PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1989 - OCTOBER
Sunday 1 October 1989
So far my scheme to travel in the dead of night to and from Brighton to save tim, has failed miserably. The twice I’ve driven back from Brighton at four in the morning, I’ve felt tired and suffered a headache throughout the following day. And driving down to Brighton on Thursday night, arriving at three in the morning, left me feeling lethargic all day, and I ended up in bed on the Friday night before the evening had barely started. Now, finally at six in the evening, I am feeling more normal.
I was almost in tears yesterday, as I told Adam I wouldn’t be seeing him for a few days. He wanted to know if I was going in a big aeroplane, and when I told him no, he asked if I was going to the office, Daddy’s office. Oh so sweet, tears come to my eyes just now as I think of him. It will not be easy being so far from him. I love him so much, the two of them really. They are my life, there’s nothing else in it worth a tinker’s cuss. Whatever that means.
Both our courses (Barbara’s and mine) start this week, and so we must swing into the new routine. I must try and work hard during the week on my course and project. I would like to find a new routine of working regularly in the mornings, before going to work, when I am so much fresher. I could study from 7-7.30 to 9-9.30 with half an hour for breakfast, and arrive at the office at 10-10.30 and leave at 6.30-7.00. Evenings would be free for television or going out, or going to bed early.
Caroline tells me some funny stories about Saturday night’s performance of Phantom: it was the last night for all the principles. As is customary, those not leaving the show prepared a variety of tricks to embarrass or amuse those that were. Many of the tricks were sexual in content (like much of the conversation with other performers that Caroline reports). The actor playing the phantom likes girls (unlike almost every other male in the show). During an early scene, the dancers are practicing while the phantom’s love is singing about her night of stardom. The actor playing the phantom is off-stage but stands in the wings watching the dancers, where he can get a good view of their legs and crotches. For the Saturday matinee, the three dancers that lift their legs in his direction had tied pieces of an old wig between their legs. He feigned to be wanking in the wings. Afterwards, however, when they told him that one of the girls was actually pantie-less, he kept pestering them to know which one. A straw in his drink, kept off stage, was replaced by a rubber penis. In the second act, the hero is chasing after the phantom, and then, with the girl, he jumps into the ‘river’. A trap-door opens, and he falls through the mist out of sight onto some mattresses; in this performance a huge blow up gorilla was waiting for him. And so on.
Despite the fun of these games, and the excitement of the post-performance party for the stars yesterday, Caroline is glum today, realising how little future there is in it for her; how little fulfilment. She is neither happy nor fulfilled, whereas before, working her guts out for a tiny impoverished ballet company for next to no pay, she felt fulfilled. She is too clever to be taken in for long by the glamour of the West End, the crass jokes, the sexual innuendoes, the constant role-playing and pretended cheerfulness. Yes, there are stars who make it, but there are so many who remain little people and live off kudos borrowed from the stars around them.
Julian is back from France. He talks about the wedding, I have almost forgotten it. He tells me that, in my speech, I called Ida, Sarah’s mother, Eda.
7 October 1989
A pleasant afternoon spent this Sunday with Rob and Judy and their two children Sophie and Jamie. Adam and I met them and Barbara on the South Bank. We ate a snack in the NFT cafeteria. Judy was hoping for a children’s book festival, but I was happy with the exhibition. The Council for Protection of Rural England (CPRE) had commissioned some famous photographers to snap parts of the country for which they had wartime photos. The idea was to show the countryside as precious, and the importance of positive protection measures. The modern photographs varied in style as the photographer tried to impose his own personality on the images; in the old photos, however, the photographers were more anxious simply to record the landscapes, and the details of village life and architecture. Many of the modern photos were taken at exactly the same place as the old ones, in order to invite comparisons. I found that many of the places were surprisingly unchanged - the reverse of the expected message. I bought an exhibition brochure for a pound but would have bought a hardback with the photos in had there been one.
It was difficult to concentrate much of the time for Adam was being a pain in the neck. He has been ill this weekend with a bad cold, which has made him tetchy and difficult, needing more cuddles and attention than usual at home. In the exciting world of the RFH, he went wild with excitement, tearing all over the place. He was very excited by the river and wanted to know what all the different boats were.
Part of an ongoing grumpiness must be due to the absence of Adam. It depresses me that he is not here in the week, that I do not see him. I have always felt that time spent in his company is time well spent; very, very rarely have I been bored or felt I should be doing something else more worthwhile. Now, the weekdays pass by and we don’t read stories together, we don’t bath together, we don’t play together.
I saw Nick Roeg’s film ‘Eureka’ in the cinema last year I think. Just recently it was shown on television, with a short commentary by him, the photographer and the screenplay writer. Roeg so rarely gives interviews. I’m not sure he shed much light on the film. Roeg said he wanted the characters to be symbols of a kind; while one of the others pointed out the quotations from ‘Citizen Kane’, not that the film had parallels with Citizen Kane’s life (Randolph Hearst) rather that it said something about Orson Welles’ life. After all he found gold early in his life, and could never again find happiness; all things were as nothing compared to that first huge success. I think it is a magnificent film, but then I’m a Roeg groupie. I love his ideas; the juxtaposition of themes; the use of original and unusual music; the photographic imagery; the taut script. Gene Hackman and Theresa Russell act their butts off, and there are generous views of Russell’s rather lovely body. The film has not been a success. For a while, it was only allowed to be shown in cinemas if Roeg presented it. The TV slot, Roeg said, was a chance for a bigger audience. The film is so professional, so well made, so clearly way above the majority of movies that it is hard to see why it has been so sparingly marketed and distributed. Roeg thinks, and I agree, the film emerged at the wrong time, at the beginning of the transition from the liberal and socialist seventies to the capitalist and greedy eighties in which the American dream again emerged (i.e. that any soul can find success and happiness so long as he works hard and long enough). Although ‘Eureka’ tells of such a man who works hard and becomes rich, it portrays the man finding little happiness or contentment.
A minor success on Friday. I finally imported a graphics file into a Wordperfect file on the IBM at work and printed it out. One day last week I got into such a mess with the IBM. Every single file I wrote and converted to our normal software system contained the most awful pattern of garbage characters. I tried a hundred times, tried converting a hundred ways; I reinstalled the Wordperfect system three or four times. I was convinced that somehow a bug had got into the IBM, and I became fearful for the IEA oil market report programmes. I was sure I had bugged them too (the main reason for having the IBM computer in our office is to produce the oil market report). For about ten hours on Wednesday I sweated away at the IBM in a right old panic.
Meanwhile, ‘European Energy Report’ suffered. With Kenny away, Debbie was assigned to do my production. She managed it reasonably well I suppose, but she thinks she’s quite good at it; in fact there is no comparison with Kenny who has become an excellent sub-editor. However, his standing with me fell just a touch during production of the last issue, since he seemed to give his wedding more importance than the newsletter! I had the bright idea of cutting back the headline on one story from Germany to GDR, even though it was about West Germany. My folly only hit me at about 7.15pm on Friday morning as I listened to the news about East German refugees. I therefore determined to correct the errors and send the corrected pages to the printing company by modem. This transpired to be much easier than I had pre-supposed. However, a bit later in the day Reg (he of the endless jokes, the amateur theatricals and the holidays by coach to Dubrovnik) rang to say the footlines on every page were wrong: Debbie had put 5 October, when Friday’s date was 6 October (as on the cover). Reg volunteered to stick some 6s down over the original 5s, to save us sending all the pages down the modem again. Such is my life, a matter of sixes and sevens.
Friday 13 October 1989
Off to Aldeburgh in an hour or so. Now that I’ve taken my Kaypro computer down to Brighton, I have no means of writing my journal this weekend, so I’m trying to get down a few lines before I leave. I am not at all happy about writing straight onto the word processor. There is a flavour about writing into a book that is entirely missing. This flavour has two elements, one an intrinsic one that affects the very words that are written, and an extrinsic one that affects my feelings about writing; the one of course may influence the other. Furthermore, I spend so much of my time already at a word processor, that adding more screen scan time is both physically and mentally rather boring, in a sense of the word that lies between the modern interpretation and the engineering term.
Early in the week, I received a short letter from Gail offering me a few more of Fred’s things: some photos, early writings, material on ‘The Stars Look Down’ and a chess set. I have been meaning to write to Gail all Summer, but, as I said in my quick return letter, last summer was unproductive in many ways, not just letter writing. I wrote a long letter about my university course, about Julian’s wedding, about my trip to Bulgaria and so on.
[About Bulgaria, this is what I wrote her:] ‘My newsletter publishes profiles of the energy sectors of European countries; I can therefore choose to write them myself or commission them. The East Bloc profiles I have largely commissioned, but with Mike Goldsmith’s ex-wife Claudia and her son Michael (Martin’s brother) in Sofia, I thought it would be a good opportunity to see a Communist state for myself. Here too was a shock. The country was as grey and poor (spiritually and materialistically) as I had been led to believe all my life. The trip itself, for me, was colourful; I have travelled so little this year. On my second day, there were the national day celebrations - 45 years of communism - lots of flags and people marching and soldiers and banners; but, as Claudia pointed out when we saw some of it on television later, no one was smiling. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much of the country, but Sofia is a pretty town. Claudia is steeped in the history of her family. Her father, you probably know, was made a hero when the Russians liberated Bulgaria from the fascists; he had been executed for opposing the country’s support of Hitler. She and her family have lived on the privileges of her father’s hero status for decades. Now she is determined to prove, through documentation she has amassed, that her father was as anti-communist as anti-fascist. A nice story she tells is that in one official photograph of her father, he is wearing insignia that was not invented until after his death. As soon as this was exposed, the photograph disappeared from official documents. Michael is still young, and will probably study history at the university under his mother’s influence. Martin is domiciled in Paris, although distant from Mike. The two of them have a rather typical Goldsmith relationship, I would say.’
Here’s a postscript Gail added to her last letter: ‘As I reread our letters, something very important has not been said: Fred cared very deeply about you and wanted to establish a friendship with you - much more than he ever admitted, possibly even to himself. (The other side of that Block Island visit, he was himself hurt and disappointed.) One of my nice memories is of the earlier visit - you and Fred biking around New York, and Fred introducing you to people he knew ‘this is my son.’ ’
College has started. This term I must attend one set of lectures: ‘man and nutrition’ with Simon Strickland; and next term one set, ‘man and animals’, with Kathy Holmwood. There are also the Tuesday seminars. The workload is much less than last year, and yet the workload is greater because I must get moving on my project. There is one new MSc student, a german girl with only one arm. She seems quite sweet and keen. Nilofer is orangutanning away at her project, which must be handed in within a few days. Otherwise, the refurbished rooms are full of new PhD students, including one Brazilian lady who has come to work with Simon. Leslie is proud of the new seminar room, just opposite their offices; previously it was in another building.
It is proving rather tough to find a starting point for my project on primate paternalism. My original idea of trying to show how young male primates might learn how to be adult male primates seems to be falling by the wayside. All the material I have read and collated relates to paternal behaviour towards infants in infancy. I think the mechanisms for the evolution of paternal behaviour to young primates changes: in infancy there will be one mechanism (or more) while later, during the juvenile phase, the learning to be a male takes over. I doubt I will be able to find any real evidence for this taking place in the infancy period.
Last Sunday evening I cooked a meal for Caroline. I did this for no other reason than that I had enough fresh tortellini for two or three. Indeed, if Rolf had been here I would have cooked for him too. As it happens, there was only Caroline and I; and we ended up having one of our conversations about boyfriends and girlfriends and sex and so on; and why she can’t find a man. Only, in these conversations, I always tend to exaggerate and tease a little; I express my concerns as to my own ageing, and to the lack of any excitement in my life. I have always felt that Caroline probably quite liked me, and that she probably knew I quite liked her. By keeping the relationship at an arm’s length flirtation, we have both benefitted from the engendered warm atmosphere. Caroline has quite deliberately provoked me on some occasions: coming out of her room without any clothes on for example, pretending not to have known I was there; bending down in front of me so that I can see her breasts; lifting up her skirt to show off her new knickers. I, for my part, lie around the sitting room, draped across the couch in just the flimsiest of briefs sometimes, because I’m at home and comfortable like that.
Anyway, following this Sunday evening, on the Monday morning I found a note in my study: ‘Dear Paul, Why do I find it so impossible to tell you this to your face?. . . I just want you to know that I think you’re gorgeous and v. attractive and I fancy you like mad. Have done for ages in fact! Oh dear this is going to be v. embarrassing when I next see you but too bad, I had to say it. You’re always castigating yourself and insinuating that I go for men that are completely opposite to you. Well you’re wrong. I think you’re wonderful and would go for you anytime. Anyway enough said. Caroline. XX’
I ignored the note on Monday morning, giving her a chance to retrieve it during the day, but it was still there in the evening. Although clearly over the top and affected (affected by her West End performance friends) it is still a pleasant boost to my failing ego. But what to do about it now? Her declaration should make no difference to my actions; I have never felt I couldn’t be with her if I so wanted. My caution has been clearly justified in my mind for all sorts of reasons; largely to do with loyalty to Barbara. But there was also my feeling that Caroline has tremendous need, which would only express itself on entanglement. Bu then Martin managed to have a quiet and unentangled affair with her. Bothering to write all this betrays one thing, that, on occasions, Caroline’s physical flirting has hit home, and I have lusted after her.
On Monday night I saw her briefly, hugged her and thanked her for the letter, and said we would talk soon. All week though I have not seen her alone - Rolf has been here in the evenings. Before heading to Aldeburgh, I left her a note on an old postcard of a dancer.
Monday 16 October
Both Barbara and Adam have been afflicted with colds and were so at the weekend. Saturday was rather bitter and windy, but Sunday morning was sunny and mild, the beach windless and the sea so inviting that I went in for a quick swim, even though I was without towel or trunks. Adam sat on the beach munching his way through an entire apple. ‘Adam eat apple while Daddy go for a swim’. And so he did. I couldn’t swim too far in either direction since I was bounded by fishermen on both sides: a fishing competition meant the length of the beach was taken up by green men with fishing rods, sitting behind green umbrellas. They had a good day for it. Although I didn’t manage to find any angler in the process of catching a fish for Adam to see, he did watch some cod being gulleted by a Peter Grimes character on a boat as it was being pulled up the beach by a winch. We continue to have such nice times together Adam and I. He is extraordinarily loving at the moment, and does not seem to be punishing me at all for not being there in the week. We always talk about the fact that he won’t see me in the week, and we go through the days he won’t see me and the days he will. He often comes up to me and embraces me strongly around the neck and face. I say ‘do you want a little hug or a big hug?’ and he always says ‘little hug’ so we have a little hug, and then he says ‘big hug now’, so we have a big hug.
I have asked Barbara to persuade Adam to write to me every Monday night. She rang up on Monday delirious with delight, for when she had asked Adam what he wanted to say to me in the letter he said, completely spontaneously: ‘Adam loves Daddy’. Isn’t that enough to make a Daddy cry. I didn’t even know he knew the word. B rang because she thought if I just read the letter I wouldn’t know that she hadn’t written it. I could go on writing about Adam, but I should go to work now.
It’s good to have Kenny back in the office. Together we really do get through a lot of work when we need to. This week there’s EER and ‘EC Energy Monthly’, and much of the latter I must write myself. I called correspondents today. With Sara I discuss how she can best put together a story on West Germany’s gas industry, and discuss why she hadn’t filed an important coal story some weeks ago: it turns out to have been my fault. Her partner is away so she must juggle work with keeping house, and looking after the kids. Ellen Lask is in London from Rome for a conference on coal; she rings me from a phone box but we get cut off. Later when she does get through we discuss how she is going to get her stories to me from Kensington, where the conference is being held in the town hall, and how we can meet up. She has a husky voice and a rather American personality. I have no real desire to meet her; sometimes it is easier to maintain telephone relationships at a level which a personal encounter cannot match. Gerard talks of her as a man-eater. And, just as some of KF’s stories from Norway are supposed to have originated in an energy minister’s bed, so too Ellen’s stories, about Enel’s coal purchases, for McGraw-Hill, are rumoured to have come through intimate relations with a buyer. Gerard loves that sort of gossip; a love nurtured through years of being wholly distant from any such behaviour himself, probably. Both Andy and Gerard are speaking at this coal conference, but Andy was moaning about only being given ten minutes to explain the UK plans for privatisation.
