So, what news this year? I have now been nearly twelve months in my new job as director of the Continence Foundation. Sounds grand but sadly isn’t: we have two staff (me and an administrator) in a peppercorn-rent basement (and it looks like it) in Doughty Street, just north of Grays Inn (very pleasant location), plus three nurses and a secretary in Newcastle-upon-Tyne running a telephone Helpline. The trustees are eminent consultants, senior nurses and physiotherapists etc, but they do not play much part in the day-to-day affairs of the organisation. We address three audiences: the public (via leaflets, the Helpline and the annual National Continence Day – hands up anyone who has ever noticed it!); the professionals (with study days and publications such as our massive directory of products – a snip at £45); and the politicians (broadly speaking). The last are the most interesting, but naturally come a poor third when it comes to allocation of time. There are several MPs who are supportive of the need for higher priority for continence services in the NHS (surveys show over 3 million adults have problems of this nature) but at present the service is being cut – and continence advisors (specialist nurses) are being told not to speak about the cuts and even sometimes not to help National Continence Day or any awareness campaigns. VAT has just added 15% to the NHS bill for continence products, and the Department of Health are jibbing at putting new devices on prescription. So there is plenty of scope for campaigning, which as a chief aim raises the profile and helps break the taboo. And that taboo (which I am lecturing on tomorrow at a big conference) is preventing people seeking help or realising that in 80% of cases the conditions (there are several) can be cured.
The job is not as lonely as it might seem from the “two in a basement” description: we work closely with several other organisations, and in fact are recognised as the “umbrella body” for them. This gets me out to meetings quite often, and the people are universally friendly and sometimes positively admirable. (One continence advisor, hearing that I came previously from ASH, has proudly cut back from 60 a day to maybe one cigarette a week!) There was an international conference in Athens in August to which I went (paid for by two of our “Gold Medal Sponsor” companies – a big difference from ASH is that now I cooperate with “the industry”!)
So, so far so good: the only worry on the horizon is that our funding from the Department of Health runs out in March 1998, with a 50% cut from April 1997. As the administrator is planning to leave, we are seeking a fundraising-cum-publicity officer: next week I shall be shortlisting applicants.
Lindsay and I went on holiday together to Turkey in August. (I was back a week before going off to the ICS conference in Athens!) We went on an Exodus walking holiday – except that it turned out that there was not much walking and all of it optional: about half a dozen shortish walks in the course of a fortnight’s tour of Lycia (in the south-west) ending with a swing round north to take in Pamukkale and Aphrodisias and Ephesus. I had been to these – and to Aspendos – before, in 1972, and it was fascinating to see the change. The superb Roman theatre at Aspendos, almost entirely intact, was unchanged inside, but what in 1972 had been a track leading to it across the scrub had become a main road and a huge car and coach park. Aphrodisias and (less noticeably) Ephesus had been excavated far more: Aphrodisias in 1972 was still a few columns in the fields: now it is a major site, with museum and a high tourist quotient. Pamukkale was sad: the brash commercialisation of trashy tourist stalls and the huge number of tourists tramping over the delicate travertines (limestone pools spilling down the hillside like a magic castle, which is what the place’s name means) were a blot on what previously lived up to its name. The Roman theatre of Hierapolis nearby, a tumbledown, unexcavated ruin in 1972, is well on the way to being substantially reconstructed, and masons and men with cranes were at work while I was there.
Lycia itself was until 20-30 years ago almost inaccessible by land except on foot. It was inhabited in classical times by a separate people with their own (semi-Greek) language which is still not completely understood. They lived in fiercely independent cities but from time to time formed a league to fend off the Persians or Greeks. The Romans, of course, conquered – or rather in most cases absorbed – them. The ancient remains include in particular extraordinary rock and tower tombs: the first carved into cliff faces, the second atop high columns of solid rock. And their sarcophagi, scattered everywhere, were carved from massive single blocks of rock: one for the base and one for the “lid”. A high proportion of their GNP must have gone into carving them! At one city the necropolis was huge – a complete small valley – and was full of these tombs, carved with bas-reliefs and inscriptions, tumbling down the hillsides. Typically this city was at the top of a mountain: Alexander the Great is said to have decided it was not worth reducing the place and just marched on by! You paid the admission fee at the junction with the main road and then drove for 9 kilometres in a series of almost vertical hairpins, so it seemed, and then had to climb steeply to get to the city, with a well preserved theatre perched right at the top, with wonderful views of distant mountains to turn to from the back row of seats if the play was boring!
Lindsay got on well with the group: he was the youngest but mixed well both with those a few (significant) years older and with the real oldies who were my age or even a bit more! He had a few days of reaction to the food – two or three people had a very bad time of it – but mostly enjoyed himself very well. There was a lot of swimming in clear warm Mediterranean water, one day off a boat that took us to an island where the ruins of an earthquake-shattered Lycian village were still to be seen under the waves. I bought a Turkish rug, with some misgivings, but it fits in the lounge very well (and covers some of the very warn patches of the carpet!)
Lindsay came back to his GCSE results and in fact did well. He got a mixture of As Bs and Cs, with one A* – given the problems Pimlico school has been having (Westminster’s best but still an inner city comprehensive) that was very good. He is now in the sixth form there, doing English and Art (two favourite subjects) and an odd Religious Studies course comprising Buddhism and Philosophy. He seems to be enjoying himself, going out to parties or more often just visiting friends and occasionally invites a crowd to stay the night here: they all seem very acceptable young people. He continues to draw cartoons whenever he has a moment, but perhaps schoolwork is leaving fewer now. Lois has moved recently from Stoke Newington down to Crystal Palace (to be nearer her work) so the Sunday evening changeover entails a bigger journey than before. She has a very pleasant ex-council four bedroom house right next to Dulwich woods.
My father has continued to live in Somerset, managing very well by himself: he has become quite a good cook, after being famed for not knowing how to boil an egg. He had a trip to Canada in September to see old friends and thoroughly enjoyed himself. He has spent a number of weekends with me here and Lindsay and I have been down to Somerset too. He is at present about to go into hospital for a prostate operation: rather too close to Christmas for comfort and he is naturally worried about it, but it is a routine procedure and he should be OK. After Christmas he is planning to go to New Zealand to stay with friends and to visit my brother Malcolm and his family.
Other things quickly. I have continued as chairman of the Rationalist Press Association and in other roles in the Humanist movement, the various wings of which continue to grow closer to each other in a promising if not entirely smooth way.
I have been writing up the notes I made last year about the way the Government reacted to the research findings on smoking and health in the 1950s. The first section (covering the period from 1935 to the Government statement in 1954) is more or less complete, and I have sent a copy of the draft to Sir Richard Doll, who did the crucial research (and is still putting in a full working day as the world’s most eminent epidemiologist at the age of – I think – 85) and have incorporated his comments. The second part (up to 1964 – or 1966 if I go back to the PRO in the new year and check the newly opened files) has much more material and a lot more happening but is inherently less interesting: writing it is a more difficult job, but the main problem is finding time to get down to the work. I have continued to monitor the US situation (via the Advocacy Institute confidential bulletin board news service and Internet sources) for the solicitors taking the tobacco companies to court here, and I have done one consultancy assignment for a firm of US lawyers. Poor old ASH has meantime run into financial and management problems and has been running at a low ebb.
Back at Easter I had a very enjoyable weekend in the Hague (driving via the ill-fated channel tunnel) to see the Vermeer exhibition: a wonderful experience. I also visited Delft – the weather was bitterly cold but the sun shone and there was an excellent companion exhibition in William of Orange’s palace of work by Vermeer’s contemporaries. Otherwise I have not done much gallery visiting: two exhibitions stand out: the Grand Tour at the Tate, bringing the eighteenth century to life, and the late Degas exhibition at the National: lovely pastels. Nor have I been to the theatre as much as I should have liked, but I’ve seen some notable productions: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Almeida with Diana Rigg and David Suchet, Mother Courage at the National with Diana Rigg again (two award-winning performances by her), Peter Hall’s Oedipus plays at the National, Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Young Vic with an excellent performance by Penelope Wilton, Schiller’s Mary Stuart at the National with Isabelle Huppert and Anna Massey, Julius Caesar at the RSC, and the superb Stanley [Spencer] at the National with Antony Sher as the painter. Films have not been very notable this year, but I thought Ian McKellen’s Richard III (updated to the 1930s & based on the excellent Richard Eyre production at the National a few years ago) was a superb achievement.
Well, time presses, as I sit here distracted by Cream – I have only just nostalgically bought a CD of Wheels of Fire and had forgotten just how good they were! I must therefore close, with every good wish for 1997.

1995 ————– 1997