Back in the early 1980s, I got to know William Clark, who was almost a father figure to my partner at the time. We would be frequent weekend visitors at William’s country retreat, a converted mill in the Oxfordshire village of Cuxham.
Summer or winter, the house had charm and was filled with William’s memorabilia from his years in public service, the Observer newspaper, the BBC and the World Bank.
Sunday lunches often had guests from the worlds in which William lived, and I found it a fascinating experience to be able to eavesdrop on their conversations.
In 1982-3, William was engaged in writing a novel – Cataclysm – a fictional scenario in which an international debt crisis in 1987 escalates into an all-out conflict between the developed and underdeveloped worlds. A minor plot point was the use of what today would be called cybercrime, but the word, and the internet as we know it, simply didn’t exist at the time. William, knowing that I worked in IT, asked me to read the drafts and comment on the technical aspects. I did that to the best of my ability, but I suspect that my crystal ball was even cloudier than his.
His Christmas card of 1982 referenced both his writing of the novel and the photo I had taken of the mill in winter.
Cataclysm was published in 1984, as that year’s Christmas card illustrates:
I had a rather acrimonious breakup with my partner at around this time, so I’m afraid I lost touch with William, and he died, of liver cancer, in June 1985.
I’ve often wondered how I would view the technical aspects of Cataclysm with the benefit of hindsight, so a couple of weeks ago, I went on to the Abebooks web site to track it down. I found a copy, which also apparently contained a letter signed by William, held by an Oxfordshire bookshop. I snapped it up, and it arrived yesterday.
I look forward (with a modicum of trepidation) to re-reading it. And, as promised, there was also a signed letter from William.
A little piece of history.
I recall William with much fondness. The house and garden at Cuxham would often echo to his cry of “For God’s Sake…” – with a prolonged emphasis on the second word. For all the exasperation that he was able to inject into the phrase, we all knew that there was a wink as well.
The book, and the letter, will now reside in my library until they move on to the next owner.