JOURNAL - 1995 - MARCH
Saturday 11 March 1995, London
ECI-E 25 is on the streets, and I have three clear weeks before I must go back to Brussels. Well not as clear as all that, since I must work on the Thermie annual report. More importantly, I must make decisions on where to live, and I intend to take my motorbike test (I will go for an assessment this afternoon).
Update on EC Inform - Sales of the book have topped 100, and I have about 20 copies left. But my subscriptions are down to about 130; and that is really depressing, because I should have been able to get them above 150 by now. Still, the business is bringing in money and I am biding my time, until I move.
In fact, everything about my life is now waiting on the move. Real things are happening. I will pay off the mortgage on this property later this month - around £25,500. And I am trying to get an assessment from the Nationwide on what amount they will lend me in a new mortgage.
Sunday 12 March 1995
Another bright bright day. I should have gone to Brighton as I originally intended to join A and B. But I am not very active, and I need to stoke myself up to start work on a new short story this week for my collection. Looking over ‘Old Pepper-Face’, I am not convinced it fits in at all well with the others - especially if they have the group title of ‘Love Uncovered’. I am thinking about one - the only one so far - which would be based on autobiographical material, about my conversion from God. This is a story I have told countless times to people, but I have never written down. Unfortunately, the events are now over 20 years ago and it is hard to find the passion, the immature thinking, the stupidity of myself at that age. I have been trying to mine my letters to see whether or not there is anything there, but I have almost no correspondence from before I went travelling. In any case, all the interesting stuff went on in my head and would never have been written down.
It is 9am. Rastko and Maja, my tenants in the front room at 13 Aldershot Road, are up early this morning. Well, Maja is up early. I think Rastko has only just come in and they are having breakfast together (their kitchen is next door to my study). Rastko works through the night because it is the best time for access to the sound studies, and the more practice he can get the more profit he will get out of his one year course here. Maja continues to work at a Pasta restaurant in Islington, often late in the evening and so she too does not arrive until the early hours. Sometimes, therefore they are sleeping until midday, but not today it seems.
I took a trip down to Dillons on Friday, and here is what I bought: A wok cooking book - £2.50; a motor cycle training book - £2.50; a book of indoor games and how to play them - £9.99; four handwriting books for Adam - £1.99 each; ‘The Fist of God’, Frederick Forsyth - £5.99 I love it when I go to Dillons, and I get everything I planned. I hate it when I trek down there - as I did before Christmas - with a list of books, and I don’t find one of them.
I need the wok book, because B’s parents bought me a wok for Christmas. I have used it once or twice, but I tend to put my meals together without preparation, and to use the wok needs forethought. I did not intend to buy a motorbike book but, when I saw it only cost £2.50, I thought why not. After all, the three-day course, which I have now booked and paid for, is costing £250. The hand-writing books are for Adam. He gets no real instruction at school on hand-writing and he is getting very lazy and developing some very bad habits, without any correction. So I have decided he needs to do hand-writing practice every day. It is the single most important teaching he needs at the moment. Everything he ever does, for the rest of his education, will be affected by his hand-writing - a good fast hand can be a great advantage. I know because I never had it. I hope these books will help. I’ve wanted a games book for ages. I thought I had a Hoyle in the loft yet when I came to look through my boxes over the winter I couldn’t find it. The new book contains instructions on how to play lots of card games, domino games, paper games etc, and is very useful for Adam. ‘The Fist of God’ is a number one in the best sellers list, and I always like to keep a stock of thrillers for my journeys. QED.
I deliberated long and hard over whether I should purchase some National Power and PowerGen shares two weeks ago. I pre-registered and examined all the documents carefully. All the previous share sales have proved immediately profitable - the government has been giving away money to encourage ordinary folk to buy shares - and I have felt I missed out. I don’t know why I never took part in the gas, water or power sales. I certainly had money in the bank, but I suppose I never really gave any attention to managing my money. Well, I thought maybe this time. I read the commentators in the papers, most advised the purchase for the long term, and some referred to a guaranteed dividend payable later this year. In the end, what put me off was uncertainty over what the regulator, Offer, might do, in the distribution market, and over the possible takeovers - Trafalgar House’s bid for Northern was still under way. Also, I did feel that this government is likely to lose a general election, probably sooner rather than later, and a Labour government will tighten up on the profits of these companies.
A few days after the share offer closed, Stephen Littlechild, the regulator, did indeed announce he was considering a move to bring down consumer prices, and the shares of National Power and PowerGen were hit. There has been an outcry over this, since the government knew, prior to the sale, that Littlechild was considering such a move. Shareholders believe they should have been told. The whole business has been carried through by the government, however, with chutzpa, and, ultimately, there will be little real come-back because the investors will have made some money - just not quite as much as they were hoping to. The government will have calculated that the political cost (insider dealing - the Labour party have shouted) will be more than made up by the financial profit (which would have been significantly cut back if the share sale had been called off and re-constituted) which can be doled out to the good people in tax cuts nearer the next general election.
In my garden, the rosemary continues to flower. This rosemary has never flowered properly before, but this year she began in mid-winter and continues to this day with a splendid bloom. The quince let me down and hardly produced a single crimson flower - she was so burdened with last year’s fruit. The berberis, though, is preparing for a magnificent show of orange.
I talk to Julian on the telephone. He is going to South Africa, Durban, for a month with his family. His main aim will be to sort out the IMI subsidiary which Sasha set up some years ago. It continues to lose money and be a drain on the resources of IMI. Julian would shut it down, but Sasha remains the major shareholder of the company and can do what he likes. Julian tells me he has lost a stone and a half, is exercising much more and sticking to a diet.
