PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2000 - JANUARY
19 January 2000
The year 2000. Here we are. Two journal entries in four months. Unprecedented (probably because I can’t be sure) in 30 years. Perhaps I should stop here, and never write in this diary again. It would be a good moment to stop. The bulk of my life will (when the reckoning comes) certainly have been lived in the 20th, rather than the 21st century. That is true in a physical/biological sense, based on chronology, but it is also true in a psychological/personal sense, in that I do not expect the 21st century to hold any surprises for me other than a slow fading away. With this sad beginning, do I sadly begin these diaries of the 21st century (having already decided not to stop writing them).
Prior to the grand closing of one millennium, and the almost instantaneous opening of the new one - what do I mean almost, it WAS instantaneous - I had hoped to have time to mull over my life, and the life of the world, both past, present and future, but work got in the way. Tedious, tedious work. I did not finish the transport book until around 6pm on New Year’s Eve, and then I had the two newsletters to do in about 10 days flat. I had two days off over Christmas (25 and 26 December) and 1 January. And that was it. Barely time to breathe, let alone contemplate the universe. Only now, for the first time in months, can I actually relax and waste time if I want to. Next week, I am back in Brussels to start work on the February issues, but this week, I am cleaning up, my office, the house, my mind. But, before I can truly relax, I have to discharge my journalistic (as in diaryistic) responsibilities, herewith, forthwith.
Where to start? What will my Great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandson want to know on the first day of the fourth millennium about what his great etc grandfather did on the first day of the third millennium?
Will he want to know that I was well drunk when the first second of the new millennium ticked over at Greenwich meantime. Ads too was well light-headed. We were both at Andrew’s house in Shepherd’s Bush, London, probably taking pictures of each other, or dancing around in glee, bumping into each other and kissing for a happy new millennium. Happy new millennium. Andrew, Tammy and Jason had decked out the house and garden in a truly bright and festive way - Rosy would have been well proud of them - and there was a large crowd of 20somethings, with us 40somethings/50somethings in the minority. I saw Niema and Tim for a bit, and Richard. Around 1am - one hour into the new millennium - and I am still drunk, but Ads is keen to embark on our challenge - The Day of the Thousand Handshakes - but more of this anon.
I wish I had given the millennium switch more thought, earlier. I believe the whole event was incredibly under-hyped. Most everyone else seemed to think it was over-hyped, and there was endless discussion in the media about whether we should be celebrating this year or next year, since the true 1,000 year roll-over is next year’s eve not this last one gone by. But for me, the only truly important event is the one related to the calendar. Our lives are dominated by time, and the calendar - we celebrate all kinds of anniversaries, which are all based on calendar time. But the move from 1999 to 2000 is the biggest calendar event of our time. New year’s eve is already one of the biggest celebrations of the year in any case, and that celebration is simply based on the calendar move from one year to the next - it has nothing to do with religion or the birth of Christ or anything else. By extension, the eve of a new decade is even more worthy of celebration, and by further extension, the eve of a new century is certainly a major event. Almost no one ever lives through two new century eves, but many people live through one of them, only one. Thus it has to be a special event. Not new year’s eve, not new decade’s eve, not new century’s eve have anything to do with religion. Why then was there so much discussion about the millennium being a religious celebration, and that it will be only 2,000 years from his birth next year. Balls, I say, balderdash, it’s the zeros we want, it’s the zeros that are worth the celebrating - one is good, two is fantastic, but three is totally and utterly millennial.
20 January 2000
I am getting a wee bit twitchy, a touch nervous. Some 15,000 brochures for the transport book were mailed out this week, and no order has yet arrived. Foolishly, I let my hopes dance for a second when I saw an order form on the fax machine, but it was only someone wanting to be removed from the mailing list. I know from experience that very few orders come in really quickly, and yet I also know that if a mailing is working, there is usually early evidence. I might have expected an order yesterday for example from the UK part of the mailing, but there was not even a phone call or email message. I am already starting to look for explanations as to why the mailing hasn’t worked. I might have expected an order from the EC Inform-Transport subscribers, who would have received their issues early this week. I am also disappointed by the lack of response from the press release. I must have sent out over 200 altogether (two-thirds by email), and I’ve had precisely two bites. Not that I have hard copies of the book yet, since Biddles have proved remarkably slow at resolving a little problem with the fonts. All in all, this supposedly relaxing week is proving as relaxing as waiting in a queue for a delayed airplane journey. I am already thinking that I will never, should never do such a book again.
I have to ask myself this question - was that week last June when I employed Krysia for two weeks and had two people working for me, the zenith of EC Inform’s achievements? For now, I am back to working alone, and, assuming I make no money on the transport book, I see little prospect of moving ahead. But I must leave a discussion of my options for the future to another time (i.e. to when I have actually considered them).
For the record, I should give a short summary of my working life over the last few months. Theo left at the end of October having spent his last week proof reading some of the transport book chapters. I made one three day trip to Brussels for the November issue, and found little difficulty in writing and putting both the energy and transport newsletters together. For transport, I relied heavily on an interview with the UK rep for a Transport Council preview, and on some speeches given by Loyola de Palacio. Under normal circumstances, I would have had a few days off, but the transport book filled up every available crack of time. Not only was there proof reading, but I had to rewrite several sections and update several chapters. Then the December issues loomed up on me. I was not worried about these either because the end of the year always throws up a lot of news, and, besides, there was a Transport Council which would help fill up EC Inform-Transport.
In fact, the Finnish Presidency brought the Member States to a political agreement on the complicated package of rail proposals, something which it had worked very hard at in the working group. Although, under normal circumstances I would have sought to get feedback on the results of the Council, I clearly did not have enough time. I felt, in fact, that on this occasion, the up-to-dateness of the information would be a satisfactory substitute for the slightly more analytical response to a Council that my readers are used to. I went out to a party that night (I saw no reason not to) and finished the issue on Saturday morning.
Finishing the December issues was no more than the starting pistol for the final leg of the transport book marathon. Originally, I had hoped to get it all out of the way by Christmas, but when Biddles told me it would make no difference whether I delivered my manuscript on Christmas Eve or 3 January, I spread out my schedule.
