PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2004 - DECEMBER
1 December 2004
I’ve applied for another full-time job. This is only the second one this year, after the RSC job. I did apply for the Sci-Dev job last year, long before I was really ready to work full-time again, and, I suppose, I could argue if I’d got that job I might never have published Kip Fenn. I have also made two other applications, more recently, for temporary writing/editing work without any response at all. Applying for this new job - managing editor at a company called Redactive - has helped me touch my depression a bit more closely. I tried to explain this to Adam last night, but it wasn’t easy. At the root of my angst is the fact that taking such a job would be tantamount to giving up in the quest to do something else, something more interesting with the rest of my life. I’m sure the job would be a challenge, and I might even enjoy it, but, I suppose the truth is, that I’ve still been dreaming of being able to do something more exotic, something more creative with the last third of my life. But I can’t run away from the fact that I will need to earn money at some point, and I will need to thrust myself into occupation at some point. And the truth is this: I’ve only ever earned money working as a journalist or editor, so it’s unlikely that I’m going to find a new magical route for myself. I’ve been out of professional work now for two years, and I’ve been hopelessly incapable of really using the time productively, of engaging myself in lots of different projects, of being constructive of achieving anything. The only things I’ve done are to write and publish Kip Fenn and to write London Cross, but they have led me NOWHERE, not even to some small involvement with any single project - and I would need lots of projects really to sustain myself over time. This is the reality. And the reality is the worst case scenario that I projected years ago - it’s always the worst case scenario, luck never shines on me any more - that I will simply have to plug myself back into a nine-to-five commuting office job. Luck will be getting one sooner, I suppose; ill-luck will not being able to get one at all, and struggling for months and years to find any employment.
Blunkett’s in trouble - I think he’s on the way out. He’s been fiddling his expenses, and doing little favours for friends. Apparently he had an affair with a married woman who worked at the ‘New Statesman’, and lots of juicy details about this have been ignored by the BBC and some papers such as ‘The Guardian’ (which is why I haven’t known anything about it). But now a more serious accusation has been levelled at the man, all the other stuff is pouring out. What an amazing man he is though; as a blind man always dependant on others, you’d have thought it would be difficult enough to manage a huge government ministry and all the media attention, but to carry on an affair with a married woman as well and hope to keep it secret . . . astonishing!
Long conversations with Cora about her friendships. She seems so dependent on so many different relationships. She can hardly bear it when she approaches a friend with a view to a meeting and the friend lightly rebuffs her. I try to mollify her, and ask how can she hope to keep up the same density of meetings and relationships, if she’s now in a couple with someone. There’s no logic to her continuing to press friends to meet her all the time, especially as it has become painfully obvious in the last few weeks, that she’s often really pressed for time. The argument she and I had last week stemmed - at least to my way of thinking - from her trying to fit too much in. I also feel quite strongly that it’s wasteful to spend so much time servicing so many friends, when all you’re doing is simply swapping news and angst stories. Cora needs to spend less time massaging herself with her friends, and more time doing something creative, something constructive, something that reaffirms herself to herself.
Tonight we are going to see ‘Earthly Paradise’, a play based around some elements of William Morris’s life. These are tickets I got for free by complaining about the seats I’d been given for ‘Brighton Rock’. And, we’ve a busy weekend coming up. We’re going to Highbury on Saturday to see the Arsenal play Birmingham (Cora’s father has a season ticket but is away at present), then we’re going to drinks and some friends of Cora’s in Primrose Hill before eating at Lemonia. And on Sunday we’re going to my Mum’s to have roast beef with Julian and his family.
I finally wrote back to Christopher Arkell, the proprietor of ‘The London Review’ by email: ‘Hi Christopher, Thank you so much for your scrawled note (plus corrections to my spelling), and for your kind invitation to help you choose which books to send out for review. If I truly believed I could be of any service I would jump at the chance for work experience (despite my being over 50) on your estimable publication. However, I’m sure I would be more of a hindrance than a help. In the first instance, I’d send out maybe four copies of my own book ‘Kip Fenn - Reflections’ (to different reviewers, one interested in modern fiction, perhaps, another in ideas, a third in politics, and a fourth in society). I might also decline to send out any other books immediately in order to be sure there was plenty of space in the next issue of ‘The London Magazine’, for one or more long and sycophantic reviews of my own book, along with several extracts. Next, I’d probably decide that I had no brief to deal with non-fiction, so I’d focus on the novels (which, I hope, are sitting in different piles in your office and store rooms). I’d start by packaging up the following for binning or delivering to a charity shop: any novel by a non-writer celebrity, any novel based on someone’s childhood/adolescence, any book with the writer’s own angst as a central theme or sourcebook, all historical fiction (that’s just a personal bias), all crime and romance without a synopsis that seems to point to an original plot, and all science fiction without some kind of link to real science, real life. Then, I’d want to dump all novels in which descriptive writing appeared to be an end in itself. . . I’m not sure how many would be left at this point. And if I was forced to look at the non-fiction heap, especially the politics pile, you’d soon discover why I would be no help to you, no help at all - I’d be trashing anything Eurosceptic. I profoundly disagree with your understanding of what the EU is about, and your nation-centred view of politics. If you were to read ‘Kip Fenn - Reflections’, you’d know this about me. But, for being one of only five people who responded in any way to the 50 provocative letters I sent, I congratulate you. If you have any further tips on how I might get someone to give ‘Kip Fenn - Reflections’ a chance, please do let me know.’
3 December 2004
I’ve done some Christmas shopping this week, not much, but it’s a start. I spent over an hour looking at cordless phones, trying to pick the brand and style that would best suit Mum. The choice is formidable, and it made me long for the days when there was no choice, when BT came along and plugged in a phone, and everyone had the same model. As far as I could tell, 90% of the phones were useless because their buttons were too small or difficult to use. They may have been packed with features, but they were all features I could live without. And when I found a model that seemed closest to my requirements, the shop didn’t have any left in stock - of course. And besides, how do I know I can’t get it cheaper somewhere else. The Single Market has a lot to answer for. I do not want to spend so much bloody time having to choose between poorly designed over-featured products.
By contrast I liked that Godalming Museum was selling a good range of charity Christmas cards from lots of different charities - that made it easy to choose and buy a selection. It tires me out doing so much shopping. I did an hour in Guildford yesterday (after swimming), and was burdened down with awkward packages (crackers and wrapping paper), and then another hour today in Godalming (after waiting 20 minutes to find a parking place). There’s a new Cafe Nero opened up in the High Street and it was crowded. Both Adam and Cora said - when I asked them over supper last Sunday - that Cafe Nero is the best of the coffee shop chains. I get tired and rattled because I hate shopping, because I have to make too many little decisions too quickly and I never think I’m buying the right things, because it’s cold and I hate wearing so many layers, because I have to carry too many bulky things, and I have to worry about getting back in time so as not to get a parking ticket.
Yes, I went swimming on Thursday. I didn’t feel 100%, but I would say I was 80%. Which isn’t bad. I’ve only run twice this week, and the first time was a real effort. I didn’t go down with the cold until two Sundays ago (when first my chest was sounding like a rumbling volcano), so I’ve pulled myself back to health in less than two weeks.
Adam is continuing to surprise me! It’s as though he’s finally grown out of his lethargic nihilistic rebellious teenage years, and has jump started himself into an active and engaged young man. He’s cycling everywhere now, even though it’s cold and dark in the evenings (he uses lights). Today, for example, he chose to cycle back to Elstead at lunchtime (his room needed tidying), even though this meant he had to cycle to Guildford later in the afternoon - thereby tripling or quadrupling his cycling time. He says he really likes cycling now, and even enjoys the hills (and there are some bloody hills in Godalming and Guildford). The motivation for all this cycling is that he wants to save his money for travelling around Europe next summer. Everything about this is GOOD. The fact that he cycles and gets exercise, the fact that he saves money by cycling, and the fact that he can think ahead and change his behaviour in view of some future goal.
I’m not that keen on him heading off to Europe in the summer. We’ve had various conversations about this. My point is simple, he should get some experience travelling closer to home, and over shorter periods, weekends and weeks (his plan is to go to Europe for a month). This is because so many things can go wrong when you travel (you can be robbed, you can get ill, you can have an accident, you can meet up with seriously bad people, you can waste a large share of holiday time simply trying to work out what to do, where to go, where to stay etc.) and that an expensive trip, such as one round Europe, should be saved for when you can profit from it to a reasonable degree. My idea is that he should do such a journey after one year at university, when he’s learned to control his own budget, when he’s lived on his own for a bit, and when he has a bit more experience of people and managing life on his own. But, it’s not really for me to stop him planning to go, nor to put any uncomfortable pressure on him not to go (which, of course, I could do through the money I give him).
What else? He’s super keen on his music. He plays his harmonica a lot, and, although I’m no judge, I feel sure he’s become very good at it. His music friend, Max, says he’s probably grade eight (by the type of music he can play), whatever that means. But Ads is also now trying to teach himself to play the piano; and he’s getting keener and keener on learning both the saxophone and the guitar. And on top, Adam has also decided to teach himself Italian. This is commendable enthusiasm, but, I say, it’s misplaced, when he should be focusing on his exam work.
7 December 2004
Britten’s ‘Theme on Frank Bridges’ plays on Radio Three. Thinking the light was better today than it has been for a week or more, I was going to take photos in Chiddingfold, but then I changed my mind, and decided I should wait for a day when there’s sun and blue sky.
What a lovely weekend. After doing lots of housework, I drove to Willesden Green mid-Saturday morning. I got to Cora’s at about 12:15. We had baked potatoes with cheese, then headed off on the overground to Highbury. Cora’s father owns a couple of Arsenal season tickets, and when he’s away - as he is at present - he lends them out. Sometimes, Cora goes with him, as she did a few weeks ago on his birthday. Today, though, Cora was taking me. I reckon that I’ve not been to the Arsenal in 30 years, not since I was a teenager. It was busy on the train and at Highbury & Islington station but not football crowd busy. There were, though, enough supporters heading for Arsenal for us to be able to follow them. We ended up arriving on the east side of the stadium, which meant we had to walk all the way round, and through the throngs, to the other side - to Highbury Hill in fact, where the entrance to the West side is right next door to where Angela Sinclair-Loutit used to live. I thought about ringing on the door bell to see if she was still there, or the owners knew what had happened to her, but the house looked dark, and, in any case, I couldn’t really see the point.