I have just rung Colin in Paris. He is working on trying to get a woodworm problem in his roof sorted out. He says he looks over 50 now with grey hair and lines on his face; ten years of responsibility has knocked him down - responsibility for Hilde, for the flat, and for Elizabeth.
I read the best seller novel ‘Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow’ by Danish writer Peter Hoeg. It was as refreshing as snow itself. Full of interesting characters and an exciting and involving plot. It will surely make a brilliant film. I continue to hike through ‘A Suitable Boy’ by Vikram Seth. I am about one third of the way through the mountain range. I cannot help but constantly wonder at the ability of the writer to control so much detail, so many characters, and so many subplots. I saw a review in the paper of a new edition of ‘What a Carve Up’ by Jonathan Coe which said it was quite Dickensian. In fact, I didn’t think it was at all Dickensian. Coe plays with the form of the novel itself, which Dickens never did. The characters may have had some contemporary parallels with Dickens characters but otherwise, I would not compare them. I would, though, compare ‘A Suitable Boy’ with Dickens.
DIARY 53: March -July 1995
Monday 13 March 1995
On the way to school, I give Adam the story title ‘Escape from the giant beetle on Mars!’. He tells me one chapter that sounds like Laurel and Hardy in a space rocket. This is the first time he has turned this morning exercise into a serial.
I spend the day working on EC Energy Review. Taking the stories from EC Energy Monthly and editing them into Review style. It takes me most of the day. At lunchtime I listen to ‘Counterpoint’ and the news.
I get a postal order for the book and the newsletter from the Public Power Corporation in Greece. My first subscriber in Greece. Then, at 6pm the fax springs into life and an order comes through from Cork.
After picking Adam up, we have a snack of the peanut butter cookies made by A & B at the weekend. A gets on with his handwriting exercises and then watches ‘Blue Peter’.
I spend an hour or so writing a letter to the Nationwide about a new mortgage - it is not ready to go out yet, it needs some preparation. At 8:15, I drive across Kilburn to the flat of Phil Needham. Phil, his partner David and I walk around the corner to an Indian restaurant. Phil is now head of drama at Westminster School. He is responsible for some 12 shows a year. The main shows can be seen by over 1,000 - far more than see Luke’s shows, I think to myself. He seems well contented with his lot. Their house in Umbria is complete and they travel out there five times a year. They show me many pictures. It is quite isolated from any other buildings, and 3km from the nearest village. David talks a little about his school at Pimlico where he runs part of the music school. On Friday, an expensive bassoon was stolen. The police were very helpful but advised David that if he tried to track down bassoon dealers the crime might be resolved quicker. He did, and a dealer rang him back with details that will lead to the arrest of the person - a relative of a pupil. We chat about the merits of the private system and the state of the state system. I am always struck by how well these two men sit together - their interests are so similar and there seems to be a balance between them.
I have recorded ‘She’s Out’ - a drama series written by Lynda La Plante - and watch it on my return. Bed at midnight.
Tuesday 14 March
I laze in bed listening to ‘Europe Today’. I take Adam to school and get part two of ‘Mars and the giant beetles’. I finish off my letter to Nationwide. This involves putting some figures together and I discover a mistake in the accounts I have sent to Nymans. So, I have to send Nymans a correction. I also compose a letter for Sasha asking to borrow £50,000. In essence, I want to buy a house for £200,000. Some £85,000 of this will be cash, £70,000 will be a mortgage (I hope), and £50,000 will come from Dad. Then, when I’ve sold Aldershot Road, I’ll repay Dad. That will leave me with a £70,000 mortgage and £70,000 in the bank (I’m assuming I’ll sell Aldershot Road for £120,000).
I set the video for Adam’s school programmes. I mope around a bit before lunch, reading ‘A Suitable Boy’, and thinking about the wheres and whats of the house I want to buy. Cheese toast for lunch. I notice that low fat cheese doesn’t melt properly. I watch the 1 o’clock news on the TV. Fall asleep until 2pm. I read some more. Look at the Surrey map a bit more. Decide I need to go to the library to get more info on Dorking and Godalming. I find this diary book which I bought in Madrid two and a half years ago, and decide to revert back to hand writing my diary. I will try to do it on a daily basis - I mean make an entry for each day and record the banal.
I pick up Adam from school. Willesden Green library. At home, I give Adam a detention for getting ink all over his hands, and I make him practise doing up his bag. We watch ‘Babylon 5’ together. I cook a stir fried rice in the wok for supper. B & A colour in paper frogs while I watch ‘Eastenders’. A programme about the Vespa and Lambretta scooter phenomena and another one about vegetarian cooking in Gujarat.
Wednesday 15 March
B brings me in a cup of tea as usual. I listen to the World Service until 7:00. Adam does his handwriting lessons. I make the sandwiches. After breakfast I take Adam into school - part three of the Mars stories finds Adam and his friends in an underground tunnel surrounded by giant beetles. I proof read ‘The Roller-Coaster Week’. Listen to ‘Midweek’ - Penelope Lively. I do some EC Inform admin, and continue writing my story about conversion from god. Sandwiches for lunch. Kenneth Clark smugly talking about the fall in unemployment. I begin to tire of my story and want to get to the denouement where the narrator finally realises there is no god. Play a game or two of chess.
Polly Ghazi, environment correspondent on the ‘Observer’ rang me to find out more about the UK programme (CO2) review. In my issue last week I published a table which showed that the Commission expected the UK to miss its target by 2%. At about the same time, Gummer was claiming the UK was on target. Andrew Warren picked this up and told Ghazi. She says she will mention my newsletter but I doubt she will use the material I have faxed her.
