PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1991 - MAY
Wednesday 1 May 1991, Brussels
On board a ferry, or cruise ship. Some children were playing, including Adam. One of them runs away from their parent and I am little astonished that the parent doesn’t follow them immediately (yesterday, in reality, I saw a toddler walking along the road many metres behind his parents and wondered that they weren’t looking round at him more often). Then I see or hear what seems to be the falling of the child into the sea. I rush over, one person has already dived in after him. Somebody expects me to do the same. It is too far down to jump, and I am frightened. Also, I realise that since the ship hasn’t stopped I would already be jumping into the sea far away from where the child jumped in. Nevertheless, I race down through the levels of the boat looking for somewhere to jump in but I find only sealed portholes. I also get jammed in as I try to squeeze through archways in the corridors that narrow behind me so that I cannot retrace my steps.
Rain. Rain most of the day long. I have barely left the flat today, just once to telephone Kenny at the office. I’ve been writing all day long for ECE: a feature about wave energy. It’s an interesting story. Last year, the Commission answered a question from an MEP about wave energy and referred to some research in the early 1980s by a Dr Lewis in Cork. A wave energy fanatic, Ross, followed this up and discovered that the Commission information was not exactly true. He wrote a sort of expose article in the ‘New Scientist’ which caught the attention of MEPs. They demanded more information from the Commission, and a red-faced [Filippo] Pandolfi was obliged to apologise to the Parliament. As it happened, DGXII (research) already had plans to put wave energy back on the renewables programme. Last week, it held an experts meeting at which Dr Lewis was due to deliver a working paper on the subject to launch the programme; Pandolfi was there, as were no less than four MEPs. Out of a renewables R&D budget of Ecu55m, wave energy is only going to get Ecu1.2m - but still it gets all this attention, including a page feature in my newsletter.
Also, I write up a report on investments under the ECSC Treaty, a speech given by Brittan confirming his tough stance on Third Party Acesss (although I begin to wonder whether all this positioning isn’t a softening up procedure to allow DGXVII to make progress on liberalisation), a proposal for reducing sulphur content in gasoil to 0.05% by 1996, and a story about Cardoso e Cunha’s trip to China. All rivetting stuff!
Thursday 2 May 1991, Brussels
A full day racing backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards. Very little of my day in Brussels is anything other than work. Perhaps I become a workaholic. This morning I left a little before 9, and I returned this evening around 8, but even then at least an hour of the evening has been given over to sorting out papers and planning tomorrow. Nothing but work is on my mind. I spend twenty minutes talking to Fiona, twenty minutes doing yoga, twenty minutes preparing and eating my supper. I was on my way to bed, but I thought I would just dally a little and record the facts of the day here in the journal.
My first appointment at DGXVII was with Jacques Michaux. We talk for an hour on the oil stocks draft directives. He gives me the impression that all is not lost - compromises are being made but still the dossiers are moving forward. He does admit some trouble with the idea of the Commission having control over 30 days oil stocks. Perhaps just one or two delegations actually favour this most radical proposal, and the Commission appears to have virtually no chance of getting this through - a story on this appeared in ‘The European’ thanks to Lucy Walker. According to her story, sourced to some extent from Peter Millet (my excellent source at the UK rep), the Commission is working on an EC-owned and operated oil stock facility, over and above the current 90 day requirement. Well, frankly, I find the idea absurd, but Jacques Michaux (and later in the day Peter Millet) do confirm, to some extent, that the idea has been floating about. I suspect it is a political gambit, being tried on by one of Cardoso e Cunha’s cabinet: scare the Member States with something worse so as to soften resistance to the current proposals.
I then raced from DGXVII to the new European Parliament building where I found James Spence burdened down on his arrival by bags full of paperwork. James has a wonderful ability to act as cool as cucumber (even if his face goes beetroot sometimes) whatever the buzz around him. He had agreed to talk to me at 10.30am. I could talk to him all day long, but after about half an hour his phones started ringing (a personal buzzer and his desk phone) and the boss, La Pergola (CERT chairman), summoning him pronto. Well, we didn’t talk about much else other than Parliament’s famous victory over the research programmes, as follows. On the basis of Parliament’s dissatisfaction with the Council’s response to its amendments, the Commission threatened to withdraw five research programmes (already the subject of considerable delay). As a result of this threat, the three sides (Commission, Parliament, Council) got together on 17 April and signed an accord which, essentially, gave Parliament and the Commission more say over the programmes.
From James to the midday press briefing at the Commission: a Decision on gas sales to horticulture in Holland (a brief for Kenny), talk of the Commission’s budget for 1992, a Eurobarometer poll, and so on. To the Council building to pick up press releases on the research and industry councils. As I finished my steak at lunch, I saw Mr Nackaerts sitting down, he of the Belgian permanent representation who more or less cancelled my meeting the other day. I sat and talked to him for a few minutes about the oil stocks and about the Energy Charter.
To the FT office, where Jo informed me that the foreign office had called her to explain why they had not taken up my case with RTT - i.e. because I am not on its official list of foreign journalists. I must go to the foreign office, and sign up, before they will put pressure on RTT. Jo also tells me that RTT itself does not give priority to journalists; the priority, I understand now, comes clearly from the foreign office. Therefore, what I should have done on day one, back in January, is signed up with the foreign office for a Belgian press card, and asked them to hassle RTT for me. Had I done that, I may well have had my telephone three months ago, although that said, the FO’s magic is limited to ‘administrative’ not ‘technical’ problems. I really should have known better in the first place, and asked the FT’s secretary immediately.
