PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2004 - JANUARY
1 January 2004
New Year’s Eve was an anti-climax as it is most years (although Millennium Eve was the exception, and Adam and I have had a couple of good Eves, one walking on the South Downs in the middle of the night, and the other at Waverley Abbey with a full moon). Adam and I talked about philosophy for much of the evening (while simultaneously watching a Harrison Ford movie - ‘Air Force One’), but at about 11, when I suggested we go to the pub, Adam didn’t want to come with me. This prejudice he has about being seen with me in public is quite hard to bear, I do hope it wears off soon. I went out any way, but instead of going to the pub I walked through the village, half way to Milford and then took the metalled track across the Common back to Red House Lane. As I wondered through the village I wasn’t sure I’d be able to walk across the Common because I’d failed to bring a torch and there was no moon (nor even any stars). But it was OK, there was sufficient light - man-made light I suppose - reflected down from the clouds to be able to follow the tarmac, and avoid puddles (which, on reflecting the dim light from the clouds, revealed themselves clearly). Only when the track passed through thick wood, with overhanging trees, and the track turned to earth rather than tarmac did it become a little difficult. But I walked slowly and carefully, and I found myself reciting Robert Frost’s words:
Upon the upland road
Ride easy stranger
Surrender to the sky
Your heart of anger.
Wow, that was funny. That’s not the poem I meant to write down at all, nor the one I recited last night. I just typed the first two lines without realising they were the wrong words. It’s a poem I haven’t read or thought about for years, but it’s one I love. No, the Frost words I meant were these:
The forest is mysterious dark and deep
I have many promises to keep
And many miles to go before I sleep
And many miles to go before I sleep
I recited these lines over and over again, in different ways, and with different voices, especially as I was going through the darkest parts of the walk. And then, at one point, I was saying the line ‘and many miles to go before I sleep’ really loudly, and its meaning began to transcend the simple interpretation of ‘many miles to go before I get home’, and took on the more metaphorical meaning of ‘many miles to go before I die’. Of course, the stanza’s beauty stems from having this double layer of meaning; but - I’m not sure I can express this properly - it was the way the line itself embraced this latter meaning, as though it were speaking directly to me, telling me to be optimistic about the future, telling me that I had much to do and much to achieve. I know, of course, I was speaking to myself; but, given that it was minutes to midnight, that I was alone on the Common, in the darkness and silence, with only silhouetted trees for company, it was quite a spiritual moment or two.
I’ve just been at the Kip Fenn file again. I received a couple more rejections from agents this week - obviously they must have been trying to clear out their offices - and so it’s time to start writing to publishers. I thought I should change tack, and not send the first two chapters but try sending some other chapters. This meant I had to read through and decide which chapters. I did this before, I know, and I found it impossible to decide. Although there’s more meat in the later chapters, they are full of references and stories which only make sense (or which only assume their proper significance) in the light of what’s happened earlier in the novel. And even little things upset my purpose. I was close to deciding on sending Chapter Five, but then I saw a reference to an Eastenders’ moment. Well that seems particularly stupid and crass on its own, somewhere in Kip’s writing about the 2040s; and it’s only in the context of Kip’s earlier references to Eastenders that that would not look crude. I decided in the end to send Chapter Four, but without any proper scrutiny. First up, of the publishers, is Faber & Faber and Jonathan Cape. As I read bits of it, I still think it’s a really worthwhile piece of work - I just need a publisher with intelligence and imagination to want to see the whole thing.
I don’t need to assess the last year. I think I’ve been doing enough assessing. The question is will I continue my downward spiral in 2004 (not that difficult since I have no pending project as interesting or exciting as Kip Fenn which, after all, took up most of 2003) or will I be able to hold things steady, in a kind of plateau, bottoming out as it were, or will I be able to look back, this time next year, and say 2004 wasn’t as bad as 2003? But what realistically could make this year better than last? Getting some interest in my writing; having a relationship; getting myself involved in a project that I enjoy?
Saturday 3 January 2004
XXX sends me a great email wishing me a Happy New Year. He gives me his first thoughts with respect to Kip Fenn. He says it’s hard going, the sentences are convoluted and I should pay to have an editor redraft it for me! He also has a pop at me for giving the reader too much information, and he cites something from the first few lines of chapter one (that I specify where Kip’s crutches come from!). I knew - I absolutely knew I couldn’t trust XXX to give my book a chance - but nevertheless I did feel a bit pissed off when I received the email. I feel he’s probably given it no more than half an hour; and I want to know what he’s comparing it to. I’ve told him to skip the hard-going bits. This is the trouble, I can’t trust anyone I know to give me worthwhile feedback. I mean it’s worthwhile feedback from XXX that the book’s hard-going for HIM, but he’s got no framework to guide what he thinks about it. And besides, it may be hard-going, but then so’s James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’, infinitely more so, and infinitely better. There’s not really any correlation between a book’s ultimate worth and it’s hard-goingness. But Joyce (and other literary writers) sought the hard-goingness; they wore it as a badge of literaryness. But, clearly I don’t. I don’t want my writing to get in the way of the story at all. I am beginning to wonder if Kip Fenn won’t be a huge millstone around my neck for the next year. Having put so much time into it (and still believing in it), it won’t be easy to let it go.
It’s been cold today. I spent the morning installing free text recognition software (from MacWorld) and scanning in a couple of my Madeira photos and printing them out to adorn the Madeira journal. And then I spent a couple of hours reading digital photography magazines I’d bought. Digital cameras seem to be sweeping the photography world, but I feel the technology is getting away from me. I’ve never been happy with my Minolta automatic, and I’ve been wondering whether I should buy a new camera - a more expensive one. But part of the reason I haven’t got on with the Minolta is that I’m not one for fancy adjustments, my interest is in the creative way of choosing the photograph not in making it: I’m interested in making what I see more visible (showing something that is there but which might not have been seen); I am not interested in making, in recreating what is there in a different way. And, whereas my previous camera, the wonderful Olympus OM1, required basic settings and not much else, served me perfectly, the Minolta does everything automatically, unless I force it into a manual mode. But this not only takes time, it also requires me to fiddle with buttons which I’ve never got the hang of - thus I tend to leave the camera in automatic, and end up with pictures of lesser quality than those I got with the Olympus, or so I tend to think.
Having spent part of a day with camera magazines, I find I have lots of problems with digital cameras. Firstly, despite all the talk of pixels and maximum resolutions I can’t seem to get an idea of the cameras’ quality. Many of the sub-£200 ones have as many pixels and as high a resolution as the sub-£1,000 ones; and then when you look at the cameras, the expensive ones look pretty much like old-fashioned SLRs, but the smaller/cheaper ones just have lots of fancy gadgetry. Secondly, I have a problem with the storage of the photos. There seem to be almost as many forms of memory cards as there are of cameras. In the long term, this is surely unsustainable; there will have to be one or at most two standard forms of memory cards. Moreover, any decision I might make on buying a camera would depend on how many photos I can take and store, and how easy to use and cheap/expensive the memory cards are. Again despite the wealth of information in the magazines’ tables, this information is not given in an easy to digest way.
My biggest problem is a deeper one. Digital pictures have to be digitally processed, either by downloading onto a computer, or by sending to a laboratory to be printed. In the latter case, there seem to be few advantages to digital over film (indeed, I feel sure - although the digital camera magazines certainly did not make this clear to me - that you can still get better quality cheaper with film than with digital technology). But the magazines, and the general trend, seems to be very much towards the former, towards individuals printing their own photos on their own equipment. Both magazines were full of instruction and information on how to use software like photoshop to touch up and improve or change photographs. Indeed, the Applemac magazines are also now invariably chocabloc with articles on picture (and music) techniques. The digital camera magazines are particularly keen on giving advice to their readers on what’s gone wrong or right with their various digital snaps. Most of them, it seems, have been worked on at some great length - to improve the sky, remove a shadow, reduce the details, highlight a person, add in some kitsch decoration, photomontage several photos together etc. - but I can’t help thinking ‘so what’. Why bother. Yes, of course, this is necessary for professionals, and there have long been specialist magazines for illustrators/designers; but why put in so much effort for a holiday snap. And more than this, I really don’t have any interest in messing around on screen to make a real photo more real or unreal or different. As I explained above, I take photographs to appreciate what exists; I don’t take photographs to give me a base picture for messing around with on the computer. This is where digital photography is leading, and, in the professional world, has led. I can foresee a time when the trend returns once again towards realism, towards naturalism in photography, film, advertising.
