Well, it is Christmas time again, even for died-in-the-wool atheists like me – everyone is allowed their winter festival, even if we no longer believe it is a necessary part of bringing the sun back and reawakening the earth! But it is the occasion of reawakening memories of what has been an eventful year – I retired, Dad had a serious spell in hospital, and I got closely involved in a lot of policy and campaigning for the Humanists as well as having several short and one long holiday and continuing to go to the theatre and so on. I’m afraid my Chrsitmas round-robin has got longer – a symptom of having no time to write it shorter, as I am off to Paris with Lindsay for a few days on Monday and have a great deal to do before then.
As I told you, I left the Continence Foundation at the end of February after a month’s overlap with my successor. I had decided to retire because I had other things I wanted to do and because the past year had been so successful for the Foundation that things could only go downhill! The Government had issued its new policy guidelines, substantially influenced by us; we had issued a much praised source book of all the arguments, facts and figures that local continence services needed to argue for better funding and implementation of the new policy; we had published an informative and encouraging new video for people newly experiencing problems of continence, and I had completed a huge website (www.continence-foundation.org.uk) packed with all the information we could gather both for laypeople and professionals. In fact, there was still some work to be done on the website when I left and I continued working on it from home for some weeks until it was complete (save for one technical matter that has still not been resolved). I am now using my CF experience with the website package Dreamweaver to design my own website – not yet ‘up’ or even half-complete – on Humanist arguments against faith-based schools: more next year!
My final day at the Foundation came in the midst of a traumatic four weeks with Dad in hospital at St Thomas’s. He had been visiting me to go to see Noises Off at the National Theatre but as we (Lindsay was with us) were walking across the foyer to the auditorium he collapsed without warning and fell backwards, cracking his head hard on the brick floor. He was in intensive care, heavily sedated at first, for four days, very confused even after he got onto an ordinary ward, and very weak when he came out four weeks later. All the tests they had done had succeeded only in ruling out various possibilities and not in finding the cause of his blackout, one of a series he has had, though none so dramatic or sudden as this. He stayed briefly with me and then went to stay with my brother Geoff and his wife Lin for a couple of weeks before Lin and I took him back to Brompton Regis. All things considered he has made a very good recovery, but the experience has aged him and he has had to recognise that he is no longer able to take his annual trips to Canada and will be unable to go to visit Malcolm and Regan in New Zealand again. He gets a little confused sometimes, but is generally still on the ball and able to look after himself.
One by-product of spending a lot of time with him has been talk of old times and I have been able to make some notes about his early career (he seems to have nothing to say about boyhood but remembers in detail his first job on the Stock Exchange in the early 1930s). I have also looked out the diaries I kept from the age of nearly 9 (1951) and have reminded him of everyday things he had quite forgotten – work on the garden and house, social events and visits. This has been enjoyable, especially as it sometimes presents enigmas: who was it that I referred to at the age of 8 as Auntie Sylvia?
Family occasions have been mainly built round arrangements for Dad. For example, I visited Kenneth & Diana recently en route from Brompton with Dad for an overnight stay during a mid-term return home by their elder daughter Tavy, who is just starting at St Andrew’s University (and, yes, her course includes the history of art and, yes, she has got to know Prince William and he is just an ordinary chap). Ken is still doing TV coverage of motor sport, mainly for C4, through his own company. Malcolm, in NZ, is selling his (very attractive) house in Auckland as a step towards retirement to his (equally attractive) house on the Coromandel peninsula, though he and Regan will have to get a flat in Auckland for the time being. Geoff and Lin continue to do well: Lin has got her MA in English (with a heavy emphasis on Anglo-Saxon literature and culture) and is looking for an interesting job, meanwhile filling in with by working in Geoff’s insurance broking office. One other family occasion marked another break with the past when a second cousin (= first cousin of a parent, in this case of my mother) died at the age of 94. I went to Aunt Mabel’s funeral in September and met people I had not seen since my childhood.
