PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1992 - OCTOBER
Monday 5 October 1992, London
Madrid was a break I suppose. I do not usually enjoy conferences and this one was no exception. It was made more bearable by the fact that I really didn’t have much work to do; by the presence of the marketing girls, Louise and Julia; and by several trips around and about the city. The week, though, would have been more pleasant had the weather been less hot, and had I been staying in a better hotel. I sorely missed a room with space firstly, air-conditioning secondly, and decent breakfasts thirdly. All of us from the FT were staying in the same hotel - El Mercator - chosen more for its cheapness than for any other attribute. I arrived fairly late on the Saturday evening. Because the hotel staff failed to give me a message on arrival I missed meeting Louise, Julia and Joyce Heard (of the IEA) in Plaza Mayor. Still I sat for a pleasant 30 minutes drinking a beer in the grand square, which is far superior to Belgium’s Grand Place for having no traffic at all.
Early on Sunday, I visited the Reina Sofia museum, which, as it turned out, was right opposite the hotel (the single and only attribute I would grant El Mercator). I had written to Roser in Barcelona asking what I should I do in Madrid and she had replied that I should visit this museum. Since I’d never heard of it, I thought it rather strange advice. In fact, this is the most splendid art gallery, filled with contemporary Spanish pictures and sculpture, including Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ and a number of important works by Dali. These treasures are housed in a building that used to be a hospital but has been converted with enormous success into an art museum. The wide spacious corridors, the calm and cool atmosphere of the white-painted rooms, and the many windows to a large courtyard, all give the place a special light and airy atmosphere. Indeed, it is almost the very opposite of the Prado, which I remember as being so dingy. All the paintings are on the second floor, to which one is carried by a series of glass lifts built into glass columns stuck, in architectural bravado, onto the front of the old plain hospital. The juxtaposition of the modern materials and modern design strikes one immediately as bizarre but it does just survive in my meditations as acceptable. Because of the glass lifts, the museum building becomes memorable where it would never be otherwise. Apart from the famous names of Spanish 20th century art - Dali, Picasso and Miro - I did not find any other paintings to remember or take home with me but I was very pleased to have spent this time meandering through the modern historical culture of Spain.
One afternoon, I took a train out of Madrid to Aranjuez, a provincial town dominated by an old royal palace and its gardens. I had had enough trouble getting there in the first place (a Las Heras type story - see my diary from 1975/1976 - but one I shall not repeat here for fear of falling asleep as I do so) and was thus entirely frustrated to find, in the station car park, a giant map of the town on a billboard, illustrating the road layout of the town clearly and where the palace lay. Yes, well what is wrong with that? Nothing, nothing at all, except the station itself was not marked on the map, and so, however hard I tried, I could not interpret how to get to the palace. In the end I took a small bus that all and sundry were jumping on, having ascertained it was heading for the centre. The bus driver stood a few metres away smoking a cigarette even though it was clear all the passengers from the train had arrived at the bus and there was no where else, given the location of the station, that any passenger would come from. And then, having condescended to get on the bus himself, he collected the fares in the slowest way possible, by walking through the bus, checking passes and taking money where necessary back to the driver’s seat to get change or a ticket. He was not beyond a short chat with some of the passengers either. Of course, this is Spain, I had to remind myself, and not Northern Europe. Having failed to spot the palace as the bus meandered through the town, I finally asked someone where it was and ended up having to walk as far as to the palace was from the station in the first place.
And what about the palace itself? The architecture is not dissimilar from some of the London architecture in the 1980s, a style which seems reminiscent of children’s building bricks - upright rectangular windows with white triangle blocks above. Neither the Madrid or Aranjuez royal palaces strike me as very palace-like, in British terms they are more like stately homes, since they have little ornamentation on the outside. Bricks, flatter than UK ones, are standard and make up the facade of the palaces giving them a rather modern look. They are also only two or three stories tall and flat-topped, with a ridge around the outside and urns or statues placed at regular intervals. Aranjuez palace is shaped like a square which has lost one side - the front - the other three being as thick as two normal houses. To enter you cross the courtyard, on the inside of the square, to the door opposite. Inside it is rather dingy. I buy a ticket and must wait until the next tour is ready to leave. We are about 15, all Spanish except for me, in the group. An old soldier takes us round. He speaks delicious Castillian, very slowly and precisely. He has a patter, which lasts only a minute or so, for each room, and it has been carefully tuned over many years.
We are taken through bedrooms, drawing rooms, dressing rooms, reception rooms, about twenty rooms altogether. The overall impression is of a very faded and neglected building - the decoration and decor are unchanged and unrepaired from the original. But there are many many beautiful objects still in place. My favourite was the 19th century bedroom furniture suite made by Catalan artists with the most extraordinarily exquisite marquetry, and some pictures made of tiny pieces of coloured marbles, from just a few feet they looked like paintings. One celebrated room was created out of porcelain, with the walls made of, and covered in, porcelain objects and sculptures standing out in relief.
18 10, Tuesday 6 October 1992, London
I have told my three lads about my decision to resign, and I have had an amicable chat with John McLachlan. I think Kenny, Henry and John were rather shocked; they had expected me to do something but I don’t think they thought I would act so firmly so quickly. Of course, to me, it is not quick at all since I’ve been contemplating doing something all year. I took Kenny to lunch on Monday and then Henry today; and this afternoon I told John Leslie, so now they can freely discuss their future among themselves. I have, however, asked them not to tell anyone else for a while.
I have felt very calm and unperturbed by my decision, I think it is well set into my mind and needs little further resolution. I know there are a lot things I must do, and this will concentrate my mind. I have some £60,000 in the bank. I have not saved it to buy a fancy car or to spend on a cruise round the world, rather it is there for just such a circumstance as this; so that I have the freedom to take a step in the dark. It should keep my business venture afloat for a year or so; if I fail, I’ll be poorer but at least I will have tried. All my life this has been the bottom line. I must be able to say I tried, how else can I live my future. I should be free by 8 or 9 December. I’ll aim for a launch early in January.
Back to Madrid. Whenever I go away, writing up the travel diary always hangs over me for days and weeks after. Let’s see, I’ve written about the Reina Sofia and Aranjuez. The third significant touristy thing I did was go to a bullfight. I moved quite fast on Sunday morning to find out that there was a fight that afternoon at Ventas, the Madrid bull ring. I established it wouldn’t be too full, and that I could get tickets, and how to get there on the metro. Like outside a football match, it was very busy in the open spaces and car parks around the arena. I joined a queue for tickets and ignored the touts for fear they would sell me a dud. How was I to know how bona fide they are. I bought a ticket for about £10 even though there were some much cheaper. I was sure I would be in direct sunlight, but I was fortunate. My seat was just in the shade and about half way up, much nearer the action than the cheap tickets in the high balconies.
I saw six bullfights all in all and was well bored before the last one. The routine in each case is the same; of course aficionados will be excited and thrilled by the variations in techniques and bull-dying styles, but I couldn’t say I was so taken with the sport that I’d want to go every Saturday. The type of corrida I saw was different from the normal sort, one of which I saw on TV while in Madrid. In a normal fight, a matador works on his feet while the picador plants a point in the bull’s neck from horseback (the horse being completely covered in protective padding) and running bandilleros plant the bandilleras. In the version I saw, almost all the skilled work is done from horseback, where the horses are not protected. Each bull was fought by horsemen and several foot assistants whose job it was simply to divert the bull’s attention or position it through capework. The horsemen start by playing with the bull, they then put in a series of points which, progressively, weaken the bull. They continue to provoke and play with the bull until such a point as they feel it is ready to die; they then leave it to their assistants to finish off through capework. If the capework does not bring the bull to its knees shortly because of tiredness (in other words if the horsemen have miscalculated) or if the final death blow is not clean, then the fight is not judged successful.
