PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2004 - OCTOBER
4 October 2004
It is three weeks since I came back from Sri Lanka and three weeks since I sent out all the copies of Kip Fenn. My life has come to a standstill. I literally do not know what to do today, or tomorrow. I have never been so projectless. I lie on the sofa in the lounge, and I try to think about what I want to do. What I want, is for the telephone to ring, and for someone somewhere to have read Kip Fenn and to tell me they are reviewing it. But, as the days, and now weeks, tick by, it seems increasingly likely that the worst scenario I envisaged will becoming true: I won’t sell one single book, not one. In fact, I’m at the point now, where I could probably deal with zero sales better than I could with 10 or 15. I mean, at least, I have a story to tell; and I can tell myself that I’m just a victim of an astonishing powerful publishing industry mafia that includes among its number all influential or important book reviewers. But, also, I can think beyond Kip Fenn. I mean I am completely prepared - as I always was - for utter failure with this; my problems don’t really have anything to do with Kip Fenn. They are about what I do next in my life. I don’t have a clue, nor do I have a clue about a clue; nor am I doing anything which might lead me to have a clue shortly. I’m not reading; I’m not engaged in any minor projects, or pursuing any particular interests (with one very minor exception which I will come to shortly). I mean I’m doing nothing that will help me move towards some kind of decision as to what to do next. Therefore, it would seem, I must be resigning myself to looking for a paid job. And any paid job I could get is most likely to be in the world I know about (editing stuff about the EU or energy); is that all I’m going to do with the rest of my life.
I am starting to have very negative thoughts about writing.
Here’s an extract from my 1981 diary which I type up this morning: ‘Nostalgia has taken the evening over as I read diary extracts from 1974. Then, I lived in Earl’s Court, I worked from day to day, I talked and drank with people I can’t even remember, my world trip was about to begin. Tears well up in my eyes for the simplicity and unself-consciousness of youth. There is a freshness and spirit in my writing of the day’s activities. I seem, and have done for a year or two, clouded by a jadedness and awful self-awareness. Where did it come from? Here I am determined to grow up and yet refusing to accept the lonely consequences. And what is this imbecility I must continue. Writing is the most stupid of occupations. I run my life the wrong way up the escalators as if there were no achievement in being carried by the right-moving stairs. God help me I really can’t see any real joy, or constant contentment returning to my life.’
When I think about writing something new, I don’t feel anything, no ambition, no desire, no volition. I’m wondering whether I’ve finally, finally, finally been cured of my persistent and ridiculous obsession to write. I’ve taken it as far as I can possibly go, and what I can offer is simply not wanted. Writing has been the single greatest professional challenge of my life, and, basically, I’ve failed - not as a writer per se, but as a writer who writes what he wants to write creatively, and gets that creativeness accepted and paid for. And maybe it will take weeks, or months, of lazing around, doing absolutely nothing, achieving nothing, to get my head round this fact. And then, maybe, maybe, maybe, I’ll stop thinking I can do something special, and just get an ordinary job, accept the rest of my life is going to be ordinary, ordinary, ordinary.
I’m sure if it wasn’t for Cora, I’d be in some kind of deep depression already. And it seems very strange to me, that I should have met someone now, at this otherwise very empty point in my life. It is a romance, a lovely romance; full of intimacies, and thoughtfulnesses, and communications. Almost all of this is driven by Cora, and I’m falling into her pattern, her way of doing things. As I’m so unbusy, so unoccupied, I’ve no difficulty in sending four or five emails a day, receiving her phone calls at lunchtime and in the evening, or devoting all of every Sunday to being with her. And she doesn’t bore me; and the sex is fantastic, getting more heated and more passionate all the time. And I love the way we joke around such a lot; she’s quick and funny and sensitive.