Lindsay is now in the final year of his film and video course at the London College of Printing (part of the London Institute, along with St Martin’s and Chelsea schools of art etc). His script was chosen as one of twelve 10-minute films to be made as final year projects, so he is now in the thralls of directing it with a team of fellow students as producer, editor, cinematographer, etc. This is taking far more time than he ever thought possible, what with auditions, location finding and so on – and of course endless discussions with his colleagues as he tries to put across his vision of what the end-product will be! It is all leaving too little time for his dissertation, but he promises to catch up on that over Christmas! He has also been making ‘projections’ for disco clubs and short films of his own. Where this all leads when he has completed his course is entirely unclear!
Lois is back in Australia, but not yet free of the difficulties that have beset her over recent years. She has almost completed her psychotherapy qualification with Metanoia and is invited to talk as an expert on death and grieving at conferences around the world, but her qualifications are from the UK and the problem she had in Mallorca a couple of years ago has resurfaced in Australia: she cannot get a mainstream job requiring social work qualifications. Her return there was partly to be back near her family and partly because housing would be cheaper there than in London, but her journey there (via Paris and Taiwan to address a conference) was traumatic. Luckily she was travelling with an Australian friend as she collapsed in Paris with (I think) low blood pressure and had to go to hospital, delaying her travel, skipping Taiwan, but being ill again in Singapore and again in hospital in Sydney. She is much better now and is staying with her friend in Sydney but still looking for employment.
Since retiring I have been very fully occupied with work mainly for the Humanists, though as I told you I also did a project for ASH, producing a Powerpoint presentation on smoking and health designed for use with trainee doctors. I continue to be a member of the Executive Committee of the British Humanist Association and a member of the board of the Rationalist Press Association. This year the two (largely at my instigation) have been collaborating much more closely. The RPA relaunched its quarterly New Humanist which is now sent also to all BHA members and is much improved – in part because we have recruited a very able, young and dynamic assistant editor, Shirley Dent. In the BHA I have taken on the main responsibility for political work – liaison with Parliament and the Parliamentary Humanist Group (little more than a mailing list in reality, though a growing one) and policy submissions to Government. I created and maintain a detailed database of MPs and Lords, with quotations, relevant votes and signatures to early day motions, etc – all Parliamentary papers are now on the Internet, which makes this easier than it would have been.
In particular, I went to a Justice seminar in the summer on ways of implementing the EU directive outlawing religious discrimination in employment and subsequently wrote a detailed submission that we sent to the Home Office, DTI and Lord Chancellor’s Department. We went last month to see the first two, who had been represented at the seminar and had issued us with open invitations to visit them. Both meetings were useful, and the Home Office made the point strongly that they liked our paper for being reasoned and reasonable, unlike most submissions they receive!
With our full-time Education Officer and Media Officer I have also been very deeply engaged in the campaign opposing the Government’s plans for a big extension of faith-based schooling. This was announced by David Blunkett in the Education Green Paper early in the year and confirmed (though a little half-heartedly) by Estelle Morris in the White Paper this autumn. The Government had clearly committed itself in advance to the Church of England, which was already proposing to create 100 new C of E secondary schools and an unknown number of primaries – for ‘create’, of course, read ‘take over from the state sector’, as the number of actual new schools would be tiny. Blunkett’s motives (apart from his own religious commitment) were that church schools get better academic results (but provenly only as a result of a highly selective intake, biassed towards middle class parents ambitious for their kids) and that it was impossible to maintain the Christian near monopoly of faith-based schools in the face of demands for equal treatment by Muslims, Sikhs and others. The bias against these latter is extreme, but yielding to it risks serious social divisions which will too often be racial divisions as well.