Rex rings from DGXVII - he says nothing about the journalist’s award - but wants to send me the DG’s internal programme. I tell him I have it already. We talk about Maniatopolous and the single buyer and the green paper. Simon Burgess rings about the Thermie programme annual report.
I listen to Sherlock Holmes on the radio but miss half of it. There is a snow storm when I pick up Adam from school but it does not settle or last long. Adam goes to his gym class. He goes alone and must cross two roads, but I always go to pick him up. Afterwards he does more hand writing. I type up the last few days of Diary 8 from 1978. Frankfurters and potato salad for tea (B comes home late). I read to Adam from the ‘Wouldbegoods’. I spellcheck and print out the 50 pages of text from Diary 8 - this was the period when I become creative, with the ‘Cruel Garden’, Harold, Mu etc. I read a chapter of my motorcycle training book before going to bed.
Thursday 16 March
I read ‘A Suitable Boy’ while Adam does his handwriting. I listen to Clark again on the radio. Such a non-news story, about the ‘feel-good factor’. Clark is warning there will be no feel-good factor before the next election. Why? Because there is no inflation of course. Even tax cuts won’t deliver the feel-good like it did in Thatcher’s day. But low and behold, the reporters have dug up some Tories who insist on talking up the party’s chances and insist on feel-good before the election. Aren’t there more interesting topics, to talk about, somewhere in Europe.
Today I want to work on a new chapter of ‘TomSpin’ but I find it very hard to settle down. I read over the first chapter. I drink several cups of tea. I masturbate. By lunchtime, I have started and by the time I leave to pick Adam up, there are 2,500 words on the computer. Reading over what I have written, I wonder whether it is suitable for children. I tell Adam I have finished another chapter and he wants to hear it immediately. Of course, I oblige. He seems to enjoy it - even though it is a rather dull chapter. At least I’ve got PippoSpin out and travelling now.
Tuna on matzo for lunch. The same issues being talked about at lunchtime on the radio, only this time it is Heseltine. I fall asleep for 45 minutes at my desk. Why am I so tired at lunchtime. I need to get more exercise. Spanish lesson with Adam. There has been no activity today at all on the phone or fax. Does EC Inform exist?
Barbara came in earlier than expected from her day at Wisley. She looked dreadful with a bad cold and her voice completely gone. I cooked smoked cod, spinach, potatoes, salad - all green and yellow, it looked very attractive on the plate. Kiwi fruit for afters, one between three of us. In ‘Eastenders’ David’s angst over his daughter continues. I also watch the last of the ‘X-files’ series. Poor Mulder and Scully, they get so close to proof of extra-terrestiality and then lose it.
Friday 17 March
Up at 6:30, but I’m not sure what for. Adam was already busy with his handwriting exercises. I read more of ‘A Suitable Boy’. My accounts came with the post - a copy of the 1993 accounts and the 1994 ones to sign. I had asked for those to be done quickly because the building society needs the information to decide on a mortgage. I took Adam in to school and then spent an hour or so finalising my submission to Nationwide and my letter to Sasha asking to borrow £50,000. I have written to him in South Africa since he won’t be back in London until April.
It has been a bad week for EC Inform with few cheques and even fewer orders. After mid-morning, I found it very difficult to settle down and do anything at all. It is now 6pm and I have done nothing else concrete all day. I am never quite sure why these bouts of inactivity take me over. I should have been working on another ‘TomSpin’ chapter, especially as I know I must spend next week on Thermie.
Barbara has been sleeping all day in the lounge. I, too, had a sleep after lunch. I picked Adam up at 3:30 as usual and took him to Willesden Green Library Centre where there was a St Patrick’s Day celebration. Adam joined an origami workshop, and I moped around the library, not wanting to read anything. My eyes feel funny and I have booked an eye test on Monday. I am worried because I cannot read a car number plate very far away, and I may be on the border of the 20m required by the driving test procedure.
Gerry Adams has had a great week. The US agreed to give him a visa and allow him to raise funds. He has even met the President. This has caused a row because Major says that even Arafat has renounced violence and given up arms but the IRA has not. I think Clinton’s gamble is that by offering to bring Adams and Sinn Fein into the spotlight of mainstream politics, the pressure will increase significantly on Adams to make a gesture in return - i.e. give up arms. Time will tell. In any case Adams is getting one hell of a lot of publicity.
I read more of the ‘Wouldbegoods’ to Adam; quiche and stuff for supper. Getting ready for going south tomorrow. I still have done nothing about the slow puncture in the back near side tyre of my car.
Saturday 18 March
Up at 6, to Guildford. Adam stayed in the car while I looked in the windows of estate agents. There are 10 or 12 all in the same place. Although a bright sunny morning, it was bitterly cold. When I got back to the car, Adam had fiddled with everything, the mirror, the seatbacks. There he is with the seat rolled right back, like a bed, he is lying with his arms behind his head in an exaggerated pose of comfort. There is a sly look on his face, I am only slightly perturbed and when I say ‘AdAm’, he bursts out laughing. He has a very fine sense of right and wrong and if he’s not sure he waits for clues from my face as to whether he can laugh or not.