Home to get photos and letters of accreditation. To the FO at Place Louis near the Palais de Justice. The young woman is rather curt: you journalists only come here when you want something. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I would have come here straightaway but nobody advised me I needed to. Please, please help me now.
Back to the European Parliament for the start of the CERT meeting. For some reason the porters are more surly and possessive about documentation in the Belliard building than they are in the new Parliament building. The meeting room is smaller too, and there were more attendees. After 45 minutes in which I followed a debate without any progress, I walked back to the Commission area to see Peter Millet at the UK rep. We talked about the same issues: oil stocks, Charter, Save. He gave me a copy of one of the four TPA reports. At least I’ve got one; I’ve been trying to get them for ages now, but Cardoso e Cunha, I was told, has been unable to decide how best to publish them. I can tell him: through ‘EC Energy Monthly’.
Back, for the third time, to Parliament. The latter session was more interesting with some presentations on energy and the environment by consultants employed through Parliament’s research arm STOA. After the meeting, I waited around to talk to the chairman La Pergola, as James had arranged a 6.30 interview. Unfortunately, he disappeared quickly once CERT closed, and never came back. I hung around for ages afterwards waiting. I did talk to one of the MEPs though, a Greek, Perrios, who is compiling the CERT report on the Energy Charter. I fed him one or two of my own ideas; he seemed very keen and I promised to send him some articles.
11 43 Sunday 5 May 1991, Brighton
Morning. Rather changeable but cold weather. Better here than in Bangladesh where a cyclone has killed 300,000 at latest estimates and presumably ruined the lives of millions. So many calls at present on the resources of the West’s charity and conscience money. United Nations efforts are concentrated for the moment on the Kurdish problem; famine and AIDS in Africa; in East Europe political and social problems escalate by the day, with civil wars in Yugoslavia and the Soviet republics.
In Brighton, we are entertained by the start of the month-long Festival. Yesterday, events on Madeira Drive attracted crowds; today the London-to-Brighton Old Commercial Vehicle run is taking place. Last evening, I went to one of the many theatre events during the festival - the National Theatre’s production of ‘The Trackers of Oxyrhyncus’. ‘A wonderfully witty provocative piece of theatre. . . it uses the rediscovery of a Sophoclean Satyr play to merge panto and politics, scatology and scathing social comment’, said ’The Guardian’. I would agree with most of that although I didn’t find it very witty myself, the humour was there but it didn’t catch the audience’s imagination. The play is also difficult to absorb and get involved with because the opening is rather repetitive and not very audience-friendly, I felt, and because the dialogue is modelled on Greek drama, i.e. recited rhyming prose. I hadn’t come prepared for a difficult piece of theatre, and I’d forgotten that I was to be up at 4.30am. So, for the first half an hour, I was really quite disappointed, and then I got irritated with the seemingly endless clog-dancing. It was well into the second hour, before I began to see the play had more depth than I’d given it credit for. The unruly (if well-choreographed) clog-dancing, the apparently crude and vulgar costumes, and the generally sloppy style had all done their work cleverly in alienating me from the play; I did not at first realise this was deliberate, perhaps I was not supposed to know it was deliberate. In any case, as the play progressed, it became apparent the writer had a message to bring, about the distance between art and the real life of the working class. This theme is actually apparent throughout the play, apparent in the opening scene where an archeologist is excavating old parchments in search of ancient Greek poetry and plays but all he keeps finding is petitions; and it is apparent at the very end where the South Bank’s cardboard city is recreated. Ultimately, it proved quite a thought-provoking play but I wish I had been better prepared and less tired. I came away with a serious reservation about the dramatic use of cardboard city. You could say the writer was courageous to have created a play with such a powerful ending focusing on the plight of the homeless within earshot of the where the play is being seen (it was an NT production); however, I was more sceptical. When the actors came out to the front of the stage at the end and invited our applause. were e we supposed to jerk back quickly, recall that this is just entertainment and round off the evening with a good hearty applause? Of course we were. But then the writer has thoroughly used, exploited the pathos of the real life drama taking place nightly on the theatre’s doorstep. He has taken this tragedy, these tragic people’s lives, and packaged them for a middle class audience. By doing so, he may have eased his own conscience and helped bridge the gap in his own consciousness between art and reality, but he will also have given hundreds and thousands of worthy-minded middle class theatre lovers an extra-worthy evening and helped them to feel good about themselves because they have been faced brutally with the horror of homelessness and survived. After all, this is what theatre is about, isn’t it?
One trouble with writing a journal is that I spend no time cogitating what I am about to write (as I might do with a longer story for ‘EC Energy Monthly’), neither do I spend very long in the process of writing, nor do I re-read what I have written. The net result is that if I have anything even mildly complex to say (as above), the writing can be horribly circular and sometimes a mess.
