JOURNAL - 1996 - JANUARY
Monday 1 January 1996
10am. Dark, rainy, wet. The new year is here. Neither Adam nor I managed to stay up to the final hour last night. About 9pm we went to the Woolpack for a drink. Adam found it quite scary walking along the road in the dark, and kept thinking that people in the shadows were muggers, he was only half joking. Although it sounds odd that he should be more scared here than in Kilburn, in fact he has grown up in the densely populated urban areas of Kilburn and Brighton, and he was too young when in Aldeburgh to remember the dark streets there in the winter months. So, we went to the Woolpack. I thought there might be other children in the family room and that there might be a friendly atmosphere. But, I was mistaken and the room was empty, although the rest of the pub was quite busy. Adam and I had a great time, though. First we played I Spy, and then I read some more from the Terry Pratchett novel which I have begun to read to Adam (and myself). I looked over at the empty tables in the family room and thought how little luck I have had socially over the last many years. Of course we make our own opportunities, but I really do think I have been unlucky for a very long time now.
We came home about 10:00. Adam went up to read and I sorted through old letters trying to create some order. At about 11:00, I said Adam should undress and brush his teeth in case he fell asleep early. We pulled a couple of leftover crackers and wished each other a happy new year. At about 11:30 I found him asleep in bed and turned off his light. I was in bed by 11:45 and it was only the bangers outside that woke me at midnight. But I was soon back to sleep.
And now we are in the New Year. Please Destiny, let there be some direction in my life.
It is a good moment to report that Adam now calls us ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ instead of ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’. He began to use the shorter words a few weeks ago, but just within the last two weeks, he has dropped completely any use of the longer words.
3 January 1996, Brussels
My first trip of the new year - my fourth year running EC Inform, running it all alone. It was a 5:30am start, which is too early. Between naps, I managed to make ‘The Guardian’ last all the way to Brussels. The train was as empty as I’ve ever seen it. My passport was not checked at any point on the journey, neither through Waterloo, nor through Gare du Midi. For a few minutes as we approached Brussels, I looked out of the window and let my thoughts wonder. It seemed such a long time ago since I let my thoughts roam freely.
Once in Brussels, I raced over to the Commission and managed to pick up many of the papers I was hoping to find. For some reason, the press cards have been extended for two months, until 1 March, I hope that doesn’t mean they intend to crack down before renewing them. I always have such a hard time justifying myself to the spokesman service because so few of them know me.
I have a couple of appointments for tomorrow but a lot of officials are not yet back from the holidays, and my plans to fill in information gaps for the book are not progressing well.
GOOD SAMARITANS STILL EXIST
What a near-nightmare! Last night, while driving from Russet House to Kilburn, the journey was passing mercifully fast because I was listening avidly to ‘Kaleidoscope’. Steve Jones (who had also been on ‘Start the Week’ on Monday along with Jonathan Miller), A.S. Byatt and a professor of literature were discussing the influence of Darwin, with reference to the film ‘Angels and Insects’ (I think that’s its name), a film made from Byatt’s novel set at the time of ‘Origin of the Species’, and publication of a new edition of ‘Origin of the Species’. I had seen ‘Angels and Insects’ in Brussels before Christmas, and of course I’m interested in Darwin. Suddenly, without any kind of mental warning, on the darkest and loneliest part of the A3, I ran out of petrol! I had simply failed to look at the gauge. I remember expecting to fill up in Kilburn before leaving on Saturday but the petrol station at the top of the road was closed for refuelling and once I’d parked the car at Russet House, I never used it again until Tuesday night. I grabbed my bag, put the hazard warning lights on, and started hitching. Cars streamed past me for 15 minutes or more, and I kept thinking about the French hitch-hiker that had been murdered in recent days and how the police were warning people not to hitch. But surely, I reasoned, drivers would see my car had conked out and would take pity on me. But they didn’t. I had no idea where I was or how far the next junction would be, so I just stood there and carried on hitching. I would have no chance, I reasoned, if I left the car and started walking. I tried to work out whether I would stop if I saw someone hitching like that late at night on a fast stretch by a car with hazard lights. I might, but then I might not. I couldn’t be sure. As luck would have it, a man did stop. An unremarkable kind of man, in an oldish car. He drove me to the next junction which was not so far, and where, after winding through the back streets, he brought me to a petrol station. The station sold cans, so I bought one and filled it up, and then the good samaritan took me back to my car, even though it meant a rather long round trip. All in all, I lost less than an hour, I think, and was back in Aldershot Road, not long after 11pm.
