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Secret Ballet: Part 2

Version: June 03, 2004

Go to Part 1 of Secret Ballet

As a child

I was born and bred in Edinburgh. I don't come from the right background or the right school. My grandparents on my father's side were both Polish. My father was a butcher by trade. I have a vivid recollection of the house where I lived as a child. The butcher's shop stank in hot weather. I have two brothers and one sister. My parents were slightly disapproving of the bohemian life that Ellen led. She had killed a man who was molesting her; I heard about it secondhand. I had no nice sisterly feelings at all.

Grandfather was in the trenches during the first war. Insanity clouded the last years of his life. He had seen plenty of service in the armoured cavalry. These people are cannon fodder in rivalries with bordering states. The winters must have been brutal. The bottom of the trench was muddy and very slippery. In order to prevent the sides caving in it is usually lined with bricks. The men huddled down in the trench worked their lips to ease the dryness. Officials at the top make the decisions; men at the bottom carry them out. The idea has never been challenged: there was a spirit of comradeship, the close comradeship of war. He did his duty like a true Brit; he scrambled up the mined headlands where he breached the enemy barbed wire. A few men, nerveless and cool, slept soundly. The boots issued to them had all fallen to bits by the end of the year. There was a sudden cannonade of artillery. This would buy a further breathing space before the German problem once more needed attention. The colonel introduced the general and the briefing began. Experience is fine when it's combined with the right personality. The generals were singularly brainless men; these were men to whom the death or mutilation of wholly innocent men and women was of no consequence. The colonel commanded a brigade of the 4th Infantry Division. Quite ordinary men have faced certainty of death in battle; they were dropping like flies.

We had a cook and a gardener. As a child, I loved to chase the chickens barefoot round the yard—a desire to kill. They ran round in little circles. My brother used to go purple in the face at the very mention of my name. He did not believe that a civilized country would kill chickens unless they needed to. The mention of his sister made him angry. I got a terrific walloping from our father.

In the middle of the lawn was great cedar tree. Another tree of the same species, equally enormous, grew a stone's throw further on. I used to disappear for hours up high trees. My feet became blackened, tough, split and calloused. When you are young, you dream about all sorts of things. I disliked change of any kind; I closeted myself in my study and read alone for hours. I used to lie awake at night watching the rain. A clap of thunder shook the house. We would shudder and burrow deeper into the blankets.

My mother was no beauty. She was a harsh mother and imposed severe discipline. Her childhood was so awful it's a wonder she was not brutalized by it. I always thought of my parents as being rigid, distant and unloving. We were brought up to have strict habits of cleanliness. Dad didn't care tuppence what I looked like.

Mam had beaten the fear of God into me. Even if you said ‘Dash’, you got caned. I had a stack of Scrooge comic books, which were collector's items by now. She saw me reading a comic. ‘You're always reading. No good will come of it, you'll see!’

My mother bundled up all my comics and threw them out.

I happen to have the benefit of a privileged education. When I was fifteen I went to my first school. The choice of school reflected Dad's hopes for us. The public schools in England are the breeding ground of snobbery. They made you feel that you were a worthless human being. The usual last minute injunctions were given me by my mother. ‘It is taken for granted that every child should learn mathematics. Don't bring shame on the family...’

She continued to scream and berate me if I did something wrong. I didn't know anything, so I had to catch up. Mathematics was a closed book to me all through school—problems about half-full baths emptying at such and such a rate.

After those blissful two years, I began to hate school. I lay in bed in the dormitory crying under the sheet. I was used to being bawled out at school for not doing homework. Many of us have had a school career punctuated with exams and tests. We all used to cheat in exams. I particularly loathed team games at school. For the first month or two at my new school I was bullied constantly. I got the cane for smoking. Conrad was standing watchfully by the door. I could feel my lips compress into a white line. Not even my closest friends had any idea that something was wrong. They were the brightest girls in the school. Friendships blossomed, fluctuated, and died. I had lots of boyfriends. In those days, dancing was considered ‘depraved’. In certain circumstances, our parents would relent and permit us to meet. My father was now thoroughly disillusioned with me.

We must leave adolescence behind and grow up. Your life begins to take off when you break free of the family chains. My parents wouldn't let me go out with boys. I can't wait to get out of Birmingham. We hitched a ride with some young kids in a Volkswagen. It was a cold, cheerless, grey sort of morning.

The camp had a beautiful view of the mountains. A woman kept watch at the gate. They change watches at eleven. It wasn't the most salubrious of camp-sites. Privacy was an unknown luxury. In a shady corner there was an earth closet.

The smoky fires cast dancing shadows over the wide circle of faces. There was a high proportion of sadists and bullies among the camp guards. The boys couldn't help admiring their bulging muscles. We traded stories about objects falling on people's heads. The boy scout leader from Bristol who became a cause célèbre of the Left... He told me I was holding my bow too tightly.

He was big enough to be a link with the adult world; he was a violent bully, destructive and full of hate. Father called him Buster Billy.

I don't have anything to do. We get canned every Saturday night. In early youth we wear our nihilism with a certain bravado. My dear father broke out of his normal reticence and asked me to tell him frankly what I wished to do. ‘Are you going to bum about all summer? I don't know why I speak to my daughter. I might as well save my breath.’

I slunk away to my room, to brood in front of the mirror.

I just bummed around northern Europe for a few months. New opportunities present themselves when you break free from the family chains. I wrote cheery letters home, telling everyone how I was progressing.

I've always been fond of the theatre because my family was so closely connected with it. We all yearn to be cosseted. Everybody liked me, everybody petted me. Many of the old actors used a script merely as a basis for improvization.

My first visit to a theatre awakened an interest in me which never left me. I was apt to fidget a good deal during a long performance. I got to like the whole idea of the stage. Such dreams are the basis on which you later structure your life—a decision made early in life under duress.

I had a childhood fancy that I would one day be famous. I was acting in a play called The Return of the Prodigal, a beautifully balanced play. We had a splendid cast: Flora Robson and James Mason were in the company. The cheap theatre, a world of high camp and low life... The cast makes its own costumes. The first reading of the play went pretty badly; acting is not in the English character. It is difficult to transport someone else's experience, lock, stock and barrel onto the stage. Once the play has reached dress-rehearsal unlooked-for problems suddenly emerge.

The theatre was full, crowded even beyond its two thousand seat capacity. Someone was pacing back and forth behind the curtains. The foyer was buzzing with speculation before the curtain went up. Jean Franval plays the title role of the highwayman. He was rigged out in a policeman's uniform: He wore a celluloid collar and lace-up boots; the helmet was made of beaten gold. Jean was big, beefy and aggressive. He acted brilliantly in a wide range of parts. He enjoyed general theatrical and public approval. He is not averse to a little fun during rehearsals.

Brutus is certainly the most difficult part in the play. He began melodramatically beating his head with his fist. His performance brought more jeers than cheers.

A big fish in a little pond, Gwen Taylor played the part of Christine. Both the play and the role were tailor-made for her. Her mother was a celebrated actress; she has acted with great artists like Edith Evans and Peggy Ashcroft. I would love a photograph of Edith Evans. She cast her spell on the whole audience. She was a very hot box office attraction indeed: she appeared in the musical ‘Oklahoma’. It certainly struck a responsive chord because it's been voted Musical of the Year. Her genius is there on celluloid for future generations to see. Off-stage she is direct, honest, forceful. Her very last public appearance was at the Old Vic.

The actors could hardly be heard above the chatter of the audience. My own part was fascinating, if somewhat alarming. The audience hissed me with great gusto. There was no cohesion in our performance. By now most of the audience was booing. The director was going to give them hell the moment the curtain came down. This kind of experience can be quite unnerving.

The theatre was the breath of life to Gwen. No matter by what means, no matter what the cost to herself, she is determined to succeed. She left the shop in which she had been working and became a professional actress. She began her professional career in the chorus line of Oklahoma. She couldn't act at all; she would never be an outstanding actress. Nonetheless she was a very hot box office attraction. She took the attitude that acting was a sort of recreation. The girl was known for being irritable and argumentative. Many actresses spend more time on the dole than on the boards. She decided to employ her boundless energies by returning to the stage. She capped her performance by telling the funniest joke I have ever heard. She was booed off the stage. Jean went berserk and, screaming horrifically, trampled his way through the audience.

My school theatrical performances stood me in good stead in later years. To this day, my hackles rise when I hear actors talking about ‘getting laughs’. A theatre audience can claim some credit for the success of a play. Everyone had been most complimentary about the costumes. I became more than ever convinced that the theatre was for me.

When my parents divorced, I went to live with my uncle. It was a life which, in spite of my Aunt's and Uncle's warmth and affection, made me unhappy. My uncle was unfailingly kind to me, but I was a sore trial to him. The mere utterance of the word ‘Rogers’ seemed to frighten my aunt. Uncle Philip was rather jolly with a big belly and pipe. ‘You little charmer,’ he crooned, ‘Hollywood should see you.’

Philip Herschel catered to the public taste for sentimental plays. He joined the company as a choreographer in 1975. He was a member of the golf club and we used to caddy for him. In the public mind, the clubs are faintly absurd. I'm not keen on the club, I find it a bit cliquey. His scholarship and formal musicianship were not all they might have been. The impresario wanted very badly to get a certain singer from Vienna: a certain Monsieur Bronchevil, a French national.

Herschel's plans blew up in his face. Public opinion turned against Herschel. Philip thought he had found the perfect excuse for throwing up his job and returning to England.

