PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1992 - FEBRUARY
Thursday 6 February 1992, Brussels
I return to my word-processed journal after a sojourn in Portugal where I went back to writing with a pen. It is so hard writing with a pen knowing that one day, sooner or later, I’ll have to transcribe it onto the computer. In retrospect, I suppose, I could have taken the Tosh to Portugal; I might have fretted about it sitting in the car all day long. Its true, too, what Barbara said, that it’s good to have another written book to add to my collection.
Brussels is grey damp and cold but I don’t mind. Most of the time the apartment is warm. I had thought to go to Paris this weekend again but cousin Martin tells me he is flying back to Sofia on Friday and I’d rather wait until he’s there, if only to stay in the apartment. I had a long chat the other night with cousin Mary. She tells me they are still embroiled in the fight with Roxanne over Mike’s estate, particularly the flat. It does, though, seem to be coming to a conclusion. Julian tells me the car (I am buying from his company) should be ready in a couple of weeks - a three-year old Escort. I won’t know who I am. What to do with my lovely old Marina. It needs an MOT. If it cannot pass without more work then I should just dump it - dear old Whiskey, she’s been so reliable.
Finally, the Commission’s proposals for a deeper internal energy market have been released. I am surprised how similar they are to the original drafts I saw and published last summer. It did look, last autumn, as though the Commission was backtracking and that Cardoso e Cunha’s star had faded away completely, but he’s got them through and they look handsome. A rocket in the backside of Europe’s cosy energy monopolies. The proposals will be very difficult to counteract since the Commission took its time over their preparation (those year-long consultative committees) and because Cardoso e Cunha has been to each capital and talked to all the governments. Each Member State gave its initial reaction to the proposals during the first working group - only the Dutch and perhaps the Danes were outrightly against them.
I talked today to the Peter Millet, my ‘mole’ in the British camp. He told me the UK has already set an agenda for its forthcoming Presidency, and we discussed the various priorities, many of which might not change much if the Labour government were to be in charge by then. However, in the area of coal policy, Labour is likely to reverse current policy. The Tories, if re-elected, will privatise British Coal, Labour will not. So far is obvious; however, not very long ago Cardoso e Cunha was seen on the BBC’s ‘Money Programme’ suggesting that the British government actually subsidise coal mining. This idea stems from the embarrassment, if that’s the right word, the Commission feels over its policy encouraging coal mine rationalisation which has left the UK closing mines that produce coal at costs half in Germany which is not closing mines. In order to bring some order and a quantifiable policy to the coal industry, the Commission has developed the idea of a cost level - Ecu90/tce - below which it believes European coal SHOULD be produced, even if that is still significantly higher than world market prices. British Coal has already cut back past this point. I had not understood why Cardoso e Cunha should have gone on to British television to put forward this policy when clearly subsidies are anathema to the Conservative government. But it is now clear, the Tories may not be in power soon, and a Labour government could implement these emerging Commission ideas.
Otherwise, after two days in Brussels, I have come across nothing that seriously affects my ‘EC Energy Policy’ Management Report. Since it has not yet been sent to the printers, I am still able to make changes. A terrible business. I cannot imagine, writing a real book where the turnaround must be even slower. Nothing in the world stands still long enough for a book to be published, except fiction I suppose.
Berlaymont has now been closed completely and all its inhabitants have decamped to other buildings - the Commissioners and their functionaries have gone to the Breydel building nearby where a press centre has also been built. I was surprised to find the Breydel canteen empty. But what a view from the 15th floor - in the immediate foreground there are dozens of cranes where the new EC buildings are being erected, and in the middle ground you can see the old Parliament buildings and the new juke box building that is nearing completion. There appears to have been a swing towards accepting Brussels as the single home for the Parliament, but it is still not a done deal.
The Winter Olympics begin in France on Saturday - any sporting event is good material for debate and comment among my three assistants in London. Increasingly, we discuss all manner of things, I’m surprised they get any work done, I certainly work poorly when we are all together in that small room. Oddly, Kenny seems to be the worst culprit - not in the sense that he doesn’t get his work done, but in the sense of maintaining a conversation. A short observation about haircuts, for example, between Henry and myself turns into a long analysis of where we all go for haircuts, why and how much they cost. Apart from sporting events, we always find something in the papers to discuss whether it is a serious news event or a comic one; then there is the previous night’s television or excursion to the cinema/theatre/concert or whatever; then, of course, there is office politics and gossip.
What reminded me of this, was standing around in the FT Brussels office watching the first television news concerning Paddy Ashdown’s liaison with his secretary - comments were being banded around freely between the journalists David, David and Andrew, although I think I prefer Henry and Kenny’s wit. With all the vicious verbal attacks swinging backwards and forwards between Labour and Conservative in recent times, Paddy has consistently put himself above such nonsense and taken a moralistic stance. Not such a goody any more, and perhaps it will do his ratings a world of good. The affair, as far as we know, was five years ago, before he was leader of the party, and was brief. His wife and family stand whole-heartedly behind him. Major and Kinnock have both stated the revelation has nothing to do with politics. I wonder, however, whether a Tory minister would get away with such a revelation. Perhaps - Parkinson’s resignation was not only because he had an affair but because the lady concerned was pregnant or had had a child and because he tried to cover it up.
Saturday 8 February 1992, Brussels
I am still working on the Management Report, but they are light duties. I am reading it for the very last time, and making some minor changes to accommodate recent events. I am un-pleased that the report is not yet on the market, we are well into February and I was promised it would be on sale before the end of January. I still think it is a good document, and I am very keen for some recognition, although I am unsure how this could come - the newspapers won’t take it up. The more I think about it, the more I realise that the publicity will take quite a lot of time and work, and that it really shouldn’t be me doing it.
The sun shines brightly this morning in Brussels and prompts me to sing on my walk back from the supermarket and market. I do not have much to do this weekend, although I plan to spend Sunday working on a fiction project.
Why have I turned the computer on and opened a journal file? what do I have to say? I did go out last night at the invitation of Fiona and Janet. They assembled a group of mostly journalists to meet in the IBIS bar, to go on to a Japanese restaurant, and from there to a bar where a band was playing - the very same band I heard last year. It is a measure of my desperate need for social intercourse, that I have stood through several hours of this dreadful band - the Headcoats - playing at the very limit of the sound barrier twice, TWICE! Apart from the music, it was pleasant to spend time talking with Lucy again, and to meet two other women I hadn’t come across before - one who lives in Bury St Edmunds and works as a freelance journalist, and the other, Caroline, recently sent here by Reuters for a year’s training. I probably stayed as long as I did, in the smoke-congested crowd of the bar, shouting my head off and straining my ears to hear, because I found Caroline quite attractive. A dark, straightforward but rather beautiful girl from Australia, she seemed quite at ease among strange company and avoided saying anything silly or pretentious. We talked a lot about Brazil as she has a Brazilian ‘partner’ in London, and seems quite fascinated by the country.
Sunday 9 February 1992, Brussels
After staying up on Friday night until nearly 2am, standing in the most horrible crowded smoke-filled bar, listening to the most horrid music at piercingly loud volumes so that I had to shout in order to talk to the person standing next to me, I stayed up late again on Saturday night - again in a bar, again with loud music, and again with such a dense fog of smoke that this morning I can smell the terrible stink on all the clothes I was wearing. Janet and Fiona had said they were meeting a bunch of people, in the IBIS bar again, to watch a transvestite show which starts at 11. I was still awake at 10:30 so decided to stroll along. Lucy and Caroline were both there, and I spent most of the evening talking with Lucy. She now only works for ‘The European’ part time: few people have been given full time contracts while the new owners sort out what to do with the paper. She says it is beginning to seem as though the brothers (whose name I forget) may be finding it more difficult to turn the business around than they thought. I could have told her that from pure guess work - ‘The European’ was clearly a bright shining object, superficially desirable to someone who didn’t know the first thing about newspapers. I still doubt it will survive. Lucy, in the meantime, is finding other freelance work to get on with.
The transvestites show went on for a long time, almost three hours - like the Headcoats, these people too were more than happy to have any audience at all and once they’d got them they were prepared to exploit them to the hilt. Four transvestites - two aiming for the tall glamorous model image, one the small cute image, and one the middle-aged mother image - gave us dozens and dozens of performances, singing to short tapes, ranging from opera to rock. Each one would come up, from downstairs having changed in the toilet area, dressed in some extravagant costume (often a kind of carnival outfit), and stand on a tiny stage for two or three minutes, swinging their arms around, dancing a little bit, pouting their mouths in mime of the singing and then take applause before returning downstairs. Once or twice two or more of them performed a small sketch together, and sometimes they acted quite well, and they mimed with reasonable confidence. But, I found the taped music, played as loud as it was, very tiring. I ached for a real liaison with the willing audience.
