THE CHILDREN DIDNT KILL THEMSELVES – THEY WERE FORCED TO DRINK THE HORRID POISON
My mother is moving house and she found all these letters. Some I have read since and included in my book about my dad, published in 1998 and called Every Time We Say Goodbye. These two, and hundreds of others, I hadn’t reread since I received them. He was killed in 1989, when I was 19, reporting the war in El Salvador.
1 Undated and typed in capital letters, this is clearly written to me in 1978, the year of the Jonestown massacre in Guyana. I was 8 and living in Crouch End with my mother.
I HAVE PUT TWO OF THOSE SHAKING THINGS IN THE LETTER. [real jumping beans that eventually hatched into flies, I remember] A LITTLE BRACELET FROM TRINIDAD WHICH IF IT IS TOO BIG AT MOMENT YOU CAN LET MUMMY WEAR EVERY NOW AND AGAIN IF SHE IS GOOD. IVE ALSO STUCK IN SOME MONEY FROM GUYANA AND FROM TRINIDAD WHICH ISNT WORTH ALL THAT MUCH AND ANYWAY YOU CANT USE IT OR CHANGE IT ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD SO DON’T GO RUNNING DOWN TO THE PRIORY ROAD BRANCH OF LLOYDS BANK YOU LITTLE ROTTER.
GUYANA WAS GHASTLY. APART FROM THE HORRID STORY I HAD TO DO ABOUT ALL THOSE PEOPLE AND A HUNDRED AND EIGHTY LITTLE CHILDREN KILLING THEMSELVES – AT LEAST THE CHILDREN DIDN’T KILL THEMSELVES THEY WERE FORCED TO DRINK THE HORRID POISON. THE PLACY ITSELF ISNT VERY NICE AT ALL. THE JUNGLE IS EVTREMELY HOT WITH TREES ABOUT A HUNDRED FEET HIGH AND SO THICK YOU CAN HARDLY SEE. IT IS SWEATY . THERE ARE MILLIONS OF INSECTS AND MOSQUITOS. THE NASTY RIVERS HAVE ELECTRIC EELS IN THEM AND THEY GIVE AN ELECTRIC SHOCK STRONG ENOUGH TO KILL YOU. THERE ARE SNAKES CALLED BOA CONSTRICTORS AND ANACONDAS THAT STRNAGLE YOU , EXTRMELY POSONOUS BUSHMASTER SNAKES, HIDEOUS BRIGHTLY COLOURED WATER SNAKES THAT COME NIPPING OUT OF THE RIVERS TO GIVE YOU A QUICK BIT (YOU DIE IMMEDIATELY) AND A REALLY VILE SNAKE THAT NOT ONLY BITES YOU ONCE AND SLINKS OFF BUT STAYS THERE BITING YOU OVER AND OVER AGAIN. ONE MAN WAS BITTEN OVER THIRTY TIMES - HES DEAD TOO. I MET A SCOTTISH SOLDIER WHO WAS LIVING IN THE JUNGLE WITH OTHER SOLDIERS AND HE GOT BITTEN ONTHE ARM BY A HUGE FAT AND GHASTLY RATTLE SNAKE. HE HAD THESE TWO BIG HOLES IN HIS ARMS BUT AS HE CARRIED SNAKE VENOM [presumably he means antidote] AND INJECTED IT INTO HIS ARM IMMEDIATELY HE WAS ALL RIGHT AND I HAD A DRINK WITH HIM.
SO I EXPECT YOU AND MUMMY WOULD LIKE TO MOVE OUT TO VERY LOVELY GUYANA AND BUY A LITTLE HOUSE IN THE JUNGLE. I FORGOT TO MENTION THE SCORPIONS WHICH ARE THICK ON THE GROUND (I AM NOT JOKING ABOUT ANY OF THIS) AND THE JAGUARS WHICH PROWL AROUND EVERYWHERE. I HAVE GOT A BAD CASE OF RUNNY NUMBERS BECAUSE I CLEANED MY TEETH IN SOME OF THE WATER. THEN I WENT TO TRINIDAD WHERE I HEARD A CALYPSO BANK AND GOT VERY VERY BROWN LYING BY THE VERY VERY WONDERFUL SWIMMING POOL IN THE HOLIDAY INN HOTEL. THE WEEKEND BEFORE I WENT TO THE RED LION HOTEL BUT I THINK I TOLD YOU THAT. IT WAS VERY COLD. THEY HAD THAT PIECE OF ROPE FOR JUMPING OUT OF THE WINDOW WITH. WORK VERY VERY HARD AT SCHOOL. BE VERY VERY GOOD.
