JOURNAL - 1994 - AUGUST
DIARY 52: August 1994 - March 1995
Saturday 6 August 1994, London
This is my first touch of a computer keyboard for over a month. I was getting serious problems with my right arm and wrist and was forced to cut down substantially on keyboard work, and to use my left hand for mouse work. I therefore decided not to take the Tosh on holiday as I usually do, and to have a complete computer-break. As a consequence of the muscle trouble, this is probably my first journal entry for nearly a month, and the longest single gap for many years.
My arms, legs and face are all tanned reddy-brown, less with straight doses of sun, and more with the combination of sun, sea and wind. We are all weathered after a week on a wonderfully quiet part of the Cornwall coast. I’ll start catching up by recording some of the time spent in Cornwall. However, the diary is always best served when holiday/travel entries are written fresh, fresh with the smell of the drying seaweed, or the dew between one’s toes, or a wide and distant panorama still sparkling in the eyes.
For the first time we stayed in a National Trust cottage, which I organised early on in the year. Now that Adam is a fully-fledged schoolboy, we must take holidays in the school’s holidays, and that means planning further in advance as the demand is much greater, and cottage prices are much higher - our cottage cost £375 for a week; the same place costs under £200 during the spring. We set off at 6am on Friday morning and slogged our way down the M4 and M5 to Plymouth, stopping just the once. I had put together a number of tapes, plays for B and I (‘Dancing at Lughnasa’) and for A (‘Blood and Thunder on Hurricane Peak’), which helped the time go by.
Once in Plymouth, I persuaded B she should visit her Aunt Ruth and Uncle George, who she hasn’t seen for over 10 years. B herself prevaricated but they were so close to where we first stopped on our way in to Plymouth that it seemed a pity not to take the opportunity. George is the brother of B’s father Les, and was most concerned to discover how fit Les was - whether he still could drive, whether he wore a hearing aid and so on. But Ruth did most of the talking, and it was Ruth who has recently started writing to Barbara again. I was pleased to see a picture of Adam on one of their windowsills, but they have three children of their own, all with children as well - so that she has six grandchildren, I think. Ruth did seem to have an extensive knowledge about all the people of B’s childhood, not only relations but friends who had lived in the same street as Barbara. Les was the youngest of the family and only two of them have survived into old age.
We were not due to enter our cottage until 3:30pm so we drove down to the centre of Plymouth and walked on the Hoe. This is a glorious place, one that I have never visited before. A large expanse of undulating park overlooking the busy natural harbour area - lots of activity with people swimming, ferries coming and going, fishing vessels, rowing boats. The Hoe itself has a fairground, a lighthouse tower (50p to climb the steps and see the view), as well as benches, walkways, and, below, the Plymouth Dome, a Heritage tourist attraction with lots of information about the history of Plymouth and its shipping traditions. We lay on the grass near the lighthouse and ate our skimpy picnic.
We found out that children six years and under could visit the attractions for free, so I dared Adam to go up the lighthouse tower on his own. We could see people looking out from the balcony at the top, and there was clearly no danger for Adam, or none that I could perceive. B was shocked but I insisted saying we actually have very few opportunities in London to allow Adam to do things under his own steam, and here was a perfect opportunity. He rushed off, and a few minutes later we saw him at the top waving to us. However, when, after about ten minutes, he still didn’t appear at the bottom again, B was urging me to go and look for him, and, against my own better instincts, I felt I should go and check that he hadn’t fall down the steep curling steps inside. But, before I’d barely got up, he came charging out of the doorway all smiles. He came back and said how much he’d loved it, and then said he wanted to go back up again. So off he went.
After the pleasures of the Hoe, we had to face the trial of doing some shopping for Adam’s birthday in Plymouth town centre. B ‘did’ Toys-R-Us, and Adam and I ‘did’ the high streets shops. B bought Cleudo, a spade, a water pistol, and a beautiful book of ghost stories; without Adam knowing, I bought a penknife, a watch and a camera. Adam is responsible enough, I feel, to give him adult things; there is a place for children’s things but they are always limited in scope and restrict the way a child can approach the topic - I’m thinking of the child’s microscope and binoculars we bought Adam from the Learning Centre; we would have been better served buying him real but cheap adult ones. While on holiday, Adam used up a reel of film and took the photos quite sensibly. The Olympus camera I bought could last him for years. One might think that seven is too young to own a proper penknife, but again I thought Adam could learn to use it; he might cut himself but there is no substitute for experience, and a small cut now will teach him how to use knives better than any teaching from me. In fact, Adam loved his penknife, played with it all week, and didn’t cut himself once. Unfortunately, I lost the knife, and had to buy him another one. The first, the one I bought in Plymouth, was an imitation Swiss army knife, had lots of gadgets but wasn’t very sharp, and cost just £3. The only replacement I could find in Fowey was a real Swiss army knife, had less gadgets, very sharp blades, and cost three times as much. Such is the irony of life, always and everywhere.
