Susan Hill

Diary - 28 September 2017

The sun dancing on the North Sea is a delight. But the fighting terns are a reminder of the state of nations

Diary - 28 September 2017
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I don’t know why party conferences no longer take place in Scarborough. As a child, I saw many an important politician strolling to the Spa Hall, including Winston Churchill. I am a Conservative party member but I have never been to conference. What would I do? Standing ovate, I suppose. But this year? Hm. Theresa May messed up bigger time than she may ever realise. My local association saw the writing on the wall before the polls closed. A panic email came in. ‘It’s going to be very tight.’ Tight indeed.

Now, the government seems entirely focused on Brexit, and of course it is important, but there are many other matters to sort out and I don’t mean internecine squabbles. Poverty. Housing. Schools. Holes in the road. I understand why many young people are turning away from us. But not why some older ones who should have more sense are Corbynistas. I met some people in their sixties, higher-educated, cultured, thoughtful, intelligent and quite well-heeled, who actually said that not only Jeremy Corbyn but his far-left allies were a good thing. They have lived long enough to know how it actually pans out for ordinary citizens in Marxist countries, and the way their economies always tank, yet still promote a government of the far left here. One such refused to help me with a good cause, saying, ‘I won’t, because this is what the government should pay for and if I give they have an excuse not to.’ Meanwhile, the homeless continue to be homeless. I don’t know how I held back from smacking him.

Golden days. Leaves drifting down, the sun dancing on the North Sea this morning. The autumn equinox. The house martins were more plentiful this year than they have ever been — nine nests, all full. Those beneath the bathroom window were still feeding their late second brood two days ago. One afternoon, I leaned out of the window and several small faces looked up at me from the nest. Next morning they had all gone. Which will survive the journey to Africa, which will return next April? There are bigger things in the world to worry about, but the hirundines touch my heart and I miss them.

My 60th book will be published next week. How strange. When the first was accepted by Hutchinson, I was taken out to lunch by my first editor, Dorothy Tomlinson. Very few people will remember her, though I know that the distinguished travel writer and novelist Colin Thubron does, because he was working as her assistant when I was starting out, and before he went off to Ulan Bator on foot. We both benefited so much from her expert eye, wide-ranging taste and firm but kindly way with the black pen. Her father, H.M. Tomlinson, was also a travel writer and novelist of distinction in his day. He was of the school of Joseph Conrad, and his books bear reading, especially The Sea and the Jungle and London River, if you can track copies down. He died just before his daughter took on my book, and she talked about him with enormous pride and fondness at that first lunch. We went to Brown’s Hotel, and she ordered hors d’oeuvres, which came on a trolley whose trays went up and round, revealing the delights of devilled eggs, rollmops, olives and gherkins, none of which I had ever tasted. I was frozen with embarrassment, which Dorothy sensed, and so chose for me. She happened to mention that her father had been a friend of Thomas Hardy, whose The Return of the Native I had just done for A-level. He sometimes went to their house for tea. To think that my own publisher had handed scones to a contemporary of Charles Dickens, and one of the greatest English novelists.

The first geese are back, though I have yet to see long skeins forging across the sky overhead, making such a clatter that their wings might be made of wood. Yet it was warm enough on the first day of autumn to sit on the beach in the sun. A few people crunched along the shingle. A fishing boat came in. One brave soul swam. Dogs plunged crazily into the water, sending up sheets of spray. But there were miles of emptiness under a vast blue sky. Two terns dived for mackerel and caught one. They fought over it as they flew up, so angrily that they dropped the fish back into the sea. They didn’t notice, just went on fighting over nothing. It reminded me of Handel’s great chorus from the Messiah. ‘Why do the nations so furiously rage together?’ Something else for our government to worry about.

Susan Hill's 60th title is Jacob's Room is Full of Books: A Year of Reading