So, having humoured Ellen on the phone for half an hour, I talk to Mike Bond in Paris. I tell him I’ve already got the Pechiney story covered but I check what his angle would have been. As I suspect, he sees Pechiney’s threat to move its aluminium project to Canada as having forced the Commission to clear the project. He will add a few paragraphs on the story about electricity supply to the plant. The fact that the Commission has obliged EdF and Pechiney to make some alterations to the contract for power supply, is itself a victory for Brussels; but it remains extremely unclear how much more the two French firms have managed to hoodwink the industry with their incestuous deal. We talk about one or two other stories including a high-level meeting of international agencies concerning a future strategy about nuclear waste storage. Mike says it has been decided to treat nuclear waste as though it were any other sort of waste (does he mean from a practical or publicity point of view, I’m not sure, but the story sounds interesting).
Lucy is bright and cheerful but can offer little in the way of stories. We agree that she will write something on the energy/environment paper that has been pulled from Wednesday’s Commission meeting. It seems that the very basis of the paper is now in dispute, and I suggest she should play up the growing tension between the energy and environment directorates-general. By contrast, ___ is vague and unhelpful. Having made such a cock-up with the public procurement story in the last issue of ECE, he hasn’t lifted a finger yet to correct it. He seems to have lost all desire to put effort into stories; and a disturbing lack of accuracy has also crept into his work.
Peter Spinks rings from Holland. I have invested three long conversations in trying to get Peter on board as my Dutch stringer. He is something of an old timer and has worked for the FT at times. He has been a science writer but increasingly finds himself drawn to the lower spectrum of journalism and tabloid stories. He admits it sets his adrenalin going. Returning to newsletter writing is something of a come down, but he may need the money, and for an experienced hack we offer good returns; or he may seriously have been affected by my argument that energy and environment issues (which he writes a lot about) are inextricably linked. He may be someone like me for whom having an editor value your contribution is very important - thus the investment of long wide-ranging conversations about everything under the sun. Indeed, I’ve promised to send him a Robertson Davies novel when and if I get his first story on my desk. So, he rang today, as promised, and offered me one.
Whereas Ellen’s voice puts me off wanting to meet her, Jane Holligan’s sweet Scottish lilt does the opposite. She has written for EER for over a year, and still we’ve not met. Now, she shatters my faith in her by saying she’s leaving, going to South America, to seek her fame and fortune covering some drugs conference in Lima and the elections in Chile. I tell her I’m devastated. She has filed, just on time, her profile of Spain’s policy vis-a-vis the EC. It is long and contains good material. I am happy she has not let me down on this. I know how hard she has had to fight to get the information.
Marko calls to say he doesn’t see anything that’s worth covering this week. I tell him I’ve sent a proposal to FT Management Reports for a book on East Europeam energy profiles, and that I will contact him as soon as I have a response. Unusually we don’t talk about our children.
I make a call to Nada Stanich. She has been trying to reach me in order to file stories for EER from Yugoslavia for months. Why I think to ring her this morning, I don’t know, but finally we make a connection, and she promises to file for the next issue. Lose one stringer, gain another.
The nine month figures come through for our department’s newsletters (bar the insurance ones). EER/ECE is in the top three in terms of being both over budget on turnover and over budget on net contribution. The subscription levels show a remarkable rise during this year, something like 100 extra EER subs on top of the 70-80 ECE subs. In high places, this must show that my judgement on investing in EC Energy was sound. This week’s issues will carry full page ads for ‘EC Energy’, and the annual subs price is moving up to £225 from 1 January. We need to persuade all the EER subs who have been getting it free to subscribe separately, with a £100 discount. I hope we can pull in 50 from among the EER subs by Christmas, that will be 10% of the EER subs base, and be one of the most remarkable single marketing attacks ever. It will also prove my point about addicting potential subscribers by giving them the product free for a year. However, if we only pull in 8-10 more then I shall be disappointed.
20 October 1989
Reg Evans, my jokey printer down in Warminster, rang me at 8 this morning. A phone call from Reg at home on a Friday morning inevitably spells trouble. It usually means he has spotted a significant error in the camera-ready pages we have sent down the night before. Recently, Reg has had reason to call me once at home, and I’ve had reason to call him once early on the Friday (when I spotted the headline with GDR in about a West Germany story,) but this week I was fairly confident everything was well proofed. Furthermore, this particular issue was being sent out to 2,000 prospects, coal and gas newsletter subscribers; and I knew Kenny would not be in on Friday, and I was not planning on arriving at the office until after lunch. Thus, the 8am call spelled serious trouble. However, it turned out Reg was ringing about a single word - probably BUILT - which had a glitch in it, a funny character, which must have got in on the final print-outs somehow. We discuss this major problem for ten minutes, and Reg agrees to look for the word BUILT in a back issue and stick it down over the top, just as he did with 16 little sixes for the last issue. It takes a few seconds for me to calm down, the error is so minor, moreover so obviously not an embarrassing one (like the GDR slip).
In retrospect, I think Reg was doing two things. Firstly, he wanted to prove to me that he really does get into his office early sometimes; and secondly he was still trying to make up for a very badly printed cover in September (every component on the page had gone completely skew, leaving a very untidy mess).
The week has actually been quite tough. None of the 28 pages had been prepared in advance; so all needed proof-reading on the Thursday. Since there was so much typing to do, Kenny didn’t have a chance to help much with the editing and writing. A sherry party at college on Monday, seminars I didn’t want to miss at college on Tuesday, and three hours of ‘Magic Flute’ on Wednesday night (with Judy and Rob). Early in the morning I will drive to Brighton to see Barbara and Adam. Next week I am planning to do a three day hike on Offa’s Dyke. I have just bought some Doc Martins boots, I must satisfy this desire to see mountains and wild open spaces.
Monday 23 October
A weekend of stormy weather. There has been so little rain this year that any rain is welcome even if it comes with strong winds and gales. Several of the plants in my yard have been stripped bare of leaves already. I suspect the dry summer damaged many root systems. The weather pattern this fall is unusual and follows that of the rest of the year. We’ve had one cold spell lasting a few days, but now we have temperatures of 15-18 Centigrade again during the day. The poor flora don’t know whether they are coming or going.
The ivy on the back wall shows no signs whatsoever of having been affected by the dry summer. An earlier fruiting was so completely consumed by bugs - you could see every flower head bare from being eaten - that I suspect it was a ‘deliberate’ feed: it is flowering again now without suffering any attack whatsoever. The smell of the flowers makes me feel sick, it is similar to the whiff given off by a tree I met up with in Greece once with the nick-name ‘sperm tree’. Crowding the ivy’s edge on both of its diagonal sides is the Virginia creeper now at its most brilliant colour - a shining crimson with a generous mix of orange.
To do Offa’s Dyke this week or not that is the question. Two factors, one major, one minor. One major is the weather, one minor is that I must give a presentation at a college tutorial early on Friday morning. I planned to read the papers on Friday morning before going in, but lying in bed this morning I begin to project on how tired I’m likely to feel after a 17 mile walk the day before. Not to worry, if the weather seems promising I shall go. I shall go.
Driving back from Brighton last afternoon was hell. Indeed I found myself saying over and over again, ‘this is death, this is death, this is death’. The journey took two hours - there are just so many traffic lights, bends, roundabouts, and so often one is bumper to bumper with other traffic and needing to brake and accelerate every few seconds. It is such a frustrating journey.
I have bought another bicycle. It needs revamping somewhat, but when ready it should be able to serve me adequately here in London, and I can take the other one to Brighton. Then, I could go down on the train more often. But, if I go by train, we can’t drive onto the Downs on Sunday, as we did yesterday.
The news soap opera bores me at present, there are no plots, no threads that intrigue me. Maggie’s new foreign sec Major appears to have given marginally too much away at the Commonwealth conference over a statement on South Africa sanctions, and she then felt obliged to issue her own press release after the joint Commonwealth statement. That’s caused a few raised eyebrows. Maggie still stands alone and isolated against all other Commonwealth states on the issue.
Abortion comes back onto the political agenda. The 28 week limit looks like being reduced in this parliamentary session. Pro-lifers are aiming for 18, but the timing will probably fall at 24, or possibly 22 weeks. I find the heat that this issue raises quite extraordinary. I admit there are difficulties in finding the right legislation: it would not be acceptable to allow mothers to kill their newborn children, and by extension it does seem ethically very difficult to allow them to kill unborn foetuses that are close to full term, thus 7 or 8 months would appear too close to life’s edge. But any mother that does not want her child, for many very good reasons, is unlikely to be a good or even and adequate mother. The very fact that most women in the situation of wanting a late abortion are single adds further weight to the argument.
A smashing piece of telly last night - ‘Blore MP’ with Timothy West and Paul Daneman adapted from an A.N. Wilson story. A joy to watch the two fine actors playing off each other. West, in particular, excelled himself as an upright minister caught with his trousers down in a sex and spy plot. Very comic. An equinox programme on scientific attempts to extend life and life functions (like sexual competence in old people) somehow managed to make me think the whole exercise was rather futile. There are many other better priorities for scientific research.
Saturday 28 October
Adam in his cot downstairs, B working in the lounge. Rolf is still away in Denmark, and Caroline has gone to the theatre for her matinee performance. I am not well at all. Physically, I am still drained from my three days walking in the Welsh hills, but mentally I am tired and depressed. I have no option really but to continue as at present at least until next May when my college course is over. Then I can think seriously about moving house, moving job, moving country.
I took a very light pack with me, one windproof jacket, one change of clothes, one reading book, one book about the Offa’s Dyke path, and one map. I also took an unused diary notebook thinking I might write in it on my walks and in the evenings. Of course, as it transpired, I didn’t write a word. Thus I must now try and record something of the experience before it vanishes, forgotten and unnecessary.
As a whole, it seems, the journey touched me very little. How peculiar we are. I’m sure it has something to do with age. One might think such a journey would impress me, and that echoes of many such journeys as a teenager and young adult would come flooding back. In fact the reverse was true, apart from a couple of moments, my brain was largely in a state of inane neutrality, not even thinking much about anything - not work, not my future, not primates, not short story plots. Yet whilst I was there I felt wonderful, I felt the joy of being back with nature again, of being in wild and empty places, of being alone and one with the world.
