Several members of my family are enthusiastic diary writers. I’m not as a rule but I’ve just discovered, by looking through old computer files, that I did actually record the events of 2001. Two things are immediately obvious. Firstly, that I am no Samuel Pepys and secondly, that Arthur C Clark got his predictions totally wrong. So what happened 14 years ago in the Diary of a Nobody?
In January I went to see Webster’s Duchess of Malfi at the Bradford Alhambra. Not as good as Shakespeare at his best, I thought, but neither was it the appalling blood stained melodrama that I had assumed. A young duchess is widowed leaving her rich, in a position of power, and not controlled by a man. She chooses to marry again to a perfectly good husband of inferior social status, but this drives her two elder brothers into paroxysms of fury. They eventually imprison and kill her, and her children. I didn’t feel that the reason for their anger was fully explained. They may have hoped to inherit her wealth, or they may have felt that they had a moral right to control their sister who had neither husband nor father living. The consequences of this single crime is the eventual death of all the participants. Unbelievable? Moving forward to 2015 a TV documentary describing the appalling and violent misogyny among Indian rapists was banned by the Indian government.
On February 14 I received a St Valentine’s Day card at work, reeking of perfume and with several lipstick prints of lips. Unfortunately the writer used the pronoun ‘we’ when more naturally ‘I’ would have been expected. I imagine it was the department nurses up to their tricks. I reluctantly supposed that the expression ‘we gaze upon your loveliness’ was never intended to be taken seriously. To cheer myself up I went to PC World to buy my first computer game. Amazingly on the till was one of my fellow archaeology night-school students. ‘Sir is buying toys for himself then’, she said. Well it was kindly meant, but I wish I had been purchasing something more impressive. A computer guide to the calculus perhaps.
In Spring 2001 the UK was in the middle of a Foot & Mouth epidemic. This impacted my GCSE archaeology final essay. In theory we were meant to visit Ilkley Moor and record some of the archaeology (stone rings, cairns etc). Unfortunately the disease prohibitions shut the whole moor for several months. Except for one or two wise virgins, who did their field work in the previous winter, the whole class was stuck with an uncompletable project. On May Day Bank Holiday I thought that I might drive up to Malham Cove to try to find the various Bronze Age settlements there. I was very encouraged by the sign saying ‘Malham is open’ as one entered the village. Sadly I was cruelly deceived. The nearest I could get to Malham Cove itself was the main road. The bronze age habitations remain unexplored. But still, it was a very beautiful day. Viruses: the hospital computers, including mine, were struck by the Homepage virus that connected your Internet browser permanently to a pornographic website in Holland.
In June I decided to set myself a target of three years to get out of dermatology and into Channel Four TV’s Time Team. Well, some of that plan worked. Time Team was about 5 years old in 2001 and they were still screening ‘specials’ in 2014. What a success. In the same year I gathered that the BBC were intending to broadcast another series about modern people living in a pretend Iron Age village. They did this before in the late 1970s and the result was absolutely farcical. Living in the Past may have told us something about how the middle classes would have coped with the aftermath of a nuclear war but as a guide to the habits of our ancestors it was quite valueless. My favourite episode included a poor girl being given an ‘iron age bath’ by standing naked in a trough and having two strapping blokes pour buckets of water over her. Ice bucket challenge finally conquered the world in 2014. I suppose the producers could claim that reality TV started in 1978; I am a Celtic chieftain get me out of here!
I was delighted to find my old friend A was incorporated into a BBC2 TV series on the middle classes. I didn’t read the Radio Times as avidly as I might, but no less than three people spotted her name and were kind enough to inform me. A is a peace person, and was constantly being put in prison for chaining herself to submarines and cruise missiles. I don’t think that we have ever agreed on any subject whatever but it’s a bit dangerous to really fall out with someone who is so passionate about non-violence. Besides she is the only famous person I know. We met again in 2015; we still don’t agree about anything, and Phil constantly had to step in before we broke the furniture. At least the cruise missiles have gone.
In June 2001 we had a general election. I wasn’t very surprised about the result, although I did stay awake until 1.30 a.m. ‘just in case’. As a LibDem I was very gratified by some small gains, which are not likely to be repeated shortly in 2015. I thought that Charles Kennedy was quite impressive during his first election as LibDem leader. His was undoubtedly more than a news quiz panellist; how much more was subsequently to be revealed. My father, who was then an ardent enthusiast for Tony Blair, had been quite convinced he would never live to see another election. He was so delighted to be wrong that he stayed up to 3 a.m. and then fell asleep in his chair. Sadly Dad is long gone but now I fall asleep in my chair in memory. As for the 11% of people who voted for the BNP in Oldham – well that was certainly the worst news on election night.
One of our student nurses was a Leeds-born Hindu. She has already been disowned by her family after forming a liaison with a white boy. She was now being spat at in the street by white men, and Asian teenagers, when she walked out with her chap. She it was who first rang the Police during some recent disorder (July 2015) in Listerhills, Bradford. Simply to live her everyday life demanded courage of a very high order.
In the summer we visited Wiltshire and the Isle of Purbeck. I tried to be sensitive to the needs of others and so suppressed my wish to pursue archaeology on a daily basis. Stonehenge was something of a shock. I knew in advance that you weren’t permitted to touch the stones any more. I wasn’t anticipating the 200 space car park nor the 800 other people who ‘shared the moment’ with Tim and me. I was glad to have seen the stones once more, and I felt that Tim’s education required the trip, but the mystery of the place is totally destroyed. When I last went to Salisbury Plain in the 1960s you could touch the stones and I shared my, rather rain swept, visit with only three people and a dog. Tim’s favourite holiday activity was ‘pitch & put’ golf. I was hopeless but Phil turns out to be brilliant and beat us both in two separate competitions. We saw quite a lot of my sister in law who has an enormous and inexplicable enthusiasm for eating out. I tried to endure it patiently in the cause of family amity.
Friends Reunited had been launched six months earlier and was a website that is devoted to bringing old school friends together. It seemed incredible that one of these and myself, both from Sussex, should have been living within a mile of each other for 18 years and never realised. It seemed quite possible that his daughter had even been a patient of mine. To be fair we had both changed a good deal in 34 years and his main hobby was orienteering in which I don’t participate very often, or indeed ever. Examining the page on the website for my junior school I located two old friends whom I last saw at the age of eleven. Finding people who I had supposed were irretrievably lost turned out to be rather a moving experience. Especially sad has been the realisation that two of our class have already died, including the little girl whose books I used to carry home. My career hasn’t always moved in exactly the directions I would have wished, but I can’t complain about the delightful friends I have always had, past and present.
11th September 2001. Everyone is said to remember where they were when they heard the news of President Kennedy’s assassination. I certainly do. Now I had another experience I shall never forget. I switched on my car radio at 3 pm when I was driving from one hospital to another. I heard the announcer say that, for reasons that would be explained in the forthcoming news bulletin, the arrangement of the afternoon’s remaining programmes would be altered. I knew instantly that something truly dreadful had happened and I assumed that one of some poor children trying daily to get to school in Northern Ireland, through a group of hostile protestors, had been injured or killed. In the event the truth was far worse than I could possibly have imagined. One of our daughters, who scarcely knew of what human beings are capable, was terribly upset by the appalling TV images. In themselves the events were heart-breaking and incomprehensible but I feared the consequences of the inevitable American retribution. Grief and anger, though understandable, are such poor guides to action. Of course there were wiser voices raised but I expected them to be inaudible in a tempest of hate. We have not yet seen the end of these events which are coming closer to home all the time. I don’t suppose that members of ISIS are allowed to attend the theatre and if they were I don’t suppose they would see the Oresteia or the Theban plays of Sophocles. So they will never learn that sharper minds, and incomparably greater hearts, have been struggling with the consequences of deadly human behaviour for millennia.