JOURNAL - 2005 - MAY

3 May 2005

There’s an election campaign going on, although much of it is passing me by. The Conservative leader, Howard, has reverted to form. He’s lost all touch with the meaning of words. He launched a vicious attack on Blair, calling him an outright ‘liar’, and ensuring that every broadcast in the land repeated it. And, while Blair does not lie (I feel sure about this from listening to him myself and from listening to others, in his party and elsewhere), Howard does all the time. Almost everything that comes out of his mouth is a distortion and he does actually tell lies. Here is a typical example (but no one in the media ever picks this kind of thing up, because it’s heavily disguised and/or ignored as opinion): speaking about Blair and calling him a liar over the Iraq invasion, he added, and ‘it’s the only thing he’s ever taken a stance on’, or something very similar. His language is full of statements like that - which are simply not true, and he knows they are not true, which makes them lies. Here’s an exact quote I’ve just collected from the Conservative Party website, it’s from a speech today in Loughborough: ‘After eight years in power, Mr. Blair’s one message about the future is “Don’t let the Tories in”. That’s it. That’s the limit of his vision.’

Iraq has been the only issue on which Blair has looked vulnerable during the campaign so far, and it’s only the Liberal Democrats that ought to benefit from the anti-war vote. As someone commented on last week’s ‘Any Questions’ if the Conservatives had been in power at the time they would have taken the country to war, by Bush’s side, without even trying to get a second UN Resolution, or asking Parliament. Howard and the Conservatives are such hypocrites - they deserve to lose really badly on Thursday.

I am informed, as usual, of events elsewhere in the world by ‘The Economist’. I don’t know why but sometimes I find many stories in the magazine interesting and sometimes I barely stop to read a single one. It’s either that my mood and receptivity changes or else the news is just more interesting sometimes. In the April 23 edition there was an obituary of Maurice Hilleman who I’d never heard of, but who was a pioneer in the field of vaccines, and a brief potted history of Joseph Ratzinger, who the Catholic cardinals elected surprisingly quickly as the next Pope - Pope Benedict XVI. He was a young Nazi for a while, but this doesn’t seem to have stood in his way. Another article looks at the increasingly likely chance of the French saying ‘Non’ in the referendum on the EU constitution - sacre bleu! I was particularly interested in two articles about South America, subtitled ‘Fragile states in the Andes’. The first was about how the Ecuadorian president was forced to resign and flee, and how the country is at a political standstill and requires a wholesale reform of its democratic systems. The other was about Bolivia and how there too the people have found a way of exerting power (via road blocks) and are crippling any and every government attempt to make progress. In particular, a mixture of trade unions and indian groups and coca growers appear to have developed a vehement opposition to the idea of Bolivia exporting its natural gas. This seems to have become a cause celebre for many poor people.

13 May 2005

It’s been a bit of a watershed week, in various ways, even though it feels I’ve spent most of it lazing around. Apart from finishing my UNIS modules, and probably having been to my very last class (the exam in fact) at the university, it also seemed that several other things were coming to an end: my Diary Junction work, my work for English Heritage, and my long-running correspondence about the butchered hedge. But, in fact, today, the end of the week, has seen two of these three undergo a revival - as it were.

I should say something about The Diary Junction first. I’ve been working on this, more or less, full time for three months. It was up and running last week, but it was only on Tuesday this week that I sent out a promotion email to about 300 addresses, all culled from the sites that The Diary Junction is linked to. I’m not sure what I expected, but I was quite pleased to receive a dozen emails encouraging in response and to see that I had over 50 visitors to the site. Perhaps I thought the site hits would then go up and up and up; but they haven’t. They dropped to about 18 the next day, 11 the next, and, today, so far, there have only been three visitors to the site. That’s pathetic. The operator of the useful Diary Search site, Christopher Handley, wrote to me. He said he gets about 2,000 hits a day. I think I will start getting a lot more hits when, and if, Google indexes my listings pages, so that when any of the famous diarist names are searched, the search will bring up The Diary Junction pages. About half a dozen people have said they will put links on their sites to The Diary Junction; but that’s not many out of 300 emails. Perhaps some of the 50-60 visitors will plant The Diary Junction links on their sites without telling me. I may decide to do more promotion next week.

After I sent back my fourth film to English Heritage I was contacted to say there are no more targets in this area. Since I’ve still got a dozen to do from the first four batches, I asked for another film any way; and I also said I might be able to do photos in NW2 and NW6. After initially telling me there were no targets left in all of London, I was told today that some from Camden and Hampstead have just been returned, so I might get those.

And then there’s my hedge. This is a saga that’s gone on for three months. Eventually, when I called for an independent review, the Council’s head of transportation asked a Customer Care Manager to investigate my case. The investigation was done swiftly. Mr Bartlett-Twivey and a transport department guy called Peter Phillips came on Monday and, almost immediately, admitted the whole thing had been a mistake. My hedge should never have been cut, and the Council had not acted properly to investigate my complaint. They were both reasonable, and I accepted their explanations and apologies. However, they did also admit that the paperwork, which had underpinned the contractors work that day, and the contractors themselves had disappeared: the papers had vanished, and the contractors had been sacked. I suggested that I should be paid some compensation. Bartlett-Twivey, who stank of perfume, asked how much I was thinking of. I said, I was sure I would accept any offer I was made.

Huh! Little did I know how little they would offer me. A paltry £75. An insult. His letter (the results of his investigation) was cautious, less apologetic and less admitting of fault than he was in person, but it did admit the Council had erred. This is what I wrote back: ‘Dear Mr Bartlett-Twivey, May I thank you for your letter, and your rapid investigation into the cutting of my hedge. Your points are well made, and I appreciate that much of what you say is reasonable. If, three months ago, the local transportation office had accepted a mistake had been made and offered me £200 in compensation (long before I even considered the issue of compensation) the matter would have ended there and then, sparing us both much time and anxiety.

I’m sorry, I do not think that £75 is sufficient compensation at all. I know I said, when you and Peter Phillips visited on Monday, that I was likely to accept any offer you made, but I had no idea it would be so low. It’s an insult really. This would barely cover my time (at a workman’s rate) in preparing and writing letters to get the Council to consider the issue seriously, let alone compensation for the actual and original mistake. If I were to employ someone to dig out and replace the plants (although, as we agreed, this is not feasible), it would surely cost several hundreds of pounds. Moreover, £75 is a tiny fraction of what the Council must have already spent (in terms of man-hours) in covering up and investigating this mistake.

However, this is not the main point of my letter. You say that if I wish to take the matter any further, there are two routes I could take. Well, I’d like to ask your advice. What do you think I should do now given the facts and mysteries.

The facts (which we now agree on): my hedge was brutally cut and ruined without cause; the Council tried to cover up this mistake for nearly three months (up to and including a detailed letter from the Council’s Head of Transportation, Mr Findlay, who, even after seeing the photos and reading my clear letters of complaint, confirmed the action the Council had taken).

The mysteries: why did this happen? Why did the contractor start the work very specifically at ‘Russet House’, and why was the mistake then covered up for three months? Nothing in your letter explains these anomalies.

Mysteriously, you now inform me it was Andy Haworth who was the Highway Steward who inspected the location. This is a new fact (and every time I get a new fact, the case gets darker). So it was Mr Haworth who gave the instructions to cut my hedge. So, it must have been he, at some time, who mentioned ‘Russet House’ to the contractors in some way. Could this be the very same Andy Haworth I spoke to on the day of the hedge cutting, within minutes of the contractors leaving? Is this the Andy Haworth who said he didn’t know what I was talking about, hadn’t heard of Russet House, and couldn’t possibly tell me why my hedge had been cut? Is this the Andy Haworth who also told me on the phone that the Council had every right to cut back vegetation, and that it was perfectly OK if householders were not informed or notified before such action was taken, even if there was no history of a problem or, in fact, (as I told him), no obstruction whatsoever.