Herschel came back to England to try his luck at a musical career. He became artistic director of the Sadlers Wells ballet in 1978. This required a special skill and a whole new breed of actors. The company can boast an array of gifted directors. I doubt whether he had any real understanding of Shakespeare. You have to know Shakespeare pretty well to catch all those innuendoes: the scene in ‘King Lear’ when Goneril is cursed by Lear... Olivier's was, to my mind, the definitive Macbeth. A dramatist would give his right arm to have Lawrence Olivier act in one of his plays. Caliban was always a difficult part to cast in The Tempest.

He was not used to English actors. ‘I expect the actors to sift the wheat from the chaff and to know when I suggest good ideas.’ That sounds a cockeyed way of going about things. He believes he gets more insight into a character if he comes to it cold without reading up the background of the play.

In spite of this rather clownish quality of his, Herschel was not a fool. He writes all his own scripts and even makes sketches for the costumes and set. This is the first time he has choreographed a full-length ballet.

Poverty may catch up with the apparently most secure—there is no magic formula. Philip discovered to his great chagrin that he was broke. He lived off contributions from some benevolent society for theatre people.

Uncle Philip once took me out boating. His lips were all chapped and rough. He said I had a good complexion. ‘When I was first ordained, I served as a hospital chaplain. It wasn't my choice to remain celibate.’ The drift of the current took us downstream.

I got scratched by a rose bush. ‘You haven't cut yourself badly, its just a scratch.’ He cauterized the wound and the bleeding stopped. He could take off his dog-collar and be taken by some unsuspecting stranger for the gardener.

St George's Chapel is dedicated to the dead of 1914-18. The chapel was just an ordinary, crumbling box, but inside was the most magnificent marble altar. The capitals of the lower arches are severe and clean-cut. The chapel was called, to avoid offence, the Contemplation Centre. A picture of the Queen seated on a rich throne...underneath the picture was a caption that said: ‘The greatest power on this earth.’

There were no services that day, and the church was empty. Inside, there is a high rostrum for preaching. It is a beautiful and remarkably coherent church. In the dimness of the church, my uncle showed me his bound volumes of Bruce Feather's cartoons. He is like a modern Luther. Theological debate excites him. ‘Christianity came into being in a hostile environment. It seemed an idealistic and illusory dream. The world is neither good nor malevolent.’

The little scullery was lit by one wavering candle. His eyes were shining in the candlelight. He was very discreet and took care never to offend the visitors. ‘It mustn't be forgotten that we all make mistakes. The religious doctrines which have come down to us are not always relevant to the present day. So I think it's a tension between knowing yourself and knowing God. My prayers had real meaning for me at a very early age. I had a very underdeveloped appreciation of music and the theatre as a child.’

Uncle Philip burst into song. He sang arias from Bach cantatas. The first dimension to concentrate on is the spatial one. Each person is alone, temporarily, with his own thoughts. His voice was as melodious as a great actor's.

An hour before the service was due to begin there were queues outside the Abbey. The parish has welcomed the new vicar with open arms; the street was decorated with red, white and blue bunting. The bell was to summon communicants. Mrs Travers and Mrs Patel followed, both clothed in green. Canon Herschel was evidently a powerful speaker, a believer in God and a follower of Christ.

Arrayed in his robes, Philip climbed into the pulpit. He was wearing a black cassock and a dog collar. The boys stirred uneasily, as though something indecent had happened. ‘Sit down and keep calm.—Charity is the greatest of Christian virtues. In a consumer society no effort is made to cater for the needs of the elderly. Are we not better fed, better clothed, and better housed than ever before? You have sinned against the Lord. Christ is inviting sinners to repentance.’

A believer in God and a follower of Christ, he's a deacon of the Methodist Church. A number of authoritative voices in his own Church disagreed with him. Is he a Christian? He had preached about the need for true Christians to fight all forms of injustice. ‘The Christian church taught obedience to the established order. The common people in those days suffered a lot. Should the Church now relax her teaching on contraception? In this matter, believer and unbeliever part company. There are clinics where women can be fitted with contraceptives; abortions are offered to women who need them. Great numbers of women abort.’

On this issue he found himself in opposition to most of the Church of England. ‘It is not every day,’ said the Church Times in an editorial, ‘that a bishop makes such a statement.’ The preacher warned us of the fire and brimstone that awaits sinners. I wouldn't call that a very Christian attitude. ‘And God is powerful,’ the preacher was chanting. The collecting box grew heavier.

The job of journalism

Every part of the promontory has been explored. I went off for a leisurely walk along the shore, thankful to have escaped responsibility for a time. The dog went chasing up the beach. The coastline is wild and rugged. The cliff plunged in a vertical drop to the bottom. It's a sight that never fails to thrill me: a beautiful spot where one communed with God and Nature. A sea bird flapped upwards with a hoarse cry. I spread my arms wide and felt joyous and exalted and free. The sky becomes filled with birds wheeling back and forth. I could feel the soft peach chiffon playing around my legs.

I am often stirred by the beauties of nature, the various voices of the sea. Water is full of symbolic associations. The age-old ties between man and place...a notion which has been cast aside in anger and indignation. Society has lost all communion with the elementary sources of life, reality beyond the mind's normal compass.

Nature, the simple life, that's what I need desperately. I sat down on a fallen tree trunk and thought deeply. We yearn for beauty, truth, and meaning in our lives. I took off my shoes and all my clothes. Each step I took I could feel the dried seaweed crunching softly underfoot. It acts as a buffer against harmful environmental change. We are all aware of how an odour or a sound can bring back happy memories.

You don't have to be an idealist to realize that there's something wrong with this society. We live in an age in which people have been alienated from their roots. Traditional rural culture is fast disappearing before the onward march of urbanization, the incessant demand for change that characterizes our time. People have a longing for normality—the classic conservative yearning for an ordered polity. Any attempt to violate or degrade that image is blasphemy. Their lives were conditioned from the cradle to the grave by patterns of belief. They swallow any whopper which they hear.

Man has mounted the evolutionary ladder at a gallop. Our society seems to be rushing ahead, unthinking, into ever greater mechanisation. The future belonged to automation. They will be using robotics and biotechnology to aid industrial research. They're currently blazing a trail in the biotechnology field. I'd like to learn about the biology of genes. Every human being possesses 23 pairs of chromosomes. It is possible that man will be able to make biological carbon copies of himself. The government is split on how to deal with the situation. The questions raised by the new biology simply boggle the mind. Do genes govern all characteristics of an individual? Should there be laws to regulate cloning? Is it possible to create new creatures, perhaps even monsters, by genetic engineering? Something ultimate has been challenged, some last citadel of certainty stormed.

People's social habits have changed since television arrived, the intrusion of novelty, newness into our existence. Manners in social life have coarsened. They seem satisfied with cheap tabloids, trite films, and the pulp library of crime, the rapid spin of the wheel of fashion. Certainly TV is the most powerful and pervasive of the media. Television pundits play a dominant role in moulding public opinion. Politicians squint at us complacently from the screens. Our blanket acceptance of everything they say; our acceptance of everything and lemming-like blindness to any disagreeable aspect. We have an illusion of freedom. Our freedom is being eroded by quite well-meaning and insidious bureaucrats. Control over the mind is not as far off as we think, principles applicable on a wider scale. People have to wake up to the consciousness that they have a responsibility to others.

It's the job of journalism to remain detached. I find the media's growing obsession with smut and sensation deplorable. The news media are interested only in bad news, harebrained schemes, slanderous allegations, bellicose pronouncements by public men, popular talks intended to inform and entertain. They certainly don't mince their words, do they? Newspapers become subject to the whims and caprices of their owners. Adverts become more and more pornographic, women's magazines get grottier and grottier. The royal family is now being caricatured as savagely as it has ever been. Television is the worst offender of the lot. The most notorious example is America's Love Canal. There is so much rubbish on TV. People are always plugging their books on TV chat shows. It's all because of commercialism that this is so. Our children should not be exposed to filth like that.

All this carping and criticizing won't get us anywhere.

Rotting at the grass roots

The Party is in the biggest shambles it has ever been in. There has been a series of cock-ups. Forecasts do not support the government's claim that the economy is picking up. Last month there were over a thousand bankruptcies in the private sector. To be fair, by no means all of these were due to government policies.

They had come to power ten years earlier. In recent weeks the chorus of complaining has been growing. The minister had cast subtle doubt on some of the traditional beliefs of his party. His casual remark caused a political storm. There are troubled times ahead: a society which is morally bankrupt and politically unstable.

We are on the brink of the break-up of the two-party system. There is a tendency for both political and industrial systems to coalesce into large units. There were midnight meetings and caucuses at dawn. Their participation in government has made them much more vulnerable to the corruption of power. The recent press statements have been the most telling barometer of the government's anxiety. Labour brought a motion of censure on the Government's handling of the issue. Such a vote would mean the certain defeat of the government.

The coffers are empty. There is a fantasy that enormous amounts of money are wasted by the Council, colossal sums of money. The claims are not borne out by the evidence; it is important to know what is hearsay and what is certain knowledge. These rumours excited the suspicion of corruption in the civil service—a secret cabal of powerful insiders, a private gravy train subsidized from public funds. There were rumblings of discontent. Nearly 1,000 public officials were alleged to be members of an illegal secret society. Several of the officials involved were named as members of a masonic lodge. As Peter Jenkins put it: ‘The party was rotting at the grass roots.’

