1 November 2005

Another warm sunny day. Astonishing. I wish I’d been far away walking somewhere. Mariza plays on the stereo. Shall I go to live in Lisbon?

I sent out another Diary Junction promotion email yesterday. There were the 50 or so email addresses I’d collected while doing research for the latest batch of DJ data pages, but I also found an American website which lists over 1,000 email addresses for publishers and agents in the US and the UK. Not only that, but the emails were really easy to collate (I mean I didn’t have to go to a separate web page for each one). I decided to use them in several batches, but also to slightly amend the Diary Junction front page to provide a more upfront link to my projects in case the page was being read by a publisher/agent. Of course, the email I sent out doesn’t indicate it’s a mailing to publishers, just that it’s an information note about The Diary Junction. The mailing did not work too well, though, and I didn’t get any more hits than I get on a good normal day. Recently, I’ve noticed, that The Diary Junction is starting to come a bit higher up the Google ladder when people search for a diarist’s name. Thus, for example, if you type Pepys Evelyn and diary into Google, The Diary Junction comes up on the first page of 30 results out of about 37,000. Type just the name of any more obscure diarist plus the word diary, and The Diary Junction comes up on the first page quite often. That’s a result.

B is coming over for supper this evening. She’s having major work done on her house, and she’s lost her kitchen for a couple of months, so we’ve arranged for her to come here one evening a week.

2 November 2005

Not done much today, I’ve been a bit more down than I am on some days. Mostly, I just did bits of stuff to do with my old diaries. I’ve started proof-reading the 2000 diary, and I was so impressed by the first page, and what I wrote about Millennium fever - it being so UNDER-hyped - that I wanted to pikle it immediately it. That’s what comes of not talking to anyone all day - I just spew out stuff to my diary here. To pikle it. That’s just so perfect. From now on, to pikle anything I’ve written is to say it’s been put (net-published) on the Pikle website. But I didn’t pikle it, thinking I’d finish off proof-reading the whole month (I only pikle my diary in batches of one month - god, how useful that verb is going to be).

I didn’t even get round to do any book organising today. Yesterday, though, I pulled out of the cupboard about 50 crime paperbacks (Rankin, Mankell, Connelly, Burke, Harris, Hill, Grisham etc) and decided I could try selling them as a single lot for £20. I’ve sent a free ad off to the local paper. I may try to sell a few more things that way. If I used Amazon to try and sell them, I’d probably only sell a few, and at 50p or less. I had a look at what one or two of them are selling for, and it can be as low as 25p. The buyer has to post and pack, and the seller makes a bit extra that way. But really it just isn’t worth all the effort. On the one hand, I see £300 worth of books (how much I spent), and on the other I see no way of realising any worth out of them, not without disproportionate effort. This is, in fact, going to be the case with all my books. The best way to think about them really is to compare them with the cost of going to the cinema. Seeing a film costs roughly the same amount as buying a book, but, after the viewing, there’s no residual material substance, as there is when a book is finished. So, I just have to get used to the idea that the vast majority of my books have NO value, none.

I’ve moved all the science books to the lounge. The gardening books are here in the study and will go to Barbara at the first opportunity. The politics and philosophy books are in Adam’s room, and will go to his room at Barbara’s. Slowly I WILL make progress.

B came over for supper last night. We ate spring rolls (bought from Secretts), a Greek salad with a rice/egg salad, and fried mushrooms (direct from the fields - picked that very afternoon - and delicious they were too). Also I gave B some yoghurt with summer fruits (bought frozen from Secretts), although I didn’t have any myself because I was drinking wine. I’d started drinking half an hour before B arrived, and within 20 minutes the wine had made me feel really maudlin. Why on earth do people drink to drown their sorrows?

B had some very exciting news. That very day she had been promoted to Head of Department. It’s a big deal. For decades, she’s been under her boss’s shadow, as his subordinate, but has often acted more like his boss. Single-handedly she has developed the libraries, with barely any input at all. Now she’s on the same level as her boss. She’s as chuffed as a steam engine.