Next stop Godalming. I have never been here before. B said it was worth looking at, and Philip confirmed that it might be more suitable than Guildford. We walked around a number of times until the agents opened. The town has attempted to keep cars out of the centre, and has some character buildings, hills, a river and an open space. It also seemed to have a rich cultural/social life. However, there were very few properties on the market, and most of the older houses are in the villages around, not in Godalming itself. All around is a bit sprawly. There were several villages south I should have looked at but I decided I’d come back to do that. We found an interesting auction house which has sales every 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month.
From Godalming we drove through Salford, Shere and Westcott to Dorking. Whereas Godalming has pretensions to upper middle classness, is trying new town planning methods, and is a sprawling area connecting up villages, Dorking is a traditional town with a conventional busy traffic-ful high street, and a more typical arrangement of town centre and outskirts. There are attractive views to the countryside and nothing like the sprawl of Horsley or Godalming.
As in Godalming, I visited enough agents to get a feel of the town and pick up a few details. One house attracted me immediately, and I was already fantasising about it from the details, but when we found that it was situated with its front door two metres from the road and virtually by a roundabout my premature hopes were dashed.
We arrived in Brighton by midday, by which time I had a headache from driving in the sun and walking around in the cold. Although Adam sprained his foot badly last night, he had no problems today and, as usual, followed me around, never complaining once. On our way to Brighton we did the 5 and 9 times tables.
What a nightmare it is trying to decide on somewhere to live. I can’t decide between City Town Village, between centre or rural, whether I should be looking for a house big enough for my office to not. And even if I can pick one area, how can I find the house I want near a good school. Nightmare.
After lunch A & I walked down to the beach. It was too cold. I picked up leaflets and a Brighton Festival programme - there are lots of interesting events all through May.
Brighton Museum has installed touch-screen computers with innovative virtual Brighton tours - a dozen personal tours put together with photographs and explanations; and informative tours on specific subjects with commentary and background information. The tours run smoothly with excellent photographs, good sound quality, and at a good speed. I wonder how long it will be before the number of hours that they are watched for matches the number of hours that went into their making!
I read A some of the Wouldbegoods. He does some lessons. We watch ‘Superman’ together.
Adam has been very distressed this evening because his bike was stolen. He contained himself well at first while I looked around for it. But he kept crying for the rest of the evening every time he thought about it. It is the first time he has ever lost anything big. From my point of view, I am happy that he has learnt to ride and balance properly and now I can buy him a bigger better bike in the summer or after we have moved.
Turkey steaks, potatoes and green beans for supper.
I watch ‘Casualty’ and the news. England won the Five Nations with a grand slam.
This is an interesting exercise writing my diary daily to a date. I haven’t done this since my travels 20 years ago. It encourages the documenting of the more trivial but it also gives a more pungent flavour to the reality of my day-do-day routines than my usual method (of writing more reflectively a few days in arrears).
Sunday 19 March
I don’t know how we got into a mess this morning but Adam was stuck on his multiplication tables for hours. We had a good time at the pool, though. I spent much of it diving. I am a very poor diver - I cannot control the wiggle and fold on my legs, but I quite enjoy the sensations and I love the feeling of swimming across the very deep pool, which was mostly empty, swimming slowly and softly, hardly disturbing the surface of the water. Every now and then I visited the small pool to play with Adam.
I cooked a Fray Bentos pie in the oven for lunch. So old-fashioned those flat round tins. The crust came up all brown and golden, but I didn’t enjoy the meat much. It’s one of those products that reminds one of the past and one tries them every five years or so.
We lazed around in the afternoon. A short walk to the Level (I just wanted to see if his bike might be lying around - forlorn hope). I wrote about 2,000 words of a new ‘TomSpin’ chapter. I decided it would be more exciting if TomSpin went to the evil place first. I’ve invented a pretty horrid family but there will be an artist among them who is friendly and uses her body for sculpture. This idea meant, though, that I needed to explain to the reader how spinners see. Tricky.
‘Wouldbegoods’ before Adam sleeps. I watch the new BBC serial, ‘The Choir’. The plot is formulaic - pick a subject, set up several plot levels, tie in all the characters. Still it has fine actors, confident direction, and was a pleasure to watch. Drive back to London. Arrive by midnight. Dump the bags, bed. B still sleeping in the sitting room.
Monday 20 March
The ‘World News’ brings me reports of a most astonishing poisoning on the Tokyo metro, six people have died, thousands are being treated, from the application, in several packages, of the most poisonous of nerve gases, sarin. Nobody has claimed responsibility but it is the work of a gang and not just one person. What is amazing is that so few people have died. The killers could have killed more with a small bomb in a lift. The media has not been able to grapple this story. A typical correspondent report began: ‘There has been no formal theory as to who caused these murders, some theories say it is a right wing terrorist group, others say it is a left wing terrorist group, and others blame a religious group.’
I take Adam to school then I go to have my eyes tested. The optician tells me I need to wear glasses all the time. He has tried on a number of lens, and I can tell from his trials that I would be able to see better with glasses, but at the moment I feel no need, no real need of optical aids. The optician says I will have problems in a year or two with reading. I will get some glasses for the novelty and for my driving test. However, I do worry that, by wearing glasses, I will want to wear them more and more - I’ll get used to clear vision, as the optician put it.
B is still trying to take it easy. She has an infection in her lungs and has promised to go to the doctor tomorrow. I spent half the morning talking to B about my trip to Dorking and then began to work on Thermie. The package of material had arrived from Brussels, a bit thin, but at least I have something to get on with. Simon has also sent confirmation of the contract - Ecu5,000 - the same as for the last two annual reports, but the work load has gone down considerably - thus the pay has gone up.
