May 31st 1984

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I was well enough to accompany Val this morning to the Immigration Office, where we were going to procure HK identity cards, with which we hoped to corroborate our claimed status as students.  I had no trouble obtaining mine, but Val ran up against an unexpected obstacle.  It was partly of her own making, but she wasn’t to know that at the time.  The lady who helped Val fill out her application form copied her name from her new passport, then asked Val to verify that it was correct.  Val replied, quite truthfully, that it wasn’t, for the first time realising that the passport recorded her name as Valerie Annie.  And because of that small slip, + after a good deal of consultation, Val was informed she couldn’t be issued with an ID card until her passport had been amended, at a different office.  She was highly pissed off with the whole thing, but went off grumbling while I returned to the hostel to resume my communion in the toilet.

I spent the rest of the day lying around, recovering from my morning excursion.  Val returned at lunch-time, fuming about the bureaucratic tangles she had run into – first she had been kept waiting, then told the amendment would take a week, then told the man who could deal with was at lunch.  So she returned in the afternoon to join battle once again, but found things flowing much more her way.  Her passport was altered, messily but officially, + she was able to obtain her card.  A lot of fuss to get hold of a document of distinctly dubious value.

We ate a light meal in the evening, + Val took the box of goodies we wanted to leave behind to Chungking Mansions, to leave in the care of Jean, a long-time resident there, rather than pay the $2 a day storage fee at the hostel.  I wasn’t at all sure she had done the right thing, especially as Jean hadn’t been there, + Val had entrusted it to another guy to pass it on for us.  Not that the contents are valuable, but I’d far rather have them than not.

We passed away the evening painlessly watching telly.  I managed a final snack of beans on bread, + then we were off catching the ferry across to HK island to take the midnight boat to Macao.  A bit of a walk on the other side, on distinctly tottery legs, but we arrived at the Macao terminal eventually, bought our tickets, + passed thro’ immigration smoothly enough, + onto the boat, a clean + comfortable set-up.  We both had bunks + blankets.  I’m not at all sorry to be leaving HK, but am profoundly disturbed by the prospects offered by China.

And so we managed to comp[ete the necessary formalities, and are now on our way once again. Encountering bureaucracy always seems to cause difficulties, so it is remarkable, despite the hassle and her consequent lack of temper, that Val was able to manage to navigate it at all, let alone got an entirely positive result.

Surprise!

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The surprise in question coming when Roji walked in to the rehearsal; it seemed the charity he works for had paid for him to come up to London, and clever Roji had not only made sure this happened on a Wednesday, but also that he could have a shlrt time off “for a very important meeting”.  The irony was that Hamed was late – he had gone to view a possible flat, but of course the landlord had turned up late.  And the flat was dreadful.

But it did mean that we could all rehearse together.  And actually, it was a little disappointing; as both Roji and Hamed were struggling with their words at times, which dragged things back.  All the same, I am remaining positive.  I have done this sort of thing enough times now to recognise that the path to performance is by no means a smooth upward trajectory.  But I do think the piece has the potential to be very good indeed, so I will be disappointed if they do not do themselves justice.

May 30th 1984

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I had an appalling night once again, up every hour to visit the toilet.  Being constantly ill is depressing me enormously.  Apart from the obvious inconveniences, I am drained of energy, + it is depriving me of my enjoyment of food, life, + nearly everything else.  I spent virtually the entire day in bed, feeling both sick + sorry for myself, while Val ran around town getting various last-minute chores done – shopping for various foods, buying a skylight filter + lens cap holder for the camera, having our Chinese names written on our student cards – you never know, it just might help us to get student discounts.  I ate nothing all day, but at least managed some sleep, so had enough energy to get up to watch Liverpool play Roma in the European Cup final – it wasn’t at all a bad game, + ended, excitingly, in penalties.  Liverpool went first, + I thought they’d blown their chances when they missed, but 3 shots later, Roma did the same thing, almost identically, + then did it again 4 shots later, so all Allan Kennedy had to do was pop in the last one.  Which he did, very neatly.  Not an entirely satisfactory win, but I was pleased we pipped the Italians.  That makes 7 years out of 8 it’s gone to England.  And from something the commentator on the radio said, I gather Spurs won the EUFA Cup too.

Very little to report here, it being such a flat day, but we are preparing ourselves, rsther slowly, for our journey into China.

May 29th 1984

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Far from providing the opportunity we had hoped for, of looking round HK, the day turned out dismal + depressing.  The rain fell heavily, not providing any incentive to get out + at it.  So we stayed in bed late, breakfasted in leisurely fashion – it was into the afternoon before we finally got moving.  We bought Val 2 pairs of shoes from the Chinese Good Emporium along the street – they were both cheap + comfortable, one pair leather, one cloth Kung Fu shoes.  In the evening, we were able to enjoy looking at our photos, just returned from the developers.  The first roll in particular, of street scenes in Kathmandu was excellent, the black + white roll was by and large disappointing, + the mountain shots didn’t work nearly as well as we had hoped.  Which just goes to show what silly-billies we were for not having some sort of a filter to cut down the glare.  I paid a visit to the local Wendy’s fast-food place for my evening meal, just to make a change from Ronald McDonald, but I didn’t really enjoy it.  And then watched a little telly, before retiring to the delights of Auntie Beeb.

I suppose photography is another aspect of life now that is hugely, radically different from what it was in those days. Not knowing whether they were turning out all right, but having to wait,,, days, weeks, months. But in compensation, the excitement of receiving all those glimpses of the near-past laid out for one…

Auntie Beeb, by the way, for the benefit of those unversed in colloquuial English, is the slang name for the BBC.  And still, forty years on, pretty much still my best friend.  I use an iPad to keep up with the radio nowadays, but it remains my solace whenever I am away.

Portland

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With Roji ensconced in deepest Dorset, we made the decision that we should have at least one rehearsal down there; a rehearsal over zoom was certainly better than nothing, but also not really relevant for the physical aspect, and dependent, of course, on the technology not letting us down.  Unfortunately, Sasha had something else arranged, and so was unable to come, but the majority of the play centres on the relationship and interaction of Hamed and Roji, so it was still very useful to go down there.

The journey was rather more taxing than I had anticipated, being predicted at just over three hours when we started, and encountering any number of traffic jams.  But, at just about 2 o’clock, we rolled into Portland, picked up Roji (along with a friend of his, another young asylum-seeker from the barge, called Mohammed.)  We found the address of b-side, an arts organisation in town, who had agreed to let us rehearse in their small activity space, were let in and shown around, and set to work.

One development, that we would not have been able to manage over zoom, was the addition of the majority of their costume – a pair of hats (having decided not to go down the traditional and rather stereotyped idea of bowlers); a suit from a charity shop in Thame, split between them; boots for Roji and flip flops for Hamed.

We started on a run. With stops whenever we encountered a section which broke down because of forgetting words, I was actually impressed with the progress the piece has made.  And we were able to add in some details, each one making the piece just that little bit better.  This took quite a while, after which we had a short break for some sandwiches from the shop next door, before embarking on one more run, this time without a break (more or less) and with me taking notes throughout, and passing them on at the end.  We are, I think, very nearly ready.

At the end, we closed up and drove around to see if we could see (and take a picture of) the Bibby, but things have been set up so that the main security gate, through which we could not pass, still has the Bibby out of sight.  And so we said good bye to Roji and Mohammed, and headed back to Oxford.

May 28th 1984

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Remarkably, after 2 nights running with very little sleep, I didn’t feel at all bad.  Val woke me at about 9, + after a shower, I was raring to go.  Today was a Monday, + we had business to attend to.  First stop was the Immigration Office, where we picked up our new HK passports.  Each of them was attached very firmly to our old ones, with ribbon passing thro’ holes in the rear cover of the new to the front cover of the old, + sealed on the inside of that with a large + impressive-looking wax seal.  The problem with having 2 rather than one, of course (one problem, anyway) is that we now have something the size of a thin paperback to fit into our moneybelts, more than compensating for the hugely diminished stack of travellers’ cheques we carry.

We paused for breakfast at this point, the same as yesterday, with the addition of Corn Flakes – then moved hostels to a place nearby called the IYAC.  We had intended to move here before, but had only found the place + given it a brief inspection yesterday afternoon.  It offers much the same as the Travellers’ Hostel: dorm accommodation, a TV lounge, a kitchen; + is even a little more expensive, $22 per person, but the compensations are that it is much smaller + friendlier.

