PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1991 - APRIL
DIARY 44: April - June 1991
Monday 1 April 1991
Another long day of tourism, this time to Antwerp. The trip by car doesn’t take very long at all, half an hour. The zoo is situated right next to the central station which makes finding it fairly straight forward. Fortunately, we decided to do the zoo first for, by the time we left at midday, it had become uncomfortably crowded. Adam had a splendid time running from cage to cage. looking at giraffes, elephants, owls, gorillas, flamingos, oryx, condors, sea-lions, penguins, dolphins. I found the zoo quite distasteful; the animals so often seemed to be in poor condition (emaciated, fur hanging off, apathetic) and the cages and pens were small lacking any natural interest. It was no surprise to find most of the large animals sleeping or standing stock still. I suppose I have been spoilt by London Zoo, but this is supposed to be one of the best in Europe. It is right in the centre of Antwerp, and thus hemmed into a large block by buildings and railways all around. Even I, who am as far from an animal rights person as Saddam Hussein is from Mother Theresa, felt disturbed at the conditions. Throughout the tour, I couldn’t help making sarcastic comments to Adam - what a lot of space that animal has; doesn’t he lead an exciting life; such a lot of things to do in that cage - thus quietly filling his simple view of zoos with more complex thoughts. I also tried to explain why the animals were there in the first place and how they have to be caught in the wild. For twenty minutes or so, I let Adam sit on my shoulders in the very crowded auditorium by the dolphin pool. Several times a day, the dolphins are fed fish as a reward for doing various tricks - jumping out of the water, jumping through hoops, balancing balls on their noses, moving vertically with their fins in the water, and so on. Adam and many other children watched fascinated by the spectacle, but, as with the rest of this zoo experience, I was rather perturbed.
Next we moved towards the central cathedral area. We found a bright modern lunch place and ate our fill of greek-style food. Like Brussels cathedral, Antwerp’s main church is also being renovated, and it looks to be at the same stage of renovation also. There were several Rubens in the Antwerp church but, as we were to see a bit later, Rubens can be found all over the city. After a walk along the river Schelde we found our way to the Plantin-Moretus museum of printing. What a treat for B and I, if not for Adam. Plantin and Moretus were 16th and 17th century master printers who worked and lived in this house, and it remains much as it was in their day. The museum is a treasure trove even for those who do not have any special interest in books; it is so well laid out and so authentic that one cannot help but marvel at the past. No two-bit heritage park this - it’s the real McCoy. Not only was the museum well laid out with a clearly marked route for moving through all the rooms, but the cheap guide book was excellent: well written, informative and interesting. Although written in 1977, there was barely an item out of place, a witness to the constancy of the place.
Rubens was much in evidence through the house right from the beginning, not only with paintings on the walls but as an illustrator for some of the printed books. Indeed, as with most other things, the paintings and illustrations scattered through the rooms were of the highest quality. The first room contains some impressive tapestries; the second, ten Rubens portraits of Plantin and the first Moretuses and their wives. Some of the rooms, including this one, are hung with old heavy damask; beautiful furniture of the day is also in evidence in many of them. Before long we are in the old shop - a genuine 17th century bookshop. A 17th century man behind the counter sells postcards of the museum - that is all he sells. The wood counter and shelves and panelling are all so smooth and time-worn, they infuse the room and indeed all the rooms with this fabulous sense of antiquity.
Moving on around the ground floor we pass through the beautiful courtyard, then through the old kitchen (which once served as the weighing room for paper, we are told); through the small office with its rich Malines gilt leather on the walls, dark and sombre in colour, and bars on the window because this is where the money was kept and counted; another room hung in rich gilt leather and dedicated to Justus Lipsius (‘the great Flemish humanist’). Also on the ground floor we find a room full of old type and another with several printing presses (one or two of which are still used for occasional or special print runs - two are thought to be from the time of Plantin himself).
Upstairs, there are several rooms with information about the masters of the house, others with more paintings and portraits, rooms with special books including a Gutenberg bible (which we miss). Altogether, there are four actual libraries (‘little’, ‘second’ and ‘large’ as well as the Max Horn Room which is full of books with special bindings - you can just hear B breathing heavily). On the first floor we also find the foundry with its concrete floor where the printing types were cast, a geography room with examples of early maps (and the printing blocks). Altogether, a quite wonderful experience this museum. Adam got a bit bored but we did our best to explain things to him, and, after all, he had spent all morning at the zoo.
We still had not finished in Antwerp. On our way in, I had noticed a small park which, according to my map, was the local botanical garden, so we visited that quickly (I took photos under a flowering magnolia) and we stopped for expensive tea and cake at the adjacent tea house which was full of well-dressed old ladies.
Tuesday 2 April 1991
Some of Adam’s phrases and statements: ‘I can do anything I want to do’; ‘You can’t tell me what to do’; ‘Do it just today, you won’t have to do it again’; ‘I can see the Atomium’; ‘Shall we see who can get to the top of the stairs first?’; ‘What does desperate mean?’; ‘Don’t be silly Barbara’; ‘Come on Mummy and Daddy’; ‘Shall we have tea and cakes out. I want to.’; ‘I am thinking about it’; ‘What’s special about this church?’; ‘Is that a fancy organ, Daddy?’; ‘I want to do a poo’; ‘I am just going to put them away’; ‘I am still hungry’; ‘I’ve finished’.
We all ate a quick lunch together after which I raced off to the Commission to pick up some documents and make telephone calls while A and B went to playground in the central park. I caught up with them there by chance because there was no one in the FT office when I arrived and the playground is just a few metres away. We walked back across town for no particular reason except that we needed shopping.
Wednesday 3 April 1991
Barbara tells me of a dream in which there is an avenue of tall tree lupins the flowers of which are my old essays. However, in order for B to read them properly the lupins have to be flowering in just the right way. She can walk along the tops of the tree lupins which are all different colours.
B and A caught the Ostend train this morning around 8 and they have just arrived, after 6 UK time, a journey of nearly 12 hours.
