PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2003 - NOVEMBER
I’ve been crying this morning. I feel like the beginnings of the depression I’ve long expected are finally beginning to bite. I’ve always wept sometimes over the years; but this crying this morning was the reality of my situation starting to punch its way through demanding to be noticed. I should have started work seriously last week on a new set of short stories (for this is the project I have set myself through to the end of the year, and I have absolutely nothing else to do, nothing impelling me to be alive tomorrow), but I haven’t. Then, I thought a lazy week - coinciding with Adam’s half term - would not be so bad, and that I’d get down to it on Monday, but Adam was home yesterday too, and I didn’t start writing. So, I was supposed to start this morning. I was up early, and ready to go by 8:15 or so. But instead, I went back to bed, to sleep. From 9:30 to 10:30 I prevaricated, fiddling around with a few papers, or whatever. Then finally, I had opened the file which contains the notes for the first of the stories. Within a few minutes, the post arrived. All it contained was a large scruffy brown envelope - completely open to the elements (the flap glue having not taken) - with my Kip Fenn manuscript returned. Why can’t these agents put a strip of sellotape over the back of the sae that I send them. On a plain postcard Sheil Land Associates tells me they cannot offer me representation at this time. Last week, I wrote to Sheil Land reminding them that they had my submission for two months, and asking if they wished to see the whole novel. I’ve now received rejections from all three agents that I wrote to in August. There are five other submissions outstanding.
But the rejection was a trigger. It was not only the rejection itself, but the scruffy way the envelope was returned. I do not want to put any store by Kip Fenn. I call it my white elephant; I doubt anybody will ever touch it. And yet, how can I not hope, when it is my only hope for anything remotely good or interesting to happen in my life. How can I not hope. I could only not hope, if my life was full up with other things - but it isn’t, and I seem unable to do anything about that at the moment. So it’s a medley of all this that triggers the tears.
About ten minutes later, the phone rings. The phone rarely rings. Sometimes, it’s my mother, sometimes it is the estate agent who still get enquiries from people wanting to look at the house, and sometimes it’s a salesmen. But on this occasion - astonishingly - it was Luke. It was as if he had heard me crying and wanted to cheer me up. Only a few days ago, I was typing up my diary entries from the Edinburgh fringe festival, and from the time when we worked together on the Sunshine Special. Luke was only ringing on a whim, because he’d just been rung up by Helmut in Senegal. A year or more ago, I’d tried to put Luke in touch with Helmut (somehow involving Manu in Berlin), and I’d never heard any more. In fact Luke had never followed through with the contact information I gathered for him; but now he was ringing to say that Helmut had coincidentally rung him, and that he, Luke, would be going to Senegal in December to discuss future collaboration. But Luke hadn’t really rung for a chat, so we agreed to meet later in the year (although I doubt we will).
I went for my run, but even the sunshine and the pretty autumn could not lift my spirits. Let me see if ‘Cheers’ can.
What a fantastic autumn. After the warm and dry summer, I expected a cold wet winter to descend quickly, but not so. It is balmy weather, dry, windless, warm. Today I’ve been out cycling to immerse myself in the splendours of autumn, the incredibly bright oranges, yellows, ochres, russets, apricots, gingers, coppers, mustards, lemons all lit up and made fluorescent by the low sun. I took the camera and snapped a few slides along the Wey and across Puttenham Heath. At Seale, I found the teashop open so took refreshment - it was warm enough to sit outside. Although it is already November, there are still many leaves on the silver birch trees and the virginia creeper. This is a month later than in previous years; usually, the oak trees are the last to turn yellow and brown and loose their leaves, but this year they seem to be giving in to fall in tandem with the rest of nature.
Last night, I made the effort to drive to Guildford in the evening (I’d already been to Spectrum in the afternoon for a swim) to see the Stoke Park fireworks. Adam didn’t want to go. But this was the only big free display actually taking place on 5 November. And I felt I could probably get round the worst of the traffic difficulties by parking at the supermarkets, and walking to Stoke Park. I hadn’t realised but this was the first time Stoke Park has been used for the big Guildford display. There was a large funfair in place too, so it was a lively affair. The fireworks themselves were big and boisterous, accompanied by music - possibly from the radio station called The Eagle. There was no art in the display though, no creative force at work. Just money. With the bright lights of the funfair in the distance, and the fireworks in the sky, I couldn’t help but wonder at man’s attraction for bright and sparkly things. There were two best moments: one when I was walking through the crowd, my back to the fireworks, seeing hundreds of lit-up faces looking up to the sky (similar to that scene in ‘ET’ or is it ‘Close Encounters’), all intent on the visions there; and then, towards the end, I walked through the crowd to the furthest corner, in order to make a quick getaway, and I found that because of the way the wind was blowing the huge spherical fireworks were somehow being blown across and then exploding high up in the sky and down directly towards me.
I’ve done no work today. Bad boy. I’ve been reading a gruesome thriller called ‘The Treatment’ by a lady called Mo Hayder.
I spent Sunday in London. In the morning, I went for a walk across Hampstead Heath, getting utterly soaked and seeing no one from Golders Hill Park to South Hampstead, except at Whitestone Pond. While still dripping, I took a hot and tasty coffee in a cafe, and then strolled back to Mum’s house through the Hampstead back streets. I was surprised to find most of the shops on Heath Street open. Mum cooked a duck for lunch. Mary and Roger had travelled from Salisbury. We spent most of afternoon talking about the Goldsmiths - I’d taken up papers Gail gave me (about Fred and Igee), which I’d never shown to Mum (or Mary) before. Mary showed us pictures of Daniel’s wedding. Roger didn’t say too much, but we looked at some photos of his sculptures too. There was a commission for a junior school, St Peter’s, to celebrate it’s 150th anniversary. Roger had used two chunks of white Portland stone to create two half ships with a net stretched between them.
I’ve made some progress with the first of my television stories. I’ve called it ‘Grave Night’. It may end up at about 5,000 words. And I’ve had a germ of an idea for the next story, which I MUST press on with next week (I’m supposed to do one a week until Christmas, and I’ve already wasted one week) based on Dr Who.
Michael Howard has been elected - unopposed - as leader of the Conservative Party, Michael Howard, who would ever have guessed. I can’t imagine a single person more likely to persuade reluctant Labour voters to turn out at the next election. I feel sure, though, that there must be more to Howard than I know (or else how would he have commanded such widespread support within the Tory Party), so I’m prepared to see my opinion of the man improve.
12 November 2003
This fabulous autumn continues, with kaleidoscopic colours of the leaves on the trees and on the ground creating an art gallery wherever one walks or drives. And it’s warm too.
Today I’ve been swimming. I swim for half an hour, doing 20 or 30 lengths. Half breast stroke and half back stroke. I also exercise my knee a bit, although I don’t need to any more. It really is back to normal, better than it was before even. The days I go swimming I let myself off taking a run. I still don’t enjoy the run, even though it’s no more than seven or eight minutes long. It doesn’t hurt but it feels uncomfortable in the chest, and I have to pant quite fast.
I read in the paper about an Albanian woman who has just died at the age 123! She didn’t drink, but she smoked and drank coffee. How can anyone in this day and age afford to live so long?
It’s not been a good week so far. I can’t imagine what a good week would be like. I’m in such a hopeless situation, and I’ve no idea how I’m going to get myself out of it. Everywhere I look, everything I read, everything I think reminds me that the world only values experience and specific knowledge and skills. I have none, and nor am I willing or able to do anything about it. If I get desperate, maybe next year, then I’ll have to try and get an editorial job somehow. But the whole point of giving up EC Inform, and pushing myself into this pit of nothingness, is to try and provoke myself into doing something different, something more courageous, something that will set an interesting and steady course for another 20 years of working. I knew this would be a difficult task, and a very difficult time for me; and I knew how and why it would be difficult; but that doesn’t stop me getting very depressed about it all.
By coincidence, I’m actually typing up my diary from 1980 the year I had my most serious mental depression, the one that eventually led me into journalism and into a housing association flat in Kilburn. But then I had youth on my side, adventurousness, naivety, brashness, and lots of different friends. Then I had lovers too, people I could speak to about my depression. Now I have no one to talk to about my fears, my deepening depression, my loneliness. I’ve no interest in talking to my mother, I don’t want her sympathy, or her concern; and I certainly don’t want to give her something new to gossip about. Barbara is now distant; and, any way, I know from experience that she doesn’t have enough strength to hold me up, in fact she has a tendency to take advantage of any weakness I might show (not deliberately I’m sure). I could mention to friends like Raoul or Judy that I’m finding it tough, but I see them so rarely that it seems unnecessary to burden them with my angst. Adam does help. He’s a good listener. And, despite his young age, he does have some understanding I think. But, of course, I can only show him a rational edge of my problems, I wouldn’t dream of dumping anything emotional on him.
Last Friday, I went to see a rather good play by Roland Harwood (he of ‘The Dresser’ fame) starring both Neil Pearson, who I’ve liked ever since he starred in ‘Between the Lines’, and Julian Glover, who, I think, once commissioned Peter Piper, when I was working with him, to decorate his flat. There was also a strong supporting cast of three others. The play tells of an interrogation of a famous German conductor, Furtwangler (I’d never heard of him), who chose to remain working in Germany during the Nazi regime, while never actually supporting Hitler, and an American soldier tasked with deciding whether he should be indicted for association with the Nazi regime. The play is about art and politics and the philosophy of both. My encyclopaedia tells me that Furtwangler (an imposing Julian Glover) was exonerated from any charges of complicity, but Neil Pearson (a tough no-nonsense American soldier with no interest in or knowledge of art) gave him a rough ride.
Another Kip Fenn rejection. That makes five. There’s only five agents to go. I am very disappointed, I really hoped at least one of them would have wanted to read the whole thing by now. I was disappointed enough to move on and make a list of the publishers I should be contacting. I went through the ‘Writers and Artists Yearbook’ carefully, and there’s only 12 possible publishers. What will I do when I’m sitting with a folder full of rejections? I started to think about self-publishing. I even made out a list of what I would need to do to self-publish. I could afford to do it, to print 1,000 say, and spend six months trying to promote it and get it distributed. But it’s a process with so many pitfalls, and, ultimately, I suspect very unrewarding. I doubt I’d have the courage any way. I’d certainly need to let some friends read it, and I’d need them all to be really positive about it - but I can’t imagine any one of them would enthuse over it, for different reasons.
It’s not going well, my project to write stories about television. I don’t have enough motivation, or enough ideas.
I watched the two rugby semi-finals at the weekend. They were thrilling. And it was good to see England winning for once, especially against the French.
I saw Phil Needham on Saturday. He’s over from Italy because his father’s been in hospital with pneumonia. We talk about literature a lot. He’d like to do an online course in the History of Art but hasn’t been able to find one yet. We also talk about the past and he reminds me about the Casson Theatre in Cardiff. I remember going to see some experimental plays there, but I didn’t remember that we’d seen some the Joint Stock Theatre Company, or a play by Caryl Churchill, or Max Stafford Clark directing. We both bemoaned the state of modern literature and plays. I explain my belief that our society is decadent and that most of our art is decadent, incestuous and pointless.
And on Friday, I went up to London, to the British Library, wherein I found rather fewer books than I expected on the subject of television, and to the Queen Elizabeth Hall, where I enjoyed two hours of jazz, courtesy of Radio Three, Sean Rafferty and the London Jazz Festival. I claimed a good seat near the front with a table and listened to half an hour of Jamie Cullum (who’s a bit of sensation at the moment, a kind of post-modern ultra-young Frank Sinatra, who uses the piano wood as a drum, and the piano stool as a trampoline; he’s very short but full of hyped-up energy); Dhafer Youssef from Tunisia I think who plays an instrument called the Oud; several sessions of poetry singing by a strange group called The Shout, and a group calling itself Terraplane, with Eric Mingus singing. One slight disappointment: an Argentinian singer called Sandra Lune was scheduled to make an appearance but didn’t show.
Wednesday 19 November
In search of a third story idea for my telly series, I pick up a couple more books from the library. I spent most of yesterday reading them. One is called L?ve TV by Chris Horrie (although the questionmark in the title is actually upside down) which tells the almost unbelievable story of L!ve TV. I knew a little about this failed venture from a BBC documentary in 1995 called ‘Nightmare at Canary Wharf’, but it was only on reading about it in the book that I remembered I’d seen it. L!ve TV was a satellite station set up by the Daily Mirror Group with David Montgomery still young and ambitious and hoping to be the next Rupert Murdoch. It was inspired people management to bring together Kelvin McKenzie, ex of the Sun, and Janet Street-Porter to run it. However, McKenzie only got involved in the day-to day operations when Street-Porter was finally removed. The book explains, in excruciating detail, the incompetence of Street-Porter. From my reading of it, she was absolutely incapable of running such a venture, spending more time and money on the style of the office desks than on how the programmes were to be produced. Her modus operandi appears to have been to find an idea that she liked, which usually involved saying ‘that’s fucking crap’ to a hundred ideas first, and then demanding that someone do it. Of course, ultimately, it’s the people who put Street-Porter into the job that should be shot.
I’ve never been able to stand the woman, and I’ve never understood how she managed to get into positions of responsibility and influence. The book, which is very well written, goes some way to explaining how she made good, and then bad; but doesn’t really explain how there could have been so few controls on what Street-Porter did, to have allowed such chaos to develop and reign. And then also the book looks at Kelvin McKenzie, and his reign at L!ve TV, and again one is left speechless that such a person could have risen so high and be in charge of big budgets and people’s jobs and lives.
The other book I read is called ‘Trouble Shooter’, and is about the career of George Jesse Turner, a camaraman with Granada’s ‘World in Action’ for over 30 years. This is not very well written, even though there is a supporting writer (Jeff Anderson, an ex ‘World in Action’ producer). In it, Turner recounts his part in 30 or 50 programmes, most of them related to well-known national or international events. In all, he claims to have played some part in 600 of the 1,400 ‘World in Action’ programmes. It’s quite a record. And I note that in another book I have, which reviews 70 years of British television programmes, the entry for ‘World in Action’ comes with a single photograph - of Turner with his camera. He’s obviously very well-known and a special person. I note that he originally got into television, in the 60s, through a neighbour.
It’s difficult for me to read Turner’s account and not to be a little jealous that he was there, witnessing so many of the important international events of the last 40 years, and that his life seems to have been so much more useful, important, relevant than my own. From the beginning, it’s clear that he was prepared to dedicate himself to the job; and that danger didn’t put him off. He must have grown into the job, and learned to accept not only the danger, but the travelling, the waiting, the cold, the discomfort, the boredom, in a way that many others - and certainly me - would probably never have done, given his chance.
Everything I see, everything I read, everything I think at the moment is drawn into my self-analysis and my self-depreciation. I’m no further forward thinking about my future than I was one, 12 or 36 months ago. But when I read books like Turner’s, it makes me wish I could have found, a long time ago, a role that felt important enough or right enough to dedicate myself to. The same thoughts are engendered when I read about the writers and producers involved in making the Dr Who series over the years (I’ve been reading several Dr Who books for one of my telly stories), especially when I read the sketch biographies of these people (as contained in the books). What all these people have in common is a dedication to their work, an intense interest and commitment, a role and a purpose. I’m not explaining myself very well. And they fit in to a world; not only then, but now. How on earth - I absolutely understand this, and have done for a long time, but it doesn’t stop the re-realisation, and re-re-realisation wounding, puncturing my hopes - can I, at 50, with no experience, background, contacts, networks, break into any new world. All the worlds, especially those much sought after, are over-crowded with talented, experienced, networked people. I HAVE NOTHING TO OFFER. WHAT CAN I DO? WHERE CAN I GO?
I have money, I have time. I have no baggage. I have no responsibilities. And yet I can’t think of anything to do with my life. This is just so ridiculous. Nothing I can think of to do is interesting enough or important enough. And so I do nothing. I can’t even decide just to live my life in the easiest and most pleasing way I can think, because I can’t even find anything that pleases me particularly.
On television I watch the start of a programme about teenagers and pornography. I am scandalised. The programme treats it as normal that 14 year olds should have access to pornography in magazines or on the internet. A neutral camera films, separately, three boys and three girls talking about pornography. The girls find it funny, the boys talk about it as a source of information about what to do with girls. There is some debate among the boys, though, as to how realistically people behave in pornographic films; but no discussion of whether the pornography is used for masturbation - surely, it’s primary purpose. At the head of the programme, a 14 year old boy explains his surprise - apparently a nice surprise, although the boy didn’t seem very enthusiastic - at being given a pornography magazine on his birthday by his father; and the father explains why he gave it to him!
In ‘Eastenders’, the producers are milking the Kat-Alfie relationship dry. Last Friday, Kat was seconds away from ‘I do’ with gangster Andy before Alfie managed to stop the ceremony. So now they are officially an item. But I can’t see the path of true love running smoothly, not even for a week. ‘Foyle’s War’ is back with Michael Kitchen. I haven’t much liked him in other dramas, but this one suits him to the button. It’s beautifully made, and the stories are top-notch, both in plot and characterisation. I’d expect it to become a classic, to rival Morse. (There’s another detective drama called ‘Frost’, which has been going a while now, with David Jason and is very popular. But I think it’s dreadful.) Otherwise, TV is rather poor at present. The only thing I’m looking forward to is the rugby final on Saturday.
I’ve been in a one-sided barney with Viking, a mail-order stationary company that I’ve used throughout the last 10 years. The service has always been good, with delivery usually on the day following an order. Eight days ago, however, I ordered two items, and only one of them was delivered, and that was a day late, and by a very smarmy man at that. There was something iffy about the delivery company, and it’s taken until today to get the second item. I’ve kicked up a real fuss with Viking because no one’s explained to me the reason for the delay. I expect it’s the delivery company playing silly buggers, so I hope Viking cuts short its contract.
We are all celebrating a famous English victory. We (I’ve become a staunch fan of rugby union overnight) knocked the Aussies for six in the World Cup Final in Sydney on Saturday. It was a wonderful match, a wonderful victory, a wonderful feeling for us poms, so used to being mangled by the Aussies at cricket. Australia have won the World Cup twice, NZ once and South Africa once. This was only the fifth World Cup, and it was the first time a Northern Hemisphere team had won it. And what a way to win. The match started with the Wallabies scoring an early try. They did it so easily, that I feared the whole game was going to follow suit and be a walkover; but bit by bit and slowly, England dominated the ball play, holding onto it well, taking it into the Aussie half, not giving away penalties, and by half time they had a good lead. In the second half, though, the ref seemed to lose his mind and started punishing England for non-existent offences in the scrum (the captain Martin Johnson, writing in ‘The Guardian’ this morning: ‘When you consider the difference in size, power, experience and ability between our front row and the Wallaby one, it was mystifying to me that the referee should imagine that we would be scrummaging illegally. Why would we need to?’ England were three points in the lead with seconds to go before the end when the ref awarded Australia a penalty. Elton Flately scored, which meant the game had to go into extra time, 10 minutes each way. In the first mini-half, England went three points up with a penalty and kept the lead until near the end of the second mini-half, and then again Australia were given a penalty in range, and Flately didn’t miss (although he’d missed several early on in the match). And then came the dream ending for all us poms. Jonny Wilkinson, already the England hero for scoring so many points with penalties, conversions and drop goals throughout the tournament, scores a drop goal - a winning drop goal - with seconds to go. But the goal was made possible by a great little 10 metre run out of a ruck by Matt Dawson in front of the goal, meaning that at the next ruck, Jonny would be that much closer for his kick, and the final whistle would be that much nearer sounding. It was a fairy tale ending to an amazing tense match - some people have called it the greatest ever rugby union match. The British media has gone wild, with the news making headlines all weekend and in all the papers. (‘The Guardian’ had a 16 pages special on Saturday before the match, and another 16 page special today after it, plus a story/picture on the front page of the main paper, and a couple of pages of stories inside.)
Of course this does not equal 1966, despite everyone making parallels, because rugby is not as big as football, and there are only five or six nations that really can claim to be top-level rugby nations. Nevertheless, it was a great tournament (well managed by the Australians - after the Olympics they are proving themselves gold medal international event managers). Even after the Australian media bashed the poms non-stop for the whole of the tournament, they were gracious in defeat, praising England fully and not whingeing at all (but thank goodness England scored that one try in the final, without that the Aussies might have carped a lot more - England having garnered reputation based on Wilkinson’s kicking rather than the more ‘pure’ points scored with tries).
I’ve booked to go to Madeira for a week. I hope and expect this will be like my trip to Corfu. Lots of exploring, and reading, and sitting quietly in cafes writing my diary. The only difference is that I haven’t booked any accommodation in advance, so I may move around the island a little. It’s not very big, similar in size to Ibiza, but I thought it might be worth a week. The flight is cheap only around £100.
Adam and I went to Julian’s for lunch yesterday. Mum was there too. Between them Julian and Sarah cooked an excellent roast beef with yorkshire puds - even Adam commented on the high quality meal. They’ve done quite a lot of work to the house, sprucing up the kitchen and breakfast room, and tidying up the patio. Sarah had to race off to see her mother who was in hospital after a knee operation. Naomi has recently taken her 11 plus, but Julian doesn’t think she will have passed; and Rebecca is on the verge of starting puberty. She still wears a brace, but I think it can’t be long before her teeth are in good shape.
I’m typing up my Corsica diary at the moment. It’s full of self-recrimination, and the struggles of someone trying to be a writer. I think I knew (this comes across in the entries) that I wasn’t particularly good, but it’s also painfully clear that I was a lot further away from being a serious writer than I thought. Nearly 25 years on, I’ve not managed to reach the point I thought might be a few months away then. But also, I didn’t really have a concept of what it would mean to be a writer, or of what kind of writer I wanted to be. I was beginning to recognise that I needed something to write about; but I wasn’t taking the message on board very deeply.
Paul K Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG