Volume 1

Chapter 1

The green ink could only mean St John. Charles had just stopped to drop his bags and was making straight to his club for dinner but, unable to resist, tore at the letter by the threshold and read it as he walked; putting it back in his pocket, taking it out again and reading it, then putting it back, then out again to run over a couple lines. Thus lost in thought, he wandered through friends and couples, pretentious dependents, the overpriced and the chic; English in sharp foreign accents with American learnt twang; the click-clack of umbrellas and another Daunt Books bag! Slavs too, stood in small groups smoking, paint-flecked and dusty under great townhouses; all the Holland Park people, further up giving way to gate of that harmless Sodom and Gomorrah farce from Notting Hill; loafers, the scruffy bright young things, geezers in expensive tweeds, posing riff-raff, who look on as if you were the odd one, and the ill-mad, hoarse begging poor. Charles had forgotten the scene and looking around, in the glare of life, it seemed so casually absurd.
  Briskly brought back to his senses along a quiet Serpentine in its first chill, he strolled quickly onto to Piccadilly pleased to find it, as if through a looking glass, a quiet far-cry from its usual laboured breath heaving under thronging footfall, power drills and the put-put of cabs and delivery vans.
  Falling further through the sanctuary of St James. He could smell the nutty musk of after work cigars that usually hung around the corner of Davidoff’s. Catching himself for a moment in the pale sunlight, before the familiar steps of the Decembrist’s club, he listened. You could hear the birds all the way from Green Park.

Dear Charles,

I wonder if this will reach you before you leave! My time in E. Africa was v. memorable and the ‘bush’ is both suitably English and v. much not.

I was sorry to hear you ended with Ophelia. There are few greater pleasures than seeing happy a girl in one’s company; they are always the warmest mornings, those in her embrace; who can fault the odd week of slavish lust and champagne? Life only allows for snatches of bliss, the rest is humdrum suffering and faithful promise.

You wanted more than that, quite rightly, and you acted without shying from upset. Though a fast way to lose the love one wants is to force what has yet to come between the two and, as all good young women, she seemed to know her mind. We can only ask for certainty in ourselves.
  I imagine what pains you most is to be alone again–to quell the heart still leaves one with the bother of the mind. Think then that if one could be with a young woman freely, see her every day, hear and talk to her without delay, such silly upset would not last so long.

These musings are, as you can read, those of a man with too much time but I too am otherwise in despair. That we should want to learn of our past, of course but I cannot accept that we should allow the marxist alliance (BLM et al.) to go about tearing down statues in any great number, eg. more than one. Every statue is a loss of much more; once downed with our tacit approval, it cedes that we, the British people, are guilty,  that our Empire was evil; with any demur outing us as inherent and incurable racists.
  From the first cry at the quay, they would Bath-stone by Bath-stone tear England down to no end. They would do away with that which keeps this country standing; this home of ours made by centuries past, rooted in every corner of the land.
  Of course Bristol now wants to wipe their arms of Colston and Fry…leaving nothing. One day the Memorial Building will be renamed and Wills Hall too, that is when the Wills family are no longer around to donate.

Yes, they acted for their beliefs, creating their own history, but it was just that, acting. Acting out against principles more noble and more valuable to each of us, to them, more than they seem to understand. The petition to the mayoralty had failed so the mob brought change to bear, betraying the very justice and freedom they claim to stand for. This was not the work of right thinking citizens; the ransacked Rome of Goths rather than the republican ideal of Cicero’s.

It makes my stomach turn but what is to be done? No one cared for those of us watching on aghast, as they whistled and brayed. The police stood by and the Government, that meek-mouthed prisoner of the people, put up Patel who, without a clear English sentence, garbled from some office far away.

I could ramble on but your plans are of a more pressing nature; Africa calls!

Godspeed and good luck,

St John

Chapter 2

Leaving Hancockian London, Charles had decided to winter in Cornwall. The country was to be locked-down again, not that it would matter much in Cornwall. One still had to be mindful but the village were not Welsh about it.

The beech in the garden, which he had seen budding white, then copper, was bare again. The house was empty, yet that first evening Charles managed to cook something warm and not mumble to himself.

Dear St John,    

Home again, home again jiggety jig and what a pleasure it was to find your letter waiting. I am sorry it has taken me a while to reply. I have settled down in Cornwall and I think I shall stay for some time now.

I will one day write of Zambia, please do not press me for my notes. I have no heart for it, simple-minded after so many months abroad. What strikes foremost though, on reading your late news, are the knotted truths of that great continent and its peoples; one flies out on an imperial airways of sorts, reads of cruel tyrants and finds Livingstone still standing on a plinth.