4 January 2004
So much of my journals in 1979-80 are taken up with angst about what to do, what to write, how to spend my life. It’s like I’m going through an action replay - in slow motion and 23 years later. Only this time, I’ve no busy social life to fill up the days, and frame the existential crisis; and whereas I had friends I could bore with my problems, I no longer have such friends. I do have possessions/attachments (a house), a son (Adam), a past (my journals and photos), and an information processor (my mind, and I do spend quite a lot of time thinking, which is something I probably didn’t do much of in the past).
I find this in my diary from 1979: ‘Schopenhauer is more of a slob and a snob than I am. He talks of the intellect being the highest and best quality; and how the masses are ignorant and thick. He talks of the greatest happiness being found in solitude and in the hobby of thinking. He gives analogies that are simple and thought-provoking - but wrong. They don’t hold up. One of them is about porcupines. He likens humans to porcupines, who when they are cold (read bored) come together but find they prick each other, so retreat but then get cold again and return to a mass. They then prick themselves again and realise that the best position is to be close enough to neighbours as possible without touching them. He talks of boredom a lot, and the ordinary human resorting to the company of other humans to allay boredom. One of his strongest points is that happiness as only the lack of pain. That happiness cannot be attained and it is better trying to go through life trying to avoid misery. I think my theory about relativity is a better appraisal of the situation. That whatever situation one is in, one adjusts to it and creates a norm. If circumstances change temporarily then that can give rise to either misery or joy temporarily. If the situation remains then the norm changes. Examine me for a moment. My situation objectively is a hundred times more desirable than two years ago, yet am I any happier - no perhaps more content when I rationalise. But happiness does exist as a positive force, not a permanent thing, and it is possible to strive after ecstasy - going into situations without fear in search of ecstasy and not afraid of sadness or loneliness.’ Not much has changed with me in these 23 years, although maybe I seem to have moved nearer Schopenhauer. Perhaps I should have another look at him.
6 January 2004
Not for the first time, I’ve fiddled around today trying to draft a personal website that will, in essence, make available my writing to the wider world. But each time I get fiddling, I soon end up faced with some basic problems: why would I have a site, and what would I put on it?
Many people now have their own personal webpages, to show off their families and their activities; many of them are like circular letters that families used to send to their friends; others are simply the expressions of the obsessions of individuals. Many use the internet to show off their design skill, or their art, or their photography, or their specialist knowledge (writers publish their writings), and so on. Of late, blogging has become a big thing, where people write journals directly onto the internet, sometimes just about their mundane lives, or sometimes more interestingly about a specific area of knowledge. A few personal sites transcend their parochial purposes and become more widely accessed - this is usually because they contain useful information not readily obtainable elsewhere.
The worldwide web is a fantastic thing; I think it’s amazing that so many individuals now have this extra dimension for self-expression, and for reaching out to the world. However, I also believe the internet can - like the world itself - promise much more than is ever likely to be delivered. This was true in the business world, as shown by the stock market crash (which came about because of unrealistic expectations for technology stocks), and it is true in a personal sense. As a crude generalisation, I don’t believe an internet presence on its own (a web site) is going to improve the opportunities for a writer, artist or photographer for example. On the other hand, a site can be an excellent showcase for exhibiting one’s abilities, if one can find ways and means to persuade people to visit the site. I never expected to get subscriptions directly from my ecinform website, but I did think it was a very useful addition to my main marketing efforts.