Sandwiches for lunch. A sleep (why am I sleeping at lunch-time?). Another hour thinking about Thermie. Pick Adam up. Library, read a book about optics. Swimming. I couldn’t put my eyes in the water after swimming yesterday, so stuck to backstroke and breaststroke, and then I bought a pair of goggles. Adam dawdled in the changing rooms and I told him off. I cooked a fish stir fry - carrots, peppers, spring onions, sweet corn, mushrooms, old potatoes and cod. It was delicious if I say so myself. I’m quite enjoying the wok. Sharon’s back in ‘Eastenders’ - so what! Dolly Rawlins has to make do without the diamonds - the ones she grabbed last week were fake.
Tuesday 21 March
I tried to make an early start this morning as I really want to get the Thermie project out of the way, but it is so easy to be in the parlour of a morning, drinking tea, listening to music, monitoring Adam’s lessons, making the sandwiches, getting the muesli bowls, clearing up the kitchen. I ferry Adam to school at 8:30 and B to the doctor at 10:30. In-between times I continue working on Thermie, so much of it is a repetition of previous years’ work. An order came in from Her Majesty’s government - not in the UK but in Hong Kong! B came back from the doctor who’d said she should have antibiotics and a week off work. All day we’ve argued about this: she insists she will go to work tomorrow and not take any of the antibiotics!
Red salmon from a tin on bread for lunch and a banana. Lots of cups of tea this morning, why? because B’s here. Thermie in the afternoon. Pick Adam up and leave him writing his story about Mars. B is spreading her papers all over the sitting room floor. About 5pm Adam comes up to the study and asks if I can do him a favour. Will I, he says, teach him to write with his right hand. He is fed up with writing with his left hand - it smudges when he writes and gets in the way. I am now convinced that we should have been more disciplined about choosing his right hand for him. All the advice we got, though, was to leave him to decide for himself. No one we suggested we force him one way or the other. I remember spending hours, when he was younger, trying to test whether he was naturally left or right handed but without coming to any conclusion, other than that he had a tendency to write with his left hand. I suppose we were worried that if he was naturally left-handed we could disturb his development by forcing or trying to force him out of it. I offer Adam some ways he could practice with his right hand, and suggest he carry out half his remaining hand-writing lesson with his right hand.
At 6pm I go to school to talk about the 150 years celebrations. I volunteer to do a newspaper/letter souvenir programme and to coordinate press coverage. Now that I have actually to relate to a number of people, I’m going to have to get used to being called Paul Collecott (the name I’m known by at school as the father of Adam Collecott).
Wednesday 22 March
A determined effort on Thermie - by the end of the day I had completed almost two-thirds of the required pages, but I also discovered a number of significant gaps in the material, so I faxed through to Simon asking him for more information.
Because I had missed watching ‘Babylon 5’ with A on Tuesday evening (I was at the school) and he had watched it with Mum, and I had watched later in the evening, I had to explain the plot of the episode to him anew. I did this on the way to school (and on Thursday - I’m late writing this up). It was a complex and intriguing episode. It now is beginning to seem that Psychor might have infiltrated into the highest ranks of the Earth Alliance government and may even be in league with the alien from deepest space!
I go to the optician and choose spectacle frames. I am not convinced that I need glasses - well I know I don’t need them for anything other than maybe reading car registration plates from 20 metres for my test - but I am intrigued to see what difference they might make. I can’t find any frames I like. I prefer the idea of silver colour but find that gold colour blends better into my complexion. I should choose strong ones because I am bound to give them a tough time, but I find the extra crossbar looks ugly and enhances my bushy eyebrows. I finally choose a pair for £40 and pick them up later in the day. I am staggered by the difference they make, by how much clarity and sharpness they bring to my distance vision. I walk around in a daze, realising the extent of the degradation of my eyes - the fogginess I have been feeling for ages has been real. I suppose, though, that the difference in clarity is only of the order of 2-5%, there is no loss - without the glasses - of anything important.
I listen to ‘Sherlock Holmes’ on the radio while tidying up my office and pricing out labels for a brochure mailing.
Julian comes round at about 8 and we go to Vijay’s for a meal. Before long we are talking about his affairs, his work, his house in Devon, his move to South Africa. They all leave for South Africa next week for a month.
Thursday 23 March
What a glorious day - sunshine - spring. I cycled into town to the Commission library. It wasn’t very busy and I was able to trawl through all the documents quickly - very few developments. I also dropped in on the EP library and picked up the plenary papers from last week. I strolled through St James’s Park taking my glasses off and on to clock the difference. The ride back was pleasant although I was over-dressed and over-hot. A Ranger type car turned across me at one point, following another car which had turned safely, I screamed as loud as I could ‘get out of my way’ but afterwards I decided I should have screamed ‘crash, splinter, bleeding, death’ which would have been more effective. If anyone crosses me on the bicycle, tries to ignore or bully me, I explode into instant rage. I speak for all bicycle riders.
I took an early lunch on my return from town and proceeded to sort through my EC papers, starting to think about issue 26.
Calls today from Councillor Ray Shaw, who has contacted the ‘Camden Citizen’ and the ‘Ham & High’ re publicity for the 150 year celebrations, and from the vicar Peter Galloway about the school archives and an introductory piece to the souvenir programme.
After school Adam plays on his skateboard, watches ‘Blue Peter’. I print out renewal invoices, watch a really lousy drama in the Chiller series, and collect shop names around West Hampstead.
Friday 24 March
A very quiet few days for EC Inform - the book orders seemed to be bowling along several weeks ago and I was sure I would have to reprint soon but then they stopped - dead in their tracks. No orders means the mail is very boring and I have nothing to pep me up. In fact, I should have been working on creative writing this week according to my new schedule but I have had Thermie and now I have the 150 year programme.