After Plymouth, we made a brief stop at a giant Safeways, outside Liskeard, and then arrived at Triggabrowne cottages close to 4pm. There were a number of greystone farm buildings clustered around a drive, all but one of them converted for cottage renting. We had to walk across a sheep field and past ducks and geese to gain access to our house, which was slightly set apart from the other buildings. The building, which contains two cottages, has its own lawn sloping sharply down from the house to a gate to the animals’ field; a rose hedge divides the lawn in two providing some privacy for the two cottages. The house itself was cute and near perfect for our needs, with a comfortable lounge, a well-equipped kitchen (except for a sharp bread knife, how one longs for a sharp knife when one doesn’t have one) a bathroom, and three bedrooms upstairs. Views of rolling green fields and hedgerows from every window! What a relief to be out of London! One of our neighbours explained that there were two beaches, one each way, within a 15-minute walk. We unpacked quickly and raced off to one of them.
As I sit here in London now, I can trace in my mind the beautiful walks to both beaches, and recall the detail of the beaches and the rocks we clambered over. Apart from two days, when I had a problem with a tendon which made walking difficult, I swam every morning and every evening at one of these two beaches. In the mornings, we would jog down altogether and invariably find the beach empty enough to swim without clothes; and, in the late afternoon or early evening, there would usually be only one or two people. These walks and the time spent on these superb empty beaches were glorious, glorious.
By choosing to rent a cottage connected with others, I hoped that there would be other children for Adam to play with. The situation was perfect in this regard with five or six other cottages (some converted from a barn and some converted from the old farmhouse) and with the gardens and picnic benches, and the field. And there were several other children staying there. But, somehow, because our cottage was a bit apart, and because our schedules were different, Adam never seemed to be out playing when they were; so that by the end of the week he hadn’t played with any other children at all - not in the gardens or on the beach. He did, however, have a marvellous time. As usual on holiday, he was up and active almost as many hours as we were, and was certainly more energetic most of the time. Apart from our early morning jogs to the beach, Adam and I also went snail hunting before breakfast. A became increasingly obsessed with snails, which could be found in their hundreds and thousands crawling over the dew-wet hedgerows in the mornings. Before the week was half over, A had discovered the dubious pleasure of letting snails crawl across his hand. When picking them off the ivy or nettle leaves, the snails retreat into their shells but when put on warm flesh they come out again and crawl around. Adam revelled in the slimy feelings. But once, when he had about six on his hand, he felt a little nip and dropped them all at once. He soon recovered from that experience and put the smaller ones, which we nicknamed humbug snails, back on his hand, and left the larger garden snails in peace. Adam won an early commitment from me that we could bring a few Cornish snails back to London, so we rigged up a home for them, with a variety of wet leaves, in an old jam jar. I hope the hardened hedgerow snails won’t breed and gobble up my garden.
I thought about Stephen Jay Gould once or twice since snails are his obsession and he uses them to study evolution. I tried to recall the essays he’d written about them but couldn’t think of any specifics, except that he talked once about one snail population driving out another. I couldn’t imagine how snails could be driven out of the hedgerow habitat we were monitoring each day, because there seemed so much food, and so few predators. But I’ve just looked gastropods up in the encyclopaedia to discover that there are some 50,000 species and that there are plenty of carnivorous types - although I doubt any of the ones we had collected were Adam-eaters.
Rock-climbing became another obsession of Adam’s. He was very keen to swim with me whenever we went to the beach, although after the first two days, the sea never became calm again, and the waves were too strong for swimming and only suitable for dashing away from the waves. Instead Adam always wanted to climb the rocks. We would clamber over loads of rocks to get to some of the more hidden coves, I would then swim and Adam would play about on the rocks, and then he would chirp ‘Can we go rock-climbing Daddy?’ as if we hadn’t seen a rock all day. Nevertheless, we did a lot of climbing over rocks, and Adam became really quite good at it. He never fell once, never got stuck (he thought he had several times but when I didn’t come to his aid he found a way up or down), nor did he cut his hand, yet we attempted quite difficult routes over the rocks.
While I’m on the subject, Adam also made friends with the sheep. They were not afraid of each other, and he managed, on occasions to get himself surrounded by half a dozen of the gentle creatures and feed them with grass he had pulled up himself. He was less taken with the geese, some of which would charge at him (and us) with open mouths and making the most aggressive of noises. The chickens were more friendly and came into our garden by hopping over the gate, but they always returned to their pen for supper. The ducks were shy, and retreated to the back of their pond if we came too near. Adam named one of the sheep Jim and was always looking out for him whenever he had to cross the field to the car or to leave on a walk; he was a bit distressed when Jim wouldn’t stand still to have his photo to taken.
Triggabrowne stands about two miles from the small town Polruan which faces the larger and more popular town Fowey across the Fowey estuary. Barbara remembers Fowey from her childhood in Plymouth but I have never been to this area in my life. On our first full day (Saturday), after a jog, a swim and a cooked breakfast, we strolled to the rather lovely church at Llanteglos-by-Fowey, the tower of which has been visible to us most of the week during our walks to the beach. It has a typical-for-Cornwall wagon-type ceiling that looks like the inside of a giant barrel. I’ve not seen them before, or at least I cannot remember seeing them before. In the churchyard, we found a number of prominent gravestones with the same surname. On closer examination we found that the name was that of the vicar in Victorian times, and that five out of his seven or eight children had died between 25 and 40 years old, and without being married. If I’d seen someone I would have asked what they died of and why. We walked on through the churchyard, through the woods to meet up with Pont Pill and follow it until we reached Polruan. We then crossed over on the small ferry passenger ferry that motors across, backwards and forwards all day throughout the year. At 45p for an adult and 25p for a child it seems quite cheap, but the ride only takes five minutes, and if three of us went over to Fowey and back twice in a day, the total cost would be £4.40.
Fowey and Polruan are like a model version of Dartmouth and Kingswear (which was the location of our holiday last year) in the way they cling to the hillsides over a narrow tidal estuary. But Fowey and Polruan are Cornish fishing villages, and Dartmouth is a significant port town. Dartmouth was more a real place, and as such was more interesting to explore. Fowey and Polruan, by contrast, are simply tourist attractions - relatively unspoilt next to other Cornish villages such as Polperro or Mevagissey - but tourist spots nevertheless. We explored Fowey and the two quays before making a poor choice for lunch. After we took the ferry back and marched up the formidable Fore Street, the backbone of Polruan, and joined the coastal footpath to walk back to Triggabrowne. Despite being mid-summer and a weekend, we saw only a few other walkers on the footpath; and there are such beautiful views. As we traversed Blackbottle Rock, I felt a story coming on and began to tell Adam about my Uncle Tim’s grandfather.
Sunday 7 August 1994, London
It would have been nice to have a dateline - Cornwall, or Triggabrowne, or Llanteglos-by-Fowey - but alas London it is and London/Brussels/Brighton it will remain for the foreseeable future. There is an offer on the Tidy Street house at £71,000 and the sale is moving ahead. We have engaged Norman Beckman once again (Stephen Friday does the work), but neither B nor I are yet planning on the sale going ahead because the survey has not yet been completed. The estate agent, aware that a survey caused the last buyer to pull out, has deliberately managed this offer in such a way that both we and the buyer become as committed as possible (through solicitor costs) so that we have the greatest incentive to come to agreement after the survey.
This afternoon, Mum and Julian’s family are coming over to tea so they can give Adam his birthday presents. Melanie was invited but Phoebe is with Julian this weekend and she preferred not to come. I have swept up the garden in the hope that the weather will stay fine and we can have our pseudo-Cornish cream teas outside. In August the garden always looks dried and jaded - the honeysuckle and clematis climbers have lost all their freshness and vigour, the apple tree is directing every last bit of energy into the fruit, and the leaves are all curled up and ready to die.
For the first day and a half of our holiday we had hot sunny weather, but it broke on Sunday afternoon during our walk along the Fowey from Lerryn to St Winnow, at the most inopportune moment. After a jog, a swim on the beach and a cooked breakfast, we didn’t get out on the main business of the day until after 10. We drove a short distance to a small pleasant river-side village, Lerryn, and left the car in a handy carpark. My Ordnance Survey book of Cornwall walks described a five mile tour along the river and over the hills back to Lerryn. A National Trust leaflet we found in the cottage also described the same walk. We didn’t take any provisions because I thought we could complete the walk in time to lunch in the Lerryn pub. The path took us along the river bank and then through the woods above the river. At St Winnow point, where a tributary joins the Fowey proper, Adam used his new fishing net for the first time and caught a small creature immediately (but never caught anything again during the week). The sky had darkened by the time we reached the tiny hamlet of St Winnow, with not much more than a church and the remnants of a five-hundred year old orchard. From thence, we set off on the pubward stretch across the hills. Unfortunately, the path became increasingly difficult to follow and, eventually, gave out on us. We struggled through brambles, tripped along sheep tracks that went nowhere, and fought our way through waste-high wheat fields to find there was no way of traversing the high hedgerow boundaries. We’d lost all sight of the river valley, and my maps didn’t help me find a bearing relative to the hill contours and marked woods. And to add to our short-lived misery, the rain began to tumble down soaking us right through. In all my recent walking trips I can’t remember being quite so lost and disorientated. I got really cross with myself, and was determined not to go directly back to St Winnow, but as we kept trying to cut across to where I though the path must be, so we kept coming up against dead ends. In the end, soaked and dejected, we returned exactly the way we came to St Winnow, and were obliged to follow the same path back to Lerryn as we had taken on our way out. In St Winnow we sheltered in the church porch along with some other hikers, and, to my slight relief, one of them told us how it was common knowledge that the field-walk from St Winnow was difficult to find; she herself had got lost years ago on the same route. Once I had accepted that we had to walk back along the river and that we’d missed lunch, the rain stopped and we were almost dry by the time we got back to the car. The walk went swiftly as I told several more chapters from the ‘Blackbottle Rock Chronicles’.
Monday 8 August 1994, London
Barbara thinks I crooked my ankle when jumping down from the wall of a ruined building which I’d climbed to try and get a better bearing of where we were on the St Winnow walk, but my yelp, as I remember it, was more to do with the stinging nettles than landing badly. Both Adam and I had were stung badly on different days; I had forgotten that the sting lasts quite a long time, but it is not an unpleasant sting. One is aware of it all the time, but the actual feeling is a tingling which teases rather than hurts. We tried rubbing dock leaves on the wounds but I couldn’t work out whether it made any difference or not.
But I did crook my ankle - a tendon or hamstring, I’ve really no idea - because on Monday I started to feel it, on Tuesday it got worse and stopped me doing much, and on Wednesday it stopped me going anywhere at all. It was an unusual injury for me and must be yet another sign of age making me and my bones daily less hardy and more vulnerable. Fortunately, the injury came when the weather was least conducive to being outside.
I had planned one of my long 15-20 mile walks for Monday, but the weather was so miserable first thing in the morning and I was already feeling depleted after a weekend of much activity, that I decided instead we should all go and visit the lost gardens of Heligan, information about which we’d picked up from one of the many leaflets one finds in tourist areas. Barbara agreed that it was sensible to do the gardens as an antidote to the weather. We had to drive beyond Fowey and St Austell but it wasn’t that far and so we arrived a little after opening time.
The story of Heligan is not uninteresting and most of the pleasure of the visit lay in absorbing the details of how the garden had been, and is being, restored after being left untended for 70 years. A Dutch archeologist called Timothy Bartel Smit is credited with discovering the garden and leading the restoration effort, just two years ago. Many of the special plants brought back from the far seas by intrepid Victorian explorers were still alive under a mass of undergrowth and fallen timbers. And the gardeners say it was a wonderful surprise to see dormant seeds come to life, when the beds had access to sunlight once again. They have also uncovered many of the original features such as a crystal grotto, a fountain, special water works designed to provide a damp place for ferns, and, importantly, the pathways which were still in good condition when uncovered properly. Many of the original garden buildings are being restored - tool sheds, potting sheds, special pineapple and banana growing constructions, fruit stores etc. - and the team is aiming to develop an open museum of Victorian gardening practices around the central area of buildings between the vegetable and flower gardens. The former is already up and running but the latter still needs a lot of work.
After Heligan we drove to Mevagissey, which B says we may have visited when we came to Cornwall together many years ago. I cannot remember and neither of us can remember which year it was and I cannot find any journal entries. In any case, our second visit was as memorable as our first. The fishing village was choc-a-bloc with tourists and, as usual, there was nowhere easy to park. It was easy, though, to get the car trapped in the narrow lanes, so I quickly found the way out and parked at the top of the hill. The walk down was steep and uninteresting (no views) and Adam raced on head only to slip and scrape his knee badly on a paving stone covered in dog shit! We headed straight for the chemist to buy antiseptic wipes, had a brief look at the harbour, along with a thousand other chip-eating, ice cream-eating visitors, before heading back up the same uninteresting steep road.
Back to Fowey. A and I took a trip down to the local beach for a swim and a rock climb. We saw a man and three girls (his daughters we supposed) were swimming in a gully between the rocks. As we approached them, the girls finished swimming, and then we saw a large purple jelly fish, almost a foot in diameter. The man borrowed Adam’s spade to pull it out and have a closer look, but I think he pierced it mortally with the metal edge of the spade and it bled and seeped a grimy fudge colour on the rocks. We examined its long silk thread-like tentacles but they are futile out of water and have no logic to them at all - yet in the water they are so graceful.
Wednesday 10 August 1994, London
Last night B and I went to the Albert Hall for a prom - Webern’s ‘Passacaglia’, Beethoven’s ‘Emperor piano concerto’, Sibelius’s ‘En Saga’, and a new work - Symphony 5 - by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. I didn’t like the Webern but it was a pleasure to hear the popular Beethoven; I noticed how repetitive it is and how the music rolls along like the British country-side with its majestic themes. Andreas Haefliger, a young German/Swiss man, played the piano with some flamboyance. The Sibelius simply reminded me of Symphony 4, there were long passages which I found indistinguishable. Maxwell Davies conducted his own world premiere - he’s a bit like noddy on the rostrum - and I was impressed. The one-movement symphony contained lovely quiet passages. I would like to say more about it but I am so ignorant when it comes to music. I liked it. I would like to have it on tape and wished I’d organised for Mum (who was Adam-sitting) to record it.
A grey day this morning. The mornings and evenings are already getting darker. It is such a shock that the start of August - which is the middle of summer in our shared cultural belief, summer being in the middle of the year - is really the beginning of autumn and two-thirds of the way through the year.
Adam broke his new fountain pen yesterday morning so I had a cross day. I got even crosser when he did his lessons poorly. Later in the morning when he thought I ought to be thawing (I must use that in a book sometime ‘he thought I ought to be thawing’ - guffaw, guffaw) he came up to me and said: ‘Daddy, you know you said I was under a cloud, well there it is’ and he pointed above his head, ‘and now it’s raining. And now the cloud’s gone away. Is that all right Daddy.’ Sweet boy. I made him write an apology to Grandma who bought the pen. I would not have been so cross but for the fact that I had very carefully told him, not once but three times, never ever use the back of a fountain pen nib.
Fiona called round on Tuesday afternoon. She has been posted to Singapore and got herself a staff position with AP/Dow Jones. I gave her a reference when she moved to AP/Dow Jones in Brussels and, I recall that her boss there - Peter somebody or other - rang me and wanted more details. I will be sorry to lose my one consistent friend in Brussels.
Because Adam hadn’t been to the park all day and has been asking to try out his new kite, I took Fiona, Adam and Georgie (Mum’s dog who I’d collected earlier) to Queen’s Park. It sure was blowy and I was convinced that we would never get the kite home in one piece. Every time Adam took hold of the handle and string, he thought he had to dance and run around, regardless of what the kite was doing. The unusual technique worked quite well but he ran the string across people once and got it tangled another time.
Mum was already waiting when we got back, and I had to contend with Fiona, Mum, Adam and Georgie while get myself ready to drive to the Albert Hall to meet Barbara. Usually when Mum comes to babysit, we prepare something for her to eat and, at least, tidy the place. But I am moving slowly into production mode on the book, and when I get into production mode, somehow, I read less, I write my journal less (I’m making a special effort now to catch up) and do less work round the house. Adam is wonderful, for being so undemanding. All this week, I have barely spent half an hour with him during the day.
Why do I record these fatuous details? Because that is my life, nothing more, nothing less. This is where I am.
Thursday 11 August 1994, London
Thunderstorms, torrential rain, the sky and air are clearer tonight. I notice the mahonia, which has, for so long, enjoyed strident growth in the darkest part of my garden near the French doors of my bedroom, has finally grown so tall that the heavy rain has buckled it to one side. It looks like an old man this evening, with its children by its side already looking middle-aged.
What a foul day - I don’t know if it was the change in weather, the large coffee I had yesterday, or the concentrated scanning I did at the Commission library this morning, but I had a terrible headache all afternoon and was unable to work, or play with Adam. Such headaches are so debilitating but I don’t get them very often any more.
The sale of Tidy Street is running into trouble. The prospective buyer had a survey done last week, and the estate agent says the buyer’s solicitor is talking about ‘a lot of problems’.
Sunday 14 August 1994, London
A and B are in Brighton. The weather is cooler than of late but bright. I am working on the penultimate proofs of my business report although I have taken time off to look carefully at the box of my father’s papers and documents sent to me by Gail. There is much to say about them and the emotions they stir in me but I do not have time now and will return to them later in the year.
Fiona telephoned to tell me that I would not be able to take over her flat since I am not a Belgian resident. For just a couple of days, I had a flicker of hope for change - I could see us selling Tidy Street, I could see me taking the furniture to Brussels and furnishing the three-bedroomed flat, and I could see me much more comfortably settled there. For the first time in many moons, I thought of the Moody Blues song I used to love over twenty years ago, and the line ‘when the tide rushes in and washes my castles away’.
The Cornwall holiday is now receding fast into the distance. Is there anything else to recall? I rested my ankle for two days so that by Thursday it was as right as rain, or as right as rain enough to resume normal walking activities. On Thursday the sun returned and we spent a long time on the beach before breakfast, swimming and playing on the sand. Before returning we walked to the tip of Pencarrow Head to revel in the views both east and west and in the sheer drop below the rocks. As usual I cooked breakfast. Sausages, egg and beans on toast for Adam and I, and egg on toast for Barbara, all followed by heaps of hot buttered toast and jam and endless cups of tea.
We spent half the afternoon at a local garden which clings cleverly to a steep plot of land on the headland in Polruan. On arriving, a chap, not dissimilar to Sasha, bludgeoned us into ordering and paying for a cream tea to be ready at 3:30 after we had looked around the garden. This garden ‘Headland’ is only an amateur affair and open during the summer on Thursday afternoons. It was not very interesting botanically, but a lot of work had gone into it at some time or other in building the terraces and the access paths that wind backwards and forwards down the hillside towards a little private cove and beach. The pleasure is in the views and the surprising number of hidden garden areas. Adam played on the beach, and I took a swim in my underpants before returning for our cream tea. This was a bit of a disappointment since the cream tea consisted of two tiny and insubstantial cold bridge rolls and a smidgen of cream and jam.
B elected to go shopping in Fowey after, while Adam and I strolled around the Fowey peninsula round the outside of the Menabilly Estate, which is better known as Mandalay in Daphne du Maurier’s famous book ‘Rebecca’. We found another beach and had another swim (our third of the day) and another play on the rocks. On returning across the hills we were plagued by flies. I told the last chapter of the ‘Blackbottle Rock Cave’ story but on Adam’s insistence, I had to open a second book: the first book is composed of the stories that Uncle Tim’s grandfather Claus told him; the second book is Uncle Tim’s adventures in Blackbottle Rock Cave; and the third book, if ever we get there, will be my own invented adventures. The idea is to end the three books with the treasure still hidden in Blackbottle Rock Cave and clues as to how Adam, the fifth generation, could finally solve the puzzle. Since returning from Cornwall, however, all the atmosphere has gone and we’ve not had any story-telling sessions.
More than ever before, it was a struggle to get Adam to write and draw his diary. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, this is the first year that he is writing it himself - it is hard to believe that 12 months ago he couldn’t write at all, and now he can write very well. But, it takes him time, and it is hard work for him. Secondly, this is the first time we have gone on holiday in the summer when the weather is so fine and when there is so much light that there is little incentive to stay indoors. The only time he succeeded in catching up was during the two days of lousy weather. We have managed to get most of it written during the last week, and he has done some nice drawings. We are now waiting for the return of his first ever film of photographs, and then we can make up his holiday diary using the writing, the drawings and the photos.
12 07 Tuesday 23 August 1994, Brighton
Proofreading in Brighton. My life has been nothing but proofreading for weeks and weeks. I thought I was close to the end when I printed out what I called M3 proofs of the entire 160-page book, but I am making corrections all over the page, on every page. So, I will have to produce M4 proofs and read them again before printing out the finals. I remember with relish the feeling of finishing the first drafts of my two earlier management reports for the FT, knowing that I would not be responsible for editing and proofreading; my life at the FT was one long round of proofreading - ‘European Energy Report’, ‘East European Energy Report’, ‘EC Energy Monthly’, country profiles, advertising copy etc. But proofreading a book is another experience entirely. I realise now, I have not actually done it before.
At least I have set a printing schedule which means I have real deadlines and the whole business should be completed at roughly the same time as the next issue of ‘EC Inform-Energy’, within two weeks. After that I will have to focus on publicising the book, and on extending the marketing beyond the first brochure mailing.
I have sent a letter to John McLachlan asking whether the FT might be interested in selling ‘EC Energy Monthly’. The letter has been written for some months, but I have not felt ready to send it. I have now dispatched it for no other reason than I want to establish, before any public announcement of my new book, that EC Inform and the FT are competitors in the marketplace, and that no one could legitimately expect me to revise the FT Management Report on EC energy policy. I have written an article for ‘The European’ on plutonium smuggling thanks to Lucy Walker who asked me to do it (as a favour I’m sure). I would have been content with an accreditation for ‘EC Inform-Energy’, but she wanted to mention the book, I think so as to help convince her colleagues that I am a bonafide specialist in the area. I didn’t really feel qualified to write the story but Lucy pressed me and I did have the new Euratom safeguards report which had some relevant facts in it. Any how, because the story has escalated since Lucy first asked me to do it and there have been daily developments, I suspect she won’t be able to use it (and I’ll have wasted the best part of last Friday).
In any case, the exercise proved a useful spur to mail the letter to John. I decided I would have to send it sometime and now was as good a time as any. If by any chance the FT is interested in selling at below £100,000, which seems unlikely, and if by any lucky coincidence my book does its job and brings in more subs, then this would happen at the time I am negotiating with the FT.
Adam is at the Hove Summer Camp, and I must leave in a moment to collect him. Yesterday was the first time I’ve taken him to such a place. The camp costs £10 a day from 9:00 to 3:30 and serves 5-13 year olds. They get four play periods during the day which can be sports: football, cricket, baseball; or they can go swimming, or they can use the arts and crafts room to make pottery or paint; or they can spend the time in the gym bouncing on the trampoline or climbing apparatus. It is not the activities which seem the most important reason for him attending, but contact with other children. On the first day, Adam came home saying he had made two friends but today they were off quad-biking which is only for eight year olds; today, he said, he made another friend - a ten year old! After picking a good variety of activities on Monday - pottery, gym, and playground; all he’s done today is swimming and football.
I saw him come off the playing fields at the end of the day, and most of the children were teenagers or over. I asked him how the teams were chosen and he said two captains were picked and they selected who they wanted on their sides; but nobody wanted Adam so the supervisor had to decide which team he played with. But, Adam seems completely non-plussed by this embarrassment and claims to have so loved playing football that he will choose it again tomorrow. I will let him go one more day, but then I must get back to London. There are just so many corrections on the proofs that it will take me days, and more days to check corrections.
In the meantime, B and I are awaiting a response from the prospective buyer of Tidy Street. After her survey, we have dropped the price by £2,000 to £69,000 and this is our limit. She indicated that she wanted £6,000 off but the house is not worth so little. If she pulls out, we will have to start again. If she decides to continue, then all hell will break lose, since we have nowhere to move the furniture, and very little time in which to pack.
13 45 Wednesday 24 August 1994, Brighton
I cannot believe how much of my life this book has absorbed - an entire six months and most of the summer. It is 50% longer than my first EC energy policy book (for the FT), and I am having to do all the editorial and production work. I oscillate between suspecting it will only sell 10 or 20 and hoping that it will attract some media attention and sell over 100. But I am so fed up with it, and every time I read it, I can barely understand what I have written - every chapter sounds like double dutch to me.
Wish list for the autumn - a two-three day walk; a night class in ???; lots of reading; some time spent on my own writings.
I have had this little Toshiba portable for over four years now, and she’s served me very well all things considering. I gave up travelling with her quite early on because the extra weight is a pain in the shoulders and she can’t be used for very long without being plugged in; nevertheless, it has been invaluable to have a portable computer, especially for use here in Brighton, but also for when we go on holiday, and just to be able to sit and work in another room at home apart from the study. She never crashes, she never breaks down, and her keyboard remains as soft and friendly as ever. The only problem has been the unreliability of the battery and the need to charge it up before turning her on.
I should record a conversation with Barbara during the weekend after our holiday. We have decided to do the following. As soon as B has sold this house in Tidy Street, Brighton, then I shall look to buy a place somewhere in Surrey near Wisley in which Adam and I will live. Once I have purchased somewhere then B will look to buy or rent a place as near as she can to us. Once we are both newly installed, B will look after Adam at her house as often as they both want, at least every other weekend and several times during the week. While I am in Brussels, B will endeavour to take full responsibility for Adam so that when I am not in Brussels he can spend more time with me - in other words, for half the month he will be mostly with B and for the other half he will be mostly with me.
This is an inadequate arrangement as far as I am concerned but I can see none better. I have to move to the green belt, which I hate, and am moving to the Wisley area simply and solely because Barbara’s job will be there. The fact is that, despite there being several potential solutions to our dilemma, there are none that work in practice. Neither I nor B want Adam trailing half way across the country every weekend, yet neither of us is prepared to give up majority custody. I feel strongly that Adam very much needs my input during the next few years, and that Adam would suffer if he didn’t get a regular and consistent time with Barbara. Therefore, the only possible solution, is that B and I live near each other for the interim. I think this will change when Adam can travel on his own, but for the next stage we have to live with the logistical limitations. So, given that B will follow me wherever I were to move, I have no choice but to move where she has a job for the next few years, and that’s Wisley. Despite all our relative riches of about £200,000 in cash, we are both going to have - in the prime green belt surrey region - less room and space than we have at present.
Will I, when I’m older, be content that Adam has absorbed so much of my middle-age. I am blinkered by every aspect of him: he controls my social life, where I live, my daily movements; and yet I cannot conceive what else I would do. That is part of the trap of parenthood. Such a lot of my life’s eggs in one fragile little basket of a whippersnapper.
England won a test match last week, against South Africa, which allowed us to draw the three-match series - three cheers. Devon Malcom entered the record books with eight wickets for 57 runs in the second innings. The countries of the United Kingdom are doing well in the Commonwealth Games with golds for Christie, Gillingham, and Colin Jackson. The football season has started and we’re well on our way towards Christmas. With what speed my life is landsliding away.
17 52 Sunday 28 August 1994, London
This is the end of the summer. You can feel the change in the weather as it happens. The sun may be shining, but when it’s not it starts to get to chilly. I haven’t put the central heating on yet, but I may do soon. You can feel the winds coming, pushing the summer out of focus and bringing in the autumn weather behind it. I know it is the end of summer also because I leave for Brussels on Tuesday to start the monthly cycle of trips. Apart from the delightful week in Cornwall, I have worked fairly solidly throughout the summer on my book. It is in good shape now, I am reading it for a very last time, and I am quite satisfied. Within a week or so, it should be at the printers and I will have to concentrate on the marketing.
I listen to Dr Anthony Clare, the radio psychologist, interview Susan Howatch. I hardly know her name, and I certainly have never read any of her books. Nevertheless, I found the programme interesting. (I was going to say rivetting but I used the word rivetting to describe a compilation of clips from 1960s Tom Jones shows I saw late last night on BBC2 which was part of the Lew Grade evening. I and all my friends completely dismissed Jones when we were young, but it was rivetting to see now with what energy he sang, and the quality of his guests, and their hairstyles and dress.) Susan Howatch was not a rivetting listen but she was interesting. Firstly, she comes across as a rather angular and prickly person without many saving graces, and one doesn’t often meet people on radio or TV who haven’t managed to find a likeable media image. Secondly, her father died when she was four and she talked about how deeply this had affected her whole character. Clare also drew on her on the connection between sex and creativity. She said that writing gave her as much pleasure as orgasms, and Clare, who had read that she was celibate, suggested that celibacy might be easier to deal with if a person has an outlet for sexual urges. Howatch went along with this some way, but when Clare tried to pin her down, she referred back to her marriage and how she was able to have real sex with her husband alongside the highs of writing creatively. I do usually catch ‘In the psychiatrist’s chair’ by chance (I have the radio on so often), but I should make a more determined effort to listen to it, it is one of the best programmes on radio.
The Notting Hill Carnival is on down the road. I think I should go and have a look, like I did last year. Go for a windy cycle ride on this fine late-August evening.
Paul K Lyons
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