Thursday 7 October 2004
I went to see Andy and Susie on Tuesday night. Andy, Raoul and I were due to meet in Esher for a three way chat and catch-up but Andy changed the arrangements because Tammy had turned up with Louis. I was much looking forward to seeing Andy and Raoul again, as many months have gone by since last we met. I had my book to show them, and I was looking forward to telling them about Cora. But the house was busy, with the two toddler boys, Darcy and Louis, and with Tammy and Susie fussing around. I played with Darcy for a few minutes, and he was so responsive that I was sure he recognised me. Louis, by contrast, was diffident. I was surprised by how full the house had become since last I was there. Four or five boxes of toys in the dining area. Lots of photos on the windowsills and mantelshelves. Andrew had said I should bring pudding and wine, so I’d brought the ingredients for a crumble, but had to put them together. I thought Andy and Susie would be cooking something (which is why I didn’t mind bringing the pudding), but in fact Andy ended up ordering a takeaway, but not till quite late, and the food didn’t arrive until well after 10:00. Susie and Tammy bickered over Andy’s time. Basically, Andy and Susie have booked to fly to Australia next week. Susie will spend seven weeks with her family (who emigrated there earlier this year) and Andrew some of the time with her, and some in Papua New Guinea, re-engaging with the charity work he started many years ago when Rosy was still alive. He’s being funded to the tune of £2,500 again by Loreena McKennit. But Tammy now wants Andy to delay his trip by a week, so that he can be around while her father Jack is recovering. At first I thought Andrew couldn’t possibly want to do this because it would cost much to change the flight, but I got the sense that he might want to stay behind for a week, to have some free time. But then as Susie got this sense too, she started arguing that if Andrew was going to stay behind for a week, then she would too. I only intervened a couple of times, both were to suggest that Tammy and Jason should be dealing with Jack, and not leaving the problems to Andrew. Tangled webs.
It was nearly half past eleven when I left and the arguments were still ongoing. I’d planned to drive to Willesden to surprise Cora, but I had hoped to leave by 11. I drove a bit too fast, and nearly had an accident. And, as I got closer to Willesden, I worried about Cora’s reaction. Fortunately, she was still awake, and she was delighted to see me. I didn’t sleep too well at Cora’s (it’s still difficult sharing a bed), but I do like being with her. We talked in the night, serious and not-so serious, and made love (as we always do), and we had breakfast together. But I was a bit hyper, from the drive and the drink; and, after, I felt I should have stayed longer at Andy’s seeing as how the evening had drifted on so long, and saved the idea of a surprise visit for another time.
12 October 2004
Today is Tuesday. It is wet and grey outside. I see it is only five days since I last wrote here, and yet it seems like longer ago. And the weekend before this one just gone, feels likes months. My sense of time is becoming very disoriented, and this is entirely due to the relationship with Cora. Every meeting is an intense and involving experience which seems to drive out any memory of the previous one, and because I can’t remember the previous one very well, it automatically seems more distant in time. Well, that’s one explanation.
The previous weekend, Cora came down on Saturday evening, bringing food with her, so she could cook a meal. On Sunday, we made a silly trip to Richmond. Some time ago I had teased Cora with the idea of seeing an afternoon double bill of films about sex at the Filmhouse; and she had referred to the idea several times. But Sunday morning went rather slowly, and we arrived at Richmond too late, half an hour after the first of the films had started. So we wandered around Richmond in the rain (including eating the sandwiches I’d prepared), drinking coffee, browsing in bookshops. We went back to the cinema for the second film. It’s a comfy cinema, and it was nice to be there, but the film (‘A Pornographic Affair’) was very French, and that’s no compliment. It was self-absorbed rubbish with very little insight into anything. We drove home, and had supper together. Cora left around 9pm.
This weekend just gone was different: it was the first time we spent most of the weekend together, and it was the first time I met any of her friends. She also met my mother. On Monday morning I sent her a card (a postcard of ‘The Lovers’ carving from Sri Lanka) and a short note, written tightly at the top (in the hope that over the weeks and months to come we might send it backwards and forwards between us, slowly filling up the space). I said this: These lovers met in Sri Lanka ages ago. They seem satiated, serene happy. Yet he is still astonished and moved by the gathering intensity of their togetherness.’ It’s what I do feel. On Monday morning, early, before I’d really started the day, I lay on my bed, and tears flowed. I wept for several minutes, and I had no idea why. I didn’t know if they were the kind of emotions at the end of a holiday when one finds oneself alone again (i.e, after 48 hours solidly with Cora); or whether they were tears of happiness from finding myself in a relationship, full of intimacy and love and sex; or whether I was already crying in the knowledge that the relationship couldn’t or wouldn’t last.
On Friday afternoon, I went by train to Waterloo. I relaxed at the Royal Festival Hall for a couple of hours listening to the jazz in the bar. I was so impressed by the quintet (Basil Hodge) that I bought the CD. Then I tubed to Willesden Green arriving at Cora’s flat not long after she herself had arrived. Around 8:00 we bused to Kilburn, to the Little Bay restaurant in Belsize Road. All week we had been discussing whether I should join Cora for a dinner with her friends (Nicky and Richard, Andy and Liam, and Nick), whether I wanted to come, whether she wanted me to come, whether it was a good idea, etc. It didn’t feel tedious or silly that we discussed it so much (much of it in a teasing way), rather that we were simply trying ferret out from each other our real feelings about this step up in the relationship. In fact, I think, looking back Cora wanted me to come, and I wanted to go, but I was probably more reluctant to admit that I wanted to go than I should have been. Normally, I’d have worn my light beige trousers, but since I’d worn them the last time we’d been out together, I felt I should wear something different, so I opted for my red cords with a red shirt. This is me, but Cora (who does dress well and untimidly at times) and all her friends were in the most casual and dull of colours (mostly jeans I suppose), and so I did feel a bit conspicuous. Also, and this is a problem that is not going to go away, I do find it difficult talking to people in places which are very noisy. And the restaurant was very noisy indeed. I didn’t have a problem talking to Cora or to her friend Andy sat the other side of her, but I did have a problem talking to Nicky who was sat by her side. She’s just gone to China (not with her boyfriend Richard but with another friend) so we talked about China mostly. The evening went well, and I don’t think Cora was too embarrassed by me.
On Saturday, around midday we set off for a walk across the Heath, starting with coffee and a banana smoothie at Polly’s in South Hampstead. It was a lovely walk, as it usually is from one side of the Heath to other, passing by the Hill and the Golders Hill Park. We stopped in at my mother’s house for a sandwich (I’d phoned her earlier). I had thought, a while ago, I might take Cora round for a meal, but that would have involved Mum making preparations, and Cora worrying about to wear. This way, it was very casual, and very easy. We only stayed an hour or so. Just as we were leaving Cora went to the loo, and Mum whispered that she thought Cora was charming and lovely. But I already knew they’d like each other - Cora was even wearing a woollen shawl thing which was just the kind of thing Mum likes.
From the point we left my mother’s house, the day deteriorated. C caught the bus to Swiss Cottage to go to the library and visit a friend (Milly); and I walked back to Golders Green station to go to the British Library. Only having got to Golders Green, I found it was closed, and my transport problem only got worse, so I didn’t arrive at the British Library until 4:30 with just half an hour to go before closing time. I probably haven’t recounted the story of ‘Ivy - boon or bane?’ by J. E. White, so I’ll have to do that now.
Some time ago, when I was trying to find if any old books had been written on ivy, I came across this title. I imagined it was a book, and that it went into the question that has been bugging me for years: do ivies kill trees. The received wisdom is that they do not, but in my wandering around the countryside I see a lot of old trees being swamped by ivies, and I wanted to know if any research had been done on the subject. This book sounded like the one that would answer all my questions. I never got round to requesting it when I was spending some time at the BL for London Cross earlier in the year, so since I was coming up to London to see Cora any way, I decided to chase it up finally. I went through a lot of shenanigans to get hold of the document, including phone calls and complaints, but finally I’d been assured it had arrived at the St Pancras Library. But, when I finally got hold of it, I found it was only four pages long!!! So, when I got into the Library at 4:30 on the Saturday, I only needed a few minutes to photocopy the few pages. It doesn’t really discuss or provide any insights into the parasitic side of ivy and seems to be a treatise on why ivy is such a fantastic plant - so, after all that, I’m no further forward.
Leaving the British Library at 5pm, I decided to go to the old Dillons (Waterstones). I spent 20 minutes without finding a single book I wanted to buy, and then walked along Oxford Street to Bond Street. It was 5:30-6:00 by this time, and Oxford Street was still heaving, heaving with people. It felt quite oppressive. I had to walk in the middle of the road to maintain a reasonable speed (and I was only able to do this, I realised later, because there had been an accident further along). I popped into John Lewis to buy Cora a milk frother (which I’d promised a week or two ago), and then expected to get back to Willesden Green in 30 minutes. More fool me. Bond Street station was closed, and there were hundreds of people milling round. A tannoy announcement was repeating over and over again: ‘The station has been closed for safety reasons. The platforms are very congested. The gates will be opened as soon as possible.’ It was intensely irritating. One fat station official was visible in the empty ticket area, and he was being quizzed by a man acting as irate as I felt. From snippets of conversation I overheard, it seemed like the Jubilee Line might not be operating at all. I waited about 20 minutes only because any alternative way of getting back to Cora’s seemed horribly difficult. The gates were eventually opened, and the Jubilee line platform was not congested, a northbound train did eventually come, but not before I’d heard four different announcements a million times each: ‘please keep away from the edge’, ‘please move down the platform’, ‘severe delays on southbound services’, ‘Jubilee lines affected by severe delays’.
But this was by no means the end of my transport trials. Because of the engineering works, the train only delivered me as far as Finchley Road, from where I was supposed to take a replacement bus service. Only the queues for the replacement bus services was a million miles long, and, in any case, I thought each bus would take forever to negotiate the narrow roads and traffic between Finchley Road and Willesden Green. I ran up Finchley Road to the overground station at Frognal. Unfortunately the trains on the North London Line were delayed too, and I had to wait nearly 20 minutes for a train there. And then that train only took me to Brondesbury Park, from where I ran back to Willesden arriving well after 7. Cora was sleeping. She had walked back from Finchley Road, and only arrived 15 minutes before me, and was exhausted. We had tea, and a bath, and then I cooked supper. We watched ‘Charlotte Grey’ on telly and went to bed.
In the morning we had a sticky moment - definitely the stickiest so far - and it’s one that we did not analyse or seek to understand by talking. And since then, though, I’ve detected (god I’m so sensitive and insecure) a change - not a sea change, but a slight drift in current perhaps - in her enthusiasm. A card she sent me this week, the third, is less emotive than the previous two, and I’ve just received an email with this downer of a message in: ‘Don’t start chatting up the postman every tuesday morning....you’ve been spoilt over the past few weeks but I don’t know if I can maintain this level of postage action....a girls got to rest some time!!’ She’s only sent three cards. That’s not much stamina, and I’ve sent as many etc.
Yesterday, there was a planned power cut. It was scheduled to last for up to six hours, so I went out for a long walk. I found myself thinking about Cora and our relationship most of the time. I’m not sure I can get any proper perspective on it. I kept looking for the pluses and minuses on both side. I mean Cora is a bright lively lovely lady, but socially she’s very tied in and to her Jewish family and background. If she were looking at the downside of being with me, my age would surely come first, I don’t have a social network, so I’m not going to be introducing her to any interesting people; and nor do I have much money, which one might reasonable hope for in an older lover. I don’t know how this exchange pans out; I don’t know whether I’ll give Cora enough confidence to want to try and find a similar relationship with someone younger. I don’t know whether I should be allowing the intimacy and the integration of our lives to proceed, implying that I would and could want to have children with her sooner rather than later; or am I being completely unrealistic and should I be content to find someone older who’s already had children. Am I able to imagine living the next 20 years in an ordinary life, with a wife and two children and a steady job; the kind of life I’ve eschewed up to now? And would Cora be happy in such a life?
A ring of lights went out upstairs this morning. The saga of my lights is driving me into a mental home. Because one of the malfunctions is in Adam’s room, and because the electrician might come at any time, I’ve had to clear out the marijuana plant that’s drying there. But I’ve done more than move it. I’ve decided to confiscate it. And I know we’ll have a big confrontation about it this evening when he gets home. I’m writing here exactly what I’ll be saying to him. He grew three plants, two of which he’s already harvested. The third plant, however, is one that grew very big, and it also budded. I understand that the buds are more potent than the leaves. When I looked in Adam’s drawer at the jar in which he had been keeping the earlier dried leaves, I found that it was empty. So, I’ve decided that Adam is smoking too much; and I can no longer accept that I am tacitly accepting his smoking. When we had the confrontation earlier this year, I wrote out a kind of promise note which I asked him to write in his diary:
‘1) Your mother strongly disapproves of you taking cannabis or having it in her house.
2) I disapprove of you using cannabis or alcohol other than occasionally and in small quantities. Sustained use of either alcohol or cannabis can lead to negative behavioural and psychological changes. Bingeing on either cannabis or alcohol can have serious effects on the brain, and put an individual in difficult or even dangerous circumstances. The potential bad effects of sustained use and bingeing are significantly increased in young people.
3) Although many many people do drive under the influence of alcohol and cannabis, some of these people die, or get maimed, or get killed or maim others. Cannabis and alcohol are both drugs that affect perception. In particular they can give the individual more confidence or a feeling of carelessness, both of which are very very dangerous when driving
4) Alcohol and cannabis should only be used in a positive way, not in a negative way to fill up time, or to avoid feeling down, or to avoid responsibility.
5) Always be very wary of taking drink (in excess) or cannabis in situations if you are suspicious of people or a situation.’
Now it’s nearly 4:30, and I’ve spent most of the day worrying about the electrics and writing this diary entry. I should just record, in case it helps me stick to it, that yesterday on my walk, I thought that, from now until Christmas, I should just get on with three things: applying for jobs in any which way I can; working with some determination on the ‘Screen Spun’ stories; and doing research for a book on ivy.
14 October 2004
I’m on the train to Waterloo. I was due to meet Cora at Swiss Cottage at 7:30, but it’s 7:22 as I write, and we’re still some way from Waterloo, and the train is crawling along. The train I was due to catch was cancelled, and this one arrived 10 minutes late, and has been getting slower and slower. After last Saturday’s experience on the tube, I am getting very very very sick of public transport.
I’m having more unsettled thoughts about the relationship with Cora. Today, while in a Marks & Spencer’s changing room, I caught sight of my face. It looked very old. And, during several telephone conversations in the last couple of days, Cora has repeatedly joked about my years. Today she mentioned a singer, aged 55, who’d just married a 23 year old, and she said she thought that was outrageous. She tells me that friends and family have said she might be happier in a relationship with an older man, but I’m sure they meant 5-8 years older, not 20 years older. And I can’t forget seeing the parameters Cora put on her internet dating site: the maximum age for a partner was 36. The thing is that Cora reads a lot of glam and women’s mags, and she’s going to be constantly challenged to think about why she’s with someone so old, so old-fashioned, someone so un-glamourous. I might have emotional/intellectual characteristics she likes, but I can’t see how she’s going to sustain an image of herself with me within her social world, upon which she relies very heavily.
22 October 2004
It’s ten days since my last diary entry, but I wouldn’t have guessed it’s so long. I’ve done nothing, achieved nothing in the whole ten days. I am somehow managing to fritter days away as if they were minutes, weeks as if they were hours. There is nothing wrong with me, my life is just holllowing out. I don’t know how much further down I have to go (well, obviously, I could be in the same position as now, but without the diversion of Cora, but I suspect there’s a lot further yet to fall). In fact, I’m sure I’m dealing with the situation reasonably well, psychologically speaking. The fact that, so far, I’m sustaining the relationship with Cora reassures me that I haven’t, over the last five years, gone too far beyond the bounds of normal behaviour, or that I’m not too far gone to be liked or loved. I do though, particularly, remember a time in early 1980, I think it was, after I’d returned from Corsica and was still living in Leyton. A friend of a friend came to stay, and we had a passionate love affair. It took the place of much else, and covered over, for a few weeks, the deepening crisis in my life. Once she’d gone back to her home in Latin America, once I was left emotionally alone, and without any sexual partner, I moved inexorably towards my breakdown. I am more aware of circumstances today, 20 years on, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I can do anything about them. I still have no idea where the affair with Cora is going. It’s not impossible that it could be over before Christmas, and then 2005 would turn very quickly into my Annus Horribilis. More than once Cora has used the term ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ when I’ve sounded negative about the prospects of the relationship; and the more worried/confused I get about my future, the more likely I am to bring that worry, that confusion into conversations with her, and the more I’m likely to end up getting heavy and talking about our relationship. And if that happens, the more I won’t want Cora to put up with me, and I’ll end up provoking a split up.
Cora had an emotional moment last week; again it wasn’t quite an argument, but had potential for one. It was definitely the most serious breakdown in communication we’d yet experienced. It was so confused, I don’t even think I can describe how it occurred. Cora became obviously upset (I think it was because of my carping on about something), and I moved my chair so I could sit next to her, and comfort her. Somehow we talked it through and ended the evening well (even though, for the first time, we would be going our separate ways). But then the next day we had quite a difficult and heavy conversation on the phone which led to serious emails yesterday.
I don’t think either of us know where we are going with this relationship. For me, it doesn’t really matter where it’s going. I don’t say that lightly. I mean if it only lasts a few months, it will have been great. If it lasts longer then I’ll have to see how I deal with it. I’m not afraid, at least I don’t think so. I have thought about the long term, settling down with Cora, having children, would mean that I’d want to be in a reasonable job and earning reasonable money, and that would mean compromise. It would be, I suppose, the last significant period of my life, and I’d probably want to make a judgement as to whether a life with Cora would be the best I could hope for. That sounds terribly, terribly cold. What is surprising, what is amazing really, is that I can even be having these thoughts - i.e. that not only does Cora appear serious about me; but that I haven’t in some way dismissed her in my mind, as I’ve always been so want to do. I am tempted to want to think I must be being blinded by need, by desperation, because I’ve not been in a relationship for so long, but it does not feel that way. It feels like that Cora is a very special person. I don’t know why or how (our backgrounds, apart from the Jewish connection) are so very different.
But on Cora’s side, I think it does matter where we are going. I think she has to believe herself that our relationship might be going somewhere, or else she couldn’t or wouldn’t be allowing herself to fall for me so completely (apparently). And this is where the complications arise, because I don’t want to lead her somewhere she can’t cope with, or somewhere she doesn’t want to be, or somewhere that will end up affecting her life in serious ways. And so I find myself bringing certain concerns about the relationship to the surface quite often. I don’t set out to do so, but Cora has a tendency to want to analyse our behaviour a bit, only lightly I would say, but I tend to then go into whatever issue has been raised, and talk about it more deeply.
Out in the real world, beyond my little life, my even littler mind, and my diaries, not much earth-shattering news is being reported. The US election is nearly here, but, as usual, we in Britain have been overdosed with information about it for months. Iraq still makes headlines every week. There is so much chaos in the country, with foreigners and Iraqis being killed regularly by insurgents. There’s a fair amount of kidnapping also, and some of the hostages get a disproportionate amount of media attention, especially if they end up dead. In this regard, the media is utterly culpable; the more they make of kidnapping, the more terrorists are likely to try and kidnap interesting targets. To give an idea of how few BIG stories there are at the moment, I’ll just note the editorials in today’s ‘Economist’: Is Ariel Sharon an unlikely Israeli dove, France’s foreign policy after Iraq, rigged elections in Belarus, price-fixing in the US insurance industry, and the gambling laws in the UK.
The biggest news in Elstead is that Henry has gone missing. This found on the Spar noticeboard: ‘Has anyone seen my tortoise Henry. He was given me for my 10th birthday, 27 years ago. I would really love to have him home again.’
Genny rang yesterday. She’d seen an article about Kip Fenn and me in the ‘Surrey and Hants News’. It was written by Zoe and carried the picture she took. I explained to Genny about my (artificial) disappointment at not having made it into the more upmarket ‘Farnham Herald’. She read me bits of the article, and it seemed quite accurate. But then, later, when I told Adam about what Genny had found, he told me that the ‘Farnham Herald’ HAD printed the article about a week or two ago. He said he thought I knew, but then I had to rib him lots for not making more of a thing about it. I was a bit miffed he hadn’t told me, or made an effort to get the article or to see it. This was bad news, though. It means I’ve now had three ‘reviews’, or articles published about Kip Fenn, and they’ve not led to any visits to my website nor a single order or enquiry!!! I find that quite astonishing.
I am reading an insightful book called ‘What the media are doing to our politics’ by John Lloyd. If I thought I was the only one to be worried by the way our media has become so powerful, and the way celebrity culture is doing damage to our democracy, then this is the book to wisen me up. Apparently, the BBC’s Director-General before last, John Birt, was already fighting against ‘ingrained, snobbish, anti-politician attitudes’ in the BBC in the 1990s. He thought the increasingly abrasive style of John Humphrys on ‘Today’ and Jeremy Paxman on ‘Newsnight’ drew heat but no light - yet these two figures were ‘untouchable and untouched’. Blimey, if Birt couldn’t do anything about it, then I shouldn’t worry so much - it’s out of my control!!
24 October 2004
I’m working on two different diaries at the moment. I’m strimming back Diary 4 (early 1977) and putting month-long files onto my internet site (why I’m doing this I’ve no idea, no one ever goes to it, and I can’t see how anyone will), and I’m typing up Diary 17 (mid 1981). A few minutes ago I edited this sentence from 1 February 1977 (I was in Rio and I’d had a tiff with Nene): ‘I spent most of it in an air conditioned English library deciding how much I like Eliot and reading about 12 bombs that went off in London and trying to understand a little Portuguese grammar.’ And then just a minute or two later, I moved to start typing up an entry from 29 August 1981 in Diary 12, and the first sentence was this: ‘So here we are then, as Eliot would say, now here and in England.’ Eliot! he’s been a big man in my life.
27 October 2004
Another little coincidence: My old boss, Bob Worcester, somewhere in ‘The Guardian’, probably in one of those little ‘What I’m reading’ or ‘My media’ columns, mentions John Lloyd’s book which I’ve just finished. He says: ‘I think he [i.e. John Lloyd] is right. On the whole, I think Lloyd is right. His overarching thesis is that the media has become too powerful, too full of itself, and too irresponsible. It has forgotten it’s main raison d’etre to inform. But I did find Lloyd’s thinking a bit scatty here and there, perhaps in his efforts to fill out his essay to book length. And I thought it not that well structured, written or edited. And, I think the power of his arguments was sometimes lost in too much detail or too much reliance on anecdotal evidence. I was also disappointed when he came to trying to suggest ways in which things could change in the future. It’s a journalist’s thesis, but with pretensions to be more academic than that.’
I got a bit cross on the Common yesterday afternoon. A dog ran up and placed his wet paws all over my clothes, dirtying them significantly. When I complained, the woman tried to justify herself, by saying it was only a puppy, and that if I had a problem I shouldn’t walk there. Rather aggressively, I told her she should keep her dog on a lead. It was the third time in a week or so that I’d been attacked by a dog. Over near Waverley Abbey a dog jumped up at me twice, tearing two holes in one of my sweaters making in unwearable. On the way back yesterday, I argued with Adam about this. He said I shouldn’t have said anything because it wouldn’t achieve anything. I said that, in general, people live together very well, but sometimes it’s necessary to speak out when boundaries are crossed, when one person’s behaviour affects the freedom of another’s in an unacceptable way. Personally, I think it’s unacceptable that other people’s dogs should jump up at me, messing or ruining my clothes. I wonder if this makes me a grumpy old man.
Two nights and a day with Cora at the weekend. She came down on Saturday evening and stayed until Monday morning. We didn’t do much. I had thought we’d drive down to Bosham and walk around the harbour a bit, but Cora wanted to work for her course essay. We went for a run/walk in the morning, and a longer walk in the afternoon. And otherwise did little more than eat and make love. Whatever else is going on my life, how can I not enjoy these indulgent times.
Thursday 28 October
It’s bright and sunny and warm this lunchtime (unusually so for late October), but last night, when I left to drive to London, it was very stormy. The rain was heavy enough to affect the traffic, which meant my trip to Cora’s took a long and frustrating 90 minutes. It seems that every time I go to, or leave from, Cora’s house my journeys are dogged by horrendous traffic or badly delayed tube systems. I really believe the problems are considerably worse than when I lived in Kilburn only 10 years ago. As I was saying to Cora, I remember the tube running smoothly, on the whole, with delays and stopped cars being quite rare. But, since going to Willesden, it appears as though there are ALWAYS delays. This morning, leaving with Cora from Willesden Green station, the crowded train was delayed 10 or 15 minutes. It’s preposterous that there are ALWAYS so many hold-ups on the roads and on the trains.
I’ve been to the British Library again this morning, and, for the first time, I actually got hold of useful books on ivy. Yesterday I went to the Forestry Commission library at Alice Holt. There, the librarian had a very old card index with an ‘ivy’ subject heading. There were about a dozen cards, some for fairly recent articles (I photocopied two) and a couple for 19th century books, including one by Shirley Hibberd called ‘Ivy - a monograph’ which was about 120 pages long. I thought I’d hit pay dirt, until the librarian confirmed that the library no longer had the book. Nor did it have the other one I was most interested in. It was a musty dusty old library, with fusty dusty librarians looking after it; I would have liked to have browsed a bit, but I felt watched and conspicuous. Nevertheless, I took the new references I’d gathered and researched them at the British Library. Given my previous record at the BL, I fully expected not to be able to access the Hibberd book or others, at least not without shenanigans. But, for once, I wasn’t disappointed. The Hibberd book in particular proved to be exactly the kind of thing I’d been looking for. It has lots of literary references to ivy, and lots about its natural history and cultivation too. And it’s obviously out of copyright. Another book on trees has a very nice section on ivy, as if it were a tree. I managed to make a number of photocopies (although each copy costs 20p at the BL, and you have to copy one page at a time - they won’t let you do spreads).
But what on earth can I do with ivy? How could I really make a book about it? Hibberd had 15 years experience specifically studying ivy; and Rose, a modern author whose written the most recent definitive books on the subject (acknowledging that no one had written a book on ivies in the 20th century, not since Hibberd) is also a recognised expert on the subject. Obviously, I couldn’t do a botanical book, but what sort of book would it be?
30 October 2004
It’s 7:30pm on Saturday evening. I’m expecting Cora in the next hour or so, and we’ll have another quiet day tomorrow so she can work on her essay. I think she worries that it might be boring for me, if she spends the day here, but we don’t do anything much. Maybe I would think that if I hadn’t spent most of the weekends over the last five years completely on my own. To have her company is a luxury, whether we do anything or not.
I’ve begun reading a biography of William Morris, for no better reason than I was desperately looking round the library for some new reading matter and I saw the big tome by Fiona McCarthy. There were, though, two very minor reasons why I picked the book up: I’ve tickets (free ones I was given because of my complaints about our seats when we went to see the awful ‘Brighton Rock’) for a Morris play, ‘The Earthly Paradise’, at the Almeida Theatre next month; and, when I flicked through the pages, I saw a chapter called ‘The Red House’. Two chapters in, I’m enjoying. The style is quite similar to that of Claire Tomalin (biography of Pepys), in that it’s readable, engaging, and there’s always a clear line between fact and informed speculation.
This week’s ‘Economist’ has come off the fence to suggest, but only with a ‘heavy heart’, that Americans (which make up 45% of its readership) vote for Kerry not Bush. It believes that Bush made serious errors of judgement in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, not least the way the US held prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Gharib prison, the failure of the administration to change and adapt to the mistakes made (‘To succeed, however, America needs a president capable of admitting to his mistakes and of learning from them’), and the lack of progress with other peace issues in the Middle East. However, in finding reasons to support Kerry, ‘The Economist’ says his domestic prospectus ‘looks acceptable’, but it has doubts about his foreign policy - he’s oscillated a bit too much on Iraq. But this analysis seems flawed to me. Basically, ‘The Economist’ is picking holes in Bush’s foreign policy (but saying nothing about his domestic policy), and then saying that Kerry’s foreign policy doesn’t look very good either, and that his domestic policy is only just acceptable. Unusually, it’s a two page editorial - and I don’t think much of it. But I’m glad it’s gone for Kerry, even if, on knowing very little about the man, I don’t have much confidence in him.
Paul K Lyons
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