This was not a particularly important corrida although it was about two-thirds full. The crowd never got really excited. As the evening wore on, there were a few Oles. One fight was particularly well executed and timed and very clean, and the audience duly rewarded with enthusiastic applause. I was modestly moved by the plight of the bulls, for one does see a lot blood running down their backs; and, of course, one sees the progressive buckling of the proud aggressive animal. But I am no believer in animal rights, and considering how many animals’ lives are subjugated simply for food needs, it seems truly churlish to be concerned about a handful of bulls in Spain which provide such large numbers of ordinary people with pleasure. And one could not seek to ban or destroy a sport which is so much part of the culture of Spain. I do not believe that as a race, man has evolved beyond the need for such expressions, such releases - boxing, football, bull-fighting, horse racing - they all have their place. Of all of them, bullfighting is probably as close to an anachronism as you can get in Europe, though, I would think, less out of place in South America. Interestingly, ‘El Pais’, the main paper, has begun to run editorials against animal sacrifices in some of the provincial festivals, although it has not yet dared into the territory of bull-fighting. Even in this day and age, when we pretend such sophistication and civilisation (all rot of course but we pretend) human beings still live and die for causes of nobility and honour; why shouldn’t bulls be allowed to do the same. In this day and age when we pretend such sophistication and civilisation, millions of human beings still live in abject poverty and hunger, millions of human beings live lives no better than battery chickens, why should anyone concern themselves with the well being of a few bulls bred and reared in the best conditions for a (culturally) useful job?
I left a little before the end to avoid the crowds on the tube.
19 44, Wednesday 14 October 1992, London
Mum rings to tell me Melanie has gone to the hospital. Although her contractions have begun, I doubt Phoebe, for Phoebe it is, will be born until tomorrow, the 15th, at the earliest. Mum is clearly excited about the prospect of grandchild number three - one each for her three children. Adam rings but we don’t have very much to say to each other. The house is empty, dark and quiet. Last night a small Jewish woman named Ruth came round to look at the room. She seemed intelligent but rather dark and serious. I suppose that’s normal for a young GP, it must be very hard not to think about the people one has been treating through the day.
Last night, we all assembled at a Singapore restaurant near Swiss Cottage to celebrate Dad’s 65th birthday. I thought we took Dad and Michele out for dinner a year ago for the same reason, but we must have been a year out. This was a relatively quiet affair, and the first chance I had to talk to Dad about my new venture. He was very positive and supportive and agreed that I could take a desk at the IMI premises in Dorset Square. We talked a bit about how he set up his own company, twenty years ago, and how he is going to retire on 31 December this year. He told me that he had just been given a cheque for £250,000 for his matured pension and that he has agreed to sell his Belgian company for over £500,000. All that is on top of his personal savings and properties around the globe, about which I have no intelligence at all. Moreover, he will continue to rake in the profits from IMI for some years to come.
I have spent most of last weekend and this week’s evenings tidying up my books, in the study and through the rest of the house. What dirt one finds behind the books which haven’t been moved for years and years. I find there are stacks of books which I no longer consider essential to keep handy on the shelves and which I am ready to store away in boxes in the loft - cheap art books, for example, which were once so important are now irrelevant. I don’t even go to exhibitions any more.
And now to something completely different. This wretched government. John Major is making a total mess of this country. Margaret Thatcher began well, went on too long but was dismissed in time. Now, though, the Conservative Party has not saved its, nor the country’s, bacon, let alone its coal. There was a complete and utter shambles over the European Exchange Rate Mechanism which left the pound well and truly devalued, just a matter of days after John Major said the devaluation would be a betrayal of this country. Almost all the papers called for Lamont’s resignation. He is still there. Yesterday, the saga continues with another monstrous mistake. Half of British Coal is to be closed with the loss of 30,000 miners’ jobs. The decision follows on logically from the way the government privatised electricity, and, to that extent, the unanimous verdict of the country’s daily newspapers - that the government has cocked up, is out of touch with the country etc. - is bolting the stable door after the horse has fled. The country is suffering deeply because of policies that have been enacted over the last few years. And this decision is no different.