The policy has proved very unpopular – an Observer poll found 80% against, 11% for, worse than for the poll tax! – and opposition has come from leaders of the minority faiths as well as from local government, the CRE and educationists. In the BHA we have worked hard to collate all the relevant facts, figures, arguments and quotes, to provide them to politicians, journalists and anyone else who is interested, to monitor the press and write endless letters to the editor (a few of which have been published) and so on. I also prepared a detailed paper for the Department for Education and Skills and we had a constructive meeting this week with Stephen Timms: no sign of movement on their part, naturally, but a thoughtful reception and Graham Allen has agreed to send Timms a follow-up letter that I have drafted. We are proposing that faith schools would be unnecessary and could be phased out if the mainstream ‘community’ schools on the one hand did not by law have daily acts of ‘mainly Christian’ worship but instead non-religious but morally uplifting assemblies (as many, if unlawfully, already do) and religious education that was impartial, fair and balanced across the whole spectrum of ‘life stances’ – including non-religious ones like Humanism – but on the other hand went out of their way to ‘accommodate’ (a word from legislation on non-discrimination) religious families by offering on an opt-in basis additional faith-based worship and religious instruction, providing for religious diets at school lunches, observing (by days off or otherwise) the main religious holy days etc etc. That way we could have fully integrated school communities sensitive to the wishes of the religious but with everyone learning about and from each other.
Three weeks ago I had four days in Madrid on behalf of the BHA at a UN consultative conference on reducing religious intolerance by school education. This was mainly for national governmental representatives, but there were numerous hangers on – I found when I got there I was classed as an ‘expert’! Apart from endless short addresses in the plenary session (I spoke about our schools policy, as above, and had a number of enquiries and commendations from other delegates) there was also a drafting meeting to produce a final statement that will have some authority internationally, without being binding. It was a new experience to see the various government representatives pushing and pulling the text to suit their own national circumstances – and to take part myself! I added one or two words and rescued a whole clause that was about to be dropped after they had mangled it by ill-considered amendments.
Otherwise on the Humanist front this year I have been involved in giving a lecture on ‘Religion in the Open Society’ (what are the limits on religious freedom, post September 11 etc?), recruiting a new Executive Director for the BHA after Robert Ashby moved on in the summer, taking part in a BHA Executive weekend of strategic discussions, attending an excellent RPA weekend conference (‘Mind and Other Matter’) at Writtle Agricultural College in Essex (pleasant venue – and the place where experimental broadcasts in the early 1920s came from: ‘Writtle testing, Writtle testing’), and a stimulating one-day conference run by the BHA’s Humanist Philosophers’ Group (‘Is Nothing Sacred?’)
So as to fill a little of the endless time that lies heavy on my hands now I have retired, I have also started doing a half-day a week of voluntary work at the Museum of London in their Prints and Drawings department, where I am helping to catalogue their holdings. They already have an incomplete card index but their computer catalogue has only skeletal information for most of their items, so I am going through boxes of old prints recording media, titles, dimensions, dates, artists, engravers, publishers, and adding a brief description. The current box is of satirical prints of the late eighteenth century e.g., George III pointing to his plate and asking a fellow diner ‘Is this your louse?’ – apparently based on a real occurrence. This is an enjoyable afternoon each week.
Lindsay and I had a few days in Bologna at the end of March – still a bit chilly there but an extraordinary survival of a town, with its eminently civilised colonnades to protect you from the burning sun or (in our case) occasional wintry rain. Like San Gimignano it still has several of its mediaeval towers – apparently defensive rather than merely for show – but amazingly they demolished several in the interest of street widening as recently as 1920, in fulfilment of a plan published over 20 years earlier! We had some good meals – with the occasional problem over Linds’s vegetarian diet when he compromised on fish soup only to find that ‘zuppeta’ of crayfish was not soup but a plate of whole crayfish waiting to be dismembered!
I had a few days in June in Honfleur with my friends Dick & Sheila Clark. We went over by car, through the channel tunnel. What a wonderfully preserved place! It is a small fishing port with hundreds of half-timbered mediaeval houses. There seems to have been no redevelopment for centuries – maybe the place was economically very depressed most of the time – but now it is very popular as a holiday resort, especially with the English. There is an inner harbour basin, full of yachts and surrounded by tall old houses (many now restaurants), and a very unusual church: it was constructed entirely of wood, using boat-building techniques, because stone was reserved for rebuilding the fortifications, when the English were driven out of France (which I guess would have been in the second half of the 15th century). The belfry is separate from the church, which has two wide naves and is roofed with wooden tiles. Honfleur is just across the Seine estuary from Harfleur, where Shakespeare’s Henry V cried ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends’ – but that is now an industrial suburb of le Havre with nothing worth going to see, let alone any relics of the time of Agincourt.