What’s the point of football? It’s surprising to experience how many people come to watch football. Passing through the crowds, I couldn’t help thinking again about how few people, by comparison, go to watch live theatre or music. There can be a bit of a crush outside a theatre, before and after, but it’s a miniature crowd compared to that of a football match. It’s mostly men, of course, but there are still plenty of women, often not very visible because they are togged up in warm jackets and hats similar to those worn by their men. The Arsenal stadium, which is only a season or two from being pulled down, looks much the same as it did in the 60s I suspect. I don’t actually remember it, but it did look very familiar. There are more commercial outlets on the external facade of the stadium and around its perimeter, but no doubt the programme sellers and touts are similar to the ones that were there in my day. And inside, it was quite pleasing to find that much was the same: the turnstiles, the cream and red decor, the signage. It all had a 50s feel about it, and even the glitzy flat screens high up on the walls showing glimpses of other matches or interviews alongside adverts somehow only served to emphasise the period nature of the rest of the furbishings.
As Cora said, one of the best moments, is when you walk up the steps into the stadium proper, and emerge at the high point to see, for the first time of the day, the whole stadium beneath you, the gloriously green rectangular pitch, lit up brightly by the floodlights (disguising the greyness of the day) already busy with players warming up, the huge stands on all four sides, filling up quickly with supporters, the huge screens (which definitely weren’t there in the past) in the corners, showing the team line-ups and interviews. The seats were fantastic, fairly close to the centre of the stand, at the aisle end of a row (Sasha’s seats, I seem to remember, were at the furthest end from an aisle, and were right at one edge of the stand, i.e. with a great view of corner-takers), and they are only three rows up from the front of the lowest balcony. They must be the most expensive ordinary seats in the stadium. (Later Julian told me he’d heard that a season ticket for the new Arsenal stadium, entitling a holder to attend some 25 home matches, would cost in the region of £4,000 - that’s ridiculous.)
We arrived about 20 minutes early, which was fine, because I could stand at the front of the stand, watch all the activity (the women’s team came on briefly to receive an award), the action on the screens, and the stadium filling up. The thick glossy programme (£3) carried an article by Thierry Henry about how he was actually looking forward to the new stadium because the Highbury pitch is a small one. I never knew this, or that pitches could vary in size. For a forward, he said in the article, it’s much better to have a bigger space to move around in. The programme also contained nostalgic photos and stories from the 1955-56 season. I noticed the programme looked just like the ones I used to collect. And then I wondered what had happened to my old Arsenal programmes (and, I found out on Sunday, that Julian still has them!).
The football was mediocre, but the experience of being there was not. I was surprised at how close we were to the action, and how live and vital it felt (as compared to television), and how good it was to be able to look at the whole pitch, and all the players, rather than just at one camera view. Also - and this is odd I suppose - I noticed how human the players were, how small and ordinary; and how prone they were to making mistakes; and how big a role chance plays in the many clashes that take place for disputed balls (whether on the ground or in the air). Arsenal, of course, were facing a team, Birmingham City, that had come looking for a tight and closed game, looking to restrict Arsenal’s movement in the hope of a goal-less draw, perhaps. For much of the first half it worked, and there was barely a shot at goal at either end. But then a fortunate, hefty punt by Pieres in the Birmingham penalty area, managed to slip by a host of legs and slide into the right hand corner of the goal. This gave Arsenal more confidence and meant Birmingham had to start looking for a goal, so the play freed up considerably. In the second half, Henry (not playing his best because of an Achilles injury) scored two clever goals. One came because he simply judged the flight of a cross ball so much better than the defenders. He was crouched only a few metres in front of the goal, but was in exactly the right place to receive the ball arching down from a Lundberg cross. It was a defenders’ mistake, for they should certainly have caught the ball in flight much higher up. The ball simply landed on Henry’s head and was guided into the goal. The goalkeeper had also failed to see where the ball was headed. Henry’s second goal was masterful and brilliant. He picked up the ball on the left wing, and ran it fast, past a defender, into the right side of the penalty area, at quite a narrow angle, maybe 30 degrees no more. The defender was on him from behind, the goalkeeper came out to meet Henry, and probably thought there was no way he could get the ball into the net around him. But, he did. He gently guided the ball along the ground into the far corner of the net, as if there were no obstacles to his shooting at all. Arsenal won 3-0.
Cora is not a diehard football fan by any stretch of the imagination. She probably only ever knows what’s going on with her team because her father involves her in football talk. But she’s a great enthusiast, and loved it when Arsenal scored, because she could jump up and down and hug me, like the men do (it’s their only opportunity for a bit of hugging, according to C). And a football match isn’t very long - two 45 minutes segments - with lots happening all the time. But also, C is so easy going, it doesn’t really matter that much to her what we’re doing, so long as we’re together.
Our enjoyment of the afternoon was only helped by the fact that we travelled to and from Highbury with such ease (parking at Brondesbury Park overground). Back at Cora’s flat we bathed and rested, and read for a while, and then went to Primrose Hill, to Lemonia for a meal. I hadn’t been there for years and years, but it was still as popular and crowded as I remembered. Initially, I think, Cora had wanted to go to the restaurant because we were due to see some friends of hers in the area - Nadia and Eddy who had just returned from Brazil. But that engagement never materialised. Still, Cora was happy going out on a dinner date with me, as I was with her. The food was excellent, and the scenery (as in other people) interesting.
