JOURNAL - 1994 - MAY
Friday 6 May 1994, London
My beard is off and my hair is long, longer than its been for many years. I’m not exactly sure why I’m growing it so long, maybe I just can’t get to a barber. The psoriasis on my head doesn’t change, but the psoriasis on the sides of my nose is the worst it’s ever been. I have been eating plenty of mackerel, washing with coal tar soap, and I even had a good solid dose of sun on my face for an hour last weekend - all things that I assume help keep the psoriasis at bay. But still I have it. The only slightly different aspect to my life at present is the amount of time I am spending in front of computer screens, because of the book, and so maybe that’s what’s causing the outbreak.
I receive my Smith’s Academy Informer which informs me that Westbrook is playing his Big Band Rossini in Ljubljana on 28 May. So, I write a card to Maja telling her to go and see him and celebrate my birthday at the same time. Kate Westbrook is also launching a new show later this month as part of the London Jazz Festival, so I’ve booked up to go and see it. I’m a true fan and always enjoy looking forward to a Westbrook concert.
I worked quite hard while I was in Brussels. I had so many interviews lined up that I spent a lot of time just doing the interviews. Sometimes I spent as much as 90 minutes with several senior officials in DGXVII, but the time wasn’t always so well spent me debating issues with the official rather than drawing out info. These days I even spend time with officials discussing the fate of other officials as well as internal Commission politics - all of it thrilling but of no use to my book or to my newsletter.
I got on well with the book at the weekend - working most of Saturday and Sunday. Because of all the meetings for the book, I also piled up plenty of material for the monthly newsletter (issue 16 coming out next week) without trying. Out of nine main chapters for the book, I have written a substantial chunk of six (about 30,000 words in all) and next I must write the bulk of the three others. Once that is done, I will start going through each chapter again, filling in the gaps (quite large ones in some places) and smoothing out the text. I must also think about my conclusions for each chapter. Unfortunately, I do not have that much time between newsletters - I am due back in Brussels two weeks this coming Wednesday.
A couple of EU energy issues are coming to the boil at the moment. The European Energy Charter Treaty could actually fly at the plenary meeting in Mid-May. There seems to be substantial approval on much of the compromise text put together by Charles Rutten and we are waiting for news of whether the Russians and the US will sign, the EU certainly will. If those three blocks sign then many other countries will sign and the Treaty will come into being when the signatories have ratified. If signed, it will pave the way for greater economic integration in the energy sector and be one of the most important international Treaties of the post-cold war era.
The connected issue of nuclear fuel trade (which has now been decoupled from the Treaty negotiations by Rutten’s compromise text, at least that is what Rutten says) may also be on route to a solution. Brittan discussed the issue in Moscow last Monday, and came back with a possible deal. His spokesman, Peter Guilford, a one time friend of Lucy’s, would tell me nothing about the deal, just that there was an exchange of letters being prepared that might solve the problem and unblock the negotiations on the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.
I had a chat with George Koutzoukos, the chairman of the energy working group during the Greek Presidency. He is one of my better contacts and is always pleased to talk to me, though during the Presidency it is hard to find him. He’s enjoying the chairmanship (all the counsellors do - at at least the ones I’ve been friendly with) and trying to pull the group round to some solid discussion on the electricity liberalisation issue and on the energy policy topic. I don’t think he will succeed though.
‘Short Cuts’ is an interesting film by Robert Altman based on short stories by US writer Raymond Carver. Altman’s last film, ‘The Player’, was excellent, and this one too was very good. Altman is a film-maker who revels in the art of making films. When he was younger he may have dabbled with trying to make films into art but he has matured. ‘Short Cuts’ follows the stories of 10 or 12 people whose lives interweave a lot or a little over a short space of time. We see real people from the real Los Angeles of today, with their hopes and failures concertinaed in a mesh of story-telling. It’s a film that gave me more to think about than most I see these days.