9 47, Monday, 6 May 1991, Brighton
The weather looks more cheerful today. Such a shame it was so cold and rained non-stop yesterday, for Mum, Julian, Sarah and Rebecca came down to visit us. They were here some 10 hours in all, but Mum barely left the house. Well, soon after they arrived, we walked down near to the Pavilion to eat lunch in a friendly Italian restaurant - Pinnochio. By the time we had finished our fiorentiones and quatro staggiones, it was pouring down. ‘The Sunday Times’ (although there wasn’t much in it), Scrabble and dominoes, tea and cakes all helped to fill out the hours. Adam, of course, provided endless delight and entertainment; but Rebecca, too, is growing, becoming more human and demonstrative, more easy to play with and talk to.
The weather on Saturday was slightly better, not so much rain but still cold. The Coombes came down all together, but I’m not sure whether they enjoyed themselves, though there was quite a lot of activity for the children. I hadn’t seen Caroline for a year, not since the holiday in France.
Local elections in most of England and Wales caused a flurry of political excitement last week. The Tories lost around 900 Council seats, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats taking about half each. Forecasts of what would happen in a general election showed Labour either gaining a majority or close to, and the Liberal Democrats holding the balance of power or close to it.
8 31, Friday 10 May 1991, London
Not a pleasant three days at work this week. I seem to have put so much effort into this month’s ‘EC Energy Monthly’ - the seven or eight working days in Brussels and then all three days this week, I mean I’ve done nothing else - yet at 4.45 on Thursday, Kenny tells me we are a page short of copy. This is the new Applemac system for you, we never know where we are with the copy. I volunteered to write a new page feature, I thought I might just get it done in time for the 6.00 messenger, but Dennis called me through to talk about another problem. Net result: we missed the 6.00 messenger for the first time in my history at FTBI (about 120 deadlines). On top of week’s normal workload, I have been uncovering several inconsistencies creeping into the newsletters (the wrong footers, regular tables without proper explanatory, style problems).
7 05, Saturday 11 May 1991, Brighton
May slipping away, as did April, March and February. What am I going to hold up to the mirror this year?
Because we are going away next Saturday for a week, B is working solidly all weekend. I had intended to be in London, since it is such a long time since Adam and I were there, but when I fully considered the matter, I preferred to be in Brighton. There is much more for both Adam and I to do here. Perhaps this will be the trend throughout the Summer.
I came down yesterday afternoon (caught the 2.05pm which arrived at 2.57pm), dropped my bag off at 31 Tidy Street, and went on to Moulsecoomb to pick Adam up from nursery. All the children were busy tidying and putting the toys away, and slowly congregating on the seats. I sat down and watched for a few minutes before Adam saw me. He came rushing up and jumped on my lap. We talked and teased together a bit as the other children, seated on their tiny chairs, waited for their snack. At least three children came up to me to ask whether I was Adam’s daddy. B says all the children like to know the grown-ups so when they arrive they can shout and say ‘Adam, your Daddy’s here’.
Back at 31 Tidy Street we talk to B a little bit before she nips back into her study. I give A a comprehension lesson: his memory is excellent in response to questioning but I am trying to encourage him to recall sequences of events to be able to tell stories himself. So we read a story together, and then I ask him to tell me what happened, with a fair amount of prompting. We then go down together to the bathroom where I proceed to shave my beard off for the first time in 18 months. A watches the process with great interest but once it is over has no doubts that Daddy is still Daddy. Afterwards we have a long conversation about things he sees on his way to nursery, along the road, in the station and from the train. While I am preparing pasta and fish for supper, Adam does some drawing. We all eat together around 6.30, because I am due to leave for the theatre around 7.00. At the table, I straighten my soldiers, take in a deep breath and say ‘What a lovely supper’. Adam says ‘What a lovely lunch’. He cannot accept that it is supper, since we only ever have lunch together. After supper, Adam wants to play dominoes, his favourite game of the moment. Apart from not hiding his dominoes from view, he can play perfectly. I leave to catch the train to Falmer, B and A go on playing dominoes for 45 minutes, I find out later.
I am concerned this weekend to put down some of the detail, the routine of our lives. I was thinking last week that every now and then I should write about the nuts and bolts, the mechanics of our daily lives.
This morning, for example, B wakes and gets up a little after 6.00, I lie in bed a little longer dozing wondering whether she will bring me a cup of tea. I turn on the radio and listen to ‘Farming Week’. An organic wheat farmer explains how he can plant the seeds for his milling wheat (Avalon), shut the gate and not return until it is ready for harvesting. In other words, it is far less bother than having to treat the crops and worry about them. When it comes to harvesting he gets about two-thirds of a non-organic crop, but then sells his produce for twice as much. Then on came a National Trust boffin, who was being asked about whether conservation-minded and organic farmers were given preference or special treatment on National Trust owned land. Now, at about 8.15, we will go to the bread shop to buy rolls and croissants. A is upstairs trying to find my plimsols, he has been playing on his own otherwise with his playcubes. The sun creeps out but the air temperature remains chilly.
I bought six croissants, four fruit buns and two floured baps for breakfast today and tomorrow. Adam continued to play with his playcubes in the lounge while I boiled the kettle, heated the milk, put the breads in the ovend and laid the table with cheeses (dolcelate, cheddar, brie) and apricot jam (if Adam were having a plain roll I would put peanut butter out also). Around 8.30, we all sat down in the kitchen for breakfast. Over coffee and croissants (once heated these Forfar croissants are really quite tasty), I suggested taking Adam to the Big Top in Brighton station car park on Sunday afternoon. I was interested to know if Adam remembered the circus we took him to before, so I asked him who came with us. Without hesitation he answered correctly Sophie and James, and when asked what he liked about it, he said the person walking on the high wire and the others in the roof. Clearly, he recalled it very well!