LOTS OF LOVE, DADDY
2 This one is type mostly lower case and written on Sunday Telegraph writing paper with the Washington phone number and address in the header. It’s dated november 21 and it must have been 1988. I was already at Oxford (I went up in October 1988) and he was killed on November 17th 1989.
dear snake’s breath,
thanks for the two scrawled notes. very nice. don’t they have a telephone at oxford or does everyone communicate with nasty little notes. why do you keep creeping out of there all the time with old nigel [my then boyfriend, Giles]? Sounds very nice there to me, nice room, nice dinners, nice pack of hooray henrys. I told you not to go there anyway. you could have a nice secure job by now down one of those shops in oxford street.
anyway, enough about you. my life seems to have taken a turn for the worse which surprises me a bit because it was so dreadful already. the beazle and the bat [my one year old sister and her mother] have left and i miss the beazle a lot, much more than i ever missed you as i remember through the thick fog of time. so now I’m living on my own on poofter avenue with a tin of corned beef and a carton of curdling milk. the trees have died. i’ve got a cold. i got beaten up by two black men outside the front door and went to chile and go tear gassed by riot police. that’s the good news.
i expect you’ve been following all my stuff pretty avidly in the sunday telegraph (god rot it) so i don’t have to write all that down again. It was bad enough doing it the first time. I also wrote a piece for American Vogue on some new cigarette and to 1000 dollars for 600 words (you will get none of it). then i got 1500 dollars for a piece on ruskies for conde nast traveller which they didn’t even use. (i’ve spent it). apparently there is a long article about me in the tatler. [He was named one of their most eligible bachelors]. send it. so no need to go on about the trips to el salvador and to panama as you have already relished every word of that in the sunday telegraph (may its circulation plummet). Nor I presume my trip to mississippi and to california for the new sunday telegraph magazine (may it go bankrupt).
why have you dropped french (why not?) and why are you only doing three years instead of four. why are you doing that slavic thing. why do you keep sliming off at weekends. I enjoyed my three years at all souls immensely [he was at Bristol], those languid dinners at the top table, the fine claret, the erudite conversation about the early tribal origins of the Gadadfa, the long discussions about etruscan art. Ah, how the memories flood back. I remember old nikko stinkwinkle and our chats in ancient greek as we ambled by the banks of the vast river that rippled past the front door of my palatial suite in the ancient hall i lived in. Oh those games of billiards in the rat and ferret.
sorry to hear you have already run out of money, but the chill bite of te wind will take your mind off the nagging hunger and the rickets. talking of cricket i do hope you have continued the great blundy tradition in the nets. Ah how the memories flood back, those halcyon days batting merrily on the banks of the river ooze.
the problem with letters is that you cant just put the phone down if it gets boring. you have to hammer away to the end.
talked to ben, he’s fine and writing very well for the sunday telegraph (may its presses remain forever silent). the old tart from israel has finally dumped him and he looks all the better for it. Actually he doesnt he seems to have lost more hair and shrunk. he has also developed and ever camper manner than he did before and is no doubt saving for a small pied a terre (french) on P for poofter street. had dinner with ben in elaines (she doesnt remember you) with ben’s even cleverer friend called derry who is doing a phd in Hindi. that conversation didn’t last longer than the first bite of the fried squid. wore a dinner jacket and wend with jodi cobb to the centennial of national geographic at the sheraton. Bush made one of the worst speeches i have ever heard. it was deadly boring except for the speeches by edmund hillary, mary leakey and that woman who studies apes in tanzania, what’s her name goodall. they were very moving, but my throat felt tight under the bow tie so i left and went down the guards for a double gin martini with kev.
stayed in bed sweating all weekend because i had a cold. had the rest of the corned beef and a bowl of the most revolting humous i have ever eaten from the slime ball syrian shop next door. (however, i managed to get there and back without being knifed or beaten up so that was good). was supposed to give a speech in pennsylvania on the meaning of the american election for europe but got the date wrong so i didn’t. i have to give a lecture at penn state university (or is it prison) on the special relationship between britain and america. it will be very short.
i though oxford was supposed to be fun, witty conversation and all. what’s gone wrong with it. where’s tess [my dog]. try and stick this cheque in the bank. it will probably take a month or two to clear.
millipede’s [Stephen Milligan, now dead] house is still empty since he went back two months ago and a layer of scum has formed on the pool which I think is rather similar to my life. my new car, millipede’s old mustang, is still there because i havent got the key the plates or the insurance. i gave the mercedes to isidra (the cleaning lady) and she didn’t seem to be as grateful as she out to have been as i handed ove the deed and the keys. i asked alberto to translate for me but i dont think he did a very good job of it. isidra hasn’t got a licence and can’t drive which is why, perhaps, her pride at being a mercedes owner was so muted. any how the cars gone so she must have got it moved somehow. could you get a telephone so we don’t have to got hrough all this writing all the time. at vogue rates you already owe me about 1,300 dollars.
your alleged daddy.
i am going off for my meagre repast at the occidental bar and grill now.
He has drawn a scrawled picture in biro of himself at a table being served a gin martini, a dozen oysters, some fine wine, roast duck and crème brulee. The items are labelled.
He then writes, in blue biro at the bottom;
why doesn’t your address have a zip code like everybody else’s, ponce-features