I had finalised the brochure early in December, which was the biggest single other job. but also I had to print out 5,000 labels from my own database, and organise two other sets of labels. One set of these labels turned out to be all Africa, and it was only by chance that Derek, my printer, rang me to check which postal zone Africa was in (I had arranged to use Royal Mail’s cheaper zoning method) that I was able to put a halt to their use (thank goodness he hadn’t put them on envelopes or else I would have been in the position of having to seek a refund of the printing costs from the database company). It took a week to sort that out and get the right labels. Then I had to put the website in shape with info about the book.
The main job, though, was to pull the 250 pages of the text into final shape. There were a few stray references to tidy up in the document listings, there was the glossary to compile, the contents to finalise, etc. Barbara spent two half days before Christmas checking over some of my corrections and most of the New Year’s Eve day doing a final run through and check with me. Adam too proved very helpful in checking over the years for the document listings. Apart from a few odd hours during the run-up to Christmas when I did some shopping, and all day Christmas Day and Boxing Day, I was proof reading right through to New Year’s Eve around 6pm. I had everything ready to put in the post (I had agreed with Biddles to supply postscript files on diskette), but decided to have a last look on Sunday, when I was fresh. This I did. I made one or two minor changes to the document listings that’s all, and then I plunged the envelope into the postbox - with such relief. Well, I thought it would be relief, but then of course I worried about whether I had proofread it enough, and whether I should have made this change or that change.
A few days later, I found minor errors in the introduction of all places, but decided they were too minor to bother Biddles about. However, when I received a proof version in the post and was obliged to send new files any way to resolve some font problems, I was able to send a corrected version of the introduction as well. It’s taken a full week, though, to sort out those font problems, and only today have Biddles finally got round to start printing. So, although I was expecting the books tomorrow, I am unlikely to get them now before next week (when I’m away). But, as things are going so slow, it doesn’t seem like I will have much need of them.
A word or two about Christmas. Mum decided to come to Russet House for a couple of days. B and I agreed that we (including Les of course) would all have Christmas lunch here together, and probably a Boxing Day high tea at her house. A few days before Christmas I put up the usual decorations: I brought in the tree from outside, the same tree I’ve used every year since coming to Elstead. It’s a little bare now, but it still serves well, especially with those expensive tree lights I bought yonks ago in Brighton, which have proved excellent value for money. Ads and I placed a few other odds and ends that I keep from year to year: the pottery stars that Roser sent me once, a painted cone, baubles. Above the front window in the sitting room, I pinned a glittery gold and red sign that says ‘Merry Christmas’ - it hangs down in a shallow arc and wavers around gently in the rising heat from the radiator. That’s all it takes to add a really warm and festive character to the hall and lounge area.
Mum and I talked several times during the week about the food. We had decided on duck but I wasn’t sure where to buy it. I opted for a butcher in Milford thinking, somewhat romantically, that it would probably be raised and butchered locally and therefore, by way of magic, taste a whole lot better than any other duck. I found myself asking the butcher whether or not he sold ‘nice ducks’! I mean how was I supposed to know. I collected it on the Thursday before Christmas and was surprised to find it came as well packaged as the ducks I had seen in Sainsbury’s - in fact the only difference was the price, I had been charged over twice the price of the Sainsbury’s birds. Moreover, the bird I’d bought felt suspiciously cold, as though it had been frozen. Any frozen produce must be so marked but this one wasn’t. I can’t say I was truly that worried, but I played along with a bit of worry to keep my mother amused.
Otherwise, I filled up the store cupboards with nuts and biscuits and cakes and fruit and cheeses and hams and brussels sprouts and salads and nibbles etc. I tended to spend rather than think as I was so busy with the book. Mum brought chicken soup she’d made and sage and onion stuffing for the bird, so I didn’t have that much to do at the end of the day. I cooked red cabbage, green beans, brussels sprouts, potatoes, and B heated up some ready made veg thing for herself and Les. Despite my fears, the duck was wicked, flavourful and delicious. For afters, I made a trifle; then after the afters everyone was so stuffed, there was no point in cooking the Christmas pud - we had it on Boxing Day instead.
Much of the morning of course was taken up with present giving. The pile under the Christmas tree was huge, but I don’t really know why. Barbara, Adam and Les had an early morning Christmas present opening at B’s house; and then, around 10, A and B came over for presents here. We had bought Ads the following: a new harmonica, a new five-year diary, a not-very-good computer game, some books, Scalextric (although I used money from Michele for this). Mum bought him a comb and brush (I had suggested this in the wake of any other ideas). I got a polo shirt, some deck shoes, a vase, a diary from Ads, cushions, and a footrest. Among the presents for B (including the ones I gave her on her birthday) were a brass toasting fork, a hose reel, Denby plates, half a bedspread (which Mum found and paid for), and the promise of a large frame for a Chinese silk hanging I gave her years ago (I finally collected this a few days ago, and it looks very well).
On Boxing Day, I drove Mum and Ads into Guildford for a stroll along the high street and around the castle. The weather held out, although it was cold. Oddly, from the castle grounds, we could see a lake even though no lake exists within sight of the castle. I was confused at first, but we checked with a local who confirmed it was indeed a flooded field.
Victoria de los Angeles sings Catalan songs - this is a CD Barbara bought me a while back, but which I’d forgotten about until just now. This Christmas she bought me a CD of Britten songs. While on the subject of music, I have also recently discovered a wonderful Radio Three programme - ‘Late Junction’ - broadcast several evenings of the week between 10:15 and 11:30. It’s a kind of medley of world music, with a lot of singing and strange instruments, much of which I really like. There are two presenters, with different tastes and musical preferences, who take two weeks on at a time. Otherwise, it has been rather a dormant time musically since while I was working on the book, I was unable to relax enough to worry about what I was hearing. The news or TV garbage was often enough for me. Now I can start being a bit choosy again. Hence the Catalan songs.
Sooner or later I must get round to talking about Adam. I certainly don’t want to avoid the subject, but also I find it quite difficult to talk sensibly and interestingly about him, to capture the essence of who he is in words. This is partly because I know nothing about the psychology and behavioural development of children of his age - indeed as I write this I remember that I was meaning to find a book on the subject. Clearly, he is on the cusp of teenagerhood. Unlike others in his school year, he has not begun to change physically (or not that I have spotted yet), but he has started to care about his appearance a bit - particularly his hair. He takes special care over combing it, and, by using gel, creates a strong central parting. It does suit him, but I tease him about using gel. (At present his hair is far too long, and hangs down in his eyes. It makes him look older.) He is taking more responsibility for his belongings, so that he doesn’t come home every day missing his coat, or with his trousers torn; and, generally speaking, he is in control of his school books, remembering the right ones each day. Recently, he has taken to spending his lunchtimes on the computers at school (sometimes sending me emails). At home, he does regularly do a couple of jobs (clearing the draining board, putting away clean clothes that I leave on the stairs), but despite my best efforts, he still won’t automatically do any jobs without being told, I mean he won’t think ‘Oh that needs doing’ and then do it - sweeping the kitchen, cleaning the bathroom, tidying and hoovering his room.
He has a deep and broad sense of humour, which can be both adult and very childish. He remains obsessed with comedy programmes and has been developing a database of information about them. (I recall that when he was younger, he would read joke books over and over again.) Our conversation is full of teases and jokes. He can really stun me sometimes with his teases, which only recently have developed an almost adult subtlety. Of course I can’t remember any now (but I will try and take a note of some over the weekend coming).
But why else do I think he is on the cusp of teenagerhood. I suppose, it is a fast-evolving sense of stubbornness that is starting to fill his head. It is this stubbornness that provokes my anger usually (rather than the initial fault) and his wayward attempts to bolster unacceptable behaviour or lousy work.
Ads is such a great kid. He can be thoughtful, and helpful, he is very very funny, he is smart and intelligent, he is good looking and perfectly healthy. He has a wonderful and bright demeanour, and is rarely anything but cheerful. He responds positively to almost every suggestion I make; and he hardly ever moans or complains about anything. He is the sun and the stars of my life, and is and will continue to be the most important person/thing/event of my entire life. What a burden for the poor boy.
21 January 2000
I cannot get used to writing ‘2000’. I’m not there yet; psychologically I haven’t arrived in the 21st century.
THE DAY OF THE THOUSAND HANDSHAKES
Finally, I must get down to telling about this. One day, not long before the end of the year, I began talking to Ads about the end of the year, and suggesting that I would have to do something dramatic to mark the start of a new millennium. I proposed I should ask the first person I met after midnight to marry me, or I should give up my job, or go and live abroad. He became visibly upset (which encouraged me, in a cruel kind of teasing way to think up ever more dramatic propositions) and was trying to convince me that my life was perfectly fine as it was. For hours afterwards, he kept checking with me to see if I was really going to do something like that. I reassured him that it probably wouldn’t be anything so vivid, but, nevertheless, I had to think of some real marker. Well, I never really got time to think it all through, and I am still planning to do so. However, I also wanted to think of some way of marking the day itself to make it special for Adam, so that he would be able to remember the day for ever. Over Christmas, I hit on the idea of trying to shake hands with a 1,000 people, one for every day of the millennium (the new one or the old one, it didn’t really matter). I talked to Adam about this, and he thought it was quite a good idea. I also talked to B and my mother about it. No one seemed to have strong objections. Indeed, we spent one fine evening at the Mill pub (it was B’s birthday I think), letting our imaginations run away with us. I envisaged inviting every one of the 1,000 people (via a sticker or note we gave them) to meet for a summer picnic in Hyde Park. It would be an antidote to the internet - a real physical meeting of people who had nothing else in common except that we had shaken hands with them on New Millennium Day. We tried to think of what signal would be appropriate for this brotherhood, so that everyone would recognise each other: a straw hat, an orange bag, white shoes.
I had planned to give the idea, or other ideas, more thought before the day, but, as it happened, the wretched transport book took every ounce of energy from me during the week; and it was only when I finally put the book to one side, at about 6pm on New Year’s Eve that I finally gave it my attention. In about an hour, I had crafted a sticker (made from the labels I use for EC Inform marketing) with the following message (in fancy fonts of course), and individual numbering (Filemaker Pro makes it very easy to give each label a unique number from 1-1,000). On a request from Ads, I had visited the Hotmail website where it proved easy, as Ads had said it would, to set up a brand new email address for us (I didn’t want to use my business address). This is what the label stickers said:
‘THE DAY OF THE THOUSAND HAND SHAKES
On the first day of the new Millennium. Our quest to shake hands with one person for every year of the old Millennium. Have a happy one! Paul and Adam. AdsLyons@hotmail.com’
It took another half an hour to print the 50 sheets of 21 labels each. Then it was 7:30pm. I stuffed sleeping bags and blankets in the back of the car, and at 8:30pm we left for London and Shepherd’s Bush, and Andrew’s party. I felt sure that we would either walk through the night shaking hands with people, or we would crash at Andrew’s and carry on in the morning.
The journey was fine, without too much traffic. Occasionally we saw showers of fireworks in the distance, but we did see a massive display as Ads guessed we would as we approached London. The party was already in full swing. Andrew had covered the entire garden with a marquee, and filled it with sofas and table, balloons and bright lights. A DJ was hard at work in the dance room (lounge), and, as always, at Andrew’s parties the kitchen was crammed full of people and bottles.
I got drunk very quickly on champagne. I didn’t really care about anything or anyone else, I simply wanted to get alcohol inside of me. (I had given Ads instructions in case I became incapable or irresponsible.)
Having started the hand shaking, we had to leave - it was about 1:30am. I was in no fit state to drive, but then I thought we were only heading down the road a bit, where we were sure to find crowds. But there weren’t any. I also thought we would be able to use the underground to get to the river. However, I ended up driving towards Hyde Park. Although there were serious road and parking restrictions, I managed to find somewhere near the Albert Hall. At this point I still thought we would tube it to the Embankment or somewhere like that and find lots of calm and mellow groups strolling along the river!
Instead we found hoards and hoards of people streaming along the road. We soon found that it didn’t work very well to shake hands with people on the move. The shaking hands may have been OK, but we couldn’t give them the label. Also, because it was dark, they couldn’t see it, and that made them suspicious. So we started only shaking hands with those people sitting down on steps or walls. We made our way against the flow, because I was sure we could find the source of the flow of people, and a place where they would all be milling around ready and willing to shake our hands and exchange in mild millennial gossip. It was not to be. I hadn’t realised that millions of people had poured into London during the day to witness the fireworks and other celebration displays along the Thames, and all these people were trying to get home. We soon discovered that the main throngs were centred around the tube stations, with queues to get in their entrances spilling out along the street (so much for my idea of jumping on the tube). These people were in no mood to engage in our private challenge. We walked as far as Hyde Park Corner, where a huge number of people had gathered, and, although we found small crowds of people, they were discussing logistics not the millennium. We could and did gather a hundred or more handshakes, to Hyde Park Corner and back to our car, but they didn’t feel right.
It all seemed so petty. Didn’t all these people realise how lucky they were - to be alive, first and foremost, to be alive as one millennium seamlessly transposed into another (civilised mankind has only witnessed four or five millennium in its entire history, and we were living through the change in one of them); to be in a place with peace all around; and to be fortunate enough to have such mild and clement weather. To all these hoards, the millennium was just one more spectacle, just one more entertainment, and now they were on their way home.
It was a very disappointing feeling. I became suddenly tired, and unwilling to carry on. We drove back to Andrews’, where I hoped I might find Eva still there, but she wasn’t, and the party was even more dominated by the youngsters. Also, it was clear we wouldn’t be able to bed down, if only because of the sheer noise, and because every part of the house was busy. So, I drove home, Ads slept almost all the way, dear of him. He was such good company, taking this challenge all the way with me, not questioning my decisions, and throwing himself into it with characteristic energy.
I was so glad to get home to bed in one piece.
The next morning was such a glorious day, with sun blazing down on a fresh year/decade/century/millennium that I was all determined again to complete our challenge. I had a vision of strolling along the Thames wishing hundreds of people happy new year and enjoying the glorious sunshine and views. After an initial hesitation, Ads joined in with my enthusiasm. We collected supplies quickly, fruit and biscuits, and raced off by about 10:30 I suppose it was (which isn’t bad considering we weren’t in bed until after 5pm). Unfortunately, the gods were not with us, and there wasn’t a train for 40 minutes or so - also I hadn’t brought by network card (and it really annoys me to waste over £10). Still, we decided to catch the scheduled train, but, in the meantime, to drive into the centre of Godalming expecting to find people to shake hands with. There wasn’t anybody. In fact the world was pretty much deserted - there were only a few stray individuals here and there, not looking particularly cheerful. How can this be, on this, the first day of this new Millennium. We went back to the train station and waited what seemed an interminable amount of time. The train did not come. Some 15 minutes after its due time, I went to enquire what the problem was: the train had hit a cat at Wisley and the driver was trying to clean up his wheels! That was it. I was hungry, I was dying for a pee and I had no idea what we were actually going to do when we arrived in London. I’d had enough waiting. Darling Ads went along with my decision. We drove home and had lunch.
In the early afternoon, I began to feel restless. I was very unhappy that we had failed so miserably to meet our challenge. We had less than 200 handshakes from early in the morning, which left a huge mountain of 800 to do. Even at three a minute, assuming we could keep up such rate, it would still take us over four hours. I was no longer confident, that we would even be able to find enough people. But I couldn’t let the idea go - I particularly didn’t want Ads remembering for the rest of his life that on New Millennium Day we had tried to shake a thousand people’s hands, and failed. I called to find out the times of the trains, and started thinking about it more carefully. Then I had a brainwave. The tube. We would be able to find a captive audience on the tube who didn’t have much else to do; they would be sitting down; there would be light; and it would be warm. With this idea, I began to think we might actually be able to get the 1,000. My enthusiasm picked up.
Then B came over to see us. She had spent the evening and night with Alistair, and seen all the fireworks along the Thames, which, she reported, were spectacular. She also told us that the walkways along the Thames were knee-deep in rubbish: tin cans, papers, burger containers etc, and was not a pretty sight (I would have been well disillusioned if we’d got there in the morning.) And she agreed with me that it was a shame to give up on the challenge. Although she might genuinely have wanted to spend the afternoon/evening with Ads, she encouraged me to try again. Ads was a little more reluctant this time, but I won him over. This time I remembered my network card, the train came on time, and we had something to read for the journey - all the omens were more in our favour.
As we approached Waterloo, we went through the train shaking hands with all the passengers, but there weren’t many. Then we walked from Waterloo over towards the spectacular and not-working London Eye. There were many people milling around there, so we set to shaking hands with them all. I particularly went for the family groups with children. Having read our sticker, one woman called out after us - ‘Good luck Paul and Adam’. That was great.
Even though there were crowds walking along the river, stopping groups in their tracks to shake hands with them, did not work very well; partly because it tended to block the passage of other people, and partly because the gesture and reaction were all a bit sudden and staccato, if I can explain it that way. It was certainly easier where small groups were standing around; but even so we had trouble with placing the labels in a way that they could understand what we were doing and that they could then read. After crossing the embankment rail/foot bridge, I had thought to go to Trafalgar Square before trying the tube, but I wasn’t comfortable stopping people in the street.
By contrast, shaking hands with seated passengers on the tube proved to be as simple as shaking hands with a friend. We soon developed a technique, whereby we would start at one end of a tube train, get on the first carriage, immediately go up to whoever was sitting at one end, our shaking hand outstretched and say firmly, with a big smile, ‘Happy New Year’. We would then work through the carriage, each one of us working separately, until we reached the other end. Then, at the next stop, we would move to the next carriage and do the same thing. Once we had completed a full train, we would simply wait for the next train.
The dynamics between Ads and I inside the train were amazingly smooth. I always started and then he would work around me, sometimes going on ahead to deal with a different group of people sometimes shaking hands with the person next to the one I was talking to. In every case, we also had to leave a sticker. If possible, I chose to put it on a person’s sleeve, the right way up, so they could read it; otherwise I put on their lapel, or on a bag, or on the seat next to them. Sometimes Ads would place a label while I was shaking hands, and sometimes we gave out stickers before we shook hands. No one really had a chance to read the text until we had moved on, which was a shame really; but, where we encountered some slight hesitations, we would quickly explain that we were trying to shake hands with a thousand people. Sometimes, I would say ‘it’s just a personal thing’, but Ads didn’t like me saying this, and quite often I would ask if the person had had a good day. I would comment sometimes that it’s hard work celebrating.
Over 90% of all the people we shook hands with gave us a positive or nearly positive response, gauged through their facial expression or the tone of their words. There were about five people who refused to shake our hands - to two of which I made a sarcastic comment - and there were another score or two of people who were a bit reluctant but offered their hand without too much effort. We got many very positive responses, especially when we had explained what we were doing ‘That’s great’ or ‘What a great idea’.
We did get off the Circle Line once to have a look at the Monument, because Ads wanted to see it, and once to try out Trafalgar Square. But I simply didn’t like shaking hands with people outside in the dark. We walked past Downing Street, took a peek at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, before a last blitz on the circle line to finish off the 999 - the 1,000th I had promised to reserve for Barbara. Unfortunately, because Ads and I were working from different sheets of labels, I must have given him the last one, and we found that he had done number 999 without realising it. I would have made a big fuss of the last one. I would probably have chosen a child with his family, as I did for the number 500. But it was a relief to have done them all. We just had time to walk along the river, past County Hall, to Waterloo and catch the 7:30 train home - well, well tired.
I am so pleased we did it - and so proud of Ads that he was so easy going and positive about the whole thing, and about how well he managed the business of shaking hands with strangers. There was never a moment of complaint from him or a whinge about being tired or hungry or cold - and certainly no question of ‘What the hell are we doing this for Dad?’, which any sane child might have had the right to ask.
Of all the 1,000 labels we gave away, we’ve had three email responses, two of them definitely from overseas. I replied to them with a few details about our day, thanking them for their handshake, and wishing them well for the new year.
22 January 2000
Beethoven’s ‘Emperor Concerto’ to an accompaniment of hail stones rattling on the patio and down the chimney.
Today I have been trying to consider my future. I promised myself that I would conduct a kind of state-of-the-person analysis as soon after the new year as I had time. I made a start a few days ago, and then put the pad to one side. Today, however, having tidied up and hoovered, it was truly time to face the task. I started by writing down possible work scenarios for the future: carrying on as I am, expanding after the summer, getting a job, trying to become a proper writer, doing something else (what?). And then I tried to look at the advantages and disadvantages of each one. But I didn’t get far. This was because I couldn’t relate the advantages and disadvantages to anything concrete. I realised that I needed to work out what was wrong with my life first, and decide what I wanted to make better about it, before I could understand the advantages and disadvantages of any options facing me.
I wrote down three main problems in my life: the lack of a partner; the lack of any progress in my work; and the lack of a sufficiently busy social life. Although clearly I am a long way from destitution in any of the categories (let’s count B and A as a kind of partner between them), it is, nevertheless, in these very categories that my problems do lie, and in which I feel my life is not so much imperfect, but could and should be improved upon. But, before continuing, I felt I should look at whether there were any aspects of my life which were OK, and which I should be grateful for. After all, there would be no point in improving upon those three areas, if, in doing so, I sacrificed other positive areas of my life. In fact, I was able to write down the following as being areas in which my life was broadly satisfactory and in which I did not need to make any effort of improvement: money, close friends, the lack of enemies, the lack of stress, good health, having a child, and the lack of any major bad habits (drink, drugs, reckless driving, gambling).
So, then, it was necessary to ask myself the question: How can I do something about the three problem areas? I started writing down possible actions, none of which are so new that I haven’t considered them before, but I soon came up against a further complication in my analysis. Before I could decide how I wanted to solve the problem areas, or which ones should take priority, I needed to try and understand how I would like my life to be under ideal circumstances in say five years or ten years time. One way of looking at this was to examine the lives of friends, and try to be clear about what it is they have which I would like, but this didn’t help at all. So I tried very hard to imagine the future. And I came up against a big block.
I have so few ambitions and desires, that there is no real drive in my life. Do I really want a house in Provence, for example? For years, I had the dream I would be able spend the winters in Provence, away from the ghastly English winter; but I certainly don’t want that if I’m alone. What would I do there, and how would I pay for it? and there would be security problems, etc. Maybe, if I had a partner, the dream could take on more reality, but without someone, it’s a non-starter. Do I really want a larger company? with the responsibilities it would entail, and the people problems? Would I ever really want to speak at lots of conferences? or be dragged into media studios to do interviews? Would I really want to give up EC Inform for an uncertain future writing poorly paid non-fiction books. So what are my ambitions and dreams? How can I try to do something about the perceived problems in my life, when I don’t really understand what it is I want.
So that is about where I’ve got to today. Nowhere. It reminds me of a song from Mike and Kate Westbrook’s ‘Bar Utopia’ album. I should put it on.
Should I try extra hard this year to find a lover/partner? Any development in that area would certainly help with the social side of things - although not with work. But, in fact, the EC Inform situation is now on hold until the summer anyway because I’ve taken on a big job for Eurelectric. This is the list I’ve made of ways I could improve my chances of meeting someone: 1) Join another dating agency; 2) Go on weekend courses; 3) Join a night class; 4) Go to London more often; 5) Go on a singles holiday.
I’m not keen on 1, Sirius did not work for me at all well, and I’m sure it’s one of the biggest with the widest choices, and the easiest to use. I might try and find some weekend writing courses. I’ve looked out for night classes in this area, but I’ve never seen one that would suit me. No 4 is an interesting idea. I’m thinking that perhaps I should make a habit of going up to the South Bank (it’s easy by train to Waterloo) every Friday, and go to a concert, or play or film, and simply look to meet people in the intervals. I’m not sure about No 5, I’d probably find myself trapped for a week with all the kinds of people who join Sirius and who I never wanted to meet. The key problem with all of these is that it will take someone special, not ordinary, to match my expectations and to win me over from the kind of solitude and independence that (‘Nowhere’ has just started playing on the CD player) I have become accustomed to.
I booked tickets for the Dome last year, as soon as they went on sale. I thought it might be a sell-out, and I wanted to make sure we went as soon after New Year as we could - so it would a way of celebrating the new year with my mother, B and Adam. We went on the Friday immediately after my Thursday deadline for the newsletters.
The Dome opened on New Year’s Day to the public, and the media had a field day with finding things to criticise, not least the queues for the Body Zone. Yet, I heard an ‘Any Questions’ programme, largely devoted to the Dome, and every single caller who had been to the Dome, praised it, and the only people criticising it were those who hadn’t been. The BBC is always scrupulous about airing the right balance of calls to reflect the overall number they receive. Indeed, in this instance Jonathan Dimbleby went out of his way, so to speak, to stress that the vast majority of calls were in favour of the Dome. The Guardian ran an article about how several right-leaning political commentators were dumping on the Dome because, as a symbol of New Labour, they hope that if the Dome fails it will hurt New Labour badly.
We three went up by train and met Mum at North Greenwich station around 11pm - I hadn’t felt there would be anything to gain by going super early, since the doors didn’t open until 10am any way. The journey was uneventful, but I was a bit disappointed by the new Jubilee line stations. I had expected something special, but they were rather clinical and metallic, totally and utterly out of character with the rest of the network - I remember the original Jubilee line stations were adorned with interesting and symbolic tilework, which made an excellent change from the dingy institutional bathroom style of the old tube network stations.
But the Dome wasn’t a disappointment at all. It is such a massive structure, with its gentle curving surface punctured by the massive masts - sticking out creating a shape which will become famous the world over - one cannot help but be overwhelmed by it. I did notice the canvas had already become seriously discoloured, a rather murky grey colour. There are several other buildings on the site, including large multicoloured cylinder shapes, which I supposed housed electrical substations or water tanks, and shops, and a cinema. It was all clean and tidy and very spacious with a lot of bright looking attendants wondering around, being attentive.
Inside, the first thing to hit one’s eye is the well-publicised Body Zone - it is a huge structure, in the shape of a person - and a long long queue to go with it. Everyone but me wanted to join the queue, but I persuaded them it would be far easier to go later in the day. On the radio, I had heard visitors remarking that the Body Zone was the one disappointment of their visit to the Dome. Why does everyone queue up for it? I think it is because, increasingly, people in our society do not value things in themselves but rather in relation to their kudos/street cred/trendy value, i.e. how much they can talk about something to their friends, workmates or neighbours. Everyone has seen the Body Zone pictures, and it is the major attraction, not because it is the best, but because it is the one most talked about, and most talkable about. (On a similar theme, I advised Adam not to talk about the Day of the Thousand Handshakes to his friends at school because they simply wouldn’t understand the point of it, or be able to relate it to anything cool or interesting that they’ve read or heard about, they would only respond with a so-what attitude, and that would undermine Adam’s own pride in the event.)
The whole Dome seemed all very planned, with zones occupying a sort of inner ring, around a large central performance area with seating and room to walk, and other zones, cafes, amenities, occupying an outer ring. A and B chose to visit a kids area with lots of flying balls - it had something to do with timekeeping, but I never established what. Mum and I walked through the Ford-sponsored zone called Journey. There was a lot in this. At first I thought it was a bit museum-ish with lots of pictures on the walls and models of early ships, carts, trains, cars etc. embedded in display cases. But, in fact, I decided I did not want to stop to examine all the models, and instead let myself flow through the corridors, simply taking in the atmosphere that the exhibition was creating; I was thus moved through the whole history of transport in a matter of minutes. The loud soundtrack which filled the corridors helped to establish a sense of being in traffic or on a train or plane. Every now and then a sign informed me of the speed of a particular form of transport, culminating with Concorde and the Apollo spacecraft (around 23,000kmh I think, or was it mph?). At the half way point, there was a circular quiet room, insulated from the previous hustle and bustle, with a calm cylindrical, virtually abstract, light display all around, and a calm voice telling me to think about my transport choices for the future. Thereafter, the exhibition had futuristic vehicles on display, cars and bicycles, aircraft, and even motorised shoes! This was our first zone, and perhaps I was a little impatient to be moving on, in retrospect, I think it was definitely one of the more interesting ones, and I should have spent more time on it.
In another zone was a reconstruction of a typical seaside resort - but with a difference. Every amenity and attraction had been transformed to incorporate an environmental message of some sort: the toilets were out of order because of a water shortage; the traditional spare lifebelt on a pole had been replaced by a divining stick behind glass; the local museum display was of types of garbage; and all the arcade games had been invented to carry an environmental message. It was bright and gaudy and, at first glance, ordinary; it was only on closer examination that one realised how altered all the detail was. I found it really funny in parts, but I never saw anyone else laughing.
The best, or at least the most imaginative, zone which we all encountered together was one sponsored by British Aerospace. After a short wait we were ushered into a tiny 15-seat auditorium moving slowly on a turning circle. We were meant to think we were on a much grander journey. For the next 10 minutes or so, it (and us) revolved around a central core of several sequential displays illustrating very broadly and crudely the history of earth. It wasn’t so much the content, it was the way it was presented to us, so that we were, respectively, given the impression of travelling through space, boring our way to the centre of the earth, being in the midst of a tornado, and being at an ice cap. At the end, humankind was born, and a huge screen filled up with faces of thousands of people doing different things.
The Work/Learning Zone was a disappointment. After some unimaginative displays meant to give the impression of factory life, there were a number of test areas, where you could test your numerical, listening, verbal abilities etc, all linked to the skills needed for getting jobs. Tesco, you really could have done better. The outside of the zone was more interesting, with two huge walls which alternated between pictures of giant books in an over-sized library and a wood. The pictures were created by hundreds of revolving long, thin parallel display units (as used in giant outside hoardings which change their adverts every 30 seconds or so).
The Rest Zone was an empty white space, insulated from outside noises. Soft coloured light and soft tones swayed through the zone. But so what.
The Money Zone, too, was disappointing. As far as I could tell there were just two computer games (although games is pushing the sense of the word a bit far). The first one allowed you to choose from several icons indicating which way you would spend a million pounds. So when you chose a cricket bat, it turned out you had spent £150,000 by hiring Concorde to take you to the West Indies for a test match. When you had spent your million, you walked down through fairly empty corridors to another computer which gave you a choice on how to invest thousands of pounds in 1980. It then lectured on the results. This really was the poorest zone to my mind.
The Play Zone was great. There was one big room with a series of a square screens, two or two-half metres square, running round the walls next to each other. Directly in front of each screen, there was some kind of game or activity which linked with the screen in some way. This was the only zone which convincingly gave me some insight into the future. I could see that, in time, every house (or perhaps every room in every house) would have a such a screen, built into a wall probably, from which could be displayed a variety of things: TV/film, teletext, internet, games, videophones, simple decorative pictures, even books. The TV will be as redundant and old-fashioned as those thirties valve radios or wind-up gramophones are today. Among the activities were the following: a projected maze that you had to control by walking through a similar projection on the floor; a bicycle which you cycled for a virtual tour around the zone; a tug-of-war which gave you different projected opponents depending on your strength; a sofa on which you sat but which you shared with someone sitting on an identical sofa in another part of the room.
24 January 2000
The first relatively busy day of enquiries related to the book mailing. The fax has whirred into life several times, mostly with messages for me to remove a name from the mailing list, but once with an order, from Slovakia. I also had one order - for the book and newsletter - by phone. Then there were a couple of enquiries from local authorities (who had seen the book mentioned in ‘Local Transport Today’), and a couple of newsletter subscription renewal payments. Most pleasing to see, though, was the inclusion, on an email aviation newsletter (which gets sent to me automatically), of the substance of my press release. Also, today, I finally got a call from Atalink’s somewhat frothy production director Marianne Griffiths about the details of my contract for writing the Eurelectric book. I will have six months to write 60,000-70,000 words, and I will be paid £20,000. I’ve never had such a big contract, or responsibility. I hope I can manage it to my and their satisfaction.
Ads arrives home from school, bursts into the office as usual and asks about my day. He jumps up and sits on my desk. I tell him I have had two orders but he doesn’t know what to say, whether I am pleased or disappointed with the tally. He brushes his hair from his eyes, and I say I’m going to cut it right now. I’ve been meaning to cut his fringe for days. He immediately goes on the defensive and tells me in his sternest voice that I am not cutting his hair. He acknowledges that he does need to have his hair cut and promises to do so at the next available opportunity, but he is not going to let me cut his fringe. I sense a new determination in his voice, tone and mannerism. This is for real, he is adam-ant. However, he is not a teenager yet, and his adam-ancy (no such word I know, but it feels right) is premature. I respond with sternness: ‘No, Adam, I am cutting your fringe now, to take it out of your eyes’. I know that if even the faintest hint of a smile should crack on my lips he will have me, he will know that it is OK to persevere with his adamancy, and to counter my every argument. I hold firm, I even escalate a threat of cutting all his hair, and he soon capitulates. But, the battle is not over, for once we are in the shower room and I am combing his hair straight down over his eyes, and putting the scissors to his hair, he ducks out my way claiming that I am hurting him. I insist he stand still and comb his hair again, and again he claims I am catching his hair and hurting him. This dance carries on for some minutes. His hair is very long at the moment, falling down right over his ears; it makes him look quite old and mature; I don’t dislike it.
The sun was shining a little today, and I was tempted to go out for a walk, but my head was feeling a little heavy, and I’ve been drowsy all day. Maybe, I overdid it at volleyball yesterday. It was an active, if somewhat scrappy, session, and I was well tired afterwards. Unlike the session a week earlier, I cannot say I managed to improve any aspect of my play - and nor did I play well in any respect. The week before, however, I did three cool plays: a really ace block; a superb pick-up; and a deliberate placing of the ball into a space on the other side of the net (having first identified it).
An interesting story in the papers today about Mitterrand providing Kohl with £10m in the early 1990s to help Kohl’s Christian Democrat Party fight the 1994 election. Kohl is being vilified at present for dishonesty over party funds, and this is just the latest accusation to emerge. For me, the interesting point is that the money was, apparently, transferred as part of a larger payment by France’s Elf Aquitaine for an East German refinery at Leuna and a petrol station network. I wrote about that deal at the time (and since in fact) because of the European Commission’s involvement in approving some aid components. I had a mole in DGIV at the time - the only one I’ve ever had - who gave me inside information about the Commission’s difficulties with the deal. He was very nervous, I recall, about speaking to journalists. Not long after he had given me a very interesting story about the Leuna case, I rang him up only to be given short shrift and to be told he’d been moved out of that department.
27 January 2000
I’m just biding half an hour of time while waiting to leave for the airport, in the hope of catching the earlier 5:30 flight instead of the 6:30 one. Although the earlier flight means I get caught up in more traffic on the M25, it also means I usually get to listen to the Archers on the radio on my way home and arrive in time to watch ‘EastEnders’. But this has not been a wholly satisfactory trip to Brussels. Although 5:30am is not that early, especially if I get to bed by 10:30, I always always suffer throughout the day when I leave that early. Yesterday was worse than most. I dozed throughout the flight, I dozed again after lunch, and again at the end of the afternoon, and yet I was still so phased and unwellish in the evening that I spent the entire evening lying on the bed, reading and listening to the radio. Then, I couldn’t sleep in the night, and was tossing and turning, so that, when I woke up this morning, I was as groggy and mulshy as I’d been all day yesterday. I haven’t made any calls, or visited any officials, or done any interviews; I’ve simply sat in two EP committee meetings, collected a few papers, and gone to an intermodal press conference. I’m not sure, I’ve properly utilised my time here. I had hoped the Commission would be ready with its work programme for the year, but so far there’s no sign of it yet. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to de Palacio speak to MEPs for an hour or so, but I hardly extracted anything new from her comments. Similarly, I failed to get anything from the Portuguese secretary of state for energy and industry, Victor Santos. Still, here and there, I bumped into people: Hans van Steen, Gordon Lake, Henrik Skotte, Christian Dahm (the latter of the German transport mag DVZ, who’s promised to review my book). I also donated a copy of the book to de Palacio, and cheekily asked for an endorsement. I’ve yet to hear from her. (I expect to be able to say the same thing in a year’s time.)
Monday night, I met up with Raoul and Andrew in Esher, for a beer and an Indian meal. Andrew is feeling a bit lost without any idea of what work he will do in the near future. Raoul talks of retirement in six years time. He wants a house in Spain, and to be able to paint all the time. A likely story. I tell them I’ve been trying to think out a future for myself, but I cannot find a route. Raoul thinks I should shave my beard off, buy new clothes and move back to London.
28 January 2000
Friday night, 9:30pm and still at my computer. I have not yet got used to the schedule of doing both newsletters.
I read a novel during my trip to Brussels - ‘An Equal Music’ by Vikram Seth. I really enjoyed his epic Indian tale ‘A Suitable Boy’, but this one, although some 500 pages, was rather lightweight. Technically it was about music, but really it was a simple, almost hackneyed love story - the love of a violinist for a pianist, once lost, then rekindled, then lost again. It was very readable, a bit like white bread - you munch through and then wonder if you’ve eaten anything. How Seth managed to spend 500 pages telling this story I do not know. In some ways, the structure was similar to BLR: there was a narrator telling a story about the woman he loved, and a small group of secondary characters who play a lesser or greater role. Even after 500 pages, I wasn’t terribly convinced about any of the characters, with the possible exception of the loved woman. I certainly couldn’t understand why she would have loved him. As I sit here and write this I want to rush upstairs and take hold of BLR and revisit it. Sometimes when I read something like ‘An Equal Music’ by someone as famous as Seth, I really believe I should be pushing my works more; but then what more could I do. Interestingly, I found myself ranting and raving to Andrew and Raoul the other night about BLR again and suggesting it was as good as stuff by Ian McEwan. Well, I know I’ve mentioned some likenesses between his efforts and mine before, but I’ve never gone as far as saying my stuff was better - and not a drop of alcohol had passed my lips. Perhaps I can blame the curry.
30 January 2000
Strong winds have finally brought in a low pressure front relieving us of the oppressive cold which hung over both England and Belgium last week. The daffodil and crocus buds are visible, but otherwise it still feels like mid-winter. Lying in bed this morning, looking out at the tangled mass of branches and twigs that make up the mighty oak tree backdrop to my garden, I realised there had been no acorns this year - and the year before there was only a full crop of oakleaf galls.
Ads prepares lunch - only a salad and bread and cheese. He is in a giggly mood. Because there is no mayonnaise (which he usually spreads on top of his tuna) he tries to spread butter on top instead. I give him a quizzical/critical eye, and he bursts out laughing. Then there is the question of the salad dressing. I pour a generous helping of dressing on to the freshly made salad from the jar. Later Ads comments on the fact that I’ve put too much dressing on. So far I haven’t noticed, but I suppose it’s because he hasn’t dried the lettuce very well and so the water has drained off and diluted the dressing. However, he’s a bit insistent about it, and claims that he did dry the lettuce. A little while later, when he’s eating the lettuce (I usually pick at a salad from the main bowl with my meal, and Ads then usually finishes it off after the meal), I glance over to see him holding a tomato on the end of his fork for a long time. It takes a second or two before I cotton on, and as my brow furrows he can contain his mirth no longer and a huge grin splits on his face. He continues to insist there is too much dressing, and then hints, very gently, that he might have slipped some dressing down the side of the bowl before I put some on (why he should want to do this I have no idea). However, he manages to suggest also that he is only saying this so as to manoeuvre me into agreeing that there would be too much dressing. By now most of the salad has gone and I can see that there is rather a lot of dressing, and I begin to wonder whether he did in fact put some on before me. We carry on laughing and joking about this right through washing and clearing up. But I realised that Ads would never have commented on the amount of dressing but for the fact that he knew something was up. So, I offered him a bet: I said I would double his pocket money if he hand’t put any dressing on, but if he had then he has to give me £3. He was too slow to dissemble, and realised that by failing to accept the bet and by failing quickly to find some reasonable excuse for not taking the bet, he had given himself away.
Northern Ireland again on a brink. The Ulster Unionists, who finally went along with the power sharing formula last year, also placed an artificial deadline on the start of IRA arms decommissioning. That deadline has now arrived and there is no sign of decommissioning. The Unionists say the Northern Ireland government should cease. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, which is the framework for all the progress that has been made, the IRA is supposed to decommission its weapons by May, I think. Since almost all the IRA prisoners have now been released already, I don’t understand why the Ulster Unionists cannot wait until May (they don’t have to pass any major pieces of new legislation by then, I wouldn’t have thought), and if decommissioning has not taken place by then, then they would clearly have right on their side. By continually threatening to bring down the agreement all the time, they are allowing Sinn Fein to claim that the IRA never promised to decommission before May. It is as though the Unionists are intent on calling a halt to the whole thing before the IRA has a chance to meet its commitments. Another way of looking at it, would be to suggest that this ongoing threat to bring the whole peace process down is designed to apply maximum pressure on the IRA to actually meet its commitments by May. But it is hard to see how the IRA can afford to give up its weaponry, and consequently its defences, when there are splinter factions who will then be a threat to the core IRA people themselves.
Paul K Lyons
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