PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1993 - NOVEMBER
8 November 1993, London
I finish reading Tim Parks novel ‘Shear’. It is the first time I have read anything by Parks. I remember earlier this year glancing at the reviews and deciding not to buy it. By chance I picked the book up in the library and I wasn’t even sure it was the same one I’d read about. Parks has a dry, precise way of using words, that is not to imply a criticism rather the opposite. His writing flows fluidly from the metaphysical to the metapractical and back again with barely a join. I don’t know if his other novels are the same as this one, but ‘Shear’ is chocablock with geological metaphors at every level. The whole book is a study about shear - shear as it applies to the quality of marble and shear as it can be applied to a man’s psyche. And then barely a paragraph goes by without some simile based on rocks or the study of rocks. To confuse even further, although it doesn’t really confuse at all, there are passages in which Parks explains in scientific detail the geological analysis being made by his hero. ‘Shear’ didn’t resonate in me, but I appreciated Parks use of language, I enjoyed the plot which was well told, and I delighted in the commitment with which he approached the idea of the geological metaphor.
I am making heavy weather of Gore Vidal’s ‘Live from Golgotha’. It is a long time since I read anything of Vidal’s but I remember with how much pleasure I devoured those novels of his - like ‘Kalki’ and ‘Messiah’ - which exposed the corruption within religious organisations. ‘Live from Golgotha’ is a different kettle of fish, so to speak, and is a little too clever for its own good. As with Anthony Burgess (who died the other day), one senses sometimes with Vidal’s writing that he is tossing off - there’s an expression worthy of Vidal himself. I mean tossing off a clever novel without too much thought, and still creating a piece of art that is unlikely to be equalled by most other writers; and tossing off in the sense of a self-indulgent wank, at the expense of the reader. ‘Live from Golgotha’ is sub-titled ‘The Gospel according to Gore Vidal’. And indeed it is just that. Vidal invents the device of a hacker who, in the near future, is systematically destroying all evidence of Christianity. Technicians from NBC or some US giant telecommunications firm has found a way to go back in time and has asked Timothy to write a new gospel, because, for some imaginary reason, whatever Timothy writes will manage to survive the hacker’s sacrilege. Thus we follow Timothy’s idea of the gospel but also his story, including visits from people in the future. As you would imagine in a Vidal novel, there’s a lot of sex going on in those days, and Timothy was a particularly attractive boy when young! Jesus is fat, has a brother who’s a whizz at commodities and runs the dealing in the temple. And so, you get the gist. There can be no logic to the device of the hacker and, although one can ignore this most of the time, the attempts to hold the plot together do pall.
The only reason I mention the Vidal novel is that there is a connection with a four-part movie/soap opera that has been showing on BBC2 these last few weeks called ‘Wild Palms’, directed by Oliver Stone. ‘Wild Palms’, which was billed as the natural successor to ‘Twin Peaks’, is set some 20 years in the future in Los Angeles. A battle rages between a group called the Fathers, who one can take to be the Republicans, and another called the Friends. One man and his family are caught up in the eye of the storm that exists in the fight between the two. Wild Palms is a neo-religious outfit run by the Senator who also controls a TV station. The station is the first to bring holistic TV to the drawing rooms, so that what you watch actually transpires in front of you. The people and things can be viewed all around the room. And, with the help the drug Mimozine, you can even interact and touch the characters. ‘Wild Palms’ was fun, I spent a lot energy trying to keep up with the plot, and in the end I felt it was not as interesting cinematically or plot-wise as ‘Twin Peaks’. However, one might categorise both ‘Live from Golgotha’ and ‘Wild Palms’ as a new wave of Telecommunication Fiction.
Parliament is debating Sunday trading today. In bed this morning I tried to explain to Adam the difference between Parliament and the government. It is not that hard to explain, but I’ll swear I didn’t know until I was in my thirties. I asked Adam if he knew what Parliament was and he said it was where John Major worked. A brave answer at only six years old.
