10 March 2005

I’ve spent the first part of this morning making a work timetable for the next couple of months. I only do this when I sense my instinctive approach to what I’m doing is inadequate. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve begun to feel a little pressured - not only have I been working on The Diary Junction for six weeks and feel that I should be approaching a launch date, but my two study modules are more than half way through, and I’ll need to do essays soon. As it is, because of the diaries, I don’t feel I’ve done enough reading around the course topics. I keep taking books out from the library, but never having enough time to read them. And I certainly don’t have much time to write my own diary, and I have very little time to edit texts for the online version (which is a task I’m committed to), and I have no time to type or edit old diaries. Plus, my holiday in Spain with Cora is fast approaching.

The timetable takes me through to 9 May - two months away - when I’ll be sitting the exam for the ‘Countryside and Environment’ module. My ‘Countryside and Environment’ essay, though, has to be handed in by 18 April, which is only a few days after I come back from Spain. So, basically, I’ve decided to hold off going live (Adam hates the expression, but can’t think of anything better) with The Diary Junction on 20 April. I had thought I might want to work towards a deadline before going to Spain, but that will be impractical, and there’s no logical reason to set myself an early deadline - it’s not as if some other project is waiting for my time. My database now has over 250 full entries, and I’m going to aim for a minimum of 300 before I go live. But, at some point (i.e. after next week, I’ve just decided according to the timetable) I need to start work on the website structure and the pages. Every diarist will need a single page, so that’s 300 pages minimum, and, it would take a week, if I did 50 a day. In addition, I have to prepare some kind of promotional campaign, which, at the very least, will be a press release to 20-30 magazines, and an email release to as many email addresses as I can accumulate.

I’ve been trying to get time to write something in this diary since before last weekend. But events have conspired against me, and I’m only writing now, today, because I decided to take a day of The Diary Junction, firstly to get a work programme in order, and partly to catch up on other stuff.

Last weekend, for example, I might have written up my own diary but for the fact that it was one of my busiest weekends in recent memory. On Saturday, fairly early on, I drove to Wiltshire, stopping at Amesbury for a coffee and sausage bap, before arriving at the Stonehenge car park at 10:30. This was the day of my ‘People, Places, Time’ module field trip. It’s been a bit of a strange course with three different tutors, and a scamper through 10,000 years of history, picking up on one or two issues here and there. I’ve liked Paul Hill, an archeologist and our guide at Stonehenge, the least. His style of teaching is unrigorous, patronising and blokish. I was looking forward to the field trip, and the journey down was a delight. The sky was clear, and the low sun was highlighting parts of the landscape beautifully, especially the further west I went, where snow was lying on individual fields. But, once out of the car, and on the Salisbury Plains, it was so cold, with an arctic wind, that it was difficult to enjoy the sights.

Stonehenge is a fascinating monument with its 1000s of years of history, and many incarnations, the giant stones being only the last of these. We strolled around, with all the other tourists, admiring the mild earthwork henges and the stone constructions. Paul stopped to talk to us every now and then, but he was only repeating what we’d been told in a lecture. From Stonehenge we traipsed across a field to look at the cursus monument. I’d never heard of cursuses until doing this course. They are long earthworks made up of parallel banks, sometimes running to several kilometres in length. No one seems to know what they’re for, although there is speculation that they might have been for ceremonial races! I couldn’t see the second bank, and wanted to know how archaeologists could identify such cursuses.

I haven’t really made any friends in this group, although there’s a couple of people I swap jokey comments with. It was so cold, in any case, I didn’t feel like doing much else than hugging myself to keep warm.

Next, we drove a few miles to visit the Winterbourne Stoke Barrow Cemetery where we saw almost all the different varieties of earthen barrows made by Neolithic and Bronze Age man. Neolithic men used the communal long barrows, but the later civilisation used more individual barrows, called variously bowl, bell, disc and pond. It’s all very well seeing them together like this, and being told what they are, but when wandering the countryside on my own, I’m never going to know what’s a barrow and what’s just a mound of earth with grass on top! We’re told that certain barrow shapes conform to male burials, and others to females, and yet others to children. Is this really true, or a statistical presentation by archaeologists.