Then, across to Hong Kong island to see if we had any mail waiting for us at the Amex office.  To our delight, we did.  Receiving mail has definitely been one of our most exhilarating experiences.  We collected them all up, + went off to a coffee house to read them in peace + comfort.  I was even more pleased that I had rung Mum yesterday, for there was no letter from her.  She had said something about it on the phone, but I hadn’t really caught it.  I can only imagine she has sent her most recent letters to Bangkok.  Which is crazy, since she forwarded a letter from Patrick alright.  However, there were: 2 letters from Val’s mum, a short card from Pete, a letter from Bernadette, the Patrick letter, + included in Val’s mum’s letters, short notes from Roger, Val’s cousin, + Marion.  No overly startling news, which is probably a very good thing, but Bernadette told us she had definitely telly the tapas; Patrick gave us a brief resume of his trip home; Pete has, at last, acquired a girlfriend (thank God for that, I was beginning to think he was celibate or gay); + Marion’s latest boyfriend is in Newton Abbot nick serving time for post office fraud – she + her mum have recently been to visit him.  Most annoyingly, we discovered that Pete’s recently composed mammoth letter + cassette are languishing in Bangkok’s Amex office (if they haven’t already been sent back) along with a letter from Mar, +, we are sure, quite a few others.  I immediately sent off another postcard there, reminding them to hang on to anything they might get.

Having satisfied ourselves for the present, we caught the ferry back.  Annoyingly, it had been a bright sunny day, almost our first in HK, + one which we had failed to take advantage of.  Still, if the weather holds, we’ll sight-see tomorrow.  It was my turn to cook tonight, + I was very angry with Val, who had popped out to get a little shopping, + was still out after an hour.  I had to let her soup grow cold, +was worried the whole dinner would spoil.  Worst of all, I felt such a fool, wandering back = forth between the kitchen + the lounge to see if she had returned yet.  As compensation, the meal was very tasty.  Later we walked up Nathan Rd to go to the night market.  I didn’t enjoy it, however – I wasn’t feeling all that wonderful, + the place was so crowded + bustling.  We did buy a few things however: a cheap cassette, a headphone adaptor + set of cheap headphones, + a T-shirt for me, a fake Polo one.

I suppose one thing that has been lost with the advent of instant communication in the modern world, is the joy of receiving letters; the very fact that their arrival is precarious makes them all the more precious.

May 27th 1984

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Spaced-out Steve + I both got bawled out at some impossible hour for sleeping on the settee in the TV lounge.  It was choice on his part, more or less necessity on mine, for when I had finally decided to go to my mattress on the floor, I had discovered, like Baby Bear, that someone was sleeping on it.  When Val shook me awake a couple of hours later, we went off once more to sample the delights of the Hong Kong supermarket, + returned laden with goodies for a fine breakfast (tho’, unforgivably, we forgot the Corn Flakes.)  Then, after a more than leisurely meal, we set out to buy a small radio-cassette player.  We knew the model we wanted, + more or less the price we would have to pay, so when we found one in a shop just off a side-street, we bought it, along with a pair of headphones.  It was a small Sony, which, along with the cassette, had 5 SW bands, an FM, and a MW.  We immediately went to a shady spot near the waterfront, + were delighted to pick up an English folk music programme, broadcast from Britain on the Forces’ network.  After killing some time pleasantly in this way, we went over to the nearest telephone office – Hong Kong has many – to try once again to ring Mum – we reckoned a Sunday morning would be a good time.  Phoning from here would have the additional advantage of my being able to reverse the charges, impossible from Nepal.  I thought that Mum wouldn’t mind, + that it could be part of my birthday present.  They were remarkably efficient, + within about 15 mins I was talking to her.  It was a very short call, + we said little.  The telephone, especially over a long distance, is a fairly useless means of communication, I find, except to transmit the basic information.  “I am alive and well now!”  Mum did sound well, + not really at all surprised to hear me.  I’m glad we finally managed to speak to her – the next call, presumably, will be from somewhere in England.

For the rest of the afternoon, we sat in the hostel, reading + listening to the BBC, before we indulged in the total luxury of a home-cooked meal – steak, potatoes, + brussels.  Wonderful.  Come the evening, I slumped in front of the telly once again, + once again the evening degenerated into a long night, sitting + talking + smoking.  Once again, there was Steve the Freak, me, plus an English girl with a big mouth + not much sense called Alison, + an American.  We were joined late by 2 young Scandinavian guys, a Dane + a Norwegian, quite drunk + soon quite stoned too.  The conversation was alright, but time-wasting, leading  nowhere.  Not that I was prompted to go to bed – for some reason, the same thing hits me whenever I’m in HK.  Finally crawled to my bunk as the sky was beginning to lighten.

It is most assuredly a good thing that we decided not to attempt to stay in Hong Kong, for it seemed to produce an instant lassitude. But, at long last, the radio was a most welcome distraction, carrying us instantly back to Blighty…

May 26th 1984

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We’d half-expected Tom + Jan to come round to see us, but when they didn’t show, we went round to see them instead.  Their plans are to hang around in India for a month or 2 until Jan’s dad comes out to meet them in Delhi.  But they plan to hike to the Everest base camp in the autumn, something we’re considering vaguely ourselves.  So we made loose arrangements to keep in touch via the Amex office.  We then wished each other bon voyage + bonne chance, + said goodbye (or should it be au revoir.)

We ate some breakfast at Kantipur’s, a surprisingly good little place for breakfast, especially when I supplemented what they had on offer with a crusty buttered roll from the bakery across the way.  It was funny when we had finished.  We left carrying some old stuff of Val’s – her old boots, a pair of socks, + her schoolboy shirt bought in the thrift shop in Cairns – which we planned to donate to some deserving soul.  As we walked down the street, we were being pestered by one of the regular hawkers, thrusting jewellery at us + jabbering away.  I wasn’t paying him any attention, + was just giving the usual brush-off –  “No thank you, not interested”.  He persisted, however, + I in turn became more vehement, even a little angry.  I don’t mind a man trying to make a living, I was in a similar business myself in Sydney, but he should know when to stop.  But it was only when he kept on that I realised he was proposing an exchange, the old gear we were carrying for a couple of bangles.  When he saw the quality of what we had, he wasn’t so sure, but I settled for just the one bangle, twisted copper + stainless steel, + we were both happy with the deal.

Another story.  Down on Freak St the other day, we were approached by a guy with the usual spiel.  “Wanna change some money, hash, marijuana, coke, LSD, opium…”  I tried to cut him off early in my usual polite way – I don’t like to see people wasting their time – but when he reached the end + then without pausing for breath started going thro’ it again.  I was angry + told him off in no uncertain terms.  “I just told you I wasn’t interested, don’t you understand?  No means no.”  He stopped + looked up at me from under his hooded eyes with an expression of innocence, paused, then “Hash?” he offered.  I could do nothing but laugh.

We were in a bit of as hurry now, as Val went off to see Chiling while I went back to the Lodge to sort out the bill + finish packing.  As usual, there was a mix-up with the bill, but we were able to sort it out amicably in the end.  Chiling wasn’t around, Val returned to tell me, so we decided to forget it.  I was quite happy about it, was happy to forget all about smuggling money out, it simply not being worth the emotional disturbance.  I have turned against the smuggling – not morally, just personally – especially since we discovered that 2 Swiss people were sitting in Kathmandu jails.  We had intended to visit them, but I’m sorry to confess, never got around to it.

We caught a taxi out to the airport – I was a little nervous for a while, since it took some time to find one, + the minutes were ticking by.  I think I’m becoming increasingly like my mum, wanting to have plenty of time for travel arrangements.  We timed things well, in fact – no hanging around, checked straight thro’ to Immigration, no fuss.  For the first time, we had our bags searched leaving a country, + that took some time, there being just the one guy, but it was a cursory affair, + we were soon enough thro’ to the departure lounge, then on the plane.  It was a fine flight, a definite contender for best yet, since for once we had good food + good service combined.  The plane was half-empty, making rather a mockery of RNAC’s claim that the planes were fully booked thro’ to mid-June, but it made the stewardesses’ job far easier.  Perhaps as a result, they were really pleasant, helpful + generous – especially with the booze, a far cry from the embittered battleaxes we had both had on the outward journey.  The food was very good, + we both drank a ridiculous amount.