Now that I am going to close down the ecinform website, I need to think clearly and decisively about a new website to replace it. I am sure I should have one, but what would be its aim, its purpose? What would I hope to achieve with it. If I can answer this question, then the question of how to set up the site, and what to put on it, will become much easier.
First of all, who will look at the site. Even if I don’t promote it to old friends and family, I must be aware that some will look at it; and that, indeed, its largest audience is likely to be old friends and family. So this raises questions of whether I am one person to all my friends and family, and whether or not I’ll be constrained in what I put on the site by what my mother or Barbara or Raoul or Roser might think. This mattered not a whit, when all I had was a business site; but when I make a personal site, these considerations become important. Then I need to consider that other writers, prospective employers, prospective colleagues may look at the site. What would they perceive about me from it.
Do I want the site to be a complete expression of me, who I am; or do I want it to act mainly as a shop window for my abilities as a writer?
7 January 2004
The results of the BBC writers competition (TwoTiming), for which I wrote ‘Call us Cute’, will be announced on Friday. Given the constraints of Christmas and the New Year holidays, I calculated that, if I’d been shortlisted, today would have been the last day I’d have been contacted. You only tell those people who haven’t made it at the last minute, short-listed candidates and winners (whether for a competition or a job) are always contacted before the last minute. (I recall clearly how I knew instinctively when the Martin Weitz production of my diaries was going belly-up - I could read between the lines of certain emails and by the tardiness of replies to my questions). So, that’s a teeny weeny new year present that won’t be coming my way.
But but but - today, for the very first time, I ran the whole short circuit course. I must have been running nearly every day now for six months. However, the last couple of days, I’ve run the route the other way round, and apart from a short steep section near the beginning (which I manage without much difficulty), it seems to be slightly down hill. Thus, when I reached the mid-way point, I didn’t have the same lung-tiredness that I get the other way round, and so I just carried on - and I made it all the way. It’s quite an achievement for me. I don’t want to stretch the run any further, but 20 minutes a day, or say at least three times a week, would be a good routine.
I’m still not managing to get down to work on the fourth television story. I keep prevaricating like mad. This week, I’m allowing myself to be diverted by a plan to start a new degree! A BSc in landscape studies. I don’t expect I’ll see it through to a degree, but the courses sound interesting enough to get me out of the house. I shall have an interview tomorrow with the head of the course.
So what about publishing my journals on a personal website? Thinking about this is an excellent exercise. I’ve always said that I think my diaries would be interesting because they range so widely from the excruciatingly personal, to the practical and political. And, secretly, I’m sure I’ve always hoped or wanted somebody to pay attention to them. But now reality is here. I can actually publish them myself for next to no cost (at least in money terms; it would take a lot of time). So it’s time to put myself to the test.
Problem areas. Sex is one obvious area. I would not, for example, want to broadcast anything I’ve written about masturbation. While I personally would not have the same problem about opening up my heterosexual exploits, I don’t see how I could write about these without changing the name of who else is involved. Giving in to these taboos on sex is totally against my philosophy on writing, and yet when it comes down to it, I’m not indifferent to what people think of me, and I cannot pretend (as other writers may have done) that there would be a higher purpose in such revelations. I’d almost certainly want to edit out anything that revealed an immaturity, selfishness, arrogance that couldn’t be obviously assigned to youthfulness. What do I do about negative things said about friends and family?
I thought what I might do is aim to publish a month of my life every week. On my website, I’d have a grid, containing all the years and months from 1974 to the present, and that, once a week, I’d make live a new month. Thus, I’d need to edit a month’s worth of diary entries every week. This might prove a useful discipline. To start with, I suppose I could do it chronologically; but later on, I might wish to skip about a bit. I think I’d also want to provide some kind of statement on the front page, about my diaries, about how they’re edited, and why I’m publishing them.
