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Diaries / p. 369-374
Alan Clark
1993

In the Ruler of Oman's DC9 - Wednesday, 28 November
I am winging my way out to the Gulf [1]. I am not a Minister, as Private Office were (unhealthily) eager to explain to me. So there will be no HE to greet me with his Union Jack bedecked Jaguar. I will have no status with dignitaries or administrators (like hell, I thought, just watch me). This is because, with a new PM, all ministerial appointments lapse, revert to his gift, and have to be 'confirmed'.
Immediately in front of me is the bald pate, surrounded tonsure-like by a wreath of wispy white hair, of my old friend the distinguished historian Alistair Home. He wrote The Price of Glory, that brilliant and harrowing study of the battle of Verdun; still, I believe, the best of non-contemporary accounts of the Great War. But after that he went a bit soft, and got heavily involved with Macmillan who I still think would have been better done by Robert Rhodes J. I remember the Fifties when Alistair and his wife at the time, Remra, came to stay at the Chalet, a very handsome couple, tall and athletic, and skied with us. Why do I make these little obituary-like notes when I run into friends from former times? They always look older than me, sometimes at death's door. But there is a Recherche du Temps Perdu aspect as well. My other life.
Now we are all on our way to Muscat, as guests of the Ruler, the whole thing most ably arranged by dear Julian Amery, so that one can be confident that it will be smooth, interesting, and subject to much deference. There is a distinguished attendance list, and Jonathan Aitken, who knows absolutely everybody in the world has, amusingly and indiscreetly, guided me through it.
It is pleasing to be at 35,000 feet, carving our route to the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf, while behind in Britain colleagues lick their wounds, or feel stale with anti-climax. Was it only last night that Jane and I watched Cranley, on the TV screen in Needham's office, bellowing the figures, and then very shortly after, Michael conceded?...

[1] The Cercle, an Atlanticist Society of right-wing dignitaries, largely compered by Julian Amery and Herr Franz-joseph Bach, staged one or two conferences a year and this one was travelling to Oman at the hospitality of the Ruler.

Later
Eighth floor at the Al Bustan

I have a vast suite here. Bedroom, master bedroom, bodyguard's bedroom. Sitting room, dining room, conference room, ante-room (for the bodyguard). With all my traveller's experience, I still think this is the best hotel in the world, with its incredible hall, like the new Mosque in Islamabad, and a thousand minions to bring room service at any time of the day or night. There is a French restaurant, an Italian restaurant, and an Arabic restaurant, and always the sound of wavelets caressing the soft sand of the beach.
Andrew [1] appeared, tall and beautiful as ever. He moves among the delegates with a very faint smile on his face, but his eyes are always watching. What experience in childhood, what gene, makes him instinctively so observant, and from which side of the family does this gene come?
There was the sound of water sloshing, and the head of the Dutch Secret Service emerged through a swing door, looking haggard, but relieved.
'Greywater after the flight,' said Andrew. 'Airline food.'
I detached myself from the group and we had supper together. Andrew told me of his tales, and of the mood among the Military. Oman is a long way from Iraq, and their traditional apprehension is of Iranian muscle, their principal irritant is South Yemen. But the men, many of them, think privately of Saddam as a hero, who is leading the West a dance.

[1] AC's younger son Andrew, a Major in the Life Guards, was serving as 2 i/c of the Sultan's Armoured Force.

Al Bustan, Muscat - Friday, 30 November
I sit at my balcony. It is not yet 6 a.m. and all is still, save for the soft-soled attendants who are cleaning, bleaching, arranging the towels, chairs and surroundings of the vast swimming pool, a hundred feet below.
Last night our delegation had dinner with the Ruler, Sheikh Qaboos, at the Barakha Palace. The drive was nearly a mile long, and every palm tree was floodlit. On either side of the entrance there were great braziers of smouldering frankincense, and the odour was all pervading.
It was a buffet, but one a very long way, in every sense, from the second floor of the Guildhall in Plymouth. The boards groaned; superlative and exotic dishes that one could eat with confidence. I could have stuffed for hours, and become bloated. But there appeared to be some convention governing the courses (was my gluttony leading me into solecisms?), because at intervals the whole dining tent went still, and the Ruler would suddenly click his fingers, rise and sweep over to lead a new assault on the tables.
Qaboos had put me on his left, with Julian in the place of honour on the Ruler's right hand. He is intelligent, quick, almost feline in his responses, and commands the most perfect English — a mixture of Sandringham and Miss Newman.
In contrast to the other Ruling Families on whom I had called in August, he is not frightened of Saddam. And his contempt for the oily little King of Jordan, who is, was palpable. Qaboos said that Saddam was, at this moment, scared, but that he was a 'slippery fellow' and had a reputation in the bazaars, which he cultivates, for getting out of scrapes.
'He's going to need an awful lot of MiG's to get out of this one,' I said.
But Qaboos was thoughtful. Arab coalitions are fragile creatures, he told me. If it should be thought that Saddam may survive there are many who would like to 'take insurance'.
Qaboos is delightful company. Wholly royal in manner and deportment, but never remote. He engages with you. Detached yes, but so different from the Windsors (except the dear QM) who are all of them remote — and obtuse.
At lunch I had sat next to General Schwarzkopf [1], and formed a high opinion of him. At West Point he was an amateur wrestler, and looks it. But he has a keen brain and an infectious humour. Earlier he had given us a most competent and interesting 'presentation'.
Schwarzkopf was in Vietnam, first as an Adviser, then in command of a battalion, and has no illusions as to the military prowess of Third World countries. He told me his one dread was to find his spearhead still stuck in the 'berms' and wadis of the enemy line at first light after a night attack, and then to be drenched with chemicals. Gas is of little value in the mobile battle, but can be seriously nasty against fixed positions.
Already this morning I have swum. The sea temperature must be about 85°. I walked the length of the beach, barefooted on the volcanic sand, in a state of reflective melancholy, brooding on the sadness of affairs of the heart, and unrequited prospects.
'Behold a gift, designed to kill.' Whenever I am in the desert I think always of that brilliant, worrying poem and its strange imagery.
My own career is now on a descending parabola. The events of last week have inserted a new generation and, episode by episode, the effects will make themselves felt.
Both Jonathan [Aitken] and Paul [Channon] are teasing me mercilessly, and with not a little secret spite, about how probable it is that ('sadly') I will be left out of John Major's new administration.
'You've lost your protector,' Paul kept saying.
Rude, because it implies that I have no individual merit, just held the job(s) down for seven years because I was a favourite. There are no true friends in politics.
We are all sharks circling, and waiting, for traces of blood to appear in the water.

Now I am going to start work on the script of my lecture. I am lying low this morning, in order to get it polished, although I fear it will not be widely welcomed. This entire outing is a right-wing think (or rather thought) tank, funded by the CIA, which churns Cold War concepts around. I am going to tell them that the Cold War is over and NATO is washed up, unnecessary, a waste of time and money and (as is the 'streetwise' expression) space.

[1] General Norman Schwarzkopf, Commander of the US forces in the Gulf, who would gain celebrity during the Gulf War.

Al Bustan - Saturday, 1 December
I had a good meeting with Erik Bennett [2]. He is a courtier of the very highest class. What are the characteristics? The voice, the intonation, the clarity of diction. The superficial speaking well of all and everyone. The way all communication occurs by the lightest of implied comment. Smooth, unwrinkled skin, and limitless endurance through ceremonial tedium. Also, in Erik's case, intelligence and wit.
He has set up a draft letter 'from' HM inquiring about surplus military equipment sales after (EB said) 'rapprochement with Iraq'. I substituted 'a clearer determination of unpredictability in the region', which he admitted was preferable.
Last night another huge dinner, given by the distinguished Doctor Omar. In contrast to the previous evening the pleasures of the flesh were much in evidence. Lashings of alcohol - the claret was all '85, and there were some wonderful white Burgundies. Sinuous and scented lovelies shimmered about.
At the end of the meal a belly dancer performed. On and on she went with graceful, but ever more suggestive, rhythms. Her stamina was unbelievable and never once did she repeat herself. From time to time she 'fixed' particular guests in their places, a special treat.
But she was defeated by Anthony Cavendish, who had early on become tired and was fast asleep, head on his chest.
There was a French Admiral sitting next to me, his face expression-less. I said, it helps one to understand how women can experience ten or eleven orgasms in one night. Myself, three render me complètement, totalement épuisé. Ruefully, he agreed.

[2] Air Marshal Sir Erik Bennett. Commander, Sultan of Oman's Air Force since 1974.

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