My 2018 ended with a hate storm, in response to my appointment as chair of the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. But the new year brings a lull, and I hope and pray that the Grand Inquisitor enthroned by social media will find another target.
The 27th is my 75th birthday, and as it happens the last Wednesday meet of foxhounds for the season. We host the meet and celebrate with our neighbours. Despite my wife Sophie’s protests, I maintain my resolve to give up hunting at 75, counting again the broken bones, sprains and muscular disorders acquired over 35 years in the saddle, or, rather, out of it. On my last hunt, I am glad to say, I stay in the saddle all day.
I try out my thoughts on Parsifal before a crowded meeting of the Wagner Society. Through a wonderful artistic contrivance Wagner connects redemption and suffering, showing that our highest aspirations grow from our darkest griefs, and that the gate to fulfilment stands on the way of loss. The music says this, even if the words and the plot shroud it in mystery. One member of the audience asks a penetrating question. I forget the question, but remember the man, since five months later he is to save my life.
I have been dismayed to discover how many meetings, reports, visits and discussions are involved in a government commission. Creative writing is clearly impossible. My little book of stories, Souls in the Twilight, may have to stand in for all the other things I have wanted to write in my retirement. My agent suggests a relaunch in April. I go along with the idea, not anticipating what awaits me.
High points include a visit to Newcastle and Tynemouth, much-loved places where I could certainly live, notwithstanding the vandalisation of the city in the Sixties by councillors who treated collective responsibilities as personal gifts.
A visit to my dear friend Jonathan Ruffer at Bishop Auckland shows that our country also produces people who treat personal gifts as collective responsibilities.