This has been a year of transition for me in at least two ways. The most significant is that my mother died in April, suddenly and unexpectedly: although she was in hospital after a mild stroke she was making what seemed a good recovery but died within minutes one night of a second and much more severe stroke. I had been visiting her with my father that afternoon, for which I am grateful, and it was of considerable benefit that I was there to look after my father when the news came and for the next day or so: it was and remains a severe blow for him. They were very close and had known each other for 60 years and been married for 55.
Malcolm came over from New Zealand for the funeral, which was (for my father’s sake rather than through any religious belief of my mother’s) at the village church at Brompton Regis. I and my three brothers each spoke about her in a simple but moving service. My father stayed with my brother Ken and then with me for some days afterwards, and indeed between us we have tried to ensure that he is never left for too long without visits or visitors. He feels her loss deeply and constantly but is now managing well in day-to-day terms and is due to fly to New Zealand to visit Malcolm and his family after Christmas.
Mum was a great strength to the family, caring and loving; her education was cut short by the need to look after her own mother who had had a nervous breakdown, but she had a depth of commonsense which I hope I have inherited and a commitment to fairness in political as well as personal terms. She was a sunny, cheerful presence in the family, always singing, often without realising the fact. We all miss her deeply. . .
My other element of transition is that after the ructions at ASH at the end of last year I have been looking for another job, obtaining one only very recently. My problems with ASH continued for some months, with negotiations over severance terms on which I needed the guidance of a solicitor, as the people who took power on the Board of Management at the AGM a year ago (unlike those who were there when I was director) were suspicious and hostile, quite without cause. . . However, some useful people have been elected to the Board at this month’s AGM – and I have been invited to join the advisory council, which is pleasing. So, time begins to heal the wounds.
I am in fact employed by ASH until the end of the year, as “Head of Policy Research”, and have had in many ways a rewarding and useful year working from home doing research and writing for them. For example, I have prepared papers on the best way to approach a comprehensive tobacco control Bill in the UK based on study of legislation elsewhere in the world, I have written a very lengthy brief on the UK tobacco industry, I have written several articles, including a monthly column for a small-circulation health monthly, and have thoroughly revised and updated the brief on the case for a ban on tobacco advertising that I first wrote back in 1992, adding full references for all the points cited as well as a wealth of new material (it now runs to about 110 pages). The phone bills have risen noticeably with the phone calls, faxes and e-mail to health campaigners around the world to collect the necessary information!
I have also spent a lot of time at the Public Records Office at Kew going through the files of the Cabinet, the Ministry of Health, the Medical Research Council, the Treasury, the Board of Trade and so on from the ’40s up to 1964 (after which the records are still closed) to tease out the fascinating story of how the Government reacted to the news of the ills smoking caused (the answer is, with a deep complacency reinforced by a minimal view of Government’s responsibilities in such cases). I still hope to finds time to write up an article or two on the basis of this work: at present I have a lot of notes and a stack of photocopies of documents about four inches high.
I have also given two or three lectures for ASH, including one in Germany in October, speaking in English to an audience of doctors who all seemed to understand clearly what I was saying! (I drove to Bonn through the Channel Tunnel, which would have been quick and efficient if there had not been a breakdown which delayed the shuttle’s departure by about an hour.)
I intend so far as possible to maintain my interest in tobacco in the spare time my new job allows (if any!): it is without doubt by far the biggest avoidable cause of illness in the world today and demands an all-out struggle, as it is to a large extent a political battle against an utterly unscrupulous industry bent on maximising profit whatever havoc it wreaks and whatever methods it takes. It could be a fascinating hobby! – the more so as more and more secret documentation leaks form the companies, especially in the USA, where the University of California and San Francisco has put on the Internet about 4000 damning documents leaked from BAT and its US subsidiary Brown and Williamson. Some of these in fact came from us: ASH received a pile of BAT papers and I sent copies to the US Food and Drugs Administration (which is proposing strict controls on cigarettes on the basis that they are a delivery system for an addictive drug, as the internal papers make it clear the industry has long acknowledged to itself), and also to a tobacco control archive at a university in Boston. The UCSF plainly got hold of these copies and so they are now in facsimile on the Internet too.
Looking for a new job has taken a great deal of time and is a wearying business. Every application takes about half a day to prepare, as each needs the same material to be recast to fit the post’s peculiar requirements, which requires you to think yourself into endless new roles so as to make the best of your case. Moreover, if you get beyond the application stage (most employers do not even bother to acknowledge applications or write to say you have been unsuccessful) it is not uncommon to be asked to prepare a presentation or research proposal or other fairly substantial piece of work for the interview.
In the spring I came close to getting three jobs simultaneously, so that I was actually debating with myself which I would prefer and whether to delay accepting any of them if offered in the hope of being offered one of the others as well. But nothing came of any of them. One would have been as part-time secretary of the Tavistock Institute; one as director of the British Humanist Association (they got someone much better instead, who is doing great things), and the third (which was my preferred choice) was as a researcher for a charity, Public Concern at Work, concerned with ethical standards in the workplace and with supporting whistleblowers while working to avoid the need for them.
After that there was a long fallow period with no interviews however many jobs I applied for, and then at the end of October I was successful at an interview for the post of director of a tiny medical charity called the Continence Foundation concerned with promoting services to relieve and removing the stigma of incontinence, which is (it seems) a much larger problem than I had previously thought, with about 3 million sufferers in the UK. I start there in January, and shall have to take my time assessing the field before deciding what to do: the previous director was a senior nurse who specialised in the subject and much of what she did I shall not be able to continue. The trustees – mainly eminent medics – apparently made a deliberate decision, however, that they wanted a layman to take over. We shall see . . .
Looking for a job required that I go without a holiday this summer, barring a most enjoyable few days in Cornwall with my old Oxford philosopher friend Henry and his (Indian-born) wife Devaki. He is in the UK for a sabbatical year as a visiting fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge (his permanent job is at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario). We got as far as St Ives, visiting the Tate Gallery outpost there (well worth a visit, for the building itself as well as the paintings). This was my first trip to this excellently preserved resort, reminiscent in many ways of Robin Hood’s Bay in north Yorkshire although on a larger and less precipitate scale. Earlier we had been to a remarkable garden – the Lost Garden of Heligan, near Goran – so-called because for 70 years or so it was totally neglected and became overgrown with mature trees and rhododendrons 15 feet high! When 3-4 years ago a foolhardy enthusiast started clearing the growth, he found underneath the remains – now almost fully restored – of five or six enclosed gardens, furnaces, heated glasshouses for bananas, peaches and melons, a huge vegetable garden (now being cultivated as if in 1860), a deep valley planted with semi-tropical trees and plants (many of which had survived), decorative ravines and water gardens and so on. It would have been worth a much longer visit than the couple of hours we were able to give it, but we went by little more than chance.
Lindsay is now nearly 16 and is currently doing his mock GCSE exams. It is difficult to know how well he will do, having had all the disadvantages to contend with of an inner London comprehensive organised totally on mixed ability teaching. One aspect of the problem is that he can with little effort do well in the school’s terms without coming near his own potential. He and Lois went out to Australia again this summer – the second year running – in part because Lois’s daughter Christina was expecting her second baby. Unfortunately he arrived very late, 24 hours after Lois and Lindsay had left! Lindsay continues to draw strip cartoons with some talent and to write promising stories, but less so as the demands of exams take their toll.
As I found when I was actually out of work in 1990, uncertainty about the future made me less inclined to go to the theatre: I think I’ve been less than once a month, which is a sharp reduction! The best things I’ve seen have been the RSC’s “Venetian Twins” by Goldoni (a splendid romp which drew the audience into the action by placing some of them at “café tables” on the stage where they were served coffee and food by the actors: regrettably, Lindsay and I were in the circle!) and the Ralph Fiennes Hamlet, which we saw at the Hackney Empire, a glorious 19th century music hall theatre, though sadly in need of renovation. This was the production that went on to Broadway: it placed the action in Edwardian times and the courtiers became senior civil servants – very effective!
By contrast I have been reading more than usual: Thomas Pakenham’s The Scramble for Africa about the way Africa was colonised in the last quarter of the 19th century is a fascinating if often horrifying story; Alan Clark’s diaries, which I came to late, are immensely engaging, however much one disagrees with some of his views; the biography of Darwin by Adrian Desmond & James Moore evokes the age as well as the man; August 1914, Barbara Tuchman’s detailed telling of the way the first world war started, tests one’s credulity at the levels of incompetence and self-deception apparently responsible people plumbed; The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser differentiates sharply between six figures who can become rather blurred. I have also read with enjoyment River out of Eden – Richard Dawkins’s short book on evolution, which shares the clarity and brilliance of all his writing. What else? I read little fiction, but this year I read my first Trolloppe – The Eustace Diamonds – and, inspired by the superb BBC serialisation, have re-read not only Pride & Prejudice but also Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey and am currently reading Sense & Sensibility, which to my disbelief and delight I find I had not previously read!
I have spent a fair number of weekends working in the garden. The new patch of land – the half of the next door garden that I bought about three years ago – I have finally managed to clear of all its rubbish, tree stumps and rubble: a huge job. There were 40 full sacks of rubble and 20 of glass and metal to remove at the end. The ground is now all dug and largely levelled, but there is a lot still to do. I want to build a pergola and a summer house, lay some paths, extend the fishpond, etc etc. It will take a long time to do all this – but no matter: it is the doing that is fun.
Back at the end of June a friend and I organised a successful reunion of old colleagues from the National Coal Board. About 50 or 60 people came to the upper room in a pub near the old HQ offices at Victoria and we spent a long evening talking to friends who had been scattered by the collapse of the industry. I have circulated everyone’s addresses to everyone who came.

1994 ———– 1996