1 February 2005

For a change, time seems to be running away with me. I was hooked up to broadband last Thursday, without any problems, and I’ve now worked almost four days on the diary project. I really couldn’t do without being on broadband, not only because of the cost of using the internet for most of the day, but also because it’s much quicker to access websites (although not as quick as I would like). I’ve been a bit scatty about the research so far, but I’m starting to regulate the way I do it. I was organised enough to create a working database, which although not perfect has created a template which guides me towards finding a set amount of information for each diarist: name, birth and death dates, diary dates, diary characteristics, a website with biographical information, a website with etexts of the diary, a website of the place where the originals are held, and a summary biography. Basically, the pattern I’m now working to, is to search the internet (using google mostly) for different biographies and for the important website addresses. I cut and paste all the information into a text file, I compose the summary, and then fill in the database. Two sites are proving invaluable: an extensive, easy to use, bibliography of diaries in English, and a UK site which holds information on archival holdings.

I’ve been trying to do 10 diarists a day, but I think that’s going to prove too arduous a task. It takes time to find biographical information, to search for the archives, and to exhaust the searching process to be fairly sure there are no etexts available anywhere. And then it takes time to write the mini-biographies. Out of 40 records that I’ve completed, I’ve got a website with some etexts (in some cases just a few quotes) for 27; and probably, only about half are substantial etexts.

I am, though, feeling good about the project. There may not be as many etexts available as I would like, but the ones that are there are very scattered and in very different places. I don’t think I’ve found any two diary etexts on the same site yet. This may change, as there are a few sites that are trying to make as many out-of-copyright books available as possible. However, as yet none have thrown up many diaries. I feel quite confident that if I can create a good site, with say 200 diarists to begin, I will be able to get other sites to link to me, and encourage good traffic. Whether, it ever builds up to the point where advertising becomes an option, I’ve no idea. I was daydreaming today about hiring a technical person to partner me in the project with the aim of making it commercial eventually.

I’ve also been thinking about a name. Names like Olddiaries.co.uk and Pastdiaries.co.uk are available, but I’ve been ruminating more along the lines of thediarystation or thediaryjunction. I particularly like the latter.

I missed the first one, but I watched the second two hour-long episode of a short series of films about Mitchell and Kenyon, two cinematographers at the turn of the last century. Just a few years ago, 800 reels of film were found stashed in metal drums. Although they needed some restoration, they were in amazingly good condition and give a fantastic eyewitness account of late Victorian and early Edwardian British life. The BBC series was a bit naff, with a presenter I don’t like and awful reconstructions, using actors, of what Mitchell and Kenyon’s studio might have looked like. Nevertheless, about two-thirds of each hour long episode was pure Mitchell and Kenyon film. Apparently, these film-makers were not trying to make any kind of documentary record, they were simply filming what they thought people would pay to see. Often, for example, they filmed crowds, at processions or factory gates or at the docks when passenger liners were leaving, because the same people who had attended the events would pay to see themselves, sometimes the same evening or the next day. There was footage of Manchester United, of the last soldier to receive the Victoria Cross from Queen Victoria herself, Blackburn children working in the mills, religious carnival-type processions, and even a crime reconstruction. Fantastic to have such a clear view of life 100 years ago - everyone wore hats, of course, but the women seemed to wear huge flower hats, the type only seen at Ascot today.

Cora came down to Russet House last Wednesday night, and stayed until Thursday lunchtime. She came again on Saturday night and stayed until Monday morning (although this was only because her tyre looked flat, and we changed the wheel to be on the safe side). My brain feels quite fogged about the details, partly because we spend a lot of time enjoying ourselves in bed. It’s so easy with Cora, intimacy comes naturally, and out of intimacy sex arises even more easily. I don’t think Cora has ever not wanted to have sex, and I’ve only not wanted it on a couple of occasions. I do joke about having too much, but I don’t seem to be willing to put a brake on our love-making activity.

On Saturday evening, we watched this great film called ‘Team America’. It’s not out on video yet, and is still in the cinemas, but Cora’s friend works for Sam Mendes and he gave her the copy that had been distributed for consideration in advance of the Oscars. It was made by the makers of a TV cartoon called ‘South Park’, which I’ve never seen, but I’m told has similar satire. ‘Team America’ is biting. On one level it’s a kind of childish spoof of ‘Thunderbirds’ and the kind of puppetry we all loved as kids a generation ago; but, on another level, it satirises both right and left wing politics concerning the war in Iraq; it takes a hammer and a nuclear bomb to the pompous self-importance of Hollywood and its actors, and parodies, in almost every scene, some famous film or music cliche. A belly laugh a minute.

On the previous Wednesday evening, we also watched telly - the first episode of an adaptation of Jonathan Coe’s ‘The Rotters Club’, which was very good, very 70s; and the third or fourth episode in an American series called ‘Desperate Housewives’, which is almost, but not quite, a parody of ‘Sex and the City’ in the suburbs. One of its stars is Teri Hatcher who was so good in the long-running ‘Superman’ series.

Also, I should mention that Cora’s parents came visiting. Cora had asked me to go to supper with them Friday, but I said it was too soon after Christmas, and I really didn’t want to get in the habit of seeing them so often. We had quite long discussions about this, on at least two occasions. Cora is so caught up with her parents on many levels, that it’s going to be quite hard for her to disengage, even slightly. But, that’s basically what I’m asking her to do. Any how, as I had already invited them to come visit one Sunday before, and that visit had been put off, I volunteered to invite them this last Sunday. We had lots of teasing and a little bit of tension about their coming. But the visit went reasonably well. They came in for coffee, and then we walked through the Common to the Woolpack for lunch. Cora’s father is very loud and domineering with the dog, (a giant poodle), barely letting it move one leg without shouting some command or other at it. I think this was kind of nervous behaviour, but I did wonder how like that he might have been with Cora as a child. In fact, at one point Cora rather naively asked her mother, in front of me, whether her father had treated her like that, but her mother avoided a direct answer.

At the Woolpack, I found Cora’s family happy to talk about the most inconsequential things all day long - the price of fish, the bar stool covering, the dog’s paw movement - all with equal intensity. Perhaps I was a little tense too - I’m not really sure how to behave with the parents of my girlfriend who are closer to my own age than I am to their daughter’s. When Cora and her father were elsewhere, I did ask her mother if she felt a bit awkward about the whole situation, but she said she felt fine about it. All that mattered to her, she said, was that Cora was happy, and she is happier, she added, than she’s been for a long time.

At the end of the meal, I sloped off to pay the bill, but Cora’s father caught up with me and insisted on paying half. I was a bit miffed about this, since I felt it was my territory and my invite, but there wasn’t really any way to say no. It was a kind of instinctive reaction on his part, I know, but it wasn’t the right decision. If anything, it was a mean thing of him to do, because now, if we ever go out with Keith and Kay again, I’m going to have to insist on paying half; and wherever we go next time is not going to be as cheap as the Woolpack! We then walked back to Russet House, and they left mid-afternoon to go and visit someone else. I felt relieved when they’d gone.

3 February

I’m sitting in Cora’s flat waiting for the delivery of a new bed, and then I’ll probably drive over to my mother’s house for a short while. It’s Thursday.

Yesterday, there was a very exciting one day international in South Africa. I listened to the last hour as I drove to Willesden Green, and then to the last over once I’d arrived. South Africa needed eight runs off the last over, and they had five or six wickets in hand. Trescothick was substitute captain (Vaughn having gone off with a stomach complaint) and he chose a new player Kabir Ali to bowl, even though he’d hardly proved himself in the match, and looked vulnerable. It seems the decision may have been taken because the batsmen would have found it easier to score a six off the only other bowler available Giles. Kabir proved the hero of the day. He took two or three wickets in the over, and the home side needed two runs off the last ball to win. They only got one, and the game was a draw, only the 20th ever in one day international history, and only the third in England’s history.

8 February

Since the 3 February match, England has lost two matches, one closely and one badly. The series score is now 2:1 to South Africa with three games to play. While our test side has continued to growth in strength, the one-day international side has found it more difficult to keep consistent form.

Cora has gone to Arizona for a week, to a relative’s wedding. This was a trip planned long ago, before she even met me. She’s gone with her parents who will pay for almost everything while she’s away. We talk a lot (well I bring it up) about how dependant she is on her parents, and how strange it is (to me) that she goes away so often with them. I have never wanted to do stuff with my parents; and, as far as I can remember none of my friends ever went on holiday with their parents after the age of about 18. We wanted to be with our friends not our families. But Cora, and many of her Jewish girlfriends, even in their 30s, do still choose to spend a lot of time with their families. This is definitely more of a Jewish tradition, families keeping close, and parents keeping a close hold on their children. But, in today’s pluralistic fast-changing society, parents can bind their children too close for their own good. I feel Cora has been struggling against this for most of her adult life. She needs to take charge, to recognise that she is independent, in charge, and maintain a good and caring relationship with them, but just slowly see them less, go on holiday with them less, be more in control i.e. not letting her father interfere in her life so mucy.

Cora came down on Friday night, and we watched more of ‘The Rotter’s Club’ and ‘Desperate Housewives’. At one point during the weekend, Cora saw a text file on my computer (one I was editing to put on the internet) which had some fairly explicit language about my relationship with Marielle, and then wanted to know what I’d be writing about her. I told her I don’t write in the same way. Back then, I said, I was trying to be explicit, to be as upfront as possible, and I tried to fight my own shyness in writing about things I found difficult. However, nowadays, I’m not so avant garde (if I can use that word in a bland personal way).

But, having said that, I know I should write more about sex with Cora, for it is a large and powerful and wonderful part of our relationship. It is unlike any other sexual relationship I’ve had (although I can’t be sure about this because my memory is so poor) in that we talk quite matter-of-factly about sex, about wanting it to the point of almost planning to have it, and about the mechanics and emotions of it. As I said to Cora the other day, I don’t remember ever talking so freely about ‘sex’ as opposed to ‘making love’. What I remember is that talking about sex was a bit uncouth, a bit vulgar, and that, in the past, one would always have to think and talk about sex with one’s partner as ‘making love’. Much has changed in the last 10-20 years; sex has become more mainstream in the media, more talked about, more exposed. Although Marielle and I alluded to sex a lot through our various ways of communication, it was always in a poetical sense, aligned perhaps to the concept of love as opposed to physical sex. We didn’t say ‘shall we have sex now’ or ‘that was nice sex’ as Cora does quite naturally. I’ve found it disarming, for example, that Cora simply expects to have sex immediately or soon after we’ve met after a few days separation. In the past, I’m sure I recall of myself that I wouldn’t or shouldn’t ever expect to have sex, and that lovemaking was something that ought to arise out of the situation (rather than the situation being arranged to facilitate sex).

Desire rises very quickly in Cora, almost as quickly as I get an erection. We only need to kiss for a few seconds, and Cora begins to express her desire, through her sounds and movements. We go slow or fast, we rock or roll, we stay still or play music to each other. It’s about as good as it can get I would say. We always have plenty of time for each other in bed, and plenty of time for us each to be selfish too.

On Saturday night, we went to the film ‘Closer’, based on the play by Patrick Marber (which I saw at the National Theatre nearly 10 years ago). It starred Jude Law, Clive Owen, Natalie Portman (who Cora and I had seen in ‘Garden State’) and Julia Roberts. It wasn’t that good; it felt dated, it wasn’t as funny as the stage version, and, the opening sequence apart, I don’t think there was anything special about it. Despite the star quality of the actors, for example, I thought only Portman brought the necessary degree of subtlety to the part. On Sunday morning, we went for a walk around Hambledon, past gorgeous houses, irritating cyclists, and ended up at the old yew trees by the church.

Last night at my ‘Countryside and Environment’ lecture, I learnt about the history of hedges. This was really ironic since yesterday morning, council men came and brutally cut back my front hedge. I heard a mechanical noise in the road, and so went out to investigate. I was horrified to see a man with a huge industrial hedge trimming, trimming MY hedge. He said he was under instructions from the council. I wanted to know why I hadn’t been informed, and why he wasn’t cutting back other hedges along the road which were worse than mine. He stopped immediately; his mate picked up the cuttings, and they went. I then phoned the council, seeking some kind of explanation. I got to speak to the man in charge, at Surrey County Council, but he could only tell me generally, that the Council has a perfect right to cut back any vegetation overhanging pavements, and that this can be done without warning, especially where there has been a complaint, or someone has been hurt. I asked how does he know if the complaint is genuine. He said someone usually goes to investigate. I said, well, if someone came to investigate why didn’t they see the parts of the road that are in much more urgent need of cutting back. I wasn’t getting much change, so after some deliberation, I wrote a letter:

‘I am writing to complain about the fact that Surrey County Council, this morning (7 February) has just butchered the hedge that provides a screen between my property and the Red House Lane pavement. I have maintained this hedge, neat and trimmed, for nearly 10 years, and I’ve never had any communication with any neighbour nor anybody from SCC, not once not ever.

When I heard the loud noise of a machine nearby, I went out to look and found two of your highways men brutally cutting back my very own hedge. My complaint is this: Why had these men not come to my door to tell me they were about to do this? why had SCC not informed me this was about to happen? why had SCC not given me a chance to cut my own hedge if it really was a problem?

And I have a further question. My hedge (Rhododendron ponticum) is trimmed once or twice a year and looks neat. Although the hedge does extend out a little into the pavement, there is plenty of room on the pavement. Indeed, if you were to go 10 yards east, you would find a really irritating tree overhang, which DOES get in the way of pedestrians; if you were to go 20-30 yards east, you would find some more Rhododendron ponticum extending into the pavement the same as mine (also not impeding in any way); and if you were to go 50 yards west, you would find brambles which really do catch pedestrians, and must prove very annoying, especially, I would think for mothers walking their children to the school. Please note, this is NOT a complaint about other people’s vegetation, I am simply making a comparison in order to ask this question: Why, did the two men, who were cutting my hedge this morning, not also deal with the more problematic vegetation on Red House Lane. Why was Russet House singled out?’

Wednesday 16 February 2005

My first Valentine’s card for many many years. I didn’t receive it through the post (well, Cora was in flight from Arizona returning to Heathrow on Sunday-Monday), but she did give it to me on Monday evening along with several other little gifts: a milk frother (I’d bought her one many months ago, and mine had recently stopped working; a cake pin; and a little jet bear, a tiny symbolic thing, which she’d bought from one of the artisans in the Sedona National Park (red rock country). But, Cora also left me six cards, one to be opened each day while she was away, and one of those had a huge red heart on the front - so that was like a Valentine’s Card. It wasn’t the one I opened on Monday, but if she’d put them in a different order, it might have been. The cards were special, in that she had pre-ordered them from a custom-card internet site called Moonpig, and put her own captions (warm and fond and loving) on the front and inside to go with humourous pictures. Cora was the first one of us to send a card (she beat me to it by a few days), and with her batch of six, she’s way out done any card-giving that I’ve managed (my best being, I suppose, a set of six old postcards which I’ve had for ages of a pair of lovers on a rickety wharf, with the man fishing, and the wharf collapsing!).

While she was away - a full week - she never called once. I’d asked her not to. I also asked her not to email, but she did email me once a day. I usually emailed her twice a day, once in the morning reporting on my previous day, and once after opening her card, but I didn’t respond to her emails, pretending not to have received them. But Cora also kept a diary - at my request - writing about her Arizona holiday. I’ve not read it all, yet, but it gives a lively colourful sense of her, and of all the family at the wedding.

Cora arrived back around lunchtime. We had several discussions about whether I should go to Willesden or she should come here, but, in the end, I agreed to go to her in the evening, and take supper. There had been times, earlier in our five months relationship, when we had been a bit awkward and insecure after four or five days of not meeting (despite emails and phone calls), but I personally didn’t feel any insecurity about our relationship this time; and, apparently, nor did Cora, who confessed she had found it easier than she thought not to ring, not to talk on the phone for a whole week.

I had an easy run to Willesden, even though I left earlier than I usually do. Cora had made a chocolate cake for me in the afternoon, with a double red heart on top, and I’d brought her roses and fresias (plus I’d sent a Peter Pan card which she would have got on arriving home). I also brought soup, and microwavable chinese, which I set about making. After supper, she gave the various things she’d brought back from Arizona (plus some sweets for Adam!), we watched an episode of ‘Desperate Housewives’, and then we made love and talked and made love until two in the morning. It’s really really astonishing how well we click, in and out of bed.

24 February 2005

My diary is getting away from me. It didn’t matter so much when my life was more routine and there was little to record, but, because of Cora, because I’m doing two modules at uni, because I’m doing the photo thing for English Heritage, and because of the diary project, I’m much busier now. But, while Cora is busying up my life, she is also taking away one of the prime forces driving me to write a journal - the need to talk to someone, anyone, about the little and big happening in my life. But there are plenty of other prime forces, and here I am back at the keyboard.

It’s been snowing for a couple of days. It’s cold enough to chill my bones, but not cold enough for the snow to lie. Adam’s funny about that. He shouts out of the window at the weather: ‘It’s pathetic’ and ‘What’s the point’ as though there could be any point as such in the weather. I hate it when it gets so cold. I’m confined to my office, where the gas fire keeps me reasonably warm (although my fingers are chronically chilled and, occasionally, I have to stop typing and put one hand up the sleeve of the other arm), but I have to chomp my lunch down because it’s too cold to hang around in the kitchen. Moreover, the cold weather costs me a fortune. I’ve just had a gas bill for November to January that cost me £240!

It was Cora’s birthday on Tuesday (22 February). The celebrations started on Sunday night when Cora organised for herself a drinks-meet at the Northern Tavern in Kilburn. She only invited about 20 of her friends, most of whom I had actually met. I was worried it was going to be too crowded or too noisy, but it was neither - C had chosen well. Almost all those she invited came, and I really enjoyed the evening. I don’t find it a strain being with Cora’s friends at all; and I don’t feel my age. They’re mostly intelligent and personable and attractive. In fact, most of them are probably more intellectual than Cora; but Cora is so attentive to her friendships, and so charming with people that she rightly has lots of friends, and lots of people who love her. And, I suppose, because I am favoured by Cora, and secure in her love, I am secure in the company of her friends.

I came home in the middle of the night, and my bed was icepack cold. On Monday night, I went to my Countryside and Environment lecture (after the Reading Week break). It was touch and go (how many cliches am I going to get through in one diary entry) whether the class would be on, not only because of the snowstorm, but because the A3 had been blocked for most of the day because of an accident. The road had cleared by the time I left, and five people did turn up for the lecture. It was about farming methods since the Second World War, and how government policies, technological advances in machinery and chemical treatments, and subsidies to farmers had wrecked the countryside. One of the key texts for this lecture is called ‘The Killing of the Countryside’ and I’ve already skimmed through it. I don’t disbelieve that species of birds have been decimated, that many hedges have disappeared, that there are far fewer wild flowers now than there used to be, that certain old breeds of pigs and workhouses are now endangered, and that farms are controlled by businessmen not farmers and that they employ less people on the land. If I accept these claims, take on board the message, then Lalage’s lecture, and books like ‘Killing of the Countryside’ become redundant. My point is - which is not addressed by these people who would live in the past - that none of these changes are catastrophic, that the policies pursued and the modern realities which led to these changes have together helped create the wealth and security of present-day society, and that this wealth and this security are far more important than a few varieties of farm animals or the odd bird and wild flower.

I thought Cora would be here by the time I got home, but the phone was ringing as I arrived, she’d got lost somewhere en route; and then she rang again, having got lost again. Still, she got here safe and sound. I think we watched the last episode of the excellent ‘Rotter’s Club’, which I’d been saving on video to watch together. It was one of the best dramas I’ve seen for ages (except of course for ‘West Wing’, which remains head and shoulders - there’s another one - above everything else).

The following morning - the 22nd - I got up at my usual time, a bit before Adam, so as to make dough, and then, after Adam had left for school, went back to bed. We got up a little after nine, and I gave her the presents - mostly plants, outdoor ones for her garden, and a couple of indoor ones with pots. I’d spent a freezing few hours at Secretts on the Monday trying to identify shrubs that would go well in her small back yard. I’d also bought her a number of silly little things, like a mini-painting-by-numbers set, and an egg pricker! After breakfast, we walked the long way round to the Mill, for a very pleasant lunch in an empty room with a roaring log fire. And then, after walking home, Cora left around 4pm. It was a lovely, quietish day. A couple of days later, Cora sent me a gorgeous card, expressing much love and thanks. She’s so thoughtful, and good with expressing herself in words.

I’ve just been cutting and pasting several weeks worth of emails into my Cora email file. It’s no mean job, since we average eight emails between us a day - that’s 240 a month! it’s not a forced or calculated communication, it just comes very easily between us. I find it surprising and delightful. I do worry about her and us in some ways, but there are so many other things that I love about her. I love that she loves talking, that we can talk about anything and everything. I love that she loves to love to me, and that she loves me loving her. I love that she’s honest and direct and clear and true. I love that she loves sex. I love that she’s capable and practical and organised. I love that she’s social and friendly and popular and has lots of friends. I love that she’s willing to learn and that she’s humble about a lot of things. I love that her heart is almost always in the right place. I love that she’s intelligent in the way she thinks. I love that she’s still exploring, and finding out, and wanting to experience. I love that she’s young and vital and alive. I love that she’s so intimate, and so honest and trusting and trustable. I love that she’s pretty and beautiful. I love that I can love her.

On Tuesday night, I went to the fourth or fifth lecture in my ‘People Places Time’ course. We’ve done the distant past in the first half of the course, and now we’re missing out the late Middle Ages, and swinging right on to the last 400-500 years of history. For this, we’ve a different teacher - Terry Hewitt - whose much older than the others. He’s very soft spoken, and not the most effective communicator, but he’s a lot better than the last chap, Paul Hill, who taught us about Stonehenge. Terry taught us about the iron industry in the Weald in the 17th and 18th centuries, and very interesting it was too; why it was such a success, and why ultimately it declined. Next week, he’ll be focusing on transport, and that’s the subject I plan to do for my essay.

March 2005

Paul K Lyons


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INTRO to diaries