Yesterday, Adam pestered me a little too much in the kitchen and I threw his lego Dalek across the room and broke it. He was terribly upset and I promised today to help him make a better one, which I did. He is so excited with it, and has played with it non-stop.
On the way to school, I usually tell him a story based on three words he gives me. At present these three words are always Dr Who, the Daleks and Jack, and my story has turned into a serial, with an exciting end every time we get to school. ‘Dr Who’, ‘Thunderbirds’, ‘Captain Scarlet’, ‘Quest Magazine’ are all his favourites at the moment.
Sunday 14 November 1993, London
Two weeks since my last entry. Funny that length of time should coincide with the time it takes me to put an issue of ‘EC Inform-Energy’ together and recover. Every single month, it surprises me how much I need to write to fill 20 pages and how much time it takes, and how much intensity of mind goes into the whole process. Once I am back in London after the Brussels trip, I never relax enough to read or focus on some other task, until the issue is over. Like now. If I am not away, I spend the weekend following an issue doing things slowly: tidying up the study, filing papers away, responding to un-important enquiries; catching up on the reading of journals (‘MacUser’, ‘International Affairs’, ‘Which’, and the ‘Guardian’ which I get from Mum); and generally clearing up about the house. This weekend more than most, I have done some house tidying because A and B are away in Brighton, celebrating Les’s 75th birthday. I might have gone too, but I thought B’s family would enjoy themselves more without me.
My garden looks like a mini-Westonbirt at this time of year - there are orange fruits on the passion flower and on the quince, there are scarlet-coloured leaves on the Berberis plants and potted Cotoneaster horizontalis. The wygelias have red and yellow leaves, and a few winter jasmine flowers are out. The blackbirds, which have lived in my garden for years, have now been joined by a group of friendly sparrows, and, possible a wren.
I am invited to my Mum’s to lunch with my cousin Mary and her husband Roger.
Monday 22 November 1993, London
I must confess to a kind of travel arrogance but I think I’ve only just recognised it. This travel arrogance exists as a small voice in the back of my head which has whispered to me, for many years, a refrain which goes something like this: I know I’ve not been to Africa, and that’s OK because I’m not very interested in Africa. I know there’s lots to see in Central and North America, but it won’t matter to me much if I don’t ever get to explore the US and Canada (they’re so big), and I’ll probably get to Mexico one day. Otherwise, I’ve seen a good part of the world, and many of the most important sights. I’ve explored hundreds of cities and travelled to remote regions. I’ve even lived in three different foreign countries (four if you count Belgium). I’ve also seen a large part of Europe, and certainly visited a good proportion of the most interesting places. But I recognise that I ought to explore Italy more, and that I shall probably do so when I’m older. I’ve also been very thorough in my travels around the UK, and visited all the best places with the exception of North of Scotland.
Puh, what arrogance. I think, though, in retrospect, this arrogance began to crumble last year. I was shocked, for example, by how beautiful the Pembrokeshire coast was; shocked because I’d never known it was beautiful. And now, worse, I discover that Prague is one of the most extraordinarily beautiful cities in all of Europe - and I never knew it. Since the Velvet Revolution, there have been many films shot there, many travel articles written, and much talk about it as a tourist venue. But it all flew by me, my travel arrogance shielding me from the truth. I think I thought that the hype was relative to the Czech Republic’s new status, and that the praise was partly due to the country taking on the West’s mantle, and partly due to the fact that it was the most interesting of all the East Bloc capitals. I never imagined for a moment it was a truly magnificent city. And it is magnificent, truly magnificent. But a lot of people knew this, even before the Iron Curtain crumbled. My encyclopaedia, published in 1979, notes that half a million people were visiting Prague each year from the West.
Well, I got there too, in mid-November 1993, and it was bloody cold, or, to be precise, freezing. I don’t think the temperature rose above freezing all the time I was there. While out walking, I wore a shirt, a thick jumper and my overcoat, and I never took my leather gloves off. On my last day, Sunday, there was a blanket of snow across the city and I could feel, the temperature rising slightly.