A took a while to put his playcube pieces away, I had to help him, or else we would have been there all day. I was anxious to get down town before the shops got too crowded. At the British Home Stores, I found the trouser-slacks I so like, so bought two more pairs for little over £12 each. I also bought another mustard jumper and a pair of shorts. Adam amused himself around the shop, occasionally losing himself (deliberately) quite nearby and gently shouting for me. But, before he had finished his shout I would see his smiling head emerging from behind one clothes’ rail or another. In the changing room, Adam wanted to lie down on the bench and squash his face up against the mirror ‘I want to look at me’, but I disallowed that. Perhaps he was so patient in BHS because he knew we would go to the Early Learning Centre (or the Early Centre, as Adam still calls it,) but he was surprised and excited when I said that would be our next stop. In Churchill Square we stopped for Adam to watch a one-man band. He hopped around all over the place as he played. We popped into a bookshop that was closing down - 50% off every cover price.
We walked home quickly because my bags had got quite heavy. We didn’t stay in the house long because Brighton festival is on, and there were exciting events all over town. Last weekend, we went to the funfair on the Level, for example, this morning we went by bike to Pavilion Gardens for the Sundance festival. Cycling is such a quick way of getting around Brighton centre. I now have my trusty Dawes in Brighton with Adam’s old-fashioned seat on the back, the one I bought in Aldeburgh. It’s very simple compared to the fancy plastic seats one sees, but I would argue that it’s no less safe. The Dawes has been my trusty workhorse taking me to and from Kilburn for many years, certainly since my days at McGraw-Hill in Green Park. I feel it deserves a rest now so I have replaced it with a lighter (less robust) machine which I bought late last year in the Tring auctions.
Pavilion Gardens was full of children and parents, and we just caught the end of a show: ‘Sax in the Box’. That’s my sort of puppet show, with a saxophone player hidden behind a tree. Another show was about to begin on the side of the grass, about American Indians (as is much of the festival). Since it was very narrative orientated and with few props, I was unsure whether A would enjoy it, but he showed no signs of boredom or wanting to leave (though it went on for ages, and I’d not brought a paper).
8 21, Sunday 12 May 1991, Brighton
Colder and windier this morning. I shall make breakfast in a few minutes. But to carry on my detailed account of Saturday. I cooked lunch (though it’s fair to say that most weekends these days B does all the cooking). We were about to sit down when Noel and Toby arrived. Noel has a real knack of turning up in time to get offered lunch and usually we accommodate him, but I didn’t have enough today. So while we ate our meagre lunch at the table in the garden, Noel and Toby sat on the steps talking with us. After we’d finished, the two boys happily chased each other round the courtyard - Toby on the little bus and A on his little ancient metal tricycle - while Noel and I talked about the US photographer O Winston Link, Brian Appleyard’s book ‘The Pleasures of Peace’, and cathedrals. Noel is a rather self-effacing character. He seems to talk straight from his memory store rather than through his mouth, and often seems to be bursting with knowledge which he has little chance to use. I wonder if he isn’t a reluctant father but one that has found social intercourse through connection with a child. On Saturdays he wonders round Brighton visiting Toby’s friends. Although seemingly impervious to any problems a spontaneous visit might cause (like arriving at the moment of serving lunch) he seems rather a loner and insecure. He is very involved with his work at the national music archives.
I dashed down to the market and shops to get the rest of the weekend’s needs - milk, butter, toilet paper, apples, pears, bananas, fish, strawberries (because they looked good) etc. We then cycled back down to Pavilion Gardens. By this time the weather had deteriorated and become quite cold, a sprinkle of rain. The only thing on offer was a music work shop, which I thought was too old for Adam, but not so.
I should add that at various moments through the day, B comes out of the study and wants to discuss an aspect of her work: an informal survey of the users of the quick reference library at her college; the use of Europe versus EC states; the meaning of the acronym OECD, etc. For half an hour in the late afternoon I play one of the new games I’ve bought for Adam. It is a pack of cards with nine sets of pictures (farm, post, school, etc.) and the idea is to get full sets of each type by asking for them from the other players.
A bright sunny, even warm day today. The main course for the morning was a session at the swimming pool. Adam still fears to float freely but can manage a short while so long as he can grab onto me when he gets frightened. . . and the key ingredients of the afternoon were a ride and stroll along the seafront and a show in the Big Top in the station car park. So many people on the beach, on the promenade, on the pier. Out at sea we saw rowing, canoeing, water-skiing, para-ascending, sailing, wind-surfing, catamarans, and those funny one man water-bikes. The Big Top circus without animals was also without very skilled artistes either. In fact it wasn’t as good as the one we saw in Kilburn. Adam’s attention was definitely waning at the interval when I decided to leave without telling him it wasn’t the end.
By the time he went to bed tonight (in my old blue Tricycle t-shirt) he was well exhausted with cheeks as red as a tomato. He asked me for a cuddle and puts his arms round my neck and then wouldn’t let go. He’s almost always asleep with minutes of being put to bed.