I didn’t read very much in Brussels this time, partly because I was working so much, and partly because I didn’t have a thriller that read itself to me (as it were). Mostly, I read ‘Eight Little Piggies’ by Stephen Jay Gould, his latest collection of essays but there is a limit to how much one can read at a sitting. The new McCormac book I bought was too dense to divert me off energy policy at nights. I listened to the radio a lot, even though there was nothing to listen to. On Saturday night I wondered around town listing to jazz in various arenas which were taking part in the extravaganza that is the Brussels Jazz Weekend. For a fiver you get a badge and can tour round hundreds of jazz venues all weekend. I didn’t recognise any of the jazz names nor any of the venues (my local Au Kaai and the Travers were not taking part) but still it attracts thousands of people and is a marvellous way to pass a weekend if you have nothing better to do.
The Tories have been trounced in the local elections. They got just 27% of the total vote, their lowest ever ever ever. The Lib Dems came in second place with 28% of the vote and Labour polled 42%. The Conservatives admitted a disappointment, a back bench MP said he would stand against Major in the autumn, and the other two parties claimed a great victory.
The other non-event of today was the official opening of the Channel Tunnel. The Queen and Mitterand travelled together through the tunnel in a storm of publicity but the project has been dogged by delays and won’t be opening properly for some months. This is news from last week but as I didn’t write my diary then, it hasn’t had a mention - the African National Congress is now the government in South Africa and Nelson Mandela the President. I think the ANC got more than 66% of the votes which means they have the right to rewrite the constitution without reference to any other party. It is quite unbelievable. The press did give the elections a lot of coverage, but I don’t feel I know enough. I don’t, for example, know how many blacks and white there are in the country and whether blacks voted for the national party and whites for the ANC or whether the votes were cast largely along colour lines - I’d like to know that, or at least have some idea about it. I also found the radio coverage rather flawed. Because Radio Four had several journalists and presenters out there, one could almost feel from their tone of voice that they wanted there to be violence so they had something meaty to report. While James Naughtie was broadcasting live, for example, he got word of an incident and I could feel him suddenly relish the prospect some news to get his teeth into.
Sunday 8 May 1994, London
It seems like every day there is a news story connected with some aspect of the Conservative party leadership. John Major’s cabinet is trying to pull together now with the European elections in June, but as soon as they are over, the unofficial hustings between Heseltine, Portillo and Clark will start up again. My bet is on a Heseltine leadership this year, an election next year, and John Smith as Prime Minister, with Paddy Ashdown in the cabinet before the end of 1995.
My mother is well, for a change. She took a holiday in the North of England with her family, and then a few days in Evesham with her friend Audrey Ford. She reports that her brother David Todd is more eccentric than ever. Brother John and wife June, by contrast, are expanding their market garden business, now that John is retired, and even selling genealogy services in their spare time.
Thursday 12 May 1994, London
Some fine weather has arrived and the garden has been full of spring for a couple of weeks - the honeysuckle has gone berserk in the corner behind the apple tree and has flowered wonderfully this year; sometimes it loses its first flowering because of black fly but some combination of weather and insect life cycles, I suppose, has meant this year the black fly didn’t arrive in time. Both my clematis, which covers the side of the house and has now grown round to decorate the back wall as well, and the similar clematis, from next door, which now grows into my yard and covers the dividing wall, are having a magnificent flowering year. After a barren year, in 1993, the apple tree has bloomed magnificently, the rosemarys have flowered properly for the first time ever, and the wygelias are in bud. And there is greenery in every nook and cranny of the yard, sufficient to provide food and cover for blackbirds, thrushes and sparrows.
ECI-E 16 is out of the way - only another ??? to go! I wish I knew how many, I wish I knew where I was going. It has been a bad week for cheques and orders and as usual when that happens I start to get maudlin. Overall, I think I am getting increasingly maudlin, though. In four months (one third of the year), I am only a net 15 subscribers up on my end 1993 total. Even if I can manage to keep this level up, I would not meet my very modest target of 160 for end-1994.
I arranged an evening out with Raoul and Andy, but this time Rosy came along and Raoul came late, and I was rather tired. I felt disgruntled on leaving, as I quite often do after talking with Rosy, she does get up my skin these days. Raoul has cancelled our two-day walking trip. Last autumn we so enjoyed our two-day trip together that we booked up another for the spring. It was difficult finding two days in both our diaries but we had settled on two days next week. I have a lot of work to get on with, and I probably couldn’t have afforded the time. Although that said I have wasted today entirely, sleeping and listening to the radio. It would have been far better to have worked hard today and taken a day or two off next week as planned and go walking on my own, for my rest, instead of lazing around.
There has been much to listen to on the radio today. John Smith, the leader of the opposition, died early this morning from a heart attack. All day long, the media has been interviewing the political circus. Everyone has something wonderful to say about him. Everyone knew him as a personal friend, everyone had known him for decades. I know that these politicians are full of hypocrisy and double standards, and that they like nothing better than to turn their public speaking skills (what skills do politicians have if not those of public speaking) to a new subject. But there was also a lot genuine, heart-felt statements from many, many colleagues. I can’t say I ever much liked the public man. He even seemed quite comic as he waddled around Westminster, with his thick set glasses and ugly stare. But from all accounts (and there have been many) he was a man of integrity and a great parliamentarian - another of the most able prime ministers the Labour Party never had.
I notice Snoo Wilson has a new play on at the Bush - about Darwin! What is it about Wilson, he seems to be living out my alter-life. I thought I’d dumped him a long time ago, when I gave up my travails into the mythology of our culture’s anti-heroes and secret obsessions. Now I find he’s dogged my footsteps across the divide back to science and to evolution.
18 39 Sunday 15 May 1994, Brighton
Adam and I have profited from the best of the weather this weekend. Soon after we arrived on Saturday morning, while it was still fine, we strolled down to the beach. The water looked inviting and there was no chill wind blowing so I decided to have a swim. The water was cold but after a few minutes and dousing myself and letting my body get used to the temperature, I was swimming around as though it were a hot summer’s day. Adam joined in too and enjoyed himself immensely at the water’s edge. We were virtually the only people on the beach. Afterwards we treated ourself to a snack at Food for Friends and sat in the window talking about the people passing by.
Barbara has not come with us this weekend, although I’m not exactly sure why. It was probably for the best.
The artificial deadline I set for moving by this summer is now breached. There appears to be no chance that we will sell this house, decide on where to move to, and finalise buying a new property in time for Adam to start a new school in the new school year. With that deadline breached, I may as well think about staying in Aldershot Road a little. I don’t seem to have any burning desire to do anything or go anywhere any more. I seem to be stuck in a time warp, my life is as good as in the deep freeze until old age and sickness take me away. Life is just a pattern of the predictable and dull. I want for nothing in particular nor want for anything in particular. Because I see no way through towards any more interesting place, I seem to have lost all ambition, other than to keep Adam growing up on the straight and narrow and ploughing away at my business.
What can I do? I am finally trapped within my own small world, and I want to escape.
Unlike last year, when I really profited from the Brighton festival, this year there was really nothing that enticed me very much. I would have gone to see Mike Alfreds’ ‘Uncle Silas’ at the Theatre Royal (especially to compare it with Shared Experience’s ‘Mill on the Floss’), but as B wasn’t here I couldn’t leave Adam alone. Instead, I bought A and I tickets for the Chinese State Circus, which was performing in a big top in Preston Park. We arrived good and early to get the best seats for our money, but in fact, it didn’t really matter where we sat, and I found Adam a ring-side seat for the second half. Although the Top got too hot, and the Chinese music does grate on Western ears after a while, the circus acts were fabulous. This was not a big time glamorous circus with all the animals and trapeze artists, it was a smaller affair based almost entirely on acrobats and acrobatics. The acts didn’t make us gasp with breath - nothing death defying here - but they did stretch the imagination. None of the acts were unfamiliar to me - I think I must have seen this circus on TV. There were the acrobats diving through hoops, creating high towers and arches, dressed as lions doing somersaults. There was the chef who managed to get thirty or forty plates spinning at the same time; there was the contortionist who could wrap her legs around her neck and balance things on the soles of her feet while moving the rest of her body around; there was a man who juggled with huge heavy garden pots; there was the woman who balanced a candelabra-type thing on her nose while standing on a man’s shoulder, and the man climbed to the top of a five-rung ladder and then walked the ladder up some steps; there the two women lay back on specially designed tables, and then spun garden pots and then tables around on their feet; and there was the lady that could walk the low, loose wire with a girl on her shoulders.
I think Adam found some of it a little boring and I wondered why this was. I think the acts were often rather quiet shows of skill and it was difficult for him to relate what he was seeing to any reason why he should be impressed. He certainly got more involved in the second half when he had a ring-side seat and when some of the acts were more dramatic. It is a rather mindless sort of entertainment though, it didn’t give my any thoughts of any kind, or make me wonder about anything. At least I wasn’t so bored as I was at the circus in Kilburn I took Adam to once, when we went home at the interval.
On Thursday, I took Mum and B to see Shared Experience’s ‘Mill on the Floss’. I am pleased to see the company has not given up on its story telling tradition. This was an excellent piece of theatre and managed to convey a large part of Elliot’s novel in theatrical form. As a devise to tell us more about the mind of the heroine, the play used the device of three actresses playing the lead part: the early wild girl, the religious determinedly-straight young adult, and the older wiser mixture of the two. The idea of such a device may be easy to conceive but could so easily have been badly handled. In fact, it worked ever so well, and there can barely have been a person in the audience who didn’t recognise the internal tussle between taking a risky path and the safe path, as expressed through the multi-actress role.
I found the printed programme interesting for two reasons. Firstly, I noticed that the very first show Shared Experience put on was ‘Arabian Nights’. Now, I saw this very show, and fell in love with the company from that time on. My friend Luke Dixon subsequently went to work as administrator for Mike Alfreds who had set up the company. At the time, I’m sure I saw synchronicity at work: I had got to know Luke through the Phantom Captain, the only other theatre company I had ever ‘fallen in love’ with, and there it was, then he went to work with Shared Experience. But what the programme taught me, which I had never realised, was that ‘Arabian Nights’ was the company’s first ever show. I had been there at the beginning and not realised it. The programme also told me that Luke Dixon, having left Shared Experience many years ago (as did Mike Alfreds), is now listed as director for the Shared Experience youth theatre; and Tish Francis who I also knew quite well through Luke, works as a fund raiser for the company.
Friday 20 May 1994, London
Not a profitable week. I have worked moderately hard on the book, and made some progress. There has been almost no activity on the newsletter front. My massive April mailing has petered out with only two or three orders, and my 1,000 May mailing has produced zero response so far.
I have written to the headmasters of five, relatively local private schools, including Lyndhurst, the school I went to when young. I find it very odd that I should even be considering sending Adam to my old school, when I feel so little connection with my past. But there are two possible reasons. I discovered that my neighbour David also went to Lyndhurst; and my old school reports show me I was precisely Adam’s age when I started. The cost would be in the region of £4,500 a year. On our current income we could barely afford it, but I do have my savings some of which I could put away to ensure sufficient funds for the future. The money, though, is not the main problem; it is how to organise my, our future. Signing up for one of these private schools requires the financial commitment of a term’s fees; and a commitment to the system. The Lyndhurst prospectus, for example, says the school expects its pupils to stay right through until 13, and the list of schools entered by pupils thereafter, illustrates that they expect pupils to go on to the best of local schools - Mill Hill, Westminster etc. Yet here I am considering moving to Guildford or Chichester.
I have had answers from four of the schools. University College School, which might be the best, is already full for this September’s intake. Lyndhurst has two places, and St Anthony’s has one place. They all stress, I need to move quickly, within the next few days, if I want to secure any of the remaining places. But making such a decision implies making a decision about my future.
I went to the Bush on Wednesday to see Snoo Wilson’s ‘Darwin’s Flood’. I found it rather inconsequential - Darwin meets Nietzsche meets Jesus meets a helicopter-delivery call girl, and they have some deeply meaningful conversations. But the piece lacks any narrative, and relies too heavily on stage effects, artificial dialogue, and heavily researched anecdotes. The most interesting aspect of the evening for me was to discover that the lighting was under the direction of Chahine Yavroyan - who was a colleague, never really a friend, from the Phantom Captain days.
Then, last night, I went to the Bloomsbury Theatre to see Kate Westbrook in the premiere of a new show called ‘Even/Uneven’. The lyrics of all nine songs are by Kate, and the music by various well known women composers, including Lindsay Cooper and Barbara Thomson, the saxophonist. The band included some of the old regulars - Chris Biscoe, Peter Whyman, Andy Grappa, as well as a vocalist I’ve not heard before called John Winfield. The only sign of Mike was on the programme where he was listed as musical coordinator and the composer of just one song. The theatre was 20-30% full, which I thought was a shame because this really was an evening of original music, beautifully sung and professionally presented. The new songs were not as experimental as the Westbrooks can be, and there were a surprising number of tunes. The music didn’t dig deep into me, in the way Mike’s does, but it was still fresh and, yes, exciting. I didn’t find myself wondering whether I should stay for the second half as I did in the Snoo Wilson play.
Monday 23 May 1994
Early Monday morning. Not yet taken Adam to school. Grey. Wet. Heavy mind, full of apathy, not wanting to work. Nothing urgent enough. Difficult to wind myself up in the morning. OK working at home when stuff has momentum; but difficult to sustain enthusiasm on longer term projects.
Visitors - Fiona and Mark from Brussels. Arrived Saturday morning. Lunched together (not enough forks) and went to Jazz Cafe in Camden Town. Got soaked going from car to bar. Mike Westbrook trio (Mike, Kate, Chris Biscoe) playing lunchtime for free (why? tied to contract for evening concerts?) Just four or five people there. Musicians kept their discomfort relatively hidden. Singing ‘Wasteland and Weeds’ when we arrived about the rain and the city! Mark enjoyed, Fiona left at the interval. Adam played around, exploring the bar, read a bit. I loved it - loads of songs I’ve not heard before. First time in all these year, I could actually have talked with the Westbrooks, but I raced off with Adam at the end - don’t know why.
Visit to Dad and Michele on Sunday. Both look well. Talk about their trips to South Africa, Amsterdam, York, Frankfurt, Ibiza. I talk about EC Inform and the possibility of sending Adam to Lyndhurst. Dad reminds me we used to live next door to the headmaster - Monty Welland.
Sunday in the garden, pruning back some of the exuberant growth of the shrubs - need room to walk along the path. Afternoon in Adam’s room building lego railway around the scalectrix - by bedtime, there’s a motorway, airport, railway, car park, station, control tower etc. filling Adam’s room.
10:00am Monday morning. The silence of the house, so unwelcome after, after Adam’s gone to school, after B has left for work, after I’ve turned the radio off. Just the screen and the keyboard and piles of papers to fill the minutes, hours.
Sunday 29 May 1994, Brussels
This management report is knocking my journal for six. Not only do I have no time to write regular entries, but neither do I have anything to write about since my physical and mental life has no time to act or contemplate!
It was my 42nd birthday yesterday - a birthday usually gives rise to some kind of nostalgic or philosophical outpourings. But not his year. Oh no, definitely not. (I have just looked up an entry for 29 May 1993 - there’s as a good a description of my current dilemma about houses, B, school, as could be written, and nothing, absolutely nothing has changed in the full 12 months since that was written.)
I have just come back from a short run to the Grand Place, and a hot shower. I feel quite well, and calm from all that heavy breathing. I know I really should run more often, to exercise my lungs and keep them in trim. As I was sitting in the Grand Place with the sun on my face and feeling a little high from the running, a modest thought ran through my brain, not dissimilar from those that I used to experience when engaging in deep think-ins after smoking marijuana, viz: There is a huge mass of parental and cultural education that has layered itself criss-cross to form the character of each and every one of us. Once grown up and adult we are a prisoner of these mouldings. But to what extent are we aware of our prisons. It seems to me there is a broad spectrum of influences ranging from those that are most obvious to us - the foods we like, perhaps, the football teams we support, how we speak - to those which we may suspect - things we say, how we act, other parts of our character - but never fully appreciate, to those areas which we cannot even hope to touch or even suspect. It is amazing - just like on marijuana when thoughts are so clear, once down from the high it is difficult to recrystalise them - the same is true here with my oxygen high.
I am working all this weekend. I spent my birthday grappling with nuclear safety in Eastern Europe, and today I am looking at the topic of enlargement and energy. I can feel myself getting progressively more and more tired, and each new day, it gets harder to buckle down to the raw business of writing. I fear that what I do write, as a result, is neither very fresh nor insightful. It is a shame Raoul and I didn’t get away, a two-day walk would have refreshed me. If I could now get on top of the work, I would feel OK about going away but there is just so much to be done still.
Paul K Lyons
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