Just back from Sri Lanka, a place I first went to in 1981. It was then a dreamy island. I remember giving the room boy who had brought my case to the bandicoot-infested bedroom in Colombo a few rupees, but he wasn’t interested. He just wanted to sit on the bed and talk — about London, England, cricket, life. Three decades and a civil war later, people are aware of money, there is bottled water, and a pot of tea doesn’t take half an hour to arrive. One thing that seems unchanged is the optimism of the people. The new president, Mr Sirisena, has promised an end to the corruption of the Rajapaksa regime. Everyone I spoke to seemed to believe the new man really would change the country, even though he was acting minister of defence at the end of the civil war and has said he won’t co-operate with any international inquiry into war crimes. He has appointed the leader of the opposition as his prime minister and announced a 5,000-rupee rise for all public sector workers now, and another in June. Banned newspapers have started up again. Among other conciliatory moves, Sirisena has appointed a Tamil lawyer to be chief justice of the supreme court. Fingers crossed.
By the time this is printed, I will have finished a novel. It has taken three years and a fair amount of head-scratching. The last chapter is a strange place for a novelist to be. The characters are by now running the show and it seems wrong to nudge them towards a pre-determined end. The temptation is to stay with them a little longer and let them work out for themselves what happens. I feel like a parent turning on the lights at a teenage party. There is relief, too, at having finally landed whatever odd fish this turns out to be. I’m intrigued to know what other people make of it, but the sad thing is that the writer is quite out of synch with the reader. By the time the book is published in October all my hope and elation will have gone; I’ll listen with professional detachment to the views of others, public or privately offered, but there’ll be no joy in it because it’s all too late. The book is called, fittingly perhaps, Where My Heart Used to Beat.
When I last had a job, I spent all the time longing to be released from it so I would have time to write books. My wish was granted in 1991. I have now spent almost a quarter of a century alone in a garret staring at a blank wall and I think it has driven me a bit mad. I’ve done my stint. I need to have a job again now. I want colleagues, gossip, promotions, lunches and a PAYE packet in a grey windowed envelope, with tax and National Insurance deductions already made. So that’s my resolution for this year: find a job. I can still write books at night and at the weekend, as I did in the early days. So if anyone has something for a chronically unemployed middle-aged non-smoker with no qualifications at all, here I am.
Meanwhile, I have — to the disdain of my smarter friends and horror of my children — joined Twitter. I hoped it would be like having virtual colleagues. And in a way it is. Tom Holland keeps me informed of the latest from the court of Nero and the life of Pliny; Anthony McGowan and Elizabeth Day make me chuckle at the water cooler (or kitchen tap as we call it). I chat with the cast of Birdsong the play, which is off to Aberdeen in its third year of touring, with Emily Bowker and Edmund Wiseman hot stuff as the lovers. This is fun, and Twitter certainly hasn’t, as some predicted, put an end to work; I look at it for less than ten minutes a day. The downsides are the boasting — even people I know to be modest in real life think it acceptable to retweet anything flattering that’s said about them — and the competition to be more self-righteous than anyone else, e.g, over the end of Page 3 in the Sun. So thus far, a qualified thumbs-up. To get more from it, I probably need to follow more people. Suggestions welcome.
The Six Nations rugby tournament annually blows away the darkness of midwinter. First off, England against Wales in Cardiff was a thrilling game, though the preamble was absurd. The lasers, the music, the fireworks, the bombast, the fannying about in the tunnel… I’ve seen nothing quite so vapid since my daughter took me to a Girls Aloud concert at Wembley Arena. Like most Englishmen, I’m in awe of Welsh rugby and as a teenager hero-worshipped Phil Bennett, Gerald Davies, Gareth Edwards and the rest. I hate to think what they must have made of it. They never struck me as dancing girl and laser types. Not before the game anyway.