Jenkins is correct. We've got to change our strategy. We have turned our backs on the very principles we were elected to uphold; we are fast approaching the day of reckoning. The choice is between defeat and survival.

The government had only succeeded in alienating public opinion. The steps taken are so minuscule, so piffling in the face of the enormity of the problem. The only possible explanation for this is ambivalence at the highest level. Little wonder that today we are in such a mess. The real struggle will take place in the coming weeks. The pressure builds up; something extraordinary was afoot. We might be pushed into the arms of the liberals. They have a tradition of political brinkmanship. What price the two-party system in the future? Tory backbenchers want some guarantee that an enquiry will be held. Neither of the main parties can take much comfort from recent trends. It would be embarrassing to everybody, foreign statesmen and all.

Mr Healey's accusation came on ITV's ‘Weekend World’ programme. Despite being in trouble with the Government, Castle attempted to laugh the matter off; a calculated act of political irresponsibility. Even after these facts were published, he was unwilling to climb down; he's still waffling about economic recovery. At the end of December he gave a Party Political Broadcast. He boasted to newsmen: ‘I am a long distance runner.’ The audience took this for a joke or a paradox. His explanations clouded the issue. He talked for an hour without shedding any light on what was happening: ‘The ministers make the decisions on the data provided by the civil servants.’ The rest of his policies made nonsense of his call for moderation. He is probably the most distrusted statesman in Europe. He badly miscalculated the response to his proposal. It had become glaringly obvious that he had no idea what he was doing. He was criticized for making these broadcasts. It'll serve him right if they throw the book at him. The government had, by this time, shot its bolt: it had led the country into economic disaster. The threat was a real one and gave rise to deep apprehensions.

On the whole these debates take place behind closed doors. The Government might find it convenient to plead ignorance. Nationalisation was an electoral albatross. These measures are unlikely to be accepted as tamely as the government hopes. They are pricing the country out of international markets. It can't go on for much longer.

It is fashionable at the moment to say how inadequate the government is. I can think of at least two examples of this Government's stupidity: A high tariff on all imports, a tax on pensions, a cut in government spending. The government tried to restrain demand by taking money out of circulation. Interest rate policy was an alibi for overdue economy measures. Unemployment is rising. We failed to explain that to the public and we are at fault in that. The proof of a doctrine is its acceptability to the man in the street.

In cabinet, Castle was criticized for undermining the Government. ‘Do you think the coalition can survive?’

He was disinclined to talk about that: nor was he forthcoming on the way in which he had risen to power. His speech was widely viewed as a diversionary tactic to disguise the real situation. He was put on a diet of only 1,700 calories a day to lose weight. The matter finally came before the council. A trim, balding man in his early 60's, Castle appeared that day in the worst possible light. He was condemned by his own actions: a record of blundering miscalculations and miseries. He has promised reform but failed to deliver it. The fellow was probably on the right track, but his pronouncements were extravagant. He is now moving steadfastly in the wrong direction—he doesn't know any better. My first thought was to protect my own skin. I had to take evasive action—the only question bothering me is: how? A committee was set up to avoid future waste of public money. This committee can save him or break him. Committee members were picked by ballot. An enquiry will be conducted into the whole affair.

The committee meets approximately once every two months; Alderman Harry Hennessy was in the chair. Mr Hennessy talked down all the other members of the committee. Howard had failed to win a place at the committee. He was consistently debarred from attending the meetings; he was prevented from making a detailed appraisal. The irony is that many politicians agree with what he says. A revered figure with a national reputation, he found himself in the frontline, having to defend the Government's record. They were in too gloomy a mood to be inspired by his enthusiasm. His reputation as a left-wing sympathizer added to the irony of the situation.

He was seen on TV later, explaining away his department's latest blunder. ‘I've always supported Mr Castle, and I still do. No one has any cause for complacency...’

He was steadfast in his praise of the prime minister. This proved to be the climax of his political career. A middle-aged man with a perpetual worried frown, the lines of late middle age in his face, he easily outdistanced men like Castle, who was of an older generation. No one knows better how to rig an election. We have worked together side by side for many years; we complemented one another. He comes from an upper-class background. One cannot but admire him: he has never tried to bend the rules of the parliamentary game.

He never discussed his past. He was a modest man, because I found on checking that he had a war decoration, a fact which he had never mentioned to me: he was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in combat. His war record was outstanding. He was twice mentioned in despatches. His brother was killed in the Spanish Civil War. He was suspected of treason. This incident very nearly nipped his political career in the bud. His years in the political wilderness between 1960-63 had not been barren ones for him. He buried himself in his work. He was recruited as a translator for U.S. military intelligence, drab-suited anonymous officials. Some of them are coming up for retirement. He had the right to read reports marked Top Secret—he is still listed in the files by his code-name, the Jackal. Living in Washington he became accustomed to intrigue and political skulduggery. He had a connection with CIA director William J. Casey. They had been corresponding with one another in cipher. He was weighed down by the burden of state secrets he carried with him.

He returned to parliament a changed man. His knowledge of foreign affairs is too precious to be dispensed with. They used to badger him with questions. He sees the whole, not the various lines which compose it. Morality and national pride combine in his public statements. He was catapulted to prominence by his first speech in Parliament: a magnificent apologia for the House of Lords. His speech included an ‘urgent plea to this nation not to neglect its sick and elderly’. And yet there is always the smouldering resentment against the public he serves. An apostle of change, he judged the nation and found it wanting. He despised his fellow MPs for affecting the common touch. He made his speeches more powerful with exquisite touches of irony and satire. This leaves his speeches open to all sorts of malign interpretation. He is often rubbished for his opinions. My theories and his do not always agree; he is pushing for secret balloting in party elections, I'm more in favour of community centred action. We appeared on the surface as different as chalk and cheese.

I'm trying to psych myself up for the big race. I asked if it could be arranged for me to meet one of the national leaders. They dismissed our offer of an armistice. They showed increased national chauvinism and distrust or envy of foreign nations. This could be a political minefield.

We're having a meeting. Castle had been seen in Harold Lever's company. A former cabinet minister, Harold Lever was in the cabinet as Paymaster-General; he is one of the most colourful Parliamentary figures of his age. He was an extreme right winger from a family of landed gentry. His public statements are so obviously out of step with the majority of the party. ‘The whole committee are very grateful to you. Howard can detail for you the changes that have occurred.’ Nationalism was a deep-rooted article of faith. Rothermere commended Baldwin to his readers as a great man. Baldwin's language is wonderful, a prolific outpouring of ideas and energy. He is a writer who expresses views totally at variance with the contemporary climate. Ramsden finished reading the article and set the paper on the desk. They would use their whole art to twist the meeting. Prestige comes into it as much as other factors. They have read the most outlandish things. Nobody in Rothermere's entourage had the nerve to remind him that he was several hours late already. There has been a resurgence of the fanaticism which claimed so many political victims in the past. Concessions are not always purely negative in character. They tried to cobble together a compromise. Ending the dispute was worth almost any concession. In the small hours of the morning, very drunk, they agreed on an answer. In the communiqué published after the meeting, it was stated that there had been a frank exchange of views. This meeting led Rothermere to make a clown of himself and also of his newspaper.

‘Community policing’ is a buzz word at the moment. The committee decided to leaflet housing estates to publicize its campaign: ‘What is best for the community?’ The leaflets were a more insidious form of propaganda. We will mark six of the areas most ripe for change, with the caveat that these are not necessarily the most sensible ones to start with. People come in all shapes and sizes. These housing estates suffer from widespread vandalism. We sent out a leaflet to every household. The leaflet explains how the system will apply to you, bridging the gap between what society needs and what the government can provide. Some members wished to broaden the scope of the campaign—campaigns on housing, race, burning local issues, a clampdown on wasteful spending. I was canvassing in Fairbourne road. We toured a number of clean utilitarian flats. It was part of a broadening out of our political awareness. Homemade chocolate chip cookies were the mainstay of my diet along the campaign trail. No one was using coercion; anyone was free to apply for a new flat or bungalow. It was the fullest canvass I've ever managed to do. The campaign caught the public imagination. Richard Castle asked Dr Kossou to define the problems discussed by the ministers. He conducted his electioneering tour in a private railway coach. A charter was drawn up, setting out their policies. He outlined his ideas about the manifesto's shape. The slogans were greeted with laughter, scepticism, or disinterest. The promises in this manifesto were belied as rapidly as his other promises.

The policy shift was an apparent response to heavy media coverage. The civil service was strongly opposed to the new system. They are in favour of reforming the tax laws—we had been bogged down in bureaucratic red tape. We couldn't do anything about it—it would be regarded as a blasphemy. We were absolutely opposed to any incomes policy; on this point we can be clear and categorical. Laws such as these simply serve to accentuate inequality and exploitation. Again, that's very controversial. I am dreadfully upset about it all. The cause had received a strong kick in the teeth. Without the full support of the party, the Government is powerless. Ambassadors spoke of the problems with dismay. The empire started to crack under its own pressures. Inefficiency, stupidity, backward-looking notions. The years have thinned the ranks considerably and left only a hard core of members. We would have to arrange a meeting and this would attract attention. The thirty-eight members chose a committee including chairman, secretary, and treasurer. The committee is investigating some apparent discrepancies. Their independence is a sham. Numbers would be drawn to determine the seating plan. Penetration at one or more points was inevitable.

Yummy stuff

I want to spend the whole holiday basking in the sun. Bikini-clad girls and their bronzed admirers... The youths were littering the beaches and disturbing the peace.