Around midday on Sunday we drove the short distance to Mum’s house, where we had a roast beef lunch with Julian and his family, whom I haven’t seen for ages. Lunch was scrumptious as usual (tomato soup, roast beef and yorkshire pud, and strudel), although a bit frenetic. It’s always difficult to get any kind of conversation going with all the children there. I did talk to Julian for a while, who seemed a bit disillusioned with work, but then when isn’t he. Melanie, Clive and Phoebe arrived. Cora and I escaped; and went back to her house to recuperate. Later, we went to Swiss Cottage Odeon, to the big screen (where I used to go for Saturday morning cinema), to see a Walt Disney cartoon called ‘The Incredibles’. It took a while making the decision on what film to see, on which cinema to go to etc, and then, when we left the house, Cora had a nasty fall on the pavement. The film was great fun (even if the liquorice allsorts I’d bought were the foulest sweetest I’d ever tasted). We went to bed, and to sleep, and I left at about 1:30 in the morning to drive back to Elstead. It’s dreamy driving at that time in the night; there’s almost no traffic, and the journey takes a round one hour, even without breaking any speed limits.
9 December 2004
Cora has gone to Paris today. Our relationship has survived three months - which is astonishing given the doubts I had about it (on Cora’s side) at the beginning. And I’m astonished that I still like her so much, in fact I would go as far as to say that I am letting myself love her. I don’t really know what that means, but I am saying it, to myself, and to her. There’s no doubt this is a love affair, and I know that Cora believes she is in love with me - she has said so, very carefully and deliberately, several times. Although I think she is very self-aware, and sensitive, I do worry that, once the initial honeymoon period has worn off, perhaps in the next three months, her psyche will become more worried about the age difference but she won’t allow herself to acknowledge it; and this could lead her into the kind of depression and difficulties she’s experienced in the past. I think those depressions and difficulties have been connected with her inability to see the problems around her (her relationships with certain people for example).
The sun has come out today for the first time in weeks, but it’s already the afternoon, and I need the best part of a full day to get on and take photographs in Chiddingfold for English Heritage.
10 December 2004
I woke in the night and couldn’t sleep for a while, so I found myself listening to ‘Outlook’, which broadcasts from 4:00am. First was a German who had published a book on suicide or suicide messages. He said he wanted people not to turn away from suicide as a problem. There was an American who was walking around the world in three month segments, about 2,000 miles at at time. And then there was a British couple who operated a kind of email exchange putting doctors in the developing world in touch with other doctors who can help them with certain individual cases. The system seemed to rely on them monitoring their laptop 12 hours a day (the other 12 hours being done by someone in Australia), seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. What struck me about these people, is that they were all getting on and doing something. And I am not. And I am not. My problem is that I don’t want to do just anything, but I want to do something satisfactory with the rest of my life, something committed perhaps. But I have no commitment in me, no faith, no confidence to be committed. How do I get the confidence, the faith?
It’s a grey Friday. Less grey than other days, however, because Cora will be coming for the evening. I won’t see much of her this weekend, though, because she’ll be attending her course both on Saturday and Sunday.
The only concrete thing I’ve been doing this week, as any other week, is to work on my diaries. I’m working on three different diaries. I’ve just finished typing up Diary 17, from 1981. Some of it was already typed up, but not faithfully, and so I had to type up the gaps, and purify other parts (I want the typed up version to be as near an exact copy of the written diary as possible, but, obviously, I didn’t feel this when I first typed them up). It covers the difficult period when I was first working at ECN, and having an affair with Ann. It sounds like I am quite depressed a lot of time. What I find really interesting about this diary, though, is that it chronicles my life at an age not that dissimilar from Cora (I was 29, she is 33), and this leaves me with much more sympathy and understanding of Cora’s fluctuations and emotions about friends and relationships, than I might have otherwise from the standpoint of myself at 52. I’m also continuing to edit heavily my earlier diaries into month-long files to put on the internet. I’m up to 1977, and there’s quite a lot of material I need to take out, either because it’s too embarrassing or it’s too personal (stuff about my mother for example), or, most often, it’s simply too boring. I’m also having to codify names. Thirdly, I’m proof-reading my computer-written diaries in preparation for binding them up into little A5 books. I’ve just completed 1996, and will now have to do the corrections before producing it in the A5 style.
I’m not sure how healthy this preoccupation with my own life is; it’s as though every day I am faced with three other versions of myself. Sometimes - with all this time on my hands - I wonder if I should try my hand at an autobiography; one written, perhaps, in the third person. That would be a novelty. But, like so many many many other things that I would be happy writing, I cannot summon up any energy or motivation with the failure of Kip Fenn in mind. In the past - and this is a new thought that has just come to me - there was HOPE. I must have had hope that if I wrote something good enough, it would get read. That hope has gone, and so how can I write anything again.
14 December 2004
There is not much else to do in my diary these days but document, bit by excruciating bit, my breakdown. Not that it’s really excruciating, nor would most people describe it as a breakdown. But the detail is excruciating when I face myself with it, and if I am honest then I know that this is what it is, what it’s becoming. The very fact that I’m becoming preoccupied with it, writing these very words (even though I’m conscious of what I’m doing) is symbolic of what’s happening to me. I begin to dread the mornings because I have no idea what I’m going to do during the day. I have no idea what I’m going to do tomorrow, next week, next month. It’s not only the fact that I don’t seem to be able to do anything, make any decisions about what to do, but it’s the disappointment in myself that I can’t seem to bring my intelligence to bear on the problem of what to do.