The sun shone, and we ate very good meals, and went to Monet’s gardens at Giverney (among other places). The main garden, with a dozen or more parallel flower beds running perpendicularly to the house separated by gravel paths, was a riot of colour, plants all growing into each other, but with many fine rose trees and trellises covered with climbers. Across the road (in Monet’s day there was a light railway as well) are his famous water lily ponds, filled by the little river Epte and bridged with his Japanese bridges. The lilies were in full bloom and there was a gardener in a punt pulling out excess weed – you did not need much imagination to see it exactly as he painted it! (It was while I was standing looking at the lily pond that my mobile phone went: it was the Letters page of The Times wanting me to agree some small cuts to a letter that I had sent them on the question of faith-based schools!) On the way home we visited the ruined abbey at Jumièges and ate a delectable meal on the terrace of the Restaurant du Bac overlooking a little ferry across the Seine, very rural and with chalk cliffs the other side – highly recommended.
In August I spent a week with Dad in Cornwall. We stayed at Port Isaac, a small village on the north coast between two rocky promontories, with very steep lanes leading down to the old houses, lifeboat station, slipway and (at low tide) beach, pub and restaurants that nestle at the end of the inlet. We stayed at a hotel on the promontory, where there is some modern development. My brother Ken and family – wife Diana, daughters Tavy and Lucy – were about 10 miles away at Rock, on the wide and sandy Camel estuary, staying in a bungalow reached only across a golf links, a stone’s throw from the ancient churchyard where John Betjeman is buried. We met up with them several times, including a dinner for Dad’s 88th birthday. Diana’s parents were staying nearby, and we had a dinner at an excellent nearby pub restaurant on another evening.
We went to see the Eden Project – Dad’s wish to visit it was the origin of the whole trip. It is an overwhelmingly successful Millennium project to promote ecological awareness and was created by the man who renovated the ‘Lost Gardens of Heligan’ a few miles away. He has taken one of the huge clay pits abandoned by the china clay industry – a real moonscape – and has built in it, clinging to one side and entirely below the original land level, two huge conservatories, based on interlinking geodesic domes looking like joined soap bubbles and linked by a more conventional building. The rest of the pit is planted out with temperate plants, with zigzag paths leading down from the rim, one of the conservatories has a Mediterranean climate, the other a tropical climate, and they are all devoted to displaying useful plants – for food, fabric, medicine etc. They have also commissioned works of art to illustrate or complement their themes – sculptures and mosaics etc. The planting is still very new – the mangroves swamp is a cluster of little sticks in the mud, the pineapples are only 2 foot high – but many of the plants were mature when planted, and there are informative labels for many of them (more to come).
The place is hugely popular – we got there early, and when we left there was a queue 3 miles long to get in, completely blocking the public road! Dad went round in one of the complimentary wheelchairs offered for visitors – he would have been thoroughly exhausted just walking down the long path to the conservatory – but much enjoyed it. We also went to a couple of National Trust houses and to St Ives for the Tate Gallery there – but all the permanent collection had been put in store to accommodate a few installations by the (in my view much overrated) Anthony Gormley.
The other attraction of Port Isaac for Dad is that an old friend from his youth lives there. When he first knew Mum, he wanted her to join him and his friends in their regular weekend camping on Hosey Common, but her father would not allow it unless she was accompanied (as chaperone) by her schoolfriend Eileen Cobley – known as Cobbs. The very first weekend, Cobbs struck up with one of Dad’s friends Haley Morris and they went home together in his car! Haley died a few years ago, but Cobbs still lives in Port Isaac and is very active. She had a few photos of their camping, which I re-photographed (as slides) and have scanned and printed for Dad.
My main holiday this year was in Canada. I went for the wedding of Henry Laycock, my old friend from Oxford (40 years ago!), but stayed first with family friends Peter and Helena in Toronto, arriving just in time for their Thanksgiving dinner and being royally entertained and meeting a lot of people I’d known by name through my parents’ correspondence and visits over the years. We went to see Henry V at the other Stratford (and in November Helena and a friend came to London for a theatre week here: Dad came to stay with me and we saw them twice).
I had hired a car from the start of my trip and drove over to Kingston where Henry lives, at the other end of Lake Ontario. He is a professor of philosophy, and I went to two of his lectures on Aristotle’s Categories, a graduate class on the metaphysics of mass nouns, and a philosophy department colloquium on problems of perception. This was stuff to stimulate the grey cells! The wedding was in Montreal, the family home of his wife, who (oddly perhaps for a philosopher) is a businesswoman with an agency selling flooring materials from granite to carpet! Her name is France (strange habit the French have, like calling your child ‘Great Britain’ or ‘Netherlands’!) and I got on well with her. We stayed at a pleasant hotel in the Quartier Latin and they had a party the night before in a bar/restaurant round the corner from the hotel, and lots of France’s relatives came as well as many of Henry’s friends from Kingston and elsewhere – I talked mainly with them as I find it difficult (impossible might be a better word!) to understand French as spoken by the Quebecois. The wedding was in a (low) church, as a gesture to France’s (very religious) family, though Henry is as atheist as I am. Unfortunately, given that half the service was in French, the minister could not speak it! She stumbled along and got France thoroughly confused when she was meant to be repeating her vows! Afterwards, after a drive across Montreal in torrential rain, we had a very fine meal at a very fancy restaurant on the Ile St Helene.
Next day, after a look round Montreal and a very good lunch down near the old port, I left them and drove to Quebec City, staying overnight very close to the extraordinary Chateau Frontenac hotel (a railway hotel in the shape of a 20-storey Loire chateau!), and walking round the old town both that evening and the next morning: it was certainly some feat for Wolfe to climb up that cliff to the Heights of Abraham. Then I drove down to Boston to fly home, visiting their excellent Museum of Fine Arts (superb American paintings and good European collection).
I have managed to read fewer books this year than I thought I might after retiring! Still, there are 27 I have made notes about, of which I found particularly fascinating The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong, which I was reading at the time of the WTC tragedy. It is about the origins and history of fundamentalism (an essentially 20th century phenomenon) in the three religions of the book. She claims it is a reaction to the threat of secularisation, often enforced (Ataturk, the first Pahlavi shah, Sadat) and that it fails when its leaders try to take on secular power: fundamentalists treat the mythos of religious stories as if it were the same sort of discourse as the rational speech of everyday logos. Hence their extremism and dangerousness.
Another good read was John Julius Norwich’s Shakespeare’s Kings – though Wars of the Roses remain complex even when so well explained! Interestingly, Shakespeare (or his sources) were largely accurate, though he compressed the chronology and merged or confused some characters. Then there was Wittgenstein’s Poker by David Edmonds and John Eidinow: a fascinating study of the biographies and philosophical development of Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein, leading to their one, fiery meeting (at the Moral Sciences Club at Cambridge on 25 October 1946) at which allegedly Wittgenstein threatened Popper with a poker, though accounts vary between the many eye-witnesses the authors consulted. Though their backgrounds were similar – pre-Anschluss Austria, assimilated Jews, refugees – their philosophies were very different: Wittgenstein (both early and late) convinced there were no philosophical problems, only linguistic puzzles, Popper having just published The Open Society and its Enemies (which I have also been reading) and fully engaged in real world as well as real philosophical problems. Both personalities were combative, Wittgenstein used to deference, Popper out to confront and overcome the older man. (He had already – in his own view – been primarily responsible for the eclipse of logical positivism and the Vienna Circle of Moritz Schlick, with which Wittgenstein had been loosely associated, by showing that verifiability – their test of being meaningful – was an impractical test: he invented falsifiability as a the test of being scientific and with Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend was responsible for the major development of the philosophy of science that replaced the vagueness of induction.)
Then there were Roy Strong’s Diaries, which concentrated on his social life amid the cultured elite, including many from the court and aristocracy during his time as director of the National Portrait Gallery and then the V&A. He describes vividly the vicious infighting in the museum world and describes his gradual disillusionment as his job became more and more one of money raising and politics, with scholarship almost written out of the job description for his successors. He pays great attention to the flamboyant clothes everyone wore in the earlier years and gives notable pen portraits of people like Cecil Beaton, St John Stevas (conceited and ineffectual), Lord Carrington (just ineffectual), Princess Margaret (a lively but untrained mind), the Queen (never willingly going to the opera but always doing well what she had to), and the Queen Mother (in his portrayal an exceptional, warm, cultured, sympathetic person with a genuine interest in people and the arts). He went on the write books on gardens and garden history.
I also read Sir John Barrow’s 1838 account of the mutiny on the Bounty: he took advantage of his position as Second Secretary to the Admiralty to use the official files. It reads fascinatingly, is written from a humane standpoint, and is notably unsympathetic to the missionaries who put an end to the happy innocence of life in Tahiti (Otaheite) – and to that of the descendants of the last mutineers on Pitcairn Island. And Eric Newby’s The Last Grain Race in which he wrote up 18 years later his 1938 experience as a ship’s boy sailing on the four-masted sailing barque Moshulu from Belfast to Port Victoria in Australia and back in what turned out to be the last annual ‘grain race’. The life on board was hard, dangerous, primitive – and confusing, for the reader at least, as the ship’s language was Swedish (though the crew were mainly Finnish) and Newby does not bother to translate the commands and conversation he records, and of course the technical description of the halyards, sheets, buntlines, clewlines and so on is mainly incomprehensible. But his unrepeatable experience comes across vividly, as does the description of the immense storms in the Roaring Forties – Newby was sucked from the rigging by a huge wave and ended in the scuppers, lucky to be alive, let alone uninjured.
Deborah Cadbury’s The Dinosaur Hunters throws light on the early development of heretical ideas about the age and early history of the earth during the nineteenth century, from Mary Anning at Lyme Regis to the unpleasant but brilliant Richard Owen (and his instant collapse after Darwin’s Origin was published – though he lived on to 1892 & was first director of his Natural History Museum in Kensington). The discovery for me was Gideon Mantell, the cobbler’s son in Lewes who became the highly successful local doctor but could never get funding to finance his inspired work on fossils (he identified and named the iguanodon as the first known terrestrial plant eater), which he pursued at the cost of his marriage to previously enthusiastic Mary (who was driven from her home by encroaching fossils) and who was ultimately crushed – figuratively by Owen’s unscrupulous tactics and literally in a cab accident that left him crippled and in excruciating pain for his last many years. His distorted skeleton ended up as a curiosity and in Owen’s collection.
On a different tack altogether was Mike Parker’s Thatcherism and the Fall of Coal. Mike was a friend and colleague at British Coal and he gives a lucid and very readable account of the coal industry’s decline from 1979 to 2000, showing clearly that it was the result mainly of the collapse of the international price for oil and gas, and that the Tory government happily went along with the result while financing the cost of keeping the rate of decline within politically acceptable bounds. They failed only (and temporarily) in 1992 when the privatised electricity industry had to be induced to sign five-year contracts to avoid mass closures of mines. The final pages look at the inevitability of a similar decline even under a pro-coal Labour government.
I much enjoyed the biography (The Quarrel of the Age) of William Hazlitt by A C Grayling (the Humanist Guardian Last Word columnist). His father was a free church minister, and after a failed emigration to USA, he sent his son to a Hackney church college where he lost his faith. The quarrel was with his former friends Coleridge and Wordsworth as they turned against the French revolution, which all three had originally supported, and became conventional establishment figures. Hazlitt never lost his radicalism throughout his up-and-down career as aspiring artist, Parliamentary reporter, theatre reviewer, essayist. and public lecturer. A man of principle but unguarded and in his writing, he fell out with friends, had two failed marriages and in between a disastrous infatuation with his lodging house keeper’s daughter – which he wrote about in detail and in a completely self-abasing account (the scandalous Libor Amoris) which of course was used to inflame the politically based assault on him and in the Tory periodicals, notably Blackwoods.