I must report my first social event in Elstead. Leslie and Tom from next door, Red Leas, had invited us over for drinks on Saturday. I asked Judy and Rob, who had come to visit, what time ‘drinks’ are but they didn’t know, so I sent Adam over to ask. In the afternoon, we went for a lovely walk with the Warrens down to the Moat. At about 8pm we went next door. I had not met Tom, and they had not met Barbara. We were ushered into the long lounge and given wine to drink. There were three other couples for the evening. Martin, a bushy-bearded jovial man, with his very young looking and smiley wife, and their four daughters, all smiley, the oldest of which must be 16 or 17. They didn’t say much all night. Then there was an older couple: the man has a bathroom/kitchen retail business in Ealing! and his wife has 10 dogs. The third couple consisted of a rather smug-looking, slightly rotund man, who I understood to be an artistic painter, and his wife, who may or may not have worked at Tom and Leslie’s computer firm. I talked mostly to Tom about computers, but also to Leslie a little and listened to the general banter. Leslie served snacks. Adam was not interested in Abby or the other girls and read quietly on the stairs until he fell asleep. We went home close to midnight. I cannot say I was much interested in any of the people, with the exception of Tom and Leslie, who I rather like.
Shall I go out to the cinema tonight or not?
Sunday 14 January, Russet House
It is becoming increasingly difficult to find time to write my journal, or even to remember to write it. There is so much to do: around the house, in the garden, for my business, with Adam. I do remember sometimes to remind Adam to write in his new five year diary, but I’m a bit worried about what he writes. The first three entries all speak about lessons and about being punished. It may seem funny now, but I know the power of diaries to mould the contents of one’s memory.
At this moment I should be working on my new report, on the international chapter, because it is after 8pm and I have done no work all day. I calculated that to get back on to schedule I need to write 3,000 words a day, for six days a week until my next issue. That’s a tall order and allows for little leisure time. It might have been OK to take today off if I hadn’t lost Friday. Friday vanished because of an interview/lunch in London. I drove up on Thursday night (not running out of petrol this time). Played a few games of backgammon with David in my empty house. Friday morning I tidied up the yard and pooled a few more bits and pieces to fill the car for the return journey. I took the tube to Knightsbridge, spent about 15 minutes in Harrods, horrified at the expense of everything, even after reductions in the sale, before walking round the corner to UKOOA.
I had hoped to talk with Andrew Searle about the procurement issue - I need follow-up information for the book - but he knew less than I did. We talked quite a lot about the decommissioning Brent Spar issue. He told me about his experiences fielding endless media interviews for three weeks during the summer. He began to feel like a media star. He took me for a pleasant lunch in an old Edwardian hotel, faded glories, and faded stars eat there at very reasonable rates, even though it is next to Harrods. We talked a lot about Brazil because he spent four years in Rio for BP, actually overlapping with the time I was there. But he kept talking about his experiences there without recognising in his tone or his words that I had been there too. It was as though he could not adjust to telling his stories about Brazil to someone who knew what he was talking about. I also found he was unable to divorce himself even slightly from the oil industry; I couldn’t separate the man from the job. When I tried to play devil’s advocate and suggest that by exaggerating its message Greenpeace was only doing in reverse what oil companies do in trying to win customers through advertising; they exaggerate and make claims about their concerns for consumers, which are just not true. Mr Searle would not accept my hypothesis. Still we had a good chat; and I came away slightly the wiser about the EU’s working time Directive. The oil industry is fighting tooth and nail against the inclusion of upstream exploration and production.
By the time I got home and packed the car and got away it was well after 2:30 and I did not arrive back at Russet House until 4:00. I did a certain amount of admin, but most of the day was already wasted; and for what.