There is a powerful memory I have from my Cardiff days (I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating) of travelling on the motorway from the Severn Bridge to Cardiff and seeing a landscape to the west that was so appealing, so lovely, that all I ever wanted to do was walk of into it, and melt, to melt forever into the landscape - this happened often, every time I travelled past in daylight. And here was I, now, in the Welsh border country, not that far away, spending three days melting into the most lovely backdrops, panoramas and landscapes.
I caught the 7.00am from Paddington, and changed at Newport onto the Hereford/Liverpool Lime St. train. The Intercity journey was faultless, on time to the minute, and the carriage was reasonably peaceful. The local train stopped at many places, and seemed to take an age to arrive at Ludlow. Once there, a walk of a few minutes through deserted streets, found me at my B&B destination. I arranged for an early breakfast, and went straight to bed.
A long walk through the rather pretty town of Ludlow and two lifts take me to Knighton. In Knighton (which is the mid-point of the Path) I buy rolls and chocolate before setting off. My guide book describes the walk to Kington as the best of the whole path. I have fourteen miles to walk. My new boots (Doc Martins) fit like a dream, my pack sits light and comfortably on my back. The sky is brilliant blue dashed with pinks and reds as the sun slowly rises through the angled clouds. There could be no better start (except perhaps that the egg, bacon, tomato, sausages, mushrooms and toast are still sitting heavy in my stomach - as they are to do each morning).
Before leaving Knighton proper I went wrong twice, and once had to ask the way. Fortunately, I didn’t need to ask directions again during the three days. I say ‘fortunately’ because I met no more than a handful of people while actually hiking. Up a steep path, through Great Frydd Wood and before long I am walking across fields and sheep grazing land. Soon also I am walking along Offa’s Dyke. At times this massive and impressive piece of mediaeval engineering is no more than a ridge of rough land, at other times the dyke and ditch combination becomes a major and significant landmark, visible for miles around, and an easy path to follow.
The dyke was probably built around the 8th century by King Offa to create a border, or perhaps a defence, between Mercia and Wales. Although there is some doubt as to whether he did indeed build it, he is considered to be the most powerful ruler after the Romans and thus the one most likely to have the power and organisation to construct such a massive earthwork. The appearance and alignment of the dyke gives one to believe it must have been conceived as a whole.
My own thoughts about the dyke are mixed. On the one hand it is clearly a fascinating structure of ancient archaeology - that such a line of earth mounds should survive over so long a period of time gives cause for much thought. On the other hand, it is somewhat difficult to understand why it was built, why it wasn’t bigger, and why bits have survived today. I would like to know how archaeologists know the dyke is so ancient. Ditches and earth mounds are pretty common features of the countryside. If the proportions are as claimed - a bank up to 7 metres high plus a deep ditch (it can be seen more or less to this extent on the route between Knighton and Kington) - then it is difficult to imagine the dyke as a defence. It would not keep anybody out if unguarded, and to guard the whole length would have been impossibly difficult. Perhaps there were forts and encampments along the way, and sentry’s with quick lines of communications to army camps. It does seem unlikely that any ruler would have considered the time and expense of building such a fortification worthwhile for just a war or two. And over any extended warring period, parts of the dyke could easily be crossed when not being defended. And surely any fortifications ought to have lasted longer than a mere earth mound. The idea, however, of two leaders perhaps agreeing that a great border between their two countries should be built in order to do away with future argument, does seem quite powerful. It is possible to imagine rulers with a sense of wanting peace and stability, and prepared to lay down their arms and sign up for a fixed border.
Now I’ve just looked up some more details in another guide book - Christopher John Wright - which I didn’t take, and apparently Sir Cyril Fox, ‘in his great survey between 1926 and 1931, indicated that the dyke marked a negotiated boundary’, and it is no longer believed that the dyke was intended as a military frontier. So I’m about 80 years late with my theories. Interestingly, the dyke is now thought to have been a ‘natural boundary in that it was established after the development of the cultural and settlement pattern of the region, and it was built in response to the recognition of the cultural frontier zone’. Wales and England, thus, were already sufficiently differentiated; and the building of the dyke probably enhanced and encouraged the differentiation.
The day’s hike was rather splendid. I remember stopping for my first rest on a hillside, a grassy bank, after some fairly strenuous walking. I sat down, to eat an apple, overlooking the most glorious landscape of valleys filled with fields and woods, hedgerows and lines of trees, verdant green everywhere (no signs of drought) but also autumn colours marking the landscape with yellows and oranges (not yet reds as it is too early for the rich colours of spectrum’s end). I can just about recall a few places and views: the steep hillside to Whitton, stopping by Dolley Old Bridge underneath the alders and watching the brook’s waters gurgle past, and climbing the steep long straight stretch of dyke up towards Pen Offa and then stopping at the hill’s peak in the middle of a hilltop plantation to eat my lunch and have a half hour nap.
The rest of the day’s journey was changing all the time, but skirting Herrock Hill and then climbing to the saddle with Rushock Hill was exquisite. Moving down from Rushock Hill towards Kington I crossed many and varied fields. In this I was helped by following a man and boy out ahead of me who seemed to know the way. They roamed carefree across from stile to stile where no path appeared to exist. I followed them carefree too until just before the town. Kington was a place for tea and cakes. It was not yet three in the afternoon so I endeavoured to walk on to Gladestry, a tiny village (with pub) just five miles further on. I had to climb and cross the Hergest Ridge, a large moorland-type hill (only 420 metres high) covered in bracken. Quite atmospheric, especially as the sun began to fall lower in the sky. Walking across bracken country, colours were again different depending on the light and how it reflected through the lace-like leaves.