One of the showmen took us by surprise by doing a Dracula number with blood spurting out over his/her face and all down her plastic dress kit; and another of the actors used his spots to send messages to cosy voyeurs - he did Shirley Bassey, for example, screaming over and over again: ‘this is me, this is really me’, waving at his sequinned dress and jewellery.
I brought up into my mind most of the things I could remember having read or heard or seen about transvestites. I recall one excellent short story (now I think about it, it may even have been an Ealing black and white film, I can’t be sure) about a bank clerk who secretly longed to wear women’s clothes - his wife sends him packing; then a landlady discovers him. He is about to commit suicide (am I making this all up) when one of the other lodgers or a friend begins to accept his strange predilection; then, somehow he meets others who also willing to accept it. Slowly, but surely, he arrives at the day when he goes out into public dressed as a woman. Finally, he decides to live always as a woman.
I thought, too, of all those transvestites in Brazil, and wondered whether they (and the large number of homosexuals) were a product of a society in which sexual roles are becoming very confused: women becoming more dominant and able to control family life and/or bring up children on their own, and boys being brought up with too much sensitivity, too many female characteristics, unable to graduate into adulthood with expected macho behaviour.
I thought of Harold and the games of dressing up we used to engage in; and the dresses I used to wear - a satin gown and kaftan. But, I never took any secret pleasure in dressing like a woman, rather I liked the freedom of movement a dress can give. Lucy enquired about something in this area, and I found myself telling her all about Mu, the Vienna group and their attempts to break down the sexual barriers; but it all seems so distant now.
Then I remembered a party in Brighton, to which Rosy brought me. She didn’t advise me in advance and I was shocked to see a strange group of rather large-boned middle-aged women (some with moustaches) sitting around a lounge chatting away comfortably to each other. Transvestites or, now I think of it, they were trans-sexuals. But these were not the kind that paraded in Pigalle or on tiny stages in bars, rather these were the victims, much as the character in that film, with a flawed childhood but who had at least found some society willing to accept their abnormality and find some contentment in living out their desires. Rosy always did positively revel in quirkiness.
I have been for a walk this morning to the Grand Place; I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go; the weather has got colder and windier so I didn’t fancy a trek along the canal. I’ve been thinking about the radio play I must write this month. I think I’ll call it ‘Scarlet’s Magic Computer’ as a direct reference to ‘Sparky’s Magic Piano’. I may find the name Scarlet just doesn’t fit well within the confines of the play, but it’s the name that fits best in place of Sparky; and I am developing the plot as closely as I can along the lines of the Sparky story. Most of the play will take place in a dream of Scarlet’s where her computer begins to talk to her, and she becomes famous.
13 04, Saturday 15 February 1992, London
Taking a week’s holiday really tightens up my monthly, or more accurately, four-week schedule. No sooner had I returned from Portugal than I was on my way to Brussels. Then, since my return from Brussels on Tuesday night, I’ve had little else on my mind but the February issue of ‘EC Energy Monthly’ and the ‘EC Energy Policy’ management report. The former was finished on Thursday and the latter, final draft, was concluded on Friday. I may have to reprint the odd page next week but it should be at the printers within a few days. The brochures arrived on Friday. I am not happy with the advertising copy, either in the brochure or the letter, but when I saw a draft I was rushing on my way to somewhere. Still, at least it is finally out of the way. But I have ‘East European Energy Report’ on Monday and Tuesday, ‘European Energy Report’ on Thursday, and then the next week I’m supposed to be on holiday again. I am thinking of going to Antibes for a few days - I’ll ask Dad this afternoon if the flat’s free. I could work on the radio play and go skiing for a couple of days, as I usually do. I can’t say I much look forward to my Antibes any more - I’m so isolated and talk to no one for five days or however long I’m there.