The play ‘A girl skipping’, at the Gardner Centre on Friday night, was vaguely interesting but I think I find this sort of post-student theatrical experiment rather meaningless these days. I suppose it is good to touch base, every now and then, with modern theatre and performance to see if anything new is being thrown up. But really, ‘A Girl Skipping’, ‘Ra Ra Zoo’, and ‘Architects for Babies’ were the cream of what I thought would be interesting at the Festival, but I was well disappointed.
18 49, Thursday 16 May 1991, London
The office jives have ended up more or less as I hoped. Miriam will replace Debbie early in June, and Henry will take Miriam’s place. But I had to prod Dennis to instigate the changes quickly so my team wasn’t left short of help, and this proved again to myself how important both information and timing can be, even on this tiny office scale. Life is a jive. If only I could dance for higher stakes, I’m sure I could cope. There are no real rewards for carving out my small team at FTBI, just fractional increases in status and income. I must head off alone into the sunset.
A tiny smattering of social intercourse this week. On Tuesday I went to the National Theatre to see a play by Christopher Hampton, he of ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ fame, called ‘White Chameleon’. This is a quiet play, entirely biographical in content, in which Hampton attempts to pay a debt (which he must feels he owes) to a housekeeper present during his family’s sojourn in Alexandria. The play sets out to describe the seeds of the author’s vocation but succeeds better in eulogising Ibrahim, the wise comic housekeeper who played such a key role in his adolescent life. Indeed, Hampton suggests in the play that Ibrahim’s role in nurturing his early playwriting ambitions was more important than that of his own parents.
I also went out to eat three times this week, and paid each time! I took Kenny and Miriam to Cafe Pasta; yesterday I lunched with Andrew Warren, the director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy; and on the evening, I took Clare and Melinda (my lodgers) out for a meal to Vijays (as we gobbled the spicy Avial and Sambar, our light conversation turned into a PKL treatise on modern society, the failures of feminism and the importance of child-rearing).
Increasingly, Andrew Warren and I have found ourselves treading the same patches without ever meeting. He has just set up a Brussels-based energy-saving lobby group and visits weekly; we have lots to talk about - EC affairs, people we know in different agencies, East Europe and so on. I persuade him to be a little keener on the Energy Charter, by suggesting it could help set up a politically-backed mechanism for a multitude of smaller-scale energy-saving projects in East Europe. He threatens to use my ideas in his next ‘Daily Telegraph’ article.
22 27, Tuesday 21 May 1991, West Malvern
Fine weather, the Malvern Hills and bluebells have served to make this an excellent holiday so far. We are all in good spirits, happy, relaxed, and enjoying the walks, the views and the quiet living.
The TV this evening brings news of Rajiv Ghandi’s assasination. Poor India. I am too tired to write much here this evening.
14 27, Wednesday 22 May 1991, West Malvern
The middle of the afternoon and I feel like sleeping, well I have been up since 6.30am and walking since before 7. This morning I walked the ridge path, almost the entire length of the Malvern Hills, over as many summits as possible: End Hill, Table Hill, Worcestershire Beacon, Summer Hill, Pinnacle Hill, Herefordshire Beacon, Swinyard Hill and Midsummer Hill. The sun was rising across a fairly clear sky giving wide-ranging views on both sides of the ridge but leaving some mistiness in the distance. These are astonishing hills, set as they are, in such an otherwise flat landscape. The steep sides and modest height mean there are magnificent views from most of the peaks and all along the ridge; walking the ridge, it is as though one is walking in the sky at the perfect height to look down on the valleys, towns and hamlets that dot the landscape below.
The granite rock of the hills is the oldest in the country - pre-Cambrian, over 600m years old - and some of the oldest in the world. The ridge lies along what is now recognised as a major line of weakness in the basal rocks of Britain, associated in some geological periods with earthquakes and possibly volcanic activity. During one such period, granites in a plastic condition were thrust up in a North/South ridge and have subsequently been worn down to their present shape and size, mainly by water erosion. The hills have a rather special look - several of them have perfectly sloping sides so that if you look at them from one direction you see a well-shaped volcano or pyramid, and looking across from one hill to another one can sometimes see a smooth shallow bowl, a concave shape of rock underlying the grass slopes. The tops of the hills are largely grass with hawthorn trees, fern, gorse and other ground cover. All the valleys and the lower slopes are richly forested with a variety of trees and shrubs; a variety of flora which, locals will tell you, is probably unrivalled in such a small area of Britain. On the western side of the ridge the Malverian granite gives way to areas of limestones and shales, while on the eastern side triassic sandstones and marls.
Adam and Barbara have gone up the hill again. Today is my free day, yesterday was B’s. I suggested we each have a free day partly so as B gets herself out and about without us.
I expected the worst of this cottage. There’s a huge element of luck when you hire a cottage blind with only the advertising bumpf to decide by. I thought it would be really small, and I didn’t it expect it to have any special features. We were all agreeably surprised to find that it was spacious and comfortable with everything (except a decent teapot) we could need, and that it had magnificent views across the hills to the northwest.
B was very tired after her gruelling week of college work, many early mornings, the packing and trip to London, so A and I elected to go and search for the nearby playground. A little way along the road, a path branches off towards the fields. Within a few hundred metres, we found ourselves standing on a grass bank with superb views down the valley with the hazy purple of bluebells covering many a field. Below us we could see a football pitch and next to it a small playground. The evening sun softened and warmed the landscape. How unexpected it was to find this beautiful place, and we soon were calling our visit to Malvern the bluebell holiday.
On the way here, we made one long stop at Stratford-upon-Avon. I was not impressed. It is a single-minded village with a single reason for existence. I am truly delighted that so many people go to Stratford, that the Shakespeare shrines attract so many pilgrims: if they weren’t going there they would be going somewhere else - like Malvern. Well there’s enough tourist activity in Malvern but God forbid all those American coachloads should start invading the hills too. The lawns by the Avon along by the theatres are pleasant enough, but even in mid-May they were over-crowded with tourists. We strolled around town to look at the shrines, the Tudor cottages, but entered not one: Shakespeare’s birthplace will survive without my entry fee. Best was a book remainder sale in a church hall where we bought a number of bargains. As we were leaving, I said to Barbara she shouldn’t expect anything as grand as Stratford at Malvern, but I couldn’t have been more wrong - the Malvern towns and villages are delightful, interesting, more complex, and there is always the backdrop of the hills adding great scenic beauty and character. I would be happy to have died without seeing Stratford, but not Malvern.
7 08, Thursday 23 May 1991, West Malvern
Mum arrived last night, a bit later than expected having failed to identify the house. Mum and B took Mum’s dog Georgie for a walk along by the bluebell woods while I cooked supper. I spent the evening typing up my 1974 journal while B and Mum discoursed on matters interesting and uninteresting.
7 10, Friday 24 May 1991, West Malvern
Malvern boasts a Fringe festival ‘second only to Edinburgh’. One night, I saw a splendid singer called Cindy Stratton, and last night I went to see an alternative comedy show. I can’t remember the last time I went to see a stand-up comic. There was a time, ten years ago, I suppose when the alternative comedy scene was just beginning to mushroom in pubs and other small venues - I recall John Dowie for instance, who frequented the Tricycle Theatre bar, and who I counted a friend of mine (though I doubt he ever figured in these pages). But I have never been one to enjoy comedy (why is that?); I will rarely choose to see a comic play or film, I almost never read a comic novel, and I am just not interested in seeing stand-up comics. I went last night out of a sense of duty, to have a look, and to profit from being here during this festival ‘second only to Edinburgh’. I could have saved my £5, stayed at home and typed up more of my 74 journal.
Three comics - Jo Brand was top of the bill, with James Macabre in the first half; Mark Lamarr did the warm ups and compering. Lamarr made me laugh most with his smooth delivery but pacing, smoke-filled presence. I can barely remember Macabre, his patter was least well received. He slipped in, he said, his personal favourite joke: they say if you sit a hundred monkeys in front of a hundred typewriters and leave them for a hundred years one of them will write ‘Heh, heh, we’re the Monkeys’. I’m not sure that many people remember the Monkeys. He had also updated his material with a joke about a boom in business in Lebanon’s flower shops following the Ghandi bombing. Although the star of the night and certainly getting the best audience response of the three, Jo Brand appealed to me least. She was a fat, rather ugly, woman described as ‘a hideous old boiler’ by ‘The Sun’ (as proudly proclaimed in the advertising blurb). She spoke, without an accent, like a well-educated girl (there must be a mother somewhere turning in her grave or burying her sorrows in gin) but delivered a repertoire of jokes about being fat, about being un-married, about being a woman, and about periods. Well, I suppose, such humour might still provoke a provincial audience, and perhaps there are many people in the provinces who need provoking about such things, but I felt a little old in the tooth for such tedious public displays of personal issues, however well disguised as comedy for the public’s enlightenment.
But back to the Malvern Hills. The Malvern Hills Conservators (MHC) provide a wealth of information about the area - fact sheets and leaflets setting out various trails. These and large-scale maps are more than sufficient to explore the hills, which, after all, are not that large or that high; and since you can see precisely where you are along much of the ridge, it’s not difficult to navigate (either along the ridge, or down a hill if you want civilisation).
Our first walk took us right around North Hill and gave us our first view of Great Malvern. Such a stunning view really, one is so close - not too high and too far away. Adam summed it up by saying it was like being in an aeroplane.
Adam is delightful to walk with, he runs along the path, invents games (park benches are fast trains for example) will look for and spot things we ask him to, runs backwards and forwards, always in a jolly mood, enjoying the outdoors. We too enjoy the outdoors, we look at the flora and the fauna: there are lots of rabbits, probably too many, butterflies, interesting insects, birds to look at, and of course man’s beasts - horses and dogs, for many a solitary man is to be found on the hills taking his dog or dogs for a walk. (Hitching back from my long walk the other day, I was given a lift by a retired army man - he took me miles out of his way to my door - and he told me, rather sadly, that he used to go walking every day but since the death of his two dogs the incentive for such walks has gone.)
14 20, Sunday 26 May 1991, Brighton
On the second day, we walked around the highest of the hills, Worcester Beacon. This was probably the longest and hottest of our walks. Right at the end I was carrying Adam on my shoulder. On the way we sang the zig-zag song. Ziggedy ziggedy zag, Ziggedy ziggedy zag, When I get to a zag I feel like having a fag, When I get to a zig I feel like having a zig, Ziggedy ziggedy zag, Ziggedy ziggedy zag When I get to a rock, I feel like ..... a ….., When I get to the grass, I feel like ..... a .... I would sing the first line and leave Adam to make up the next line using whatever rhyme he could think of. Sometimes he would say complete rubbish but often he would say something clever too. He did, however, always use the participle ‘having’ so I got more involved in the second lines and tried to set an example of different second lines: when I get to a tree I feel like chasing a bee, when I see the sky I feel like saying hi, and so on. Ziggedy ziggedy zag.
