Monday, May 21, 2012

Alan Clark Diaries

Just back from the dentist: yearly check-up. It was a new guy: young, confident, public-school-posh; the faint brashness which stifles your oxygen. The teeth and gums are fine though and I capitulated to his request for X-Rays despite reading what a huge health risk they are. Today it's digital and in three minutes I was looking at his screen and comparing my teeth two years ago and today: hardly any change.

The hygienist tomorrow at 8.10 am and I will sparkle as the Olympic Torch scampers through Wells at 10.35 am: the end of our road, actually.

Alan Clark often reckoned he sparkled, that is, when he was not being at least demi-lionised. I read his political diaries (when he was a junior minister in Thatcher's government in the 1980s) pretty much by accident: it was lying around on one of our bookshelves. I was soon drawn in by his general bitchiness and character-skewering of pretty much every other politician around him.

His final diaries, covering the 1990s until his death in 1999, are more confessional. He's out of power during most of them, moving between his castle in Kent, his Scottish estate and his chalet in Zermatt, Switzerland with stops at his London apartments and his place in the West Country. All this sounds mega-aristo-rich but he still has to shop at Tescos, and without legions of domestic staff upkeep and maintenance are a recurring chore and expense.

The Clark psychology is interesting. He's clearly a Rational, an NT and probably an ENTP. Within that broad classification he's astonishingly low on empathy while exhibiting major hypochondria and a breathtaking lack of self-awareness. His innate psychological drives: ambition, a kind of quasi-aristocratic English nationalism, religiosity and a primal lust batter him around like a skittle. When he's out of Parliament he feels cut-off and lifeless; when he's in he’s trapped by endless pointless meetings and having to deal with what he takes to be idiots, while pining for the freedom of his estates.

A recurring motif is the "Sword at the bottom of the lake". In this Arthurian reference he sees himself as being destined for greatness: Secretary of State in one of the Great Offices, Leader of the Conservatives, Prime Minister. Malicious 'friends' flatter him every so often that his chances are looking up. He believes them. It's obvious to the reader that he has no chance: he has no concept of being a team player or working the Party; he periodically announces insane policies such as summarily executing 600 known IRA men for "twenty years peace"; somehow self-knowledge eludes him.

The final part of the diary, where he is dying, is described as ‘poignant’. In fact it confirms that to the dying person there is no such thing as death, only illness: tiredness, dizziness, headaches, lack of focus - which steadily worsen. If you are aware of the syringe driver being fitted, then you can safely assume the inevitable. But you never experience death yourself, only the long sink through delirium and coma. Your death is for others.

His wife Jane survives Clark and still potters around the Castle. She's now 70 and has never remarried. Interesting interview with her here (2009). Alan Clark liked a reputation as "the only colourful Tory", a highly-intelligent maverick who could see way beyond his dullard contemporaries. Actually he was a nasty piece of work, as detailed here by Dominic Lawson.