PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1993 - OCTOBER
Saturday 9 October 1993, London
It is nearly four weeks since my last journal entry. I think I am losing the internal dialogue which has always fed my diary writing. I don’t think about things very much any more. I still read strong books but I read just as many thrillers. I am not much out in the world exploring. Art and culture continue to fade in importance. At last, perhaps, I am giving up the struggle; whatever struggle it was/is I was/am engaged in, that is; which is hard to know. By and large, all my mental energies are diverted towards EC Inform. Whereas last year, in my last year at the FT, I got around Europe quite a bit, which gave me things to write about, and I managed to write the odd piece of fiction, this year, EC Inform has all my attention. I have not written a single word of fiction all year. I don’t even make stories up for Adam any more. This is always how it is when people start their own businesses.
We have had such a lot of rain recently. The summer was poor, and now autumn is proving a disappointment too.
I should mention the EC energy policy seminar at St Andrews which took place a couple of weeks ago. The two-day meeting was organised by Dundee University’s Centre for Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy (CPMLP) as part of its summer series of energy law seminars. Thomas W. Wälde, the professor of CPLMP, had contacted me earlier this year, after reading my Management Report (he also reviewed it positively in some journal), with a view to co-sponsoring the conference. We agreed that CPLMP would bill EC Inform as co-sponsor on its literature and I would provide 1,000 or so names for marketing the conference and I would advertise it in my newsletter. I could have given a presentation too, but I declined to push for that. Instead, I was given the job, by David McDougall, one of Thomas’ group of professionals in charge of this seminar, of chairing one of the sessions. I was a little nervous, at first, about being a chairman, as I’ve never done it before, but it helped to have some notes from Thomas on what a chairman needs to do. And, as the days, went by, I got quite used the idea.
As it turned out, there were less than 20 punters at the seminar, and nearly as many speakers, who, once they had got to St Andrews stayed for most of the two days. It took me six hours to get from Kings Cross to Leuchars, which is a 15 minute cab ride from St Andrews. The same train gets to York in just two hours! and Edinburgh in four hours. It is so easy to forget how far north Scotland is.
With so few people, the seminar was rather informal, more like a round table discussion. Thomas and David moved backwards and forwards to the front table whenever they wished and interrupted the speakers at will. But Thomas was the engine that drove the seminar, he provoked discussion and talked often and a lot - without him, the meeting could have been very flat. Two of the key speakers, Nicholas Argyris, from DGXVII, and Harald Norvik, president of Statoil, never made it, and I know several attendees were really disappointed about that (including one from Brussels, whom I’m sure came as a result of my advertising). Most attendees had a legal background, they either came from law firms or law departments of energy companies. I thus found several of the talks interesting because the Treaty law on aid is one of my weaknesses. On the political side, there was not much of interest to me, and some of the debates I found spurious or too technical. Nevertheless, I felt very much part of the seminar and I was always talking to someone.
I arrived late on Wednesday night, after dark. The new halls of residence, in which I had been billeted, stood about 15 minutes walk from the town centre. I walked around for an hour or so in the dark until I found a fish and chip shop. The town was quiet and the geography difficult to understand. I could make out castle ruins, and I walked down some narrow steps to a beach, but this was a bit spooky. It was not until Saturday, that I had a really good look around - the university buildings, the castle and cathedral ruins, the pretty little harbour, the beaches. And I was blessed with a beautiful clear sunny day. Although it was far from warm, the sea water looked so clear and clean and inviting that, eventually, I went in for a swim in my underpants. It was very cold, especially for my feet, and it took ten minutes of dancing to get used to the temperature, but once I was in, it was glorious. Unfortunately, there were a few people walking their dogs on the sands, and I felt a bit constrained: I’d have liked to have run about more, or swum naked, as usual; but nevertheless, it was an invigorating morning. I took a number of photographs of three cathedral towers/wall parts which rose majestically into the deep blue of the morning sky. I couldn’t resist the contrast of the grey mottled stone colours against the even blanket of blue.
Apart from its university, St Andrews is, of course, famous for its golf courses and no one is allowed to forget this. There are more golf shops than street corners and more golfers wandering around with tartan caps or trousers than leaves on the trees. The golf courses stretch out from the famous club house at the edge of the town’s central area along the beach towards the estuary. When one is on the golf course, it is very scenic, but from a distance the golf courses themselves do not make for an attractive landscape, since they just look like uneven land, patched with earthy bits. The beaches are glorious (there are three of them round the town) because the tide goes out for miles leaving huge expanses of firm and flat sand.
I was intrigued to find a plaque in the town commemorating a photographer called, I think, Thomas Rodgers. The plaque said he had been Scotland’s pioneer photographer and had built the house with a specially-designed studio. I asked at the tourist office for more information about him but nobody knew who I was talking about. I would have tried the local museum except that it didn’t open until 11, and I had to be on my way at 10:45.
I did not much enjoy the train journeys - both ways the train was full and therefore noisy, and on the way back it was delayed by an hour. Despite having travelled half way round the world on uncomfortable crowded trains, I still have a romantic vision of a long journey - the vision has me with four seats to myself, my feet up on the seat opposite, my books and papers spread out over the table, and my being able to open the window every now and breathe in the countryside; occasionally in this vision of the perfect train journey, I drift off to sleep and experience that state of semi-dream which I so enjoy; then, if I am lucky, a beautiful girl, alone and dressed in a white dress, comes to sit near me.
The reverse was true on this journey, and indeed is true on most other train journeys - I was crammed in by strangers in other seats who persisted in carrying out the most inane conversations making it impossible for me to concentrate on reading. On the way up I managed to move to a quieter place, but on the way back I was stuck in the middle of a rock band, who were quite intelligent and didn’t talk that much, but enough to continue disturbing me. (Now I think about it, travelling among chatty strangers on trains in other countries is far less disturbing because the words carry no meaning and dissolve, eventually, into the general humdrum of background noise.)
Because of the seminar, my time in Brussels was squeezed again into a four day period. And, I had to finalise collecting information for the quarterly as well. The quarterly and the monthly combined made the last week rather hectic and I worked most of the weekend. Still, my time in Brussels was productive and I produced a couple of reasonable newsletters. In the Parliament’s energy committee, I watched the chairman Claude Desama push his internal energy market opinion through another stage; I interviewed the head of energy policy at DGXVII, who professed no ideas at all; and I talked to representatives from both the Norwegian and Swedish delegations about their countries accession talks. One evening, I went to the cinema to watch ‘The Firm’. It was a good movie, just like it was a good book. Tom Cruise, the Paul Newman of the 1990s, excelled as he always seems to do - I remember him in ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Rain Man’.
During both journeys I read a number of books: ‘Something Leather’ by Alasdair Gray. I have just discovered Gray and find his writing refreshing and provocative. ‘Something Leather’ isn’t much more than a collection of short stories but still I enjoy his deceptively simple descriptions of quite eccentric and yet realistic characters. He also plays with the whole business of writing in a Laurence Sterne sort of way, using typography if necessary, by writing his own coverjacket blurbs, for example, and postscripts, subtitled critic fuel.
I read another book by Elmore Leonard although his style is beginning to pall and I cannot distinguish his plots one from another a few days after I’ve finished one.
‘A Concise History of Britain 1707-1975’ by W. A. Speck was one of those spontaneous library borrowings. I don’t think I had ever appreciated before how long and complex a process enfranchisement was - it seemed to dominate so much of politics during the 19th century. It’s not a book of insights but one of concise summaries, focusing on the evolutionary rather than revolutionary nature of change. To quote from the introduction ‘The peaceful adjustment of institutions and social structure to changing circumstances has been largely due to the fact that, since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, machinery has always existed for effecting such changes without resort to rebellion or revolution.’
Subscriptions are up to 93, but this last week was slow and very disappointing.
Last night, I watched a fascinating film from the 1970s by Sidney Lumet - ‘The Offence’. I think it must have been way before its time. Sean Connery played a committed policeman who, while interviewing a suspect rapist, breaks down and kills the suspect. The first half of the film centres on the search for the rapist, and the second half on how the policeman came to kill the suspect in the interview room. We are shown, through Connery’s relationship with his wife, through an interview with the investigator of the killing, and through his own mental flashbacks to the moment he found the raped schoolgirl, that Connery’s character himself has had the same desires as the rapist but that he refuses even to acknowledge anything in common with all the criminals he has fought against throughout his policing life.