Well, to begin at the beginning. I was invited to attend an East-West conference in Prague by Eurelectric, the EC electricity industry association in Brussels. Since starting ‘EC Inform-Energy’, I’ve had a good relationship with Cecile Baux, the press officer (she writes a monthly two-pager for interested people in Eurelectric member companies, and she gave me her database, early in the year, the sweetie). The association held an East-West conference last year in Vienna and I expressed interest in it, in order to get hold of the delegate list. Because of that interest, Cecile invited me to Prague, all expenses paid. In all my time at the FT, I never got such a good freebie - two nights in the best hotel, and a Club Class return ticket.
I flew out on Wednesday afternoon and no sooner had I been transported to the Diplomat Hotel by a Eurelectric bus, than all the delegates were transported off to central Prague for a cocktail party in some outlandishly resplendent hall. I didn’t know what hall, or where exactly it was, never mind. Most of the talk centred on third party access, because the European Parliament had, that very day, passed its Opinion on the gas/electricity liberalisation plans, and there had been a deal struck between Claude Desama and Abel Matutes. All I could think about was that I had not reported the deal, I hadn’t even got the seeds of it really. One or two people were complimentary about the newsletter, but I didn’t make any new contacts through the conference; I should have done. At the cocktail do, I met Gillian Handyside, who does the energy reporting for ‘European Reports’ (as Lucy Walker and Fiona Harney before her). About 20 of us gathered together for a press dinner, at Cecile’s expense; the food was stunningly average. I talked to guys from PowerGen and the Electricity Association most of the evening. Despite being unduly tired, and wracked by the cold, I went with Gillian for a long walk to find the redoubtable Reduta jazz club. We stayed for an hour until it closed at midnight. At one time, I understand, Prague was famous for its jazz scene, but the jazz on this evening was not famous by a long way. Although, I could take or leave the music, I indulged in the atmosphere of the club. It was full of young casual people, all of whom sat round tables, smoking and drinking beer. Conversation, on this particular evening any way, was clearly as important as the jazz itself, although not exactly disrespectful for it. The youngsters were not poseurs, the sort that might be found at a disco, they were more like intelligent Bohemians, some graduate students perhaps. I wondered if this was what the 1950s jazz scene in London was like, the one my father and Peter and Tony were part of.
Wednesday 24 November 1993, London
I’ve been at the Apple Expo show this morning but I didn’t really have much to do there. I tried out a Newton, and didn’t think much of it. I bought a copy of Norton Utilities for about half price, and I picked up a whole load of brochures. I lunched with Andy, who took time off from his car park (located opposite OBQ) to step over to the pub with me. I couldn’t help but comment on the contrast between his life and my own. I spend so much time isolated in my room, weeks go by and nothing happens to me. Andy, though, is faced with a panorama of life every day. Apart from the car park, he rents out a dozen or so offices. A mini-cab firm operates from one; a retired German diamond expert Jurgen and his wife have rooted their caravan in the car park and run the place when Andy’s not there for no cost; Jurgen also runs around the rented offices solving people’s computer problems. He seems to be enjoying the experience but will probably up and leave to Paris soon. Its Jurgen that has spotted, through his caravan window, some drug trafficking at night. He’s also raised Andy’s car parking take by not raking off any when Andy’s away, as do other assistants.
In the pub, we talk about normal things - the pain of making VAT returns, our children, life and its disappointments.
