PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1991 - OCTOBER
Tuesday 1 October 1991, Brussels
I never seem to manage to start any real work for a couple of days after my arrival in Brussels. The Monday always disappears either because I’ve a headache or because I waste my time running into the Commission or whatever. This time my problem was more serious. I actually arrived in Brussels the earliest ever (the plane took off on time for a change!) Thus, I arrived at the flat optimistic that I would even get some phone calls out of the way before lunch - how wrong could I be. My key would not open the door. I have two sets of keys and I had given the original set to Claudio with instructions to leave them in the apartment when he left. I had retained the second set thinking they both worked well enough, but when the apartment key didn’t work I remembered I’d some problem with the first copy I’d had cut. I don’t really want to go into the whole sorry saga but, essentially, I thought my key was to blame. The concierge was not in, and his very rude wife informed me that he wouldn’t be back before the end of the day. In any case, I was far from sure that he had a spare key. I went to get a copy of the copy made just in case that would work (I contemplated buying a file too but in the end didn’t). Later in the day, I returned and tried heating up the lock (thinking that perhaps the key would work if I expanded the barrel.) I raced around all day with my travel bag, dressed in my comfy travels, and even had an interview with the deputy director-general of DG12. The concierge didn’t return until six (I was due to meet the Danish energy attache at 7:30), and my heart sank when he told me he didn’t have a key. Nevertheless, he collected a set of small tools and puffed up the three flights of stairs to my landing. A convenient hole in the door frame, which I had never noticed, allowed him to poke and wriggle a screwdriver through. Within seconds he had the door open! The cause of the problem then became apparent: Claudio had left the key in the lock!
Adam went into school for an hour yesterday and had a first lesson. The children were asked to watch a video and then draw a picture of something they’d seen in the programme. The teacher reported that Adam did just fine with his picture of a frog, and B was particularly pleased that A had passed this initial hurdle. But on quizzing A about the drawing he said he had copied his friend Christopher. But, Adam continued, it had been his idea . . . . to copy Christopher.
Another of my political predictions goes to pot - Major has let it be known he will not be calling an election this year. The socialists have labelled him a Ditherer, and Kinnock, in his conference speech today, says he’s lost his nerve. Well, I must say I think it extremely unlikely that the Tory chances will improve in the New Year. Had he gone to the polls now, the punters may well have given him the benefit of the doubt.
Wednesday 2 October 1991, Brussels
A restless night of many dreams
1 - I am driving, with Adam and Barbara, in a city (one that is vaguely familiar, one that has a definite characteristic but which I cannot for the life of me identify - perhaps it is a terrain from an earlier dream). We are speeding along a wide single lane carriageway. For some reason I turn off and choose a parallel road going in the same direction but suddenly the road ends and the car shoots off into the air above a drop of hundreds of feet with the city below. I manage to grab hold of a bar, suspended somehow over the edge, with one hand and manipulate us all back to the ledge. We then drive round to the main highway.
2 - I have a truncheon in my hand and am walking along past parked cars smashing them all with it. I try to break the windows and dent the doors and roofs and bonnets. At first, I seem to manage to do a lot of damage but, as I carry on through a car park, the truncheon seems to be less effective and however hard I smash against a window it doesn’t break - I think that the cars all have breakproof glass. I have walked past one or two policemen who eye me suspiciously, and after a while several of them converge on me. As they surround and arrest me, I feel such a fool that I have allowed myself to lose control, and I rack my brains to try and discover what should have led to this absurd behaviour.
3 - I am visiting a large scruffy flat which was situated with railway lines all around. At one point I can see Raoul outside walking among the tracks singing or shouting his head off.
Friday 4 October 1991, Brussels
I seem to have been here an age already but yet am not half way through this sojourn. When people in London ask me ‘How’s Brussels?’ as they invariably do these days, my response is always the same, ‘Just work, I do nothing but work when I’m in Brussels’. Each time I come this gets more true, as though by saying it - which is some sort of attempt to ward off the reality of it - I am making it even more certainly true. Perhaps it is a little unfair to judge my Brussels life by this period since I am working so intensively on The Book; but if I were not, then I wouldn’t know what else to do with my time here. I shall probably find that once the book is finished I won’t need to come to Brussels for such long periods.
An old John Williams tape plays and soothes me while I write this morning.
I have two diversions only from work: the radio; I find I must listen to as many news broadcasts on Radio Four as I can throughout the day - don’t ask me why, perhaps it staves off the aloneness. I usually listen to an hour or so of ‘Today’, I try and catch a bit of the lunchtime news and then the whole of the six pm news as well; then I’ll probably tune in to the ten pm news before drifting off to sleep. The other diversion, of course, is books. I have an excellent thriller on the go - ‘Burden of Proof’ by Scott Turow. He has already written one best seller - ‘Presumed Innocent’ - and this is equally good if not better. He reminds me of John Le Carré in the sense that they both have taken a common genre, crammed full of dull and tedious work, and raised it to a level worthy of being called literature as well as holding on to best seller status. I make this assessment of Turow on my own, he may need to produce a fuller oeuvre before being recognised as, yes, a great writer, but on the basis of this novel I would say he has it in him. I am also still reading Toffler’s ‘FutureShock’ but it does not set me alight in the way ‘The Third Wave’ did. Unfortunately, ‘Burden of Proof’ is so engaging that I have to exercise enormous self-restraint. I am determined to save some for the journey home - a good read truly halves the labour of travelling.
Sunday 6 October 1991, Brussels
I vowed that I would not switch on my machine today. Yesterday, Saturday, I worked more or less from 8 in the morning until 10.30 at night, and Friday too I was working until quite late. But, here I am, it is only nine in the morning and I have been unable to resist. If I stick to the journal, it won’t be so bad, but if I descend to working then I shall feel guilty with myself. The trouble is I’m not sure what else to do today and my ‘EC Energy Policy’ book so beckons with the chapter I was writing yesterday unfinished and papers littered across my desk and the lounge floor.
But I have drawn up a skeleton programme for the day. At 10am I will call the number of a group, which I found in the newspaper, that offers some walks today; but I have had to grip the newspaper hard and analyse in depth what harm could befall me from making such a call. The walk offered, which starts at 11, looks interesting but I have profound fears. First of all, if a real person (as opposed to an answering machine) responds will I be able to make myself understood. Secondly, the group has the name Sylvie-Silvain which may have obvious connotations to a Belgian but not to me - is it for gays, for example, or for the over 80s. Will the walk be just people who know each other, or even worse, a clique of people who always go on these walks. The fact is that I live my life so carefully as to avoid discomfort - whether social, physical, or mental - that I am scared of taking risks which might lead me in to less comfortable situations. Why shouldn’t I just work through today? After all work achieved today will mean time saved while in London or Brighton?
Then at either 6 or 9 this evening I will make my way to the cinemas at Porte de Namur to see Alan Parker’s new film ‘The Commitments’. For dinner I will have salmon and green beans, and blackberries for desert.
But why turn on the computer at all, surely not just to waffle! What is on my mind? Three things. What three things? The director of public prosecutions, a short story, and global warming.
First the sad story of the much loved and highly-respected director of public prosecutions - last week he was detained by the police for kerb crawling in King’s Cross and immediately resigned his grand office. What a story for the tabloids. What a story. All my information comes from Radio Four of course but the media had two immediate angles on this story, one is what the actual law on kerb crawling is (the police must see a suspect talk to at least two girls or have an extended conversation with one - something like that so as to avoid apprehending an innocent asking road directions). The other was to ask anybody and everybody who knew him for a comment. There was very little, if any, direct criticism, rather there was a general sadness for him and his family. Then the media picked up on the whole question of prostitution and whether the laws which restrict soliciting should be changed - adultery is not illegal and that can wreck families, so why should the relatively harmless act of kerb crawling be against the law, it is argued. Well, of course, this is not really the point. The director of public prosecutions could have chosen any number of other ways to find a girl - especially since one must assume that he is fairly well off - but he chose the illegal approach of kerb crawling and the high profile area of King’s Cross. I would guess that he was certainly ambivalent to getting caught, if not actually wanting to be caught.
‘Time Out’ has a story competition. It wants 2,000 words on ‘A Big Night Out In London’. I ought to be able to produce something original, even though my mind is so attuned to energy and EC affairs that I find it hard to wrench it into other realms. The only half-ways decent idea I’ve had concerns a girl in her early twenties who is due to meet a party of friends in London. Among the party are three men, one of whom she will, or must choose during the course of the evening. The idea would be to write a loose allegory where the three suitors represent the three political parties and the girl’s choice at the end of the night would be equivalent to her voting option.
The European Commission has adopted its Communication on a strategy to stabilise carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2000. I have followed the evolution of this strategy very carefully for ‘EC Energy Monthly’. A year ago, I interviewed the environment Commissioner Ripa di Meana. He told me ‘a carbon tax was inevitable,’ I then highlighted a number of internal documents regarding fiscal instruments which the Italians had given me; in June I ran details of an early draft of this paper, and, in August, I told my readers that the fiscal proposal would be for a 50-50 carbon/energy. I am now even more involved in all this because I spent yesterday writing a chapter on on global warming for my book.
The final Communication document looks and reads much better than the draft floating around in May. It is more concise and less detailed (which means it can get into less trouble) except in the area of tax, for this document has been designed around the need to get Council approval for an energy tax. The Commission justifies the need by saying that all other planned measures will only do half the job to be done by 2000. Yet, personally, I do not believe that the proposed tax, $3/bbl in the first instance and then climbing $1/bbl each year to 2000, will have the desired effect. Indeed my own view is that the EC will have great difficulty in stabilising its emissions by the end of the century. Nevertheless, I do believe that all energy saving efforts and indeed the energy tax are justifiable. Energy should be priced at a level where consumers, either directly or through industry/manufacturing, are obliged to count its cost rather than take it for granted.
Tuesday 8 October 1991, Brussels
I am due back to London this afternoon. I always look forward to my return, the buzz at the office, mail and my lodgers’ news at home, and, of course, seeing A and B, though I probably won’t see them for a few days.
My book. My book again, I’m afraid. Well, what else do I have to talk about. I would say I am about half way through the crude writing stage; although I shouldn’t underestimate the amount of work there is yet to do. This trip I have written just one chapter and some bits, but next time I come (I must return in a couple of weeks) I will have two/three whole chapters to write and plenty of bits. I am quite pleased with the way it is going; pleased with the wealth of content that I’m packing in, pleased with the overall framework, and pleased that I am actually getting on with it so well timewise. I resent, a bit, that I just cannot manage to get it all done in office hours, but I do positively enjoy the work, most of it any way. I daydream a bit that it will make me a little better known within the energy world and that ‘EC Energy Monthly’ will profit well from the exposure. If the management report gets anything like the publicity the East Europe one received then I should certainly be content: so many punters out there classified me an expert on the basis of my in-expert East Europe book, but I have far more knowledge now about EC energy policy than I do/did about the East Europe energy scene.
Andrew Warren called, we exchange views on the CO2 stabilisation paper. He tells me he had lunch with the FT’s David Gardner and Andrew Hill to discuss it, and he told them they should really listen to me because I know what I’m talking about.
Andrew Hill, at the FT, rang me a couple of weeks ago asking for a copy of my exclusive on the IEM papers. I faxed it to him, and reiterated that he should mention my newsletter if he takes anything from it. Well, of course he didn’t, and the news story, as it appeared in the FT, looked very like the press release (we had put out to advertise that issue of ‘EC Energy Mothly’), except that Cardoso e Cunha had just made a speech which gave Andrew Hill his peg. I didn’t really intend to bring this up at the FT office in Brussels, but I was there last Monday (with all the hassle of being unable to get into my apartment hanging over me). Andrew seemed to be wanting to talk about the story, and I got a little hotheaded, my resentment brimming over. Andrew insisted he took nothing from my press release, and that he had talked to all the right people. Yes, but he wouldn’t have known what questions to ask had he not seen my press release, and my story. In fact, he made a whopping great error in the second para, but I didn’t tell him!
The next day, I calmed down and tried to justify my resentment to David Buchan, who is always sympathetic. David told me that the FT page editors are very reluctant to reference the FT newsletters; I sort of knew that this was true but I’d never had it confirmed by anyone working for the paper. I am not surprised in a way because many of the newsletters publish crap, but others do have excellent specialist info - the FT editors should be able to sort out the wheat from the chaff, and allow some give-and-take to the advantage of the newspaper and the newsletters.
Paul K Lyons
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