The children on the sand were shouting with excitement. Our sand castle had a tower at each corner. I sat there playing with a bottle of suntan lotion. These rays falling on unprotected fair skin can produce a cancer. I've never had the courage to sunbathe topless.

She doesn't like to be photographed. There was a stiff breeze blowing up from the estuary. She stood there, glistening wetly; a spray of salt water hit her in the face. She stood as majestic as ever, a voluptuous creature with blonde hair, pointing to an oil tanker somewhere at the horizon. She was blooming with health; she can swim for four minutes without drawing breath. John’s eyes were popping with amazement. He watched the towel run over her skin. She became conscious of John looking at her. ‘Look, John, she doesn't like to be photographed, so quit it.’

The children played at the water's edge. Below craggy cliffs is a cave known as ‘Hell's Mouth’. It is forbidden to bathe here. Chris ought to have realised how dangerous it was. I had been careless and let him wander off on his own. The rock-pools which so fascinated him were covered by the tide. He was casting stones into the water. His laughter resonated among the hollow rocks; we'll call them rocks, for want of a better name. His spade cleaved the firm sand with a satisfying crunch. I crumbled an empty snail shell in my fingers. John started to run, splashing through the shallow water. He immersed his mouth and blew a jet of water into the air.

The sea sparkled in the brilliant sunlight. The children came along the beach towards me. They gazed at the blank blue sky. There is a paddling pool, a sand pit, a seesaw, and swings. Felicity had established a pleasant form of rapport with the children. She often made cheap jokes at their expense. Yet she could also be witty, very ladylike, and gracious. She was horrified by all the pollution on the beach. The waste is carried hundreds of miles by the wind. We think of pollution as a modern blight, but it is not. Most people remain blissfully unaware of the problem.

Felicity was a stickler for routine, expecting us to be punctual at the table for breakfast. To keep order among three vigorous children is no easy matter. She could make a new dish without referring to any cookery books. When they saw the food they would laugh and cheer. The whole house was filled with the aroma of coffee and garlic..the most delicious kitchen aromas.

Her dark hair was down, falling in a cascade over her shoulders. The sunlight caught each tiny separate hair and made it shine. ‘John!’ she called. ‘John! Lunch is ready!’

She wiped her floury hands on her apron. I apologised for my late arrival. We listened to her singing while she banged about in the kitchen.

We sat under the apple tree. The table looked beautiful. The cake was divided into twelve equal parts. Madeline raised the corner of the table cloth. She missed her mother's companionship and love. He lit his cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke across the table. Each child was blowing up a balloon. Their bellies were now filled with nourishing food. ‘What's for afters?’

She had made a batch of her special oatmeal cookies, sweets coated with chocolate and capped with a cherry—a most appetizing breakfast dish. The boys broke into applause. Their eyes brighten, as they always do when such news comes.

‘You eat too much candy. It's bad for your teeth.’

‘Is it OK if I take this one?’

‘Yeah, feel free.’

Celia went on buttering her potato pancake. She was bending over the bowl, careless of her hair. ‘Candy is bad for your teeth. If you have too many sweets and ice-creams, you won't want your dinner!’

A kind of chorus arose from the table, saying ‘please, mum, please.’

‘Can't you do anything to quieten those children a bit?’

Felicity called out and told us to be quiet. ‘Has everyone eaten as much as they want? I'll eat that last biscuit if it's going begging.’

John Swallow drank his morning chocolate. He was still chewing on his cake. ‘Some fool parked his car close to mine and boxed me in.’

She breathed out through parted lips to try and cool the hot liquid. ‘Could I perhaps bring a friend with me? He's a good bloke.’

‘Of course, anyone. Bring your friends along.’

‘His name is David something.’

They had met by chance. She dared not show that she was pleased; she started talking about something else. She said she would bake a cake for my birthday. In my best avuncular fashion I put my arm round her shoulder. ‘Gosh, I'm hungry. Can I have more of that yummy stuff?’

‘Sure.’ She cleaned the edge of her knife against the plate. Her senses seemed alive and incredibly keen.

‘Will you give me the recipe?’

‘Heap up the flour round the sides of the bowl and put the yeast in the middle. Add two dessert spoons of salt. Beat two eggs and add them to the butter and sugar. Add the remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead the dough until it no longer sticks to your hands. Peel, slice and chop the apple. Add chopped garlic and vinegar. When the dough has risen, turn it onto a floured board and knead it. Just bung it into the oven, bake the cake for about an hour until it is firm and brown. I must go, I've got loads of work to do.’

She got up and made for the stairs. I followed. There was a slight altercation on the way up the stairs. I just breezed into her room, flinging the door wide. She opened her bag and put her diary in. The room contained a couch and a glass cabinet. It's an interesting piece of furniture. Some nice carving on it too. The shelves were bulging with knick-knacks. Here you can see English carving at its best. There was just enough space for a bed and a table. A page of a magazine was affixed to the wall above the bed; there were pictures of animals cut out of magazines and tacked to the wall. In one corner behind a partition was a lavatory. She was standing there looking at her reflection in the mirror; she began to paint her lips with bold, defiant strokes.

‘This room could do with a good clean-up.’

‘I don't like the colour of the carpet. The carpet doesn't really tone in with the curtains.’ She powdered herself and dabbed cologne behind her ears.

‘You know what these fabrics smell like when they come fresh off the mills. Please open the window. I can't breathe.’

She slammed the window down and pulled the blind. ‘This room is so depressing—I suppose new curtains would help.’

She began vigorously to brush her hair before the mirror. I always try to turn the other cheek. ‘It's all right if you just change the furniture around.—I don't know how you can walk on those high heels.’

She indicated the room, the windows, the street beyond. She hated the house—its very architecture appalled her. ‘The damp patch at the corner of the ceiling... a nauseating sight, especially first thing in the morning.’

‘There you go again. How you talk, honestly. There is nowhere else to go, so make the best of it.’

She turned up the volume on the radio. She insists on having the radio on at full blast. I went back to the kitchen. It was becoming increasingly apparent to me that she disliked me. She stayed out all night.

We're going to have a blitz on the house and get it all decorated by Christmas. For the walls, she suggested a pink base with a touch of brown. ‘How much cleaner have we got left?’

I clonked the two buckets gently on to the kitchen floor. The paint flaked away cleanly from the old varnish. ‘Let's change over—you paint the wall and I'll paint the door.’

We slapped some paint on the wall to brighten the room. The radio was on, effectively ruling out conversation. She's been keeping bad company recently.

John was drenched with sweat. ‘I have had all the exercise I need for one day.’ I saw him slip a note into her hand.

A bit of a stir

I decided to let Howard handle the situation. He planned to bring Heissman into the government. He carries little weight in the party; he had canvassed for Mr Castle in the leadership election. There was little in his frenetic politicking which gave any hint of future statesmanship. He's well known for having liberal views, like being opposed to capital punishment. Howard spoke to him in a low and urgent voice. The meeting is fixed for the 11th. All kinds of forces will come into play when the decision is made public. He was capable not only of putting ideas forward, but also of putting them into action. He was determined not to get caught up in any sort of publicity nonsense. ‘I think we've got a good chance of winning. We all know what they are trying to do and we must try to circumvent them. We may lose a lot of support, but that's a chance we'll have to take.’

‘I've come to pick your brains. It's high time that we did something about improving the situation.’

Howard's general attitude suggested that he regarded me as an upstart. He was sometimes brusque with me. ‘Don't be too cocky. We'll have a meeting. But not today.’

I was trying to sound blasé and experienced. ‘It won’t be easy, I know that. I hope you bear with me as I explain. The knives are out on both sides. I think they're on to us.’

‘What on earth are you talking about? There's no need to belabour the point, what you tell me chimes in with what I've been hearing from other people. The question is whether the price is worth paying.’ He knew I would have to come round to his way of thinking in the end. Some people, simply by existing, struck him as subversive. ‘Let us look at the other side of the coin. We have power if we only cared to exercise it.’

‘I am prepared to take some exceptionally high risks for that prize.’

‘When things go against my wishes, I threaten to resign. It will be an almighty wrench when I leave—I could do a better job by staying in politics.’

We intend to ballot our members on this issue. To succeed in this business, you have to be adaptable. Both sides in the argument were girding their loins. He kept up his balancing act by making promises to each side. There was no constitutional procedure for replacing the vice-president. He wrote to the Prime Minister pleading for restraint. We decided to canvass opinion before making a final decision.

A new and more responsible chapter of my career as a journalist was about to begin. It's quite exciting: all you need is a deep breath and a brass nerve. I was appointed assistant editor, third in command after Herb Farr. With all the gusto of the novice, I accepted the responsibility. Tiny offices painted clinical white... The smell of coffee would greet us as we entered. It's a very, very crowded life, there's always something to be done. I've got so much to do I don't know whether I'm coming or going. Once in a while the boss rings to explain that he is stuck in Milan or wherever and will everyone please carry on as best as they can.

At first it felt strange working with such a great man. He always wore an expensive grey suit and dark tie. He will arrange for your preferred blend of coffee to be made in your office. Many of his best journalists wrote under pseudonyms. The little office is a hive of activity. A meeting is held in order to brief the new volunteer. He complained that the office was not ‘businesslike’. We had our own telex facilities.

I decided to write a program for a microprocessor. The task was to program the computer to play a moonlanding simulation. Low cost and high speed are but two of the advantages of electronic data handling. Alan spent hours debugging the program; he was an old friend of mine. ‘We assume that technology will always bale us out of our troubles. A single error here could cost you your life.’ He was able to call up the information he needed direct from the resource catalogue; a perfect example of professional expertise combined with unforgettable personal charm. Around his neck was a pair of earphones. He communicates with Miami by radio. ‘We've checked it and double checked it and we still can't find anything wrong.’

The light behind him made an untidy halo round his pink head. Alan and I are collaborating on a paper for the conference. He has lung cancer, yet he cheerfully smokes twenty cigarettes a day. He knew that his efforts to feign cheerfulness weren't convincing.

Rudolf came silently into the room. He's a bachelor. Lives alone. Spends fairly freely... He wished to assert himself at work but did not know how to do it. He was burdened with endless paperwork: endless paper-work dished out by bureaucrats. The best that can be said of him is that he tries hard. He knew, deep down, in the gut, what it was like to be inferior. ‘I'm an unrepentant believer in free enterprise—competitive, entrepreneurial capitalism. Let me explain how mankind, individually and corporately, should live. The social climate has to be such that capitalists are encouraged to put their wealth into new industries.’

Rudolf sipped at his drink. He gave me some bum advice; he only builds castles in the air. Such optimism betrays a singular ignorance of human nature. I waved my hand to cut him off: ‘The economy's beyond me.’ I made a brusque apology and left.

His remarks were badly timed. He got it into his head he was being passed over from promotion. Five seconds later, the unhappy young man was face to face with his managing director. ‘The chief wants to see you in his office.’ There can be no escape for the man who does not conform.

Rudolf was all worked up. As he walked in he nodded gravely, and said as he went into his office, ‘Good day to you.’ A sinister silence descended upon the office.

We had a late lunch. ‘The Upper Crust’ is one of the many new agencies providing cooks to cater for boardroom meetings. The room was spotlessly clean. We found a huge buffet laid out. Herb queued up for coffee and chatted up the woman serving it. Coffee was being handed out by a girl of film-star loveliness, a girl with a silver cross hanging on a chain around her neck. She drifted around serving drinks and engaging in casual conversation. I'd like the chance to get to know her; I want to chat to her, woman to woman, on her own level. I don't know her address...She was precise and quick in her movements. ‘Have you tried his turnip wine?’

‘I don't normally drink at lunch.’

‘Neither do I. Shall I pour?’

She was tall, slender, with wonderful hair and classically beautiful. Her tight dress was wrinkled over her hips.

‘I have a flat in London.’

‘Oh yes, whereabouts?’

For a fraction of a second I hesitated to give the address. ‘I used to live in Grange road...You are married, I presume?’

She laughed and said, ‘You're cute. What's your name?’

‘My name's Jane.’

‘How's that again?’

‘My name is Jane. Shall I spell that for you?’

‘The address is 70 Brompton Road, London SW1.’

Tanya's invitation seemed too enticing to refuse: it usually took that long to get into a serious conversation. We sat down together and talked for hours.

At the end of the day I was bubbling with excitement, with so many problems buzzing around my head. By the time I went to bed, I was absolutely exhausted.

The vice-president admitted taking bribes; he brought it all on himself. I got a summons to the boardroom up on the top floor. It happened that I was offered this job. The decision met with the committee's approval. Day-dreams had become realities. The prospects both excited and worried me. I certainly had experience and a life of wide reading behind me.

I was allowed to sit in on the deliberations of the board. The room was decorated with trimmed dwarf Japanese bonsai trees. An absurd habit is coming in of calling a chairman or chairwoman a ‘chair’. Everybody was talking at once, so it wasn't clear whether the meeting had begun. They tried to coerce me into changing my appearance. ‘Spruce yourself up a bit—you look a mess!’

‘I've always heard it's lonely here at the top.’

A roar of laughter followed this ridiculous remark. Within two days I had a letter of acceptance from one of the assistant editors. I was called in by my boss and given the good news. Seated behind a desk which showed a broad expanse of polished wood, he congratulated me on my appointment as editor. ‘Now we are really in business.’ Their eyes were full of friendliness and bonhomie. I'm having a nice relaxing bubble bath when I get back home tonight.

The city edition of the New York Times... editing a newspaper in that country was like walking blindfold across a minefield. Many of my friends called me up to congratulate me on my success. I didn't brag about my salary. Goodwill and cooperation can go a long way towards smoothing your path to the top.

The boss collared me this morning just as I was going out. ‘Can I see you before you go, Jane?’

He held up the three manila folders, a report with ‘personal’ scribbled in one corner. ‘What are these curly bits of paper for?’

A sheet of paper had been folded around the whole bundle.

‘The project is still in the planning stage.’

‘We've been into that,’ said Herb briskly. He sat in a high armchair, his long bony fingers clasping the arms. It was a hard narrow chair and not made for comfort.

‘OK, chief. They were simply labelled “unclassified”—perhaps you'd like to take it home with you and read it in privacy.’

He accepted the mutilated document, muttering: ‘Most irregular. Most irregular.’

‘Don't leave it in the rubbish bin for the cleaner to find.’

Howard doesn't allow smoking in his office. He was asked to write a character reference for Mr Stevens. He watched me closely and castigated me for mistakes. ‘Quite a change from university, isn't it?’ His campaign organisation began churning out tracts and posters. On three walls are pinned large charts illustrating world poverty; cartoons portrayed emaciated kids begging milk from the callous Governor. ‘It is debatable how many hungry people there are in the world. Much of the aid given has been wastefully used. This chart no longer applies.’

‘I'd like to see Europe as a nuclear-free zone. What we are arguing about is not survival but the quality of life.’

He waggled his eyebrows. ‘It's nice to see you with your books for a change. I don't know how to begin...is there a chance of you getting away this summer? You need a break, a change. How would you fancy a few months on the continent? Let's go away somewhere, France, Italy, anywhere you like...it'll be an experience you'll cherish all your life.’

‘I'm afraid our holidays don't coincide this year. I really wouldn't like to commit myself...’

‘Will you be flying solo?’

‘I don't know. It's too early to say.’ When I opened my wage-packet, I found that I had more money than usual.

Any job carries with it daily stretches of boredom. The daily bombardment of messages and complaints is very wearing. Trivial interruptions tend to eat into the working day. As a secretary yourself you are one of the cognoscenti who can spot the make of typewriter. The word processor is a godsend to beleaguered secretaries.

Howard and I belong to very different generations. He arrived in the office with a bulging briefcase and a determined look on his face. I was just on my way out and he buttonholed me. ‘Is Jane still there? Can I speak to her?’

He took his seat at the polished walnut table. He opened two tins of sardines for his supper. ‘We've drawn up a short-list of candidates. There's an intense bias against women candidates. It is my firm belief that more women should stand for Parliament.’

‘I won't be bought that easily!’

He had the nerve to say Fleet Street was corrupting me. ‘We're prepared to take candidates from any academic discipline.’

They gradually and tactfully broke through my reserve; my refusal to go would be a black mark against me.

It's difficult to combine family life with a career. I was becoming attracted to a girl from the next office, an unmistakably domineering female who will brook no nonsense. A brisk, well-organised, and self-possessed woman, Mrs Curry had boyishly cut brown hair. She wore a choker of jet beads. Her great personal charm makes her a very popular member of the staff. I walked slowly, casually, hoping she would catch sight of me. I caught her looking at me once or twice. She was in her early thirties, with a lean, athletic build. She was the brains of the organisation. She carries the entire office; she ran the office as a captain runs a ship. A member of the secretarial staff, she was an exceptional mathematician and an unusually beautiful one into the bargain. She was by nature a long-range planner. I'm trying to offload some of my work onto her. How I envied her brain...

I took Mandy out to dinner one evening. I wanted to establish more personal and intimate contact with Mandy.

She insisted she had absolutely no designs on any of the males in the department: ‘The men in my office are all blatant male chauvinists.’

She's going to help me go over my books; she has a better head for figures than I have. The dress clung tight to Mandy’s waist and over her hips. She bent over the desk. ‘I've been adding up columns of figures all day. The figures are ready for tabulation and collation.’

‘I'll buzz you when I need you.’

I was surprised by Mandy's compliance with these terms. ‘I'll call for you about eight.’

The manager came in to find out who had made the booking. ‘What are you going to do all weekend by yourself in Brighton?’

‘Is there anything you require, Mr Heissman? I am not going to try and justify or excuse myself.’

He laughed nervously and asked me what I meant. I admitted that Mandy and I were lovers. He screwed up his face in an expression of utter repugnance. I said, ‘I'm gay.’

Then the shit really hit the fan. ‘I think you're obscene,’ says Heissman, turning and opening the door. He just stood there, glaring and breathing heavily. The door shut with a loud slam.

Friendship has got to be found, and it won't be found by serendipity. It has to be worked at. I had booked us in at a hotel in Torquay. How I lusted for that girl! She was expecting me, a room was prepared. It was nearly dawn, and the room was already suffused with light. A few fishing boats puttered past. I didn't want to spoil a promising relationship by getting too friendly too soon. She braced herself for her forthcoming ordeal. Some people like to be bossed and bullied.

I felt a sudden twinge of regret. She was a good, properly brought up woman. Her second drink loosened her up. She drank, lowered the glass, licked her lips; she groaned and stretched herself out flat on the sofa. She started to unbuckle her sandal, she loosened her hair and began to unbutton her dress—a signal in an easy code which we had broken long ago. Mandy had long, thin, brown legs. A lock of hair had fallen down over her eyes. Gradually, a lopsided smile settled on her face; her smile held a tiny hint of challenge. ‘You expect me to kneel down and lick your boots.’

‘Go on you'll never know until you try.’

Mandy sucked at her lower lip.

I grabbed her left ear between my thumb and forefinger, and tugged it playfully. ‘I don't really turn you on, do I?’

‘I will not stand for it if you propose to be intimate with anyone other than myself,’ she said.

‘I'm not asking you to come out and join a ménage à trois. I was often rather afraid of men, even though I had lots of boyfriends.’

Mandy stuck out her tongue. She was kneeling by the side of the bed; she had a look almost of lewd abandon.

She stretched herself out on the sofa; she commanded me to lie down and relax. She was talking to me like a lover; I loved every minute of it. She had a tiny mole on her cheek. The skin was fleshy and slightly waxy to the touch. I gently caressed her hair and we kissed.

She opened her eyes. ‘I had always wondered what living in sin would be like.’

‘Your willingness to experiment does you credit.’ I switched on the spotlight over the bed. Her head tilted rhythmically from side to side.

I enjoyed it far more than I expected to. I was released, for the first time, from all my guilty thoughts. Mandy gave the landlady a cheque for 80 pounds. She snapped the silver chain around her neck. After saying an awkward goodbye to Many, I left.

I was overtired at work the next day. ‘May I come over?’

‘I can't see you tonight. Something's come up. You may come over tomorrow at four.’

We were much kinder to one another after that night. We had gone on to Mandy's house. I felt such a failure. ‘I just can't work it out, you never seem to enjoy anything.’

‘I've never had sex with a man.’ I noticed a long streak of a tear on her cheek. She was old enough to understand. I became enormously fond of her.

I look over the various parts of my character with perplexity. I find her sexually attractive. An experience of this kind need no longer be regarded as shameful or unmentionable. If a person tries to bury such feelings they only pop up somewhere else—as tenseness, for example. We all get programmed anyhow—we may as well be up front about it.

We were paddling in the sea, like elderly trippers at Southend. She was not interested in the trivia of gossip. She had removed her underwear; she shaved her legs and under her arms. What a honey she is! I gave her a new purse of simulated calf.

The individual's freedom is circumscribed by his responsibility to his colleagues. A large part of Mandy's day is spent on the telephone. She succeeded in combining business with pleasure. Certain low-minded individuals would laugh every time sex was mentioned. We made a bit of a stir—it was quite exciting. The manager had found her out and was going to sack her: ‘The facts don't matter, nor does the quality of her reasoning. She abandoned her principles. I don't mind what people do in private...’

Heissman seemed totally unconscious of the insult.

‘She's a pleasant girl’, I said, trying to be non-committal.

He had received orders that morning to give her notice. There must have been a mastermind behind it all.

She came into my office, as bold as brass, and told me she was leaving; she despised his business ethics. I advised her to bring the matter up at the next meeting. ‘There's a departmental meeting this afternoon. I’ll put in a good word at the meeting if I get a chance. This world is riddled with imperfection.’

Moves between departments occasionally occur. Some months after my demotion we met in a corridor. In that year the government introduced its earnings-related pension scheme. Such a pension scheme provides a degree of security increasing with age and length of service.


An old-fashioned larder with marble shelves; a shelf where the butter and cheese were kept. We keep our meat on ice in hot weather. ‘Do you mind if I wait?’ I asked.

She was busy sucking the last bubbles of her milk shake up the straw. She took a big bite out of her bread and butter. She's the sort of person who always makes trouble.

‘I'm doing what is best for you. You were very naughty, you know...I don't mean to be horrid to you. Do not throw waste material of any kind into the toilet bowl. The sink's bunged up again. Keep an empty plastic shopping bag to use as a wastepaper basket. Clean the bathroom and lavatory thoroughly. There are certain places where a lot of dust collects. Clean with a soft cloth dipped in warm soapy water. Don't use an abrasive cleaner on the bath, because it may scratch the surface. It really makes a big difference, you know.’

She broke off another piece of bread and chewed on it. ‘I find cleaning tedious at the best of times. It's just too much bother.’

‘It's a bit of a bother, I know... learn to break down large tasks into manageable units. Spread the load by doing a little cleaning every day. Save time for yourself by cutting your shopping down to twice a week—try to shop just once a week and if you can do all your shopping at one supermarket so much the better. Keep a list of all the jobs that need doing. It serves as a baseline from which you are able to improve. Pin your food list on the back of the larder door. The fridge is beginning to smell.’

‘The peaches were cheap because their skins were blemished.’

‘The inside may be spotted with nasty green mould. When are you going to mow the lawn?’

She gave me a shifty look.

‘Why do you always leave things to the last minute? I think we may have a problem here.’

‘I've had enough of you preaching at me all the time—just leave me alone!’

Her next manoeuvres were transparently mischievous. She forgets to put the dinner on. Every now and then there is a confrontation. I had an unsatisfactory discussion with her about the future. She didn't even bother to hide her anger: ‘Thinking about the future is a form of escapism.’

‘Now, come on. Be sensible.’

Parents and children have little in common beyond the biological link. A happy home is one in which children and adults have equal rights. The children are all treated alike. They grow up happy and well adjusted, talking, playing, messing about together. They have no interests beyond their bodily needs.

Parents in London are more likely to quarrel and bicker than in country districts. Bringing up children in an inner city is never easy. They longed for trees and open spaces. Altogether, they got on very well; they were trying to be amiable and agreeable. The living-room was as crowded as ever and just as noisy—a squabbling brood of children, angry crying with broken, irregular screaming. There was complete mayhem. The children were blowing flutes, ringing bells, and rattling tin cans. It's a bedlam in here! The place looks like a first world war bombsite. Young people are so alive and exciting. This could explain many things that otherwise defy rational analysis.

Children count on their parents for love and security; mother and father play out the roles assigned to them. On that score, he was blameless. Children need hugging and piggyback rides. They go through a very vulnerable age. What will such vulnerable creatures do when they are cast out into the open like pet animals left to fend for themselves? It is important not to overdo the motherly bit. It's a wonder I keep sane with this lot around me.

Moodiness is a common feature of growing up. A child cannot express his hatred of adults with impunity. Every child has to have some aggression in order to force its way through life.

We all get cross with our children. The children were tired and bad-tempered; we watched a Tom and Jerry cartoon. When Chris was in one of his moods, he was unpleasant to anyone. It hurt nobody but himself. He was standing by himself in a corner of the room. Tears and dribble ran down his face. ‘I don't belong here, mother, I'm not like you.’

‘Don't just sit there boohooing like a baby.’

His father looked up and grunted, then went back to his work. He refused to wear glasses. It was sheer vanity.

Chris spoke in a weakly querulous voice. ‘Maddy is wondering if you know where her felt tips are.’

I always jump on this sort of thing very hard. ‘You'll get a clip on the ear if you don't shut up.’

He never did any homework and he got terrible results in school. He was always bottom of the class; he is a borderline candidate for a special school. People have different capacities for learning; a learning difficulty can be a perpetual blight on their lives. He was frightened to death of his teacher. There were times when I didn't know what to do. The mother (as if she didn't have enough to do already!) has to remember to pay some attention to her husband. He was bustling around in the kitchen cooking up a huge pot of stew. ‘We've got lamb stew tonight, a great chunk of meat.’

The sink keeps blocking up. Does your husband do his fair share of the household chores? Children always hope that ‘someone else’ will clear the mess away. They sat gobbling their food like pigs at a trough. The boys tore at the meat like hyenas. ‘If that kid bites me I'll clobber it.’

Maddy had cried all night—a child who is continuously burying herself in a corner with a book. She just couldn't face all the argy-bargy at home. These symptoms lead to backwardness at school. She refused to eat any more bread and butter; she couldn't eat anything but cucumbers. She clamped her jaws shut rather than be forced to eat. We had to keep thinking of things to amuse her. I tried to think of some ways to perk up her appetite. I was busy correcting Chris' arithmetic at his desk. He drew patterns on the floor in coloured chalks.

Maddy worshipped her father; he has first call on his daughter's time. She sat there drawing a tree. She knew exactly where I'd be when she wanted me, which was very aggravating. She added a tree to the picture. Her marks are getting worse and worse. If things do not improve we might have Dr Cutler analyse her. Dr Cutler's father is Russian by birth but left the Soviet Union in 1975.

Perhaps the most profound breach in our marriage has been over the question of the children's education. He was always crying down his son's abilities. ‘Don't argue with me, Chris, just do as you're told.’

The child stepped back nervously. His handwriting tends to slant from right to left.

He looked at his son's laborious handwriting. ‘You are a silly little boy. He'd got brains but wouldn't use them. I am at my wits' end to know what to do with my son.’

He became even more exigent over his pronunciation. He became more authoritarian—he would give him a slap if he was too much of a pest. ‘Give him a slap if he's too much of a pest. Telling the child that he has a complex will not help. What he needs is good boot up the backside! This system works well in at least nine out of ten cases.’

The child stared at him in silent awe.

‘There was no need to jump down his throat like that.’

It is his turn to take the children to school. They built the school in 1899. The school has a good reputation for exam results. The fee is low, compared with that at many other independent schools. The school was attended almost entirely by local children. Adolescents regularly coupled in parked cars behind the school; the older boys yelled out insults. It's a good illustration of the extent to which our education system has changed recently. We'd like to run education without any control at all from the central government. I blame the school for not making him learn arithmetic. This is the sort of maths we should be teaching children in schools. His math teacher thought he was lazy. He was continually being called in before the principal for his mischievous deeds.

There were hundreds of boys and girls on the lawn. Two boys were accused of throwing clods at other boys. The contest was settled by a practical test. One foot must always be in contact with the ground. His knees are always braced and bandaged before every game. A group of youngsters, all brimming with ideas. They followed the match with breathless interest. He kicked the ball high in the air. The ball rose in an unsteady arc and landed about 150 yards away. She booted the ball back on the pitch. The ball bounced five yards to my right. Later the two teams were combined.

It all comes down to the mathematics taught in schools. Our maths classes are pretty deadly. A teacher should try to breathe life into her subject. Students are very bad at turning up for lectures. The whole class haven't a clue what they're doing. Their language development and reading is below average, breaking words into syllables. They were drawing patterns on the board in coloured chalks.

Judy gave Celia's hand a squeeze. Her parents are well off; they felt strongly that the school system had let them down. We went to the Professor's office confident we could appeal to his reason. ‘It's up to the school somehow to work it out, to catch their interest.’

Mr Jones blandly dismissed their arguments as irrelevant. ‘Why bother learning all those facts? You won't catch me doing dull arithmetic and things!’

This brought forth a distinct shudder of revulsion. Even those who generally agreed with the headmaster would part company with him there.

The headmaster was deaf to their complaints. ‘You're accusing me of political bias in my marking—a bias towards a certain type of personality. Let that be my worry. These marks give a global picture of their progress.’

‘Nonsense!’ boomed Mrs Pringle. ‘This is not the whole truth. The deep motive is to mould the child into a disciplined creature.’

As they talk, they only exchange the briefest of glances. ‘Hold it right there! You are challenging my competence as a teacher, and I question your right to do it. My work is basically to train people to help other people. Don't be jealous of your children's affection for their teacher. The parents can keep in mind, as a rough guide, a 4-hour timetable.’

‘Meaning?’ queried Mrs Pringle, in a menacing crescendo.

‘You can shout till you're blue in the face, I'm not going to change my mind. The syllabus is enormously varied, there is no chance of getting bored.’

Mrs Pringle was about to say yes to this, but caught herself just in time. ‘Now just a minute, Sir! Just a moment! Do you not think then, to branch off that subject a little, that their upbringing is important too?’

‘To answer this we have to turn the clock back hundreds of years. You're wasting your time.’

Mrs Pringle bridled. ‘I've never been so insulted in my life!’

Just a minute, let me explain...all cases of bullying will be severely dealt with.’

‘Of course you would say that,’ says Miss Pringle.

A number of them forced their way into the office of the Vice-Chancellor. ‘He won't listen! He just won't!’

Children's ability was measured by verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests. They say they can assess intelligence from these tests.

What would have happened if he hadn't passed the test? Education isn't the same thing as intelligence. Children do not need teachers as much as they need love and understanding. The strategies you use to teach a child to read must take cognisance of the child's starting point. It was Asa Briggs who coined the phrase 're-drawing the map of learning'. I think the teacher's personality has got to come through. Many teachers think this is too chancy and they make lists to remind them.

My routine was built around my children's needs. Except for emergencies I have found it easier not to expect any help from my children. John appeared within a minute, reeking powerfully of brandy. His capacity for brandy was phenomenal. ‘You're far too soft on those kids.’

‘Come on, ease up on those kids a bit; they've had a hard day!’ On education, his ideas and mine have been at variance for many years. ‘I wonder if you'd give the children a bath?’

‘Oh I can't be bothered. Will you stop putting on this concerned parent act? Kindness will not equip them to stand on their own feet.’

He had come to think of himself as trammelled and shackled by domestic responsibilities. He believes that if he works all day he should be let off domestic chores. I told him it wouldn't wash.

‘I've got a stinking cold coming on, honest.’ He had an uncanny ability to develop pains in various parts of his anatomy when there was hard work to be done. This attitude is antithetical to my beliefs.

‘Shift your great carcass! Your views on education are already widely known.’

He spat out a big gob of spit.

‘Pa,’ Chris began, trying to conquer his nervousness.

‘Shut your big mouth.’

Chris, abashed by his father's words, said nothing. A spiteful parental tongue can do untold damage to a child.

Madeline's eyes filled with tears. She looked despondent and ashamed. Great big tears plopped into her soup.

‘You should never threaten her with bogeymen.’

‘I always thought of myself as a very understanding father.’ He couldn't raise a guinea pig never mind a child.

The kids began to create mayhem in the washrooms. You can understand their feelings.

I have to put the kids to bed. The children were tired and bad-tempered. ‘It's long past bedtime. I think it's time we stopped, children...come along now, little ones, off to bed. It's long past bedtime.’

‘Go on kids, mind your momma, don't be like me.’

Chris just stripped to his shorts for sleeping. He really enjoys being mothered. They complained that they couldn't sleep; they had been kept awake by the chorus of frogs. They long for a mother's goodnight kiss. ‘Shall I tell you a story?’

‘Please!’ the children would chorus. ‘A bedtime story.’

Children everywhere love to have stories read to them. Chris pulled back the bedclothes and climbed into bed.

‘Once upon a time there were three princes. They have no real kingdoms to rule, or lands to conquer. Now this king had three daughters, three young princesses from Nepal. They all live together in the same house. An ornamental pond they had in the garden. Having tea one afternoon in the back garden, he was bitten by a poisonous snake, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world. It gives each of its victims a quick bite to immobilize them. “Let go of me,” he said. Most snakes withdraw their fangs after striking. He suddenly looked afraid; his nerve, understandably, began to crack. Things were turning nasty. Due to his lack of imagination, he just didn't know what to do. It was William who came to the rescue. “Don't panic. Sit still and keep calm. Poison and antidote are sometimes found in the same place.”’

Paradoxically, the parent who allows secrets is the one to whom the child is more likely to come with a problem. Christopher has bad dreams because soon he will be going to prep school. His dreams were populated by slimy, savage things from below. The monster had two eyes and a single central nostril. In his dream he was sitting in a theatre watching a play. He sat with his back to the stage all through the first act. He thought his dream was a visitation from God.

The trouble with Chris is he's not old enough to understand. He is only a boy. ‘You must know the difference between what's real and make-believe.’

I could never look my son in the face again if I lied to him. I grabbed him and he let out a holler.

‘Come, love, don't be afraid. Think of a cat in the abstract, if possible.’

Christopher wanted to get back to sleep; he was asleep before I left the room. He was an ugly, pimply little boy.

Parents often worry too much about toilet-training. This can lead to unnecessary anxiety over a child's quite normal behaviour. To accelerate this stage does the child irreparable damage. Early experiences can implant strong fears in the subconscious. These parents see autonomy in their youngsters as a threat. Children lose hope and become apathetic.

Communication between mother and child is a subtle combination of words, expressions and movements. Armed with this information, parents will be better able to cater for their children's needs. Chris never understood his parents' concern with tidiness. Was I being a good mother? I am developing a guilt complex about it. The pattern of child care tends to be repeated generation after generation. Female monkeys who were badly mothered became bad mothers themselves. The baby who doesn't get any loving will grow up cold and unresponsive. Children need to feel they matter to someone.

‘Now then, sleepyhead! It's time to go to bed.’

The children had one by one fallen asleep.

Emotional energies

It was quite an art, talking to Felicity. A pattern began to shape. One day, she went for a swim in the ocean. It is dangerous to bathe in the sea here. Along the blazing beach, the children shouted, waving leafy branches above their heads. At the base of a long sandstone cliff, we sat down on our towels in the thirsty sun. The cliffs are riddled with caves. The water there is a cloudy blue. She worried about splinters in her bare feet. I have ceased to worry about my appearance.

I was in a depressed and hostile mood. I realised that my eyes were wet and I was breathing hard.

‘What's the matter?’

‘You must help me.’

‘What's wrong?’

‘I do apologise for troubling you, especially on a Sunday. I don't know whether John has, mind you.’

‘Nonsense,’ Felicity said, turning her head away.

‘I'm sorry if I have distressed you by asking all this.’

She let me stew for a day or two. I clown to please her and the more I clown the less she likes me. She tries to sound tough at all times.

‘Would you look after my money for me while I go swimming?’

She gazed down into the water, the long, grinding roar of the breakers on the reef. Her answer was typically indirect. ‘Go ahead.’ She appeared calm and confident but it was just an act.

Sunday afternoon found her sleeping happily in an armchair. She wore only a light cotton frock and sandals. Her face was all but obscured by wind-blown hair. I ascertained that Felicity was still sound asleep. Her fingernails were worn away. As if conscious of my gaze she opened her eyes. I held her arm, not hard, but firmly. ‘I've come to beg a favour. I've got some people coming for a meal this evening. Let's have a celebration. Come and join in. I have no doubt that there will be plenty of youngsters.’

Her eyes were wide with amazement; her hand jerked back. She pushed the tangled hair back from her face. ‘Sorry I can't come, I have a date with Jill. It's Saturday afternoon and all my friends are out. The whole gang's there—Suzie, Jack, Karen.’

Her remark held a tiny hint of a challenge, or of a tease.

‘It's on a Friday, isn't it?’

She smiled and shook her head with pert insouciance.

The interior was dark after the bright sunlight. I changed tack: I smiled at her. ‘When are you going to do the dishes?’

No answer. Duty was a conception which she had consigned to the past.

‘You would be wiser to direct your emotional energies into social rather than amorous activities.’

She sat there quietly, staring out of the window.

‘Well? Lost your tongue? Who's your date tonight?’

It's pretty hard on such a sensitive girl, but for all her sensitivity, she is extremely tough. Her reply to my bad behaviour was simply to walk away. She locked herself in the bathroom.

Needless to say this sort of talk did not endear her to me. Felicity's head buzzed with angry, crazy thoughts. She gave us swedes, which the children abominated, and no gravy, served with a choice of green beans, French beans, or broad beans. The sprouts have boiled dry. The potatoes were wet and the sprouts were wet and the gravy was all water. The food was terrible, wilting spinach and flabby turnips. The others began to be ill almost at once after eating. ‘The child is bringing up his breakfast!’

I wiped the puke off my clothes. She had taken an unconcealed dislike to me. The punishment did not deter her. She ascended the flight of narrow stairs to her bedroom.

Once or twice she acted in a very peculiar manner. I decided to busy myself with our untidy lawn. There were pails and pails of muck to get rid of. She came clambering over a pile of old junk; I could not resist teasing her. There in front of me was a great pile of old tin cans. ‘After lunch we can clear up the old tins and throw them away.’

Felicity stopped and rested on her broom. ‘That's alright,’ she said, smiling widely. There was a tone of mockery in her voice.

This made me even angrier. ‘I'm trying to get a fix on where we are...there must be nothing more frustrating than having a job you don't enjoy. I'm just trying to save you aggravation.’

‘I don't really feel myself today.’ Her voice was low and had a shake to it.

I was boiling with anger. She took a step back. ‘If you come near, I scream. Get back!’

‘Come on, stir your stumps, there's lots to do!’ I seized her arm and dragged her into the kitchen. She tipped the pan over and a dozen fish flopped out. She stepped backwards onto a coffee cup and saucer, which broke into several pieces. The cat's back bristled at the sudden sound. Fortunately, the plates were still whole. I felt like a murderer. ‘Oh how clumsy of me! Leave everything. I'll clean up later.’

She scrambled to her feet. ‘I didn't like being pawed.’

Her aim was devastatingly accurate. I felt myself blushing. She went out, slamming the door behind her. I slunk away to my room, to brood in front of the fire. Late in the night, sleepless and troubled, I got up and went for a walk. I worried that when I got back he wouldn't be there.

I returned home several hours later; it was just coming up to ten o'clock. There was a light burning in the garage; the veranda was lit by a dim bulb. The front door was unlocked—something was wrong. Fortunately someone was in the house, because I could hear music playing faintly. There was music coming from the drawing room. A fire was going in the fireplace, its flickering light bounced off the walls. There was a bottle of whisky and a used glass on the coffee table. There she stood and blinked, cheeks aflame, hair awry.

‘You've left the door open. Are you expecting company?’

John had left his watch behind. An ashtray was balanced on the arm of her chair. I was sure something was cooking. ‘Who left the gates open? Where is John?’

‘He's just slipped out for a packet of fags.’

‘What have you been doing? I insist you tell me.’

‘It's nothing.’

‘You can't fool me—I see what you are up to.’

Her tone was defiant. ‘I wouldn't let him touch me unless I was in the mood.’

‘You will do nothing of the sort.’

‘I wouldn't worry too much, if I were you.’

I fought the urge to cry. I put down my glass and stood up. ‘I'm separating from him.’

‘So what? Make your own decisions.’ Felicity made a dash for the door.

‘Look, you mustn't tell John that I am leaving him.’

It was dark outside. I stubbed my toe against a stone. The winds had been steadily blowing from the west. It had rained all day and was still drizzling. The path was easy to follow, then it just stopped. I took a deep breath of sea air. The waves smashed onto the shore. I could barely hear the sound of my own voice above the noise of the wind. Felicity rushed at me. ‘I hate you. You're disgusting. You are nothing.’ Felicity's spit flew as she shouted. Her fiery temper got the better of her. She said she loathed me. We continued yelling at each other, and she said unprintable things. I grabbed her by the shoulders. ‘Now, now, there is no need to be nasty.’ Maybe I was too rough. She had been rude, so I gave her a smack in the face. Felicity staggered and then hit back. Her hands were still shaking, but she felt elated, excited. She wiped her lips with the back of her hand. She slipped off her dress and disappeared into the water with a splash; walking out into the sea, breasting the waves.

Women are not supposed to be as aggressive as men. She turned up the next morning, busying herself about the kitchen as if nothing had happened. She had come in at dawn. He kept finding excuses not to go home.

I saw a dog like ours on the beach.

Appetite for pleasure

I keep making the same mistake—that sudden bout of self-pity the previous night. It was an unpardonable stupidity to tell Felicity. One ought not inflict one's problems on other people. I have kicked myself mentally a hundred times for that stupidity.

I knocked on the door twice. After listening at John's door, and concluding that he was out, I opened it. There was dead silence in the bedroom. His shoes were caked with mud. His table was covered with beauty products, ashtrays full of cigarette ends, a pile of unanswered letters. On John's desk I saw a flower in a jamjar. They are grown largely on the banks of Route 128 which arcs round Boston. When the rains come, however, these plants emerge in great numbers.

His desk was in an alcove to one side of the chimney. There were a lot of books on shelves along the walls—beautifully bound books. He seemed to read at random. I began to feel claustrophobic.

Several dictionaries lay on a shelf. I bang my head against that shelf every time I sit back. The drawer was full of old love letters and holy medals and dirty pictures and all. The fourth drawer holds family things such as photographs, letters and schools reports. I had a casual glance at the papers. They were simply waiting, patiently, and with assurance, for me to discover the truth for myself.

I identified the book's binding and guilt lettering right away: a pocket diary bound in black imitation leather. The book's cover had come away from the spine. There were certain filthy images I could not cleanse from my mind after I had read it. I stood by the window and breathed deeply.

The truth has been kept from me. I went to his desk, took all his books, and hurled them out of the window. Poor John will get a surprise.

I went to my dressing room to change. I sat in front of the fire, watching the sparks fly up the chimney. I lay there trying to remember what he looked like, his long, flabby face.... I began to feel the need of somewhere to retreat. It would be less embarrassing to have a bath while John was absent.

I splashed around in the tub. I had committed the cardinal sin of not shutting the door behind me. All of a sudden I noticed that someone was following me. She seems to be in... A little discussion would clear the air. ‘Felicity, I'm sorry.’

‘Stop.’ She cut off my apology.

I couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't sound banal. ‘I've just let things slide, I'm afraid. What I'm fumbling to say is that I felt different about you.’

She looked at me queerly and didn't seem to know how to answer.

‘George is Celia's real father.’

She gave an ambiguous nod.—‘I see. Do you mean,’ she asked with a disingenuous smile, ‘that it was John? He's not in this afternoon. Whoops, that was a bit of a give-away.’

I wanted to be spoiled, to act the patient—an unsuspected, long repressed appetite for sensual pleasure. I felt that she knew all the secrets of my heart. She put a foot up on the rim of the tub. Her legs were of a deep golden brown.

‘If I were to ask you to scrub my back, what would you say?’ My imagination boggled at the thought of her reaction.

‘I'm sorry to have to dispel your romantic notions. Kindly take your hand off my knee.’

There was a note of triumph in her voice. It was not an act of self-defence, but an act of aggression. I felt like sliding my pointed nail file into her jugular vein. In fact, I think I'd have enjoyed it, if such a thing is possible. ‘There is no call for you to be so rude. Do me a favour, Felicity. Don't say anything about this. There's an awful lot of unkindness around. Let's make it up, shall we? Let's get out and breathe a little country air.’

She laughed, and brushed past me out of the room. She ascended the flight of narrow stairs to her bedroom, shaking her hips in a consciously provocative manner.

My mind's gone blank. I desperately wanted to be on my own. She has been denouncing me in no uncertain terms. I wandered aimlessly along the beach. There had been only one set of footprints there, those which I'd made myself. No one can compel love. The sun touched the horizon, set it aflame, and disappeared. There was a dreamlike quality to the scene. Equality does not guarantee happiness in love. There are certain things that are absolutely basic to a good relationship. Be honest, John, and admit what a mess the whole thing is...

The first thing I did when I came back was clean the bathroom.

Summer changed to autumn. John's absences were frequent. He discovered in himself an unsuspected, long repressed appetite for pleasure. He got tied up with some girl. On Saturday nights they're usually out slumming it in the East End. He asked what the marks were on the stair carpet. He hooks a foot round the door to bring it slamming to as he leaves. He had absented himself for an entire day. He was getting drunk every night and having love affairs and all that sort of thing. He broke the rule that family discord should never reach the ear of outsiders.

Suppose you fall in love with someone who, once the romance has worn off, is unsuitable? It’s better if I don’t see him­I’m blowed if I’m going to apologize.

‘This is my boyfriend David.’

I was slow in reacting to her news. ‘Goodness, you startled me—I thought you were in the garden.’

‘Don't be alarmed. I've been watering the garden. All this gardening has given me a real thirst.’ David and Felicity locked arms.

‘Pleased to meet you. I don't think we have met, have we?’ He sat down to a great dish of macaroni. Felicity drank thirstily. John and I exchanged sidelong glances.

Go to part 3 of Secret Ballet

Last update: 16 October 2008 | Impressum—Imprint