Back to Prague. Most of Thursday I spent at the electricity seminar. I did take some time out in the morning to walk around the local area but without motive: I went without map or guidebook, and without my camera (this last was a mistake). Yet, I was enchanted by what I saw. I made first for the local shopping area where there was plenty of activity; by no means were the shops as brightly lit or gay as our own, but they held a fair variety of produce and activity. There were queues at most of the stalls in a small market. I thought I would return, then, but some building or other caught my eye and I walked on another block. Although cold, the day was crisp and clear with a bright blue sky and a low sharp sun. Then another building caught my eye, and another and another and I was drawn round a huge circle of suburban Prague. Each time it was the architecture that so appealed to me. At this point, I was still a Prague-naif and had not explored the main attractions. I was stunned by the originality of the tenement block designs; it seemed like no two were the same, each facade carrying a marvellous Art Nouveau structure, usually across the top half, rather than at street level, with shapes and lines and patterns, even murals, built into the concrete or plaster. The effect, or my attraction to this discovery, was heightened by the irregular black silhouette patterns formed on the walls by the bright sunlight streaming through leaf-less individual trees fixed on the sidewalks and by the sight of other trees, not yet leaf-less, but with a modest covering of dark brown autumnal leaves, in front of the facades. I was desperate for my camera - but it was not a desperation arising out of my inability to capture and hold the pictures I had discovered, rather it was that my very sight, my ability to see, the way I look, is controlled by years of seeking photographs. It is almost as though without the camera, my ability to use the sense of sight for tourism is not functioning properly.
The day of presentations dawdled rather badly, and I was glad when I could escape down town to find myself a hotel for the morrow. I found one easily thanks to the excellent guide book I’d brought (‘The Rough Guide to Prague’) even though there is a true shortage of hotels. Hotel Juventus is one of the cheapest at Kr790 (virtually £20) but is on a par, price-wise, with an equivalent hotel in London. This is quite astonishing when you consider that the cost of a tube or bus ride in Prague is 10p, and, more to the point, the cost of food and drink is far cheaper - tea is only 10p as well, for example, and the hotel price included a very modest breakfast, a couple of rolls, a piece of cheese and a piece of ham and a cup of tea.
By contrast, breakfasts at the Hotel Diplomat, were far from modest; were, in fact, extravagant to the point of making one think that the management was trying to make up for overcharging. As with the Juventus, breakfast was included in the room rate, but included an unlimited supply of everything one could possibly imagine: breakfast cereals, fruits, yoghurts, sausages, eggs, other hot foods, hams, salamis, cheeses, stewed fruits, jams, different types of bread and rolls etc. Most smart hotels include a limited breakfast in the room rate, but offer a large selection for which one pays extra. It was as though this hotel had not quite realised that yet.
Why do I ramble on about such trivialities.
Sunday 28 November 1993, Brighton
After a bright sunny day yesterday, this morning is bitterly cold and grimly grey. Adam rests in bed with a nasty sore throat. Yesterday afternoon he developed a temperature which went up to 103; for a time he was on the edge of fever and was about as ill as I’ve seen him. I don’t know where the cold came from, but in the morning, before I knew he was ill, we were out walking the streets for a long time, and at one point he complained of a stitch, even though we were walking quite slowly.
B is entranced by the music on the radio and looks it up in the paper: Dvorak’s piano concerto. I tell her I saw Dvorak’s grave in Prague, in the Vysehrad Cemetery.
Business is not exactly booming, but orders have continued to trickle in. I have about 100 paid orders now and a few invoices outstanding. During the last week, I’ve been working on subscription renewals and how to invoice and administer them. It’s not as simple as I first thought. I’ve also been tackling my first VAT returns. Although, there is no VAT payable on my newsletters (yet!), I have to list the VAT number of every EC purchaser! This is a real pain in the neck.
I travel to Brussels on Tuesday for a four-day visit, but I’ll have more time to write the December issue because I’m publishing a week late - the Energy Council falls on 10 December, two days after I would normally have gone to press.