All last year, the Tories went about the country telling the electorate that the state of the economy should be the main rationale for voting intent. They declined to go to the polls at preferring to wait for better economic indications. But they are just not coming and, at the same time, unemployment is rising devastatingly fast towards the three million mark. This morning’s ‘Today’ programme gave a synthesis of Tory statements on the economy last year, proclaiming the end of the recession. Then, when David Mellor was interviewed straight after the report, his argument and responses sounded hollow and unconvincing - not because he is unconvincing but because there is no answer to the miscalculations made by the Conservatives - political and economic miscalculations.
I have thought the Conservatives were not going to win the next election but that there would be a hung parliament, and the Tories would govern with Liberal Democrat support and a commitment for electoral reform - I’m sure that would have been the case had they gone to the country last November, when I thought they would. Now, though, the Tory platform begins to look shattered and capable of losing altogether.
I have had two letters from abroad - I get so few these days - one from Thomas With and one from Roser. I think I have some slides of Thomas but unless I were to look at them I couldn’t say what he looked like. He gives me news of his wife and two children; tells me he feels guilty for not writing after getting so many Christmas cards from me; and that East Europe has so cluttered up the pages of the newspapers that Brazil is yesterday’s story, and, consequently, he’s losing his retainer. Still, he says, its fun on the freelance trail again. I have a strange sensation when I think about the fact that he has been there in Brazil all the years I’ve been back in London. He recalls me saying: ‘Two years in the tropics and the heat gets in your blood, you will get used to the empregadas and the laid back leisurely life.’ But he insists he intends to go back to Denmark. He also invites me out to Brazil.
R invites me to visit too. Whereas I can barely remember Thomas, I have strong memories of R, thinking of her even conjures up some feelings of sensuality or desire perhaps. She has a new home near the sea but one without a workshop. She tells me that life has been very hard. Her husband or partner, W, has left her to live with a Japanese girl. She was thus forced to move and could not afford a flat with space for her potting. Her card earlier in the year foretold as much. It is interesting to find myself feeling vaguely guilty, not a difficult guilt for although I may have encouraged her waywardness, I didn’t create it, and I certainly never harmed her at all. I’m not convinced the same could be said of Harold. Rather I invite myself to touch the idea of guilt as one who was part of her impressionable youth - a distant brother who might have done a little more to advise her against the unsuitable life of a Bohemian.
Kodak returned the burned film - against all my expectations some 20 pictures came out from the latter part of the Portuguese journey. The film must have failed to spool for 15 or so photos then, for no apparent reason, it must have taken hold of the ratchet mechanism. Fortunately, I only opened the back after I had moved the film on four or five takes and, clearly, the influx of a certain amount of light does not penetrated the tightly wound spool: I didn’t lose a single shot from the end of the film, only the beginning. Most of the photos are of beaches and rocks; some are OK, only one or two are above average.
Mum’s brother Dave tries to organise us all to go up to Yorkshire to celebrate her stepmother’s 80th birthday at the end of March - surely I’ll need to be in Brussels then!
I watch a documentary about the life of our Queen. It is well photographed and oh so very carefully judged. She comes across as a rather preposterous old woman, privileged beyond all realm of fantasy, with wealth and high society - pandered to by the world’s most famous people, yet with no higher intelligence than the hospital sick or dwellers in old peoples’ homes who she patronises with visits. Unlike Prince Charles, who does show some spirit, some spontaneity, some depth of knowledge, Queenie appears vacuous and characterless. That documentary, I think, was an error of judgement - I kept on asking, why bother, what is the point of her. She seems to sign countless documents but plays no part in their meaning; she talks to countless figures in public life (‘one can call anyone in to have a chat’), but garners no intelligence. There is just ceremony without the slightest substance, formality without even the semblance of authority. The film only served to remind us of that.