I am more and more convinced that Kip Fenn has fatally undermined my interest in, and motivation for, writing, or any writing projects. I do have two potential projects in the drawer: the ‘Screen Spun’ short stories, and the Ivy thing. Sometimes I think about them, but what happens in my head is this: if I liken them to a little pile of sand, a few inches tall, I’ve just made on the beach, and a roaring, whopping great wave, 100 ft tall - called ‘what’s the point’ - comes crashing down on it.
Ever since I did the electricity book for Eurelectric, I’ve thought I ought to be able to make a living writing books, of some description or other. In fact, if I go back many years, I always wanted to be a researcher, concentrating for a period of time on one project before moving on to another. I never managed that; but becoming a self-employed writer was a new attempt at the same aim, I suppose. If I were serious enough, and determined enough, I ought to be able to press on, leaving Kip Fenn and London Cross behind, and work on a new idea; but I’m proving too flaky, too lacking in confidence, too unsure about my motivations.
But, it seems, I was too ambitious, too expectant. Me? Too ambitious, too expectant? That doesn’t sound like me at all. But yes, I must have been. I mean I’ve written so very much over the years, so many different things and, all my non-business books have been complete and utter failures. FAILURES. That’s the truth. I mean Kip Fenn hasn’t even enjoyed a little mild bit of success; I haven’t managed to get even the slightest bit of interest in it anywhere. However protected I thought I was against Kip Fenn’s failure, I underestimated my ability to deal with it. In fact, I’ve kept putting it off, in the sense that when I couldn’t get an agent to read it, I put off disappointment until I’d sent it to all the publishers; and then I put off disappointment until I’d printed it and sent it for review; and then I put off disappointment until I’d published an advertisement and sent off a reminder letter; and now there is nothing else to do, nothing else to be done. Kip Fenn has sunk without trace - and I must be bitterly bitterly disappointed. Perhaps I need to grieve for him, and I haven’t yet allowed myself to. Kip Fenn could have been a passport to a different, more interesting ‘rest-of-my-life’. Facing up to a dull ordinary existence for the next 20-30 years fills me with dread, and leads me to mope and fudge around all day every day, unwilling to accept that reality.
My sister Melanie goes to the British Virgin Islands where her boyfriend Clive has bought a 40ft yacht. She and Phoebe will stay there three weeks. I saw the two of them on Sunday at Mum’s. Phoebe’s horse mad. Melanie seemed very relaxed. Mum had hurt her knee, but was cooking chicken escalopes for her daughter and granddaughter. I didn’t stay for supper because Cora was expecting me.
15 December 2004
I’ve applied for another job. That’s basically all I do now. I look through the job sections in the ‘Guardian’ on Monday (media) and Wednesday (society) almost as soon as I get the paper. I’ve applied for the job of editor of a new magazine called ‘Transport Times’, as advertised on Monday. I put a fair bit of effort into composing the application letter, and that seems to have given me sufficient occupation for a day or two. This is a default behaviour, default in the sense of I’m too weak and pathetic to do something else with my life.
Cora came down last night. I think it was the first time she’d come midweek. She came by train, which meant I had to pick her up from Farncombe at 8:00pm, and deliver her back there the following morning at 7:55am. We’re heading for a night away on Saturday, to Swanage to stay in a B&B, just for a change. I hope the weather turns better for us, it’s been so grey and miserable since the dawn of time - or so it seems.
Christmas approaches fast. I’ve actually done a fair amount of shopping already, mostly books and bitty things for people. I think I’m having a busy Boxing Day here, and, on Christmas Day, I’ll visit Cora’s parents for a small party. I’m quite keen to do another fancy cake - not another Dobostorte Day, but something similar perhaps.
Friends of the Earth have just emailed me in response to my provocative Kip Fenn letter. It’s suggested I send another copy of my book for the chief reviewer guy to look at!
17 December 2004
The diary entries that I’m e-publishing on my Pikle website are now up towards the end of 1977. I try to publish a new month each week. This is easier now I’m back in England as it were, since there’s much less material per month than there was when I was travelling. Although the diary entries from late 1976 include references to my relationship to N, I haven’t worried too much about them (although I have coded her name as N), because there’s no contact between us, and the chances of her, or anyone who knows her, landing on the Pikle website is very remote. However, my relationship with M is to the fore in the middle and latter half of 1977. I’ve coded her as M, but, as M might actually look at my site one day, I have to be careful about what I publish about her. Similarly, I am finding that I have to severely edit much of what I say about members of my own family, and about other friends that I was beginning to become involved with.
So far, nobody is accessing my website. There’s no mechanism for, or reason why, strangers would find their way to it, and I haven’t publicised it among my friends. Just now, though, I’ve written the pikle website address on the back of Christmas card envelopes. I don’t really mind, since the website is a long-term project, and I can’t see why I won’t keep it going for many years to come. The only additional burden I’ve created for myself by making it live, so to speak, rather than simply working on preparing it for e-publishing later on, is that I change the index page every time I upload a new file, and I maintain a ‘history’ file on which I record each change and upload. This takes me no longer than five minutes, and is a useful record for myself, so I don’t really think it matters that I’m publishing into a vacuum.
Blunkett finally went. The press got to him. It’s just another example of how unrelenting the media is, and how little it cares about the truth or fairness or justice. Blunkett is a good man, his heart is in the right place; he or, more probably, his office made a tiny error of judgement, among the thousands or tens of thousands of judgements it has to make every week or month. What the media should be reporting is how remarkable it is that our government is so clean and conscientious that its member resign for, what are effectively, very small mistakes. There is no comparison, no comparison at all, between the behaviour of Conservative ministers during the Major government, when greed and fraud and perverting the course of justice led them to be forced out of office, after battling for days and weeks with lies and evasions. But the media doesn’t care what it’s got its teeth into, whether it’s a pussy cat or a tiger, a good man or a bad man, once it’s teeth are into something it gnaws and chews and bites away until the victim screams with pain. There’s no balance, there are no comparisons made - and the public, who haven’t got time to be too discerning about the quality of their news, get led into believing one resignation is as bad as another simply because of the amount of noise generated by the media.
Once again, I personally think the minister should not have resigned (Peter Mandelson went very quickly second time round, and, afterwards it was generally acknowledged he needn’t have done so) and the media - not Blunkett - should have been put on trial. I think Tony Blair handled the affair well, supporting Blunkett despite brickbats, and then, when he did resign, choosing how to reshuffle his cabinet to his and Labour’s advantage. Something else Blair does so well (and it’s never acknowledged - I mean praising the prime minister doesn’t sell newspapers) is that he instinctively and brilliantly knows how much exposure he should give of himself to each issue, whether it’s Iraq or a minister’s troubles in the press.
20 December 2004
The Christmas holidays are here, at least in the sense that Adam is off college for two weeks. He is upstairs revising for his resit As level exams in January. Cora and I just had a lovely half-weekend on the Dorset Coast, in and around Swanage. Cora is so easy to be with, such a lot of fun, and very flexible, but not without initiative. We left earlyish on Saturday morning, and made it to near Studland by 10:30 or so. We parked on a hill with views across to Poole, and walked down into Studland where we lazed about on the beach and took tea. There were few people about, some of them on the seaweed-strewn beach. I’d last been there when? with Adam when we hired a cottage in the early 90s? Yes, April 1992, Adam was not yet five. Adam went again on a school trip, and I’ve been to the area since, but not to Studland I don’t think, or along the cliff tops past Old Harry, which is where Cora and I walked. It was very blowy and there were only one or two other people on the grassy way. We might not have had any sun, but there was no rain or mist, so the walk was pleasant and we had fantastic views, especially walking along the ridge to Studland Hill, with Swanage spread out below us to the west, and the whole of Poole harbour to the east. I’d left the map behind in the car, so we had to guess a route back, which wasn’t too difficult. We then drove into Swanage to find lunch, and look around the shops. It had become a bit rainy and I was undecided as to whether we should stay over night, when we could just as easily drive back to Elstead, and when we would need to head back by lunchtime anyway (C had other engagements that day, as ever!) But, I think Cora really wanted to stay over, and so I studied the various bits of information I’d gathered during the week, and we strode up Park Lane looking for a B&B called The Limes. Before we got to it, though, we saw another B&B advertising ‘Vacancies’, and it looked to be a large and pretty Victorian terraced house, so we gave it a go. The busy landlady showed us two rooms, one for £50 and the other for £45. The more expensive room was large, and spacious, nicely furnished and with a big bay window and views of the sea, so we took that one. There was an hour or so of light left, and we did a bit more window shopping, despite the rain. I bought some aniseed balls, a stick of rock (which ended up as a present for Cora’s mother) and a card to send to C at a later date. C shopped for ribbon, but didn’t buy any. We walked arm in arm through the rain, along by the sea front, and back to the car, before returning to the B&B. What a nice room it was, and the bed was large and comfy, irresistible in fact. It was two or three hours before we emerged again to the outside, to sample a local pub and fairly average food. Later, we tried to watch television, but I for one was too tired and drifted off to sleep on white fluffy clouds. I didn’t sleep much better than other nights with C (I still haven’t got to the bottom of this), but I think C slept reasonably well.
Breakfast was well up to the standard of the room, and the house in general. The food was of good quality (lean bacon for example), well cooked, and there was plenty of it. The whole B&B experience was a real pleasure (it’s not always possible to predict how well it will go - tack and pretentiousness can undermine the experience) and I’m glad we had somewhere so comfy and pleasant to stay during the long dark and wet evening. We took breakfast at 8:30 and were on the road by 9:00. First we went to look at Durston Country Park, the big concrete globe with all the funny-shaped continents, and the windswept lighthouse, and then we parked at Worth Matravers before walking down to Winspit, to watchi the wild and stormy sea. The sky cleared for us, and the day turned nice although it remained cold and windy. On the walk, I read ‘Burnt Norton’ out loud - not really for Cora, more for me. But I’m pleased I felt comfortable enough to do so. We drank tea in a cute teahouse, a bit like the one at Compton, and then set to for home, passing lovely views of Corfe Castle. But this time the sky had turned blue with sunshine (cause of much teasing about our early return).
The whole trip was easy and fun and enjoyable, and I don’t think we had a single moment of anxiety or misunderstanding or embarrassment. There are times when we don’t speak, but more often than not we’re chatting about something - I’m not quite sure. Lots of laughter and teasing too. I’m not conscious of time passing with Cora; I’m just there with her, engaged, living. Just sometimes, when we’re lying together still, I make a special effort to acknowledge the feelings and sensations and how wonderful they are, and how lucky I am.
21 December 2004
I’m heading up to London in a couple of hours, to Holland Park, where I shall meet a man named Adam Raphael. He seems to be a journalist of some standing (Andrew knew his name well from reading ‘The Observer’), and has worked for ‘The Economist’ for a long time. A google internet search also hits on lots of stories about his part in Jeffrey Archer’s downfall, and his authorship (or editorship) of the ‘Good Hotel Guide’. I am going to see him about a job as editor of a new magazine called ‘Transport Times’. I saw a fairly small advert in the ‘Guardian’ two Mondays ago, and posted off a letter and a copy of my book. There was very little information about the job in the advert, nor could I found out anything on the internet. However, the advert did mention two names, that of Professor Begg and Adam Raphael. Begg is a highly respected figure in the transport world, an academic and a government adviser. Within a few days of sending my application, I got an email from Adam Raphael asking me to call. We fixed up an interview for this afternoon at 5pm, at his house. I asked a few questions on the phone (although not a crucial one about the salary), and the answers have left me a bit worried. I suspect the whole venture might be an airy-fairy, one, perhaps, that will never see the light of day. The finance, it seems, is coming from Begg, who is also providing the top-level transport expertise, while Raphael has been brought in to provide the publishing experience. I don’t know what Raphael is calling himself, but it’s probably publisher. He seems to be in charge of the project and says work is under way on finding offices, advertising staff, and so on. A launch date has been scheduled for April, although he acknowledges it might slip a bit. I’ll know more later on.
Monday night I finally bought a copy of Hibberd’s 1870 book on ivy. I first found out about this at the Forestry Commission library. I then tracked it down at the British Library (for some reason it had not shown up during my earlier researches), saw what a lovely and useful book it was, and then discovered there were several for sale on the open market. The one I bought came from a library in Hertfordshire which had been bought en masse by a lady called Chris Hollingshead. She sold it me for £110, even though it was advertised on the net for £150, and in her own catalogue for £250. Other copies are currently still being advertised for twice that figure. I doubt I’ll do any more with my ivy researches, but at least I have one concrete memento from the stillborn project.
While in Teddington picking up the ivy book, I popped in to see Andrew and Susie. I spent most of the time reading books to young Darcy. Susie talked about her time with her family in Australia, and Andrew talked about Papua New Guinea, the first time he’d been there in six years. He says he took a lot of field notes, but what exactly the purpose of his trip was I’m far from clear. Once in PNG, he had trouble getting to the remote part where he’s been before. Since there were no regular flights, for one reason or another, he phoned Loreena McKennit, who was funding his trip any way, to see if she would pay for a private helicopter. She agreed. And then, once in, she had to be contacted again because Andrew couldn’t get out, and she had to be asked for a further £500 for another helicopter ride.
23 December 2004
Christmas eve eve. A quiet day for me. No one’s here, and I’ll see no one all day. Adam’s at B’s and Cora is working. I’ve got house-cleaning, wrapping and shopping to do, but I plan to leave it for this evening and tomorrow. I’ve been thinking mostly about the interview yesterday. In one respect I was reassured that the project appeared to have more legs than I had thought after a short discussion with Adam Raphael on the phone, but, in other respects, I now know a lot more about the project, and my problems with it have multiplied. I can’t really see myself taking the prospect any further, even if Raphael wants to talk to me again. The concept is interesting: a 32 page transport mag, with about 10 pages of advertising, and a print run of 5,000. There will be a subscription cost, but at least 5,000 will be given away to high level transport industry contacts that David Begg has already amassed through his conference programme, and this should support the advertising costs. The main competitor, also a fortnightly, is ‘Local Transport Today’ which has a circulation of 2-3,000 and an income based largely, although not exclusively, on advertising. If I do a very rough financial calculation, I see costs of around £0.5m per year, and potential advertising revenues of £1m, which means there is a project worth considering. But can the costs be kept down to £0.5m, and can the advertising revenue reach anything like £1m. I have my doubts, and mostly they come not from the concept, exactly, but from the way it is being implemented. On the editorial side, I worry that Begg and Raphael will be too demanding for daily newspaper type articles, and don’t have enough respect for the bread and butter of trade/business newsletters, or how much it costs to pursue more original journalism. Raphael balked at £40,000 when he asked what salary I would expect; moreover, he’s clearly planning on employing some pretty junior journalists to support the editor. Another not inconsiderate point is that this publication is going to be entirely owned and run by David Begg, and so the editor is going to be very much at his beck and call.
I see huge problems on the advertising side, largely because Begg and/or Raphael have not matched up who they want to appeal to editorially with who will want/need regular advertisements. It seemed to me, talking to Raphael in his fancy Kensington home yesterday, that he and Begg want to be writing for Ken Livingstone and the government’s minister for transport, because they are activists, if you like, people with an agenda, but, at the same time, they don’t realise that the bulk of advertising revenue must come from the nuts and bolts of an industry and its workings, and that there needs to be a clear match between editorial direction and advertising markets.
I am concerned also that Raphael has already started work on a magazine and website design (although not in a coordinated way) without really considering what the editorial content will be and how it should be presented. Yes, a keen eye should be put into presentation for its own sake and for advertising but the bulk of the magazine will be editorial, and the design needs to be easy to work with; so the first thing is to consider what content there will be, and from that one can work through to the design. Raphael asked me to send him some examples of my journalism, as though there was no journalism in EC Inform-Transport (which he’s already had). I have dug out some of my freelance stuff from Brazil, but I doubt I’ll send it on to Raphael because I can’t see myself getting involved in the project, not for £40,000 or less.
28 December 2004
What a social time, a time of being with people and of not worrying about tomorrow, next week, next year. Cora will be gone soon, anyway, to Switzerland for five days skiing with her friend, so I’ll have plenty of time to mull and mull. It’s been a nice happy time. Cora came here to Russet House on Christmas Eve afternoon, and we spent the evening quietly together. On Christmas morning, I made rolls, and we took breakfast into the lounge where we opened presents. I’d set up the christmas tree, the same one as I’ve had for many years, with lots of presents around its base. Although I had trouble with the fairy lights this year (more than in previous years) I did finally get them working. A sprinkling of cards and other decorations also made the room feel quite festive. With regard to presents, Cora and I had teased each other about whether we were buying one or more than one present, and it was an uncertain business, knowing how much to spend and how many presents to buy. But it all worked rather well. We’d bought each other several mini-presents, several medium presents, and one majorish present. I gave Cora a framed Chinese embroidery that I’d bought in the Godalming auction, and some cook books, and she gave me novelty books, and a beautiful silver book mark, handcrafted in the shape of a P. She also gave me a small hand-painted card, which pleased me.
Cora left about 11, and Adam arrived about 11:30. So he and I swapped more presents. And I was so pleased with Adam’s presents that I nearly cried. For the first time, he had made a real effort - he bought several presents (a bread tin, which I’d asked for, some edibles, and a bunch of nice flowers), and he wrapped them nicely! We then had a Christmas lunch, just the two of us, in the lounge, with the table spread out to its full extent. It wasn’t the nicest meal, because the little poisson I’d bought didn’t have much flavour, but they looked good on the plate, and Adam liked the idea of having a whole bird.
I’m not exactly sure what Adam and I did next. I know we played a bit of chess, and Adam had to mend a puncture in his tyre. But, around 4:30 we both left, he to return to B’s house, and me to drive to Radlett to Cora’s parents’ house. Late, we drove back to Cora’s flat, where we drank tea, watched a bit of telly and went to bed. I left for Elstead at about 8:30, so as to be back to receive Barbara and Adam for coffee and more present swapping (including Barbara’s birthday presents). Barbara left about 12:15, and Cora arrived at 1:00. While waiting for Barbara, I’d prepared the sponge for a banana and lemon cake. Cora, Adam and I had broccoli and stilton soup, before a main course of roast duck. While Cora and Adam prepared and ate Heinz chocolate pudding and then did the icing for the cake, I drove to Guildford to pick up Brooks, Ronan and Camille who had arrived from Brussels. They had expected to come by train to Farncombe but were disturbed to find there was no train service at all (I do think Eurostar should have advised its passengers of this), so they’d walked to Victoria and found a coach.
The last mention of Brooks in my diary is 1998. I know he went to live in the US some years ago, but I don’t know when. I think it must have been during my last couple of years in Brussels. However, he did call me earlier this year, and we talked about writing novels. At that time, I did suggest he should come and visit if he was in the UK (as I had done during the 1990s when we saw each other semi-regularly). And then, in October, he kind of invited himself on Boxing Day. They proved fairly easy house guests, and I didn’t have to make much of an effort for them. Because the weather was so fine - bright blue sky - I sent them out almost immediately with Adam to walk on the Common. This worked well, because Julian’s family (minus Sarah), and my mother arrived while they were still out, which meant we could get through most of the present exchange before they got back. And when they returned, Brooks and his kids went upstairs, while Adam joined us in the lounge to open his presents.
The rest of the afternoon/evening was very pleasant. There was tea and cakes first, and then lots of sitting around in the lounge. Obligingly, all six of the children spent long periods upstairs (doing I know not what), leaving the five of us adults to talk quietly. I put out breads and cheeses and hams later on, for a high tea. Julian et al left around 8:00; Brooks and his kids went to bed fairly early, leaving Cora and I to watch Rupert Everett as Sherlock Holmes. I couldn’t believe it was a Conan-Doyle story, there were too many modern elements in the plot, not just the screenplay. And I didn’t find anything original in the way the Holmes and Watson actors played their parts. Cora must have got so fed up of me, pointing out bad writing, plot flaws and poor acting.
I had given Brooks a variety of options, but, in the end, he chose simply to walk with his kids to Tilford for lunch and come back the same way. They must have got lost on the way back, though, for they arrived not far off dark, by which time it was too late to do anything else. In any case, Brooks had tired out the children by losing his way on Hankley Common.
In the evening, I cooked a full supper for all six of us, including packet soup, goulash, pasta, beans/broccoli and salad, and apple/blackberry crumble. It wasn’t a very nice meal, because I diluted down the goulash too far, and didn’t elaborate the pasta. They went the next morning, quite early. Because my car’s exhaust was broken (it had gone on route to pick Brooks up), Cora kindly transported them to Milford station to catch a train around 9am. They were going to be staying several more days in London, mostly to see various plays - something Brooks seems to do with both Ronan and Camille every Christmas.
Paul K Lyons
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