Sunday 17 October 1993, London
A bright sunny morning after weeks of torrential rain. B is on her way back from Brighton having put the Tidy Street house on the market. Adam is playing with his train tracks. Both this morning and yesterday morning, I had more constructive sessions with Adam than of late - my routines with him having broken during my busy publishing period. We both had an exciting day yesterday, although I think Adam got the better of it. In the morning I took him to the Tricycle Theatre where, for the first time, he sat alone in the main auditorium to watch a proper stage play - an adaptation for children of ‘The Canterville Ghost’. I sat in the bar reading ‘The Independent’ and ‘The Financial Times’ but the barman was playing Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ at such a high volume that it really insisted on being listened to; after half an hour it began to annoy me and I had to move out to sit in the corridor. Adam said he enjoyed the play although I didn’t really get much information from him about it.
In the afternoon, we trekked (more about trekking in a minute) across North London to Totteridge to my sister’s new house - the occasion being Phoebe’s first birthday. All Phoebe’s cousins on our side of the family were there as well as a few from the Bull side, including Christopher, the friend Adam made when he went to Phoebe’s christening at the Bull family residence.
In the evening, I took Adam with me to Andrew’s 50th birthday party. In the car, I told him about passports. I said one needed passports to be let into other countries, but other sorts of passports were useful in life. His smile, I said, was a useful passport (we’ve talked about this before - the smile got us into those Roman ruins in the Algarve when they were shut, and it got us a bag of crisps in Germany). And flexibility, I said, was another kind of passport. I told him Adam was very flexible about getting up in the night or early in the morning and having to travel with us in the car. The fact that I could wake him at 9:30 in the evening, out of a deep sleep, and that he didn’t complain or moan in any way, meant that I was happy to take him to this grown-ups party. His flexibility was a passport to the party.
Adam had a great time. He met two older children, who didn’t have much to do, but were happy to mess around with A. Later, when they had gone, he discovered Rosy’s friend who always brings a suitcase of novelties and spends most of the evening showing them off to whoever will watch. I didn’t actually enjoy the party that much. I caught up with news from some of Rosy and Andrew’s friends, but, unlike my recent excursions to their house, I didn’t talk to anyone new at all. Andy had erected canvas over the whole extent of the garden creating a rather surreal room, complete with tables and armchairs placed in the flowerbeds. Unfortunately, the industrial heater wasn’t sufficient to blast out enough heat to warm up the interior garden.
Since Henry Evans first suggested Elmore Leonard to me, last year or the year before, I have been working my way through his oeuvre. Just recently I have tired of his style a little and given myself a rest from him. Nevertheless, I made a point of watching a ‘Late Show’ special on the man and to read a couple of book reviews and profiles which have appeared in the papers in consequence of his latest book ‘Pronto’. Since ‘Pronto’ is partly set in Europe, I suppose Leonard’s publisher persuaded the great man to step foot across the Atlantic and do a bit of promotion over here. The ‘Late Show’ (BBC2) compiled a collage of views about him from talents as diverse as Dennis Healey and Martin Amis. In general, he is considered a genius at characterisation and realistic portrayal of small mean-minded people in middle America. Amis pin-pointed Leonard’s writing as completely lacking in self-consciousness and revealing groups of characters who are all off-the-wall, many of them on the wrong side of the law, yet there is always the anti-hero who is a mite better than the rest and deserves one more break. Leonard’s skill is using dialogue so effectively to create immensely interesting characters while at the same time pushing the plot along. All the commentators agreed that plot is a secondary consideration in his novels, a fact makes them stand out in a class of their own.
In the interview, Leonard came across as a straightforward man, who did not rate his writing very highly, as a craft rather than an art, and who had always loved doing it. The ‘Late Show’ interviewer asked how he managed to get such seemingly accurate technical detail on certain professions featured in his book, but he failed to ask the similar but far more interesting question about how he knew or seemed to know about the minds of criminals. Thinking about it now, I realise that the ‘Late Show’ could have interweaved some criticism of Leonard (there must be some somewhere) so that when combined with the praise we viewers could have had a clearer critical framework on which to hang our own judgements.