And today, Sunday. I spent the first hours, putting up noticeboards in the office and the kitchen. Then I spent a while in the garden with B discussing where to put some of the plants in pots which I’ve grown from cuttings; and then we went to Secretts to buy potting compost and came back with £50 worth of climbing plants; and then I cooked a most horrible lunch; and then I spent three hours in the garden planting. I planted a bought clematis montana and a home-grown ceanothus on the right of the garage; a home grown rosemary, lavender, and virginia creeper along with a bought blue-flowered clematis on the side wall; a bought yellow-flowered clematis and red-flowered rose on the front wall, along with a home-grown euonymus in the front. I planted an expensive wisteria by the front loggia post; and a home-grown juniper and cotoneaster in the front lawn. Adam played in the trees, making dens and reading his Jennings books. It is exciting to be planting again, after all these years; but the soil round here is poor and I wonder what will survive.
Out there in the world nothing very important is happening; domestic politics are as predictable as ever; the newspapers and politicians spend three days debating the pros and cons of a speech by Thatcher, I mean really haven’t they got work to do.
Wednesday 17 January, Russet House
I am working hard on the book now - trying to complete around 3,000 words a day. I am hoping at least to have made a start on all chapters by the time I travel to Brussels next Wednesday. I am doing it differently this time round. In 1994, I worked on one chapter at a time, trying to complete it before moving on. But this time, I am working in a much more ad hoc way. I intend to complete a very rough draft, with lots of gaps, first and then look at where I need to beef things up. I’ve had two or three orders come in during the last few days for the old report, and I get one or two renewal orders each month from those who are prepared to buy the new report in advance.
Now that school has restarted and we have some order in the house, I have restarted the routine of lessons in the mornings, and sometimes in the afternoon. Adam is beginning to work more diligently which means I can relax and give him more interesting lessons. The school continues to prove itself more interesting than ever Emmanuel was. Yesterday the children had a lesson from a Chelsea footballer, and today he has been at an after school club on textiles.
Now that the weather is not so bitter, and while there is no rain, I take an hour off in the afternoon and do a little more scrub clearing. The brambles are everywhere and I have three huge piles waiting for a bonfire, and still I am not finished. But I love that the property is surrounded by old English trees such as yew, holly, oak. Already, the buds are starting to show, and shoots are pricking through the leaf-clad soil and grass. I am excited to see what things are growing.
Interestingly I had a call from Louis Alsop today. She switched from marketing to editorial a couple of years ago, and started a new newsletter on transport and infrastructure in Asia, under contract. John McLachlan has just told her that the FT will not be renewing the contract and wants to close or sell the title. So, Louis is thinking of going it alone and called me for advice. I warned her about the difficulties of selling a non-FT title outside of Europe, and that it is a lot of hard work doing all the editorial, marketing and admin. She seems quite keen though. She told me she fell madly in love a while ago and moved to Somerset with her friend six months back.
Another surprise. Yesterday I got a letter from Mayco. She tells me she is studying astrology (she wants to do my chart) and psychology. She sends me pictures of her twins, and one of her - she hardly looks any different from how I remember her. She tells me also she has left the Gjurdjief groups and asks me if I have read Jung! This is only the second letter, I think, in over ten years.
5:51pm Tuesday 23 January 23, Russet House
I leave in a couple of hours for London. I shall stop off at Raoul’s house and return to Aldershot Road for the first time in ten days. Tomorrow I must leave before 6am to catch my train to Brussels. I have a more interesting trip than usual, firstly because it is full of appointments, and secondly because there is no pre-publication panic, as I am visiting Brussels again next week.
I have worked like a soldier on my report in the last two weeks, and made inroads on most chapters: only the chapters on energy policy, security of supply, cohesion, the introduction and the conclusions remain completely untouched. Apart from interviews in the next couple of days, the period through to 7 February will be taken up by ECI-E 35, then I will also have to take a week out do work for Eurelectric, and to do my accounts. But I hope to have a first draft ready by the end of Feb, or whenever I start work on issue 36.
We dug holes at the weekend in the garden, just as the books tell you to do, and found that the bottoms filled with water immediately, indicating a severe drainage problem. I popped over to Red Leas to ask them what they knew about the garden, and they confirmed our worst fears. Not only is the garden often waterlogged in winter, but because of sandy soil it also drains very fast in the summer causing drought problems. Tom said when he was building the extension, they found a thick layer of pure sand (which we have discovered at about 2ft) and then an impenetrable layer of clay which is acting as a tank bottom and holding all the water. I asked whether it would make any difference to clear the ditch that runs at the back of our garden, and Tom said it had been cleared in the past and didn’t make any difference.