Tuesday was B’s day off. In the morning she went walking alone on North Hill while A and I trooped off to visit British Camp, which, of all the Malvern Hills, is probably the most interesting. The literature dates this hill fort to the Iron Age, the second century BC. Archaeologists estimate that up to 2,000 people could have lived in the village on the hill. A few but minor finds have been made at the other iron age fort of Malvern - Midsummer Hill - but it is British Camp which shows its character and shape most dramatically: the hollows where huts were built, and the ditches and banks for defence. The key disadvantage for British Camp was the lack of water, according to the experts, and it is assumed that it was carried up the hill, perhaps by donkeys, for use in cooking and for drinking, while people went down the hill to wash themselves and their clothes. The view from the top is magnificent, although not one of the highest Malvern Hills you do get a stunning 360 degree panorama. I tried to point out how special the all round view was and, after a few attempts, I did get it across to him; however, it would be true to say he was more interested in the rabbit holes.
Later, A and I went to the swimming pool, Splash, by the park. I am happy to say A really does like going swimming these days; it is an easy treat to give him. Splash is a modern-fangled pool shaped liked an L-shaped lounge with a long curling slide. Every now and then, the lifeguard/technicians fiddle with a control panel and turn on a wave machine. The short leg of the L is all very shallow, shallow enough for Adam to play around happily for a long time; moreover, because the children’s shallow end and the deep end are in the same pool I could actually swim a little bit without worrying about Adam (something I can’t do in Brighton). With his arm bands, A is now becoming quite confident about floating, and will venture into deeper waters, and ask that I don’t hold him; he still retains a very healthy fear of the water though.
I made rather a big mistake with the slide, for when I took him on it for the first time, I couldn’t control our arrival in the water properly, so we both went under. A didn’t cry, but he did look well stunned. I didn’t think to take him on the slide again since he so obviously didn’t enjoy the ducking, but of course I should have done. When we went again to the pool, he was extremely reluctant to go on the slide again, and only did so after much persuasion. Even though his face didn’t go near the water on two more rides down, it was the first negative experience that stayed with him.
12 35, Monday 27 May 1991, London
A bank holiday. Alone in London. A chance to catch up on writing this diary. Tomorrow is my birthday - 39 years. I’ll panic tomorrow, today I’ll just sit back and enjoy my youth.
I would have to say that both B and I are absolutely head-over-heels in love with him. He is intelligent, good looking, and has the most charming personality. B bought us tickets for a sort of barn dance in the Big Top - an event to finish off the Brighton festival. It started at 8pm and I doubted whether it was really an event to which one would take a three year old child (Adam would normally be in bed at 7:30). But Adam was a gem, even though we stayed until 10:30. Did he moan or groan, did he make trouble? none of it; he danced and played, and rested and danced, and played and rested, and could not have enjoyed himself more - as we did too.
On a religious programme, early morning Sunday, I hear an interview with A.N. Wilson about an anti-god pamphlet he has published. The interviewer tried to push Wilson into detailing his own beliefs, but he insisted they were not important. What he was trying to do, he said, is to write about the connection between religious and fanatical, violent behaviour. He was not trying to reject god or spirituality rather he was trying to say that violence could come directly from the religious impulse. I think the point was a little subtle for the interviewer who perceived, on behalf of the programme’s audience, that Wilson had done an about turn: most of his earlier work is underpinned by a strong Anglican (as opposed to Catholic) philosophy. This public volte face must be a reaction to seeing the resurgence of fanatical religious feeling across the world, and the great dangers to peace that it could herald. But isn’t it rather arrogant to produce a pamphlet, a display of self-importance that might detract from his message, a message better left to his more usual modes of communication, the novel or biography.
I have made bread and will go downstairs now for lunch. This evening I will eat at my mother’s: brother Julian and wife and daughter, and sister Melanie and husband will be coming too; but it doesn’t feel at all like my birthday.
I ring Raoul and Andy/Rosy to see if they are free tomorrow. Raoul says yes, Rosy engages me in conversation for an hour about children mostly. Andy is down with the flu, and Rosy is leaving for Cardiff early in the morning to do shows and workshops.
I must record a few more details about our holiday before signing off. My Mum’s stay, like the holiday in general, turned out to be a success; she seems to have enjoyed herself enormously. On the Thursday, we drove down to the bottom end of the hills to where my ridge walk had ended and from there we walked a circular path around the Raggedstone Peaks. Following the walk we drove to have a look at couple of towns with tourist interest. Ledbury has an old Tudor town hall which stands on stilts, a cobbled passageway which reminded me of Clovelly in Devon, and a teashop which puts only one teabag in a pot for two people. Bromyard has fewer pretensions and was more likeable for that. Like Ledbury it had a goodly number of Tudor buildings but also a truly old-fashioned butcher which sold a truly delicious pork and apricot pie. We zig-zagged our way back to West Malvern through the country lanes on the east of the hills, rich verdant country but quiet all the same.
We drove back towards Malvern, and found ourselves at St Ann’s Well, one of the area’s springs. To be honest I was expecting a cafe that had a high bank of Malvern water bottles for sale but was delighted to find a real spring of water issuing forth from an old marble sink and spout. Benches and tables were set out on the hillside providing a pleasant spot for tea, and a little later, for we cared not to move, for lunch. Mum then left for London later in the afternoon.
After, Adam and I dropped into the local library to look at an exhibition about the Stanbrook press. B and I went, recently, to see a play about Bernard Shaw and Stanbrook Abbey. When I found out that Stanbrook was nearby Malvern I thought I would try and visit, but we never got round to it. Instead I found this exhibition - I didn’t even know that there was a printing press at Stanbrook. The small exhibition showed different examples of the press’s work, some of it very beautiful. Most of the books and pamphlets had a religious bent, but not all. I was persuaded to buy the catalogue for the display since it was printed at the Abbey, and also contained an obituary to Dame Hildelith Cumming, the Press’s famous printer and designer who had died but so recently - 19 April.
On the way back, we visited the famous gardens at Hidcote (famous to B but I hadn’t heard of them). Despite the hoards of people, I enjoyed these gardens immensely. They were created just after the turn of the century by William Johnston. He does not seem to have sought acceptance from the establishment, preferring to go his own sweet way in building a cross between a cottage garden and a landscaped garden. It has dozens of different sections with different themes, sometimes colour, sometimes season, sometimes shapes and types of plants. There is a group of trees shaped like empty boxes, and there is tapestry hedging, combining different colours and types of shrubs. I particularly liked the red borders and the variety of blue flowers that could be seen all around the gardens. We didn’t leave the garden until after five, so it was a long drive home back to Brighton, made even longer by my insistence on trying to find a way straight through the middle of Oxford instead of taking the ring road!
18 42, Tuesday 28 May 1991, London
My birthday. This birthday is a really tricky one; I haven’t really allowed it to sink in. The age 39 is so close to 40 that it is impossible to deny the connection. In the future, a few people might remember this day as the one when a new Ethiopian government came into being, or when Malcolm Rifkind changed the government’s transport priorities.
19 00, Wednesday 29 May 1991, London
Well, this is turning out to be a pleasant week. Monday evening, I went to Mum’s for dinner to celebrate my birthday. Julian and Melanie looked like bronze gods after their holiday in Antibes; Mum didn’t say much but served up a continental hor d’oeuvre and stuffed cabbage in a delicious tomato sauce.
On the night, last night, Raoul and Andy were available to dine; we met up at the Khyber Pass Indian in South Kensington. As usual, I arrived exactly on time, Andy about twenty minutes late and Raoul over half an hour late. I’ve become quite used to this format now. We spent a pleasant evening in idle chatter. Rosy’s Mum, Betts, was the focus of one discussion, since she’s fed up of life, and tried to end her life, but didn’t succeed. Raoul sounded a word of warning to Andy, telling him to distance himself from any of the decision-making concerning this euthanasia. He explained that, however rational acceptance of death may seem in the moment, psychological problems can develop at any time afterwards. If he were to express opinion one way or the other, and Rosy later regretted what happened, he may find himself the victim of her resentment - he would be the perfect foil, in fact. Raoul advised Andy simply to support Rosy in whatever decision she made concerning her mother, and to ensure that she recognises that is what he is doing - i.e. supporting her in her decision.
Other chatter concerned Raoul’s stressful home and work life, and amusing encounters with young ladies at a Houston convention. Andy talks of his son Jason currently enjoying the delights of Australia, and of a car parking contract he hopes to sign very shortly with Coca-Cola for £35,000. Andy brings me a £25 book token for my birthday; this is an extraordinary gesture since we never buy each other presents and we barely even manage a birthday card. I feel it is his way of saying thank you for continuing to organise these little evening get-to-togethers.
At the office Miriam, Henry and Kenny all sign a birthday card for me. Miriam has bought it from the Transport Museum but does not know that it is a Winston O. Link photograph; it pleases me enormously. Today, the three stooges beaver away on ‘European Energy Report’ leaving me very little to do. I am trying to progress my two projects: the EC management report and the new East Europe newsletter, but there are hold-ups on both. I go to lunch with Vic Peeke in Fleet Street. I catch up on news about various people: Jim Trotter is thinking, finally, of moving to New York to become a senior executive with McGraw-Hill; Jenny (nee Campbell-Blair) is living in Singapore; Humphrey Hinshelwood is still running the ICIS petrochemical caper; Platts is still king of the market. An old and familiar name in the McGraw-Hill days but one I never met - Melanie Wold - is now with Telerate too; she and others from the Telerate editorial team joined us for lunch; Mel and her toyboys, as Vic put it - an apt description since they all had short hair brushed back with or without Brylcream. I am so glad I do not still report on market prices.
A birthday card arrives from Rosa, it is the only one from outside my immediate circle (i.e. people who I see all the time) except for Grandma Todd. Adam sent me a map of the world with Brazil coloured in, he also sang happy birthday for me on Tuesday morning. Barbara and A are to make Saturday my birthday since we were unable to be together till then. Tomorrow, my lodgers, Clare and Melinda, say they will cook me a meal. My birthday is lasting so long this year.
Paul K Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG