I always spend August in Somerset, and never has it felt better to be out of London. The capital in July was no laughing matter. At first, it seemed almost amusing to receive messages from friends abroad asking if we were still alive (we were) but as events accelerated and came nearer home, daily life became difficult. I spend a lot of time on public transport, and my safe haven is the British Library, which became inaccessible from Ladbroke Grove.
I also like walking in London. A favourite local route takes me through Little Wormwood Scrubs and Dalgarno Gardens, but I won't try that again until the autumn, when things will have calmed down. While I was walking through another neighbourhood estate last week, minding my own business, somebody threw an egg at me from a high upstairs window. It hit me, quite hard, on the arm. I think it was a naughty boy, not a terrorist. "Good shot!" I cried, in cowardly appeasement, and went to book my ticket from Paddington.
Londoners are used to this kind of stuff. I felt sorry for a Spanish friend who spent last week sightseeing in the capital with his wife and two small children. He found people were surprisingly helpful, and the family made it across the Millennium Bridge to Tate Modern (on my recommendation) on a second attempt, having been evicted by police because of "an emergency" on a first visit. He's been studying articles on "why the British hate themselves", and puzzling over the British psyche. Plenty of food for thought on this tourist trip.
Now I can forget London, and enjoy my holiday reading. I see that various columnists have mocked celebrities who chose the biography Mao as their summer book. I've already finished that one, and am recovering from its relentless catalogue of death. One of the advantages of spending August in England is that you don't have to worry about overweight baggage on aeroplanes. Now I am steadily making my way through books for the Whitbread Biography Prize. Of course people like reading heavy matter on holiday. When else can you settle, with your feet up, in a deckchair, to catch up with the miseries of history?
I've just been joined by two grandchildren, aged 14 and 12, who have been telling me about summer camp. One boldly went alone to Wales for Watersports Plus and did abseiling and kayaking and made new friends; the other went with a group to Hampstead for a course on the performing arts, which took her and 139 others to see Susan Hill's The Woman in Black. Although this has been running for 16 years, it hasn't lost its punch, and it managed to reduce some of its young audience to screams of enjoyable terror. I asked her how they managed to get about London, and she said "by private coach". That's the way to travel in these uncertain days. They are both sporting fashionable wristbands with details of Do it 4 Real, which organised the trips: these tags, they say, are good for advertising, cool to wear, and useful for identification if you get washed away in a mountain stream. They are both members of the Youth Hostel Association, which sponsors these camps, but you don't have to belong to the YHA to sign up. They really enjoyed themselves. Their father's view: "Absurdly cheap" or, alternatively, "Very good value".
The social highlight of the season will be a lunchtime celebration, this week, of the life of Bluebell (1988-2005). Bluebell was a fine dog, a grey-blue dog-sized dog, who travelled everywhere with her minder, the actress Patricia England. She went on tour for summer seasons with Pat throughout Britain, appearing on stage in Pitlochry and other far-flung theatrical venues, sometimes written into the script, sometimes on her own initiative. She was a solid, good-natured dog, much loved by all who knew her: a real trouper. She visited us many times, and has left her claw-marks on our front door. I have with me for a month in the country my son's black cat, Zeus, who is now elderly and frail, but as beautiful as ever. She no longer rounds up the mice, but she still purrs like a furnace. It is sad when our animal friends grow old. But, unlike us, they do not grow ugly. They have that lasting grace.
Horror of the week: an appalling e-mail photograph of two teenagers (16 and 18) with nooses round their necks, about to be hanged in Iran for "homosexual crimes". I wish I'd never opened this attachment, and I think the image must be a fake, although the case and the executions were real enough and widely, though briefly, reported in the British press. It reached me through the campaigning publisher Gary Pulsifer, whose accompanying letter asks: "What can you do?" What indeed? The least we can do is put it in the balance against those moralists in this country who are now blaming "western decadence" for the bombings. The images of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib do indeed speak of decadence and pornography, but this image, even if a fake, is equally distressing. We seem to need these ghastly pictures to prompt us to act. The G8 and the west in general paid little attention to the famine in Niger until television showed starving children eating roasted rats. So what can you do? You can e-mail the president of Iran and protest. I'll do that right now.
Margaret Drabble's latest novel, The Red Queen, is out in paperback from Penguin