19 33, Friday 21 February 1992, Antibes
It is not yet the end of February and already this is my fourth trip to the Continent in 1992 - two visits to Brussels under my belt, the holiday with Adam to Portugal and now this six-day sojourn in Antibes. This time I have brought the Tosh, so I hope to get more writing done, indeed the main justification for coming here is to spend three or four days doing little other than working on my radio play - ‘Scarlet’s Magic Computer’. I started drafting a synopsis during my last weekend in Brussels, but since then I have been unable to follow that up with any further thinking. I really need a certain amount of mental space to write from the imagination. As usual, I also intend to drive up to Isola for a couple of days skiing, just as I did last year (although I see from the newspaper that the mid-day temperature in the mountains is minus five). No doubt, I’ll also go to the market early tomorrow morning and buy enough vegetables to make a pot of ratatouille. In the last few years, I seem to have made a habit of taking two annual isolated retreats from my normal life - a two or three day hike in the autumn and a five or six day trip to Antibes in February - but whether they do me any good, rather than being the only thing I can find to do with holiday time, I couldn’t rightly say.
I have been in somewhat of a panic over the last two weeks of office life. Once each month now I have three deadlines for each of my three newsletters within the space of six working days. I returned from Brussels on the evening of 11 February which gave me two days to put ‘EC Energy Monthly’ to bed, and it turned out to be a 20 page issue (without one penny going to any correspondent). I also had to turn around some corrections to the Management Report, not once, but twice, and that was out of the way by Monday 17 February. On Tuesday, John and I put ‘East Europe Energy Report’ to bed, and then on Thursday, ‘European Energy Report’ demanded my attention. Only, I had to run early on Thursday afternoon, so as to have some time to spend with Adam in Brighton before catching the 10.00am plane this morning to Nice.
FT TV ring my office just after I’ve left, asking if I want to talk about third party access. Well, I’d love to and I could give my book a plug too, but they couldn’t have chosen a worse time to call. Kenny dutifully rang me late afternoon in Brighton but I was hardly likely to race back to London.
Unfortunately, in the middle of this hectic run, B and I had an argumentative weekend. Although barely a voice was raised, Adam got quite distressed and burst out crying at one point. I thought, how good: by crying, by trying to resolve the problem through hugs and demands, he is actually expressing all he feels. It seems to me that the mind is so often sabotaged in childhood by all sorts of traumas and events which are never resolved in the psyche; and yet, with some attention to the detail of the moment and some knowledge or understanding that such events and the accumulation of repeated events do mould an individual for life, much of the damage of unwitting sabotage could be avoided.
ADAM GOES TO SCHOOL
Barbara rings this evening to tell me that the school has agreed to take Adam full time after half term, i.e. next week. Since the New Year we have been very worried about Adam’s behaviour at nursery. On the one hand, the supervisors there do not do any teaching, even though there are so many of them, and Adam sorely needs stimulation, needs to be learning, needs some peer pressure; and, on the other, his general behaviour has gone down hill because he’s tending to copy younger children and come home talking and acting like a two or three year old. Adam could have been going to school all year of course, but only half time. He is entitled to go full time when he is five, i.e. the last term of the year, after Easter. Because the problems with nursery had begun to affect Adam so strongly, B went to the headmaster to plead for Adam to start full time as soon as possible. She didn’t get a reply for some weeks until today. So, next Wednesday will be Adam’s last day at the nursery, and then, for about a week, he will go half time to the school before going full time. Of course even full time, is only until 3.30 in the afternoon, so that B will be badly disadvantaged whenever she has afternoon lectures.
The evening draws on and I shall retire soon. Travelling by aeroplane always drains me. I’ve had a slight headache for most of the day and haven’t done much. As I write this I watch the women’s figure skating at the Winter Olympics. The Brits have bummed out so far in the two events where hopes were high - the two-man bob and the short track speed skating - leaving the media only the four-man bob to get excited about. In other arenas, though, the English are doing well. We look like to make a clean sweep of the Five Nations rugby tournament, we beat France in a friendly football match at Wembley during the week, and our cricketers are on top form in the Antipodes with the World Cup about to start.
I have brought a book by Jeremy Paxman - ‘Friends in High Places - Who runs Britain?’. I am not a great fan of Paxman on ‘Newsnight’ but I met Raoul during the week and he was raving over it. Here in Sasha’s flat I find a couple of books to interest me - a Dick Francis I haven’t read and a book of short stories by William Boyd.
Two events stand out in this rather uneventful day. The first was seeing the snow-covered tops of the Alps floating in the sky as we flew south towards Nice. The Alps were not anchored to the earth, there were no foothills, no bits not covered in snow, just the flat blue-sky covered landscape beneath the plane and in the middle and foreground, then as the eye strayed towards the distance, one could see a touch of haze in the sky and floating above it the brilliant almost fluorescent white of dozens of giant crystals all connected in a horizontal line, floating, just floating above the haze.