James Bulger. The annals of criminal history have a new name to conjure with. This last week the two 11-year olds were convicted of murdering James Bulger and sentenced to Her Majesty’s Pleasure. In effect, this means they stay in juvenile institutions until they are adult and then in prisons until the parole board lets them out. The media, the church, politicians, everyone has been talking about the Bulger case. There was so much journalistic investigation that could not be broadcast or published until the trial was over that on the day the jury gave its verdict, there were TV and radio specials inserted into the schedules wherever a slot could be found. Phone-in programmes were devoted to the subject as were panel discussions and analysis programmes. I felt the whole debate was one huge cultural sham; not that any particular individual was ever talking in an insincere way, rather that the whole basket of debates demonstrated the extreme hypocrisy of our society. What on earth do I mean? Just this. The whole furore surrounding the Bulger case stems from the single idea embraced by our culture that children are too pure to enact murder - they can do everything else but not murder. If this is not so, then why on earth would the case attract so much attention. Yet as individuals we know very well that children can behave in an ultra naughty way, that they can also get things completely out of proportion, and that things they are doing can get out of control. Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ is an English classic, indeed it is one of the most famous books in the English language. Yet, the reaction to the Bulger case implies our society has never read this book: we have it as a classic story but we have not absorbed its message.
There is nothing extraordinary or even particularly unusual about the death of James Bulger. One very naughty child (Child A) thought up the idea to walk off with a toddler and probably persuaded Child B that it was a fun idea. They took him to their den by the railway tracks and there toyed with him as though he were an animal they had caught, and the game got a bit out of hand. I mean that’s it. In developing countries, as in our own country as recently as Victorian times, for 10-11 years old to kill and be killed on the streets is not/was not unusual. But what we have today is a society whose public face is made up of our politicians, our media and, to a lesser extent, the church and certain experts. All the characters that make up this face are ploughing much the same furrow at least in terms of maintaining their own position and popularity. Thus they reflect on to us the image that we think we ought to be, rather than telling us the truth. These were two naughty boys, one of them actually very nasty, and they played a game that got out of hand. The cultural hypocrisy extended to not really criticising the parents too much (I think the judge laid more blame on videos than the parents) but laying a sliver of blame on all of us for not having been more watchful of things happening around us.
Prague. Back to Prague for more travel notes. A number of conference delegates stayed on for the Thursday night and I suppose I should have joined them for a meal, but I chose to go off wandering through the city on my own. I’m glad I did otherwise I may never have strayed through the castle grounds at night. I hadn’t meant to but I got lost looking for a particular restaurant. The huge Hradcany castle, although it doesn’t really look like a British castle, dominates Prague. A vast four or five story wall stretches uniformly, with windows, about half a kilometre along the brow of a ridge hill. At night the wall’s grey and green colouring is lit up by banks of floodlights. Behind the wall, rises the tall and majestic gothic cathedral, St Vitus. This conjunction of architecture looks quite incongruous but nevertheless beautiful and extraordinary. The uniform wall, encloses dozens of historic buildings, including St Vitus. According to my guide book, the first buildings were erected in the 9th century and the site has been built upon successively since then, but a chap named Nicolo Pacassi did a massive plaster job in the 18th century covering up the architectural treasures with his bland, barrack-like, exteriors, both facing out towards the city and in towards the courtyards. I actually like this austere appearance, I think it gives the whole so-called castle a unique character, which would be lost if the facades were not joined up as one giant building. I came back to the castle on Sunday to have a proper look round, but on this dark evening, strolling through the courtyards, the place possessed a magnificent medieval feeling; there was no one anywhere. I walked along the cobbled streets with the old buildings crowding in on me all around, and was amazed at how empty the place was; there were no guards, no tourists, no salesmen, no dogs, nobody. I was entirely (and utterly, as Adam would say) alone in this huge castle. I walked on past and round the cathedral to exit on the other side before strolling down the hill back towards the river. By this time, I was quite cold and starving. The only place I found to eat was a steak house, decked out with US Western images and somebody playing the piano as though in a Texas saloon with the sheriff gambling in the corner.
Before returning back to the Diplomat Hotel, I wondered again to the Slavia coffee house and took a tea and watched the people. Since returning, I’ve heard a report on the radio (‘From Our Own Correspondent’) about this coffee house. The report called it Havel’s favourite watering hole. The property, on a street corner opposite both the river and the National Theatre, has been a popular coffee house for decades. But it closed down after the Velvet Revolution, I think, and the property was bought by Western interests which have kept it closed for two years. Havel, apparently, has called for the cafe to be re-opened and squatters have now moved in, illegally, I think and serve drinks to an eager public. I went there three times all together, and each time it was always full, with a lot of activity. I loved it, with all the different types of people and the vague buzz associated with the rightness or commitment of the venture. I felt that here, in this cafe, there was a taste, a very slight, mild taste of the Czech people’s character, the character that meant the people had backed Dubcek in 1968 and had flooded Wenceslas Square night after night in 1989. The servers are not supposed to charge for the drinks, and officially voluntary contributions are used to cover costs. In fact, the servers do give a price and change if necessary. The radio programme informed me that all is not laughter and beauty behind the scenes, that in fact, there is a Czech partner involved in the ownership group who wants to get a larger stake in the property.
Friday morning was another fine bright day, so, after a filling breakfast, I grabbed my camera and wandered off around the same area as yesterday. Indeed, I covered the same ground, took loads of photos, and then returned back to the hotel via a different route. This took me through a park, past the giant concrete block that had once served as the base for a giant statue of Stalin, and to Hanavsky Pavilion, a 100-year old Art Nouveau building, now painted in garish colours and being used as a restaurant. On the map, and approaching it from behind, its position in Letna park, appears random, but on arriving at the back and then walking round to a balcony at the front, I was startled by the most unexpected and amazing view of the river and the city. The park falls away quickly, at this point, down to the river leaving an almost 180 degree panorama. Moreover, the river angles into the Letna park and then bends away from it, thus allowing one to see both up and down river within the same panorama.
At midday, I moved from five-star luxury to no-star basics. Nearby, I found an excellent restaurant (although not a tourist place the menus came with an English translation). The building may have been a theatre or a town hall, for the ceilings of the large room were grandly covered in frescoes and the waitresses had to walk a bit further to the kitchens than they might have liked. The tables were set graciously far apart and the food, for the price, better than I expected. I really enjoyed the chicken and beef broths, full of noodles and chunks of lean meat.
In the afternoon, I strolled round Josefo, the tiny Jewish quarter. From the guidebook, I thought I would find this interesting, but when I got there I couldn’t sense the atmosphere of a Jewish ghetto in the long distant past, not even from the astonishing cemetery. There are buildings and a museum included in the Jewish quarter sites, but the cemetery is the most interesting. Thousands of gravestones are literally crammed into the small walled area, most of them leaning at one angle or another, and within a few inches of the next one. The oldest grave dates from 1439 and burials ceased in 1787. One is only allowed to walk around the perimeter (and I can understand why) but I never saw a deader cemetery. It should have been loaded with atmosphere, the gravestones clambering over one another, in much the same way the Jews must have lived in this quarter, but the very fact that the cemetery is nothing other than a tourist site, that all the gravestones looked the same to me (there was no variety in the stone used, or how it had been hewed into shape, or in the look of the Hebrew carving), and that there were loads of people all walking round the perimeter, attenuated all interest out of the place. I didn’t bother with any of the museums or sites connected with Kafka.
Instead, I carried on walking along the river. An interesting building with a dome on top didn’t figure in the guide book at all, and turned out to be a ministry. In the northern part of Nove Mesto I wandered around the square called Namesti Republiky with its exotic Obecni Dum Art Nouveau building, so under-utilised still. I did some window shopping in a department store (where later I bought a few glass cups for 30p each - I’d drunk out of them in a number of places and enjoyed holding and drinking from the thin fragile material). Then I walked back through some historic streets, through Wenceslas Square, past the majestic National Museum, and back to the hotel.
I dumped my camera and other goods, rested, and set forth once again. This is the trial of being a tourist, I cannot dally; my time in Prague was limited and I felt I had to see everything, go everywhere. Every spare minute, I wasn’t walking, I could be found reading the guide book over and over again trying to filter out what I did want to see and what I could ignore. But it was mighty cold, especially in the evening, and I often had to dive for cover when the cold started rattling my bones.
In the evening I made for the Medieval U Fleku which serves the potent Flek beer brewed since 1499 (yes well, why not believe the guide books). It was a huge place, with several drinking halls and trestle tables crowded with tourists and locals drinking in the somewhat Germanic drinking atmosphere. I ate a goulash there with dumplings but the hearty atmosphere of three fat Germans crowding in around me with their bonhomie and sickly smiles drove me out before long. At the Slavia, I found an excellent jazz band in swing, far better than the one playing at the Reduta on Wednesday night.
On Saturday I soaked up more of Prague’s less obvious spectacles. In the morning, I tried to find the cubist villas in Baba but I didn’t have a good enough map, instead I discovered the Hotel International, built by Stalin. It’s a huge plain concrete building with a high central tower. It could remind one of some New York buildings, and in years to come will probably get a better press. I went in briefly to find the decor probably hadn’t changed much since it was first built. I couldn’t imagine how they filled up so many rooms, the hotel being miles from the centre and not even near a metro stop. When I thought I was getting near Baba, I discovered an old church and cemetery high on a hill above the city, looking down into the Sarka valley. This cemetery, as others, with the exception of the Jewish cemetery, were all bedecked with flowers.
I lunched near the hotel again, and in the afternoon made my way towards the old Vysehrad fort which lies on top of a small but steep hill by the river’s side. On the way there, I examined a couple of buildings designed at the turn of the century by Josef Chochol. They are, apparently, the only architectural examples anywhere of the Cubist movement, which had its main impact on painting styles. The so-called Rondo-Cubist buildings are unremarkable and I would not have noticed them, had my guide book not declared them for me. I would like to describe the architectural effect but I’m not sure I have the words: the book says the style uses prismatic shapes and angular lines to produce the sharp geometric contrasts of light and dark shadows; but I found this description a little exaggerated; they were just geometric patterns played out in relief.
On top of the hill, the beautiful Vysehrad church cemetery is full of the graves of famous Czech artists, including Dvorak. The gravestones are inventive and beautifully crafted and much cared-for. Around the church there are gardens and remains of the ancient fort and as the sun went down there were fabulous views across the river and city. After Vysehrad, I walked along the river admiring the buildings and views, but soon after dark it became really cold so I escaped back to the hotel to drop my camera and books and recoup my strength and warmth. In the evening I opted to see a film rather than traipse the streets any more. The cinema was cute, it could have been thirty years old, but the Hollywood film was real enough and in English.
Tuesday 30 November 1993, Brussels
A white blanket of snow covers Brussels this evening. Outside, it is cold, wet and miserable. I can see few cars or pedestrians traversing rue du Canal below my window. As so often on my arrival here, I have been unproductive all day. I am only here until Friday and yet I sat listening to the budget speech all afternoon (no VAT on publications, but the registration limit has been raised to £45,000 and that might have saved me bothering) instead of trying to set up interviews. This is partly because I know that at this time, at the end of a Presidency, there is so much back room negotiation going on that I’m wasting my time if I try to gather information two weeks before production. There are three or four important papers due from the Commission - the White Paper on growth, another on energy and economic and social cohesion, energy networks, and a revision of the IEM proposals. But apart from what I am already doing, these are largely beyond my grasp. They may yet be adopted next week, which is still a full week before I go to press but unfortunately, I won’t be in Brussels. And then there’s the Council on 10 December. All round, this issue is a real pain in the neck.
Barbara has secured a full time job again at the Lindley Library. Initially, B didn’t really want to go back to work at the RHS but, of late, she has got quite used to the idea, and has even got somewhat excited about the job prospectus that she wrote for herself. Now we must work out how to look after Adam when I am in Brussels. I think, in the first place, we will cope by a combination of B working at home and her parents coming to stay. But I must ensure we move soon and start our new stage.
Paul K Lyons
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