JOURNAL - 1998 - SEPTEMBER
Sunday 6 September 1998
Theo is back tomorrow, it will be four weeks to the day that I woke up with a cold, and, although I’ve done a fair day’s work today, I still did not feel well enough to go to volleyball. My nose is still silted up a bit, and I cough a little. Four wretched weeks. And now I’m back on the old work treadmill.
A two day trip to Brussels during the week. It was relatively quiet, but I had a reasonably successful visit to DGXVII. I spoke to Burgos about the gas security of supply study. He wouldn’t give me a copy, but I got one in the end from Eurogas. I had a long chat with David somebody or other, who follows the Ukraine energy situation closely. He confirmed what I had thought for ages that there is a huge mismatch between the idea of the Memorandum of Understanding (by which Ukraine promises to shut Chernobyl in 2000, and the West promises to help it build two unfinished reactors) and the reality. The lead bank which is providing the loan finance for the projects (the EBRD) has put such stringent conditions on the loan that it is difficult to see them ever getting off the ground, and Ukraine says it won’t close Chernobyl unless it gets the reactor projects going. I also talked to Cleutinx. The coal subsidy situation is fascinating also. The British coal company, RJB, has gone to the Court of Justice against the Commission Decisions which allow subsidies in Germany and Spain. So Cleutinx is now in the position of having to post a defence to the subsidies which he has been trying to knock back for years. He’s enjoying it all though, and secretly hopes the Commission will lose the cases, if not in substance then in some detail. But RJB has also asked for an interim judgement, an injunction on the payment of all subsidies in Germany and Spain. That would cause a stir or two.
I attended the Parliament’s research/energy committee on both days. There was the Austrian minister talking about the Ecu14-16.3bn RTD Framework Programme - the Council wants the former figure, the Parliament the latter. And there was a hearing on electricity liberalisation. It was all a bit tame, but, as usual, there are always people to talk to.
In the evening I went to see ‘Species II’. I was fooled into going by a cinema trailer. Obviously, I was expecting an intelligent science fiction, but I got a horror flick, and I’ve no interest in horror flicks. When I came out of the cinema at midnight, there was a torrential rainstorm, and I was soaked to the bones by the time I got home.
Perhaps the most important event in our lives is that Ads has started secondary school at Rodborough. Everything is so new and different for him. I try to encourage him to introduce himself to new people, rather than always gravitating to junior school friends. I explain that it is much easier to start a conversation cold now than it will be ever again at this school. I try to persuade him to listen carefully to what the teachers say and not to be cheeky or cocky - easier said than done. He’s already had lessons in maths, science, home economics, art, rugby, PE, English, French (he doesn’t like the French teacher - its my Miss Mole all over again). I do wish him luck.
If I am destined to be a cranky old lonely hermit, then so be it. I notice that I am increasingly unstable, in that anything and everything can trigger remorse in me these days, remorse that I have no lover, that I have no network of friends, that I can see only emptiness stretching before me into old age, and then I feel my eyes water at the back, and I have to draw myself up and divert my thoughts. It’s been coming a long time, but I think I am finally heading there, heading for that wretched crisis. My intelligence is as naught if I cannot remedy the fault lines in my life.
Friday 18 September 1998
We are all swamped in the Clinton saga. We cannot escape the unrelenting media coverage. The story has been simmering and bubbling all year. I often wondered why the latest revelations concerning Monica Lewinsky (there, she’s got her name into my journal, and yet there are world leaders, Pulitzer and Nobel prize winners, geniuses, who I have never referred to, but because Monica kissed Clinton’s willy, and then told, she’s risen to the very heights of fame - absurdo) were given such prominence in the news, but now I know - his affair with her, and his rather mild attempts to cover it up, have led him to the brink of impeachment. The campaigning and obsessive prosecutor Starr, who was originally investigating the Whitewater business, appears to have focused excessively on the affair with Lewinsky, and delivered a massive report to Congress containing lurid details of the private encounters between Clinton and Lewinsky, and offering 11 grounds for impeachment. Almost immediately, Congress agreed to release the report to the public (and it is already out in paperback form); and now, perhaps because the report itself has not affected public opinion - Clinton still has an impressively high approval rating - Congress’s judicial committee (dominated by Republicans) wants to release the tape of Clinton’s evidence to the grand jury. Presumably they are doing this because they want to undermine the public’s confidence in Clinton to prepare the way for impeachment. But this is all so ridiculous. I understand that the authorities have to be seen to taking Clinton’s adultery seriously but surely there has to be a dividing line between what Clinton has done and what Nixon did. Clinton’s wrongdoings are so minor by comparison, and so minor by what he could really have tried to do to stop Lewinsky or anyone else talking. I think the American people recognise that Clinton’s crimes are small, and will punish the Republicans for pushing the whole thing too far. I think it’s time for Starr to be rebuked for bringing the whole authority of the United States into disrepute, and Lewinsky should be caned for being such a stupid little girl.