I cannot go in detail through everything! Michio Kaku’s Hyperspace – A Scientific Odyssey through the 10th Dimension was a very approachable explanation of development of 4th & additional dimensions, from c19th ideas up to present: relativity, quantum theory and superstrings – where it seems the mathematics all works fine but they cannot understand what it can possibly mean ‘in real life’. Nicholas de Jongh’s Politics, Prudery and Perversion was a useful history of stage censorship up to its abolition in 1968; P D James’ A Time to Be Earnest and Felicity Kendal’s White Cargo were absorbing autobiographies; Judith Cook’s biography of Simon Forman – a notorious astrologer/physician at the turn of the 16th & 17th centuries – gave a real feel to life at the time; Charles Greville’s Diaries and the Papers of Thomas Creevey gave first hand accounts of life and politics in the first half of the nineteenth century; John le Carré’s The Constant Gardener and David Lodge’s Thinks were excellent light reads, as were a couple of Trollopes (The Bertrams and Castle Richmond) and (rather late and in the day!) Isherwood’s Mr Norris Changes Trains. And there were a lot more!
I have been less to the theatre this year, I think, but it still adds up to quite a few evenings! There were Singing in the Rain and My Fair Lady at the National with Dad; the RSC’s cycle of Shakespeare’s history plays (I missed out on Richard II but saw the rest: Henry IV x2, Henry V, Henry VI x3 and Richard III); John Barton’s extraordinary Tantalus at the Barbican: a full-day cycle of nine linked short plays based on the lesser-known Greek myths of the Trojan war; Patrick Marber’s new play Howard Katz, Nicholas Hytner’s fine Winter’s Tale and Trevor Nunn’s Relapse (with Alex Jennings wonderful in the lead in contrasting parts in both); two rather slight short plays by Edward Albee – all these at the NT; Sam Shepard’s bleak A Lie of the Mind at the Donmar; the hilarious political satire Dr Feelgood and in the West End; a Cymbeline at the Globe with a small company playing multiple parts and in plain white robes – so successful that the audience put up with the (admittedly gentle) rain and in the second half; Platonov, a wonderful early Chekhov adapted by David Hare and put on and in the vast space of the Almeida’s temporary home at King’s Cross; two visits to a superlative production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons and Humble Boy, an excellent play by a new writer, Charlotte Jones, with the admirable Simon Russell Beale in the lead along with Diana Rigg and Denis Quilley, both at the NT; a mini-season of Pinter revivals – an excellent The Caretaker and a superb performance by Ian Holm in the disturbing The Homecoming (both and in the West End) and equally good performances in his enigmatic No Man’s Land by Corin Redgrave and John Wood at the NT just last week. And several more besides: Frayn’s Noises Off; the Australian all-day Cloudstreet; Mark Ravenhill’s funny, outrageous Mother Clap’s Molly House; and a Playboy of the Western World at the NT that (I fear) confirmed my limited taste for Irish drama.
Which leave no space for cinema – but I do not instantly recall anything especially good, so no matter – if I am not to pass over altogether some very good exhibitions: in particular the Courtauld’s Art on the Line recreation of the Royal Academy’s summer exhibitions in the time of George III and IV; the Hermitage French drawings at Somerset House, the extraordinary Botticelli illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Vermeer and contemporaries exhibition at the National (not, of course, to be compared with the Mauritzhuis exhibition a few years ago), the great entertainment of the James Gillray exhibition at the Tate Britain, and there also and at the same time the great pleasure of discovering a very fine c20th English painter, Michael Andrews, previously unknown to me except for his painting of himself swimming with his young daughter, which is in the permanent collection there.

2000 ———- 2002