Thursday 4 April 1991
Another long day. At least I have managed to get around and see some people. Before A and B left, it seemed as though I was barely going to get any interviews or work done this visit at all. Today, though I was writing until mid-morning, and then I’ve had about four appointments this afternoon, varying from lunch with Derek Taylor to a long rambling chat with Mr Portal, the secretary general of Europia. I need to write up many of my notes as soon as possible because they often don’t make sense without whatever I can pull out of my short term memory. I only have one appointment tomorrow but I’ve promised myself a visit to the Parliament’s environment committee meeting in the morning, and I must try and retrieve my Commission press card which I stupidly left at DG17 yesterday.
Yesterday, too, I seemed to be out rushing around Brussels for most of the day. In the evening, I caught up with Fiona’s news - her skiing holiday, Commission press room gossip, the best films on in town and the latest developments in ‘Twin Peaks’. She listens sympathetically to my telephone troubles. I explain with great passion how high my hopes were raised the other morning when I saw an RTT van, full of equipment, parked in the road. I even delayed my journey to watch what and see how long they stayed. Since then I’ve been picking up the receiver on my telephone every few minutes just in case they did really do the necessary work. Oh my mind runs through every possibility. Perhaps the line is already on but my particular telephone doesn’t work, how will I ever know, oh dear I should try somebody else’s phone. Oh don’t be so silly.
I should have called Kenny and Miriam today considering it was a production day and only the second using the Applemacs, but I just couldn’t get to a phone. I’ll call in the morning to hear their feedback. I should be back in the office on Tuesday.
Sunday 7 April 1991, Brussels
My desk is still cluttered papers with even though I worked all day long yesterday. I had collected notes and reports and press releases all week, and I went through them slowly yesterday, turning them into stories for next week’s ‘EC Energy Monthly’. There was so much to write, though, I just didn’t get through all the papers. I slowed down on the last one of the day because I found myself editorialising again - this time about the Commission’s regional policy. I am tempted to go on working today - Sunday - since I find it quite enjoyable. When I find that I am extracting good information from the officials and being able to present it accurately I get a buzz, and I wish I had a wider readership and appreciation for my news and views.
The biggest story this week, I suppose, is the Commission’s decision to attack legally the monopolies on gas and electricity trade in most of the Member States. I have talked with Sir Leon Brittan’s cabinet and will talk with competition officials in DGIV tomorrow. The key significance is that DGIV has taken over from DGXVII (energy) in trying to get the internal energy market moving. Jean-Claude Guibal, a senior official at DGXVII, has been moved from running the internal energy market task force because he favoured a more moderate approach. This is interesting for me is because I interviewed Guibal months ago, and he gave me frank views on third party access and the results of the third party access committees. At the time I did not appreciate how controversial these views were, but now I wonder whether my article (of course he wasn’t mentioned, and I used the information carefully) had any link with his sudden removal from the brief. I saw him in DGXVII this week. He gave me a warm welcome, said he appreciated my article, and told me he was no longer in charge of the internal energy market. Other officials explained that, for some time, his views have been diverging with that of the Commissioner over how to get on with the internal energy market.
I also follow up on the energy tax brief. I was well pleased back in January to get, from the Italian energy rep, confidential documentation, but only now do I discover that he didn’t give me all that was relevant. This led to me giving prominence to a paper (the same one I then gave to Greenpeace and with which it then won front page publicity!) that, in fact, was superseded before being considered by the environment Council of last December. Now I have got the final paper, the one agreed by all the Commissioners, and which is the base for formulating a draft proposal on energy and carbon taxes to be ready for June. A DGXI official gives me some extra details, which allows to put my readers back on a right track. (I do something in ‘EC Energy Monthly’ I’ve never seen other journals do: I try and explain and correct previous mistakes or inconsistencies.)
I also write about regional infrastructure programmes, the aid to coal mining regions, the developing policy of the oil industry lobby Europia and so on. I have a list of another ten stories to write, and that’s before I’ve finished going through the papers on my desk
Last night I went to the cinema: ‘Reversal of Fortune’ with Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close, directed by Barbet Schroeder. Since I’m a sucker for any mystery or court room saga, I enjoyed it immensely.The style of using flashbacks and fades was a little fussy. It seemed to me Schroeder had done little more with this film than make an entertaining parody of an Agatha Christie.
Despite being somewhat tired on my return to the flat, I agreed to join Fiona and Amanda to go to a night club on Avenue Louis. But, Hilde and a friend showed up quite, and I was talking with them when Fiona buzzed me to leave. I promised I would come later, but I had a wicked stomach which kept threatening to get worse. So, my first opportunity to taste real night life here in Brussels, faded into the night.
I have had some, minimal, night life. On Friday, I went to a Greek restaurant in Ixelles with Geoffrey and Anna. They came all the way from Liege to see me, indeed Anna seemed somewhat disgruntled about the journey. After they moved back to Belgium from London, I didn’t really expect to see them again. I had made a bit of an effort they lived next door in Aldershot Road, partly because they were Belgian and partly because they were/are a really nice couple. Various events seemed to bring us together, in the first place there was David’s illness, then the robbery at their house and then at our house, and then the possibility of Kenny and Liz being interested in their flat, and then the fact that FTBI took over Geoffrey’s company, and then they left some things at my house. After they’d moved, they sent me a postcard, and then a note, and they visited briefly on their way through Brussels. Geoffrey appeared quite keen on us getting together so I agreed to phone them in the week. This I did, and, despite being between the civil wedding of his friend on the Friday and the religious wedding on the Sunday (for which he was to be best man), he agreed to drive to Brussels. We actually spent a pleasant evening. It transpired that Anna is quite keen to get married (a view supported by her mother who cannot understand modern mores of living together). However, Geoffrey holds more liberal views and (according to Anna anyway) has been suggesting they can have children without getting married! Thus, I began to understand Geoffrey’s interest in me. Barely had we sat down in the restaurant than Ann was telling me she thought my lifestyle with Barbara was cowardly - she had been discussing me with a friend and this is what the friend had thought. Well, Paul Lyons likes nothing better than to justify his lifestyle. I explained about my background - the many examples of marriages not working, the cultural and class differences between my various parents and so on. I told them I would never recommend my way of life to anyone (certainly not these two from conventional and stable families), and that I had always accepted it was the best I, personally, could do. They seemed very interested in Barbara so I was able to tell them the full story of our relationship (always a pleasure for me).