I think about the plants I have planted already, and I think of their poor little roots sitting in the cold wet water-logged sand. I especially pity those poor cuttings that I have raised over the years from little twiglets, now miserable, sad, cold and wet, where once they were warm and cosy in safe pots in a protected backyard. The garden, therefore, looks likely to present a serious challenge. Anything I decide to do with it will surely take more time and effort than it would do in many other plots. Ah well, I can’t have everything here in Elstead.
I bought a Minty oak bookcase on Saturday - a snip at £40. It looks really handsome in the lounge and the bottom section is large enough to take many of my old photographic books. I also bought two small individual chairs, one with a cane back, and the other with a rush seat, both look well in the lounge.
25 January 1996, Brussels
A biting cold wind has made me rush through the streets today whenever I’ve had to go somewhere, and, unfortunately, I have had to go places today. One trek out to DGXI (the farthest flung DG) proved fruitless as the Commission official I was due to see had been diverted to a meeting at DGIII all day. I waited 45 minutes before leaving only to discover later that he had left a message on my answering machine. When out a lot, I do usually call my machine to check for messages but I didn’t do so today, and that was silly of me. I left at 8:30am for a press breakfast with Eurelectric, then went to DGIV for a rare interview. Paul Malric-Smith now heads a unit dedicated to energy; previously energy affairs seemed to be split across a number of different units, depending on whether it was abuse of dominant position or general aids or state aids. Although I think state aids is still handled separately. Malric-Smith was all set up to boot me out after half an hour, but he gave me an hour in the end. It was not the most useful of discussions but he did give me pointers, and general stuff that I can use in the assessment section of the chapter on competition. This afternoon I have been at a seminar put on by Eurelectric with the European Energy Foundation on the internal energy market. It was packed. I don’t mean to be crude and I will not dare to use such a metaphor in the book, but it is as though the industry is on the point of orgasm, not so much in the sense of excitement, but more in the sense of tension about the IEM, and the Council will not, cannot, find the action to produce the necessary release. To put it another way, the industry, the officials, the civil servants, everyone connected with the issue continues to draw in breath in the expectation that a momentous decision will be made on the morrow but the decision keeps being put off, and all of us cannot yet breath out. I am going back in a little while for a dinner and I will get my first taste of Ramon de Miguel, the new Director-General of DGXVII, who is giving a speech.
What a lousy day yesterday. Getting up at 5:30, horrible, I’m getting too old for it. And then trying to sleep on the train. I dozed patchily for most of the journey without really getting the sleep I needed. I spent the afternoon at the European Parliament listening to a debate between the MEPs and Alberto Clo, the Italian industry minister on the Presidency’s priorities for energy.
Monday 29 January, Russet House
The saga with Tidy Street continues. We had thought the buyers were pulling out, but it now seems that they do have a mortgage offer at the original offer price and that the reduction we offered months ago will be paid as an allowance. The only problem concerns their solicitor, and whether he can be persuaded to a form of words on the contract that does not oblige him to tell the mortgage company. It will be a miracle if it ever finishes.
Life here in Russet House continues, fairly harmoniously most of the time. We are all busy, all the time. Barbara is in London tonight, having worked at Vincent Square and gone to Aldershot Road for the evening, ostensibly to do cleaning, although I’m not quite sure why. I, meanwhile, went to a PTA meeting at the school. Only this was a mistake. It was, in fact, a meeting of the PTA committee, and the PTA committee happens to be all women. Moreover it is clear that no one else brings their child or children along, so having Adam was something else strange - how easy it is to step on eggs in a village. They welcomed me, any how, and said I was the first visitor they had ever had! I listened to their discussions on events - a quiz, a ball, a jumble sale; and a discussion about how to raise money for a floor for the adventure playground. I only contributed once. This was a very different affair from Emmanuel School. The meeting worked efficiently and in good humour, and achieved the business it was meant to. But it was only an event committee, there was no school business as such, other than that connected with fund-raising. I had thought, I had hoped that I would be able to bring up school business - I wanted to ensure there was somewhere Adam could drink water, and I wanted to offer my services for the chess club - but neither of these were possible.
I should be working this evening, but I will watch ‘Our Friends from the North’, a drama by Peter Flannery that has been in the making for a decade. It is interesting because it has a historical sweep, and political and social plot lines, but it does show a little the wear of the many directors it has had, and lacks any real flare or genius of script or direction.
Paul K Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG