PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2001 - MARCH
On Eurostar on the way home.
Foot and mouth is spreading wider still, and may have winkled its way into Ireland through a dodgy sale of sheep across the border from Northern Ireland. Apropos of my earlier comment, I did hear one journalist ask the question: Would it matter if we just let the disease run its natural course? Yes, it would matter, from an economic point of view, the respondent said, because the UK would lose its foot-and-mouth free status, which, presumably, would mean a severe and permanent ban on any exports. In one sense that answers my own argument, but it doesn’t answer the question as to the benefits or costs of keeping the disease at a low chronic level throughout the relevant population, presumably all of the EU in this case, as opposed to the benefits of long periods without and the costs of major crises every now and then.
Gilles Gantelet, the small, calm spaniard who acts as a spokesman for Loyola de Palacio, is becoming a real mine of information. He has started leaking important documents early on a regular basis, and he’s always prepared to get into the detail of more technical stuff, like court judgements or state aid cases. In fact, he’s doing that so well, he is making a difference to how much I need to talk directly to the officials. I tried today, for example, to wander around DG Tren and talk to some people, but there was hardly anyone around. Then, later, I found Gilles who, having already given me a couple of good documents yesterday, was happy to dig around today in answer to further requests of mine - hopefully the papers are now sitting in the tray of my fax machine. The telephone in the flat went this afternoon, as I was having a bath - that telephone never rings (I never give the number to anyone, because I’m never there). I jumped out of the bath, leaving a tidal flood trail across the lounge. It was Pepita, Gilles’ secretary, who wanted to get on with faxing me the material, but couldn’t retrieve my fax number because it was in Gilles office, and his door was closed. Sweet Pepita. I hope the fax machine at home didn’t jam.
There was an absurd Midday Briefing session today at the Commission. Sometimes, the journalists act like a collective mound of ants that simply want to sting something, anything. All the questions were in French, so I knew this was a story that had broken in France, in ‘Liberacion’, I think. It seemed - I say it seemed because after listening to dozens of questions and answers on the subject, via the interpreters, I was still unclear about the actual story - that a secure computer system bought and used by the Commission had been penetrated by the Americans. The Commission’s side of the story is that this computer system was bought 10 years ago, yes 10 years ago, and that the US’s National Security Agency (NSA) was, in some way, contracted to test its penetrability. Somewhere in the story there is a Commission official with a brother in the NSA, but, to be frank, the story is more impenetrable than the system.
Back from our weekly swimming trip to Spectrum, and our monthly stopover at the Compton teahouse. Ads has a bruised shoulder so we didn’t mess about much in the pool, and he had a lot of homework, so we didn’t dawdle in Compton. Very early Thursday morning, he’s off to France for his first foreign trip with the school.
I’m well into my easy week, my easy two weeks actually, although I’ve chosen to spend the first couple of days doing admin. I’ve also typed up a short diary from 1978 - I was full of meaningless poetry in those days, which is a shame because it was quite a busy time. It was the period when I was involved with the Demolition Decorators (there’s very little detail in my diary unfortunately), and when I had a brief affair with Jenny. I was still in love with Mu (although she was in Vienna) and I was seeing Mayco every now and then. It’s also the time when I first met Rosy and Raoul. I’ve ordered a speech-to-type programme which I think is extremely unlikely to help me with typing up the journals, but, at £50 I thought it was worth a try. I may do another journal in this two week easy period, because I haven’t got much else to do.
I’ve stopped writing to Louise for a while. Between us we’ve written over 40,000 words to each other in the last two months or so. I tend to write fewer more thoughtful letters, and she writes lots of bitty letters. Although she is incredibly responsive, and very involving, she doesn’t have much depth to her, she doesn’t seem to have any interests, nor is she very inquisitive, and nor does she have much imagination. I seem to be doing all the creative work in the dialogue, and she is always tired or gloomy. I’ve told her to write less, but she is so impulsive and wears every thought on her coat sleeve, that I can’t persuade her to take a more considered approach to our dialogue. But, most of all, what interferes with the relationship is her insistence that it is something else, that it might lead to a physical relationship between us. She seems unable to temper her hopes in this regard - she keeps castigating me for not wanting to meet, and not phoning her. She never keeps the correspondence, so she doesn’t know what she or I has said in the past, and she can, therefore, mould her memory of what we’ve said to her own convenience.
Foot and mouth is still getting worse - there is talk of a mass cull, and the army being brought in. A first case has been found in France, and the US has banned all imports from the Community. Our countryside is still closed off (there are red and white ribbons across the entrances to the Common here in Elstead) while many farms and farmers are becoming isolated, and impoverished. In the ‘Archers’, Ruth and David have closed their gates to the outside world, and there are many more conversations taking place by phone. If the real crisis is contained soon, then the ‘Archers’ will be able to let out a collective sigh of breath, but if it escalates into something much bigger, then, I think, the producers may find it difficult to sustain the reality of such a crisis in the programme.
On Friday, I had one of my Friday-in-London days. The centrepiece of the trip was lunch with Luke who I haven’t seen for years, but - as with Manu - it was as though we had. I did see Luke three or four years ago at the Actor’s Theatre. I went to see a Shakespeare play he directed with his wife Edda in the lead role. I don’t think I was very impressed. I chatted to him afterwards, but he was busy with people he knew all around. It was much more pleasant to see him this time. He told me his wife had left a year ago, although he felt that, probably, she had departed emotionally two years earlier than that. She’s gone to Canada, he said, and he’s in sole charge of their child, Sid. Luke and Sid have spent quite a bit of the last two years in Africa, where Luke’s been teaching in South Africa. He transformed his theatre company, the Soho Theatre, I think (or something similar) to the Nomadtheatre in order to better illustrate its purpose and activities. And he continues to take tours to different parts of the world, mostly of his Shakespeare productions. He’s going to Brazil this year. We talk quite a bit about our children - and agree to meet up one Sunday evening soon - and about our single status, and women. He’s recently been seeing Lynn again which causes a storm of laughter in me, and in him. He says she’s as mad as ever. He tells me he is going to meet her a ‘hot date’ later that evening, someone he met many years ago when directing a community project. Finally, he also tells me that he’s run into Ros Stockwell, and that he might be seeing her in a couple of weeks - maybe at the same event he’s invited Ads and I to. This prompts me to retell my Berlin story to him, and then later to Louise by email.
After Luke, I bused down to the Tate Gallery. I can’t remember the last time I went there. I strolled slowly through the Turner galleries, dawdling longest in front of the paintings from his later period. It dawned on me that, although I like the hazy, near-abstract paintings much better than his picturesque scenes, they may well have come about because of a growing blindness - this would explain the impressionistic style and the occasional strong bursts of colour. Have I had this thought before, there’s a very slight echo in my memory - and I can’t believe experts haven’t thought about the connection between these pictures and his eyesight, and studied, and come up with an affirmative or negative response to it. One of the long galleries had recently been repainted in the darkish red that was originally used as a backdrop to his paintings - and the Tate has hung the pictures quite densely also to recreate the original state of the gallery when it first showed the Turners.
Outside, I stand for a few minutes staring at the brown waters of the Thames, before walking back along the river, around the mother of all parliaments, and back to Soho to Cinema Metro to see ‘Faithless’. This is an Ingmar Bergman script, and, apparently autobiographical, or semi-autobiographical. It’s a simply filmed story (which, incidentally, could be more powerfully told on the stage, although it would be an unbalanced production with one actress having 85% of the work) of a love affair between two people and the consequences of the affair on the marriage of the woman and her only child. It is a skilfully woven tale, and quite satisfying both in terms of the performance of the actress, and in terms of the plot in the story, half-told, half-shown.
After a very stormy time with Louise last weekend - I counted 16 emails between us - this weekend is much quieter with only a couple of short ones each. But a softer more likeable woman is showing through, and I feel less firm about not meeting her.
17 March 2001
More rain, more puddles in my garden. Moss is taking over the lawn. The concrete in my drive is falling to bits, and the fence is falling down.
I’ve typed up another old diary this weekend, from October 1978. This covers my one and only trip to see one M in Greece, and my decision to leave market research; both Ms figure strongly in this period, and I seemed to be deeply in love with both of them. In a truly spooky moment, I was listening to something on the radio when the place Berkeley Square was mentioned, at that very moment, the exact moment, I was turning a page in the diary, and the first line of the new page was entitled Berkeley Square!
Ads is home from his trenches trip to France and Belgium. He is full of details about the First World War, about the Somme and Ypres, about the endless graves, and the tactics of generals that led to so many deaths. He tells me with a slightly worn pride that he won the prize - a bag of sweets (why not a book?) - for the most enthusiastic historian. He also tells me the food was rotten, but the one really bad thing, he says, was that everything was too packed in, and they weren’t given enough time to take in the atmosphere of the cemeteries, and the thousands of graves. He was impressed with the guide, who was always willing to answer extra questions. He bought chocolate for B and I, and for himself a pen made of old bullets and a pack of playing cards with World War I posters on them. I have a large volume book about that war, with masses of pictures - perhaps we will look at it a little tomorrow.
On Thursday, I take B to see a folk singer called June Tabor. Recently, I bought a CD of hers, having heard her - and liked what I heard - on ‘Late Junction’. She’s in her 50s now, with silver grey hair in a pigtail, and an austere manner and clothes. By coincidence, the show and all the songs were dedicated to the rose - she’s clearly done some horticultural research into the origins of the rose and the connections between roses and folk songs - and this was perfect for Barbara. Indeed, the songs are being prepared for a new album to be released in August by the name of ‘Rosa Mundi’, which is the very rose B plans to plant in her front garden. She was good, and her accompanying musicians too, so it was a pleasant evening at the West End Centre.
The following night, I went back to the same place. I’d bought tickets for a band called Lee Sankey, because he’s a harmonica player (influenced by Paul Lamb), and I had planned to take Ads. But, of course, I’d forgotten he’d be in France. I asked Genny but she was busy. Right up until about 7:40 I had no idea whether I would go on my own, or not go. In the end, I did go, but, when I got there, I found it so empty, so lacking in any kind of atmosphere that I came straight home.
Faced with very little to do in the forthcoming week, I decided I should try and give some thought to a new novel. I’ve come up with the name Thomas (aka) Kip Fenn, and I’ve written an opening two paragraphs, only another 2,000 to go.
21 March 2001
I have not been able to work on Kip Fenn for more than a couple of hours, and somehow I have managed to wile away almost all of my free two-week period. What I have done is go on a nostalgic voyage into my past - which has seen me crying once or twice, and depressed me quite a lot too. When I have a few days free I am often tempted to go back and read old diaries, but I’m fairly restrained and don’t indulge too often. It’s a more serious undertaking, though, to take an old diary and type it up. I did a fair number when I was at the FT - and maybe one or two since then (plus lots of bits when the radio programme was being put together), but there are still many journals which have not been typed into the computer. Last week, I picked out two thin ones from 1978, and this week, I have continued with a third, and sequential one, from 1979. These diaries are from the period in which I lived in the Fordwych Road flat, which was probably one of the most exciting, and the most promiscuous times of my life. The Ms are there, and Harold, Mitzi too is a big part of my life in 1979. R is there, very quietly, hardly mentioned, and others come and go. Unfortunately, I was stricken with a poetical style, which handsomely disguises much of the interesting daily stuff. The year 1979 is the year I didn’t work. In the first half, before 68 Fordwych Road was lost, I wrote the Crowley play, and ‘Borderlands’.
In parallel to typing up the (overly pretentious) diaries, however, I have also been sorting through my pictures of people and my old letters. Now this I haven’t done in a very long time, and there were some surprises there - surprises that brought tears, surprises that seemed to shed more light on who and what I was then than my own journals. Perhaps, I’ve dipped into the diaries too often, know the material more or less - but not the letters - and what people say to me is much more moving than what I say to myself. Here were letters from so many lovers, with so many sweet things to say, and from girls and boys who were simply friends - some of whom were enchanted by a visit to Fordwych Road.
One such was an American girl called Anne Mason. There is not enough in my diary to be sure that I met her more than once - but she was certainly at 68 one evening or weekend, and it was while Claudia was staying. I think I was rude to Claudia because I was so interested in Anne. I do have one photograph of Anne, I think. There are a dozen or so letters from her, all beautifully written, and constantly inviting me to visit her in the US. It seems (for I don’t remember, of course), from the letters, which are quite romantic in tone, as though there was unfinished business between us, that we had not been lovers. I was so touched by these letters, which I had forgotten, that I’ve written her a short letter and posted it today. One of her letters was written on her father’s note paper which had a family home address, so I’ve written there - I suppose there’s a 20% chance the letter might find her, wherever she is today.
‘Anne, as the chance of this address still finding you after - what is it? - 20 years is so remote, I’ll be brief. One thing led to another, and another led me to a box, and in the box were precious packages of letters, one of which had your name on. Rereading these letters touched me, more than I expected . . . so it was no surprise to find this line in one of your poems: ‘I ride my words like magic carpets in and out of people’s lives . . .’ Having met so briefly, it seemed a friendship that grew out of words . . . and then evaporated into time. Thus - seeing a family home address on one of the letters - I was just curious how your life had gone, what you’d done, and who you’d become since those letters, and since that briefest of encounters with Harold and I in our Kilburn flat.’
Then there was Tacye. A gorgeous siamese cat of a girl, if I remember right (no pictures). I recall that, despite my strong desire for her, I never managed to seduce her. She was much younger and inexperienced, yet she ran rings around me. I think this was already in 1980 or 1981. I was surprised to find so many enticing and well-written letters from her in my box, and that most of them had been written from an address in Guildford - perhaps she studied here. She was a brilliant creature, far too brilliant for me.
I haven’t looked at all the letters by any means, but there are so many people from my past there, Harvey, Jim Kalnin, Peter and Lizzie from New Zealand, Hilary from Cardiff, Sooz the potter, Sylvie, a girl named Tal who wrote telling me what a sensitive wonderful person I was, Jean (the sex maniac I met through a Lonely Hearts ad), Joseph the clown, even Michael my sales manager boss in NZ. etc. These people come alive in their letters so much more than in my diary - some of them are not even mentioned there.
22 March 2001
With A and B to Rodborough school last night for an information evening on the choices to be made by Year 9 pupils before they go into year 10 which is the start of the GCSE syllabus. It was the most crowded event I’d ever been to at the school - the annual general meeting attracts about 30 people, but there were 200 or so last night. I continue to be satisfied with the way the school handles itself. Earlier this year, I was complaining that neither Adam nor I had received any information about GCSEs and the year 10 choices, and I was getting a bit edgy about it. A week ago we got a detailed explanatory booklet, and last night we were given an hour-and-half lecture explaining the practical choices to be made. The lecture was also addressed at the pupils as well as the parents, and was, I think, very well delivered. I came away impressed with the school’s approach, just as I had been in the way it dealt with the new arrivals from primary school.
Adam must make one main choice, and a couple of secondary choices. As a set one pupil, he will almost certainly take what the school calls an ‘extended pathway’ whereby he does one more GCSE than those pupils on a ‘core pathway’ at the expense of a PE lesson and an IT lesson. He must choose between taking an extra language, an extra humanities subject (i.e. history or geography), or an extra science. Less importantly, he must choose one design and technology subject (he wants to do graphics) and one ‘arts’ subject (he wants to do drama). I think and hope Ads will choose the humanities option - though if he really wants to do the science option then I’m sure he’ll be able to convince B and I and his teachers why.
We hadn’t expected the evening to go on so long, and we were well hungry when we arrived at Pizza Express in Godalming. However, it was a long time before we got served, and at least two other groups of people around us, who ordered after us, were well through their meals when I went to complain. My complaint was acknowledged, and the manager decided not to charge us for the pizzas (a surprising but welcome redress).
What is the value of keeping old letters? I haven’t looked at them for 15 years possibly, and now that I have, I am depressed. There is nostalgic satisfaction in knowing that I was that person to whom the letters were written, in knowing something about myself then - for I remember directly very little - but they’ve also given me a couple of days of regret, longing, saudades and dissatisfaction that I am not that person any more. I haven’t even dared look at the letters from M or Marielle or Mireille or Maja - for fear of being thrown into an even deeper gloom, a darker shadow of what I don’t have now.
I’ve also been sorting through my photographs trying to find pictures of the people mentioned in my past - I do not have many photos of people, but I do have some. They were all bundled together in one large envelope but I have now provided separate envelopes for different friends and groups of friends. I have also scanned into my computer some contact prints, blown them up and printed them out. It’s surprising how acceptable they are - not as photographs, but as pictures to provide a remembrance of people. I have also ordered a film adapter for the scanner - if this works reasonably well, then I’m likely to spend many hours printing out photos of people that only exist in my slide collection. I may also be tempted to take a closer look at the many B&W negatives I have.
I have finally agreed to meet with my mad email correspondent, Louise - in the Royal Festival Hall, down the left side past the bar, at 3:15 on 1 April - basically because the email correspondence is burnt out, and she is insisting on a meeting (after being happy so long at not meeting).
Foot and mouth is continuing to spread. There have been isolated cases now in Ireland, France and the Netherlands, and over 400 cases in this country. It has become a very serious economic crisis, and is becoming a political crisis too. There are only a couple of weeks left before the government will have to decide on whether it can afford to take the risk of an election in May.
Wet wet wet. A few daffodils are showing, and the Ribes flowers are nearly out. For a few minutes every few weeks we see the sun, then it rains. I must start thinking about repotting my cacti and bonsai, but with the ground waterlogged, there is no point in planting potatoes.
I have nearly finished typing up Diary 11 from the first half of 1979. I’ve one more stint to do tomorrow. In fact, I’m up to May 1979. A few minutes ago, I got sidetracked back into my letters box. I didn’t want to indulge in the fat parcels of letters from M or Marielle or Harold, but I found myself just taking a peek at the letters from Marielle. They were/are incredibly creative and imaginative, for a period of nearly three years, there’s one or two a month, sometimes more - almost all of them love letters. I can’t believe my letters were as creative/imaginative or as regular, but maybe they were, I don’t know. But that’s not what I want to say just now. In the middle of this bunch, I found a stray letter from M - coincidentally dated June 1979. It is short. It made me cry. And it has inspired me to send a quick and emotional email to her, thanking her for still being there, in the world, still linked to me, however tenuously. And so, I thought, to type her letter in here - because it makes me feel so good about my past: ‘Paul, I think of you. I want to send you a card ‘clever’ and cute but I can’t wait until tomorrow to buy it. I want to write to you now (if I had the international code to London I would call you). I’ve got the work permit from Equity, but the shooting of the film is going to be delayed until September (fuck). I want to see you as soon as I get to England, I want to see you (again). What have I done up to now? I walked through three ? talking about you (without mentioning other times). I spend my days walking the cities from top to bottom (as you suggested me to do). Today, when I got home I found myself reading Elliot aloud (as you do) to exercise my voice. Your influence on me has been bigger than I thought. I love you. And I miss you and I miss London, the English, the language, the tea, the red buses, the tube . . . M.’
My email to M: ‘i’m having a nostalgic moment - forgive me. i’m typing up a diary from 1979, which is difficult enough, but then by chance i find - somewhere it should not have been - a letter from from you from that time. i still have your letters - but this one was somewhere else. and suddenly i am so very happy to know i still know you. we are living such different lives, in such different places, in such different ways and if and when we meet again, of course, we will be almost strangers i suppose but never mind, just to know, to remember the friendship of those times, and to know that we are still in touch, touches me deeply, now, so, thank you, just thank you, Paul xx’
My nostalgic week is at an end. I was awake in the night thinking some things, and I realised that I should not have been so anxious about wasting these two weeks, instead I should have put myself into the task of sorting out the photos, and reading the letters, and typing up the diaries without any guilt or angst - it is the kind of thing I should be doing in this year. If I had decided at the beginning to engage in such activity, I would have got a lot more done, and perhaps written about it in a more interesting way. Instead, I only sidled into it, and wasted a lot of time moping around, and generally feeling I should really have been working on Kip Fenn. I am horribly aimless when I don’t have anything clear to do, when I haven’t set an agenda for myself - and I’m never as productive with my leisure time either - it’s crazy isn’t it that when I haven’t got any work to do, I find it hard to relax into books, or TV, or practical jobs around the house or garden. I don’t think I was always like that - in Aldershot Road, life was more spontaneous and, outside my FT working hours, I didn’t have projects as such.
As a result of my nostalgic week, I’ve written to Anne Mason, sent an email to M (a warm and welcome email comes back), and now I’ve also written to Marielle (although finding her address of five years ago was not so easy). ‘Marielle, The silences after our meetings seem to get longer and longer - there it is, you see, the shadow always falling between the idea and the reality . . . But time passes, time passes and old letters will be found, and old memories will be stirred . . . If you’re there, at the journey’s end of this small note, then consider your once-dear friend, and pleasure him with some words, some news or views (of whatever hues) . . .’
It’s funny to think that I have very little interest in the men who were in my life at the time Harold, Jean-Christoph, Harvey, Gail, Patrick, Peter. I am still in touch with the first two, but I do regret losing touch with Harvey.
How very different my present circumstances - my desperate circumstances - are from those days. I cannot even find one lover let alone a pride of them. Then, I wrote with anxiety about two weeks of celibacy, now two years of celibacy pass without even a single date, let alone a bedroom scene. And, now that I have tried making an effort, the depth of my difficulty is becoming horribly horribly apparent.
First there was Angel, then there was Clare, and then there was Clare (aka Boogie). I met the second Clare in the Royal Festival Hall last Sunday. I was expecting someone plumpish, overdressed, and heavily made up, so it was a surprise to find a slight person, largely make-up free and dressed in plain but original clothes. Although not pretty, she had an attractive, busy, involving personality, and I imagine she could be fun, but I sensed her age, and her independence of ways. I didn’t think she would contact me again - but she did, albeit briefly, and I must decide whether to reply or not. Meanwhile, I’ve sent off sparky missives to a couple of women on the L&F website, who call themselves writers, suggesting an email correspondence, that’s all, but they haven’t bothered to reply. And then there’s Lucylee, a primary school teacher with two children, much younger than Adam - who’s contacted me.
The second or third headline on the 1pm news today is that France has blocked the UK’s attempt to speed up energy liberalisation. I could have told them that a month ago. The Commission’s proposal for the Stockholm summit was to get the EU’s leaders to agree to a deadline of 2005 for the full liberalisation of the energy and gas markets, but it was clear to me that France would not agree to fixing such a deadline in advance of the detailed negotiations on the recently unveiled legislative proposals for that liberalisation. The UK was talking about an earlier deadline, but I knew it was only doing so in an attempt to provide political pressure towards a compromise around the Commission’s dates.
I worry about the emptiness and loneliness I’ve felt these past two weeks, stripped, as they were, of work responsibilities, and how I will/would be able to cope if I give up EC Inform, and the forced structure it creates around my life.
I’ve put my received letters into slightly more order than they were before - and it’s interesting to see that they really start to tail off in the early 1990s, around the time I started my own business, and then more dramatically after my move to Elstead. But, it’s also true to say that, in this last 10 years, the same 10 years in which my social/love has dwindled to next-to-nothing, I’ve moved much further in terms of being a writer, then I had done in the previous 10 social/leisure years: there has been one book more or less every year throughout the 90s on top of my main job (whether at the FT or EC Inform): ‘East European Energy Markets’; ‘EC Energy Policy’; ‘Energy Policies of the EU’; ‘EU Energy Policies in the mid-90s’; ‘EU Energy Policies towards the 21st Century’; ‘Transport Policies of the European Union’; ‘75 years of cooperation in the electricity industry’; ‘King Top-of-the-World’; ‘TomSpin’; ‘Love Uncovered’; ‘BLR’. But I must try and create a better balance for the next ten years. I simply can’t go on - like this; and Adam’s departure in a year or two, will only make my situation worse. However, hard and difficult it seems to me now, to give up EC Inform, I can’t see how I can swim on into new waters without throwing away my lifebelt and jacket.
26 March 2001
I’m trying hard not to be too disappointed about my letter from Nic Sayers at HarperCollins: ‘We thought your narrative style suited your subject well, but that your plot and characterisation did not live up to its early promise. As a result we did not think it could be one of the very few novels we publish each year.’ I think I’ve been hoping and waiting to hear from him every day - i.e. I don’t think there has been one day when I haven’t hoped for a reply as I’m going to pick up the post - since I sent it to him three weeks ago. But, as I told Mum yesterday over dinner, I felt that if he’d liked it, I would have received a phone call by now. But, nevertheless, I am disappointed - more because the rejection (on top of the spiking of the diary programme a couple of years ago) is a kind of symbol - a real and concrete signal of my failure.
What I feel is a kind of huge weight on me. It is the weight of knowing that this was really my one last chance of some limited success from this ‘generation’ of my writing - i.e. the last five years (‘Love Uncovered’, ‘BLR’ and ‘TomSpin’). I didn’t get anywhere with the first generation (‘Brittle Rhapsody’ and the Aleister Crowley play), and I didn’t really try very hard with the second generation (the Brazil stories, ‘Sparky’s Magic Computer’, ‘King Top-of-the-World’). But I did really - and there’s no use denying it - think I could get somewhere this time. The weight comes from knowing that all the time and energy put into those works will now have no fulfilment, and that there is so much work/time (five years or so) ahead of me before I can even try again; and, heavier still, the knowledge that I might not have the energy, or the ability to improve on what I’ve already done.
Perhaps I’ve held on to my consciousness too long - maybe it’s time to relax and be ordinary, or rather to accept my ordinariness, to give up writing . . . yes, and do what?
Half an hour to go before leaving to catch Eurostar home - I’m on a later train tonight because when I booked two weeks ago, all the cheap seats on the earlier train had already gone. Now that I am well established in this routine of going by Eurostar twice a month, there’s no reason why I can’t book my tickets more than two weeks in advance.
The highlight of this trip to Brussels was a conversation (by phone) with Henrik at the Danish delegation. He was sounding quite cross about Francois Lamoureux, the Director General in charge of DG Tren. This man is not much liked in the DG, and I speak to more people willing to berate him than to back him. But this story from Henrik was a beaut, as the Aussies might say. Since last year, when he cancelled a call for tender for the international Synergy programme (which is only worth Eur10m/yr or thereabouts) because the projects were too small, Lamoureux has been trying to defend that action and to get the Council to accept new guidelines for the programme so that only projects with a minimum grant of Eur400,000 could be accepted. His main objective is to ensure that the number of projects remain small and that the programme, therefore, is easily manageable. The Member States, however, decided to stick with a threshold of Eur200,000. Lamoureux would not be satisfied, and, according to Henrik, has been pressurising Member States to raise the threshold. After one round of bilaterals, and examination of the dossier in Coreper, the States agreed to raise it to Eur250,000. Denmark was one of the countries ready to support the Commission in this endeavour. But, in order to get this result, Lamoureux, in a meeting with the Danish Permanent Representative, suggested that he would be able to speed up/slow down (don’t know which) a transport state aid case, if Denmark were to support/didn’t support him on Synergy. After quizzing Henrik vigorously over this (how did he know? what was the Danish reaction? etc.), I was fairly convinced this was a bona fide story - and, in any case, there is no way Henrik would make something like this up. When I asked him if this was an ordinary occurrence, he said absolutely not, he’d never heard of such a thing before. Well, Henrik is not very senior, but the fact that the Permanent Representative told him, must mean the Danish are pretty cross at this kind of behaviour, and are not beyond ensuring some dissemination of Lamoureux’s methods. When I told Gilles (one of the press spokesmen for the Commission) the story, he flustered a bit: while supportive of Lamoureux’s sense of purpose on synergy, he wouldn’t say anything about my allegations, saying they were unfounded and he didn’t believe them (with a little tongue in his cheek).
I’m in the Eurostar terminal - my train was cancelled, and I now have to wait two hours here. I was thinking of going back to the flat for an hour and a bit, but it would have meant about 45 minutes of travelling with my relatively heavy bag, and I wouldn’t have done more than I can do in the terminal here. Maybe I could write a bit more - since the battery on this runs out after 90 minutes or so - but then I haven’t got that much writing to do. I could have listened to the radio, and had another cup of tea. It didn’t seem worth it, so here I sit. There was a train strike in France I believe and, although I was assured on Tuesday there would be no problem with the trains from Brussels, it seems that a French crew has not turned up. There’s very few people in the departure lounge here - so did everyone else have the foresight to ring before they came. Also, how can this train be so empty: when I tried to book for the earlier train two weeks ago, very unusually, all the cheaper seats were booked - which would surely indicate that that train and subsequent one should be busier than normal. But it certainly isn’t busy here and now. If I’d been on the earlier train, as I usually always am, I’d be England by now.
I’ve got two books to read - Gore Vidal’s ‘Creation’, and, to my shame, Grisham’s ‘The Brethren’. I haven’t read one of Grisham’s novels for years. I felt after the first two or three, his standard deteriorated badly, and that they weren’t worth reading. But, I’ve seen ‘The Brethren’ on the book stands for months now, and I finally succumbed (partly out of fear that ‘Creation’ wouldn’t eat up the train time in the way that good thrillers do). So, hopefully, I may make it through the five or six or seven hours until I get home. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to sleep on the train too.
The Bush administration has cut the Kyoto Protocol into shreds. According to a statement yesterday (which I haven’t actually seen yet), Bush has said the US will not continue negotiations on the Protocol. This is a body blow to environmentalists the world over. I sat through a press conference in the Commission today with the Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom, who tried to put a brave face on the situation but did not have much comfort to give journalists, or much information on what practical steps the EU could take. Many of the questions were about possible retaliatory measures, but Wallstrom refused to accept the EU would go down the road. The only vague possible threat she would acknowledge was the impact the US might feel if it was left outside any eventual world emissions trading mechanism. Wallstrom accepted that the Commission had always had doubts that the US would be able to ratify the Protocol (I think I wrote about such doubts at the time of Kyoto) - the Congress or the Senate or both (I don’t know which) appear to be strongly agin the initiative - but that it had always been important to keep the US in the negotiations so that it was involved in setting up all the detailed practical measures. When asked whether the Commission could see some way forward other than the Kyoto Protocol, Wallstrom replied the question implied a lack of understanding as to how important and big the Protocol is - 180 countries or so have been involved in the negotiations - and that many years would be lost if the process had to be restarted from scratch. If I had asked a question - but I never do - it would have been to gauge Wallstrom’s reaction to the thesis that the last-minute deal forged by UK with the US at The Hague last November now begins to look rather attractive. I thought, at the time, the UK had a far better understanding of how quickly the new Bush administration might retreat from Clinton’s internationally progressive stance, and that, therefore, any deal was probably better than none. Prescott, the architect of that deal, and who suffered considerable bad press, is a shrewd old fox. Indeed, the Blair, Brown, Prescott triumvirate has proved politically very powerful indeed.
What do I think about climate change? I’m a journalist, I don’t think, or comment, I just report. I report for example that the US decision comes at a time when the International Panel for Climate Change has recently strengthened its conviction that man is causing global warming. The IPCC, which is in essence a consensus of the work of hundreds of scientists, has not wavered around in its judgements. It started some years ago with a careful suggestion that man might be causing global warming, and it has consistently strengthened its statements over time. I report, for example, that the US economy is starting to a look a bit wobbly, and that Americans love their cheap energy; and that the impressively strong oil lobby gave strong backing to Bush’s campaign. And I report that everything Bush has done, since taking over from Clinton, has shown him to be a puppet of the right-wing interests that puffed him up and blew him into the White House. Because he was elected so narrowly, he should, by the natural order of justice (not to mention political sensitivity and good sense) be moving to embrace the centre, but he’s not - as Alistair Cooke even commented in his ‘Letter from America’ last weekend - he’s taking strongly right wing decisions at every junction. Cooke noted that one of the promising signals Bush gave on taking office was the appointment of the much-respected and centrist black politician Colin Powell as Secretary of State. However, he said, Powell has already been over-ruled by Bush on several important issues. Cooke speculates that he might not be around for much longer.
I’m going to make a wild forecast - I don’t think Bush will see out his full term. I don’t know why or how exactly, but I think there’s both too much flawed about the man, and too much resentment in the country over the way he came into power - with less votes than Gore, and with some nasty practices apparent in Florida, where his brother (cousin?) is governor. It’s wild, because unlike in this country (well not this country, because I’m still stuck in Belgium - well, actually, maybe in this country too, what I mean, of course, is in England) the foreshortening of an administration is an extremely rare event.
But what do I think about climate change? Is it coming? Is man responsible? Should we do anything about it? Yes, yes and yes. Yes, I think man’s wanton use of fossil fuels will be seen historically as a rape of the world, and, of course, their burning and the resulting emissions will change the balance of the atmosphere, and consequently the climate. It seems obvious. Up to now, or up to recently, man’s emissions have been been relatively unnoticeable by the global system as a whole (like a child peeing in a large swimming pool). But with rapid development in the second half the 20th century, our peeing has started to take on significant proportions - like 20 men peeing in a large swimming pool, and then 100 men. . . The ozone hole was clear evidence that man was no longer an innocent onlooker of the global weather and atmosphere systems.
Much harder to answer is the question as to whether we should do anything about it, or whether we can do anything about it. Let me answer those two questions in reverse order. Can we do anything about it? No, I don’t think so. The US position makes this abundantly clear. Short-term self-interest will out. It is very very hard for politicians to enact expensive policies on their citizens without a rationale and evidence. The trouble with climate change is that the causal link between man-made emissions activity and any eventual damage is not only admittedly long-term, but is and will be very difficult to pin down in terms of exact causes and exact damages. In addition, there is a wicked compromising factor, which no one is talking about, namely the fact that some countries may well profit from a more economically-prosperous and habitationally-comfortable (new compound words I just made up) climates.
Then it is worth pausing for a moment to consider the developing world. One of the apparent deep disagreements between the US position on Kyoto and that of the EU is over the role of the developing countries. The EU accepts that the developing countries need not do anything concrete in this first (Kyoto Protocol) stage, but the US insists that the developing countries must contribute. The trouble is that for many, if not most, of the developing countries, any increase in future earthquakes, droughts, hurricanes, floods etc. will hardly be noticeable against the existing stream of such disasters. And, in any case, they are so preoccupied with dealing with such disasters, with hunger, poverty, political corruption, surviving that they haven’t got any spare resources to battle against some far-distant, unknowable force. Consequently, very ordinary growth and development rates in China, India, Indonesia etc, will outstrip by miles any modest efforts the West makes in restricting its emissions.
Does that mean we shouldn’t do anything? No, of course not. If you can stop three of a hundred men peeing in the swimming pool, then maybe some of those swimming in it will end up being less infected with disease say than they might have been. Besides, there is a principle to be encouraged and developed - the principle of not stripping the world of all its natural resources. Traditionally, governments have tapped the riches of their territories by selling rights to mine and exploit minerals - and the income has gone into the governments coffers. But - and I wonder if Kip Fenn will ever get written, for if it does this idea will be centre stage - ideally any resources removed from the earth, seas or air - should be paid for into a central earth fund, which is then used to finance any consequences of the loss of those resources. There is no doubt that this age of man - since the industrial revolution - has seen extraordinary growth and wealth largely because of the treasure trove he found and learnt to exploit such as the goodness in the soils, the forests, the metals, the oil, the fish in the sea, the big game (such as bison in North America) - and one day it will start to run out. Some things are already beginning to run out. And it is worth bearing in mind that only a fraction of the world is currently living at developed world standards. Any serious projection of how the world and its climate and its mineral resources would look if the whole world were living at the standard of Greece, for example, would illustrate the absurdity of any efforts by the EU or the US to do anything practical. Our only hope is that the undeveloped does not develop very fast, and that, by setting an excellent example, we can persuade the developing world to skip over some our worst follies - but it ain’t working with forest clearance, for example. Why should Brazil be told not to chop down its forests, when the Europeans chopped down their forests centuries ago.
I took Mum out for lunch on Sunday since it was Mother’s Day. We went to an Italian place in Child’s Hill. The food was fine, Mum enjoyed herself. I talked too much probably (I seem to remember rambling on about the plot of one episode of ‘West Wing’ but not making too much sense), and then drove home. Volleyball in the evening was a little dull because there were so many new people. We have a match on Monday, in Sheen. I like the team at the moment.
Paul K Lyons
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