In return, I discovered that Geoffrey was the youngest of five brothers. When he was six and the oldest fourteen, his father died unexpectedly and suddenly. His mother never remarried, preferring instead to concentrate on bringing up her children. It is intriguing that Geoffrey should be interested in me since he grew up without a role model father other than his brothers. I strongly advised him to get married and have children as soon as possible, and in no way to follow my disturbed example. They again invited me to Liege.
I have been a bit lax about world news of late. The Kurds are in deep trouble. The world will provide humanitarian aid for the fleeing, hungry, freezing people, but it has no political interest in them. Their leaders should have realised this before they marched against Saddam. The West urged the Iraqi military to rise up against Saddam not the people. The Kurds have no international friends, they just complicate issues in Iran, Iraq and Turkey. All along, the US has said it does not want to interfere internally with Iraq’s affairs, and there is no UN approval to do so. If it, or any other nation, was tempted by the emotional cries from various agencies in the West they would best think again. The Arab countries would seize on the chance to attack ongoing Western involvement in the Middle East.
Graham Greene and Martha Graham have died. In honour of the first, I bought an old Penguin edition of ‘Brighton Rock’ at a second hand bookstall on Boulevard Lemmonier; as for the choreographer, I never liked her style, it never touched me like it touched so many others.
20 24, Friday 12 April 1991
Back to London and back to my Tosh. I have to say that I much prefer to write on the Tosh in Wordperfect. This is a writer’s system like the BMW is a driver’s car; the Applemac is fussy, for fussy artists, perhaps it’s like a Citroen.
B is downstairs cooking some pasta, A is in bed. We met this evening in Trafalgar Square since B wanted to visit the RHS library and ask Brent, her old boss, about foreign publishers for next term’s project. I have spent most of the day talking about the new equipment. Kenny and Miriam are very keen on the new system, but I cannot see that the benefits outweigh the significant costs. Later I joined Dennis, who had invited the re-equipment team to dine in the FT dining rooms. We talked shop mostly through the lunch. I was surprised how accurately Dennis has taken on my thoughts about the whole process, while the brakes have effectively been put on Tony’s rollercoaster approach. Tony, quite bravely I must say, told Dennis that he really ought to get more involved in the decision-making process: there were decisions to made on an almost daily basis and nobody to make them. Dennis deflected the suggestion without hesitation, repetition or deviation. He said he could either do that or run 35 newsletters. Of course, Tony is absolutely right. I have said from the moment I got seriously involved in this, that FTBI needed a insider, a professional sorting out all the hardware, software, and training provisions needed by each group. But we never had someone like that. With very little pretext (except perhaps for more wine), since the conversation had drifted off onto side topics, Dennis volunteered that he was not going to sign any more order forms until he was perfectly happy with the way my group (and another group who currently have Applemacs) were up and running smoothly. Punch in the eye for Tony. His immediate response was that Dennis was absolutely right, absolutely right, but he couldn’t keep a touch of bitterness from his tone. Although, we (FTBI) will still make one hell of a mess of the changeover process, I feel confident that by slowing down the process and getting each group off the ground slowly and carefully, with preparation, that it will not be a chaotic mess and that progress will be made. By the time I got back to the office there was just time to give Kenny and Miriam a run down on the lunch conversation before leaving to meet Ant and Bee at the fountains.
9 03, Monday 15 April 1991
I shall have to run in a few minutes, I’m due at County Natwest for a seminar on East Europe energy. Without doubt this is to be an East Europe energy week. Tomorrow I fly to Berlin for a three day conference on the subject.
A very pleasant weekend passed with my son and Barbara. Although the air turned cold on Sunday, Saturday and the previous few days had been glorious, so many spring flowers are now in bloom: just in my tiny garden, the quince (as ever) is a blazing bush of crimson, nudging up next to it is the berberis with its bright orange flame, further along the euonymus has a new set of yellow leaves; other gifts of nature are preparing their shows - rose buds are visible, honeysuckle, although much eaten already has slight buds preparing to open, the lilies and irises are streaking upwards with their striking leaves; sadly, the magnificent Clematis montana has failed again this year to cover itself in a blanket of white, and her growth is poor and sickly; I will need to cut her back and feed her well this year.
On Saturday morning, B went off hunting for specialist books on publishing while Adam and I drove up to Highgate to Lauderdale House. We had a smashing time. Dad sat in the cafe slowly reading his ‘Independent’ and drinking coffee. I had advised A carefully that I would sit in the cafe and that if he had any problem he would be able to find me there. Well, he sat quiet as a mouse until the show started, and then he came rushing into the cafe to tell me he didn’t like it. In fact, he looked quite distressed. We went back in together, though I left my paper sprawled out across the table because I didn’t want to lose my place, the only place in the sun. It didn’t take more than a few moments to convince Adam that it was all really quite enjoyable and that he shouldn’t be frightened. Just minutes from the end, he ran out again, frightened a second time, but when I asked him if he wanted to go home, he was keen to return to watch the end of the show. I must say it was a strange one, with lots of loud classical music and, at times, some fairly abstract concepts floating around as puppets.
Afterwards we spent a couple of hours in the park. Why so long, I’m not sure. The sun was so warm, the park so lovely, the people so friendly. We played football, Adam seems to have a natural ability to dribble and kick the football, he really is quite impressive. Oh we laugh a lot as we play different things with the ball - trying to get it from each other, kicking it to each other, short or long distances. Then we stroll down to the small playground. I recognise some people from the show, and occasionally talk to them. Adam is a star, he is so easy with other children and thinks it his perfect right to be in among them, playing with them. I sit and watch for half an hour or more. He doesn’t seem to be noticing me at all, but when I start to walk around the playground, he suddenly runs up to me and asks me where I’m going. He talks most easily to the parents rather than the children, and readily engages them in conversation for ages. Then we stroll up the hill a little way and sit down on a bench. Dogs come and sniff at us, a lady with a baby sits near, and while she talks to a friend, the baby comes and plays with our ball. Adam has a long conversation with his mother.
When they go, I say to Adam ‘What a lot of visitors we’ve had today, but now its time to go.’ Adam replies: ‘But I want more visitors.’ ‘All right we’ll stay a bit longer.’ As I say this, Adam runs off to a small group some way in front, it is a man with two children playing with a model aeroplane. They are the only people nearby that Adam hasn’t yet talked to. I watch hims as he settles down to talk to the children and ultimately to the father. This man, although he doesn’t recognise me of course, is Bill Paterson, the actor, recently in several interesting TV dramas. I particularly remember him because his roles always have a teenage son or daughter with whom he has a tortuous relationship: in the recent drama about psychotherapists, his son was killed; in an earlier drama he played an MP with a drug addict daughter. In the park, his children were only a bit older and bit younger than Adam, so I suppose he has another generation of family somewhere. At one point his son came up to me, a quiet creature, almost in another magical world. He came to say goodbye, but when Adam, who was sitting on my lap, got up, he - Patterson’s son - promptly sat down in my lap where Adam had been. This felt a touch awkward since I’d only met him two seconds earlier. I could have talked to his father because he came and sat right next to me, but I chose to talk to the mother of two girls who I’d seen at the show and who was sitting on the grass nearby. She was a shy creature, but I just felt so warm and friendly towards everyone in the park. Finally, Adam and I headed home and arrived back after one.
In the evening, B and I went to the Tricycle to see a much-feted production of a Seamus Heaney play. I thought it was rather tragic, two out of six of the actors would have served better in the back aisles, and the direction lacked any real imagination, the set likewise. The play - well the play was heavy, worthy, even clever perhaps, but it was a bit of a trial for the audience. Having said that Clare (resident here at Aldershot Road) and my friend Rosy both enjoyed it.
Sunday morning A and I spent in Hyde Park and the Science Museum with Raoul and children. The afternoon, A and B and I got filthy in the garden repotting plants. In the evening, I went over to Rosy and Andrew’s for dinner. A year or more has probably gone by since I spent a quiet evening talking to Rosy (although Andrew I see more often on our curry evenings with Raoul) so we swapped current stories and plans. They have bought a cottage in a south of Spain village, not far from the coast and not far from the ski fields of Granada. At present, it is being renovated but by the summer they should have themselves a fairly splendid holiday pad. Perhaps, Adam and I will trip down there this year or next. I still get on fine with these two ageing bohemians, although these days I much prefer Rosy in small company than in groups when she feels the need to be performing.
Major news. Colin rings on Saturday morning to tell me Hilde is pregnant. He doesn’t know if they will get married (I suggest he should) but if he does, he says he wants me to be the witness. He feels that I would be able to fully appreciate the process he has undergone to get there. I do, I do.
19 30, Monday 22 April 1991, London
The weather has been freezing this last week. In Berlin, it snowed most days. Yesterday and today there have been signs of a change, a return of warmer weather and some sunshine. As always, April brings surprises.
A round trip - London, Berlin, Brighton and back to London. And in 36 hours I head back to Brussels again. Chaos, this life I lead. Perhaps I should have taken my Tosh to Berlin since I have such a back log of things to write up, but then I probably wouldn’t have had time to write anything anyway. My time in Berlin was fully occupied, when I wasn’t sitting attentively at the conference, I was racing round the old East Berlin to see as much as I could. To add flavour to the visit, I read Ian McEwan’s ‘Innocent’ which is set in Berlin in the 1950s, and on my return to Brighton, I began reading to Adam, ‘Emil and the Detectives’, which is set in Berlin just after the Great War I think.
It was a fascinating trip, if not as full and rich as my last visit some eight years ago. The last time I went, I stayed with an old girlfriend, Jan. When I wasn’t being taken somewhere by Jan and her attractive Berliner friend Anna, I was going to the theatre or some bar with Manu. Moreover, then I took a trip to the East, and since Jan’s boyfriend (husband by then I think) knew an East Berliner we were treated to an intelligent tour behind the wall. I still remember that day because our guide, a rather beautiful young girl who had been to the west on several occasions, was able to talk proudly about Communism and defend many of its attributes while, at the same time, recognising its faults; an attitude rather similar to that a Western European person might hold about the capitalist system. But what of THIS trip. Well, I will have to write another time since my head continues to spin, despite several rounds of paracetamol, and my stomach also continues to be unsettled. I have had some strange middle body pains for several days now.
I have omitted that while I was away in Brussels on the last trip, my production assistant and erstwhile secretary, Miriam, got herself married. Some while back she had applied to the Home Office for a fiancee visa, to replace her temporary work permit which is or was based on a studentship and gave her a small number of working hours. After the scandal, FTBI graciously covered for her by pretending to pay more per hour than she actually gets (I’m sure I went into all this at the time of the Annagate affair - Anna and her husband, incidentally, have requested a trial at a higher court and are thus still awaiting a date). To cut a tedious story short, the Home Office refused Miriam a fiancee visa and told her that the application had automatically annulled her other work permit, leaving her one month to quit the country or, and this was their advice, marry in a hurry. She did just that, and now calls herself Miriam Huysman. Not exactly a match made in heaven - I would never have predicted that the cocky cockney office-boy Barry would find love (and vice-a-versa) in such a chubby cheery yankee as Miriam.
Miriam reports that Kenny and Liz went to their hasty wedding (several others from the office also turned up unexpectedly, which just goes to show how popular Miriam has become round the office) and that she had no idea Kenny could be so relaxed and good-humoured. Both he and Liz drank quite a lot, she adds. I must say I thought it strange that Kenny and Liz should go to the wedding at all, I mean I was never invited to their own wedding, when you could argue that I was much more entitled to be there (having effectively introduced them). I would have gone to Miriam’s had I been in London; I bought them a huge box of Belgian chocolates and a card.
My Mum has had some troubles. First of all, last Sunday, she had an argument with a lodger who appeared to run off with her keys, not having paid the rent. This was sorted out eventually, but, meanwhile, the Ham & High have given her the sack. The firm that owns the weekly newspaper is making quite a number of people redundant and Mum, after all, has reach standard retirement age. Shame for her since the pay wasn’t bad, and she enjoyed the work and having a part to play in an interesting outfit.
The world dances on. The status of the Kurds appears to rise day by day, and Operation Haven takes on a concrete form. Who knows, the Kurds may leap frog the Palestinians and get their own state first. It just goes to show that when a war comes along, you’ve got to make sure you’re on the winning side.
Speculation rises as to the fate of David Owen. The latest talk is that he might move into a Conservative government cabinet; whereas Thatcher was anathema to him, Major’s more central blend of policies might appeal to him. My money is still on the Liberal Democrats. Ashdown has told the other party leaders that if they were considering any sort of alliance with the Liberals they should not pick up the telephone unless prepared to talk about the implementation of electoral reform.
I see the film ‘Dances with Wolves’, this years most-feted run-of-the-mill movie. Kevin Costner stars and directs. In at least half of the three hour film, there is no one else in the camera but our Kevin. The process of ‘turning injun’ takes a mite deal of time to portray realistically. Although stunningly photographed and splendid entertainment, the film is ultimately rather hollow since one is led to believe that the events will have some political or historic significance, but of course they don’t, they have none at all. The film is just an excuse to run through one man’s nemesis, and to show how piggish the Western invader was compared to the refined traditions of the injuns, and how much of a tragedy the injun slaughter really was.
Thursday 25 April 1991, Brussels.
Racing around Brussels again. Perhaps I am too old for this lark, perhaps I should be settling down in London and writing management reports to make extra money.
The card A and B sent me after their return from Belgium awaited my return. It reads: ‘Adam on Belgium - I liked the zoo best; on the animals - I liked the giraffe because I thought it was out of a cage and it wasn’t; on the Atomium - I liked the building outside but I didn’t like it inside; you know I like birds and animals; I liked the botanical gardens, the cafe and the river. Barbara liked the printing museum, and next best was the botanical garden, but generally I enjoyed everything, and the holiday has a high score, on the Ireland/Antibes scale. Adam was fairly well behaved on the journey home and has been an absolute gem today. Lots of love from Atomium and Bookbinding.’
I must write down some thoughts about Berlin before I forget them all. This trip was not as memorable or as much fun as the last. I am older, so are Manu and Anna. I tried to get in touch with others: I rang Jan in New York to see if she could give me a telephone number or two but she was too busy, just dashing out the door. She was certainly surprised to hear from me, although she has regularly sent me postcards with her address. From her failure to concede even a couple of minutes out of her busy schedule, I gathered that she had become more neurotic over the years rather than less - such is the life of an actress on the fringe. Raoul gave me the telephone number of a Berlin journalist he had just met, but he didn’t seem to have time either.
The main reason for my visit was a conference on East-West energy. It promised a high calibre programme of speakers over three days. FTBI is now seriously set to launch my East European Energy newsletter, so I felt it would be pertinent to beef up my knowledge on the subject. I doubt, however, whether I would seriously have considered going had it not been for the associated benefits of seeing Berlin and Manu again.
Although the conference did prove quite disappointing, in terms of hard information about the East Europe nations and about Western developments in the region, it nevertheless served to waken up my ideas and refresh my thinking on the subject. One cannot sit through two and half days of papers without learning and thinking something. There were no other journalists at the conference apart from Nicky France who edits an academic publication called ‘Energy Policy’, largely because the (German energy economists) organisation running the conference didn’t accept non-paying journalists. Nicky France asked me to write a 1,000 word summary of the meeting for her journal which gave me the chance to focus my thinking more than I might have done for ‘European Energy Report’.
I didn’t talk to many people at the conference but those conversations I did have were productive - I always seemed to have lots to say. A youngish man from the economist department of BP knew my Management Report and appeared to refer to it as the standard work that everyone interested in E. Europe energy was consulting. A US executive working for an energy efficiency company provided me with the single most useful idea of the conference. He said he was already working on some Least Cost Planning (LCP) projects in Hungary (with Ian Brown in fact who may be my co-author on a new Management Report). He used the word ‘leap-frog’ first, but I really jumped on the idea and propagated it to other delegates. The idea is this. The European Commission is keen on introducing LCP into Europe but there is enormous resistance from the utilities to ideas even less radical than this. LCP is already becoming quite wide-spread in the US so there is real tangible evidence of its efficacy and utility. By backing LCP schemes in East Europe - schemes for energy saving rather than spending money any other way - the Commission could held the region leap-frog its energy strategy over that of West Europe and at the same time set an example for the Western utilities. I told the American he should set up an office in Brussels, and start lobbying today for Commission funds. He could set one hell of a trend. Unfortunately, the whole business of financing LCP and other energy saving mechanisms is more intricate and complex than banks and money lenders are comfortable with.
The knowledge I gained in the conference (as set out in my article for ‘Energy Policy’) about the widening gap between the East’s expectations and the West’s willingness or ability to meet them, was further reinforced on a personal level by my talks with Manu and Anna and my trips in East Berlin.
East Germany is, of course, a different place since unification. There is barely a sector of the ex-GDR society that the West Germans aren’t taking over and revamping, be it the high street banks, the national theatre, the electricity grid, the police . . . The East Germans are essentially having a nervous breakdown, an existential crisis, whatever you like to call it. Now that the wall is down, they realise that nothing they have done all their lives meets with Western standards - their jobs, their art, their schooling, their architecture, their business, nothing is good enough for the New German society, and so the West Germans are just simply taking over.