I was, until recently, still moved by the idea of travel, of adventure, realising only too late that displacing myself a great distance would not tire my restlessness. I needed to be alone and though I was away, far away as I thought I wanted, I was not alone, distracted and busy instead.
  In no foreign place, in no home, farm, hotel or embassy do I feel happier than I am with my own thoughts on the garden bench, beer in pewter, book in hand, smoking. No exercise, no expedition or activity makes me feel any better than a run along English sands, splashing in cool Cornish waters. No height has given me a better view and peace than that overlooking the fields of home. No food, no cooking fills me any more than the butcher and the fishmonger here.
  This is not to say I have not been happy elsewhere, enjoyed other countries, their thrills, their sights; learnt from their history, their company and their foods but the further I go, the longer I stay, the less free I feel–away, pressed by the thought of all the peace, work, life and beauty here, that there is so much to my own country–in that mirror trick of travel.
  A trick and just like that, snap, I was home, in my bed between my own sheets. Old Africa, its fezzed house-boys, bwana Charles and bloated suns, was but a dreamlike haze, a bedtime story, with only its warmth lingering against my skin and a couple scars to whisper its truth.
Behind the glamour there was a sadness out there, in amongst England’s regimental relics from Zim’s halcyon days; in the bottom of every gin and every whisky, a hard life, a tragedy, a reason why one stays where there is nothing but one’s own effort and the wild just beyond the lawn; that chastening, naked truth.
  I had my thoughts of her, you are right. A couple months of sun-beat work wearies stirring passion but she was like a poison, expelled as I writhed in midnight fever-dream on those cool winter nights. I would think back to those quiet Clifton streets I had called my own, which had been truly so in those empty summer hours, mid-morn, midday and early eve, incensed by the sweet fantasia of her light dresses and Hermès silk.
  I could not reconcile her last letter when every minute had convinced me more and more that we could live as one, that I could get it right with her. Heartfelt bliss made it seem so easily lifelong. Held sure by Ophelia I had forgotten myself; to think from then on, every day, every trial, every doubt, she would be there to strengthen my resolve…I am sorry to linger on an old mood, I am not the first young man and will not be the  last, swept by a madness when really it is quite simple. I should have seen sooner what her soft words meant. Oh, it is bitter sometimes St John. Men without women, as I was out there, end up broken men.

I find myself with quite a bit of time and one of my few vivid childhood memories, a crisis, comes back to me. One night I had struck upon Eternity, an empty universe. In great worry I cried out for my mother. Unreasonably distressed, in that moment unable to bare my body and my thoughts, my consciousness, I was all guttural cries and hot tears. A panic only calmed in a mother’s arms, until exhausted, returned to half-conscious childhood, I fell asleep. So worrying was the thought that I chose not to think of it the next day; scared away, not yet strong enough to face it.
  I see it now, no longer violent and benighted but the reasoned, abstracted conclusion vaguely indulged; drink, bath, wrists or an ‘accident by my own gun’ when I come down here. The young man is best placed for it and should at least once seriously consider it.
  We had blamed university as we had vaguely started to feel this alarm was without answer but it was a truth academia could not be expected to teach. The faculty library was a beautiful but rather foreign place, too full of other people studying, and only in renouncing was I first set free.
  To know this, if not an apology for idlers, at least gives you some sense of what is worth your time and when not to spend a moment longer.

The other week I did what I have not done for a while, I went out and bought a bottle at midday. Morose or more despondent on my way, deciding whether or not to drink that afternoon. I already had two bottles at home, though they were mostly empty.
  Dalwhinnie was discounted; I had remembered liking the bottle we once shared. Why did buy it? Why tell myself I would just get it but not drink it, when of course I knew I would. Racing with these thoughts, my mind simply stopped. I was stood there, in the shop, in a stupor. I could hear myself breath and felt myself stare dumbfounded at the other people, what were they doing? What was I doing? Blankly tapping my card, I stepped out as fast as I could and hurried home.
  ‘Oh well’ the first taste said, opened as soon as I got back, not quite as good as the brooding peat of Islay; that small, cold place we have never seen and yet so greatly enjoyed. One to finish quick then.
  A drink at least makes me happier for a while. It is also less inane than shopping and cheaper than going abroad. Its colour tinges my thoughts and heartens me as I let slip an afternoon. The pop-glug-glug-glug sounds the silence of the house.
  Going upstairs once I spilt a couple drops and instinctively let go of the other things to lick my fingers. Disgusted, I took a last sip and threw the glass out, watching the tap rue as it washed the nectar away. Then the empty glass stared at me, the warmth in my throat lingered, pleading so reasonably. The dregs shimmered; why waste it? But I did not touch it. A shame started to choke; mawkish, I stopped it. One has to draw the line and I decided to come down here. I thought of packing the bottle with me but again, the line.

Over the last few months I have come to see how mistaken we are to think that a series of fortuitous events are in any way assured and that such a pace can be said divine.  
  Knelt, unpacking my cases, I found a seashell forgotten in a draw. I stroked its polished back in my palm, put it to my ear and smiled, hearing the roar of a long unseen beach from boyhood. Becoming the young man I am, growing up, long focused me and only now do I see my faith had been a boy wanting to give strength to his will, as the Stoics had, when all about, country, family, was changing, breaking, lost. Can the wilful young man, now conscious and enlivened, commit?  
  Your faith was always stronger than mine and I would not, as some do, flippantly decry it; talking thus they are clearly still looking for a god, subject to a need, unfulfilled; Godless, uneasy and afraid. To keep oneself right is not always joyful but fearful, hopeful, raised and fallen, I find life-affirming strength stands steadfast only from within.

Forgive these words for we understand each other. Tell me of your plans; I find lasting joy in your letters my good friend, your pleasures and small victories which make life.



The owl had returned to hoot; midnight’s gentle alarm. Charles always slept lightly on such moonlight Cornish nights but that night, having written to St John, he felt like Zeus disgorging Cronus and, lulled by the owl, found a gentle, dreamless sleep without prayer.

Chargé D'affaires - Depuis 2020