Diary

Alan Bennett

London, 30 January. A meeting at the Royal Court re Kafka’s Dick, now put off until September. Their next play is an adaptation by Howard Barker of Women beware women, and the production after that The Normal Heart, an American play about Aids. This is referred to at the theatre as ‘Men beware men’.

New York, 14 February. Lunch with S. at the Harvard Club. Grander (or certainly loftier) than any London club at lunchtime, it is as busy as a railroad station. Afterwards we sit in the library. Smack opposite the vast window of this superb room, in which sleep several distinguished Senators, is a cheap clothing store and a neon sign winking ‘Crazy Eddy’s’.

London, 4 March. Read Winnie the Pooh to an audience of children at the Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn. Many have never been in a theatre before. I battle against the crying of babies and the shouts of toddlers and end up screaming and shouting myself. It is Winnie the Pooh as read by Dr Goebbels.

Yorkshire, 29 March. It is Bank Holiday and the Cave Rescue gets called out to find some students who have gone pot-holing and not come up. A young caver from our village, David Anderson, is one of the rescue team. The water is rising and as he is going down he slips into a narrow gulley. Though he is roped up, the force of the torrent is too much for his companions: as they struggle to pull him out, his light still shining through the water, he drowns. The students are later found unharmed. What the feelings of the rescuers must be when, having lost one of their colleagues, they come upon the students is hard to imagine. Some harsh words spoken, or no words spoken at all more likely, pot-holers being a pretty laconic breed. The boy himself was very shy, blushing if his leg was pulled and cautious to a fault. Putting a TV aerial up on Graham Mort’s cottage roof, he got into a complete safety harness. He is the first cave rescuer ever to have died. Four hundred cavers turn up for his funeral and follow the coffin down the village to the graveyard. It is like a scene from Northern Ireland. The students who were rescued have gone down again today.

London, 8 April. A helicopter crashes near Banbury. The pilot, four children and a woman are killed. An eager reporter on P.M. interviews an eye-witness who describes what happened. ‘But what did it look like?’ persists the reporter. What he means is ‘What did it look like seeing six people burn to death?’

Bruges, 19 April. Drenching rain. Sea Scouts are putting up two wooden stakes near the Fish Market as once upon a time, in this city of cruelties, other more sinister stakes were often erected. Later we pass by; it is still raining and two figures in oilskins have been lashed to the stakes and a Sea Scout waits with a bucket of sponges for anyone wanting to pay for a shot.

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