22 june 2001

18:35: Peace of mind...

...as I imagine living in a flat I've just seen and quite like. It is large enough to accommodate my archive, it has distant views of the heath and north-west London, it is near to shops and to the heath and to central London. (These things are difficult to combine with low cost.)

As the estate agent and I looked towards the heath we saw a red helicopter landing there. He said it was the air ambulance provided by Virgin.

So now I can cease to worry about house hunting and think of other things. Many thanks to the person who found it for me!

As I walked through the heath a Chinese woman asked me to photograph herself and the man she was with. With their permission I moved the camera closer to avoid that look of tiny faces in a too large landscape. I can never resist being the teacher. They told me they live in Hong Kong. He went there from Britain to work and that was where they met. Later they may retire here. They were amazed when I said that you can walk for miles in the heath - mostly in woodland. And yet it's near to the centre of the city and is far from the edge of it.

And now, under a hazy blue sky and the heavy roar of a jumbojet turning as it climbs over the heath - a sound I've grown used to and which does not threaten me at all. But I remember when the idea of a 400 seat aeroplane was new and some of us thought it would be too dangerous, too noisy, too unthinkable. But we were wrong. And it had the wonderful effect of making the whole world accessible to people of modest (industrial) income.

I have just spoken to a man from Bulgaria who was sweeping the floor in this outdoor cafe. He told me he is studying English before returning to Bulgaria to teach swimming and other sports in a school. I told him that I had only once before met someone from Bulgaria - that I would mention him in this diary - and that tomorrow it will be readable all over the world. How I love these positive things.

As I write I am surrounded by girls aged about ten who are yelling and screaming as they chase each other round the empty tables... and a huge pidgeon lands on the next table - it looks over-fed... and now the children have become quiet as the adults have given them ice creams.

Life is good!

On my way out I asked the adults if it was a school. They told me it was a children's party and they apologised for the disturbance. They seemed surprised and pleased when I said that the sight and sound of their children made life seem worth living.... (not that it wasn't before)

Perhaps they are inured to the notion that children have always to be apologised for and are not seen as life itself in its liveliness... but these words are not up to what I am trying to say. Is liveliness indescribable? I guess so. Life and death can not be measured.

As I walked towards the bus a man said good evening and half stopped to remark on the good weather... so I turned back to speak to him. He is an old soldier, an ex-sergeant major. He told me he was born in the first world war and that he fought in the second. 'And you survived', I said. 'Yes - that was the luck of the draw' he said. He had lost the loud voice I associate with sergeant-majors and seemed as peaceful as anyone I've known. He wore a khaki corduroy cap and a smart khaki jacket - not exactly uniform but with that impression of care and self respect that is one of the the good sides of army life. And helpful in old age.

I enjoyed being in the army - once I'd grown used to being shouted at. We used to laugh at the sergeant-majors (when they weren't looking).

(And now, typing out these thoughts after having slept on them, I am not so sure that I like the flat - some of its snags have become evident to me and my peace of mind is gone. I've been uneasy and inactive all day - but at least this is done.)