JOURNAL - 1994 - APRIL
Easter Sunday 3 April 1994, Brighton
There seems to be some activity on this house [Tidy Street]. On Wednesday or Thursday, we had an offer of 71,750 from a lady who has been to see it four or five times. On one of those occasions, B talked to her and she expressed an interest in buying a lot of B’s furniture. We discussed the offer at some length. B wanted to accept 72,000 but I said we should indicate to the estate agent that we were reluctant to go below 74,500, the asking price (since we had already dropped from 79,000) but that we might accept 73,500. B told the estate agent who was rather shocked that we had not accepted the offer. The buyer had already organised a survey, before we knew about the offer, and the estate agent did not even tell us until after it was over. I suspect the agent must have advised the buyer that we would accept; it almost seems as though the agent is acting for the buyer and not us, the seller. According to the agent, the prospective buyer was put off by the survey and is spending the weekend thinking about whether to raise her offer. Another couple came round yesterday and also expressed a lot of interest in the house.
In consequence of a possible sale, B and I have spent much of this weekend going over the ground again about our future. This is a frustrating business because there are just no easy answers. As I might have written down before, this last three months in Aldershot Road have proved difficult, and I have begun to wonder whether we really should try and spend the next few years together in the same house. B too has had doubts and expressed them this weekend so we tried to talk about a two house model again.
I am having a restful weekend although I do have some writing to do. I have brought the Commission’s working document on ‘New energy policy guidelines’ to write up for a two page feature in EC Inform-Energy no. 15. I notice with some satisfaction that the document divides up energy policy objectives into three areas: increasing competition, environment, and security of supply. These are the very same divisions by which I divided up my management report, ‘EC Energy Policy’. Although these themes have been apparent for ages, I don’t remember the Commission discussing them in this three-part way, as I did in my book. The irony is that in the new report I’m writing now, I talk of a four way division, having added cohesion as an objective. I have completed the first draft of the quarterly ECI-Q 5, and that should be more or less ready tomorrow. I will have more writing and tidying up to do on the Monthly, but I’m more or less on schedule with that as well. I will do a large mailing with this issue, the first for a long time, but it is all the same people as last year; I have no fresh names on my database.
Adam plays quietly and happily on his own this afternoon with jigsaws and other games. This morning he went on an Easter Egg hunt around the house and he’s been scoffing chocolate most of the day. We went swimming for an hour before lunch. For the first time, he has begun to jump in from the pool side and not worry about getting his face in the water. I must organise some lessons for him in London.
I have had a quick injection of friends over the last couple of days. I went to see Rosy and Andrew on Friday night for a couple of hours. Nothing changes there. Andy had just come back from two weeks of touring in Spain (I hope to hear more about that when we meet up with Raoul one evening) and Rosy has passed a test to eneter one of the Magic Circle’s inner rings - not the most inner ring, but one of them. They were having dinner, with a psychiatric consultant and his wife, and Rosy’s father Jack. The visitors were talking about how people’s characters can be described in reference to the five elements (I thought there were only four). Jack, who is now 84 I think, has a severe unmoving face, which I do not like very much. I sat opposite and wondered about him. He and his now deceased wife used to spend quite a lot of time in R&A’s house, when they came over from Dublin. Rosy’s mother Betsy was a difficult woman and Jack spent his entire retirement simply looking after her. Andy will similarly spend his old age, I shouldn’t wonder. But now Betsy’s gone, he spends a lot of time with R&A but what does he think about his daughter. Does he think she’s fabulous and interesting and does he love her. Or does he sit around and watch her antics and the antics of those who visit and wonder how on earth he could have brought up such a child. Perhaps he just doesn’t think too much.
Andy told me an horrific story about some of his tenants at the parking lot. Until recently, he rented out office space to a Nigerian mini-cab firm. At first, Andy was friendly and let the Nigerians off the rent when they couldn’t pay, and he turned a blind eye to their ways. Increasingly, however, they began to take advantage of Andy and stopped paying rent all together, and became squatters. They also seemed to know their rights as squatters, and Andy could find no way to get rid of them from his property. Then he discovered they were dealing drugs at night. He got in touch with the police and, eventually, the drug squad. After several false starts, the squad did raid the mini-cab firm but didn’t find anything. Meanwhile, Andy had organised a crane to move the portable office unit out of its corner onto an open part of his car parking space; once moved he and a friend literally broke up the office unit (which Andy actually owned) into small parts and put them all into bins. Having talked to his solicitor, it seemed the only way to get rid of them. I would have thought the Nigerians would have wanted some revenge and Andy did take a whole series of precautions, but it seems that having exploited one mug, they moved on to the next.
