DIARY 81: January - May 2005

7 January 2005

It is teatime on Friday afternoon and, suddenly, I’ve discovered there is no mains water supply. When I rang South East Water, I was immediately asked if I lived in the Elstead area - which I do - and was told that engineers are on their way and that I should ring back in an hour to find out more. Hruumph. I’ve made tea with water from the hot water tank; and I plan not to flush the toilets or start the central heating, until the supply comes back on. If necessary, I’ll stay in my study this evening, which is heated by a separate gas fire.

It was lovely to see Cora again this week, after her six days in Switzerland. She arrived early on Wednesday morning, and I drove up after lunch. She had a good time, I think, but tells me she’s a very timid skier. She only fell down once. This was the longest we’d been apart since we met. Call me an old romantic, but, after absence, I love those first kisses, with the body beginning to feel the waves of passion rise, and the first sexual touching, which is so sweet and delicious; for afterwards sexual drive, longing and need take over, which is a different pleasure. It’s so long since I was in a relationship of this kind that I don’t know how normal or unusual it might be, but I do find it astonishing how easy and comfortable we are together, despite the huge differences between us.

If I was captured by the laze-police and tortured about what I had done this week, I probably wouldn’t be able to reveal much. It’s a new year, and I’ve told myself the frittering of time must stop. It was about this time last year that I made the decision to try and write ‘London Cross’, and that decision gave me structure and purpose for three or four months. Although I am now applying more determinedly for jobs, there’s no reason why I can’t make a similar decision to use the coming weeks and months more productively. So, to that end, this week, I have been preparing a list of what I should/could be doing. There is plenty to get my teeth into. The trouble is that most of these activities were already ready and waiting for action last year, but I found that I did not get on with them. This is the depression-thingy I’ve been writing and talking about recently. So, it’s not simply a question of identifying things to do, it’s having the motivation to do them, and getting on with them. They’re all there waiting for me, but, evidently, I’m waiting/hoping for inspiration for a more interesting project that will grab me.

I’ve written about consciousness many times in my diary. It would take a month of Mondays to track everything I’d written on the subject down, and another month of Tuesdays to make any sense of it. Quite recently, though, I wrote this: ‘There are very different forms of consciousness, and without trying to pin down a language for them - which I’m not going to do here and now as I spend a few minutes on this diary entry - I’m not going to get very far. Basically, though, one can imagine a Conscious Unit which can be a) not working (asleep), b) passively reacting to stimuli (watching television, talking), or c) directing thought, behaviour through over-riding b). What if c and b were really very different, but because they are so integrated in our awareness of them, we do not appreciate, scientifically or individually this difference.’ I know this has been a repetitive theme in my writing on the subject. I remember, for example, not very long ago, doing an internet search for the idea of ‘superconsciousness’, and I know also that I’ve tried to explain myself, and the differences I feel between myself and many other people, by considering myself overly self-conscious, or more conscious of interactions and behaviours of people (including myself) than is normal.

Now, I’ve discovered that the idea that there are several levels of consciousness is rather old hat, rather hackneyed. Here’s the introduction to an article I found on the ‘Science and Consciousness Review’ website: ‘Scientific interest in consciousness is expanding at a very rapid rate. A quick glance at the ‘Science and Consciousness Review’ archive and the articles it contains reveals that a great variety of topics are being addressed in relation to consciousness. I identify just a few here: conscious states and their neuroanatomical substrates, dreams and the unconscious, automaticity, self-awareness, visual perception, psychedelic experiences, daydreaming, emotions, attentional processes, volition, memory, meditation, and language.

One such issue increasingly gaining attention is the notion of “levels of consciousness”. Actually, it has been around for quite some time now - just think of Sigmund Freud and the unconscious, preconscious and conscious, or William James and the physical, mental and spiritual selves. But recently there has been a major revival of this problem in the scientific literature. New terminology and models describing levels of consciousness are being swiftly introduced, causing confusion more than anything else. The term “consciousness” itself is already difficult to define - then add to this notions such as “meta-”, “reflective”, “core”, “extended”, “minimal”, or “recursive” consciousness, and the situation becomes rather desperate.’

The aim of the article is to synthesise and bring some rational order to some of the many approaches being studied with regard to levels of consciousness. The author starts by stating a basic set of names and descriptions, branded the “social/personality” model in order that he can than test other scientists suggestions for describing levels of consciousness. I only want to note here that the top level of consciousness in his basic model is called ‘meta-self-awareness’, which is something that sounds very like what I’ve been struggling to describe about myself for ages. This is what he says: ‘One last level of consciousness is “meta-self-awareness”: being aware that you are self-aware. Clearly this represents a logical extension of the previous stage. Here you would not simply say “I feel happy” (self-awareness); instead, you could utter “I’m aware of the fact that I’m happy”, or “I’m currently analysing my emotional state of feeling happy”. . . I submit that once you reach this ultimate level of consciousness you understand that you stay the same person across time (self-history), that you are the author of your thoughts and actions (self-agency), and that you are distinct from the environment (self-coherence). In addition, since by definition (meta-) self-awareness means “awareness of self”, you now know that you exist. As a result you also become keenly aware of the fact that some day you will die (death awareness).’

Perhaps this is all too obvious. For what interests me, at least in terms of what I write about the topic in my journal, is how such an understanding about levels of consciousness can be brought to bear on psychology, personal development and well-being.

I skimmed and finished the two biographies I was reading over Christmas, the one on Chatwin by Nicholas Shakespeare that was extremely well-written and informative, and the one on Blake, in which the author, Peter Ackroyd, kept getting up my nose. Before I read the Chatwin book, I’d had no idea who the man was, and made me believe my prejudices against his travel prose were probably ill-founded.

Friday 14 January 2005

I don’t know how or why a week has gone by since my last journal entry, but it has. It’s not as if I’ve been very busy, or busy at all. I suppose some of the drive to write my diary is taken away by being with Cora, since we talk on the phone and email every day, and, when we’re physically together, we talk a lot. I find that I’m willing to share a lot of my daily trivia, and Cora is willing to share it too, hers as well as mine. I think it says a lot about Cora that I am so engaged with her. I’ve never been so engaged with anyone before, well not at this stage of a relationship, and not for 20 years or so. One day this week we exchanged 17 emails, and probably talked a couple of times on the phone. Rarely a day goes by when we don’t talk for a while in the evening. I used to be quite disdainful of such needy attachment, but it’s fun and enjoyable with Cora, although I do sense that she needs it more than I do. And the relationship so far has been based on me being available whenever she wants to talk to me or see me; and her being very busy, and being away quite a lot. I’m not sure how she would cope if I was busy and away much. Some of her teasing about who I snogged on New Year’s Eve, for example, or what ‘totty’ there might be on my University of Surrey course does sound strangely possessive and overly-jealous - but perhaps not. Over the next couple of months she’s going to be very busy at weekends, and I’ll only see her for a full day every other weekend at most. But it’s not a problem for me. I think it quite a privilege that she finds so much time for me. I mean, when she can, she does spend all weekend here in Elstead with me. And I love having her here, whether she’s working flat out on an essay or we’re just filling up the days with eating, loving, walking, talking.

As I say, I haven’t done much this week, but I have decided on a kind of programme which might see me occupied through to the spring, while I continue to look for a job, and contemplate what to do about this house. Before the week began, I did already have a list of possible things to keep me busy. There’s an hour a day on exercise, there’s at least an hour a day on my diaries, and there’s the potential to do new modules at the University of Surrey. I thought I might go back and have another look at the ivy project, and at ‘Screen Spun’, but what I really need (have needed for a while now) was a new project that I could get my teeth into, something like ‘London Cross’. And I think I might have found it, from a slightly obtuse angle. I was thinking about what kind of internet links I could create on my website that had the potential to become much visited, and, therefore incidentally, encourage interest in my own writings available on the site, not least Kip Fenn and my diary entries. I had one thought that I might try to create links based on the ordinal numbers, 1,2 3, 4 etc. This would be a writing project as much as a google-search project because I’d have to write a unique and intriguing text for each number along with supplying a good selection of links. However, very quickly I got bogged down because most of the small numbers, up to say 50, are so very popular, and used in so many different ways, I couldn’t begin to think how the idea would work. So then I got to thinking about diaries (I was trying to find a connection to some character of my site as it is already) and wondered if there was a website that provided links to sites which offered texts of famous diaries. I searched and searched and all I found were masses of sites connected with web blogs, modern day diaries written straight onto the net. The presence of such blogs, and a host of domain names using the word ‘diary’ or ‘journal’, made my search more complicated, but I didn’t find even a rudimentary set of links to diary sites. So, I decided, more or less within a day, that I’d found a new project. I’m going to give myself three months, or so, roughly until Cora and I go to Spain (we’ve booked up a seven day trip to Malaga in April - although I don’t yet know whether we’ll stay in Acequias).

I am now signed up for two modules at UNIS, one on ‘Places, People and Time’, a core level one module that I must take at some time, and a level two module on ‘Countryside and Environment’. I’m not enthusiastic about either but I decided, on balance, that I might as well carry on with the course, at least until I’ve a more full-time occupation. It’s not intellectually challenging at all, which I would like, but it does give me focus for reading and it stimulates me now and then; plus I do quite like writing the end-of-course essays, even if I’m not given a fair mark for them. As an example of how light the content is, Steve Dyer, the course leader - he who has a long grey pony tail, and huge silver rings on every finger - was teaching us a bit about human evolution on Tuesday, and he almost omitted to mention that modern humans didn’t evolve directly from Neanderthals. He also informed the class wrongly about where the human chain divided. He has a very lax, jaded attitude to teaching, and one feels he might not have updated his notes for 10 years. (I felt the same when he took us last year for ‘Mapping, Planning and Photography’). Still, what can I expect from a course that is on its last legs.

While on the subject, I want to mention that John Vidal wrote an interesting piece in ‘The Guardian’ this week about the paeleoanthropological sensation that hit the news late last year - the finding of a new human species, Homo floriensis, on the Indonesian island of Flores. The discovery and scientific announcement, by a young Australian team, made headlines around the world. The skeleton found was dated to around 13,000 BP (I think, I can’t remember exactly) and, because of its size and other characteristics, the scientists claimed it was a sensation: a brand new Homo species that has since died out. (I can’t recall my evolution facts and figures very well, but the Neanderthals might have lived through to 30,000 BP or perhaps later.) However, after publication the skeleton was given to Professor Teuka Jacob, who heads the Laboratory of Bioanthropology and Paleoanthropology at Gadjah Mada, and is considered one of the fathers of Indonesian Paleoanthropology. Vidal interviewed him. According to the article, Jacob claims the skeleton is almost certainly NOT a new species but an individual who suffered a genetic disease which decreased his brain size. Jacob himself has been criticised widely in the press, as the Australian scientists have tried to discredit him by saying he’s now kidnapped the skeleton and won’t let anyone else see it, and that he’s simply trying to protect his own interests and his own theories. But I don’t need to see the scientific paper he’s going to write, I believe him already. There are a lot of pygmy tribes in that part of the world, and it seems perfectly feasible to me that the skeleton belonged to one such tribe, perhaps one that became very isolated on Flores. If there was a lot of inbreeding during a period of time, then it’s quite possible or probable that genetic disease and malformation was part and parcel of evolution on the island.

I went to see Cora mid-week, on Wednesday. We stayed in, ate lamb bolognese sauce on spaghetti, and watched telly (‘Celebrity Big Brother’, Germaine Greer’s quiet exit, and ‘Desperate Housewives’, a sort of cross between ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘The Stepford Wives’). On Thursday morning, I went to see my mother, who’s been ill with a urinary infection. She’s been given antibiotics by the doctor, so hopefully she’ll get better next week. I really can’t deal with her when she gets ill and moany.

Monday 17 January

A lively day yesterday thanks, largely, to Darcy, Andy and Susie’s son. Cora was here, and so was Adam, and I invited Andrew and Susie for lunch, partly to meet Cora, and partly because I’ve been to their house several times recently, and they’ve stopped inviting themselves here. I cooked a fairly simply lunch, chicken and roast potatoes and broccoli and mange tous, with sausages and ratatouille. And for afters, we had fruit salad. Andrew passed on some interesting gossip. Niema, who now spends a lot of time in Broadstairs, has written a new book. I’m not sure what it’s about in general, but, according to Andrew, there’s a lot about Niema’s relationship with Loreena. Niema and Tim, who worked for Loreena for many years, ended up in court as Loreena tried to recoup money she said they owed her. Niema’s now out to take revenge. She’s publishing it herself but hopes that, because of Loreena’s fame in Canada, it might sell well there.

Andrew has a new plan to sell his services (rather than provide them free) to a little charity he set up to help tribal people in Papua New Guinea. His anthropologist friend, Buck, is party to the plan, and they hope Loreena and others will finance them. I think they all - Andrew, Susie and Darcy - for different reasons had a good day here. But I did have a fair amount of carpet cleaning to do in the morning. Cora was great, she just blended in beautifully. I wasn’t ever really conscious of having to worry about her; and she helped out whenever she could. We had quite an intense conversation after my guests left, as Cora was quite perturbed at the way Susie had been dealing with Darcy. I, however, was very reassured that Cora had noticed as much as she did and felt that way, and that we kind of saw eye to eye. Also, I played with Darcy quite a lot, and Cora said she liked how I could relate so well to him. There was one game we played which I’ll record briefly. I was sitting on the sofa close to Cora, and Darcy was sitting between us. He was playing with the short zip at the top of my polo sweater, and when he discovered how to close it up to my neck, I suddenly went limp and still, put out my tongue and closed my eyes. When he pulled the zip down, I came back to life. He loved this game, and repeated it dozens of time. After more than a dozen repetitions of this little act, there was one time when he pulled the zip down that I did not come back to life - and he got very distressed, hitting my face as if to wake me. Cora was party to all these antics, kind of taking part in them as an playful observer.

England have won a great test match in South Africa, thanks to an astonishing second innings by Trescothick, and a 7 wicket haul by Hoggard. The weather had dogged the match from day one, and threatened to cut short the last day. As South Africa’s last two batsmen (an injured Smith, the captain, being one of them) held on and on, it looked possible that bad light might arrive early and deny England victory. England are now 2:1 up in the series with one match to play. This is the best England cricket squad, under Vaughn’s leadership, that there’s been for many years. We have bowlers and batsmen capable of great things, and a team that pulls together rather than in opposite directions or one that seems to fail at every crucial juncture. Roll on the summer, and the contest for the ashes.

The news today highlights a major report on world poverty, and the fact that the rich world needs to provide far more development aid in the future. It makes me sigh with such great regrets. What with Britain holding the Presidency of the G8 and publicising the need for more attention to Africa’s problems, and the tsunami disaster, and the report on poverty, this would have been such a good time for media reviews about Kip Fenn. And yet my book still rots at the bottom of the ocean, unseen, unheard, unsmelt, unfelt.

A while ago, Andrew told me about a wallet that had recently come into his possession. It belonged to his father, and was on his person when he died ten years ago, but it had only been passed on to Andrew this year. There was nothing inside the wallet but for a photograph I think, and two pages from a book about wood. It was the evening I’d gone to Teddington to buy the Hibberd book on Ivy (I paid £110 - it’s a lovely book) and I was talking about it. So, before I left, he went to make a copy of the cutting he’d found in his father’s wallet. Here is what it says: ‘Hundreds of letters followed the enquiry in these pages last summer for the true version of the verses which set out the burning qualities of different woods. A general pattern emerged of two basic forms, though the order of the lines varied and often the two were cross-mixed. The one below is said to be a translation from the Latin, quoted in a ‘Times’ letter of 1 March 1929 with a ‘correct version’ by Celia Lady Congreve in the ‘Daily Telegraph’ of 2 March 1930.

Beechwood fires are bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year.
Chestnut’s only good, they say,
If for long it’s laid away.
But Ash new or Ash old
Is fit for a queen with crown of gold.

Birch and Fir logs burn too fast
Blaze up bright and do not last.
It is by the Irish said
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread.
Elm wood bums like churchyard mould,
E’en the very flames are cold.
But Ash green or Ash brown
Is fit for a queen with golden crown.

Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke.
Apple wood will scent your room
With an incense-like perfume.
Oaken logs, if dry and old,
Keep away the winter’s cold.
But Ash wet or Ash dry
A king shall warm his slippers by.

Both poems have been published in numerous books and magazines. The version on the opposite page [above] was taken by a reader from an embroidered wall decoration at Foxlease, the Girl Guides training headquarters. The version below has also appeared on samplers and Christmas cards. Some readers learnt it in the Scout movement, and a Bulawayo reader says it was written by Honor Goodheart and published in Punch during the 1919 coal strike. We retire from the debate, but leave readers with the two versions.

Logs to burn, logs to burn
Logs to save the coal a turn
Oak logs will warm you well,
If they’re warm and dry.
Larch logs of pinewood smell
But the sparks will fly.
Beech logs for Christmas time;
Yew logs heat well.

‘Scotch’ logs it is a crime
For anyone to sell.
Birch logs will burn too fast,
Chestnut scarce at all.
Hawthorn logs are good to last,
If cut in the fall.

Holly logs will burn like wax,
You should burn them green.
Elm logs like smouldering flax,
No flames to be seen.
Pear logs and apple logs,
They will scent your room.

Cherry logs across the dogs
Smell like flowers in bloom.
But ash logs all smooth and grey,
Burn them green or old,
Buy up all that come your way,
They’re worth their weight in gold.

19 January 2005

I am in a van with Adam (who’s younger than he is today) and other tourists. The van is about to drive off from a small Mediterranean village square when suddenly a large number of troops arrive all at once (it seemed in the dream as though they were on top of one another, standing on each other’s shoulders like in a circus act). They stop the van and point their guns at us. The leader is very aggressive and quick, and I think we are all going to be shot until we’re dead. I pull Adam to me, and tell him not to worry, he’s had a good life, and that I love him very much. Our driver, though, manages to engage the leader in some kind of conversation, and the immediate threat of being shot disappears, but I still think we are going to die. Earlier in the dream sequence, I had been walking back to the village. I came to a small beach area where kids were swimming, and I thought I can’t pass by without having a swim myself. So I went behind a nearby washing line, and took off all my clothes, including my pants, and put them on the line, but then I thought I can’t swim naked here, and put my pants back on. When I returned to the beach there were no kids left, and the water suddenly looked dirty and threatening. I went in and out quickly. A little later on, as I’m still making my way back to the village, our leader and his van pass by. He gives me a lift, but when I ask if he’ll go back to the beach for a second to pick up my clothes which I’ve left there, he’s surly and tells me no.

25 January

Another cold has hit me - bloody viruses, bloody cold, bloody winter. I just can’t get anything done when a virus gets hold of me. Today, for example, I’ve sat around in the office, trying to keep warm, reading, and occasionally going into the kitchen where the radio is tuned to Talksport so I can see what is happening on the last day of the final test in South Africa. England have hung on, in the weather-affected match, to claim a draw and a 2-1 series win. This is some success since England haven’t won a series in South Africa for a long time. It also confirms England’s ongoing form.

Having decided to press on with diary project I’ve made a number of purchases. Firstly, I’ve signed up to broadband with Demon. I found out a while ago that broadband was available in Elstead, but only recently, and because I knew I’d need to spend a lot more time on the internet, did I look at the costs. Although, it currently costs me about £15 a month for an ordinary dial-up service with Demon, plus an extra £7 a month paid to BT to get free internet calls at night and at weekend, plus whatever other internet calls I make (i.e. those during the day, and those longer than an hour at weekends). It’s only costing me £26 a month for broadband, which will cover all my internet costs. It might cost a little more to be on broadband, but then I’m going to need to spend much more time on the internet during the day, and the cost of that would have easily made my old dial-up package more expensive. So, assuming I can get broadband up and running without any problems, I should gain both in cost and email/internet accessibility. I’ve been told my line will go live on Thursday, and I’ve already received a modem and microfilters, and set-up instructions.

I’ve also bought several diary anthologies, some old, some new; and I’ve ordered a bibliography of all diaries published in English, which may prove invaluable. I’ve ordered it from the US, where the price was half that of a copy I could have got in the UK. All these books, I’ve located and bought through Abebooks, which is a fantastic resources for secondhand and antiquarian books. I’m paying £10-15 for hardbacks, inclusive of the postage costs, which might only cost me £4-5 if I found them in a secondhand bookshop, but the chances of finding these exacts books when and where I want them is so remote that £10-15 seems a good price.

And, thirdly, I’m buying - for £150 - web-design software called Freeway Pro. I opted not to buy the much cheaper Freeway Express, or the more standard and much more expensive Dreamweaver. I’m not convinced it will give me much more capability than I already get with Adobe Pagemill, the old software I bought years ago when Theo created the first (and very clunky) EC Inform website. I’ve used Adobe for the Pikle website so far, and I’ve allowed its design to be restricted by what I can do easily with Adobe. But, for www.olddiaries.co.uk or whatever I decide to call it, I’m hoping to have more flexibility and more ease of use than Adobe gives me.

Adam’s cool. We are getting on so much better these days. He thinks it’s because I’m more relaxed because I’m in a relationship with Cora, but I know the truth. The truth is he is maturing, and this has two consequences. Firstly, he’s much more active and full of initiative, so I don’t feel the need to be on his back all the time about work, or his social life, or what he does in his spare time. Yesterday, for example, he was telling me about the timetable he’s trying to make for his spare time. He doesn’t understand, he said, why in theory he has a lot of time, but in practice he doesn’t seem to have much. I’m going to have to spend less time talking to you, Dad, he said jokingly; I’ve scheduled 45 minutes a day for talking with you while we’re having tea!

Secondly, if I do have a moan or have a go at him, he responds not by being paranoid that somehow I’m trying to take over his personality and life and therefore defending himself in the best way he knows, i.e. by winding me up and getting me cross, but by listening or explaining himself or accepting what I have to say (albeit in pretend mode). Yesterday, for example, I ended up helping him with his English course work. He thought it might be the deadline that day, and he’d left it so late that I was reading it at 7am before he went to college. I found lots of mistakes, both straightforward grammar and more complicated errors, and there was no way I could get through them in time for when he had to leave. I was getting crosser, and he was getting more and more defensive - just like what used to happen when I criticised his writing up to a couple of years ago when he stopped showing me anything. I insisted he come back at lunchtime, since he had several hours free in the day, and he resisted quite strongly. But, there was no way I could finish the corrections - and I took every opportunity to repeat over and over again that he should not have been leaving it to the last minute. So he went off in a huff, and I felt bad, because, once again, I’d failed to give him the help he’d needed with his writing. But, he did come back at lunchtime. He told me there was no panic, as this was not the final draft, it was just the deadline to give a finished essay to his teacher. And we worked on the essay a bit more, and he accepted - and appreciated - most of my comments, until the thing was finished. And we were still friends.

If asked to do something, he’s much more likely to do it than in the past. Yesterday I asked him to buy milk on the way home from college. A year ago, he would never have remembered, but yesterday he did. Moreover, he even said he was learning how to tag things in his memory so as not to forget them.

And things with Cora remain very upbeat. Our relationship is full of sharing and loving and talking and doing things together (albeit fairly benign activities, like cooking and going out and seeing friends) and great sex. Last weekend was one of Cora’s busy ones, as she was at college all day Saturday and Sunday, but I went up on Thursday night, stayed all day Friday, so I was there Friday night too. I went home during the day on Saturday and returned for the evening when we went to Vijay’s with Danny and Darren, old friends of Cora, who, until recently had been living in Dubai. I came home on Sunday morning.

February 2005

Paul K Lyons


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INTRO to diaries