At Gladestry I found a B&B at Dyke House but no one answered the door. On enquiring of a chirpy little carpenter who worked in the middle of the village, whether there was another B&B, I was persuaded that somebody would be home at Dyke House soon. I waited for an hour until, finally, the door was opened - but by a young man who could hardly speak english. A short conversation established he was Brazilian. In Portuguese, I learned that the house owner was away for a few days. Back to the chirpy carpenter who explained to me the whereabouts of a farmhouse, half a mile away, where I could get B&B, but I was too tired to walk another half a mile, and it was almost dark. So I went to Gladestry’s pub. This turned out to be a mistake. The room I was given had charm and was no more expensive than normal B&B prices - £9.50 (though inns usually charge more). During the first part of the evening I was happy to be there. I had a rather awful microwaved beef curry, and a pleasant tasting half of local bitter while reading my Lawrence book of short stories (‘England, My England’). Before ten I went to sleep. Despite noise from the pub, I managed to drift off. Around eleven, though, I was woken by much louder sounds. It was as though I was trying to sleep at a rugby football match. The quoits match in the public bar that had begun sedately before I went to bed was nearing its climax and the players were cheering and applauding loudly, their conversation having risen a few decibels in parallel to their alcohol intake. Before very long the match was over, someone had won and there was giant applause. I was sure everybody would leave and I’d be able to get some sleep. However, it was 12.45 before last person left, and not until then did the noise drop to a level at which I could sleep. I was stamping around in my room, furious that I hadn’t been given a quieter bedroom or that I hadn’t been warned. I felt like a trapped animal, and had no way of expressing my anger at this unexpected intrusion on my night’s sleep.
I behaved as surlily as possible over my microwaved breakfast and left as quickly as I could on the Wednesday morning. I completed the 10 or so miles to Hay on Wye by midday. Much of the journey took place on roadways but they were often very pretty lanes, and largely devoid of cars. I walked quite fast, though stopping often to admire views and to ‘melt’ a little, in order to leave open the possibility of walking on from Hay later. However, once in Hay, and over a bowl of herby vegetable soup in the local Granary Nest or whatever, a careful look at the maps showed there was no accommodation anywhere between Hay and Pandy. I found a room at Fosse House in Hay, and spent the afternoon browsing through the second hand bookshops, for which the town is famous, and resting in my room.
Some credit bibliophile Richard Booth with launching the town’s focus on books, and he now runs a very large shop in the centre of the town (and another backing onto the castle). In the photography section, where I looked for books of old photos, I found a copy of ‘World History of Photography’ selling for £35 (I’d bought it new last year for £25). This finding gave me little confidence I’d find any bargains.
But I digress from the day’s walk. Once I suddenly came across a track through a pine forest. My guide book described it as ‘gloomy patch of pines’ but I thought it more atmospheric than gloomy, with the path cushioned in many years of dead pine needles. The path then descended along a wooded stream valley, also atmospheric. At the conjunction of two streams I saw, a few metres away, an area of grass with bits of bright orange. The colour was too incandescent for autumn leaves so I went to inspect, sure enough they were mushrooms. And, indeed, mushrooms were a highlight of the walk, I saw so many different types, ranging in size from minute to giant, in colour from white to brilliant orange, and in shape from perfectly round to irregular shaped ugly-heads. Some grew in cowpats, some in other dung, some in the grass, many on rotting wood trunks and others in plain old earth. The variety astounded and delighted me. Otherwise, I saw no interesting fauna at all, sheep, cows, horses and a few birds; of the flora I was most impressed by the oaks and hawthorns that seemed to line much of my way, especially Offa’s Dyke itself.
At one point the path crosses a major road, from where there is fabulous, and rather unusual, vantage point looking down on the Wye in two directions. From the road I clambered down a bank and across fields to slowly approach the river itself, and, for a while, I lay on a shingle shore watching two swans negotiate the currents and dunk their heads for fish.
On the Wednesday evening, I hitched a ride to Clyro (a short distance) drawn by advertising for a slide show ‘The botanist’s year’. The botanist described his various trips to conservation areas around the country, and showed slides of the rare and not so rare plants that he had found. His photos were bright and accurate, his talk informative as well as botanical. Worth the trip, but the walk back to Hay was a touch achy, my legs by this time having turned extremely stiff.
The 17 mile route between Hay and Pandy is largely high up on a moorland ridge without any habitation whatsoever, and I was looking forward to the wildness; but also, since the weather was looking decidedly miserable, I was beginning to anticipate having to walk through clouds and rain and that too excited me. I ordered a 7.15 breakfast and was on my way my way by 7.30. There was some rain but I never felt in need of my emergency raincape (I hate rain cover anyway, it shields one too much from the world, and interferes with the process of walking and climbing). The first few kilometres took me through a delightful wooded stream valley, but soon I was out on an exposed, but beautiful, grassy heath. At the top, a few small disused quarry pits had been used for fires and night parties, one or two camper vans were parked in discreet corners. By the time I got to the top of the famous and picturesque Hay Bluff, every view was obscured by low lying cloud. Wonderful. I ate an apple on the Bluff edge looking out at the cloud, and then raced on along the ridge. I didn’t bother too much about missing a couple of way markers, and confidently proceeded on apace. But, when I found myself descending too rapidly, I became suspicious: the map clearly showed that my path for the next few miles lay along the highest point of the ridge. I had to leave the path I was on, and clamber across the uneven heather ground upward until I found the main track again. I continued merrily along, trying to skip over the very boggy and peaty bits, without getting my feet wet. After about fifteen minutes of this energetic jumping and skipping over puddles and bogs, I could see a trig point in the distance. My map didn’t show any trig points for some miles, and it slowly dawned on me that I was back at Hay Bluff. I’d hit the track and walked the wrong way - in the mist I’d been completely disorientated. How frustrating, and to have to wend my way back over the horrible peat bogs! I went wrong again at the same point, but this time when I rejoined the path I picked it up in the right direction. The worst of the bogs and puddles soon passed and I was marching along a well defined track with nothing at all to see but the heather moorland and a few sheep. The closeness of the clouds cheated me of any views whatsoever. I marched and marched, eating up the miles. Only when I felt I’d gained sufficient ground did I stop for my lunch and a drink. I was ecstatic to be so entirely alone, to be unshackled, to be in this wild and desolate place. I was not lonely nor bored nor physically unfit, I was well and alive.
After my lunch, either the weather began to clear, or I was dropping down slowly to an altitude where views were again part of the pleasure of the walk. The panoramas were enormous stretching for dozens of miles across England and into Wales; and as the ridge narrowed so it was possible to see down into the valleys on either side of the mountain, one of which contained the Longtown ruins and the other the famous Llanthony ruins - just visible from the ridge.
During the entire day, I met one pair of walkers. This was useful because I needed to know the time. The sharp descent towards Pandy and the main road to Abergavenny hurt me something horrible, some muscles underneath my kneecaps were brought into and out of use and boy did they moan with pain. Suddenly, I felt really quite crippled (and when I had to walk half a mile in Abergavenny to the station my body revolted against the extra strain). I was well on time for my train to Newport; but at Newport the Paddington trains were being delayed by a freight train derailment. When I did finally get on a train it was so packed I ended up sitting on the floor, when I had been imagining a leisurely journey, taking off my boots, stripping off my wet socks, and putting my feet up on the opposite seat.
Tuesday 31 October 1989
Maggie has made another big mistake. Amidst an amazing kerfuffle last week. Nigel Lawson resigned as Chancellor. He stated that he couldn’t go on working whilst Alan Walters, Thatcher’s part-time economic adviser, continued to be seen to be working against him. Tension between the two has been going on for many months, and, clearly, Lawson has had enough. In the event, Walters resigned just hours after Lawson. Thatcher moved swiftly to replace Lawson with John Major, who has been but three months in the job as foreign secretary, while Douglas Hurd has been brought in to replace Major. A chap called Waddington, previously chief whip, is now our home secretary. The Conservative Party has largely closed ranks behind Thatcher, as it always does, however it is interesting to spot the slight and subtle perturbations within the party. Both Howe and Heseltine both made statements urging a shorter approach towards the EMS - one of the fundamental issues upon which Lawson and Thatcher disagreed; however, they have both denied making any challenge to her leadership. The powerful Conservative 22 group was reported, by Party chairman Kenneth Baker, to have told Thatcher to behave in a more team-like way; while Norman Tebbit and Leon Brittan have also warned her overtly and between the lines. Lawson, himself, today in Parliament exercised his right as a resigned minister to speak when he chose, and in so doing fairly damned Thatcher’s style of government and her policy on the economy.
Interestingly, there is another potentially embarrassing item on the Tory agenda, but since Thatcher has not ever associated herself publicly with the matter it is unlikely that she will fall because of it. My colleague, Andy Holmes, has scored a bullseye against the government’s electricity privatisation plans with the publication of a leaked document. This appears to be so persuasively in support of criticism of the privatisation policy that every major news organisation has taken it up and given it full play. The story and reference to Andy’s newsletter ‘Power in Europe’ was on the front page of nearly every major daily. An interview with Andy was also second or third item on the main BBC and ITV news.
The leaked Energy Department document purports to admit that there might be 30,000 job losses in the coal-mining industry, that nuclear costs are way above that of coal, and that the electricity industry is going to be sold off at a fraction of the value of its assets. There is no date on the document which is a bit suspicious, and it is my opinion that it predates government intervention on the business of coal purchase contracts between the successor privatised companies - National Power and Powergen - and British Coal. Because the document has the magic word ‘leak’ associated with it, the information is treated without criticism, and without giving a thought as to why the document might have got into the public domain. That said, however, there is no doubt that the leak has had an impact. Government has not yet commented, but Wakeham has, apparently, refused to confirm his earlier pledge that the privatisation would definitely include the remaining nuclear power plants - the AGRs and the planned PWRs. If they were to be removed from the sell-off, as National Power, the City, and many others would prefer, the whole philosophy behind splitting the industry into two generators, as laid down in the Electricity Act, becomes nullified.
At the weekend Barbara and I go to the Hampstead Theatre to see the People Show. B wanted to go out, but there was nothing on at the local cinemas and so, although I wouldn’t have planned and booked to see this show, we went on the spur of the moment. There were just two people in the cast that I knew, Chahine and Mark Long, both playing themselves as exactly as they have ever done. Of course, the performance (it was a preview) was full of unique ideas and colourful expressions, but it was also badly flawed and dissolved into chaos on several occasions near the end. As usual with a People Show show, it is likely to be better towards the end of the run.
Paul K Lyons
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