JOURNAL - 1996 - SEPTEMBER
5 September 1996, Brussels
A messy couple of days. It’s always the same for the September issue, there’s never any news, but at the same time a few things are beginning to bubble under the surface and it’s not yet possible to get a good angle on any of them. Most of the issue will be taken up with stuff that broke during July, a few bits from August, and a few updates and this-is-what’s-going-to-happen kind of story. The PINC looks like being adopted finally next Wednesday, but, can I get a copy of the summary? No, because the one Rex has is out of date, and Waterloos, the key guy, is away until Monday. I’ll try some more avenues tomorrow and try the man himself on Monday. There was a plenary session at the Parliament today but the only issue which could have been of interest for my newsletter was postponed.
Never mind, I’ve had a few chats with people. I hoped the Council working group people would be fairly free this week, but the ones I know were hard at work on something (possibly the Korean nuclear dossier), while other contacts of mine I found had vanished and been replaced over the summer. Piers Baker has gone from the UK Rep - three cheers, I don’t think he gave me one piece of information or one document in his whole term of office; I got on very well with his predecessor, Peter Millet, but never broke through Baker’s crust. Also gone is Pekka Lindroos from the Finnish Representation. I liked him but he was slow to form his sentences - I don’t think it was any lack of command of English, more a general kind of verbal cautiousness - and I often found it not worth my while to call him. His successor seems sharper, and I’ve promised to write to him with a view to establishing a closer contact. Although the counsellors from the smaller Member States are not always privy to the best information, they are extremely useful for both providing clues as to what’s going on, clues as to which better questions can be pegged for the next interviewee, and for checking on what the bigger boys have been telling me. Also gone is Philippe De Klerk at the Belgium delegation. For some reason the energy counsellor there won’t talk to me, even though her predecessor was a good source, but Philippe, who did the atomic questions and research side of things, always remembered me when I called. He was close to mole status, in that I could usually get good inside info on sensitive nuclear dossiers that no one else would tell me. With his info I could go back to the Germans or UK for, if not confirmation, at least some reassurance that I was on the right lines. I never used him that often, for fear of alienating him, but I rang him today because of the Korea dossier. His successor, Mors, answered the phone and, more or less, took up where Philippe left off.
I lunched with Brooks and Chris - Chris, Chris somebody or other. He wrote for the ‘Evening Standard’ for a while, and freelanced some environmental stories which is how I first came in contact with him I suppose. Now he’s working at ‘European Voice’. Doesn’t know much about the commercial situation there yet. We spent most of the lunch break arguing about the difference or lack of difference between zukini, courgettes and baby marrows. Brooks is also stressed about the weed-filled plot in front of his house. He wants a tiny lawn there and wondered if he could buy turf and lay it straight down over the weeds and smother them.
I go to DGXVII twice. First time round I drop in on a few officials - I catch Busby fortunately, who gives me background on KEDO, and Carvounis, who confirms that the Synergy Regulation is looking more of a goer now that the Germans have turned round. But I failed to get any documents, and found myself desperate enough to call Rex for help, and to nip out there again this evening. This time I catch Fee as well, who updates me on SAVE, and the IRP Directive.
I had one stroke of luck. I ran into Otto, a journalist for the Norwegian daily FT-equivalent. I’d met him first at Vienna airport earlier this year, on the way back from a Synergy Conference in Bratislava. I would never have recognised him but he stopped me in the street. I’d sent him a copy of my book not really expecting him to follow up on the interest he’d shown during our beers at the airport. But, he said he’d like to cover my book by doing an interview on a current topic, so I went to his office this morning and we talked about the gas Directive. He then arranged for a photographer to take pics with me holding the book. ‘Dagens Naeringsliv’ has a circulation of 55,000; that’s impressive when you compare it with the FT’s 300,000 and the relative size of the markets for information in English and in Norwegian.
I am reading ‘Primary Colours’ by Anonymous. This book is certainly flavour of the month; I remember reading about it some while ago, it must have come out in hard back first, but now its flooding the bookstands in paperback, and I couldn’t resist. Well, I might have done, if there had been anything else even halfway’s decent worth reading on the ‘best seller’ or ‘just out’ shelves. In fact, I’ve been as hooked on ‘Primary Colours’ as on any decent thriller. I’m not much attuned to American politics but this book, which pretends to be a novel, is really only masquerading as such and is more akin to a personal dissection of the Democrats presidential nomination race from inside the Bill and Hilary Clinton camp (only, the nominees are Jack and Susan Stanton - not named as the Clintons). The book is written with such detail, detail that would be superfluous indeed boring in a novel, but which verges on fascinating when assumed to be as close to the truth as legality will allow. The author, from what I remember of the reviews, was determined to remain anonymous given the intimate nature of many of the revelations, but there was such an inquisition by the media that the author did eventually own up.
The author’s note at the beginning is a classic: ‘Several well-known people - journalists mostly - make cameo appearances in these pages, but this is a work of fiction and the usual rules apply. None of the other characters are real. None of these events ever happened.’ The book, however, does not startle with an endless list of unbelievable revelations. Instead, it builds up a picture of a team of very high energy individuals, not least Bill Clinton, I mean Jack Stanton, desperate to ensure that the best man, i.e. Jack, gets the Democratic nomination. Jack comes over, if anything better than one might imagine. Yes he almost certainly screwed around, yes his wife screwed the narrator (author’s licence, fantasy, determination to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth . . .), yet they all use foul language, yes they employ some fairly aggressive tactics at various points in the campaigns, but there is nothing new or terrible in these personal histories; we, the readers, all know these shenanigans go on in politics, no one can get up there without being willing to engage, but the author’s skill is to bring us right into the campaign room, and understand the personal dilemmas and show us the why and how all of it has to happen. Utterly believable, every last word of it.
I went to the local cinema last night, but even though there were a dozen or so movies on show, not one of them appealed to me. ‘Striptease’ with Demi Moore almost caught me, but I thought the chances of it being even reasonable were pretty remote. I passed on ‘Trainspotting’ because I noticed it was a Channel Four production and I reasoned that I would get to see it soon enough on TV. I’d seen ‘The Rock’ with Sean Connery last trip; I had no interest whatsoever in ‘Twister’ or ‘Rumble in the Bronx’, and so it went on. I considered seeing ‘Eraser’ with Schwarzenegger (what a name, it sounds like Swat-a-nigger; why couldn’t he change it to something sensible like Black or Blond?) but without any reviews to go on, I was reluctant to subject myself to two hours of beheading and car chases.
Why am I in such an expansive mood this evening? Perhaps it’s because I ought to be writing energy stories - after all it is Thursday, and I have an issue to put to bed early next week. I am on the train at 10:30 tomorrow, but at 9 I’ve arranged to see a flat next door. It’s not available until November, which suits me, because I can ensure I get my deposit back by not paying the rent from now on. Also it’s on the 6th floor. I hadn’t realised until I started looking at flats earlier this year, that I would really hate being on the ground or first floor, especially on a street with traffic. The 6th floor would be fine. Both the proprietor and the current tenant speak good English; that would be a relief. Any way let’s see in the morning.
UK politics is really getting up my nose. Gordon Brown and Kenneth Clark, on the ‘World at One’ today, were living embodiments of their latest power campaigns. The Tory’s continue to use demon eyes as a theme, this time staring out of a purse (get the message?), while Labour is sticking to its theme: ‘Same old Tories, same old lies’. Both Clark and Brown stuck to their themes and pounced on each other, trying to tear out the other’s eyes. I was not a jot the wiser after the debate. What seems to me more crystal clear than thin air is that the government has notched up a nice fat debt, thank you very much, in order to milk available resources as much as possible in the run up to the elections. The Tories know that Labour cannot bang this message home too much because the obvious follow-up question is: how will Labour bring the finances back into order. The fact is that whichever party becomes the next government will have to reign in hard and fast; and that will probably mean some rise in taxes, somehow, someway.
Thursday 19 September 1996
I am petrified - not frightened as such, but turned to stone, unable to make a move, frightened of doing the wrong thing, or the thing not good enough. I am silent and inactive with indecision. I do not know what to do. My little, titchy, minuscule, electron-sized, insignificant company is at the biggest turning point it will ever have. And I am afraid to even arrive at the cross-roads, let alone to take the turn.
Ever since I started out alone, nearly four years ago, I have planned to set up a second newsletter, probably on transport. But I have not done it. During the first year, I was preoccupied with getting EC Inform-Energy up and running, and then I wrote a new management report which keep me busy through to the autumn of the second year. And then I decided it would be foolish to employ someone before I had moved, so moving became a priority and that took up the third year. Then, I made myself extra busy by writing a second report early in the fourth year - this was completed at Easter. Since then, I have known, that I must get on with it. But in the six months since the report was finished, I’ve dallied and dallied; preferring to sink my time into various short-term projects, like getting linked up to the internet, like buying the new computers, and doing work on the house and in the garden.
However, finally, I did get down to some action. I went to visit a couple of associations in Brussels and I am collecting all the material I can on transport issues. But then I decided that I really couldn’t proceed without finding someone to work for me, so I advertised in ‘The Guardian’. I have received about 150 replies. There is a large group of experienced journalists, often with their own companies, who are writing, probably out of curiosity I think. There is another large group of young people with no experience of journalism at all. Then there are a lot of applicants with some experience of journalism but not in the political/business area. I found it quite frustrating sorting through them every couple of days, but I wrote back to ten applicants, a few with no experience and a few with some, with a copy of my newsletter and a fairly detailed letter about the kind of work they would have to do. One of them - a 23yr-old - phoned almost immediately to tell me he was very keen. He has written a Masters thesis on European transport and so would come with at least some knowledge of the business area. Two women - Helen Smith and Rosalind Andrews - also replied. I spoke to Darren Bennett on the phone. He seems very confident and interested in the job. However, I think he’s applying for a number of other jobs. He may come to see me next week. Of the two women, one of them is married and lives the other side of London, so I don’t see how she is going to commute to Godalming on a regular basis. I had planned to call Helen Smith this morning, but when I looked at her c.v. a bit more carefully I found it entirely lacking in any journalist endeavour at all, and for the last five years she has taught English as a foreign language in a different place every year. On the plus side is a beautifully written letter, some writing of technical reports, and good French.
But my problem lies in trying to visualise the day-to-day working situation and relationship. I worry a lot about how I would have enough work to keep them busy without giving them week-loads of database work, but most of all I worry about them being bored or fed up.
I took a break and went for a run on the Common, there was not a single person to be seen anywhere. And when I came back I sifted through all the applications again and took out a few more youngish inexperienced people. I might write to them as well; I’ll see how I feel later on.
Another option would be to start up the newsletter on my own, so that two weeks in every four would be on the energy title, and two weeks in four would be on the transport title. That would be a punishing schedule for me but, maybe, the key difficulty would be child-care arrangements for Adam. I’m not at all sure, I’d want to leave him for three days a fortnight.
I have finished Myst and solved the puzzle. This was, probably, the best computer game I’ve ever played. It had stunning graphics, challenging but solvable puzzles, and a great story line. I loved it all, even if I did get a bit frustrated by it at times. I wonder if Myst will become a classic that is played in decades and centuries to come, like classic songs and films.
Wednesday 25 September 1996
Is there a local conspiracy against me? Can I really be worth it? The local tradesmen seem intent on treating me as though I don’t exist. David Shepherd, a carpenter, gave me a quote for a cupboard six months ago and said he would do it in two weeks, I’ve never heard from him again. Stephen Cruickshank, the tree surgeon, brought his men round to thin some trees for me, they came and left without completing the job. I called and left a message on his answering machine two weeks ago, but since then I haven’t heard a thing, nor have I received a bill. Martyn Puchalski, the plumber who lives opposite, rang me back on Friday to say he would come round at 8:30 on Saturday morning, but he never showed up. I rang yesterday and left a message with his wife and he’s still not come.
Paul K Lyons
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