great great grandfather, a Quaker, had run a stall in Birmingham in the 19th century selling tea, cocoa and coffee. Another Quaker a few stalls along was marketing the same goods and eventually they agreed to split their wares. Judith’s ancestor chose the tea & coffee: the second chap, the cocoa. And his name was William Cadbury.
Suilven at sunset
A fine birthday meal, with all of us sitting round one long table, erupted into applause when Erika suddenly appeared as “Jasmine from Cairo” and swayed sinuously to Arabic music as she bravely performed an intricate Belly Dance.
Later, we stood outside the house and watched in awe as the setting sun turned the lone, whale-backed mountain, Suilven, into a giant slab of red hot iron, slowly cooling from above and below.
In June, the Delhi wallahs arrived and teamed up with the Chilworth three (Ellie looking after her mother), playing cricket on the field behind Copse Close, at Portchester Castle and on Southsea Common. Anne took Edvard to London for an eye check and I had Magnus on my own for a day, when he amazed me by making vast numbers of intricate origami shapes – hens, storks, boxes – with many intricate folds. A definite progression from his paper aeroplanes. At one point, Edvard rang, very articulate, with a description of what he had been doing previously with Uncle Dan. Great to see them growing up so nicely. We had a particularly good day in Gosport, visiting the Alliance submarine, Gina’s sweet shop, Little Anglesey, Stokes Bay and Gilkicker, then back to Little Anglesey and Ewer Common…. and then back down Stoke Road to the Gosport ferry. All on foot. The boys are not only bright: they have stamina! The Alliance submarine is long out of service, but we learned that technology is now so advanced that on modern submarines – in an emergency – they can make enough oxygen from one pint of seawater to keep 100 men alive for an hour.
On another day, I had Edvard and Magnus alone (Erika in Vienna) and we modelled and painted dinosaurs, played football and hide & seek, watched The Red Balloon and White Mane.
7th-8th September 2012: Back in May, Sigyn’s relatives had asked us, ‘Instead of the family meeting up these days only at funerals, or so it seems, could we not get together in September for a purely happy get-together?’ What a sensible idea. We readily agreed, and in early September Erika and I flew to Stockholm. Hosted yet again by Göran and Rita (including a boat trip to a new art project, the “ART-I-PELAGO” Gallery, on a beautifully wooded island that Henry and I had sailed past many years earlier in Claire ). We then met up with fifty members of the family at a village near Falköping. Björn and Dan were already there and Sigyn’s niece and nephew Katarina and Marcus had arranged a wonderful programme with the help of others in the family. We gathered in a traditional Swedish country mansion, set in sunny grounds, playing games between the trees, solving puzzles, chatting, singing and enjoying fabulous food. The whole event was innocent and even old fashioned and it felt good still to be part of this decent, good humoured family.
8 December: a surprise return to Portsmouth from India by Adam. This followed his telephone interview from Delhi with a corrupt High Court judge in Bangladesh. In charge of a War Crimes trial in Dhaka, the judge had been revealed to the Economist as being totally partisan, and discovering that he might be exposed, he had now put a subpoena on Adam and another Economist editor ordering them to appear in his court. As one defence witness had just been kidnapped from the Dhaka High Court steps, it seemed wise for Adam to nip back to England. Bravely, the Economist went on to publish, and a few days later the judge resigned. Exciting stuff!
Christmas: Off to Oslo, to the welcoming Hammerstad family and thence to their hytte up in the mountains, deep in snow. Anne Lise – now retired from many years writing up the proceedings of the Norwegian parliament – prepares traditional Norwegian Christmas meals, all delicious. We organise a little play with Oddmund as Good King Wenceslas (a tea cosy served as his crown) and Edvard & Magnus as pages. Anne and Adam enjoy cross-country skiing each morning, despite temperatures of minus 12 degrees Celsius.
Anne Lise prepares spare ribs; Oddmund: Good King Wenceslas and two page boys
NEXT CHAPTER: ARETHUSA HOUSE 2013-2015
CONTENTS: MEMOIR CHAPTERS
- * * * * *