Arriving at Hong Kong at night, with the lights of the city + harbour, was a real buzz, tho’ I would hesitate to say it felt good to be back.  The formalities were completed in record time.  We touched down at 8, + by 8.30 were in Chungking Mansions.  A problem there, when as we had feared our locker had been opened + our gear taken into storage, but luckily they had only done this recently, so we were only charged a small amount.  And the stuff was safe.  Val went to bed soon after, but I was struck by my usual Hong Kong insomnia, + stayed up till very late, first of all watching the late film, then smoking + talking.  There was a particularly spaced-out Canadian freak called Steve.  I didn’t like him much, he was a big-mouth + a know-all, but those facts were mitigated a good deal by a sense of humour.

And… back in Hong Kong. And a return to the 20th century in many ways, though in so many other ones life had been so much more relaxed and pleasant in Nepal. And good to put smuggling behind us. If it goes well, it is a ridiculously easy was of making some money; if not, of course, the consequences are dire. I cannot say for certain that the Swiss couple even existed, proper information, rather than ill-founded rumour, being so difficult to obtain, but we were both aware that it could happen… and could easily have happened to one of us.

May 25th 1984

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Man in rain

As he had asked us to do, we went to visit Chiling, G’s stand-in when he isn’t in Nepal, to see if he had any of the green stuff for us to take back.  He was his usual abrupt self, + told us he didn’t have any right now, as someone else had just gone back, but that we should come back tomorrow morning before we flew.  We walked down to the Freak St end of town.  That was the area where we were most likely to sell the camera, + in any case we had a few shots left on our film that we wanted to shoot around the Durbar Sq area..  It was a hideous walk.  It had been raining all night, was still drizzling miserably, + with the rain the roads had turned into lanes of mud.  So Val in particular, slopping along in flip-flops, was soon in a dreadful mess.  She had no grip.  Her flip-flops were hurling wet mud up the back of her skirt + legs, + in no time at all she was in a black mood.  The weather conditions certainly weren’t right for taking photos.  Even tho’ we stationed ourselves in the window-seat of a first-floor restaurant overlooking the square, there simply weren’t enough people around, + most of those that were were shielding themselves with umbrellas.  So I left her for a time to grab what photos she could, while I went first to the Post Office, then to one of the local bookshops to grab what books I could.  We decided to buy 4 meaty novels, hopefully enough to last us thro’ our trip.  I grabbed “Lark Rise to Candleford” (English pastoral); one by Hesse (foreign); “A House for Mr Biswas” by Naipaul (contemporary); Conrad’s “Lord Jim” (classic).  Quite a weight, but necessary, I think.

We finally gave up taking any more photos with just a couple of frames left, pulled the film out, + set out to sell it – hopefully at a half-decent profit.  From the response we had, however, we soon had to revise our opinion – people simply weren’t interested.  There were various reasons: some people only wanted it with the standard Canon lens, one shop pointed out a scratch on the body, others had no interest at all.  So that the best we were offered was R4000, or $200, less than we had paid for it a month ago.  We did finally find someone prepared to pay R5000, + he was most upset when we wouldn’t budge from R6000, which we had decided was the absolute minimum we would accept to make it worth our while to go to the trouble of buying a new one.  So we ended up still with our camera.  We weren’t too upset, as we had bought it with just this eventuality in mind, + had made sure we had a camera which, if it came to it, we wouldn’t mind keeping.  Which was just as well.  Imagine lumbering oneself with 2 dozen pen watches.

We slopped back to the Guest-House, + I paid my final visit to the British Council, treating myself for once by taking a trike taxi there.  As usual, however, I discovered little that I didn’t already know or couldn’t have easily guessed, with the possible exception of the fact that Launceston College is advertising for a new Head of History.

We packed up our belongings ready for the morrow when I got back, smoked a little Bob Hope (using a new method – under glass) in order to stimulate the appetite, + then went to KCs, perhaps Kathmandu’s most famous restaurant, for a farewell steak meal.  As we approached, we were hailed from above, Tom + Jan hanging out of a window of the very place.  They had just ab out finished their meal, but we chatted for a while before they departed, giving up their table to us.  Just as well, for there wasn’t another in the whole place.  We arranged to meet them tomorrow morning to say goodbye + return the computer chess.  I was infuriated by the thing, as it had beaten me operating only from level 2.  (I did obtain some measure of satisfying revenge by beating it at level 3 later on.)  The meal was a little pricey, by Kathmandu standards, but quite splendid – tender steak, beautifully cooked.  A nice way to say goodbye to the place’s gastronomic delights.