Tuesday 12 April 1994, London
This morning I feel oppressed although I am not quite sure why. My head feels heavy and I have managed to get through the whole morning so far without doing a scrap of work, and now I turn to my confessor because I can’t seem to get on with anything else. I can find no reason why, this morning, I should feel like this. I slept soundly, I have had no bad news, the weather is even reasonable. Adam has gone back to school today, and it is thus the first time in ten days that he is not nearby. But I cannot believe that I am feeling so low and inactive for that reason. I mean it is not even that we have had a good time during the Easter holidays. Yesterday, I worked all day and Adam played alone, and at the weekend we did an immense amount of driving around Sussex, looking in estate agent windows. It is not as if I’ve been working too hard, because I didn’t do any work at all on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. I suppose it may just be a mild bug and I’ll shake it off soon enough. I just want to curl up and go to sleep.
I do have a lot to be depressed about; and the more this year proceeds without any changes or developments, the more depressed I am going to get. I cannot see where my business is going to go and I cannot see where I am going to go geographically. After talking with B about Chichester, I went down, with Adam, to both Midhurst and Chichester and looked in estate agent windows only to find there was virtually nothing on the market that meets our specs and price range. I did go and see one house, which had four bedrooms, two reception rooms, and 260ft of garden. It was very plain and had no attractive features inside, only the long and unkempt garden made it interesting. At least, I wasn’t put off Chichester by being there, though I’ve no idea how we’d manage with logistics to family and friends. Then, as time wore on, I began to realise that we need to be much more precise about how much money we have to play with and what sort of size house we want. If I am going to run my business from home, then it needs to be at least five bedrooms and two receptions, or four bedrooms and three receptions; and I hadn’t fully appreciated that fact before now. I don’t think, for example, we could even find a house that size in the Guildford region for our money.
To make matters worse, the offer on Tidy Street has fallen through because the prospective buyer had a survey done which uncovered what she claims as £9-10,000 worth of necessary work. The whole house business is inescapably depressing.
Adam is starting swimming lessons on Wednesday, and not before time. He will be the youngest in his class. He will go for half an hour every week for the next fourteen weeks, assuming we can organise getting him to the pool when I’m in Brussels.
I have finished Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All the Pretty Horses’. It took me a while to get into the book, but by the end I am convinced of the man’s genius. His writing, which is almost devoid of punctuation, is crystal clear; rich and vibrant, yet confident and effortless, never strained. Wide open spaces and intense emotional landscapes. I surely will seek out other works of his now.
With just over a day to go, England have a lead of 440 or so, and the West Indies are 45 for 2 in their second innings. On first glance, it may seem we have a real chance of winning the game; but that would be to forget that we have now lost the first three Test Matches and, in at least two of them, we were in a winning position at one or two stages. The last Match was a complete disgrace, we were all out in the second innings for the second lowest total ever (45, 46 or 47 I can’t remember), and the lowest since 1887 or some similar date. The fact is that the West Indies do not need to concentrate to beat us, and they are too busy having a good time. If half their team lose concentration, the other half soon make it up. Take the first innings for example. We scored over 350, and then had them at 145 or so for 7. Could we get their tailenders out? No. They eventually scored over 300, and hit the record books yet again for the highest eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth wicket partnerships!. They may now be 45 for 2, but there is nothing stopping their middle batsmen getting record scores of 200 a piece or more. We are outplayed, outclassed, out-everything. Get rid of Fletcher.
On the football front, however, I hear that Arsenal have won their semi-final of the European Cup and are now in the final.
While in the park on Sunday with Raoul, I was talking to Jack about football. He was telling me that he supports Manchester United. I said I was a lifetime Arsenal supporter and he asked me who the best players were. Fortunately, I could remember Ian Wright (though he’s the only one) and Jack said that Merson was their number two. Adam, who had enjoyed saying he supported United when I kept telling him that he supported Arsenal, piped up suddenly and wanted to know if there was an Ian Left that also played for Arsenal. Like chalk and cheese those two boys.
Over dinner, B and I discuss the David Alton amendment. We both approve of tighter regulations over videos and are disappointed that the Alton amendment has been withdrawn. I cannot understand the arguments against tighter censorship, and I do partly blame the media. Because the media (I’m thinking particularly of radio and TV) is obliged to present a two-sided view of the issue, over the last few days it consistently brought up the argument that the Alton amendment might end up censoring important films like ‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘Dancing with Wolves’. Yet this argument is spurious. Firstly, it is the censors job to be skilled at discriminating between good and bad, between the corrupting and the uplifting. Secondly, would it matter at all if one good film in a hundred was banned by mistake; there is no dearth of films, so why would it matter if 3% of the worst and most corrupting violent films were filtered out? Although the amendment has been withdrawn, Michael Howard has satisfied all parties with a combination of new measures and the tightening of the old.
Despite this view, I do not see the need to censor newspapers. I cannot think of a single example of the tabloids going too far for me (though, obviously I don’t see them very often). I know there have been outcries over their treatment of the Royal Family but I can’t sympathise with the Royals. They are as much our property as the wealth and riches they possess are theirs. It is their job to manage their media relations, and, despite their wealth, they have not managed to get expert enough advice on how to cope in the modern day. And as for politicians, I believe they should be squeaky clean. Never mind that this will lead to our leaders being less brilliant or charismatic, but our society takes all public figures as role models whether we like it or not, and we need to see our leaders as upstanding decent people. And I have no sympathy for celebrities, as being famous is what they are paid for, if they couldn’t stand the heat, then they would never have arrived in the hot place. There may be cases of private individuals who receive unwelcome exposure in the newspapers, but I would think this is rare and is almost certainly linked to some activity by the individual which has courted publicity in some way.
Saturday 16 April 1994, London
Trying to get on with the introductory parts to the environmental chapters of my book, but the ideas I need to write about are more complex and involved than I am used to writing for the newsletter. Sometimes I like working with Barbara and Adam around the house but today there seems to be nothing but disturbances. Julian came this morning, Mum is coming this afternoon. Adam is being a nuisance by taking his toys and playing with them all over the house and leaving trails behind him.
This week, I have allowed myself to toy with a little fantasy, one worth a quarter of a million pounds. I saw an old Victorian school advertised in the Guildford paper for £245,000. I thought I must be crazy and rang up, rather hesitantly, for the details. They arrived the next day complete with three small photos and I couldn’t keep my hands of them. The building looks huge and is slightly raised up above the road level, it comes complete with arches, gothic windows and turrets. The accommodation is split into three parts: the school house with a large lounge, dining room, kitchen, bathroom and three bedrooms; a studio with a two rooms, one above the other made from a larger room, and a bathroom; and the school hall, which is double height and nearly 40x20ft, and comes with two other rooms. In total, and apart from the huge school room, there are three bedrooms, six other rooms, and two bathrooms. The garden is rather small but spreads out from a pleasant courtyard which is surrounded on three sides by the school. The building is situated just ten minutes from the Guildford station and within a few minutes of the country. There are also two off-road car parking spaces. I was due to go down and see it today, but one of the owners is sick and I’ll have to wait until an evening next week. In the meantime, I seem to be getting more excited about it rather than less. I can raise the money, with difficulty:£35,000 from Tidy Street; £95,000 from Aldershot Road; £70,000 savings; £45,000 mortgage.
Unlike any other property I might buy, this one would give me office expansion place; and, because of its situation, I would have no fears about finding people to work because they could commute from London, if necessary. My one main worry has been that I couldn’t make full use of the hall. But the very thought of the place makes me so excited. It has a character and possibility; B and I could live together and yet separately; we could have lodgers or parties, or rent out the hall. No solution for our future has yet inspired anything from me but a grudging acknowledgement that something must be done, but this house seems to hold out hope that something more interesting in the future is possible. However, let me stop the train of fancy, the runaway fool, the stampeding folly, before it goes too far. First of all, raising and then spending that money would leave us flat broke, without any secure income for the future. Secondly, someone far richer than I and with less complicated financing is bound to step in and fix a deal, perhaps at a higher price. Thirdly, we’re unlikely to find sellers for Tidy St and Aldershot Road in a hurry.
Monday 25 April 1994, London
I leave for Brussels in a few hours. I will be away for nine days this time. I hope that by the time I come back, a week on Wednesday, I will have done a fair amount more on the book (Management Report). I worked hard through the previous weekend and the start of the week, but Thursday and Friday, I just gave up on the writing and gravitated towards the far easier work involved in doing my accounts. I find it marginally worrying that I tend to think more about the marketing of the new book than about editorial ideas.
We have just completed a Totally-Tidy Weekend (TTW). Here at 13 Aldershot Road, Kilburn, Adam has moved into the upstairs bedroom (he may be the last occupant in a long line of estimable fellows which includes - Judy and Rob, Julian, Caroline Heming, and Barbara). Barbara has moved down to share my bedroom but, at the same time, has taken over other parts of the house. Her ‘office’ is now in the parlour where Adam’s bed used to be, and she has most use of the bureau in the sitting room. This is a further stage in the slow integration of our lives. Even now we would not choose to share a bedroom, and B has not given her room up for nothing. But our son, our super son, has been laying claim to huge tracts of territory around the house, by building dens everywhere. This was clearly an unconscious response to not having a room of his own. The benefit for us is that all his territorial ambitions (not to mention his toys and books and cards) are now contained within one room, leaving B and I to enjoy relative tidiness throughout all the other rooms in the house. During the TTW, we not only set Adam up in his new room, with all his possessions tidy, but we tidied up the downstairs and upstairs corridors, and cleaned up the parlour and linen cupboard. One can now walk around the house and, occasionally see an empty shelf!
Julian accompanied me to Guildford to see the St Catherine’s School House. The house proved quite up to expectations (the agent’s details had portrayed it fairly) and it was delightful, but several problems came to light: the nearest school is a car drive away, through the centre of Guildford; the actual living quarters are no bigger than that of a smallish three bedroom house; one needs to go through the yard to get to the two-roomed studio (which could be let separately) and to the school hall; two rooms only service the school hall and are not connected to any other part of the house; and the garden is a little too small.
Paul K Lyons
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