Having left doing my Christmas cards to the last minute, this letter, which as usual will have to be a standard one sent to a dozen people, has been delayed even longer! How did people find time in the days they had to use quills and ink to write such lengthy and personal letters? I suppose they just did not go to work in the way we do.
I remain very busy at ASH: I never before worked so hard for such a sustained period (three years now), but it is worth it as we are making progress in getting the subject pushed up the political agenda. The Government’s policies on smoking are really much better than a few years ago but their obstinate refusal to ban tobacco advertising is proving a major embarrassment to them. ASH is a small body – eleven staff currently, mainly involved with information work, either in the library or in answering standard requests for information from teenagers doing school projects or the like. . .
What do I do in an ordinary week at ASH? Mainly sit at my desk and deal with paper (correspondence, drafts of publications) and talk to people on the phone. But in one week recently I did interviews on BBC News and ITN, a long studio “chat” with Jimmy Young on radio 2, attended a high court hearing which succeeded in getting leave to pursue judicial review of the legal aid board’s refusal to support the smokers who want to sue the tobacco companies for negligence, and went to the Treasury with Sir Walter Bodmer of the Imperial Cancer Research Campaign, the President of the Royal College of Physicians, the heads of the Health Education Authority and the British Heart Foundation to ask the Paymaster General for a big tax increase on tobacco (I did the technical presentation; they all talked about the health effects of smoking and the need to back up health education with tax increases). All this as well as completing our submission to the Department of Health for continued grant aid for the next three years!
Out of work, I have had little time for theatre or the like, although I have seen and enjoyed very much Tom Stoppard’s latest play Arcadia at the National (and a revival of his Travesties at the Barbican, where I arrived to find my two good friends Dick & Sheila Clark by pure chance sitting in the next two seats!), an amazing production of a 1920s American proto-feminist play Machinal designed by the same man, Ian MacNeil, who did the very effective and original designs for the National’s revival of Preistley’s An Inspector Calls that has now transferred to the West End. He uses the whole stage, to a depth far greater than usual, and all the technical resources of the theatre: in Machinal the Lyttleton stage was transformed into a cavern of moving parts – walls, machinery, noise: all reinforcing the dehumanising message of the play.
This summer Lindsay and I went to Prague – we actually drove there, as I had to pick him up from a preceding holiday in the south of France. We stitched our way along the borders of France, Italy, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria and Germany and overall covered about 3250 miles. Prague is a city caught in the nineteenth century: the skyline is still on the human scale of houses and church spires. Much of it is 17th and 18th century, with even unregarded corners containing enough interest to make them treasures in any other city. But the impact of the collapse of communist rule is still to make itself fully felt: certainly, the place is full of tourists (and resident western youth), the centre is largely pedestrianised, there are street cafes and entertainers (and pervasive advertising for western cigarettes), but the old occupiers of the city centre are rapidly being displaced as property values soar and the threat to the fabric of the city will mount as this process goes on and redevelopment becomes financially attractive. Without strong controls by civic authorities who could too easily be convinced by the power of money the character – the integrity – of the city centre could rapidly be ruined.
We spent most of our time there doing “tourist” things, including going to see Cosi fan Tutte in the Estates Theatre where Don Giovanni had its premiere and Don Giovanni performed by marionettes!
At home, I have finally managed to buy the bottom half of the garden next door, so that I now have an L-shaped garden. The land was covered in about 18 inches of solid clay (excavated when the basement flat next door was created) and so far all I have managed to do is to have the clay removed (I paid some youngsters to dig it up and cart it to skips: a very large number of skips!) and to dig about two-thirds of the ground. But I think I have decided how to lay it out (for the third time, so further change is quite possible!) I’ve not been out there for some weeks: a combination of too much weekend ASH work and very unwelcoming weather: most recently exceedingly wet and violently windy.
Lindsay is nearly 14! He is doing reasonably well at school – very well by the school’s standards. At home he divides his time between computer games and writing and illustrating stories: his writing is excellent, with real characterisation, depth of portrayal of motivation and good plotting. He has also completed an illustrated story for younger children, set in Mouseville, with as hero Gordon Zola the Italian waiter in the cheese cafe in the Skirtings!
My father had his 80th birthday just before I left for Prague: we had a family party at my brother Kenneth’s, and Malcolm (but not his family) came over from New Zealand (and was not noticed by Dad when he walked into the room!) He is basically very well, though he refuses to get a hearing aid for his deafness. My mother’s memory is extremely bad, which makes life tedious for Dad and worrying (when she thinks about it) for her. However, they are basically well, and on one recent weekend visit we had a trip out to Wookey Hole caves. I’d forgotten that they were as rugged as they are! But Mum did very well with the uneven steps and the 4-foot-high ceilings (“Keep your head down for another two steps!”). We saw the paper factory and the fairground museum too, and they’ve now got a large arcade, done up like an old seaside pier, of penny-in-the-slot machines from the 1940s and 1950s. Lindsay had a go with lots of old pennies (five for 20p: at decimalisation, 20p was 48 old pennies!) – and I did, remembering my holidays at Hemsby in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. In January they come up here for a weekend and we go to see Les Miserables; then they are off to Cyprus for a month from mid-January, something they did this year too.
Well, that is all I have time for if the cards themselves are to get written today! All the best for Christmas (if by chance it is not yet over!) and for 1994.

Introduction ———1994