Mysteriously, the contractors have disappeared. But these contractors were in a Council vehicle (not a private van), a van very similar, in fact, to the one that finally came and cut the bramble intrusion on Red House Lane, last Tuesday, the day after your visit. These people have completely disappeared?

Mysteriously, the paper work has disappeared. How is this possible?

Are you satisfied that you understand what happened in this case? What do you think I should do? Do you think I should take the matter any further?’

While I’m cutting and pasting from my letters file, I might as well insert this one too. It was in reaction to a column by Roy Greenslade in ‘The Guardian’. I could have written almost the same letter to any number of left wing Labour intellectuals, the anti-war riff-raff, those who believe they clasp to their hearts the real Labour soul as vehemently as a football fan believes he knows how to plan his/her team. But I have admired Greenslade’s intelligence on media matters in the past, and it was a shock to find him baying for Blair’s blood.

‘Dear Mr Greenslade, I’ve been a journalist most of my life, although a slighter one than you. I have no political allegiances, and tend to consider each issue on its merits. For years, I’ve read your articles on media, and I’ve learned to trust and appreciate your information and your opinions on the media world. Now, though, suddenly, all that trust has been blown away. Your words in today’s Guardian on Blair and Iraq, like so many of those written by literary and cultured people on the left, are full of desperate self-justification driven by a prejudice that must be protected under all circumstances. Is it not possible - have you ever asked yourself? - that Blair’s aims were noble, were altruistic. History will certainly not judge him a ‘warmonger’. If you call Blair a warmonger, then what was Saddam Hussein? Nor will history judge Blair as Bush’s poodle, because too often he has stood proudly, effectively, and strongly trying to create a bridge between Europe and the US (and besides, it is the Conservatives who always believe their bread is buttered across the Atlantic and not the Channel). So then why did he go to war? Why really? What could have been his reasons for taking such a big and difficult decision?

In modern history, which are the only two countries that have actually gone to war, used their own money, risked their own people’s lives for altruistic reasons? Only the UK and the US. Certainly not the French. The main reason the second UN resolution wasn’t passed (which would have legitimised the invasion popularly) was because France was acting selfishly - protecting its economic interests in the Middle East and its boss-of-Europe role. France has always acted far more selfishly with regard to its international interests than the UK.

Mr Greenslade, would you not want to live in a world where a UN-type government had the authority, the responsibility and the might to intervene to deal with murdering dictators like Saddam Hussein? It will take decades, centuries to get there, if the world ever does. But, surely, here and now, when a few rich modern states can manage, very occasionally, to act in a way that has some altruistic elements, shouldn’t we have the guts to support and praise them.

Why are you so angry that our own country, and our own leader was strong and brave enough to take decisions of that kind? Why can’t you be proud that you live in such a rich, advanced democratic nation, and that we have a government that is doing more than any previous government to share some of its wealth and its democratic ways with those less well off.

I’m astonished at your rage. How can you devalue so profoundly - by being blinkered about the decision to go to war and subsequent events - the prospect of long-term democracy in Iraq?’

There’s yet a further subject that’s been the focus of my wrath. My writing of such letters does remind me of my father, Frederic. When he died, Gail sent me some of his papers, and in them I found several very old sets of correspondence detailing Frederic’s fights with various institutions. However, I like to think I don’t take these things too seriously, and I’m unlikely to hold on to all the correspondence until my dotage. On the other hand, by putting such letters into my diary I am preserving them for as long as my diaries survive. I wrote a letter of complaint to The Anvil in Basingstoke because I’d spent around £40 to see some Flamenco dancing, but we couldn’t actually SEE it. The music was good, but I doubt I would have bought the tickets and made the effort to go, if it hadn’t been for the flamenco dancing. The Anvil wrote back and offered me a £5 voucher - another insult. This is what I wrote by return.

‘Thank you for your letter of 3 May. However, I am returning the voucher for two reasons. Firstly, I’m insulted that you think you can fob me off with a £5 voucher - if I’d felt only £5 worth of grievance about the evening, I certainly would not have bothered to spend time writing a letter. Secondly, as I won’t be visiting the Anvil again (I can’t trust your advertising), I won’t have an opportunity to spend it. You say the staging was devised by the orchestra. I am very sorry, Mr Cleaver, but this is none of my business. I did not buy my tickets from the City of Granada Orchestra. You say, the choir tickets are priced at the third lowest out of four. I don’t care about this either: I spent the best part of £40 (tickets, petrol, parking - it would have been £50 if one of us had not been a student) on an evening to SEE flamenco dancing. You say, the choir seats are not sold as restricted view as the audience is there to listen to the music rather than watch the back rows of the orchestra. Yes, I’m sure this is usually the case. But NOT for the show we saw. The tickets you sold me were definitely restricted view. In fact, they were more than restricted view. We were not able to view the precise element of the show that we had come to see. (I’m sure, as a marketing director, you understand why shows often have a mixture of elements). I did make it clear in my previous letter that the main purpose of our outing was to see the flamenco dancing, and, I even went so far as to explain why. I shall now be seeking advice as to whether it’s worth my while contacting the advertisement standards authority (or whatever it’s called).’

And, not receiving any reply to this letter, I wrote a letter of complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority. I hope they follow it up, and give The Anvil’s marketing director a buzz.

What else has been occupying my time this lazy week. Oh yes. Sudoku puzzles. These are fiendish 9x9 magic squares (i.e. with all the numbers one to nine in each column and row and 3x3 grid) with most of the numbers left out, but not so many that you can’t work out eventually what the missing numbers should be. There’s a sudoku war going on among the British newspapers at present, and they’re all trying to outdo each other with the quality or quantity of their puzzles. ‘The Guardian’ which latched onto the craze a bit late has been highlighting the fact that its puzzles are hand-made in Japan (i.e. not created by computer); and today it put one puzzle on every single page of G2. I only found out about them on Monday, when ‘The Guardian’ published its first and easy one, and I’ve been doing them all week. I’ve also printed a ‘very hard’ one from the internet just to make sure I can do them, even if they are very hard. I can. But it’s a bit time-consuming, and in less than a week I’m bored. I don’t expect the craze will last long, although, I suppose, papers might end up including one every week in their puzzle section.

It’s Friday night. Dylan is strutting his stuff on the stereo. Cora is due in an hour or so, so I should do some cleaning and tidying.

17 May 2005

I’ve gone into a very funny space with respect to Cora. It’s the first time, I think, that I’ve lost any proper perspective, and, although I’ve got cross with her before and we’ve argued before, I’ve never felt that I’ve been unclear or unsure of my ground. I am now. In this sense. I suddenly find myself stacked up with little resentments towards, and disappointments about, her, which until recently didn’t seem to be there, but I’m not sure how much weight to give them, because my own weaknesses and faults are muddying up my views. We did have a very serious confrontation at the weekend. It ended up with both of us crying at different times, and both of us being quite distressed.

I drank a lot on Saturday evening, and went to bed early. And I got up early, but at some point I went to join Cora in the blue room. I was very upset and depressed. I cried quite a lot. I had cried a bit the night before. I cried whenever I thought about the near future, without Cora, and with Adam gone to university, and being very alone. I didn’t mean to cry again in bed with Cora, but I did. I told her, I’m scared of losing her and scared of keeping her. Which is exactly true. We seemed to talk/argue through breakfast and to mid-morning when Cora had to leave (although we spent half an hour on redoing her cv as well). And since then, I’ve been in a state of depression. I’ve done nothing but mope around. I’ve been unable to talk lightheartedly to Cora, or be responsive in any way. I declined to see her on Wednesday.

18 May

So where does all this leave us? Cora does not want to mess around. She is not going to carry on a relationship which might not lead to marriage and children. I have always understood this completely, and I’ve not wanted to mislead her in any way. I have genuinely been happy and in love with her. I may not have been so gung ho about the future as she was, but I’ve always maintained that for a year or so, the relationship could be very good for Cora, but that within a year or so, it will be necessary to take hard decisions and think carefully about our futures. Some months ago, Cora was still working towards finishing her course, and I was busy with the Diary Junction and biding my time until Adam goes to college. I was always aware, though, that we would reach a crisis point this spring or summer.

Under normal circumstances, this might be the right point in our relationship to take stock, to see if there’s a chance that we both want the same thing in the future, and to assess as seriously as we can whether, despite being in love and caring for one another, we should continue in a relationship. For starters - as I’ve explained - Cora is getting a bit anxious about me not wanting to integrate with her family, and I’m getting a bit anxious about Cora not pulling her weight in the relationship. So, if we did start having too many sessions like last weekend, then we ought to be ready to put our cards on the table, and, if necessary, call it a day.

I should not have let things go as far as they did last weekend. I feel it is an obligation on me to keep the relationship on an even keel, at least until the summer, and preferably until she has a proper job. I’m just not that good at hiding my feelings; and, I suppose, I had hoped, wanted, Cora not only to move towards my world, as I call it, a little bit, but to want to move. I hoped and wanted this because I felt this would be the only chance of us having a future together. And now that I am beginning to see clearly that there very probably isn’t a future for us, it’s hard for me to hide this knowledge.

Yet, I feel sure that now is not the right time to split up. For the time being, I think Cora needs me. And, I think, I probably need to swallow my pride a bit, and find a way of breaking up that is best for Cora.

I can’t believe I’m writing this. I’ve said before how sometimes I find myself writing things I didn’t know I was thinking. Here’s an exact example. I began writing about our difficulties at the weekend, not knowing what I would say or how I would say it. I got to a point a few paragraphs up where I wrote, ‘So where does all this leave us?’ still without knowing what I thought. And now I find myself writing about finding a way of breaking up!

I really don’t know. As I said earlier on, now that I’m finding myself having negative thoughts, and imposing some moodiness and criticisms on Cora, I’m no longer in control, and I can no longer guarantee that I’m doing the right thing by Cora. Which leaves me confused, and a bit uncertain.

Wednesday 25 May 2005

I think Cora is driving down this evening, so I’ve got a bolognese sauce in preparation, and we’ll have it with spaghetti and spinach picked from the garden. Adam’s gone to Guildford even though Barbara is in Berlin and she’s got someone else to look after the cats. He probably wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t told him Cora was coming, but he likes to make himself absent. On Saturday, which is my birthday, I’m heading to Willesden, where Cora has some surprise or other in store. But, I’m hoping that Adam will be here in the morning before I leave - although he’s not mentioned anything about the day.

I’m back to back-pedalling. The Diary Junction is up and running, or strolling I should say. Statcounter is recording about 20 visitors a day, mostly coming from Google searches. I was so happy when I discovered that Google had indexed my Diary Junction because I was sure this would pull in hundreds of punters a day; but it doesn’t seem to. I’ve just sent off a press release to about 50 publications, but I’d be surprised if even one of them gives me a plug. Still, it was something I had to do. From now on, I’ll probably just add a few diarists every now and then. But, what else should I do?

My UNIS course has finished, so there’s no sweat to be had there. I got 78% and 71% from Lalage for my essay and exam respectively, which puts me only just into the 1st category. But, as I’ve said, I don’t think I’ll do any more modules. It’s time my life took a new direction entirely. I do have more photographs to take, which is cool; but that’s only a weekend past-time really. Did I mention that English Heritage have given me some targets in Hampstead and that these include Lyndhurst Preparatory School! and The Hill!! I took Cora up to the Secret Garden last weekend to take some of the photos, but it was a little difficult to work out what was what, and, also, I realised, I prefer to be photographing there alone.

Last week, following the weekend before last week, was the worst Cora and I had had. In fact, it was probably the only bad week we’ve had. The weekend had been a watershed for me, and I needed time to recover and to restore my thoughts as to what I was doing with Cora. Cora, on the other hand, I think just suffered the emotional stress of the argument, but I don’t think it left her with any new understanding, or any closer to reality. She wanted to see me on the Wednesday, and then on the Friday, and I kind of put her off. By Saturday afternoon, when I drove up to Willesden, I was feeling back in control, and clearer about what I needed to do. Nevertheless, there was a tension between us, that making love didn’t really dispel.

We had a reasonable time at the weekend. We sort of watched the cup final between Arsenal and Manchester United, which, for the first time ever, went to penalties after extra time. Arsenal’s five penalties were flawless, but the Arsenal goalkeeper, Lehman, saved one of United’s penalties, and so Arsenal won the cup. It was quite fitting that Lehman should be the hero (for he was a hero in the match itself saving good United shots) since the Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, has had trouble replacing David Seaman, and his two goalkeepers this season have both had bad patches.

In the evening, we went to the West End to see Ibsen’s ‘Hedda Gabler’ in a production transferred from the National I think and directed by Richard Eyre. The tickets were comps passed on from one of her friends. I don’t remember seeing ‘Hedda Gabler’, although I’m sure I must have read it at some point. We were up in the second balcony and I’d forgotten my glasses, which was a real pain (although we moved to a box for the second half!), but it was a good show, well acted and well produced. I’m not sure I really took much from the play. It didn’t have any of the intellectual depth or debate of other Ibsen works, instead it focuses really on Gabler’s character.

Early Sunday, I went to take photographs for a couple of hours. When I got back, Cora was just getting up. We breakfasted, made love, had a snack for lunch, and then spent a couple of hours working in the garden, clearing out weeds, and enriching the soil. Later in the afternoon, we popped round to see my mother, where Julian and family had had lunch. I spent time talking to Rebecca and Toby and Naomi, the main purpose of the visit. All three of them were being very industrious at Mum’s, reading, drawing or doing homework (Naomi’s maths was particularly neat and well done). I sometimes wish I could be a bit larger than life with them; give them a really colourful fun uncle to remember as they grow up.

From Mum’s we went up to Hampstead and took a few photos of Jack Straw’s Castle and Heath House, before trying to work out what were the listed bits of the Secret Garden. But the light went sour on us, and it got a bit cold, so we drove over to Arkwright Road to see friends of Cora’s. Back at Cora’s se cooked supper, and then we watched a bad Robert Redford film called ‘The Last Castle’. I was home in Elstead by about 12:30.

Yesterday the EU agreed to double its aid budget. And today the BBC is having an Africa day. It’s all so Kip Fenn!

Tuesday 31 May 2005

I’m 53. Fifty-fucking-three. It happened round about midnight on Friday night. At 6:30 or so, Adam brought me a cup of tea. He had said he was determined to get up early and do the tea thing, and he did. I read a story he gave me too; it was a bit dark, and I suspect he wrote it some time ago and just brushed it up to give me now, but I was pleased to be given it. We took an earlyish breakfast, and Adam gave me two further (thoughtful) presents: a book of sudoku puzzles and chocolate mints. Thereafter, we went for a longish walk on the common, out past the Thursley Common lakes, and back via the Moat. We talked most of the time (without getting into an argument) - I can’t remember what about. Adam biked off to Guildford, and I drove to Willesden, arriving about 1:00. Cora’s first birthday present was a trip to the West End (although I had to pay my own tube ticket!) to see a new production of ‘Guys and Dolls’. It was a Donmar Warehouse show put on at the Piccadilly Theatre. Cora had bought the most expensive seats (in the middle of the stalls). They must have cost £40 or £50 each. It had famous people in it: Ewan McGregor playing Sky Masterson; and the secretary from Ally McBeal playing Abigail. It was a good show, very well done (though not as good as the original NT production I would say), and great fun. Later we took tea in Cora’s kitchen/conservatory with the doors wide open to the garden. It was a nice afternoon, and Cora had put much effort into organising it. In addition, she gave me several other presents, a small collage with pressed flowers (which I love), a bought video of a film called ‘Sideways’ (!), a new Mariza CD, two kitchen knives, toothpicks. It’s been a long time since anyone has spoilt me so. In the evening, we just walked a bit through Willesden and West Hampstead, talking about the houses and people we passed.

June 2005

Paul K Lyons


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