The group drove on to a pub by Old Sarum on the outskirts of Salisbury, but I’d planned to eat a snack lunch and I didn’t want to sit inside for two hours with the group. So, first I went to visit Woodhenge, which is a great disappointment, there’s nothing to see but concrete posts stuck in the ground where once, 3,000 years ago, wooden posts sat. And then I wandered round Old Sarum, which I’d never visited before (why did Barbara never take me there?). It’s a gorgeous place, like a park on a hill overlooking Salisbury and its cathedral, with the remains of an old fort (iron age, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Norman) and the footprint of a once splendid cathedral. Because it was so cold, I went and sat with the group in the pub (a Harvester Inn) for a while, but I felt claustrophobic and returned to Old Sarum. For an hour or so in the afternoon, Paul showed us round the inner part of the old fort, although, to be honest, I gained more insight from the information plaques. On the way in, for example, I asked Paul how they managed about water. He turned to address the group as a whole and told us that this one of the biggest problems about old forts - you’ve hit the nail on the head, he stressed while looking at me, when it comes to our lack of understanding about these places. But then, when we entered the fort proper, there was a well, and an information point explaining how the fort’s inhabitants would have collected water!

I left the tour a bit early, frozen through to my bones, and drove into Salisbury to visit Mary and Roger. I’d seen them a couple of weeks previously at my mother’s house, but it seemed churlish not to pop in on them again, as I was so near. Roger stopped watching the rugby, and we settled down in the kitchen to various cups of tea and slices of cake. They’re a very homely lovely couple. The wall of the downstairs loo is covered in various joke certificates, cards, and funny photos, and every one of them will lead Mary into telling an anecdote or three. We sat chatting about I don’t know what for ages. I walked to Waitrose to buy flowers for my mother and for Mary, and when I got back their second visitor of the day, a lecturer in creative writing from Derby University, had arrived. She was quite lively, and obviously very fond of Mary.

From Salisbury, I drove straight to Willesden Green. But there was, of course, no chance of writing any diary on Saturday night, since I had to shower and then eat (tasty lamb and sort-of chips) which Cora had prepared, and then go to an engagement party in Kensal Rise. And, there was no free time on Sunday either. I was up quite early, making bread and finishing off a repair to a wall in Cora’s lodger’s room. By 9, I was at my mother’s house to have breakfast (it being Mother’s Day). I took her flowers and a card. I only stayed an hour, before returning for a second breakfast with Cora.

10 March 2005

About 11:30 we piled into Cora’s car with various presents (flowers for her mother, her aunt and her grandmother), and drove to her uncle and aunt’s place for a family meet-up. It was a pleasant lunch and a pleasant afternoon. Cora’s quite quiet in the bosom of her family, a warm reassuring presence, someone who can be relied on to smile and respond to whatever anyone else initiates. I was well tired early in the evening, but, nevertheless, did some yoga while listening to the World Music Awards on Radio Three. We snacked and then went to Swiss Cottage to see Bill Condon’s film ‘Kinsey’ with Liam Neeson. It’s quite shocking in its frankness, not only in the talking about sex, but also in the visuals. Ultimately, though, it seemed to be little more than an average biopic. It was interesting to know about Kinsey, and to be apprised of the various difficulties and issues that surrounded his work; but no themes were developed, and there was no emotional involvement with the characters. I didn’t feel very much for him, for example, when he failed to renew his funding near the end of the film. Around 2:30am I drove to Elstead. It’s been very cold the last two weeks and the thought of getting undressed and into my cold bed was just too much, so I went to sleep fully clothed (stopping only to take off my shoes).

Externally of my own little little world, there’s a row in Parliament about the government’s plans to bring in a terror bill so that it can detain suspected terrorists without a trial. The country’s security services occasionally throw up information about a dangerous individual but cannot bring the evidence to court under the usual laws because such action would compromise the operation or operants who provided the information. Every man jack and his brother is trying to hijack the government’s bill because a) there’s a good majority in the Lords opposed to it (which means a row with the Commons and lots of publicity); b) opposing a draconian law like this can make a politician look and feel very caring; and c) there’s a lot of politicians who will do anything to embarrass or unsettle Tony Blair (out of spite a lot of the time, I do actually believe so), although most of those who happen to be members of the Labour Party will only go so far as to unsettle - not unseat - Blair. A few, like the ghastly Clare Short, would like nothing better than for the Labour Party to lose power at the next election, just so they can stick a finger up their nose at Blair.

19 March 2005

The weather has broken. The bitter cold has gone, and we’ve had three days of warmth - it’s been wonderful, not to have to tog up with endless jumpers, to go jogging again (some days I just couldn’t face the cold), and to wander around the garden looking for signs of spring. I may mow the lawn today.

It’s Saturday morning, still early, I sit in the lounge, at the table by the back window, there’s a slight mist behind the trees, a blackbird with such an orange beak (the colour reminds me of Bree’s hair in ‘Desperate Housewives’ which we watched on video last night), a Mozart piano concert plays on the hi fi, rolls are rising in the kitchen, Cora is sleeping in the blue room. In a while, I need to drive to a place called Wintershall, where I’ll spend a couple of hours with my ‘Countryside & Environment’ group looking round an organic farm.

Last Saturday, I went with the same group to Epping Forest. It seemed a very long day, and tortuously boring at times, and yet we did a fair amount. We met at Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, owned and run like most of Epping Forest, by the Corporation of London. This is a strange looking piece of architecture dating from the 1540s, very little of which has been reconstructed. It was commissioned by Henry VIII, and called the Great Standynge (from whence the word/idea grandstand might originate), but not completed until Elizabeth I’s time. There was a vogue then for such lodges where nobility and visiting aristocracy could shoot deer without chasing around on horses. They simply stood in the hunting lodge (which was open at the sides) and, using crossbows, shot deer which had been herded and funnelled from nearby enclosures to run in front of the lodge. After one wave of deer had been killed, carts would trundle across the plain to collect the carcasses and clear the way for the next round. Soon, though, the fashion for such lodges faded, and the buildings were put to different uses. The remarkable thing about this one is that it has survived for so long in something like (except for the infill between the timbers) its original state, with many of the internal timbers original. We were given a talk by a lady who knew so much about the place that you only had to ask a small question and she would launch off on a new lecture.

Our next stop was the information centre at High Beach. It was full of posters and maps and stuffed animals in displays. Lalage took us for a short walk into the woods to look at the pollarded beeches (which are interesting - the pollarding stopped centuries ago and since then the trees have very characteristic sets of several long thin trunks, some of which eventually can’t be supported by the short stocky base, and fall away) and to discuss the management of an ancient wood with such a large population of users. We ate our picnic lunches by the information centre (I found a tea shack, for which I was much grateful, having missed tea at the Lodge thanks to traffic on the North Circular). After lunch we drove to another spot in the forest to talk more about its history and management, and then to Ambresbury Banks which was the highlight of my day. According to legend, the iron age fort at Ambresbury Banks was the site of the defeat and death of Boudicca, but this idea has not been supported by any evidence. Nevertheless, the fort is rather special. It’s no more or less than a huge circular ridge, with an external ditch, as covered in silver birch and pollarded beeches as anywhere else in the forest. There was no one there but us, and the place has a timeless mystical atmosphere - and to be cast back 2,000 years and more all you have to do is imagine there are no trees and that the place is filled instead with iron age dwellings, perhaps with a rival tribe ganging up beyond the ditch and the clearing on the other side of the ditch in the woods. We walked right round the bank, examining various features and enjoying the stillness of the forest.

Since it was only 3 in the afternoon - it felt like 5 or 6 - Lalage and the group decided to drive out of the forest north to visit the oldest wooden church building (of Saxon origin) in the country at Greensted near Ongar. It is a lovely church, and I was glad we went. Not only is it pretty, but it’s unusual with its split trunk and brick walls, and cottagey dormer windows. It’s a much celebrated building and its picture has even adorned a postage stamp. From Ongar I might have been tempted to visit Hoddesdon, it looked so close on the map, but then again I might not have been. In any case, I’d agreed to give Ben a lift since he was going back to Harlesden, which was so near Willesden Green it seemed churlish not to make the offer. He’s the only real youngster on the course, and there’s something odd about him, which I can’t really put into words. He’s not white, but he’s not coloured either, and I’d be wary of suggesting he had Mediterranean skin or was of mixed blood. And, on the one hand, he seems intelligent, but on the other there’s something suspiciously thick about him, and I can’t put my finger on it. He certainly seems stiff in the class, perhaps intimidated by being with older people. He told me he works for an American evangelical charity, but is not religious himself. He still lives with his parents in Woking, but also has a room in a large flat in Harlesden. This is owned by a friend’s mother but she has gone away for a couple of years, and allowed her daughter and friends to take it over in the interim!

It’s been a busy week. Last week, I set myself a timetable and schedule which involved me reaching a target number of diarists (300) and then stopping work on that side of the project to concentrate on the website side. I worked fairly hard, I must say, and was afflicted with the kind of heavy head and headache behind the eyes that I used to get during the EC Inform production days. But I exceeded my target - I now have 320 diarists catalogued (with bio summaries), a third of which are, what I call, ‘full wraps’, i.e. an entry for every field in the database.

23 March

Easter approaches. It’s not as early as it can be, but it is early. Adam breaks up from college tomorrow, the day before Good Friday. In two weeks, Cora and I fly off to Malaga, for a week in the Sierra Nevada. In the meantime, I have work to do. The Diary Junction is taking up my every spare minute. It was one task to create the database, it’s another to create the website. I had a good day yesterday, developing a site style and format that I think will work. I’ve a bit more work to do on it, but then I’ll have to start actually producing the pages, which will be time-consuming and a bit tedious.

This morning I went into Farnham, to take photographs. The latest batch of listed building targets sent me by English Heritage are all in and around Farnham. A share of the photos are in the centre of Farnham, and I went with Cora on Sunday afternoon to do some of those. That was a real pleasure, much less hassle than chasing the rural targets in my first two batches. We also strolled up through Farnham Park, and round the castle. I didn’t have to ask any permissions, and, mostly, I found the targets without too much trouble. There was one, though, in Old Church Lane which defeated me. There is a Middle Church Lane and an Upper Church Lane by the church, and various alleyways, but no Old Church Lane. I felt sure it had to be there, and so wasted too much time trying to work out where it could be (obviously, I hadn’t been able to find it in the streetmap book). Today, though, I chanced on it as I was cycling in one of Farnham’s suburbs. But, in general, things were more difficult today. The targets were more spread out, more difficult to find, and more difficult to photograph. There were two on Wrecclesham Road which I did eventually locate, but neither of them had names on, and one was derelict. Overall, these targets are still easier than the previous ones; but, I can tell, they are still ones left over after someone has taken all the easy and picturesque targets. I had taken about 13 photos on Sunday, and I thought I might be able to complete the roll today. But, after four hours, I was whacked, and thirsty and hungry, and so I can home with only about 26 pics taken altogether. One more trip should do it.

The weather has stayed warm, and I feel so much better for it. I don’t need the heating on during the day, and I can stroll out into the garden, to pull up a few weeds, or clear up leaves. I’ve planted sweet pea seedlings I bought earlier, and I’ve planted a row of parsley and spinach, although both are old seed, and I’m not sure they’ll do anything. The seed potatoes in the shower room are chitting rather slowly; as they’re earlies (not Home Guard for the first time, but Pentland Javelin I think).

We didn’t do any socialising at the weekend. Cora had a cough and a bit of a cold; and our time was mostly taken up with gardening and the photographs (and on Saturday morning, I was at Wintershall).

My third and final field trip of this semester was to an organic farm, on the other side of Godalming near Bramley. The trip was arranged by Lalage to complement the ‘Countryside and Environment’ module, and it was surprisingly interesting. As a first surprise, the farm was situated in a part of the countryside I’ve long admired. I’m not exactly sure why, but that small area east of Godalming, beyond Winkworth, is rather lovely, with few houses, folding hills, and a landscape grace not seen in many places. And, it feels very cut off, as if it were in the remoter parts of Devon. The second surprise was that the estate is huge, and centred on an impressive old house.

30 March 2005

A damp day. Very grey. But I did go out into the garden to dig in some of the manure that lies in piles around the garden. A Mamas and Papas CD plays on the stereo. I just found it. Adam denies all knowledge of it, so I can only assume it must have been left here by Cora, although I haven’t had a chance to check with her. Many of the tunes are surprisingly and nostalgically familiar, but, if someone had asked me if I knew any Mamas and Papas songs, I’m sure I would have said no, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to admit any nostalgic connections. They certainly weren’t one of my favourite bands. ‘Monday Monday’ is playing, and it takes me back somewhere, but I’m not sure where.

Adam takes me for a walk onto the Common to commune with his favourite sky: it’s very cloudy, not grey but dense white. He says it is whiter than paper, whiter than white, the most white you can get. It’s raining more than he thinks so we get very wet.

31 March 2005

Life is good at the moment. How often have I been able to say that. I continue to be astonished and amazed and astounded that the relationship with Cora is working so smoothly, that we have so much fun together, whatever we’re doing, and that we communicate really well, whether by email (24 emails yesterday!!), by talking, or by touching. The long Easter weekend just passed, and we spent the best part of four days together, and I felt quite bereft on Tuesday when she was here no longer. What surprises me in particular is how well Cora deals with me; how well she copes with me. It’s not only that I often know a lot more than she does, and I can’t control my need to impart information (which might come out as criticism), all of which is quite difficult to deal with (and may get more difficult), but she’s encountered my difficult moods (when I was ill ages ago) and at the weekend (when I was racing around doing stuff, and she was sat lazily on the sofa watching television) and handles them. I also love the fact that we socialise so easily. Although, it’s mostly with her friends, she doesn’t seem to mind, and I don’t seem to mind; and mostly they seem to like me. I don’t feel any tension with Cora, either with her friends or mine. I’m not bad with people, but this ease we have together definitely comes from her own social ease. And she tells me she doesn’t feel any tension with me either; she doesn’t worry what I might say or might do; and she even admires that, given my age, I can relate to and with her friends so easily.

Yesterday, Adam and Dave cycled to Bosham on the coast and back. That’s 80 miles! He raced in, showered, drank a cup of tea, and then raced out to go and see Max play in a band in Farnham.

April 2005

Paul K Lyons


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INTRO to diaries