I cycled to West Hampstead and made a further listing of shops (from Fortune Green this time). My plan is to write to each shop using the Filemaker Pro database - it would be quite easy to individualise each letter - but it might prove more productive simply to go into all the shops. I talked to a couple of printers nearby - one promised to get back to me and another said printing a 12 page programme on glossy paper with photographs would cost in the region of £300. He said he would contribute on a £30-40 basis.
I was somewhat lazy at lunchtime and watched a film I’d recorded about a blind photographer - called ‘Proof’. It was about trust and betrayal, and was interesting. I wrote a draft letter (asking for an advertising contribution) to the shops from Miss Goddard, and I composed a page of draft adverts. I have sent this to Lyn, another parent, who is helping me, and next week I’ll show them to Miss Goddard.
I organise with First Direct for a banker’s draft to pay off my mortgage with the Nationwide. Such complicated procedures: for the sake of security I will have to take to the bank, passport, driving licence, cheque book and provide a password.
Adam and I watch ‘Tomorrow’s World’. As a finale to Science Week, it concluded with some experiments using mass phone-in responses but they were not carefully enough presented and, I think, the programme failed. I also watched the first part of a new Rendell.
Saturday 25 March
Up at 6:30. I read Adam the end of the chapter on beavers in the ‘Wouldbegoods’. We look at each other slyly whenever Oswald, the fictional narrator, can’t resist a bit of bragging, as if to say there he goes again. And whenever Oswald writes about what they had for tea, we lick out lips.
Egg on toast for breakfast. I arrive at the motorbike training centre (CSA) just on time at 8:15am. Already there is a plenty of activity with four of the five groups of students and several instructors pacing around. Marko will be our instructor, and he begins with some basics - helmets, clothing etc - does paperwork, examines our licences. For the morning exercise we are a group of seven. We have to walk our bikes over to the car park where we do certain manoeuvres for our Compulsory Basic Training (CBT). I am given the worst bike - at least I feel so. All the others have a simple 125 (like I drove when I went for my trial run) or a bike like I rode in Brazil. My bike, an NCR, is low slung, pretending to be sleak, has a large turning circle, and is quite heavy. I find it hard to get used to - we are given no time to accustom ourselves to the bikes. And then the clutch cable broke, I am left standing around for half an hour while the others practice emergency stops. Nevertheless, I do eventually get used to the model (for I am given the same type in exchange) and we all get our CBT certificates by 2:00. Marko had a lot of paperwork to write them all out. For the CBT, we just have to do a figure 8, drive around several cones and show one can turn left and right. In fact, because we all have pre-1990 licences we don’t actually need a CBT to go out on the road, so the exercise is largely academic.
On our way to the cafe, one of the bikes ran into the back of Marko, and damaged his mudguard, so there was another delay. Lunch in cafe. Lots of chatter. No 1 is a copper, now armed I think, a burly Scotsman with a precise manner. No 2 is a cocky courier who won’t live long if his tales are anything to go by - he boasts of speed and accidents and finds it difficult to stop talking. His friend, No 3, is a Rastafarian with hair down to his hips. He is quieter and tamer but he seems to have little sensitivity - he talks regardless of anyone else, and twice parked his bike where it was obvious I was about to park. No 4 is a slight boy, just 21, well on his way to becoming a motorbike fanatic. He already has a new bike, seven months old, but plans to sell it on Tuesday if he passes his test on Monday, and buy a 500 or 750 bike by Friday. Much of the talk revolves around bikes and their abilities, and five minutes can pass by without my knowing what the detail of the conversation has been about. It’s No 1 and No 2 doing most of the chatter, with Marko and No 3 throwing in their knowledge at various points.
After lunch I thought we would do more driving around but there was a lot more talking yet - how to signal properly for roundabouts and turns, and we practised these a few times. On returning to the CSM centre we filled out forms to take the bikes with us home. I was worried about my car - it’s in a rather exposed spot there, nearby Wembley in the car park of a superstore. But Marko said I needed the practice, so I agreed to take it home. But by the time I got home, I was knackered and I fell in front of the television. I watched ‘Superman’, but it was not a classic episode, then ‘Casualty’ (oh, and I watched some of ‘Noel’s House Party’ - how can one spurn it when it seems so benign - I did find myself laughing when Edwards got gunned good’n proper). Then I watched some of a ‘Cracker’ I’d seen before, and then a programme about Russian prostitutes in New York. Earlier, I spoke to Adam who told me sweetly he was missing me. He said B is having ‘a nervous breakdown’ - she is still ill. P.S. B was on the ‘Today’ programme as a pretend borrower introducing a light(!) item about the RHS and the move to Wisley.
Sunday 26 March
I woke early enough and forced myself straight out on the bike. An hour’s practice up to Hampstead Heath, I thought, and then back for a cooked breakfast. I started the bugger (a Honda CG) with some difficulty and then conked out at the Willesden Lane traffic lights. A cop car was sitting on the opposite corner for no apparent reason. I must have been there 10 minutes kick-starting and kick-starting without any success. I was sure they were going to emerge from the car and check my credentials for possession of the bike. I somehow managed to start it, then conked out again, further down the High Road. Of course, I had forgotten to turn the fuel back on, and I’d been straining the engine and then I’d flooded it, and then I’d left the choke on too long. I finally got her running by bump starting. I rode around, got comfortable, returned home at 7:40 and cooked and ate a leisurely breakfast. I was just about to pack and leave when the phone rang. I was sure it would be B or A but no it was my instructor Marko who wanted to know where I was - it was already 9am because the clocks had gone forward! Fortunately, I had no further problems and I got to the CSM centre in about 10 minutes. We were given a Highway Code session; we got our gear on, including really horrible earpieces and radios. Even then we weren’t on our way because No 3 backed into the back of Marko, and had to change his bike. The day was full of practice at roundabouts, u-turns, emergency stops, Highway Code - the breaks came at the right times, Safeway for a late breakfast, McDonalds for lunch. My Honda had a problem with gears so that I couldn’t change up from two to three when pulling away. I kept it for the day, but Marko agreed it was faulty.
B & A & I met Mum and Julian and Sarah at Lemonia in Primrose Hill to celebrate Mother’s Day and Julian’s birthday. I cannot remember much about the conversation. Adam was on bright form keeping us all amused one way or another. I enjoyed the moussaka and retsina. Back at home I caught the end of ‘The Choir’ episode. I was dead knackered by the time I got to bed.
Monday 27 March
I made a determined effort to be early this morning to make up for my lateness yesterday. I arrived 15 minutes early and sat in the car. There was a tremendous downpour, and I was afraid of having to ride in the rain - after all I haven’t driven a motorbike on wet roads since Brazil. Fortunately, the rain did stop and the sun dried the roads. I needn’t have made an effort though because we still didn’t venture out till after 9:00. I wore gloves and a waterproof over my jacket, both of which I needed to keep the cold out. I was given another Honda CG and this one worked well. We drove off to Greenford where No 4 was due to have his test at 10:10. We sat in a smokey greasy-spoon for 40 minutes and then No 4 came back, cocky as ever, he had passed. I thought he would bugger off now and leave the copper and I to do some practice with Marko alone, but he didn’t. We went off to travel around the roundabouts and back roads and went over the procedure for emergency stops and u-turns. Then back to the greasy-spoon for another 40 minutes. By this time, I was beginning to get a little nervous, and a headache was coming on, thanks to the damn headpieces squeezed into the helmets. Talk in the cafe was mostly about fast motorbikes or cars or police tactics. The beefy copper passed as we all thought he would. Then we went out on the road again - this time with me in front. I always had problems hearing the instructions, the radio cackled and cut out at the wrong moments and sometimes I didn’t take in what was being said. Up and down the dual carriageway, round and round the roundabouts, and, eventually, back to the greasy spoon. I was shaking by this time. Marko showed no confidence in me, he kept telling me about forward planning - but actually I think I do forward plan. He told me off for jerky movements, but I did those because I thought I was supposed to demonstrate clearly to the examiner what I was doing.
Then, at 2:45 I was off. The lady examiner strapped a radio to my back and gave me an earpiece for each ear. Outside, she asked me the registration number of a car across the road. I had to ask which one she meant, and when I read it, I couldn’t tell if I’d got it right. I started the bike without a problem (thank goodness) and rode out onto the road. At the first roundabout, she told me to take the third exit, but I must have been heading for the fourth exit because, as I was passing the third exit, she screamed ‘third exit’ at me. I reacted instinctively, looked around carefully and managed to slip into the third exit just in front of her. From that moment, I thought I had failed. Then I kept forgetting my lifesavers, and I was turning my indicators off too late. Then came the emergency stop, and I knew I had failed. I went around the block as we are instructed to do, and before I was ready and before I was watching properly she had her hand already raised in the air - I hadn’t seen it go up. She had done it so early. I wasn’t even watching properly. Any how, I pulled up to a stop without thinking what I was doing. (I may have pulled the clutch in immediately for all I know.) Then she told me to do a u-turn. The bike stalled - or rather I stalled it - and then I couldn’t find neutral. I didn’t even know if I had to find neutral. The green light wouldn’t come on, and I was going up and down on the gears. Eventually, I rocked the bike backwards and forwards to check it was in neutral, but I was sure by this time I had failed. Finally, I started her, and did my u-turn. Then we did a lot of driving around back streets, and I found my driving improving. There were quite a lot of hazards, and I dealt with them safely and smoothly. Back at the test centre, she asked me a few questions and then said I’d passed. RELIEF, RELIEF at not having to worry about coming back and not having to wear those damn earpieces again. RELIEF that it is all over. I cannot say I enjoyed the three days. We all visited a motorbike shop and discussed our favourite bikes and returned to the centre. If I was knackered on Sunday night, I was even more tired on Monday night.
Tuesday 28 March
My night was restless with motorbike instructions and Highway Code going through my head all the time. And I was still tired when I got up in the morning. There were three or four book orders to be processed - the coincidence of them coming through in a bunch made me wonder whether my second brochure mailing scheduled for 27 March had gone out early, but it hadn’t, and the orders came from the earlier mail-out. I work on Thermie most of the day and talk to Brian a couple of times in Brussels - but the info he sends doesn’t help much and my text suffers from having no new flavours and too little background.
All day long I keep thinking about my test and the mistakes I made, and then I fast forward to the moment when the tester said I’d passed.
I collect a banker’s draft for £25,335 from the Midland Bank (debited from my First Direct account) and send it off to the mortgage company, Nationwide. I now own this house lock, stock and barrel for what it’s worth. I should get the deeds in a few days.
After school I take Adam to the dentist. We both get our teeth examined and cleaned. Saitowitz is friendly as usual - he takes a couple of x-rays of my teeth, which I’m sure aren’t necessary but nudges up the amount I have to pay him - £35. Interestingly, he tells me that he too uses paper to clean beneath a couple of teeth which catch food.
Adam finishes a few exercises and we watch ‘Babylon 5’ together. B cooks a pleasant meal of trout and vegetables. I watch ‘Eastenders’ and, unusually, ‘The Bill’. David rings because he wants to send some faxes. He comes over about 10pm, and I try to dispatch them, but the one to Beckenbauer won’t go. He is working on another article for ‘The Independent’ drawing possible parallels between an upcoming football match and a classic game from the past. He stays for a while and we watch an old episode of ‘Black Adder, and the Oscars ceremony. There are more montage features shown on the screen than awards given. The ceremony has lost all informality, and become a multi-media event in itself.
There is no news - you can tell this because the broadcasters and papers lead with - Major denies rumour of early election.
I talk to First Direct and it seems they will give me a mortgage of £70,000.
Wednesday 29 March
It is interesting that my short-term memory is deteriorating. It is now Thursday afternoon and I am finding it ever so hard to piece together what I did yesterday. I can’t remember what I did before breakfast, what we talked about at breakfast or much else besides. Most of the day I worked on Thermie and I more or less finished the bulk of the work though there are huge gaps due to lack of source material. I am up to five days work on Thermie so far.
I talked to Lyn on the phone about one or two other ideas for the Souvenir Programme. I listened to the last of the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories - they have now done all 56 on the Wednesday afternoon slot with the same two actors.
In the afternoon I had my new glasses adjusted, and bought some stamps. Adam went to the last gym class of the term and got a certificate for level 6 on the amateur gymnasts association scale. I prepared for a brief meeting with his head, Miss Goddard, tomorrow by printing out a good version of the letter and adverts for the Souvenir Magazine. I also prepared a list of interviews for next week’s trip to Brussels.
B cooked an M&S meal - we chatted for a while about this and that and both flopped out to sleep early in the evening.
Thursday 30 March
I take Adam in to school and then spend the morning sorting through early articles for the newsletter. There are a number of issues rumbling - the Berlin Climate Change Convention is under way; the UK government has intervened in the Court of Justice cases concerning electricity; and the EU-US nuclear accord hasn’t yet been resolved.
Now that I have paid off my mortgage, I have precisely £85,000 - a £70,000 mortgage will bring me a house of £155,000 - a loan from Dad? I’m still waiting to hear. But after the next issue, after Easter, I am heading for Surrey, for serious research.
After lunch of sandwiches - sardines, brie, honey - I cycled to the local history library at Swiss Cottage. The lady was very helpful and pulled out a number of files - photos, maps, press cuttings. The Parish Magazine from 50 years ago proved disappointing for info about the school celebrations then, but they were very interesting in themselves - tips for housewives, serial stories, news and propaganda about Germany. The most interesting item for the Souvenir Magazine will be a map of the area from 100 years ago which shows Emmanuel Church on the west of the school not the East.
I talk to Miss Goddard for a few minutes - she comes to life when talking about the geography of the area in the past. I take Adam to Grandma’s. At the garage my key gets stuck in the patrol tank cap. First I can’t get it out at all, and then when I get the key out, I can’t put the cap back. After some time and copious amounts of oil the locking mechanism becomes lose. I leave for the South Bank at 6:50 - there are traffic jams almost all the way - and arrive at Queen Elizabeth Hall with one minute to spare. An enjoyable evening of Westbrook arrangements and compositions - ‘On Duke’s Birthday’.
Friday 31 March
I take Adam to school because B is running late, and besides she has heavy bags to carry to work - the papers from Wisley she needs in Vincent Square. My first task is to get in touch with the local paper to advertise the old pupils’ reunion of Emmanuel on 27 May. I was not going to publicise it until later, but Miss Goddard wanted something in the ‘Ham & High’ next week. I get in touch with Lara Lambert and she seems quite sweet (she has a name out of a 40s film noir). I fax the ‘Kilburn Times’, ‘The Hendon Times’ and the ‘Camden Journal’ as well. Then I move on to ECI-Q and ECI-E work and made a few appointments for next week.
I did admin on the computer while listening to part two of the ‘Ben Hur’ story on the radio - this is an excellent adaptation, and reminds me in some ways of a superb Western Radio 4 put on a while back. I am staggered sometimes by how bad radio drama can be, and I often listen to it without the critical response I give to TV programmes.
I pick Adam up, tell him a story on the way home.
At 5 I leave for the city - Maja is at home to look after Adam. I walk to Kilburn tube and then change at Finchley Rd for an Aldgate train. On the train I read old newspapers I’ve brought with me for that purpose. From Aldgate, I walk 10 minutes to Minister Lane and Eaton’s where Frank’s retirement party is in full swing. Frank Abrahams, my printer. I have known Frank since my McGraw-Hill days - so over 10 years - although I never knew him well then, and I lost all contact with him for several years when in Brazil and after I joined the FT where my newsletters were printed by Reg - who was also a printer of quality, a printer with a conscience!
Frank, as ever, was wearing a bow tie and his conversation brimming full of literary illusions and latin references. There was a good turn out, and I was pleased to bump into John Leslie, Frank Gray, Dennis Kiley, John McLachlan, Gerard McCloskey and one or two others. I caught up on the FT news, and hooked into the same old gossip and grievance scenarios. Frank Gray looked plumper than ever, rounder, and roundly boasted of his newsletter’s circulation. John Leslie was as coy as ever, but seems content. Gerard was bristling over with himself - he offered me free office space in Petersfield! I drank too much wine and staggered home about 10:00.
Paul K Lyons
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