PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2002 - NOVEMBER
A grey wet misty morning, but nevertheless Ads and I went for a walk around Midhurst. After two five mile walks, I wanted to step up to 6-7 miles. In the last week, I’ve read the whole of my journal for 1990 - I was proof-reading it so as to make it ready for printing out and binding as duplex A5 (I’ve not yet sorted the binding with B, but I expect I’ll do so in the next year or so - that’s a joke! - well I wish it were.) This was the year we sold Leiston Rd and bought Tidy St, and I was doing my Masters; it was the year I went to Sofia, Rome and Copenhagen; the year of Maggie’s dismissal, and the build-up to the Gulf War. I was impressed at how readable the whole journal was - it flowed really well, and I was making an effort with descriptions of places, for example, and in reviewing films and plays. At the same time, I’ve started typing up my first South American diary (along with the letters I sent home - which Mum returned to me some time ago). I’ve just reached La Paz after those great days travelling with Didier, Jim and Annabelle. There are a lot of poems, some of which are not that bad. There are my first stories as well, which are little more than observation cameos - but, interestingly, I notice for the first time that the narrator/observer/voyeur very deliberately places himself at the centre of the story - a kind of artistic homage to the Heisenberg principle. Although my Asia and New Zealand diaries are quite familiar to me (since I typed them up many years ago), I am reading most of the material in the South America diaries for the first time in 25 years.
Have I mentioned Sue before? Sue B. My details on the L&F website now contain my email address upfront, so that anyone browsing can email me without going through the L&F system. In the summer, two women, who were not even L&F members but had been skimming the site, contacted me directly. With one, a Norfolk artist, I had quite a flirty exchange which led to her calling me one Saturday night - we talked for about two hours and then she emailed me again. The second person to contact me like that was Sue. She sent me a really anonymous message saying that she really liked the way I presented myself and simply wanted to tell me so. I thought her tongue might have been in her cheek, but I replied any way, thanking her, and she wrote back briefly, and we edged into a dialogue - but one without any romantic/flirting under current. Although she saw my photo on the L&F site, I haven’t asked for a picture of her (so I’ve no idea what she looks like), and I’ve steered clear of any kind of personal or intimate questions which might lead her to think I was interested in anything other than writing. That’s from my side, and from her, I’ve felt not the slightest hint in her letters of wanting anything but a virtual dialogue. And so, over a period of several months, we’ve written quite a lot - twice a week perhaps - about all kinds of things; never at great length or in much detail, but with a certain intelligence and respect for each other. I have finally built up a rough picture of who she is: she’s in her mid-40s, lives alone (with a guinea pig, I think), after 19 years with a man called Billy; she works as an administrator for a classical music group. At the weekends, she helps a friend buy and sell antiques. Until she was about 12, she was educated at home - and she was then sent to a boarding school. She seems rather close to her mother and siblings, most of whom seem to have some artistic talent. Now, she’s gone to France for an annual holiday with them all. She obviously leads a rather busy, if somewhat scatty, life (doesn’t have a television), and often refers to my letters and her writing to me, as welcome vs (virtual society) deferral activity.
5 November 2002
On Eurostar for the first time in ages, and with my ibook - I was only a few minutes away from missing this train because of problems with the Southwest trains getting into Waterloo. That would have been ironic to have missed two trips in a row when, until last time, I had never missed one. At a little after seven, the guard on the tannoy said there were serious delays getting into Waterloo (and we were already 15-20 minutes), I raced down the length of the train to try and get a little more information - but of course the guard didn’t have any. But, he did console me by suggesting that all trains - including Eurostar - going in and out of Waterloo would be delayed. As it transpired, the train wasn’t delayed much longer, and I managed to get to the Eurostar platform with 7-8 minutes to spare, which was just as well, since the train left spot on time.
There have been no further enquiries about EC Inform - all four trails have gone cold. So, it looks like I will be a free man by Christmas after all! (And no trip to China - I had promised Ads I would take him on an Explore tour there next year if I sold my business.)
An American TV series called ‘Ally McBeal’ has just come to an end. I only used to watch occasionally but, over the last weeks of the summer and through September/early October, as the weekly series was coming to an end, all the old programmes were being rerun daily at lunchtime on C4 - so I found myself watching almost the whole run of three or four seasons. Ally McBeal is a cute winsome lawyer who can never seem to find a man, or when she’s got one, hold on to him. Most episodes contain one or two offbeat court-room plots (often revolving around relationship problems) and enough bizarre information about the private lives of McBeal and the other lawyers in her firm to keep a gaggle of psychoanalysts busy. Although the programmes did address a lot of Woody Allen type stuff (of some appeal in itself I suppose), it was the well-drawn and well-written characters which kept the programme interesting in a high-class soap-opera-kind of way. Most of all, though, I think I really liked the way it combined clever New York (even though it’s set in Boston) humour - I sometimes found myself bursting out with laughter - with lashings of music, and way over-the-top sentimentality. RIP Ally McBeal (although I read that Callista Flockhart who played Ally is likely to be around a while yet - not least as the current partner of Harrison Ford - it’s hard to imagine a less likely couple than Ally McBeal and Indiana Jones!)
On Sunday, Ads and I went to Mum’s for lunch - for roast beef. Julian’s family came too - it was the first time, we’d seen them since my birthday party. Beforehand, Ads and I drove to Chalk Farm, where we left the car to walk on down to Camden market. How many years is it since I last went there? Ads wanted to go to to buy a tied-died t-shirt as part of his costume for his drama project on the Sixties. I’d never heard of such a thing, but he assured me that Camden Market was the place to go - he had been planning to go with his friends, but that trip never came off. On the way, I remembered that once, many moons ago, I had actually rented a stall at Camden on Sundays to sell the vast collection of old scarves I had collected from numerous jumble sales and auctions. The market itself reminded me of a fairground. So many of the stalls are now permanent shops with circus/fairground type displays promoting their wares. Adam was intrigued by the stores selling hemp and joss-sticks and smoking pipes. He wanted to buy hemp-smelling incense, but I told him no - I couldn’t see the point, and I don’t like this teasing around on the edges of drug culture. I’ve told him that I might let him try some of my home-grown marijuana (many of his friends have apparently tried it) so long as I can get B to agree. After all, I’ve long stated the view that there’s not much to choose between cannabis and alcohol, and he’s been drinking alcohol for years. I’d much prefer he began the process of seeing how these drugs affect his body while at home than when out with his mates. For me, the most important thing is to a) ensure he understands the difference between cannabis and other drugs (although I’m rather unsure about ecstasy - it seems to be so widely used, and I have no experience of it), and b) to ensure he understands how dangerous it can be to drink/smoke and drive.
I am on the outskirts of a town perhaps, and about to leave my bicycle somewhere. One member of a gang comes up to my bicycle and puts a lock on it. I demand he take it off, he refuses and so I threaten to call the police. He taunts me. I am captured, but a friend of mine is free and has a mobile phone. She calls the police, I think. The next thing I remember is that I am weeping with joy and a crowd of people are surrounding me clapping as though I have done something heroic.
About dreams. Sometimes I stir in the night (perhaps because my bladder is full and I need a wee) and recall elements of a dream. My conscious self recognises them as interesting to one degree or other and resolves to try and remember them so as to write them down in this journal. I then go over what I can recall once or twice. But then I get caught up in a kind mental maze, a trap, a labyrinth in which I seem to be neither asleep or awake and forever trying to remember the elements of the dream, and never quite finding them - I can liken these moments, that can seem to go on for ever, as a synapsian cat chasing it’s neuronal tale. And then, finally, when I get up and head straight for the computer - no tea, no news, no wash - to write up what I can remember of several substantial dreams, all I have are trivial details.
A new experience. I am on a Thalys train going to Lille, where I will have to change to a Eurostar train. There was a technical hitch this morning (a technical hitch, that’s a euphemism if ever I heard one), so we all had to queue up patiently for our tickets to be manually checked and changed for a seat from Lille to London. As there were no restrictions or seat numbers for this leg of the journey on the Thalys train (which is creaking rather slowly through the suburbs of Brussels), I have parked myself in first class - the seats are rather comfortable, and the tables suitably low for typing.
That was my last-but-one trip to Brussels - my last trip is at the end of November, when I will shut down the utilities, dump everything, and hand in my keys. I went to the Parliament yesterday to sit in on a plenary session - I thought I might as well make the effort seeing as it will be my last. The main reason for going, though, was that de Palacio was presenting her package of nuclear proposals (if the Parliament is in session in Brussels, the Commission now presents important new proposals to the MEPs rather than to the press) - thus the midday press note about the proposals had a 15:00 embargo. There wasn’t much point in listening to her speech (since all the main presentational points are on the press release), but I was intrigued to know what kind of issues the MEPs might raise. The house was not that full, but most of the MEPS there wanted to say something (why else turn up I suppose).
Only one MEP asked about the Euratom Treaty, and whether de Palacio had discussed this with Giscard d’Estaing in their lunch that day. No, they hadn’t. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote to ‘The Economist’ (did I not mention this - no I probably didn’t - it was in response to an article by Jack Straw in which he’d backed the moves to develop a convention for the European Union (and thus a revision of the two main treaties) and in which he advocated a European President. Since he was so gung ho for simplification of the treaties, I asked if he would not also be insisting on a revision of the Euratom Treaty. And, rather briefly, I explained why it was so out of date. Of course, it wasn’t published.
Another MEP did raise the most interesting question (most interesting to me at least). How could the Commission justify basing a framework Directive aimed at nuclear safety on an article in the Euratom Treaty (Article 31) which concerns only radiation protection? The key point here is that the European Community has never dealt with nuclear safety standards because there has never been a competence to do so. When talks on enlargement began with the countries of East and Central Europe, the EU’s Member States wanted to insist on the closure of some old nuclear power plants and a high level of safety at the others, but there was no Community acquis to base such a demand on. The EC, therefore, developed a procedure, through the Council, of making this an additional demand on the applicants. In order to do so, it had to decide what the demands should be. Now the Commission is saying that, with actual enlargement approaching, the Community needs to be able to continue insisting on a high level of nuclear safety at the plants - and it can only do this by adopting Community standards. Unfortunately, the old problem of the Euratom Treaty still exists. When asked the question, the Commissioner was not unbriefed. The Commission’s legal service had supported, she said, the idea that Article 31 could be used because nuclear safety was, in fact, just part of the policy of radiation protection. In other words, to protect citizens against radiation, it is necessary to have nuclear safety standards. To my mind the Commission is skating on thin ice. Politically, it might get away with it, but I am not sure such an argument would survive a legal challenge. It is quite clear, to my mind at least, that in framing the Euratom Treaty, the Member States very clearly opted to leave out nuclear safety.
I’ve had a chance to have a look at the nuclear document (while waiting at Lille for the train) now, and I see the Commission has taken some care in explaining it’s rationale for making a move on nuclear safety standards and its reliance on Article 31. The strength of its argument, however, is political, not legal. It seems to vest substantial faith in one of the Court’s Advocate Generals who, in a recent Opinion, appeared to back a more Community-oriented interpretation of the Euratom Treaty. Although I agree with the Commission’s reasons for launching the initiative, I believe the Commission should be pressing for a revision of the Euratom Treaty - it cannot be more difficult than enlargement itself, reforming the CAP and putting in place the Euro, for example.
‘The Guardian’ book review section last Saturday led with an article by David Lodge largely culled from his book ‘Thinks’ which I’ve recently read. The article is called ‘Sense and sensibility’. He argues, according to the strap, that literature has provided the most accurate record of human consciousness, not science or philosophy. In the book, he sets up an AI professor against a fiction writer - I’ve just checked back to September, I see I called it ‘pretentious and irritating’. And now he’s spouting on the same subject. I am only mentioning it here and now because, in the last few paragraphs of the article, he does make interesting observations (away from science and in his own field of literature) about the author’s voice: ‘There does seem to be an increasing reluctance among literary novelists to assume the narrative stance of godlike omniscience that is implied by any third-person representation of consciousness, however covert and impersonal. Instead they prefer to create character as a ‘voice’, reporting his or her experience in his or her own words. Where third-person and first-person narration are combined, the latter usually has the last word. It is not coincidental that the boundary between first-person literary fiction and autobiography is becoming increasingly blurred. Some of the most interesting and widely acclaimed books of recent years in Britain and America have been of a kind sometimes called ‘life-writing’ - memoirs or confessions that read like novels, that use many of the techniques of novels, that are often written by novelists, using material that in earlier times would probably have been converted into third-person fiction. [He then lists books by Blake Morrison, Nick Hornby, Martin Amis, Tobias Wolff, Paul Theroux, Lorna Sage, and Dave Eggers (although most of these are in fact autobiography, so why is he mentioning them?)]. In a world where nothing is certain, in which transcendental belief has been undermined by scientific materialism, and even the objectivity of science is qualified by relativity and uncertainty, the single human voice, telling its own story, can seem the only authentic way of rendering consciousness.’
I’m sure I have more to say about this - but I need to give it some thought - and, finally, this Eurostar is approaching Waterloo.
Back from a marvellous walk around Arundel - it’s early evening - I’ve one of Joni Mitchell’s more recent CDs playing - ‘Taming the Tiger’. I don’t know it as well as the tape I play in the car, which can sometimes make me cry, and always makes me nostalgic for the past, especially for the romance and love I experienced in the past. Incidentally, I’ve just typed up an entry from my South America journal in which I record playing a Joni Mitchell cassette on a coach riding through the Peruvian or Bolivian mountains - I’ve always remembered I carried around a Joni tape, and that sometimes I found places to play it, including on a ride once - but I was pleased to have confirmation of this - it was on an empty Pullman coach that was giving us a luxury free ride. Also, I’m pleased to find that there is a brief description of a festival I went to in Ecuador, one where I saw the most fantastic fireworks. Again, I knew I’d seen such firework constructions, but my memory had no detail, and, with the diary for that period lost, I didn’t think I had any record of it - but I do, because sitting in a square near Cochabamba at another festival, I write down memories of the earlier one in Ecuador. And, I’m also really pleased to find that there is a detailed letter to my parents about my trip to the Galapagos Islands - so that record is not entirely lost either.
So I’m back from my walk near Arundel. I parked at North Stoke, a dead end village, kind of tucked away. Once I had found it, I didn’t like it - it seemed weird and hostile. A path led across a field, and then to a cute little wooden suspension footbridge, five to ten metres long, carefully built across a marshy area or what might have been a disused canal. I don’t remember ever seeing such an elaborate footbridge, with posts, and sides and the suspension cable - it was certainly quite old, and green with moss and lichen - and below it was a picture, with the ponding water stagnant and lime green with algae. And from there, there was an old track that led through the woods right to South Stoke. I wondered about the people that had walked that path over the centuries, perhaps going to marriages and funerals at the churches. A footbridge took me over the Arun right into South Stoke and the start of my walk. Half the walk, in fact, was along the bank of the Arun all the way to Arundel. It was so pleasant, so quiet (apart from the occasional train) and so pretty. The river is lined by 6-10ft tall rushes - I suppose they’re rushes/grasses of some description - they were all dried as well, the colour of hay or wicker work - but they looked so ordered along the river, as though someone had placed them there - and sometimes they would catch the glint of the sun. There was no one else out walking, so I recited out loud, very loud at times, ‘The Lovesong of J. F. Prufrock’, the text of which I’d brought with me.
Until human voices wake us and we drown. Increasingly, as I grow old, I do feel the truth of this - I find myself more and more and more being disappointed with the world, the way it is, the people in it, the selfishness of our culture, the impoverished state of people’s awareness of themselves and the world around them. When I’m out walking on my own, communing with nature (which Camille Paglia would equate to a religious activity), I often feel quite high - and it’s only when I get back to having to deal with people that I’m brought back to earth - unfortunately. I’m sure this is what Elliot - who was even more trapped by the society around him than I am (I mean I must be less trapped than the majority of people) - meant.
The castle is fabulous - so huge and massive - and built up high so as not to be susceptible to the flooding of the land below, or to invaders of whatever type. I thought once or twice about taking a photograph (I’d taken a couple using the rushes) but I didn’t find a picture that pleased me. I was going to take tea in Arundel, but I couldn’t face ye olde worlde teashops. I walked through the high street, and found what I thought was a less pretentious place. There was an empty table at the window, but it was the only table in the front, and the serving girls wouldn’t let me sit there, instead they ushered me to a back room, which was cramped and dark and crowded - so I didn’t stay. I though it was quite a deceptive thing to do - the table in the window at the front gives one an impression of what it will be like to sit and take tea in the place, but the reality is completely different. After that there were no more teahouses, so I carried on the route, which took me through Arundel Park, around Swanbourne Lake, and over the chalky downs back to the Arun canal, and then along the canal to South Stoke. Somewhere on the hilltop, I lay down and ate my packed lunch.
Things heard on the way: Lots and lots of shooting (of pheasants presumably). Things seen on the way: quite a number of pheasants; a dozen or more swans in one of the watermeadows along the Arun, and one of them flying so gracefully above the canal, slowly gaining height and then swinging round to descend slowly in the watermeadow with the others; a group of ducks with a swan in tow; lots of mushrooms; an old long flint wall defining the boundary of the huge Arundel Park (which stretches way over the downs) - it reminded me of the estate walls one finds more commonly in France; South Stoke church, parts of which are supposed to date back to the 11th century. Having practised my speaking voice en route, I gave it another outing in the church to read part of the psalm that was showing in the open bible on the lectern. I remembered that I had won a bible reading contest when I was young once.
Two more Penguin Sixties: short stories by Muriel Spark and ‘Goldfish’ by Raymond Chandler. Give me Chandler any day. The Spark stories were character sketches, not much more - no twists, no surprises. All four of them were set abroad, three in Africa. I didn’t relate much to them at all. ‘Goldfish’ is a racy story with great lines: ‘I had a couple of short drinks and stuffed a pipe and sat down to interview my brains.’ And said by someone who has yet be convinced of the other person’s story: ‘I got a lot of room in my ears yet.’ Great stuff.
Sitting on the sofa in the lounge, my legs straight out in front of me resting on the round lounge table, and ibook in my lap - this is proving a favourite way to write my journal these days. I was never so comfortable with my old portable - the Powerbook, which languishes away in some drawer or other. (Shostakovitch’s first string quartet fills the rooms with its alternating melodic and, oh what shall I call them, counter-melodic, angry or frustrated sequences.) I wonder what to do with the old portable - it works perfectly well, but would realise almost nothing if I tried to sell it. I think to hold onto it in case, one day, I become peripatetic again, with several homes and need something on which to write in more than one place. But I see, on writing it down, how silly that is - I mean I have this ibook now, which is my computer of choice. Interestingly, I’ve really taken to this soft keyboard, even though when I first tried it in the shop, I never thought I’d prefer it to the full keyboard I use with my main computer.
On the walk yesterday, I got to thinking about my Desert Island Discs. I started by thinking about the artists that would have to be in the list - Joni Mitchell, Mike Westbrook, Benjamin Britten, Shostakovitch - and thought that I would have two pieces from each; but then I realised I would need some Spanish flamenco singing, perhaps some Chico Buarque or Gal Costa, perhaps Olivier reading the Four Quartets; so I’d only have room for one each; but then what about Mercedes Sosa, Astor Piazzola, English folk tunes, Moody Blues, saxophone music, not to mention Rachmaninov, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Kurt Weill and Adam playing the harmonica.
Either before or after this internal meander, I had a great idea for a new business: Birthdays to Remember. Surely it exists already, after all there are enough rich people who would surely pay for the privilege. Of? Of having their own private ‘Desert Island Discs’ programme recorded and published on CD for distribution to friends and family (this version would be for cheapskates) or their own ‘This is your Life’ programme recorded and published on DVD (you need to be a bit richer for this version). This concept fits in with another idea I had for Kip Fenn - that when people reach landmark ages, they would have Autobiographical Parties at which guests would be able to view exhibitions of some kind or another celebrating the person’s life. So, for example in my case (and I’m sure the idea was seeded after my own 50 fiesta), guests would have been encouraged to look at all the photos around the house as a deliberate exhibition, my books and diaries might have been available to read in one room, a lifetime of family snaps in another room, and, yet another room, there might have been a kind of display timeline of life, of where I’d lived and what jobs I’d done etc. Guests might also be encouraged to poke around, and look in cupboards and drawers. I’m sure our culture/society is ready for these kinds of individual demonstrations, one-off shows, one-off showings off.
When I cycled down to Spar this morning to get white bread for breakfast, I saw Adam on his paper round. He was walking so slowly like a zombie; when I was young I was always buzzing and racing in every job I did, trying to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible, trying to prove myself I suppose.
On the way home in the car from Farncombe station on Thursday, I turned on the radio and was immediately engaged in a conversation between intelligent people about intelligent subjects, and I thought how fantastic this is really, to be able to turn on a switch and, for no cost, to able to profit from the wisdom and thoughts of wise people, or to find out what is going on in the world of politics, or art or science. We take this facility so for granted. I had more or less the same thought when I listened to ‘Desert Island Discs’ with Robin Cook on Friday morning (in fact I was so drawn into the programme from 9-9:15 that I made no attempt to start work). If I were to meet this guy, and chat to him myself, I wouldn’t find out half as much in the time as I’ve been able to from listening to this programme; and, via radio, I can meet all these important people that I would never ever meet in real life. In many ways, this is better than meeting them. And then (for this is the point really of this paragraph), I read an editorial in ‘The Guardian’ which expressed almost exactly the same sentiments about Radio 4. Entitled ‘The Quality Factor’, it started as follows: ‘Lazy minds in search of easy establishment targets like to mock both the BBC and Melvyn Bragg. For sure neither of them is beyond criticism. But anyone who happened to be listening to Radio 4 yesterday morning would have encountered the combination at its best. In his programme, ‘In our time’, Mr Bragg chaired a truly scintillating discussion . . .’ After summarising what was so good about the programme (which I had missed because I was travelling but which thanks to the editorial I did catch by listening to a recording via the web), the editorial went on to say: ‘The programme was a reminder of things we in this country should never take for granted: of the fascination to be gained from exposure to a trained mind, of the enduring excellence of radio, of the irreplaceable value of public service broadcasting, and, yes, of the often lonely fight that Mr Bragg has long fought to broaden public access to ideas and the arts in the face of commercial pressures which would sweep these things away in a moment. It was a reminder, quite simply, of the importance of quality.’ And this was a reminder of why I read and still admire ‘The Guardian’. Occasionally when I read other papers they leave me cold.
June Tabor entertains with her ‘Roses of Picardi’ album (which I recorded on minidisc from the CD I bought for B after seeing Tabor sing at the Arts Centre). Her songs are full of love and passion, and these ones have a strong horticultural connection (roses figure obviously).
As I sit in my warm and cosy lounge this Saturday morning (with my friendly statues and terracotta miniatures patiently performing on the window-cills, my favourite photographs adorning the walls, my gorgeous indian-weaving-covered cushions decorating the chairs and sofa, my bookcases proudly showing off their old and modern books, all with some special meaning for me, the vine plants trailing down from here and the cactuses pushing up from there) with nothing to do this weekend, no people to see, no places to go, no society at all; as I sit here writing my journal I wonder how I would manage if my life were at all busy - how would I have time to write a journal. As it is, it can take up a lot of time, I was thinking the other day how, as I get older, more and more of my life is lived in the head - and I’m not at all sure that I would have it any other way. I have, by my side, Scott Turow’s new novel ‘Reversible errors’ and Stephen Pinker’s new book ‘The Blank Slate’ and Norman Davies ‘A history of Europe’. This is a thought similar to the one I had about listening to the radio the other day. There is so much exciting, enthralling information about the world, how it is, how it was, that its discovery (through reading the work of others) puts daily activities into the dark dank shade. It may be that, once, I thought it was better to live than to read about living, to travel than read about travelling, to be part of a relationship than to read about relationships or see them on TV, to be a scientist rather than to read about science, to be an artist rather than to look at art, to talk rather than to listen to talk, to write rather than to be writer . . . But is it? What if one’s ability in life, travel, relationships, science, art, talk, writing is so banal, so moderate, so middle-of-the road that one’s achievements are unmemorable, unnoticeable, unnecessary. Why bother with them, why not sit back and absorb the brilliant achievements of others.
This week, I reread a book called ‘The Masters’ by C P Snow. Among all the books I’ve ever read, Snow’s ‘Strangers and Brothers’ series of novels has stayed with me. I always felt, for example, that the narrator’s relationship with his difficult wife, as described in one or more of the novels, was some kind of example for my narrator in BLR (although I never reread Snow before writing BLR and I only ever had a vague memory of the books). Now and then, I keep thinking I should have another look at them. As it happens, ‘The Masters’ was among the lot of books I bought at the auction some months ago, and I picked it out, almost at random, when wanting something quickly to read in the bath. I finished it within a few days. Despite being set before the Second World War, and in the cloistered world of a musty Cambridge college, it hardly feels dated. I read it with as much momentum as a thriller, wanting to know who the fellows would choose for Master. Now I’m older, wiser, more critical, I did find a number of flaws in the book. The reader is only given an insight into the characters of the people involved and not into the actual politics of the two candidates and what they would do for the college - in reality, the two candidates would be offering a package of proposals on how to take the college forward, and they would surely be adapting that package in the time available to win over supporters. Without a clear idea of what the two candidates stand for, each individual’s reasons for supporting them, and any reasons for switching from one to the other, are rather thin, and repetitive. And, even at the end, I was not fully appraised of why Crawford won over Jago. nevertheless, he’s still a very good read, and I’m sure I could wile away, if I wanted to, the winter weekends by reading over the whole series.
It was production week - things went reasonably smoothly - 20 pages each. I was furious on Thursday, though, to discover that Mayfield (the printer) had cut EC Inform-Energy crooked so that the top was 3mm wider than the bottom. This follows after the September issue which was cut a whole centimetre short, and, after I pointed it out, the October issue was cut 5mm short from A4. I was convinced this was deliberate, that this was Terry - the same effing Terry that I am sure to this day was sabotaging my newsletters back at Artigraf - trying to somehow cover his tracks for the 1cm error by making a deliberate 5mm error which wouldn’t be noticed. I wrote a confidential letter to Derek suggesting it couldn’t be coincidence that after the September issue, when I’d made a fuss, there was still an error on the October issue but only half as much - as if to say - you wanker, you won’t notice this, so why did you make a fuss about the other. This could be my paranoia - then again it might not be. Now, the December issue has been cut, and it’s not even rectangular. This is the first time in 10 years, the issue has not been cut as a rectangle - go on Mayfield tell me this is just another accident.
Only one more month to go - two more issues, plus indexes! - unless Newzeye manage to pull their finger out. Because I hadn’t heard from Newzeye’s Ian Grant in two weeks, I had thought they’d dropped out after our meeting last month. But when Nick Barrett (the other prospective buyer) emailed me to tell me he was still interested (I know he’s interested, but his interest will never transfer to action I feel sure), I decided to email Ian to confirm with him that he’d dropped out. But he called me the next night, and said that he was still very much interested. He wanted two things: to know if around £40,000 would be acceptable to me. I said, I could go along with a deal if he could make the absolute total, including payment for my future time, reach £50,000. He also wanted names and telephone numbers so they could do market research prior to buying. I sent him some the next morning. But I’m not enjoying doing business with Ian - he could, for example, have emailed me after the meeting to say thanks for coming up to London; and he could have emailed me after I sent him the 20 names (current subscribers!) and telephone numbers to say ‘thank you, I really appreciate this’ and ‘I’ll get back to you as soon as possible’. I really need a cheque and a signed commitment to take over the newsletters within two weeks - I can’t NOT close down the newsletters unless I am absolutely sure they’ll continue next year. Time is very tight. Much as I would like to be a free man by mid-December, I shouldn’t really do anything to jeopardise £40,000. I still don’t think the chances are any better than three-to-one against a deal.
Sunday 17 November 2002
Savina Yannatou sings for me this late afternoon. It’s been a wet and cold Sunday, and I’ve only ventured outside once for a few minutes to cut my fingernails. I watched a few minutes of ‘Eastenders’ while doing yoga. This morning I did my quarterly VAT returns.
Myra Hindley died. The papers are full of it. If I had my way, I’d want to put her body on show in a coffin in Westminster Abbey just to see how many people lined up to gawk at her. It’s my belief that as many people turn up to see a dead good person as a dead bad person, and that, therefore, to claim - as the media always do - that the crowds of people turning up to the lying in state or funeral procession of the Queen Mother say is a sign of how much she was loved is CRAP. Such crowds are always made up of gawkers, tourists, passers-by as well as the adoring, it’s just that the media only ever pick the adoring ones to be interviewed. I couldn’t give a toss about Myra Hindley - she’s been a nugget of iron pyrites glossed up by the media, and the public have slavishly panted for more and turned her infamy into more than fool’s gold - and here I am wasting good time and effort trying - unsuccessfully - to conjure up a metaphor.
The firemen’s strike is a more worthy subject for the papers. The government just about managed to get through the first 48 hour strike last week without a major drama, but the firemen are now threatening an eight day strike - which would, surely, damage the government. Even though the fireman are being unreasonable, one feels (even I feel) that somehow the government should manage to sort it out without society having to suffer - it is unlikely that an eight day strike would pass by without unnecessary deaths. The government has begun to talk about more aggressive tactics against the fireman, and there is scope for the conflict to get a lot nastier. This would be damaging to the Labour Party because it already has far more trouble with keeping its left wing in order than in battling the opposition Tory Party, and finding itself at the centre of the first high profile union conflict for a very long time will play very badly in the minds of its left wing supporters (however in the right - not wrong, no pun intended - it might be).
Sticking with the news for a bit longer, Saddam Hussein has less than a month to provide a full inventory of all its weaponry; and the UN inspectors will be starting work this week. The US finally got its wicked way with a new Security Council Resolution, although, when Bush says it’s time to Attack, I’m sure Paris, Moscow and Washington will all end up finding different ways to interpret the actual words in the Resolution. A couple of emails have found their way to my inbox (from Mayco I think) suggesting I sign a petition to the UN against war and send them on to everyone I know. But I agree with our government: we must hold firm and be as bullish as we can, and only then, when Hussein prevaricates too far, and when there is some real evidence that he might have the ability in the short term to make some kind of devastating attack on another country, should the world get together and decide whether to go to war with him or not. Of course, it will be much harder not to invade if he really does have dangerous capability and if he is determined to flout the international community’s will because it would be a dangerous precedent for the international community to bark loudly and then not bite. I cannot help thinking thoughts like this one: what does it matter if Iraq manages to kill a few thousand Westerners, or land a cruise missile on Israel, compared to the suffering in Ethiopia and Southern Africa. I mean there is no comparison, and yet the US defence budget is 10 or 20 times its development aid budget, and has been massively increased since 9/11 - why not divert a large part of this money to Africa and save millions of lives, rather than a few thousand that might (only might) be killed by Iraqi terrorism. There is simply no balance in the way we think about these things. I mean, of course, I understand that the US has to defend its own interests; and Western Europe has to defend its interests, and that our democratically-elected governments would soon be out of office if they started siphoning off a large chunk of taxpayers money to Africa. What peeves me deeply is the hypocrisy, that nobody - and it’s the media that’s culpable - talks about this difference, nobody acknowledges the fact that we are spending billions on a supposed threat (and one which will only ever kill a few odd people here and there - far less than die on the roads) and only paltry millions on people who are really dying and starving.
Reading my diaries of 10-11 years ago (when the first Gulf War was brewing nicely), I am surprised to find how enthusiastically I wrote about working in Brussels, and how much I was manoeuvring with my bosses at the FT to let me go - and also how busy I was. Today, I’ve just started on my 1991 diary (proof-reading in readiness to prepare for another bout of A5 duplex printing - I haven’t done the first lot yet - I’m still waiting for info on the binding system from B) which is odd because it is the moment in time when I first take a flat in Brussels - and in precisely 11 days time I’ll be giving up my flat in Brussels. And with what enthusiasm I wrote about common carriage, and the Commission’s plans for third party access!!
And in South America, I have arrived in Chile - this is the diary I am typing up at the moment. I’ve split from Didier because I was getting bored and also left behind two guys called Jaspar and Gabriel, who I must have travelled with a fair amount, but of whom I have zero memory. I am surprised to find, however, that in Santiago I joined a procession that marched past Pinochet - I have no memory of having seen him in the flesh. Nor did I remember being taken in by the Letelier family - a mother and five daughters, two of whom actually wrote in my journal.
Turow’s new novel is proving a delight - there’s no doubt in my mind that he transcends the legal/homicide genre in the same way that Le Carre has always transcended the spy/diplomat genre. I’m sure I’ve said this before - disappointingly, though, I’ve just done a search of my computer-stored journal archives and I’ve only found a couple of mentions of Turow, and none since 1992. Turow is not a prolific writer - only six previous works are listed inside the front cover of ‘Reversible Errors’, one of which dates back to 1977.
I’m only warming slowly to Pinker’s ‘The Blank Slate’ - perhaps because I already know where he’s going at the moment, and I don’t need any convincing of his main thesis which is that the brain is not a blank slate and that it is pre-programmed by genes in lots of ways. I don’t need convincing because I already have non-PC views about this: i.e. that some races may be inherently more intelligent than others, just like some are inherently stronger, taller, better at long-distance running than others; and, for a second example, that there are deep and fundamental differences between male and female brains. Pinker argues that, whereas once upon time, it was assumed that everything was laid down in our genes by divine statute, I suppose, in the last century, the reverse idea, that of the blank slate - a very false idea for Pinker - has so taken hold among social scientists that it is doing damage in our society. I like this bit where he paraphrases Freud: Humanity has in the course of time had to endure from the hands of science three great outrages upon its naive self love: the discovery that our world is not the centre of the celestial spheres but rather a speck in a vast universe, the discovery that we were not specially created but instead descended from animals, and the discovery that often our conscious minds do not control how we act but merely tell us a story about our actions. Although Pinker believes it is neuroscience that has conclusively proved the last of these truths and not psychoanalysis. The chapter I’m reading at the moment looks at how the last wall between the physics and the specialness of man, that of the specialness of the mind has fallen, as bridges have been built between biological and the mental worlds, between biology and culture. Pinker sees four such bridges: the cognitive sciences, neuroscience, behavioural genetics, and evolutionary psychology.
Chicken, new potatoes, roasted parsnips (although not roasted enough) and salad for supper.
I’ve had a knee relapse. After Saturday’s walk and Monday’s run, I was beginning to feel quite good about my knee. It had managed an eight mile walk without any trouble, and, for the first time, I had been able to do a run without being conscious of anything wrong with the knee. But on Tuesday I got a slight pain in my calf - and I should have stopped, but I didn’t - and after another hundred metres, I pulled up like a lame horse. I could barely walk after that - and struggled home on the bike. For the best part of two days I was hobbling, and even now five days later I’ve still pain there. But the odd thing is that the back of my knee seems to have got difficult again too - I don’t know if there is a connection, or whether it’s just because I’ve not been exercising the knee. So no more running last week, no swimming, no walk this weekend - my whole exercise regime has been put on hold (although I am continuing with yoga).
I was not moved in this last week to write up any journal, even though it was a relaxed-ish week. On Friday I went to London to meet with Arthur Leathley, one time transport correspondent on ‘The Times’ and now Public Relations Director for The Waterfront Partnership, one of the EC Inform-Transport subscribers. After a prolonged silence, the Partnership called me and said they were still interested in buying the newsletter, so I agreed to meet up. From Waterloo I took the train to London Bridge (that’s a smashing short journey with the elevated train weaving through all sorts of buildings old and new) and walked along to the end of Tooley Street. It’s not the most salubrious of areas, and the Partnership’s building - an old warehouse I think - was not too upmarket either. And inside I thought they’d made a horrible mess of the decor - it was meant to look expensive but seemed cheap and tacky - and the furbishing was in almost total opposition to the building’s structure, not at all in sympathy it. I had the impression that these people might be more serious, a bit more intent than Newzeye, yet within minutes of meeting with Arthur and Steve Brammel (ex Department of Transport) I could tell they were just fiddling about with the idea of buying EC Inform-Transport, they’d not really considered it’s implications at all. The Waterfront Partnership already has a monthly publication called ‘Transport Policy and Law’, but it’s fairly short, and is just a collection of articles written by the various partners. It’s little more than a publicity/conference ticket vehicle for them. With less than 100 subscribers and at a price of less than £200, the newsletter is certainly subsidised by not accounting for any marketing costs (which are offset through marketing for their own conferences) nor for the partners’ time in writing the articles. They admitted that one of the reasons they were looking at my title was because they didn’t know quite what to do with their own publication. So, for the best part of an hour, I gave them free advice on a possible scenario in which they could buy EC Inform-Transport (later, after it’s closed down) and relaunch it with their own revamped title. But I warned them the economics of a newsletter business requires not insignificant investment and returns to be calculated over a minimum of three years. I came away from the meeting, though, thinking that these guys would never get their heads round taking on EC Inform-Transport, they didn’t really have the first idea of how to run a newsletter and they weren’t about to start now.
Meanwhile Newzeye has gone cold on me again. Ian Grant only ever contacts me when I make a move. He told me his researcher might have a go at the names and addresses I gave him two weeks ago on Friday, but I didn’t hear from her; and he also told me he would be having a budget meeting early next week. Well, there’s less than three weeks now before I close down the titles - there’s no way Newzeye is going to get its act together by then. Anyhow, I’m sure Ian Grant will run scared at the last minute - and I don’t blame him; if I were him, I would not consider buying my titles. He doesn’t see how little commercial value they have, and that, therefore, they are fundamentally difficult to sell (if they weren’t I might have done better over the years). I’ve decided the way to close the newsletters is to write a kind of letter/editorial for my subscribers filling page 3, like a big Editor’s Choice box. There wouldn’t be enough room on the front page to say what I want to say; the back page is always ignored, and if I write a separate letter it’s unlikely to get passed on from the library through the circulation list.
After London Bridge, I found myself taking the Jubilee Line to Oxford Street and braving the crowds. I chanced on a British Home Stores next to John Lewis, and found exactly the kind of house trousers I like to wear all the time (light cotton with an elastic/drawstring waste) - I first found trousers like these in the Brighton BHS many years ago, but recently, the similar types I’ve bought from Marks or from Cotton Traders (on the internet) have been either too tight at the waste, or made of too heavy material, or made without a proper fly. I’ve been searching for new such trousers for a couple of years at least. On Friday I found them - there in the Oxford St BHS. I bought two pairs, and they were only £15 each. That evening, I wore one of the pairs. I was fully expecting to find something wrong, but they were perfect, so comfortable in fact, that I fully realised how uncomfortable my other trousers had been for so long.
Yesterday was fun - that was Saturday. I went back to Oxford Street - this time I took Adam to buy clothes. We spent a few hours at the Royal Festival Hall listening to free jazz (being broadcast on Radio Three as part of the London Jazz Festival) before returning home in time to watch ‘Casualty’ and the first part of Andrew Davies’ adaptation of ‘Daniel Deronda’ (competent and amusing if a little predictable - and tonight we have Davies’ adaptation of ‘Dr Zhivago’).
I might have made a big decision this week: to move. With EC Inform about to expire, what is holding me to Russet House? Nothing but itself, nothing but the beauty of this house itself and its position. I’ve no friends here, no network of contacts, no activities (except for the Paper Boat Race, which I’ve done enough now); and with EC Inform gone, there are no practical difficulties in moving either. Once Ads goes to Godalming College, life for both of us might be considerably easier if we were in Busbridge, for example, or perhaps Guildford. I’d like Ads to be able to cycle to college, and for me to be able to cycle to a station. I can’t see why we shouldn’t move, even if it’s basically just for two years that Adam is at Godalming. Once he goes off to university, then I’ll be free to move again, and by then I might know what I’ll be doing for the next 10 or 20 years, and consequently where I want to live.
I’m continuing to type up my South America diary - but I’m beginning to realise that I should be treasuring this activity: this is the first time (have I said this before? it bears repeating) in 25 years (half my lifetime) that I have read most of this material - unlike my Asia and NZ diaries which have been typed up and therefore dipped into regularly, I’ve never read any of the narrative about my South American journey (by contrast the poems and short stories are quite familiar - quite amazingly familiar in fact because a long time ago, pre-PC age, I typed them up). So I’m rediscovering this amazing period of my own life - it’ll never be such a fresh and exciting voyage again! Here are people, with whom I’ve spent a good deal of time, but of whom I have absolutely no memory; here are the fantastic rains, and mountains, and lakes and people of Chile; and here is a very philosophical me, perhaps the most philosophical I had been up until that point in my life. Although, of course, I remember my wonderful time in Vina del Mar, I had not remembered that, no sooner had I arrived in Chile, than I was always meeting girls - they were so friendly.
28 November, Brussels
My last few hours in this flat - I’ve already cleared out and thrown away a lot of the stuff, and, as a consequence, I can hear the clatter of these keys echo. Last night Fiona came over and took away a few things, a few books, the computer table, the telephone, but there was still a lot of accumulated junk to throw out: my green jacket which now has moth holes, blankets and duvets, past issues of EC Inform-Energy and EC Inform-Transport, pictures I don’t want (I took my own photos back to England on previous trips) paper clip holders, envelopes, half-used paper pads, storage files, threadbare socks and mingey plimsolls, half a chair, a telephone answering machine, a Stylewriter printer, old maps, brochures, EU reports, half a jar of honey, half a jar of peanut butter, half a bag of sugar, half a bottle of olive oil, a packet of pasta . . . Later, I’ll probably be throwing out this computer, and two radios, assuming the landlord doesn’t want me to leave them here - although there’s barely any room left in the rubbish skips in the garage. And, I’ll have to do some cleaning/sweeping too (which will be more difficult since I gave Fiona my hoover also).
I’ve done some wandering around Brussels this trip. Yesterday morning before light (I couldn’t sleep) I went over to the flea market at Place du Jeu de Balle, where, many moons ago, I’d bought my Roman soldier. Although there wasn’t much activity in any of the streets on my way there, the Place itself was very busy with white vans and people unloading their goods onto rugs on the ground, or onto trestle tables. I saw one man standing by the back of his van simply feeding a huge pile of clothes onto the ground outside the van. There was so much worthless junk everywhere, I didn’t stay long. Moreover, although the guide books say you need to get to the market early (between six and eight) to get the bargains, I thought I’d have to be pretty stupid to buy anything before it was light and I could see exactly what was what. Apart from one or two stalls, which stood out, the vast majority of the market was no more interesting than your average village hall jumble sale. And, I wondered, what on earth do they do when it’s raining. I walked along to the antiques area around Place du Sablon, I think it’s called (seeing a rather handsome wooden bicycle in one shop window), before making my way home for breakfast. Also yesterday, I walked down Rue du Canal and through St Katherine, but, however, hard I try I cannot summon up any trace of nostalgia for the place, any saudades. Perhaps you have to actually leave a place before nostalgia actually sets it. I’ve been jaded about Brussels, the place, for many years now.
I also took a last look at an EP committee meeting - it’s been so long since I was actually here at the same time one was on (for the last two years, my cycle has been completely out of sync with that of the EP committees), I couldn’t resist popping in. The regional affairs/transport committee was voting on the railway package. The chairman was doing his best to zip through the amendments quickly, as usual, by assessing whether they were accepted on the basis of hand votes. Every now and then, though, he decided (or one of the MEPs requested) an electronic vote (hand votes can be done in 30 seconds, whereas electronic voting takes twice the time - and by the time I arrived the committee was dealing with amendment 150 or whatever - so hand counting does save real time!). Mostly the votes were fairly clear cut but, as the minutes ticked by, some were rather close at which point it became apparent that the electronic voting button wasn’t working for two of the MEPs. The chairman said it didn’t matter because the difference in yeahs and nehs was six or eight votes. Voting went on. Then Brian Simpson, a UK MEP, called a point of order saying this couldn’t go on, because it would be unclear which amendments, if defeated, could be re-tabled at plenary (this depends, I understand, on their being a sizeable minority registered at the committee stage - but how that is worked on the hand votes, which aren’t counted, I don’t know; perhaps if MEPs know they want to try again at plenary, they call for an electronic vote). The chairman implied that any amendment up for plenary could be given the benefit of the doubt because of the voting problem. Voting continued. Then as the voting got closer, Simpson again interrupted. This time the chairman suggested that the two MEPs move their seats, so that their votes would register. Everyone agreed that was a good idea. Voting continued. Then came a dead heat; and it was also clear that the vote of one MEP was still not registering properly. The MEP himself, Soboda, offered just to flag his vote if ever, whenever there was a dead heat, but by this time the chairman had realised that the problem was not going to go away. Half the MEPs seemed to be talking at the same time by this point, while poor Soboda was trying to explain that he had accidentally left his voting card behind the previous day, and it had been returned to him that morning (and, obviously, although no one seemed to twig this, security had de-activated it to avoid any possibility of fraud, and it had not been re-activated). The chairman called a halt to proceedings, to allow the technicians to investigate, meanwhile half the MEPs swarmed out of the committee room to light up. It’s good to see democracy in action now and then.
I chat to Gilles Gantelet for a few minutes. I am disappointed to realise that he has changed considerably in the three years since his appointment as press spokesman for Loyola de Palacio. Whereas, when I first knew him, I could have a reasonable conversation with him, now he doesn’t converse, he just pontificates. No, he doesn’t exactly pontificate, because he’s not that opinionated, but he no longer listens to anything I say in a conversation. He has been fawned on by the world’s press for three years; there have been so many journalists hanging on to his every word, that he’s forgotten that this is because of his position not because of who he is as a person. So, I suppose the truth is, he’s become more pompous. For example, I was trying to discuss some point with him (not to extract information but just to talk), and, when I expressed a little surprise at his opinion, he suddenly said something like ‘one day I’ll reveal everything, what I think about everything’ - as if the world would ever be interested in what he personally thinks. The only people who are going to be interested are his friends - and I think he’s lost sense of that reality.
I’m only carrying back one small rucksack in addition to my usual bag. That’s it, the end of my time in Brussels, and the end of an era.
It’s Rebecca’s birthday today - Mum reminded me a couple of days ago, so I asked Adam to go to the paper shop, choose a card and send it off. The trip back from Brussels - the last - was uneventful, other than that I had a £6 voucher left over from when my train was cancelled on a previous trip. With it, I ordered a chicken sandwich, but, instead, got hot ham-and-cheese-in-pitta-bread, which was odd, because the evening before I’d been out to eat (the first time in Brussels for a very long time) with Fiona at my local bar/restaurant and chosen the special which was something very similar with ham and cheese inside (but served with a plate of noodles). And also, the Eurostar catering person didn’t seem very familiar with the vouchers and had to call a colleague to know how to code it into the little register they use; and then he proceeded to give me change from the voucher! I did not feel any moral duty (as I did in the bank when the teller was about to boost my bank account by Eur1,000 instead of Eur100) to suggest that perhaps it was not wise to give me any cash change.
I’d better stop for now - the chicken I’m cooking is ready, and I need to serve up supper. No doubt we’ll watch ‘Casualty’.
Paul K Lyons
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