So, one area of my website will carry my journals. What else? Should I put up, in whole or part, some of the writings that I’ve not had published. ‘Love Uncovered’, for example; ‘King Top-of-the World’; ‘Beyond’; ‘TomSpin’; ‘BLR’. What about the EC Inform stuff, surely I should still make that available somehow; but then I’d have to mix business and personal, which I’m not keen on doing. What else? photos - no! Nothing else, just my diaries and my stories.
11 January 2004
I was wrong. If ‘Call us Cute’ had been shortlisted I would only have been rung on Thursday night, so when I wrote my last entry, on the previous Wednesday, it was still possible that I would be contacted. I know this because I monitored the BBC Writersroom message board, on which there was a thread about when the results of the competition would be announced. On Friday morning, I read that a message from one of the message board’s hosts, who said that all the 11 shortlisted writers had been phoned on Thursday night, and most of them had been out. I wasn’t phoned on Thursday night.
I thought I’d get the final letter in the post (the BBC had said 9 January), but nothing came, and then my attention focused on the 25 or so other writers who would have their script commented on. I checked the Writersroom site several times during the day, but couldn’t find any further information. On Saturday, I got my script back, and a form rejection letter.
I wasn’t gutted, but I was disappointed. I think I thought my script was good, certainly competent, and better than lots of mediocre stuff I hear on the radio. But there were about 800 entries into the competition (TV and radio), and so the editors must have had a tough time picking and choosing. In fact, thinking about it afterwards, I realised anyone would have a much better chance of having their script given a fair critique outside of a competition, not as part of one. I spent half an hour employing Google to tell me more about the 11 shortlisted writers. Most of them are young, in their 20s (I think only one of them might be over 40), and I found traces of all but one of them in some kind of comedy or playwriting roles already (and the one who is possibly older had written for ‘Birds of a Feather’). So I wonder if I prejudiced my entry by writing in the letter, which sat at the front of the script, about my age and my lack of experience of comedy or drama writing. Or, perhaps, ‘Call us Cute’ is just not very good.
But there’s another (make-myself-feel-ok-excuse) thing that’s worrying away at me. It was an idea that came to me as I was looking at the kind of work the short-listed writers have done and are doing. It’s this. In its guidance notes (to this competition, and more generally), the BBC advises writers to use their personal experience, to write about what they know. But there’s a limit to personal experience, and jobbing writers, professional writers should be able to write beyond their personal experience. What worries me is that, with so many people wanting to write, the BBC (and this could well apply to other publishers as well) tends to seek out those people with particular experience (inside knowledge of a niche of life perhaps) and exploits them for their voice, for the entrée they can provide into that experience. Thus, the best of the talent gets produced, and accumulates a little bit of fame, which they can then trade on; but how long does it last, how long can they sustain their voice and make money from it as a writer. The BBC, the producers, just move on to the next talent. I think what I’m saying is that the BBC may no longer be interested in nurturing talent but sees writers simply as commodities with a short-term lease of text and colour to sell. Perhaps it was always that way.
12 January 2004
Went to London yesterday. First to Kensal Rise, to the Simon/Underwood house, to join Andrew and a Jewish expert, Moshe Rosenfeld, to look over the Jewish books. Moshe spent a couple of hours in the house, but he seemed more interested in chatting about general Jewish things, then in really giving us much info on the books. He wasn’t very enthusiastic about the collection, largely because of its strong Zionist focus, but, later, when he went to have another look at the books, he kept looking at individual volumes and saying they might be valuable. I don’t think he knew that much. He said he would talk to a friend of his, a real book dealer, later that day and get back to Andy. I expect I’ll hear him from him tonight.
Then I went Mum’s house, and had sausages for lunch. I put up a new shelf in her downstairs toilet. (Typical of me, I managed to put one of the brackets up in the wrong position first.)
Saturday lunchtime, there was a rare knock on the front door. My neighbour, Mr Tosh, who I’ve never met (I didn’t even know what he looked like) had come to tell me that his apple tree had fallen on my fence. At first I thought it was a small tree, next to the main one, but it wasn’t (nor was there even a small one next to the main one, I don’t quite know how I was confused about this); and, although, I hadn’t perceived the problem from the kitchen window, the damage to the fence was quite significant. I asked whether the tree could be saved, but he persuaded me to go round to his garden to inspect it. The trunk stands at an angle of 40 degrees to the ground, and Tosh believes, probably rightly, that once the branches are cut out of the fence the trunk will fall further. He thinks the roots have snapped. It’s such a shame since that tree looks very attractive from my garden, and its absence will only serve to give a better view of Tosh’s ugly and dilapidated outbuildings. I suggested that before cutting the apple tree down, he contact the council, since the trees are all protected under an appeal judgement concerning the planning application for a new building between his house and mine.
We also talked about the silver birch in the front, the one whose roots are pushing up and cracking my concrete drive. He said he would have no problem with removing the tree, and I suggested the Council would not raise any objection if we both made an application. However, I’m not sure I’d want the tree to go, and I could solve the fence problem by having an arch built over the roots, and I could resolve the concrete drive problem by replacing it with gravel.
And, inevitably we talked about his planning applications. He was fully aware of the need to commence building work before the planning application runs out, later this year. But he also talked of amending the plan. When I pushed as for a reason for this, he said it was simply because he didn’t like the roof line. I feel sure there must be another reason.
24 January 2004
Time has slipped away, I don’t seem to have written a journal entry for two weeks. It’s probably no coincidence that I’ve got going on two substantial new projects. Firstly, I did sign up with the University of Surrey to do a BSc in Archaeology, Landscape and Environment studies, and have been to my first two lectures. One is on Tuesday mornings (though, because I’ll probably continue to park in Spectrum and swim as well, this will take up much of the day), and the other on Wednesday evenings. I estimate that I’ll have to spend the best part of one other day to keep up with the reading and taking notes. Each course (one is called Plants and People, and the other is about Dark Age archaeology) can give me 20 credits. I need 120 credits to get through the first year, but only 60 to begin taking year two modules. There is the slight complication of year one skills modules which I really don’t want to do (learning to learn, and presentation skills for example), but, as I don’t expect to complete the degree, I can probably avoid doing anything I don’t want to. It’s a very flexible course, and I’m only taking it because there are enough modules that interest me (although I plan to avoid the archaeology ones) - and I plan to treat it like an extended night class. Each module costs £188, which, on its own, doesn’t sound like too much. But, if I do six a year, that would be nearly £1,200. At both classes, there was a mixture of people, about 12 in each, with the men mostly older than me (retired) and the women mostly in their 30s or 40s (with families and children). One of the lecturers is very fresh and not very good, the other is better. More anon.
Secondly, I decided to give myself an experimental few weeks on ‘London Cross’, or possibly ‘London Across’ - the first name is simpler and easier (there’s no extant recognised use of the term London Cross as far as I can make out), but the latter is cleverer and more apt. I’ve even designed a small logo. The idea is to walk across London in two lines making the shape of a cross, one south-north, and one east west, and write about it, thus providing a kind of cross-section description of the city. I’ve started on the south-north line, and I’ve chosen the 300 easting to walk along - the aim is to stick as closely as possible (taking legal routes) to the 300 easting. In other words this is not a walk or route planned to take in as many interesting sites as possible, this is a random route, fixed to a straight line, taken to find out what’s there. I will, at some point, have to write a more careful and clear explanation of what I’m doing and why, but first I’m just getting going to see if it’s viable. When I first had the idea, I checked what other books had been written about walking in London, and I found one London expert who’d written about a number of long-distance walks across London, and also a book written by someone who’d walked round the M25 (what an idiot!). I was put off, but then I found myself carrying on with the planning. The project has such advantages - it gets me out of the house, exploring, which I love to do; it’s very map based, and I love maps; it requires lots of research, but only superficial kind of research which can be done on the internet and in local libraries which is fun; and it involves writing up my results in a way rather similar to this journal, only more rigorously.
I began thinking that I might do two walks a week, but after the first trip it was clear that I’d have my hands full doing just one a week. Two Thursdays ago, I did my first walk, from near Merstham on a footbridge across the M25 to Coulsdon. This was an unusual stretch for mostly crossing countryside - the rest will be urban sprawl. But, I found a surprising amount to write about, and I enjoyed stringing it together into a text, half describing the walk, and half going off at tangents about whatever I found interesting. I took a recorder, and talked to myself throughout the walk, and then used the recorded notes in conjunction with information I’d culled from the internet or in the Coulsdon library. I managed around 6,000 words over three days; and then I got down to doing the initial research for the next stretch, which I did last Thursday, from Coulsdon to the river Wandle, Beddington. I thought it was going to be more difficult to find material to write about on this section, but I’m half way through writing it up, and I’ve got more than enough. What I don’t have is enough time to write it before my next walk this coming Thursday. I shall still use the car this next trip, but as I get closer to the centre, I’ll probably use public transport to get to and from my walks. Each one is only about five or six miles (although the first one I walked both ways), but, if there’s a library on the route then I can spend a long time there; and my aim also is to talk to as many people as I can, even to the point of picking up local stories about particular roads on the 300 easting. Last Thursday, for example, I was talking to an old man called John on the Roundshaw Estate, and he was being so helpful I decided to test out one of my planned questions: ‘If I asked you what’s the funniest thing you’ve seen round here, what would you say?’ He thought for a minute and told me it was a young man operating a road laying machine. John himself had been a road layer, and he felt that the young man didn’t have ‘a fucking idea what he was doing’. I won’t be using that. It won’t be easy trying to get strangers to talk. I’ve already discovered how naturally suspicious they are; and, so far, I’ve been reluctant to explain my purpose. It’s something I’ll have to consider more carefully.
If I manage one walk a week, it’ll take me about 10 weeks to complete one half of London Cross. If I get that far, at that point I might start writing to publishers. I haven’t yet decided what to do about photographs. I’ve only carried my little Olympus so far, but I didn’t use it once. If necessary, I figure I could re-walk (or drive) the route just to get pictures.
Today I should have been writing, but I went with Barbara to Catford to go through her father’s house. She’s finally received a go-ahead from the Court of Protection to sell his house, she has a buyer waiting, and a house clearance man who’ll probably come next week. When she told me she still hadn’t found a store of old photographs or her mother’s jewellery (a diamond ring), I said I would go and take a good look round. I felt that Les might have hidden stuff under floorboards, or in places that B would never look. With the experience of Aviva Simon’s house behind me, I was expecting a tip, especially as B had said all Les’s stuff was stuffed inside layers of plastic bags (just like Aviva Simon’s), but the house was neat and tidy. B had organised it all months ago, so that it would sell without difficulty. So, having thought I would spend all day there, I ended up only needing a couple of hours.
I found the photographs almost immediately, in Les’s bedroom, stuffed at the very back of a high cupboard. I also found an old bakelite hairdryer, a box camera, and some binoculars, none of which B wanted. But otherwise, there was very little in the house. I pulled up a few floorboards, and searched the loft, but there was no sign of the jewellery. I’d started packing the car with the few things I wanted to take away (a long spirit level, and a socket set - useful things I’ve never had), and was still very concerned about the jewellery. In my mind, I’d decided that one of Les’s neighbours may have swiped it (he had various lady friends after Rosemary died who kept coming to the house), but I still kept thinking about it. Almost the very last thing I did was search the kitchen (which B had said she’d done). I stood up on the sideboard and looked on top of the cupboards and at the back of the top cupboards, and there I found an innocuous looking box: it contained a diamond ring, a gold wedding ring and the watch that B had so wanted to find. So we managed to find everything that was important.
And tomorrow, earlyish, I go to Aviva Simon’s house. Andrew’s finally decided what to do with the books. He’s selling them to a Jewish dealer for £3,000. This is the same price as his friend Piers offered right at the start, before I interfered and said we should get a Jewish dealer in to look at the Judaica. But Andrew’s happy because the Jewish dealer (Weisse somebody or other, a friend of the Moshe that Andrew and I met a couple of Sundays ago) will take all the books (thus clearing them from the house) and will take them himself, whereas Piers had asked Andrew to transport them to Suffolk for him. The added benefit of this deal, so Andrew tells me, is that Weisse has not looked at the non-Judaica books, even though he’s included them in his offer of £3,000. Initially, he had offered only £1,700 for the Judaica, but, on being told about the existing bid, he upped his offer to £3,000 for all the books. This means, I can take a bunch of books (from the non-Judaica), like a box of Penguin crimes which I coveted.
Nothing on Kip Fenn. My friends in Brussels, Fiona and Marc are reading it. Unlike with Julian or even Barbara, I trust that they might actually get through it and say something about it. I still haven’t had a rejection from any publisher (I’ve written to three, all with Chapter Four - all the agents got Chapters One and Two, but I realise now I should have varied that), but I expect one soon.
28 January 2004
For the best part of three hours, I’ve been glued to the television; watching first Lord Hutton deliver a summary of his report on the Kelly affair, and subsequently Tony Blair address Parliament on the same issue. Lord Hutton spoke at length (nearly 80 minutes), dryly and using careful legalistic argument so as to avoid later misinterpretation. He damned the BBC, and, more or less completely vindicated the government. It is an extraordinary report, for being so one-sided, and, from what I’ve heard of various discussions, journalists are stunned by its findings (I mean all the talk at the weekend was of whether Tony Blair would still be PM at the end of the week - he won a second reading on the tuition fees by the skin of his teeth yesterday, by five votes, but even if he’d lost, he would have won a resounding vote of confidence immediately afterwards). I don’t want to go over the Kelly affair, or Hutton’s findings, but I do want to blow my own trumpet, and do so very loudly, because I can’t really do it anywhere else. The truth of the whole affair, from beginning to end, according to Hutton’s report (and he’s spent the best part of a year working on, and quizzed everyone up to the PM), is almost exactly as I saw it. From the beginning I thought the BBC was very much to blame (as evidenced by my emails to the ‘Today’ programme) - if it had apologised quickly and efficiently, then the matter might never have got so far. I couldn’t see where the government was to blame at any point in the story - yes, there was and is a political debate about whether we should have gone to war, and a different sort of debate about how reliable intelligence information is, but these issues were not at the centre of the Kelly affair, even though many unscrupulous politicians tried to link them up. And so, I was pleased as punch to see that Hutton did actually cut through all the political and media interference, and see through to the full truth of the matter. The report also vindicates my faith in Tony Blair and his government; and, although he has been very muted on this business for so long (especially in response to bully-boy goading by Michael Howard at PM’s questions), he came out fighting today, stressing how culpable the BBC should be for having created a story that has been repeated worldwide for seven or eight months, and which has impacted on the world’s view of this country, and its government. His anger showed through - at last (an anger I too felt - and, in truth, I suppose, I’ve been somewhat confused that no one anywhere else seems to share my anger with the BBC - the media has been too busy trying to stab Tony Blair). And then, to cap it all, Michael Howard, responding to Blair, confirmed every prejudice I had about him (some of which had been put into doubt by the way the Conservative Party fell down at his knees after deposing what’s his name - Ian Duncan-Smith - because, I thought, the Tories must know something about Howard that I don’t). Howard was unapologetic and picked up every tiny morsel of criticism of the government in the Hutton report, spotlighting it, without any reference to the almost complete vindication of the roles of Blair and Hoon (like a theatre lighting man lighting up the hidden prompter rather than the actors on stage). And what is really remarkable, and what should be commented on by intelligent media pundits, is how clean the government and its officials proved to be despite the fact that their many actions and decisions, examined by Hutton, which could have been subject to dubious pressure. How many major decisions by other governments in the world could be so closely examined and come out so spotless - this is what is truly amazing. But our media live in a culture which only knows how to attack, it’s forgotten how to praise, and how to inform.
Paul K Lyons
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