At the opposite end of some spectrum, the other event of the day I witnessed in La Codec in the centre of Antibes. I chose my check-out badly and found myself waiting ages while a rather unkempt man with a beer gut seemed to sort through a strange collection of non-food goods. He had them all in the bag, and the check-out girl had quoted him a price but he wasn’t paying. Then somebody arrived with additional items which were added on to the bill; then a truly old lady with a face as grey as her hair and a body doubled over with age as though her shoulders were resting on the stick she used, bustled past me and insisted on taking all the items out of the man’s bags and reorganising them. Having done this she, the check-out lady, and the paunchy, good-humoured man engaged in some relaxed conversation, completely disregarding the fact that I had been waiting for over five minutes by this point. Finally, the shabby man said something like it only remains for you to pay and the ancient woman then slowly retrieved a purse and even more slowly opened it up and pulled out the required money. I wasn’t at all sure of the relationship between these two, although, unkindly perhaps, I thought he might be her son and had never escaped from her. But, afterwards, I had to change my mind. As I left the supermarket, I saw the man usher the old woman into a car that looked rather illegally parked. I carried on walking down the road, away from the supermarket, but in a second I saw the fat man doing his best to run ahead of me in the same direction, though he seemed to waddle more than run. I couldn’t think what he was doing but his action just reinforced my idea that he was a bit cuckoo. A little further on, I came upon him in a heated argument with two policemen or traffic wardens. He was waving a piece of paper which must have been a parking ticket. Then suddenly it dawned on me, he was simply doing the lady a favour by giving her a lift to the supermarket, and in order that she wouldn’t have to walk very far, he had parked illegally. Now, he was remonstrating with the police for the injustice of having to pay fine, which he could probably ill afford, just for doing someone a favour. If she’d had her own car, then she would probably have had some dispensation to park near the shop. Because I had first seen the man collating the shopping at the check-out, I persisted in believing it was his (or at least partly his) and allowing myself to get cross at being so delayed. Of course, in retrospect, I can understand why neither he nor the check-out girl were at all concerned about the delay to me (which in any normal circumstance they would at least have acknowledged): simply because this was a very old and infirm lady who therefore had to be indulged.
19 28, Saturday 22 February 1992, Antibes
It has been a beautiful day with the sun shining and blue sky to delight. This afternoon, I went out to read a little down by the beach. A slight but cool wind got up after lunchtime, so it was only pleasant to sit if I could get out of the wind. The signs are good that the weather will stay fine and that the temperature in the mountains is rising. I begin to look forward to my drive up to Isola on Monday morning and two days skiing.
Hoorah! I have made a start on the radio play. I have written two scenes in two sessions today, but I don’t spend much longer than an hour or so at each session. I fill the rest of the day with reading, cooking, listening to the radio, walking to the market, watching the winter olympics on television. I feel instinctively that whatever I’m putting down cannot be any good at all because it is coming too easily, and because there is not the slightest sense of it being literature. When I write energy-relative journalism, it is dense, full of facts and opinion; by contrast the dialogue of my characters seems bland and hollow. I feel I have done nothing and, even if I finish the project, I have no sense that it is worth anything at all. Still, it is important to get on with it, because if I leave fiction behind for any more years, I will surely loose all ability to connect with the parts of my brain that find imagination and turn it into words.
I am also typing up my letters to family from South America. These constitute the next stage of my diaries because I lost (or had stolen to be more accurate) my diary for the period between leaving New Zealand and a place called Huancayo in Peru. I found that Mum had half-a-dozen letters from this period which shed some light on the journey as a ‘work-a-way’ on the Hamburg Sud ship, on my time in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, and on my time in Lima when I was holed up with hepatitis. Unfortunately, there seems to be no account of the San Blas islands or my journey by smugglers boat into Columbia. Perhaps, I’ll write up some of the missing bits from memory, something I’ve never done before. There are many letters from Asia and New Zealand as well but I cannot see the point in typing those up; I am really only typing these half dozen as a substitute for the missing diary.
I hear that England have beaten India, and New Zealand has beaten Australia in the first round of world cup cricket matches.