Blunkett has resigned today. When out of office, he took on various company directorships and bought shares. He didn’t break the law, nor does it appear he’s done anything dubious, but he does seem to have acted unwisely, against a voluntary code of conduct. As far as I can tell, this is not for selfish or greedy reasons, it was just a mistake. It may even be a mistake made as a result of the problems associated with being blind (having to rely that much more on personal advisers). But the press hounded him; the conservatives hounded him. Watching Michael Howard at Prime Minister’s Question Time made me want to puke - not really, but I can’t be bothered to find better words. Blair, by contrast, was straightforward and honest and direct in his response to Howard. Moreover, he was loyal to Blunkett, explaining that he felt that Blunkett had left without a stain on his character. Honestly, I agree. I don’t know how many resignations there have been from Blair’s cabinet in his three terms, but what is absolutely remarkable is that not one of them, as far as I know, was as a result of personal greed

3 November 2005

Synchronicity. ‘Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift.’ I actually wrote this epigram down on a pad. I can’t remember exactly where it was, but I think it might have been in Adam’s digs, Holland House. The pad was the one in which I’d been writing the names of estate agents that had houses for sale in the area I was interested in. This must have been a month ago. About half an hour ago, I was clearing books and papers from the bookshelf, and found the pad. I saw the quote, remembered that I’d written it down as a prompt for writing about it in my diary, and that I’d forgotten do so. Nevertheless, I decided that since I couldn’t remember exactly where I’d seen it (in Adam’s room, in the hall, or the kitchen) I couldn’t be bothered to worry about it. I chucked the pad in a drawer along with lots of other pads. Now, half an hour later, I’m reading ‘The Guardian’ sports section (having just bought the paper). I looked briefly at a report about Arsenal, and another about the England cricket team in Pakistan. That was enough, and I would normally have swivelled around to throw the section in the bin. But, for some reason, I didn’t and I started glancing at the back page, which is full of tiddly bits of information. I was thinking about how I really don’t like this trend towards providing busy bits of pseudo-info. But then I saw, at the bottom of the page, an interview with the Pakistan cricket coach, Bob Woolmer, and a question about whether he feels England will be easier to beat because they’re over-confident after the Ashes victory. And there, staring me in the face, at the end of Woolmer’s answer is the very same epigram. As if to say, how dare you have ignored me, here I am again, mention me in your damn diary.

7 November 2005

I’m about to go and prepare something to eat, and then to watch some TV. However, I was typing up diary from 1983, and I just turned the page to find written in caps: ‘Completion Day’. 16 February 1983 was the day I bought and moved in to 13 Aldershot road. There always seem to be so many coincidences (synchronicity) between finding thoughts and events in past diaries and what is happening to me today. I didn’t complete on Russet House at the weekend, but I did finalise an agreement to sell it just two days ago. It was the same kind of coincidence with meeting Gail the other day (I wrote about it on 15 October).

8 November 2005

Under the inspired title of ‘The Diary Junction and other marketing ploys’, a chap named Michael Allen (who publishes a blog under the name ‘Grumpy Old Bookman’) picked up my latest email on The Diary Junction and wrote the following.

‘Only yesterday I remarked that perhaps the best way to publicise a book via a blog or web site is to provide some material of value or interest to a particular group, and then to plug your book in passing, so to speak. This is a technique being used to good effect by Paul K. Lyons. Paul has developed an impressive web site called The Diary Junction. It’s pretty self-explanatory. It provides a vast amount of information about historical and literary diaries and diarists. Picking a name more or less at random from a list of 450 diarists (so far), I chose Dora Carrington. There isn’t a vast amount of info provided, and it is not cheerful, because it seems that the lady’s diary records how she decided to kill herself. Nevertheless, the Diary Junction would be a useful starting point for a researcher. As for Paul Lyons’s other work, he does give us links to his novel Kip Fenn - Reflections, and to some of his other fiction and non-fiction projects. See what I mean? All you have to do to get readers for your blog/book is be able and willing to put in hundreds of hours of work on (a) your book, and (b) a web site which provides useful information. Quite simple really. Then you get to be rich and famous. Maybe. . .’

I found the blog quite soon after it was posted (because Statcounter, the free website counter installed on my main pages tells me where referrals to my site are coming from, as well as which of my pages people visit). Consequently, I posted a reply as follows: ‘Insightful stuff, Michael, but the little scheme I dreamt up nearly a year ago (and which you’ve now tumbled) isn’t going to work (not that I ever really thought it would). Whereas once I put lots of effort into marketing my book projects, now I have to exercise myself in marketing The Diary Junction. And all that effort gets me is a few visitors a day, very few of whom allow themselves to be diverted elsewhere. Just as well, I’ve really enjoyed the diary research. Nice blog, though, thanks.’

Although it is true The Diary Junction started life as a way of attracting visitors to my website. Having written and self-published Kip Fenn, and having created the Pikle website, I was suffering from a great big problem of invisibility. If you have a shop window on the street you’ll always get the occasional visitor because all streets do get some traffic. But this is not the case on the internet highway. It’s quite normal, I would say, to have a website for years, and never get anybody visiting at all. So, that’s why I decided I needed to find a way of making Pikle attractive to surfer-strangers.

The ‘Grumpy Old Bookman’ blog did lead a dozen or more people to The Diary Junction, so I’m grateful. As a result of my last email promotion, I’ve also had a couple of promises from writer’s ezines to give it publicity.

On Friday, I decided to head to London, just to get out of the house and be doing something. I had thought there were half a dozen films I wanted to see but they must have been on long ago, for I couldn’t find anything I wanted to see in the listings, except, that is, for a fairly mainstream film being released that same day which I thought might be worth seeing: ‘The Beat That My Heart Skipped’. It’s directed by Romain Duris with Jacques Audiard in the main role as young confused man, living, working and acting as a thug, but with a creative pianist inside desperate to be recognised. The film started like so many French films with one man talking about his angst or relationship problems, and my heart sank. And then, rather quickly, it descended to a tangle of dark confused shots of people being aggressive but without giving many clues as to why. Moreover, the music was electro-rock or something very loud, grating on my ears. So, it was a while before the film began to grow on me, and grow on me it did. I came out thinking it was one of the best French films I’d seen for a very long time. Dark, yes, gritty, yes, but interesting, story-wise, psychological-wise, and film-wise - even the loud heavy music proved to have its purpose. I particularly liked the way most of the film’s tension arose, not from the gangstering, but from the main characters efforts to prepare for a piano audition, and how these efforts led him to rediscover his musical/creative side.

I also browsed in the big Piccadilly Waterstones, which is a masochistic thing to do - seeing all those books, all those publishers, all those writers. But didn’t find any book that I felt I must have. From there I strolled to the Photographers’ Gallery, not because I wanted to see the exhibitions since I’d been there recently, but just for a cup of tea and a piece of cake. While I was drinking/eating and reading ‘The Guardian’ a lady sat down opposite me. I took a quick glance at her face but otherwise kept my eyes and head fairly down. When I finished the paper, I sat there for a while just staring into space, and thinking. When I got up to go, the lady smiled at me. I smiled slightly back, and left. It was only as I was walking down St Martin’s Lane that I realised that I wished I’d responded to her smile by starting a chat - after all, I suppose, I wander round London half-looking to meet someone just like her. I walked to the Queen Elizabeth Hall, across the river again (I always love that walk across the river, looking upstream or downstream it’s a real treat) to listen to some free jazz. But I didn’t like the atmosphere or the music much, and so went home.

There was a message from Emery & Orchard on the answering machine, and when I rang Henry on Saturday morning, he told me Mr Thomas had agreed a price of £515,000 for Russet House. Bingo. We have lift off. The asking price was £535,000. Could I have got £520,000 or £525,000? I don’t know. It’s possible that Mr Thomas never planned to pay more than £500,000 for Russet House, but that he was nudged up. On the other hand, it’s quite possible, he might have been prepared to go as far as £525,000 if I’d played hard ball. He is in a chain with all the other links in place and ready to go, so I know he was under pressure. On the other hand, he might have snapped if I’d pushed him too hard, and exited from the negotiations altogether. I was reassured, to some extent, by Henry suggesting that, because the price was within 5% of the asking price, it was a reasonable deal.

I had thought I might go to Chiddingfold in the evening for the fireworks, but it was raining and damp, and I felt I’d had enough excitement for one day. Cora came on Saturday. On Sunday, Adam came over, and we talked and talked and talked. He told me about a few of the people he knows in the hostel, and about some of his activities. He explained about his work and routines, all of which I found very reassuring - is he really getting up at 7am some mornings? is he really making notes when he reads books in the library? did he really attend a couple of meetings about the uni magazine? why on earth would I not believe what he tells me. It’s just that he surprised me quite a lot. On Monday, he emailed to tell me his bike had been stolen over the weekend. Poor boy. Life’s a bitch without pedals, I told him.

I’ve just finished reading ‘Monsieur’ by Lawrence Durrell. I can’t quite remember the reasoning that led me to pick it up (all Durrell’s books are on prominent display in a bookshelf in the hall next to my bedroom). In part, I’m sure, it came from the attention I’m giving all my books at the moment, as I try to decide which to keep and which to get ready for storage. I suppose I was interested to see whether I still rated Durrell, and whether the prominence of his works in my mental literary hall of fame and on my bookshelf is warranted. It was an interesting read. I kind of remember some of the main elements of the book, even though there aren’t very many, and not much happens. The language is extraordinary, and the ideas do still give me a buzz, although there is much that could be considered pretentious too. I can see now, too, that the book is too ambitious. Durrell was not only trying too hard to be exquisitely literary, but he was also extremely cocky in his attempts to play with the form of narrative, i.e. by mixing up levels of characters, having writers as characters and having them invent other writers and other characters, partly drawn from their own friends. And on top of this he also insinuates or suggests how he has drawn on himself and his own friends for the novel. ‘Monsieur’ is, of course, only the first of five inter-related novels in his Quincunx, which never achieved the fame of ‘The Alexandria Quartet’.

13 November 2005

It’s turned colder. But yesterday was such a lovely warm day. I spent it in Brighton, cycling around, looking for estate agents, and checking out the lie of the land (there are lots of areas too bike-difficult hilly for me); and half the time I was thinking this is going to be hell when the weather’s colder and/or rainy, which it will be the next few times I have to go flat hunting. It was all a very depressing experience, as I came to recognise, increasingly through the day, how much I’m going to have to compromise on the cost or size or position of whatever place I end up living in, and I’ll probably have to compromise in all three ways. The whole process of flat hunting is made hugely complicated in Brighton because there are so many different agents, could be 20 or 30, and all have regional offices, many do not. An agent in Hove, for example, may well be offering flats in Kemp Town. On the other hand, I suppose, I shouldn’t complain because many of the agents do now have detailed websites and so much of the initial research can be done online.

I left home about 7:30, parked on the outskirts of central Brighton (where there are no parking restrictions), unloaded my bicycle, and met Adam at 9:00. We drank tea, and swapped information, then he went off to the uni library, and I went to the new Brighton library, to thumb through the local property advertising paper. (The library seems very modern, open-plan, light and busy, but confusingly organised. There’s not enough seating, and there’s only a narrow staircase up two floors to the all the non-fiction sections. Still, it appears to be an excellent resource to have in the centre of town. I returned to it several times during the day.) Much of the day, I was cycling around, trying to find estate agent windows, sussing out various streets, trying to work out which areas were too difficult to cycle to. I didn’t get round to talking to any agents, or looking at flats. I figure it’s a bit early, and if I found one now, there’s nothing I would do about it, not till I come back from Morocco. In any case, I need to decide, somehow, although it’s going to be very difficult deciding on which compromises to make.

At around 4:00 I rang Adam to see if he was free yet (we’d arranged to meet at 5:00), but his damn phone wouldn’t engage. This happens every time I try to contact his mobile phone about some ongoing arrangement, and every time I waste 30p in a public phone. It’s always a trouble to find a public phone that takes coins and works; it’s always a trouble to have the right change; and then, even though Adam can’t answer the phone, the telephone company eats my 30p! In any case, I thought Adam might have gone home early (I know his phone doesn’t work inside Holland House), so I rode there to find him. I couldn’t get in for five minutes, because no one would answer the front door bell. But he was there, and we then strolled back towards the town centre, past a second- hand bike store I’d found, and to the cinema to see ‘The Constant Gardener’.

I’ve just found a surprisingly simple but spot-on review of the film in the property magazine I brought back from Brighton, which saves me having to think about writing one for myself. ‘[The film] is a love story dressed in a thriller’s clothing. Rachel Weisz stars as Tessa, a Kenya-based activist whose suspicious death is being investigated by her husband, reserved [I would add inscrutable] diplomat Ralph Fiennes. Filmed on location, the movie succeeds in building tension through broad strokes [fabulous landscape shots full of colour and contrast] and subtle nuances [lots of facial close-ups making good use of the excellent actors, British and African in supporting roles]. ‘City of God’ [a Brazilian film I much liked] director Fernando Meirelles captures intimate human drama, while remaining unflinching in his portrayal of exactly how the Third World is being exploited by the First [and exactly how poor and deprived the Third World is, with or without the First]. The subtle paranoia that’s present in all John Le Carre’s best writing can often come across as static when translated onto the big screen. ‘The Constant Gardener’ neatly sidesteps this problem and manages to be both moving and genuinely gripping.’

I thought the film better than the book, if such a judgement can be made. Meirelles seems to have managed to bring everything in the book to the screen, but, with love and sympathy, and he also brought it much closer to Africa. The film is visually stunning, and has some superb music also.

For ten days there has been rioting and disturbances across France, with many demonstrations and cars set on fire. The French government has admitted mistakes in some social policies, and brought in a few curfews. The problems do, now, seem to be abating.

The British government lost a key vote on a new terrorism bill in Parliament last week; Tony Blair had put a lot of personal store arguing that the police should be allowed to hold suspects for 90 days. The media went berserk again with stories about the beginning of the end for Blair. It’s true a government should not be seen to lose key votes in Parliament, but this is the first one Blair has ever lost, and he stood up for what he thought was right. But what really gets my goat is the way the BBC gave Clare Short such a platform to spout her embittered views. She’s been calling on Blair to resign constantly since she left the government, so why the BBC allowed her to reiterate this vitriol on all their channels - headlining it - I really don’t know. The media should be responsible, choosy, make honest careful editorial decisions - not run to Clare Short just because Blair lost a vote and it wants someone, anyone to be quoted calling for Blair to resign. And, on the same topic, why does no one in the BBC question the Tory party for opposing the 90 day rule - in it’s entire history, the conservatives have always backed tough action for the police and secret services. It’s absolutely ridiculous, laughable that they are now so at the government’s throat over this issue. They’re insincere, slimy, empty opportunists - but no one in the media seems to care, all they want to do is get at Tony Blair.

I’m missing Cora today. . . I suppose it’s because the day - Sunday - is so empty. And for a year, up until we split, we were always together at weekends. Cora seems to be very happy filling up her weekends and evening with this and that and that and this, and she’s very busy - and it’s always easier to move on when you’re busy. I get into stupid arguing spirals in my head, and they never really go anywhere. They always seem to be about how I could get Cora to be different from who she is - which is absolutely ridiculous. She has loved me, has wanted me, and, because of this, she finds it hard to move on emotionally. And so I do know why she’s always cautious with me now, why she’s always looking to hold on to any distance; and very far from willing to engage in any kind of regular contact which might involve the emotions. And yet, it’s not really what I want. Our loving, our sex is so good, so precious. I know I’m a man and she’s a woman, but it was always a fairly equal thing between us. And now, I suppose, I’m really reluctant to let it go. And Cora probably is too, but for her, she won’t be able to move on, or be ready to date, I imagine, until she’s cut me off more in her head, made me bad, old, finished with. And I don’t like to be redrawn like that.

14 November 2005

I was up quite early this morning, and was busy at the computer more quickly than I normally am, doing Diary Junction admin, and getting on with research for new diarists to add, trying to get some done before I go away at the end of the week. I was also finishing off packing all my letters into one large box, so that they are dealt with, neat and tidy for my eventual move. (One of several jobs like this that are ongoing). About five minutes ago, at 8:00, I went to get muesli for breakfast. I don’t usually have breakfast until around nine. I poured the muesli and the milk into a bowl, and started eating as I walked back into the study where the fire is on. And then, suddenly, I burst into tears, and I’m still crying. I wasn’t thinking about anything, but sometimes it catches me unawares, the depth of my loneliness and aloneness, and, in particular, the fact that there is so little hope for me in the future, so little hope of my life being interesting or entertaining or fulfilling. And even if there is hope, it’s like I know that any hope there is will only come at the end of a journey, but a journey that is going to be so uphill, so tedious, so long, so full of endless loneliness and coldness. This is the curse of foresight. Stuck in a cold dry desert, the man who survives is he who hopes that beyond the next dune is an oasis, not the man who has eyes that can see for hundreds of miles, and sees that there are no oases.

I know I know I know, I knew this would come, I knew it would be hard. And now I’m living it; and there’s months, possibly years, possibly a lifetime left of lonely empty misery. I’m weeping so much I can’t even type any more. I know I know I know I must put things in perspective, and I will in a few minutes, I’m sure. I don’t want ordinary. I don’t want banality. I spent years adjusting to it. And then I found magic again; and I want it back. I WANT IT BACK.

16 November 2005

After a couple of cold dank days, it’s actually brightened up again today. The sun’s out. And last night, the moon was full and lovely. B came over for supper. I cooked salmon (organic, which isn’t cheap), sweet potato, green beans, and ratatouille. She talks for half an hour about the building works going on in her house. It’s all very exciting for her - would be for me too, if I’d ever done anything big to this house. I was outside just now and thinking how I really should have done something with the front and side of the house, had all that concrete reskimmed, a new drive put in, flower beds and lawns. These have been nice evenings with Barbara. She’s been a good friend since I broke up with Cora, ringing regularly and - in these last few weeks - using the excuse of building works to invite herself round for supper once a week. I glaze over a bit as she tell me about the building, and she glazes over as I tell her (probably for the umpteenth time) about the four different levels of my diaries that I am working on at any given time. We also chat about Brighton, and where I might live, and in what type of property, and I try to explain all the complications in my head. She promises to come round a couple of times while I’m away, to pick up the post, water the plants.

It’s Wednesday, and I’m leaving Friday morning. The thought of going to Morocco for a couple of weeks hasn’t lifted my spirits an iota, not that I can detect. I’m sure I will have an interesting time. I’m not sure I’ve ever gone away and not profited from the experience. But I will be alone.

This morning I spoke to Henry at the estate agents and to Gary at my solicitors. It seems that Mr Thomas is keen to move. He’s asked if it might be possible to arrange completion before Christmas. Pow wow. That would be fast. I said no. I’m on a schedule in my head that gives me time to find a flat, avoids panic, and ends up with me moving sometime in January. Nevertheless, the conversations did give me a bit of a buzz. I might have been able to consider a move before Christmas (might have quite liked it) if I hadn’t arranged this Morocco trip.

The last few nights, and many nights in the last few months, I’ve been waking around 3-3:30am, and I can’t back to sleep. Sometimes, it’s because I need to pee, but not always. My heart is racing and I can’t do anything to stop it.

England’s cricket team are in Pakistan, but it just lost the first test. The Pakistanis know their pitches, and England couldn’t even reach 190 in their second innings which is all they would have needed. Intermittently I pack. Up until yesterday, I’d just been writing on the boxes what’s in them. But then I decided I should produce proper labels, and then I realised I might as well create a database of my storage items. I spent a while on it, making it look reasonable, coding up buttons so I can switch between layouts and do automatic sorts. It seemed for a moment rather bizarre to be spending so much time on it, but, in fact, it takes very little time to type in three components for each box (a number, a headline, and a more detailed description), and then it’s really simple to print out the labels on mass, or a sheet list of all the boxes. It’s such a sensible thing to do, to have done.

December 2005

Paul K Lyons


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