I have started work on Theo’s draft of the transport book, on the two-thirds that he has written. On the whole, I can work with it, but I have to make a large number of alterations. I can see it will be a long job, and I doubt whether I’ll be ready to publish it before the spring.
Workwise, I have also placed an advert, to appear next week, for a new assistant. It’s funny how easily I made this decision. The idea only occurred to me recently, and I hardly mulled it over much, certainly not in any deliberate way. I just found myself composing the ad and telling Theo about it. The reasoning is as follows.
Firstly, I have to worry about Theo leaving. He told me before the summer that he was still planning to leave after his two year term, and when the book was done. I was a little worried he might give in his notice (three months) at the start of October, but I checked with him yesterday and he had no fixed plans as yet, so he may well stay into 1999. I also told him, we might be able to fix up a part-time situation, whereby he could carry on doing EC Inform-Transport, but only working two or three weeks a month, and be paid pro-rata. Any way he’s on three months notice, but three months would be barely long enough to train someone sufficiently to take over from him. Therefore, it makes sense to employ someone to overlap a bit.
Secondly, there is sufficient money coming in - I should make a net profit of about 30,000 this year, similar to last year - to cover the additional expense of someone new, even if I can’t raise the profits. My own personal expenditure should be well down next year, as all the major expenses on the house have been paid for.
Thirdly, if I am to expand and do new things, I need to create slack in my workload. The new person could take over some of the work on the energy newsletter, or else start up my new ventures, such as the weekly emails, or the water newsletter I am planning.
23 September 1998
We had a fine weekend in the New Forest. B was away in France with Alistair. I packed the bikes and tent and sleeping bags into the car and we set off early on Saturday morning. Although we got a little lost on the motorways around Southampton we still arrived at the heart of the forest in Lyndhurst by 9. After breakfasting in Le Cafe Parisienne, where they used horrible margarine or something on the baguettes, and sorting through all the leaflets at the tourist centre, we tried to find a campsite. The first and second ones we came across were restricted to campers (mostly caravaners) who had chemical toilets. This was a bit of a blow as I had been expecting to camp in the wild, first of all, and when I realised I would have to use a Forestry Commission site, I opted for a small one. No, I was told we would have to go to a big one with toilets. Roundhill, near Brockenhurst, it was. But it wasn’t so bad, the site was huge with plenty of room between the pitches, and plenty of trees and quietness. We set up tent, and whizzed off by bike on forest trails.
The first thing we noticed about the New Forest was the ponies. I had not realised just how many there are. They are everywhere, certainly in the campsite, on the roads, often blocking traffic, and in the villages. Lovely horses too, all different colours and shades. Our ride took us along the designated gravel paths through the forest back to Lyndhurst, where we took tea in an old fashioned tea house. A little before Brockenhurst we stopped at a pleasant river crossing where children were playing on a rope swing, and Ads climbed trees. The route I had been following took us back along the road to the campsite, but I found a path along the river (not a gravel path and therefore out of bounds to bikes in the rather neat and manicured environment of the New Forest) which was glorious for the bikes; it was full of dips and hollows, exposed roots, mini-board bridges with high ridges, lots of curves and twists, ups and downs, dead ends and multiple junctions. And, as Ads noted, reading my mind, all with the very attractive scenery of the riverside - and no walkers to disturb our flow.