15 01, Sunday 23 February 1992, Antibes
The weather has stayed fine. I have just taken a circular stroll up to the lighthouse on Cap d’Antibes. This is such a lovely walk, mostly along footpaths through the woods of umbrella pines or along the beach. There was a surprising amount of activity right at the top, given that walk there had been so peaceful; mostly people drive up to look at the church and take in the view which looks across eastward to Antibes proper, Nice and the Alps and, westward, to Juan Les Pins and Cannes. I lay down on the wall in the sun, trying to fathom out some more about the lives of Ed and Scarlet, but ended up dozing for a while. There were two English families with a bunch of children playing around the telescopes; that’s what I miss, what I never seemed to have had as an adult.
7 41, Tuesday 25 February 1992, Antibes
Progress. I have written seven scenes of ‘Scarlet’s Magic Computer’ (on Saturday and Sunday), but better than that I actually find myself thinking about the plot and the characters when I’m walking, doing my yoga, lying in bed. Although what I have on paper is rather shallow and hollow at present, the fact that I am actually contemplating the action of the play gives it more chance. When I was working on my Management Report, my mind would invariably turn, during the day, to the subject of whichever chapter I was working on. That was far easier because EC and energy matters were on my mind all the time any way because of my job. On my way down to Antibes and after arriving, I still couldn’t get my mind to grapple with the subject of the play. I think that’s why I just began writing, even though I knew there wouldn’t be any substance. But it just goes to show, I need a few days peace, quiet; a few days free from other matters that demand mental time in order to get to grips with fiction. However, I’m sure with practice and confidence I could slip into a fiction mode more easily. I have two days left in Antibes now, and I intend to spend most of them moving along with the play.
A wonderful day skiing yesterday. I left here around 6:30, a little later than in past years. The passage through to Nice and then north on the Digne road was relatively clear but even so I find these roads take more concentration than in the UK - there is always more happening in terms of side roads, slipways, junctions, and there is always activity on the edges of roads, even main ones, with lorries, vans and cars parking or moving off. I try to be objective about this but, of course, I cannot be: having been brought up with one transport infrastructure culture all around me and become instinctively attuned to it, how can I be as instinctive about a different one.
I arrived at Isola about 8:00, and drank a hot chocolate in the bar on the main square. I bought some bread and a brioche in the shop next door (as I usually do) and set off for Isola 2000. The mountains and the scenery in general looked rather dull and grey but I realised this was in contrast to last year when there was snow everywhere even down around Isola. This day I couldn’t even see any sign of snow at all but the tourist office at Isola 2000 had assured me over the telephone there was plenty. At the ski resort, I parked in my usual place, hired my skis and boots (I asked for quarante-tres in Franco-Portuguese) from the same shop (only this time I bought my lift pass first so that I didn’t have to trek up all the stairs in ski boots) I always use and before 9:00 I was on the slopes.
Rarely does one get everything. This day, again in contrast to last year, was brilliant blue sky and bright sun but quite a number of runs were closed through lack of snow and even thought the snow was good on many of them some parts had stones and rubble showing through. Moreover, I had chanced on the school holidays so that almost all the slopes were crowded even quite early on. Sometimes I had to wait five or ten minutes for the lift, and often I had to pay far more attention to who was in front of me than to my skiing technique (what technique, well I do try and keep my feet together but invariably without success). I did find one empty lift and one unpeopled mountainside (the furthest from base), and gravitated towards there most of the day. All in all, it was a splendid day out (I fell over just the once), but by mid-afternoon my thigh muscles were beginning to hurt. I had a rest, one more run and then left. I elected to return to Antibes rather than stay another day as I usually do. Firstly, the crowds put me off; secondly, I thought the weather might be turning; thirdly, I felt I’d skied enough and that I might get fed up doing the same thing all the next day; and, fourthly, the idea of moving on to Auron for a second day was scotched when I found it was only at 1,600 metres and that therefore there was unlikely to be any decent snow. The ride back to Antibes was tiring, more for the amount of traffic everywhere than the journey itself. A hot bath, yoga, a little reading, steak and ratatouille, and bed.