During the week, I spent two days on the South Downs with Raoul. We had pencilled this trip in our diaries almost six months ago at Raoul’s suggestion. Given my monthly cycle in which I really only have a few days to spare once a quarter (when there are five weeks not four between production days), and Raoul’s immensely busy schedule, it wasn’t that easy to fit in a mid-week walk. The torrential rain threatened to wash us out and, indeed, driving down to Winchester at 7:30 on Tuesday morning, the rain was a force to be reckoned with. We parked the car in Exton, a village about 10 miles from Winchester, and set out on the South Downs Way eastbound. By this time the rain had stopped and the weather was far from inhospitable. As we walked through a farm, we tipped our caps, so to speak, at a farmer who responded with ‘You’s’ll want yer wellies’. I didn’t think much of this comment as I had proper walking boots on and Raoul had reasonable boots also. But, no sooner had we crossed the farm and found the path that would lead us up our first hill, than we encountered a raging torrent of a stream, where the path had been. The path at this point follows a rare chalk stream, the guide book said; follows was not quite the word! Indeed several times during the two days we encountered flooded paths or tracks and had little choice but to wade through and get our feet wet.
We walked about 18 miles each day. On the Tuesday we got wet twice, but on the Wednesday we were blessed with rain-free, if somewhat changeable, weather. We talked a lot while we walked, more than I would have imagined; and although this didn’t take away from any enjoyment or appreciation of the fine scenery, the comradeship, if you like, meant I, at least, was not communing as close to nature, relaxing into the countryside, as I usually do when I go walking. We talked about our children, of course, about Raoul’s work, about tumuli and other earthworks we encountered, and, because we passed the junior school at which he boarded for many years, about Raoul’s younger school years. We also talked about genes a little. During my walks of the last few years, I have liked to find a particular theme whether it be mushrooms, the weather, the trees, the landscapes, the geology etc. Well, on this walk, there was one unusual but stunning theme - the pattern and colours of the leaves and stalks pressed into the wet chalk of the tracks and paths. On the more easterly stretches of this long distance footpath, I don’t recall there being quite so much chalk in evidence, but throughout our two days we invariably trod a white path or track; sometimes it was very white and firm, other times it became somewhat muddy and light grey. But always there were patterns of leaves stuck flat into the wet chalk, patterns that were finer and more exaggerated than any William Morris. I think what made them particularly special and noticeable (after all I must have walked on a million paths covered in leaves), besides the white base, was that the heavy storms of the previous few days had thrown to the ground leaves of every hue - the dead brown leaves, the rust-coloured almost-dead leaves, the ochre dying leaves, the classic yellow autumn leaf, the green-tinged-with-yellow leaf just beginning its journey to death, and the live, fresh spring green leaf. Sometimes, there were patterns formed by the leaves of just one tree - an oak, a beech, a birch or a hawthorn - and sometimes there were patterns caused by several different trees together. The patterns were made more complicated, as if by design, through the use of leaf stalks and stems which had fallen too in the high winds. And then the patterns would change along the length of the path, in an Escher-like way, evolving from one recurring leaf idea to another and then perhaps back to the first. The inclement weather and lack of bright light meant that I was not predisposed to take photographs of these wonderful patterns, however, I’m sure I would have done had I been alone.
Monday 18 October 1993, London
I had planned to see a play tonight called ‘The Piano Lesson’ at the Tricycle Theatre, but when I got there I found a charity do instead. So, now I’ve an hour to kill before its time to make dinner and plonk myself in front of the goggly box, so I may as well move along with my report of the South Downs Way.
The first day was full of interest. Just a mile into the walk we had climbed up Old Winchester Hill, the site of an Iron Age fort. The ditches and fortifications are so prominent and the views from the 14 acre area of the fort so fine that it was surprising not to find more facilities. It is a shame, thinking in retrospect that we didn’t come across this antiquity (as the Ordnance Survey maps put it so quaintly) later in the day at lunch time, for example. As it is, we only dawdled there for a few minutes. The walk took us along a road for while, and then sweeping down a hillside to a large and busy farm. Because I’d failed to have breakfast, I was starving, but Raoul wouldn’t let us attack our sandwiches until midday, when we sat down on a grassy bank, very close to the odd HMS Mercury, a huge naval establishment, that looked more like a relic from the cold war, with its long stretches of barbed wire and empty barrack rooms. We got rather wet and tired in the early afternoon and began to focus all our thoughts on to the cafe at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park. We prayed it wouldn’t be shut for the winter, and it wasn’t. What a wonderful joy, to find shelter and a cup of tea and a cake. The joys of hiking. And then, after half an hour break, we carried on along newly made tracks through the centre of the Country Park forest. I couldn’t see much difference between the Country Park and the rest of the country, but I suppose it helps to attract people to nature by having the cafe, the shop, and the walks all neatly laid out and colour coded. We arrived close to the village of Buriton, which is 12.5 miles from Exton (according to my excellent pocket guide by Kev Reynolds) with plenty of the day left, so we kept on walking along the short 3.5 mile section to South Harting. I had no doubts that we would be able to find accommodation in South Harting, although Raoul remembered it as a rather snooty place. About a mile before the village, we came across a middle-aged lady grooming her horses. She seemed friendly and offered to ring the only B&B in the area - she said there were none in South Harting! Raoul was all ready to accept the offer, but I wanted to get to the village and find out for myself. Moreover, it was half past four and I was afraid that the village shop (if there was one) would close at five and we wouldn’t have any provisions for Wednesday. I raced on to the village, with Raoul walking more slowly behind (he had a slight muscle problem which didn’t seem to hinder him other than when he went downstairs or tried to walk fast). By this time we had dried off completely and the sun was almost shining. I bought provisions for the following day, but also confirmed there was nowhere to stay in South Harting. We chose a B&B at East Harting, a mile and half east because it was the closest to our route on the morrow. We got completely drenched, and just as we arrived at the house, a man was driving out along the road to come and find us!
The house and occupants turned out a touch bizarre. The old lady of the house welcomed us in the porch, and as we were divesting of dripping coats and boots she disallowed her husband to enter in the front door. Our bedroom and beds were fine, and a wood fire had been prepared for us in the lounge, although we didn’t know if it was the family lounge or one for guests. When I was watching the chess (how fortunate that I managed to get in front of a telly this evening, for it was the only game that Nigel Short won) a youngish man came in, one of the sons, I think, and he stayed with us for all of ten minutes. Every wall in the lounge was decorated with ornately-carved dark wood panelling and there were old books lying on the floor. The madam told us that us that she bought the house from three brothers, one of whom was obsessed with wood carving and another who adored books (I can’t remember the obsession of the third one). How wonderful that the brothers should leave such things for a new owner.
In the morning, as we were tucking in to our delightful breakfast, the old man came in to the room apropos of nothing and immediately launched into a monologue about his arthritis and some surgery he needed (‘gotta go to the butcher again next month’). He barely stopped to take breath during the next ten minutes and left us while still muttering. Raoul had engaged him in a dialogue for a few minutes about his old school caretaker but it turned out they were talking about different people, didn’t seem to matter though, he talked about the man he had known nevertheless.
Storms in the night and reports of poor weather forecasts meant we didn’t hold out much hope for a dry day. But we were wrong, we didn’t get a drop the whole day, in fact we even got some periods of glorious sunshine and some distant views of the sea. In one moment, I pointed to a distant structure high up on a ridge and it was some seconds and after reference to the map that we worked out it was Goodwood Race Course - be high up like Brighton race course.
The walk up from East Harting to the main path was steep and routed us partly by a sweet corn field full of pheasants and partly through a delightful wood. There was a long stretch along the hill-top ridge through more woods (Raoul for ever spotting tumuli) before we reached Cocking where we lunched well in a pub on a cheeseburger. Some of the most interesting bits of the day were those not actually on the South Downs Way. We had to cut through a small farm to get to Cocking and discovered the most beautiful house, complete with a climbing shrubs in abundance, an old viaduct, and deep river ponds.
I had accumulated a couple of blisters during the walk, and they seemed more noticeable after lunch so I switched to plimsolls for a while; though it wasn’t very satisfactory to have my boots hanging off the back of the rucksack, banging away rhythmically as I walked. The most interesting sight of the afternoon was Stane Street. Our path followed this old Roman Road for about 250 yards. It ran the 56 miles from Chichester to London in three die straight stretches and much of it is still amazingly apparent today.
The end of the walk was something of a strain. We always knew we would have to get back to Exton but weren’t sure how to do it. Late in the afternoon we tried hitching on one main road for a few minutes but Raoul thought we were wasting our time (two ragged middle aged men hitching!) and so we had to walk on another mile towards Amberley Station. We found a pub at Houghton, with a warm fire and welcoming barman. There we waited 90 minutes before a cab finally arrived. We didn’t get back to London till 10:30-11:00.
Barbara was furious with me because I’d completely forgotten about Dad’s birthday dinner and she had been worried sick. She imagined all sorts of scenarios - other than that I had forgotten. I hadn’t really registered the dinner in my mental filocells and I never thought of it once on the South Downs Way, but even if I had I wouldn’t have been able to get back in time. When I called Dad to apologise, he was blunt and dry, almost rude, and I could find no conversation. Such petty behaviour, yet I cannot remember a single time, in ten years, every failing to behave properly and respectfully to him.
Mrs Thatcher on the radio all day long today. Her 900-page autobiography of the Downing Street years has been published. It has caused quite a stir, what with leaks in the ‘Daily Mirror’ during the Tory Party Conference and serialisation in the ‘Sunday Times’. What grabs most attention is Thatcher’s criticism of other ministers in her cabinet, not least John Major. I listened to Brian Redhead interview her this morning on the ‘Today’ programme - they gave her over 15 minutes I think. It is hard to understand how her stature grew so huge in UK and world affairs, and yet, at the same time, it is difficult not to admire her commitment and style (not style as in fashion but as in unconscious technique) while listening to her.
Tuesday 26 October 1993, London
The clocks have gone back and it is already getting dark at five in the afternoon. Winter thus settles quietly over all our lives, closing up our bodies and our activities for another year. In effect we will hibernate until the spring - Christmas will provide a welcome period of coloured lights and gift-giving to break up the long cold dark period. In Scotland, I talked to a number of people who live in the north and who enjoy the winter. Would that I could leave the cold and bleak to them and escape to the Mediterranean. Will I ever manage to move south in winter, will I ever have the funds, the time?
These are not fruitful days. I do not have quite enough to keep me fully busy and the newsletters are not quite taking off. It is getting harder and harder to win subscribers and, although I can see myself getting to 100 now before the end of the year, the up hill struggle from 100 to 200 looks more difficult than the North Face of the Eiger. And it is not until I have 200 that I could say I was making a living.
I have left Barbara and Adam in Edinburgh for a few days holiday. We all went up together on a Friday evening train and stayed in a B&B over the weekend. Adam thought our landlady Mrs Burns must burn the toast because of her name. I thought, Mrs Burns B&B was OK, not special in any way, but adequate. She was a bit mean on the teabags. There were only ever two in our room with the tea-making things, and at breakfast, she only put one a teabag in the teapot, even though she brought the teapot and extra hot water in a separate pot.
I think B would have liked to potter around Edinburgh city on Saturday but I wanted to go further afield, so we bought bus rover tickets and travelled along the coast side of the city from Portobello to Crampton. Despite its beach, Portobello is neither a port nor very bello. In fact, although not run down, it doesn’t seem a very fashionable part of town, and the beach front has only a few amusement arcades. There are no swish restaurants or cafes, no sign of any arty crafty shops or galleries, and the houses look working class rather than middle class-desirable. I hypothesised that the beach is so near the centre of Edinburgh that it must get deluged by the masses in summer and that the monied classes would want to take their leisure a little further away. I would have thought the area was ripe for gentrification but there didn’t seem any sign of it.
The bus drove us through the old port area of Leith, which my guide book says has some classy joints (like London’s Docklands, I suppose) and Newhaven but we didn’t stop to wander around in either place. We went straight on to Crampton, which is or rather was a fishing village at the point where a small river meets the Firth of Forth. Here again I was surprised at the lack of any middle class intrusions. A few white houses, one pub closed for refurbishment, and one small restaurant/cafe. And yet Crampton turned out to be a special place, one that could support a far larger infrastructure for visitors. There is a beach, there is an island, connected to the mainland by a causeway, and there are beautiful river walks.
We ate a splendid lunch of well cooked but light food, and then wandered by the sea for a while. B left for town to go shopping, leaving A and I to explore. The disused and crumbled stone causeway, about a third of a mile long, is covered at high tide and runs along side concrete posts which must have carried a pipeline at one time. At low tide, there is a large expanse of sand flats which are uncovered to the island and beyond. As we set out along the causeway Adam said: ‘You see I told you I do more exciting things with you Daddy’. Earlier in the day we had had a jovial conversation about splitting up and I said that Adam wouldn’t be able to choose who to go with, me or Barbara. He chirped in by saying: ‘Yes, I do more exciting things with Daddy, but Mummy buys me presents.’
The island itself, covering just a few acres, has everything a young child would want, rocks, beaches with shells and sand, grassy banks, woods, ruins. We walked to the island not long after the causeway was uncovered and there were hardly any persons around, but on our way back there were dozens of people, either with dogs or children, making there way over to the small island. We strolled for about a mile along a beautiful wooden glen, past old mill ruins, weirs, waterfalls, and deep pools with the most fabulous reflections of autumn trees lit up by the low dancing sunlight.
I took a number of photographs. Adam too wanted to take some. He didn’t just ask to take a photo but told me exactly what he wanted to take and why. I didn’t let him but perhaps I should have done. I think, maybe I’ll get him a small camera for Christmas.
We met up again in town and headed back to the B&B. We didn’t go out again, and ate a few sandwiches in our room before flopping out to sleep early.
Sunday was devoted to Sophie’s christening at Currie Kirk and the party at Kate and Duncan’s house afterwards. Kate used to be the daffodil registrar at the RHS library and Duncan was the curator of the Physic Garden in Chelsea. They moved to Scotland three years ago when Duncan took a job as head of gardens for the Scottish National Trust. They had their first child Flora (yes Flora!) just after they moved to the suburbs of Edinburgh. I’ve only met them once before, I think, but despite not having seen Kate for three years, B has maintained a firm friendship with her through occasional letters and telephone calls. B was invited to be one of Sophie’s godmothers which meant we made a special effort to go.
The vicar, a portly humourless American, spoke with some of the fervour of a missionary. He clearly had a popular following, even if he did speak absolute twaddle in his sermon. I was fascinated by a woman near me, who sang by opening her mouth as wide as a hippo and curling out her long thin tongue every now and then like a lizard. In front of me sat the vicar’s wife and his son, who looked about as interested in the proceedings as the loaf of bread still sitting on the altar after the harvest festival service earlier in the day.
Thursday 28 October 1993, Brussels
Bright clear cold days outside, just as in the UK. Ad infinitum. Will I always, always continue coming to Brussels? The answer must clearly be yes. I find out there are public holidays next Monday and Tuesday. Great. Fiona rings to tell me that Brussels public transport is on strike tomorrow. Great. I sure am going to get a lot of work done these seven days.
I should record one or two more things about Edinburgh. During the afternoon, I talked to a number of Kate and Duncan’s relations and close friends. There was Colin who is trying to make a living out of growing apples in Kent. He finds the market for apple juice more reliable (apple prices can vary by a factor of two or three each year) and is trying to find markets to convert more of his crop each year. But there is stiff competition from other local apple juice producers. I talked for a while to one of Kate’s brothers who works for a charity helping deaf people in Glasgow, to a brother of Duncan who is a hospital chaplain somewhere in the Midlands, and to a friend of Duncan who works as a gardener at one of the Scottish gardens. Duncan tells me about his job as head of gardens of Scottish National Trust and how the travelling around from one garden to another does get a bit of a pain. Still, it seems quite an exciting and interesting job. Kate had prepared some lovely food and there was plenty of drink.
In the evening, B and I went out for a stroll along the Golden Mile (Mrs Burns didn’t mind us leaving Adam). At the bottom and not so golden end of the mile, we found a fish and chip shop and shared a portion sitting on the steps of a floodlit church. B wanted to find traditional Scottish food and took some persuading that we were unlikely to find any, except for the haggis in the fish and chip shop. We also partook of a half of bitter before returning to the B&B.
On the Monday morning, I forced the tourist pace. We walked through the Princes Street gardens again, and took a few family portraits. We checked out the Scottish and Edinburgh Libraries. I eventually found out a little about Thomas Rodgers, the St Andrews photographer, but not much. We visited the National Museum, which I would recommend to anyone for two reasons: 1) the architecture is splendid with its glass rooves and spacious interiors; 2) the bright green peppermint coconut chocolate cakes available in the cafe. I enjoyed a few old photographs of Crampton, where we had walked, and Adam liked the model steam engines with wheels and pistons and which moved when you pressed the button (just like London’s Science Museum had twenty years ago). Barbara thought the stuffed animals were well done (well stuffed!). We also took a look at a Robert Adams building but remained unimpressed. Then it was more or less time for me to catch my train.