Berlin, of course, is the real focus of this, and it’s where the changes and any problems with the changes will be most apparent. Manu and Anna report that social problems are on the rise, and that the atmosphere of Berlin is chaining. Right wing groups have started to congregate and cause trouble (one man managed to broadcast right wing propaganda for an hour on a cable channel), and football hooligans in eastern towns have been creating havoc. It seems to me that the potential social problems right across the region have been vastly underestimated. Ultimately, the Germans will be able calm the worst of any future troubles by providing greater resources, something the West German people will have to pay for, and something Germany’s leader Chancellor Kohl may lose his job for - he has already lost control of the upper house after a state election at the weekend (I was glad to see several of the London newspapers make this their lead story). But in other countries, I think there will be chaos. Several of the conference delegates were candid about overestimating people’s ability to endure hardship and how serious social problems were beginning to emerge.
I toured around East Berlin twice. Once on foot and once on Anna’s bicycle taking photographs. It still looks a grim, uncared for sort of place. I noticed two key changes that had taken place since the fall of the wall. Firstly, the overwhelming presence of West German cars (the contrast between a self-confident, honking Mercedes and a stuttering little Trabant spurting out clouds of black smoke and stalling all the time provided a perfect metaphor the relationship between the two halves). Secondly, the advance of advertising, not only on billboards which are still mercifully few and far between, but in and around shop windows. Brightly lit signs are everywhere and show windows are filling with Western goods and their advertising and promotional material.
Early on Saturday morning, I raced around the streets on Anna’s violet bike in search of atmospheric photos. I figure that the peculiar atmosphere of a dead Communist state will not be easy to find in the future. It is not my job to document the appearance of the world but I do like to take photographs. I find the huge dirty green S which sits in front of the S-bahn stations photogenic; I see some huge concrete rolls in front of the Reichstag; I photograph a Trabant in front of wastelands or deserted parking lots, and so on. I am particularly keen to get a shot of a piece of land where the wall used to be. This takes some finding since much of it has just merged into the wastelands that were on the East side. In places, roads are already being built across, and infrastructure of one sort or another denies the wall ever existed. Nevertheless, I do find a nice tract with clear signs that a wall was once there - this is the archaeology not of yesteryear but of yesterday. Nearby, I find a wall with masses of barbed wire, it is certainly in the right place but whether it is The Wall still I am unsure since it is part of a larger building.
It is an extremely cold morning, it has been snowing in the night; indeed some of my first photos of the morning are scenes with snow. After about two hours I am frozen. In the centre of Alexanderplatz I find a first class cafe. It serves coffee and a proper breakfast. I take my time warming up since I plan another couple of hours on the bike. Despite almost four hours I do not manage to finish one slide film (200 asa). I am so careful when I take these sort of pictures (i.e. photos largely without people) that I rarely need to take more than one of each subject - I frame and compose each one before shooting.
Earlier in the week, I had walked from Manu’s flat to the (new) National Gallery and spent an hour or so examining the giant lead sculptures and huge canvases of Kiefer, Germany’s most celebrated living artist. Well, what can I say, they are striking, they are memorable, but how depressing. The main gallery has a dozen or so giant sculptures: dull, lifeless aeroplanes about half or one quarter real size, all made of soft lead and looking as though, if smaller, they could have been made by an eight year old with grey plasticine; a three-sided gallery of shelves packed with giant books all made of lead sheet and looking like a dusty forgotten library, perhaps one which has been left for centuries. The exhibition (including paintings with a collage element) give rise to a whole sack of thoughts such as these: Are we in a post-holocaust gallery of forgotten items? How did the sculptures get here, after all lead is so heavy, who moved all this? Why is this man so obsessed with depressing subjects, is there no lightness in his being? Is Germany thus so oppressed still by war? Must the people never forget? And standing atop of specially built platforms one can see so clearly, not the sculptures themselves, but all the live colourful people walking around them. I was also interested to see echoes of Joseph Beuys, through the use of various unusual icons in the paintings: straw, a much repeated motif of a white dress, tar and so on.
From here I walked on past West Berlin’s central music auditorium built in colourful yellow brick, across where the wall used to be, through miles of colourless apartment blocks to reach East Berlin’s beautiful old festival hall. Inside it does not appear to have lost any of it’s Kaiserish splendour despite the vacuum of richness externally. I would have liked to have gone to a concert here in the evening but Manu chose a cabaret for us instead, one which turned out to be a splendid evening’s entertainment.
Finally, I caught the Pergamon Museum just before it closed. I don’t suppose this museum has changed much since it was first built to house the collection transported from Turkey earlier this century. German scientists and German money ensured that the preserved ruins of the magnificent Temple to Athena in the ancient city of Pergamon were transferred to Berlin. Visitors to the museum are given a half hour tape guide in their own language. This does really bring the exhibition to life, without it, I might have passed by the three or four rooms in a matter of five minutes. The lions impressed me more than the rings of sculptures around the Temple. The lions are beautiful in their number, in their colour, in their state of antiquity (6th century BC), and in their form. The museum itself begins to look a little dated and antiquated itself. It survives on the reputation of the Pergamon ruins, but the building has become quite squalid.
Friday 26 April 1991, Brussels
Fine days with the temperature climbing. It is a real pleasure to be living in Saint Catherine now that spring is here: the trees in the squares are in leaf, and the fountain at this end of St Catherine works daily, filling up the rectangular pool, making my walk to the metro (and my frequent trips to the telephone box), a definite delight. The problems with my telephone are not a delight. Rather than making progress with RTT, I seem to be slipping back into a nether world where, like a gambler who can only go on hopelessly losing more and more money, the more I try and do something to get my telephone connected, the more the prospective date for connection flies into the future. I asked Jo at the FT office to ring the technical department of the RTT for me. Someone there told her the line was waiting for work in the road to be carried out and this would be done sometime at the end of May or in June. So, I am no longer being told the end of March, nor the beginning of April, I am now being told June. Such problems in Brussels are legendary. Two attacks on the impressively inefficient RTT bureaucracy are under way: Jo has rung her contact at the foreign office again who is chasing my number with the new information of a June date; and, secondly, my concierge Von Combrergh has been down to the RTT office to demand justice for his building. Yesterday evening he rushed out of his flat to tell me of progress. He believes the RTT will call him today and that I’ll have my line by the beginning of next week. I don’t believe a word he says; actually, the only slight thing in his favour is that he is Flemish and all the RTT people are Flemish.
A slow week so far here in Brussels. I have only managed to organise one real interview and that turned out to no news value. I have organised a good number of events next week around the bank holiday on Wednesday.
The flight from Docklands was smooth and on time so I arrived in good spirits in less than four hours door to door. In fact, I raced off and was in time for the Commission press briefing at 12, not that there was anything for me.
In the evening, I strolled around Saint Catherine with Fiona. We chose a local cheapish restaurant on the Rue de Flandres. Brave Fiona ordered Green Eel. She had wanted muscles with snails but was told they were out of season. My own order of a Filet Pur was not much less rash. The eel turned out to be a few pieces of white fish floating in a thick dingy sauce, the colour of mouldy pee soup or drainpipes found in slums. Poor Fiona struggled gallantly, desperately trying to get me to take some onto my own plates. She said the sauce tasted really foul; it certainly smelt as bad as it looked, I’ll be a witness to that. I couldn’t, though, bring myself to try it. My Filet Pur came with a tasty Provencal sauce but the meat, some two inches thick, was completely raw for nine tenths of its width. I can eat some rare meat but not to such a thickness. The sauce and the chips were well cooked. To dispel the taste we strode off to the centre for an ice cream at the Dome Palace.
I ring Kenny this morning at the office. His flat has been broken into but not much was taken, and there was very little damage. He says he was fully insured. Our Portuguese correspondent Peter Wise has given us a run for our money. I ordered a country profile from him last year for delivery by the end of December. I sent a letter or two, and he sent several faxes agreeing new deadline dates, but each time he just let them pass without producing the copy, and without really giving an excuse. I can see now that I should have been firmer with the deadlines; I should not have allowed him to think there was any flexibility. Finally, we made one last go at it. I told him I’d arranged for the printing of the profile, and that was that. We agreed the Tuesday of this week; indeed some tables did come through on the telefax, and most have now been turned into graphs and tables. On the Tuesday, though, a fax came through from Peter saying ‘bear with me one more day’. This morning there was still nothing from him. He seems to have a real block.
I have had a good run with many of my correspondents, but they do eventually discover the other newsletters here - Power and Gas - which have less exacting editors. I like to keep a good balance across countries, and to run stories as soon as they are news, to that end I am quite demanding of my stringers, and they probably earn their money less easily with me. On the other hand, they have a wider area of subjects to write about for my newsletter.
At the FT office, Jo is sad. She reads the obituaries of two FT journalists: David Thomas and Alan Harper, who were killed last Wednesday in a car accident in Kuwait. Thomas was the resources editor so we used much of his material for EER though I never met him. How tragic, though, for the war itself to claim no journalists’ lives but then for two to be killed in a car accident like that. The FT seems to have had its fair share of tragedy recently: I know several other journalists at the paper have died recently, and, in our department, Alan’s wife has died of cancer, and Andy’s brain tumour diagnosis.
I lunch with Simon Caroll of Greenpeace and his new German assistant. We talk about the progress of Commission strategies for CO2 reduction, about cost transparency and about East Europe. I further propagate ideas of the East leapfrogging Western Europe on energy saving ideas with the support of the Commission. Simon seems genuinely abashed when I mention ‘his’ leak (based on documents I uncovered) to the newspapers on energy taxes, the one that got such a lot of publicity in February, and he is keen to repair the damage. He is somewhat shocked to hear about the news Peter Spinks gave me on Tuesday about the Dutch parliament reversing its nuclear policy - because it can see no other way of meeting its CO2 emissions targets. He feels he should know about this if true; and I, too, feel something is wrong, because surely such a story would have made the daily newspapers. I shall have to wait until next week to find out more.
I should say a few words about my friends Manu and Anna. Anna appears to be becoming quite successful in her yoga venture. She shares a studio now with one other person and runs it as a viable business. Her study in the flat is full of business files and folders as well as shelves stacked with yoga books. Each year she organises yoga groups in other places, outside Berlin and outside Germany. So, this year, for example she is taking some groups to the south of France.
One evening the three of us go to eat in a Turkish restaurant. About half way through the meal, Manu and I discover that we travelled across Asia in the very same year 1974, he was just a few months ahead of me. We ended up telling each other travelling tales we probably haven’t recounted for years. Manu’s flat is adorned with many of famous father’s painting. He tells me he is learning to drive a motor-bike although he doesn’t intend to own one, and doing a course on becoming a Moderator, someone who leads brainstorming sessions.
Saturday 27 April 1991, Brussels
The afternoon draws wearily to a close. I have had a most lazy day. This morning I went out shopping three times: firstly, to the bread shop for a croissant and a pan de chocolate for breakfast, the second time to the Reu Neuve to buy some swimming trunks and a tie; and the third time to St Catherine to buy some food for the weekend. This afternoon, however, I have not been out at all. I ate a late lunch of canneloni and cooked red cabbage, I slept a little, and then I listened to nine-tenths of Radio Four’s afternoon play. I’ve only just discovered I can get R4 here so my entertainment possibilities have tripled overnight. Unfortunately, just as the sane man was about to be released after fifteen years wrongly incarcerated in bedlam following the concerted efforts of an MP and a human rights campaigner, someone somewhere in the building must have turned on a vacuum cleaner and I could no longer discern a single word. I do hope he was released and the evil magistrate lost his £500/year pension from the King for having tidied up the nasty affair all those years ago.
Around these various leisurely activities, I have been composing a new Management Report. My working title is ‘EC Energy Policy - a critical assessment’. I have worked out a rough plan containing some 13-14 chapters. Now I need to work out carefully how long it will take, and then write a short proposal for Vivien Korn, one that gives her a time schedule and a marketing brief. I do not think this Report will sell as well as the East Europe one (which, incidentally, has sold over 550 by now and should net me a few more thousand pounds this semester). Nevertheless, I am quite excited by the prospect of writing it: firstly and foremost, I hope to be able to propagate one or two of my own ideas about EC energy policy. I have already taken a first step in being opinionated through my short ‘EC Energy Monthly’ editorials. A Management Report would probably attract a larger and more immediate audience. The two key ideas I want to get across at the moment: the need for a Community energy policy, and the need for masses of energy saving projects in East Europe.
There are other good reasons for doing such a project: it would give my presence in Brussels more concrete substance; it would generate more ideas/articles for the monthly newsletter; it could also help sales of the Monthly. It could also raise my own personal profile vis-a-vis this area: it still amazes me how much attention I got thanks to the Management Report on East Europe.
Last night Fiona dragged me screaming and groaning to a party in the Marolles. It took me back at least 12 years. Jonathan, Fiona’s ex-boss at ‘European Reports’, must have hired this small bar opposite the flea market and engaged a band to play in the basement. There was a good crowd assembled, many of them journalists, many of them having worked at ‘European Reports’ at one time or another. We mostly drank beer out of plastic glasses and tried to speak above the noise of the over-loud music. I spent most of the evening talking to Lucy, and to Peter somebody or other, the new spokesman for competition. Previously, he was the second string for ‘The Times’. It is a good job for him to have landed, although I was told there weren’t that many applicants from inside the Commission because Brittan and his cabinet are unlikely to be reappointed. I wonder how long he will continue coming to parties like this, now he is a Public Relations person. Surely, PR people can have the odd journalist friend but they cannot frequent such downbeat journalist circles for very long.
Sunday 28 April 1991, Brussels
It is nearly lunchtime, I have a sizeable piece of fresh salmon sitting in the fridge waiting for me. I shall cook it with green beans and a little rice. I might wait until 2pm, though, when the World Service play comes on. I have more or less finished writing my proposal to write an ‘EC Energy Policy’ Management Report for Vivien Korn. I think it will be a lot of work, but I must do something chunky this year, and 1991 is already slipping away from me. By this time last year, I had almost finished the East Europe MR and was getting stuck into my biological anthropology exams and thesis.
To the royal greenhouses at Laeken this morning. Unfortunately, there were crowds and crowds of people; we had to queue to get in, and all the way through the greenhouses we were in one long queue. Still, they are fairly splendid in their own way. Such a scandal that they are only open to the public for a few weeks a year. Who appreciates them the rest of the year? I mean how often does the king take time out to stroll through his glass-houses? And when he doesn’t, who does?
The glasshouses all date to the late 19th century and to King Leopold II. The architect employed by Leopold II, Alphonse Balat, was the main inspiration behind the grand project. Some place it in the same iron/steel/glass category as the no-longer extant Crystal Palace, St Pancras Station, the Palmengarten in Frankfurt, the Eiffel Tower etc. I have to confess, that despite the crowds, the glasshouses were fairly stunning. From the so-called Iron Church at one end to the Orangery at the other it is almost a kilometre, entirely within glass houses. Unfortunately, the glass is so whitewashed that one can never see what is outside. For about half the length, one is actually in bona fide green or glasshouses, some of which are magnificent structures - the Winter Garden for example is a huge hemi-spherical structure with giant palms and cool walkways - but the other half consists of long glass corridors, the sides of which are covered in geraniums of many different varieties, and the roofs of which have abundant fuchsias and abutilons hanging down. Where the passages give way to non-glass walls, they are thickly lined with box, something I can’t remember seeing before, and protruding out of the wall every few metres a stags horn fern provides extra interest. From a small temporary shop I purchased a beautifully produced book about the greenhouses, in English, complete with eight coloured botanical illustrations in a separate folder. Good value at BFr200, just like the books purchased at the Platinus museum and the botanical gardens.
I eat my salmon lunch, rest a little, listen to the afternoon play about Gordon of Khartoum, do my yoga, and lo and behold its 5.30 pm already. How the weekend flies when you’re having fun.
I slowly reach the conclusions of the two scientific books I am reading about evolution: ‘Language and Species’ by David Bickerton and Roger Penrose’s ‘The Emperor’s New Mind’. The latter has been a difficult read and now that I’m approaching the end I realise that it wasn’t worth it. Penrose does not know where he is going, and has not managed to pull together all his ideas towards any sort of useful summary. His attempt to use mathematics to explain the mind seems to have completely defeated him without his knowing. Hofstader, for example, had really a lot to communicate in his earlier books (‘Gödel, Escher, Bach’); Penrose, by contrast, comes across as an old, rather arrogant man, who arrived at the top of the maths academy and now thinks that his feelings and hunches in whatever discipline have perfect validity. In his last chapter ‘Where lies the physics of mind?’ he repeatedly uses such verbs as ‘I would guess’ and ‘I imagine’ when referring to theories and ideas about the mind.
In contrast, Bickerton’s book is fascinating; I have been trained in maths but not in language theory and yet I find Bickerton far more accessible than Penrose. His prose is clear and precise; his ideas, though complex, are patiently delivered across to the reader. For years I have wondered, or half-suspected, that language holds a major key to the workings of the mind. Bickerton has unlocked this possibility and taken my understanding to a new level. I can tell where his arguments are weak, and where he makes necessary jumps, yet the overall thesis of his work and his reasoning makes much sense to me. I will have to read it again soon. In my library this book deserves to sit next to Crook’s ‘The Evolution of the Mind’.
Tuesday 30 April 1991, Brussels
Rain. Rain all day long. I race around all day long in the rain, and achieve next to nothing thanks to two cancelled appointments. I seem to have to work so hard these days to fill ‘EC Energy Monthly’; perhaps it should be a full time job.
Tomorrow is Mayday. Smashing weather for it. Belgium is on holiday, so I will spend the day at home working and writing up my notes so far.
Barbara reports that she is unwell again, suffering from a cold and aches and pains. These days she is iller than I; it used to be me suffering from colds all the time. I talk to Adam briefly. I look forward to seeing them both at the weekend.
It is beginning to seem like that while I am in Brussels, my mind becomes straightjacketed to EC affairs. I have virtually no other interests or activities here. So, when I sit down, as now, to write a little in the journal I can think of absolutely nothing to say; I have thought nothing memorable in the day, I have done nothing memorable, I have seen nothing worth recording; am I really sure this is what I want to do ten days a month?
Paul K Lyons
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