A matter of tying up loose ends, saying goodbye to Kathmandu, buying books to take into China, finishing off some dope, eating, saying goodbye to friends… But also sdomething of an introduction to the world of selling stuff… or rather trying and failing, which will (spoiler alert) be occupying quite a bit of our time and energy over the coming period. But no luck, or at least not yet.

May 24th 1984

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My birthday party. though rather grim-faced, with Jan and Tom

Another birthday swings around, 31 – bugger me!  I’m getting old.  Val excelled with the presents she bought me.  She started off by spreading them all out, wrapped in newspaper, 9 of them in all, + I had them doled out during the day.  However, to keep things simpler, I’ll list them all now.  There was: a paperback about Sarawak, “3 Came Home”; a Ying Yang writing pad with envelopes; a woollen bobble hat (not a great success – it might end its days as a tea-cosy); a Nepal board game, tigers + goats; a nicely-bound book of plain, locally-made paper; a tube of Pringle’s potato crisps; a woven bag (she bought herself a duffle-bag made of the same material; a waistcoat; + my favourite, a pocket backgammon set made of sandal-wood + ebony.  All in all, a splendid assortment.

We breakfasted down at the Lunch Box, a most leisurely meal, after which we ambled over to the Telegraph Office, taking in the sights along the way – goats’ heads hanging from the doorways along Meat St; a wonderfully exuberant showman with many snakes + one nervous-looking assistant in the main square.  I wanted to ring Mum, having failed last Christmas + on her birthday.  Once again, tho’, it proved a frustrating + vain attempt.  After nearly 2 hrs of waiting, I was rewarded with an unanswered dial tone.  It would have been early morning in England, so I can only suppose she either popped over to the PO early, or she’s on holiday.  Just about the only consolation was that I couldn’t possibly be in as bad a way as a Swedish guy who was there trying to ring home.  I hope for his sake he was trying to arrange his journey back, as he was in a dreadful state.  He could barely walk, his speech was slurred, + his mental processes were slowed down to an alarming degree.  I don’t know enough about drugs to hazard a guess as to what it might be, but he must surely be on something.  I like to dabble, but messing your brain up like that is not funny.

On the way back, we, or rather Val, took a lot of photos, trying desperately to finish the roll of black + white film we’ve put in, before, hopefully, selling the camera tomorrow.  We wanted to get as many people shots as possible – the technique we used was for me to stand between Val + the subject, shielding her while she adjusted the focus etc, + then step aside just before she clicked the shutter.  We got quite slick at it – whether the photos turn out to be any good is an entirely different matter.  By the time we finally got back to the guest-house, it was quite late, + I was in a bit of a rush, hurriedly opening my remaining presents, having a shower + changing, + rolling + smoking a quick joint, putting me into a suitably festive mood.

After which Tom + Jan arrived, bearing birthday greetings + more presents – a small bottle of rum, a matchbox-full of Bob Hope, + the loan of their computer chess game until we left.  I can’t help thinking there was a measure of calculation in at least the first 2 pressies however, as we immediately broke into both.  This put everyone in a good mood, + off we trotted to the bar where we demolished the crisps as well as a couple of beers, + I started to tell the Pierre la Bear jokes, as culled from Phil.  What with the booze, the dope, + the atmosphere, I was feeling very good, if ever so slightly extrovert + incoherent, in the way I become when under the influence of alcohol.  As, indeed, did Dad.  I am my father’s son, alright.

The meal too, at Naryans. Was very successful, with fine food, fine company.  Even tho’ the conversation turned slightly more serious – we talked a good deal about babies, for some reason – it remained entertaining.  We finished the evening in their rooms, playing backgammon, smoking, talking, until fatigue struck us all.  Altogether, quite the best birthday party I’ve had for many years.

With the benefit of hindsight, I know this was my last birthday on the road, asnd most definitely the best yet. Some soplendid presents – I still have the backgammon – and a party to boot!

Plus all those black and white photos, some of which you have already seen, and most of which were splendid.