Two-thirds of the remaining coal pits are to be shut down. British Coal has no choice because, at present, they have only one major market - the power generators. The power generators, now that they are privately owned, no longer hold the statutory right to keep the lights burning. They must, to survive, follow the logic of the marketplace, and that marketplace does not think or plan, offers no solution to strategic long term needs; rather business is carried on in reaction to short-term imperatives.
Tuesday 20 October 1992, Brighton
Increasingly, I find that I sit down to write my diary as an afterthought, rather than as a necessity. I see a space of time in front of me (an evening, for example, or an hour now before I catch the train) and my first thought is ‘now, what shall I do?’ and only then do I remember that I haven’t written up any notes for a while.
Intemperate weather last night and this morning. There were intense rainstorms as we drove back on crowded motorways from the Cotswolds in the dark of the early evening. And this morning there was a flash of hailstones as big as cherries and another rainstorm as I walked Adam to school. Now, an hour later though, the sun has come out. However, throughout the weekend we were blessed with excellent weather - on Sunday it was so warm we could eat our lunch in the garden of a pub, and on Saturday, despite the cold, brilliant sharp sun light really lit up the villages as we began to explore the Cotswolds. It was somewhat cloudy yesterday but the rain kept away while we walked and toured. More about this weekend later.
The hot news is that the government has suffered yet another major blow with the decision to climb down over the British Coal mine closures. Sufficient Tory MPs had made it known their vote would mean a defeat for the government in Wednesday’s Commons’ debate so that Heseltine, yesterday, announced a moratorium on the closure of most of the pits and a review of the policy. After Black Wednesday, when the pound was effectively devalued, after David Mellor’s resignation following weeks of support from the Prime Minister, this latest crisis demonstrates that the government is derelict - by hanging on to one or two of Thatcher’s anachronistic ideals without any new ideas, it has demonstrated it has no imagination, it has lost control of the country, and it is leading us into economic chaos. Heseltine is taking the brunt of the attack from all quarters and has visibly aged in the last few days. His head was bowed throughout his statement to the Commons yesterday and in public he has never seemed so reduced.
8 51, Sunday 25 October 1992, London
The clocks went back an hour last night. Strong winds create noises outside in the otherwise quiet of the Sunday morning. Sunlight slides in through the dirty window glass and streaks my desktop. I sit in my newly tidied study: it is far less busy and there is empty shelf space. A and B are on their way up from Brighton. The weekend has been complicated by my visit to Wentworth to reunite with my fellow Outward Bounders. All in all I had two phone calls and a letter from David and two letters from Judith requesting my presence at this meeting. Others were coming from further afield - Tracye from Yorkshire, Jo and Sharon from East Anglia/Herts - and I couldn’t find a valid reason within myself for not going. Barbara really wanted me to go - here I am complaining forever, she says, about my social life and when an event offers itself, I don’t want to go. There’s some truth there but there’s more honesty in my actions. The evening was rather dull, much as I expected it to be; conversation existed on two levels: talk about the Outward Bound week with every little joke and event being remembered and laughed about, and talk about ourselves as individuals and what we are doing. We spent a couple of hours at Judith’s spacious modern house near the Wentworth golf course - a house full of expensive but characterless decoration - and then drove on to a pub/restaurant where we spent most of the evening. David talked about his new-born girl Fay and his quest for medals as a lifeguard; Sharon told us about her boyfriend dilemma; Joe brought us a couple of his pizzas which we tasted before going out to eat!; we watched a video of Tracye winning a small show jumping competition medal; and Judith talked about the problems of living with her husband’s 13 year old child; there was also plenty of interest in my own affairs, my new company and Adam. I left to come home as the others were driving back to Judith’s house where they were to sleep. In the morning, they were due to have a fry up breakfast and a hike around the lake. I might send and receive Christmas cards to/from some of them this year, but I doubt I’ll see any of them again.
Long talks this weekend with B about our future. Perhaps they were sparked by a letter inviting B to go for an interview at a school in Hoddesdon on 6 November. Several applicants have been invited together, and the headmaster expects to make a decision that very day. I have continued my objections to B’s decision to go for a school library job since I can see no future in it for her. We have talked about the complications of Adam’s schooling, and A and B’s housing. One real possibility now appears to be that B will return to work at the RHS, but where would she live and where would A go to school? These are questions that need to be tackled and ground work has to be done in finding good schools. The trouble with all discussion is that there are no good solutions in the short term, we are both in a state of tremendous uncertainty and we must take decisions as and when they need to be taken and try our best to be ready for them.
On Friday night, B and I go to the cinema to see an Australian movie ‘Strictly Ballroom’. It is delightful entertainment, set entirely in the small world of ballroom dancing. I thought it was also a mild fable about the Australian establishment and how the old timers stand in the way of both progress and the proper integration of immigrants. I have begun reading my first Davies for a while: ‘Murther and Walking Spirits’. After a number of thrillers and below-par novels, I am pleased to be again reading some literature with which I am in tune, so to speak.
The government has been further embarrassed by its anti-Maastricht backbenchers and the possibility that Labour might find a way of opposing the Maastricht paving bill, even though it is a pro-Europe party. Given the truly poor record of this new government, and Major’s own incompetence and sharp decline in popularity, I believe there will be an election in 1993.
Atapuerca. I should certainly have mentioned Atapuerca before now but the truth is I’ve only learnt about it from newspaper articles in the last few weeks. I certainly missed any talk of it in the specialist academic press or in ‘New Scientist’. Atapuerca is a site near Burgos in Spain where up to 100 disarticulated human skeletons have been found. All are around 250,000 years old, a critical age when it comes to the study of man and his evolution from apes. There is really much controversy over this era because it straddles the time when man became man, when Homo erectus was left behind in Africa, supposedly, and when Neanderthal man was evolving in Europe only to be eventually displaced by the modern version of Homo sapiens. I forget the details of my book learning but I remember there are very few skulls of this period, until now, and none of them tell exactly the same story of when and how man arrived in Europe. Atapuerca looks like redirecting all the analysis.
Wednesday 28 October 1992, Brussels
My moods go up and down like a yo-yo sometimes, only more often it seems I can’t get the yo-yo up from the bottom of the string. I am here in Brussels and I should be supremely busy - the launch of my own business is but a few weeks away - but I feel redundant. I am less busy now than at any time I can remember in the last few years. I am reluctant, it is true, to follow up any editorial ideas which are not essential for the November issue of ‘EC Energy Monthly’ and I am, I suppose, doing the minimum necessary to produce a reasonable issue. I hope that once I am writing for my own title, and once I have a dozen administrative things behind me, I will be able to concentrate on getting stories again. I have not really started on any of the big jobs that need to be done in the short term - compiling the database, designing the newsletter and sorting out the software to use, writing of marketing letters and brochures. I need to find a printer, I need to set up a bank account, I need stationary, I need to form a company - so many things to be done and yet I sit idle these days. I would be going insane if I didn’t have a certain amount of confidence in myself to get all these things done when they are ready to be done. For instance, after Friday when I go to the MacUser show, I shall buy database software, and then I will be able to start typing in the names and addresses that I have compiled.
In the meantime, I have been thinking about the finance of my venture. I have calculated that the minimum cost will be around £30,000 for the first 12 months. My current capital is around £60,000 and I will need to spend £4,000 up front on equipment which leaves £54,000. Moreover, I will need at least £12,000 for personal needs. Adding all this up still leaves me with £12,000, even if I don’t get a single subscription. I wonder, therefore, if I am not starting too small. I mean most businesses actually borrow money to start. I have also calculated a more expensive start which includes twice the marketing cost and a London office - even then my annual costs only come to £50,000 and I could be covering this by the end of the second year.
I have been talking to Brian Jensen. We had a long lunch yesterday. He had the idea to join forces with me on the EC energy newsletter, and wanted to provide business information on the grant programmes such as Thermie, Phare, Lome etc. I explained that I could not afford any third party input to the newsletter in the beginning, but I could see a possibility for a different newsletter which we could do together.
Paul K Lyons
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