13 34, Wednesday 26 February 1992, Antibes
Both yesterday and today I have taken a long snooze after lunch but I’m not quite sure why. I’ve just woken up now (from today’s snooze not yesterday’s) and I’ve had to make some tea to wake myself up. Yesterday, I could claim I was still catching up from the exertion of skiing on Monday but today I can claim no such thing. Indeed, I am physically rather inactive here. I did go for a long walk yesterday afternoon but nothing to write home about. I have rather stuffed myself with bread and cheese both days so perhaps that is the explanation.
Scarlet comes along a treat. I calculated this morning that I have only four or five more scenes to write. I read out a thousand words and it took roughly four minutes to read, so I reckon about 12,000 words should make an hour’s play. I have no idea of its worth as yet. I think my own assessment will only come when I’ve finished and read it through once making some changes.
Energy news catches up with me even here. The World Service ran an item this morning about the plans for a new coal port at Immingham being shelved. The whole business seems rather odd. ‘Today’ broke this story last week and claimed it was something of a scoop, but there was no sense in that claim since negotiations concerning the port have been going on for over a year. Should contracts for the port have been signed, it would have been yet another blow for British Coal who are struggling to persuade the privatised British generators National Power and PowerGen to renew contracts for UK coal supply at high volumes. After a lengthy report on ‘Today’, Humphries or Redhead (I can’t remember which one) interviewed Heathcoat-Amory. The first question was: ‘Is it true?’ The minister was momentarily flummoxed but then responded, ‘Well, you’ve heard the news, it must be true.’ I found this the most informative moment of the whole report but the interviewer passed it over quickly. Later that day, I spoke to Gerard by chance. Now Gerard is widely regarded as a guru by television and radio when it comes to coal in the UK. That day he had appeared on several programmes spouting on about the implications for British Coal of a new port. I asked him how can contracts be signed for such a project when, if the Labour Party wins the next election in April, it will be prepared to subsidise coal. Gerard’s answer was simple, if a different government changed policy they would have to compensate any contracts that were affected. I wrote as much in ‘European Energy Report’. But now I’m beginning to wonder what actual wheels turned to put this project on hold, and I remember that the Northern Ireland Electricity privatisation hasn’t been cleared by Brussels yet, and Brussels is very anxious that British Coal doesn’t close too many pits. If there is any truth in that, and I can dig it out, than I would surely have a scoop.
WILLIAM BOYD’S SHORT STORIES
I have finished the two books - ‘On the Yankee Station’, short stories by William Boyd; and ‘Comeback’ by Dick Francis. Both were as easy to read as Italian ice cream is to swallow. ‘Comeback’ was neither better nor worse than other Francis novels, although I found the veterinary details somewhat tedious. Boyd’s book of short stories must be early works although there is no preface or explanation about how the book came together. Some have been written on the back of an envelope while travelling and are little more than anecdotes, others are the product of more effort. I could see a similarity of thinking, if you like, between these stories and my short anecdotes written in South America; but, where he had genuine technique and some natural talent, I was only imposing a rough and ready jumble of words onto the raw material of visual clues. Also, and perhaps more interestingly, I see that from a very early point I was always trying to be too clever in writing; I was always trying to impose on the reader the understanding that I, me, was doing the writing. Boyd’s stories, by contrast, show him as a vulnerable person with certain obsessions and weaknesses. I felt, for example, that enough of these stories were about adolescent or immature sexual experience for it to have been made a theme of the book through its title or through some unifying introduction by the author. Instead, however, the book is simply entitled by the name of one of the stories.
A wild day today, wind and rough sea. I probably made the right choice not to stay up in the mountains for a second day; both yesterday and today were probably wet and cold.
I tried to explore the other side of Antibes yesterday. At the Nice end of the town, on the way to Cagnes, stands a huge fort, well lit at night, high up surrounded by trees. All these years, I’ve come here and never even tried to visit. So I walked all around the coast to the old town, and discovered a small beach. Then I had to walk round the marina. So many boats. Such riches, it’s staggering. Although, there was no movement of boats, there was plenty of movement around the harbour of service people - painters, cleaners, upholsterers, carpenters, security guards. I felt I’d walked several miles by the time I got to the fort but even when I got there I couldn’t tell how to get in, or even whether it was possible. I followed the track around the outside of what eventually turned out to be an old moat, but it was the nearest I got to the fort, and I’m still no wiser as to what goes on inside.
Paul K Lyons
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