The journey was interrupted by a 45 minute wait somewhere north of York. A fire had been started among some trees near the track and we had to wait while a fire engine made its slow way along a farm track to drown it out. When the train eventually made its way past the fire, we could all see how far it was away from the track and therefore wonder why we had had to wait 45 minutes. For an hour or so I talked to Fiona, a friend of Duncan and Kate (the other godmother to Sophie) who was sitting elsewhere on the train. She works at the Physic Garden as head gardener. We talk about Kate and Duncan, about Hampstead where she has just moved, and a little about Barbara. Fiona has a direct eye, she looks away rarely, and a huge smile which often turns into a laugh and which accompanies almost all conversation. This makes it somewhat disconcerting to talk to her. Nevertheless, I found her quite genuine and likeable.
Because of the delays, I used the train phone to call my answering machine. I picked up a message from Andy about the tickets for the evening, and called him back and left a message on his answering machine. In the evening, Raoul, Andy and I congregated at the Bush Theatre to see a political satire. It disappointed me. Afterwards we ate in an Indian, and Rosy joined us having spent the evening at a Magic Circle meeting.
I listen to the news a lot when I am in Brussels, even more than when I am in London. It is not unusual for me to listen to ‘Today’, the ‘World at One’, ‘PM’ and then tune in to Robin Lustig for the night-time news at 10. There is usually some development on a couple of stories but mostly there is an ongoing repetition. Today, I learn that Michael Howard has rejected most of the radical recommendations from the Sheehy (how do you spell that?) report on restructuring the police force, following an unprecedented lobby by the police. I learn that the government has accepted the Lords amendment to the rail privatisation bill on allowing British Rail to bid for privatisation contracts although it may still try to restrict its winning by further amendments.
I also learn that the High Court has ruled that there is no such medical condition as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) in a case brought by the National Union of Journalists for an ex-Reuters man. It is a first judgement on RSI and will certainly set an important precedent. I can imagine the FT management rubbing their hands with glee - had the Reuters man (who turned down a £20,000 out of court settlement) won his case, it would have cost the FT a fortune in pending cases. ‘PM’ carried three interviews commenting on the ruling - one from a painter who had suffered for 25 years from RSI (I didn’t trust her views at all, and I can clearly imagine an artist developing psychological pains in response to an inability to be creative). There were two interviews with experts. One held my views, more or less, that there is a whole host of physical, psychological and social sources of the symptoms that are called RSI and that RSI has become something of a fashionable illness. The other was the physiotherapist who is dealing with the FT cases. He claimed that the High Court had made a ruling which was behind the times, even behind the government’s health and safety executive, and that there is recognisable tissue damage caused by RSI. There’ll be some sore heads and empty piggy banks at the NUJ tonight.
I ring Ann and Jeffrey because I am thinking about going to Liege this weekend but I discover that Jeffrey is holed up in his house with tuberculosis. They got married in June, went to Turkey for a honeymoon and three months later Jeffrey was diagnosed as having TB. He must remain isolated for two months. I chide him that for not having invited me to the wedding though, of course, I really couldn’t have expected an invitation since I hadn’t been in contact for so long.
Saturday 30 October 1993, Brussels
A cold chilly morning. No blue skies as earlier days in this week, just grey. I do not think I will go to Liege, instead I will stay here and work and ruminate.
Yesterday, I had a 9:30 appointment at the Finland delegation in rue de Treves. Because of the public transport strike I left at about 8:30 and walked across the city. Arriving early at rue de Treves I strolled up to the Charlemagne building to join the throngs of photographers (video and still cameras) waiting the arrival of the Community’s Prime Ministers. The Belgian Presidency called a special summit to celebrate the final ratification of the Maastricht Treaty (it comes into force on Monday) and to have preliminary discussions on the issue of economic recovery. However, none of the big-wigs, ear-wigs, prim-wigs, dim-wigs had arrived by 9:40 so I had to leave for my meeting. Summits are always held in the country of the Presidency so my only chance to rub shoulders with the prim-wigs is when Belgium has the Presidency. The final summit is to be held on 10 December, the same day as the Energy Council.
I hear on the news that the siting of several EC agencies has finally been solved - London gets the Medicines Evaluation Agency (a plum) while Frankfurt gets the monetary agency which is to be the forerunner of the Central Bank. No news yet though of the Environment Agency.
I need another project. I have spent the best part of a year giving absolutely everything to the newsletter, but now I need to get some other line going. I need to write fiction, I have written nothing since ‘King Top-of-the-World’.
Time for breakfast - a croissant and a pan de chocolate.
Paul K Lyons
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