In Brockenhurst, we refreshed ourselves with ice cream, and watched the dying minutes of an early round FA Cup match between Brockenhurst and Dorking (we didn’t know it was an FA Cup match until later). Ads was swinging on a rest bar behind the Dorking goal, and I told him that, if he was going to stand so near the action, he should watch in case a ball was hit hard in his direction. As it happened, he was upside down when a big shot went wide and missed his head by only a couple of feet. I had not wanted to nag and so let him carry on playing against my better judgement. If that ball had hit him, it could have done serious damage.
I was dead weary and hot by the time we got back, and so rested for a while in the shade. We organised the sleeping bags inside the tent, and placed torches and other necessary paraphernalia in there too. Then we read quietly for a bit before driving into Brockenhurst for fish and chips, and for a drink in one of the three pubs next to the train station. By this time, I was right out of energy. I tried to read stories to Ads in the pub but was too weary. Settled snugly in the tent I fell off to sleep a little after nine, while Ads listened to the play - ‘The Water Babies’ - through until 10. Unfortunately, I woke around midnight with a headache and never got back to sleep. It was one of those headaches that never goes without a paracetamol. It wasn’t so bad as others I’ve had, like the one which sent me to the hospital, but it was bad enough to stop me sleeping. Twice in the night I walked round the campsite to go to the toilet - there was no moon - and then at dawn I was up again. This time I left Ads and drove to Lyndhurst to buy pills from the first open paper shop - that happened at 7. By 8:15 I’d returned to the campsite picked up Adam and gone back to the Le Cafe Parisienne in Lyndhurst for breakfast.
I had no fixed ideas about how to use the rest of the day, and I couldn’t persuade Ads to be definite about anything in particular. He allowed himself to be a little seduced by the Beaulieu motor museum brochure, but I showed him that all the exciting things - go-karts etc - on the brochure, cost extra. I would have taken him, if he’d really expressed a strong interest. Instead we drove down to the coast, on the Solent estuary, to a place called Lepe. There we strolled around, read the newspapers, had a quick swim, and just got back to the campsite in time to pack up before the midday deadline.
We then did three further things. We stopped first nearby the campsite at a place I had spotted on the map designated for flying model aircraft. Sure enough there were a dozen or more enthusiasts with their model helicopters, fighters, biplanes, and stunt aircraft. The biggest had a wingspan of two metres. We watched several take off and fly around. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a good display of model aircraft. Next, we parked the car off the road near Beaulieu and lumped the bikes out (as I was doing so the lid came off a chutney bottle and chutney got everywhere). After lunching in the pub, we cycled on roads to a place called Bucklers Hard (I never found out what Hard meant) where they tried to charge us for entry into the preserved village museum, so we backtracked a bit and went down to the river harbour through the sailing club. It was pretty enough. Then we cycled back to Beaulieu along the river. It was not a designated cycle track so, by definition, it was a lot of fun, with the same kind of obstacles we’d found at the end of our bike ride the previous day. As we rode, we discussed the tactics of racing along narrow places and the ethics of carving one’s opponent up. I tried to explain the principle in yacht racing whereby it is vitally important who is actually in the lead at a key moment, i.e. when tacking or jibing around a buoy. Similarly on bikes, it is no good a bike behind trying to race through a narrow gap on one side next to a precipice or other danger, when the cycle in the lead can easily block his path.
Back at the car we found a strange person loitering. Not only had I not locked the car, but I’d also left a door wide open. The stranger said he was about to report the car to the police, and I said thank you, and agreed with him that I should never have left the door open. He kept on looking at me as though expecting something more. You left the door open, he kept repeating as though he couldn’t believe it. I kept thanking him for his concern but it took him ages to leave. From Beaulieu we drove to a place called Eling, at the western tip of the Southampton water, just outside the city, to look at a working tide mill. We paid our money to have a look inside and get a quick explanation of how it works. Basically, the big water wheel is only driven for a short while at low tide, when water that has been held back is released from the dammed pond through the sluices. We saw it actually working, and the grain being milled into flour. We’ve been to water mills, I know, but I can’t recall if I’ve ever seen a working tide mill before. Of course, I bought flour and made bread soon after returning home - however, apart from the distinctive texture of bread made from stone ground flour, it is the grain that makes more difference than the milling, and the grain is actually bought in from Dove, who also make their own flour and is the brand I usually buy. From Eling tide mill we raced home and arrived a little after 5.
Paul K Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG