PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1991 - JANUARY
DIARY 43: January - March 1991
14 27, Saturday 5 January 1991
Since before the end of the last year I have been suffering a mild attack of sinusitis. The attack started a week ago with jaw ache and was quickly followed by an unrepentant headache behind my right eye. Each morning I’ve woken with this piercing ache but, by evening, it has largely gone. This morning my head was clear, and I thought the wretched infection, or results of it, had gone finally. But no, mid-morning the same ache returned. Not an auspicious start to the New Year. I should have been getting on with French; I should have been writing more entries in the journal; I should have done more lessons with Adam; I should have done more things around the house.
Tomorrow I fly to Brussels for three days. The main aim of the trip is to find a flat. I must not prevaricate any longer. I have decided that I should go for a smaller, rather than larger, apartment and that it should be furnished, if possible. I dread the process of looking, and all the bureaucracy that I might get bogged down in.
There have been mild developments at the office. John McLachlan has, I think, been partially won over. I talked to him briefly last week - he having read my memo - and suggested I sit down with Dennis and work out the details of my move to Brussels. An appointment has been set up for next week. With confirmation of that appointment came a formal invitation to lunch with Dennis and John! I saw Dennis in the corridor, he said my memo to McLachlan had not been a waste of time, and that I would need to compromise a bit on the amount of time I spent in Brussels. It looks like I won’t be living a very full life there at all. In any case, I’m determined to have an apartment there - so I’ll set about that this week, and hope for the best out of the meeting when I get back.
Intense diplomatic initiatives are under way. It looks like Tariq Aziz will meet James Baker in Geneva next week, and there is increasing speculation that the Iraqis will pull out of Kuwait ultimately. There seems little doubt now that the US and allies will attack if Saddam cannot be persuaded to budge; but they need to have tried and tested all diplomatic approaches as far as feasible.
B sits in the study working on her last essay. It must be given in on Monday. Ads plays downstairs in the parlour with his cars. An hour or two ago, he came up to the lounge where I was seated on the sofa. He stood in front of me, screwed up his face a little bit, and told me lunch was ready with a forced voice. He didn’t sound like anything in particular but he was clearly pretending something. ‘I’m a frog,’ he explained. He had been a frog all day yesterday and had bounced all over the house, but he hadn’t tried a frog voice. Later, after lunch, he became a snake, and is now crawling from place to place making sssssssssssssssss sounds wherever he goes. This was the first time I had noticed Adam trying to match up stance, facial gestures and funny voice (though he’s put on animal voices for a long time).
Whenever he gets a chance, Adam climbs onto me with the objective of getting onto my shoulders. He scrambles all over me and, one way or another, usually reaches his destination. I don’t help or hinder him, just let him climb there. Sometimes, I throw him off, onto the bed, and he jumps up ready for the ascent again. Sometimes, I just carry on doing whatever I was doing and ignore his presence: he can cling on quite skilfully and doesn’t need me to support him. He’s very sure footed on playground climbing frames these days, and I’ve never seen him fall, or come close to falling from a height. Occasionally, I pick him up in my arms and cradle him to me as though he were still a baby. These days, though, when I hold him vertically to my chest, he doesn’t often cling his legs around me as he used to do when younger, but, sometimes, he puts his arms very affectionately around my neck and closes his face against mine to give me a really sweet kiss on the cheek.
Comfort toys have become important. He invariably goes to bed with one now, and often more than one. When here in London, he asks me how many teddies he can take to bed, I always tell him one; but I think B lets him have several in Brighton. The last few days, he has chosen his elephant as companion, but before that Bunkey, the monkey, was favourite. Although he can be distressed in the very short term about the loss of a comfort (in the middle of the night, he might shout out if Elephant has lodged himself down the side of the bed, for example) he is never worried by the permanent displacement of a toy; he copes perfectly well with a different set of comforters in Brighton.
His reading is coming along fine, and he copes very well with simple books. After two or three tries he can usually read a book with a fresh vocabulary of ten or twelve words. He is definitely behind on his drawing. Sam, the son of B’s friend, Liz, in Brighton can draw letters and shapes far in advance of Adam.
Gales sweep the land, the rains and storms keep us in this weekend.
17 27, Friday 11 January 1991, London
It has been a truly hectic week. I buzzed non-stop for three days in Brussels. At both ends of the trip, there were delays. I didn’t arrive at the Chambord Hotel until half past midnight on the Sunday, and I didn’t get back to Aldershot Road before 10.30pm on Thursday (after leaving my flat in Brussels at about 3pm). The return flight was one of the most frightening I have experienced and, however long the journey took, I was glad to get back at all. However, let me impart the most important news of the week - the taking of an apartment in Brussels. My continental address is now Rue du Canal 28, troisieme etage; Bruxelles 1000. Unfortunately, I do not yet have a telephone number, nor do I have gas or electricity on fully; but there is time, there is time.
I am a coward when it comes to hunting for accommodation. I admit, without compunction, that I hate it. I have bought two houses in my life and both were chosen without looking at other alternatives (B’s house in Brighton was different and I found it a real pain to help her choose). Looking back over my life, I find a similar catalogue of events. When I returned from my travels, I lived at my parents for a while before moving into a flat vacated by friends. After that, I lived in Leyton in a grimy place which was found by friends not me; then I moved to short-term housing place in Iverson Road which I took without viewing any other possibilities. From Iverson Road, I moved into this house. In Brazil, its true, I did really hunt, but in the end I only saw two or three apartments before striking gold. In Brussels, it was the same story: I took the first apartment I saw, without looking at any others.
There are two ways of interpreting this history: either I am extremely unchoosy, and live (and have lived) in second class accommodation, i.e. relative to the means at my disposal; or, more simply, I’m efficient and don’t waste time on following up unfruitful leads. A lot of information can be gleaned from advertisements and telephone calls. In Brussels, I made a distinct calculation about the Rue du Canal apartment: the price was cheap for a furnished apartment; it was central; the furnishings were better than acceptable, I actually liked them; the concierge was reasonably friendly and not likely to cause bureaucratic hassles (such as wanting to see my residency status first, or anything like that - in fact he let me take the apartment with just a £200 advance rent payment, and took it on trust that, on my return I would give him the £600 deposit he’s asked for). I did scour adverts in Vlan and those provided by the Commission; I even rang a few up. But there was not one which was seemed to have as much going for it as this, the first one I saw. I was guided to it by Fiona Harney, my ex-correspondent who has now taken a job at AP-Dow Jones. She lives in the flat next door, in fact we can pass cups of sugar to one another through our kitchen windows which give out onto a dark and dingy central well.
The concierge gave me the key straight away, and I could see no reason for delaying - the apartment has centralised heating, the concierge said he would put the electricity on, and there were blankets and sheets on the bed. That evening I bought a few supplies - bread, cheese, mayonnaise, cleaning materials (though I didn’t get round to wiping down surfaces or cleaning windows), coffee (there was a coffee machine there) and biscuits. In the evening Fiona came around, and we gossiped about Brussels and the concierge for an hour or two. On the Tuesday I lunched with the Greenpeace man, Simon Caroll, who came to see me in London recently. As we work in and around the same areas and policy issues we have a lot to talk about, but I mention him now because he actually lives round the corner in Saint Catherine, just minutes walk away.
This has to be a milestone of sorts, especially since my Brussels plan has been gestating for a year. I can’t see or imagine any other milestone in the near future, so this will have to be a significant one. In any case a new living place is always important. There may, however, be a slight hitch to my plans. Let me put it this way. I am pleased that I have more or less met my targets of being installed and working in Brussels by the start of 1991. I have quite surprised myself since there were three months of inaction at the end of 1990 and by the New Year I really didn’t think things would or could get going quite so fast. Of course, I knew that the taking on an apartment was the real pivot, beforehand I COULD do nothing and afterwards I WOULD HAVE TO do lots.
I came back from Brussels on Wednesday night (do not let me omit details of the flight, nor of the rest of my stay in Brussels); on Thursday morning I had my meeting with Dennis at which we were supposed to discuss the details of my move (in the aftermath of John McLachlan seeing my point of view a little more generously). But no details were discussed. Dennis stressed how well I had done to date at FTBI, particularly in setting up the East Europe supplement at no cost, and that we would talk more about it at the lunch with John McLachlan
Two other things happened today: firstly, Alan Archer came in to discuss a newsletter project having been given it by McLachlan (the one I had advised against launching as it was). Secondly, I was invited to attend a meeting with Dennis and others (not editors) concerning the re-equipment of Tower House operations. Also today I found out that my Management Report had sold 436 copies by the end of 1990, which works out at well over £10,000 gross commission.
In Brussels, apart from the apartment (and there were several things to do in association with it: register with the city authorities to get accreditation for the utilities so that the utilities will eventually put my gas and electricity on; register with the telephone firm so that the waiting time to connection is as short as possible and so on), I completed quite a successful round of appointments with officials.
One in particular proved interesting. Jean-Claude Guibal, director of the internal energy market task force, received me early (8.30am) on Wednesday morning. Since it is still dark at 8am in Brussels and I had no way of either telling the time early in the morning or of waking up in time, I chose the simplest solution - buying an alarm clock radio. I was desperately short of cash since I’d used most of it as a deposit; but I purchased the radio with my Access card - so simple to spend money. The radio gave me great comfort, no sooner bought than I was once again tuned into the World Service. But this is all an aside.
Guibal was pleased to see me (I had been feeling a touch guilty about imposing myself on DGXVII so quickly after my last visit). He immediately made clear that he had read the December issue of ‘EC Energy Monthly’ and, on several occasions, referred to my comment about DGXVII’s approach to energy policy being ‘piecemeal’. Indeed, it became apparent through our interview that Guibal may even have adjusted his work programme for the year to try and blend some of the forthcoming proposals into a more coherent approach. He went into considerable detail about the controversial area of common carriage and open access. This is an issue that has been simmering in the Commission throughout 1990 but raises strong passions among producers and consumers of gas and electricity. Following a series of in camera committees, the Commission (read DGXVII) must now move on a stage from the common transit proposals (which are nearing fruition) with its single market proposals.
By the end of the interview, I realised that Guibal had really gone to town and given me far too much detail. Since much of it was his own thinking, not yet even discussed in DGXVII, let alone the Commission. Publishing such details might upset the Director-General Maniatopoulos and even the Commissioner Cardoso e Cunha. But Guibal is no Derek Fee (who got told off for giving me too many details on the SAVE proposals last year), his position is far more senior. I discussed with him how he might like me to treat the subject, and the extent to which I could use some of the details.
This was a very gratifying interview, since Guibal displayed a lot of confidence in my newsletter, and implied that my commentary was useful.
On Tuesday night, Hilde comes round to visit me and then take me out for a beer. She drives recklessly through Brussels with her one arm. No automatic for her. When she needs to change gear or turn on the indicator, she pushes her body forward so that her right upper arm can at least hold the steering wheel steady. Although I do not examine it closely, the bar is furnished and decorated with a dense array of art paraphernalia. I do not listen carefully when Hilde tells me its history, but the original owner, several decades ago, was friendly with many artists from whom he begged small works of art to hang. I am attracted by some old plaster figures (a Napoleon, example) which would be perfect in my lounge.
Hilde tells me about her, and her brother’s, passion for horses. She often goes to his farm where he keeps several horses, and they clean out the stables together, or ride around the paddock. Unlike her brother who has already built up a successful accountancy business before reaching 30, Hilde still floats around, unsure about where life will lead her. Her father encourages her to take up a more substantial job than the one at present which just pays a minimum wage and keeps her occupied. But she counters by saying that her father did many things before he settled down and became a banker: he ran a puppet theatre and a school for delinquents, Hilde confides.
I bump into David Buchan at the Commission - well one can bump into almost any journalist one wants to at the midday press briefing. Hesitantly, I ask him about using the resources of the FT office - the newspapers and files. He seems fairly relaxed about the idea, and rather spontaneously reveals that there is a spare desk in his room. I must go round soon and impose myself, mildly and humbly, since to be able to use the FT office will be an enormous help.
Others receive me well too. I meet with two of the Council reps. Luigi Maras, who gives me a wad of confidential documents about the carbon tax; and Peter Millet at the UK rep, who gives me nothing in particular. I have noticed in my small world of energy that which is true across all the EC reporting in the ‘Financial Times’: it is transparently biased by UK government positions. The FT correspondents (I suppose Buchan must be included) are relying too heavily on their sources at the UK representation; and the UK officials are informative enough for the journalists but not, in fact, for the Brussels readership of the FT. One of the Commissioners’ spokesmen told me how much of the FT reporting from Brussels had become a joke because of the biased nature of the stories. With Peter Millet, I notice exactly the same thing. He cannot relax from his position and talk with me objectively; his background is always coloured by the position he wants to take. I don’t really find this with similarly-positioned reps from other countries. This attitude stems, perhaps, from our late arrival in the Community; the Thatcher sensibility that the UK has been taken for something of a ride by the other Members in the earlier days; and by the isolation of island mentality. For the UK to build a closer and more trusting cooperation with the Community, we (in the UK) need to know much more about what our European partners think and feel - biased crude reporting for the home market should be a thing of the past. There is room for a more subtle, pluralistic discussion of the issues, whenever they arise.
I slept two nights in my new Brussels home, neither of them very restfully. I have a major problem with the mattress which is softer than a pile of ashes. I wasn’t too thrilled by the weakness of the bed springs either.
Saturday 12 January, Brighton
A bright cheerful day here in Brighton, even if it is a little cold. This morning we received notification from the Royal Alexandra children’s hospital that Adam’s long awaited operation will take place. We have been given five days notice, after a wait of over a year! Fortunately, B is at a relaxed point in her work cycle and I am in the country. I won’t be able to go into the hospital with Adam and B at 2pm, but I will come down from London later in the afternoon.
We are having a lazy day. We walked down to the shops this morning; B bought some winter socks; I thought about buying another jumper but in the end decided to save my money - I have a bill of £400 to pay Access this month; all those Christmas presents have taken their toll on my current accounts. My mortgage bills are over £250 a month, B’s bills are over £300 a month, my flat in Brussels is over £300 a month - that’s a lot of outgoings.
I check my bank statements for 1990 and see that I have saved a bit over £10,000 during the year including interest. My monthly savings have averaged at about 700 pounds, so it is clear that even if I have to cover B’s mortgage and the Brussels flat out of my current income, I could manage - but I do expect to increase my income, through work in Brussels and through charging more for rent at 13 Aldershot Road.
The countdown to war
The Baker-Aziz meeting in Geneva has come and gone. Now the Secretary-General of the UN tries his luck in Baghdad with Saddam. He, more than anyone, may give Saddam the truth and offer him a way out of war without too much loss of face. It is difficult to see from the perspective here in the UK what Iraq or even Saddam might gain out of going to war. One has to ask does he fully realise the import of the UN resolutions and that it is not just the US and UK determined to go through with them? Does he fully comprehend how overwhelming the military might reigned against him is? Does he understand how advanced the US communications and information systems are, which in themselves must (I guess wildly here) ensure at least a 10-1 ratio of casualties in the allies favour? Has he been so poorly served by fawning advisers that he really can see gains at the end of a war?
According to the final UN resolution, the deadline for Iraq to leave Kuwait is midnight on the 15th January, next Tuesday. All the signs are that without some movement at least from Saddam, the allies are going to move in quickly, quickly and sharply as soon as they have the authority.
Whether through war or not through war there is a real chance here for the UN to take a bold and brave step forward. The end of the cold war has allowed the Soviets and the US to line up on the same side of world peace, and thus the UN has a more united mandate than ever before. If it can sustain unity to a satisfactory conclusion, its authority could be immeasurably improved, and could mean, in a similar scenario of the future, any Iraq look-alike would be far less likely to make such a blatantly immoral act of aggression.
The US has played a very fair game in this regard. It has strayed close to the edge of snatching the decision-making away from the UN but has responded well to warning signals, attenuated its aggression and widened its net of supporters.
Lithuania makes a brave attempt to grab the headlines. The government has resigned, there is popular revolt against Soviet authority, and Gorbachev has sent in troops.
18 01, Tuesday 15 January 1991, On the train to Brighton
I should have been on an earlier train, I planned to arrive at the hospital in Brighton by 5.30pm. The last Network Express of the afternoon left at 4.05pm, but the wretched meeting about re-equipment went on longer than I expected. I have been drawn into the re-equipment exercise by Dennis and by the FT expert Tony Johnson to provide a little bit of hands-on editorial information. I suppose I have angled for more involvement in such matters through my occasional asides to Dennis. Moreover, both Dennis and John have begun to realise they might hold me in London by getting me a little more involved in office matters. By the end of this meeting, I had let myself get picked for an early, and probably the first, phase of re-equipping the office. This is a mixed blessing: we get new equipment sooner than other people and the early attention for training purposes, on the other hand we will be the font of all knowledge when others come to try out the new system. In general, it has always been my philosophy to do more rather than less than people ask of me. As management begins to get in my debt, at some point in the near future, I suppose, it will need to reward me. Perhaps I can be rewarded by John and Dennis offering to pay more of my Brussels costs.
I wonder how Adam is; he and Barbara will have been in the hospital for over four hours by the time I arrive. He’ll probably be happily playing with the other children, or getting ready for bed by now. I am infinitely more concerned about his well-being than about the well-being of thousands and tens of thousands of young men in the Gulf region. Such is life, the world and everything. In order to judge or even think about world events one must separate out two levels of thought. There is the emotional response: of course I do not want to die, of course I do not want my friends and family to die, of course I do not want British soldiers to die, of course I do not want anybody to die; but decisions at an international, a national and even at a regional level have to be made against the concerns of the individual in the moment. Decisions about the future well-being of this and other generations have to be made. Usually in the Western democratic world, these decisions affect people’s lives in less dramatic ways than life or death, but sometimes decisions that inflict poverty, less health-care for people and death have sometimes to be made. I can rightly devote my emotional concerns to Adam and my intellectual understanding to developments in the Middle East. I can accept my own hypocrisy in approving the war of morality the UN is about to engage in, and, at the same time, say I would not want to fight if I were of a fighting age.
18 56, Saturday 19 January 1991, London
War in the Middle East. This is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write my thoughts. The business of war is heady stuff; I have found it so hard to do anything other than listen to the radio, to the non-stop coverage on Radio Four. Even now, I feel much too restless to bother with this time-consuming business of writing a diary. Other things this week have demanded attention - Adam’s operation, the biggest ‘EC Energy Monthly’ we’ve ever done (20 pages), and negotiations, at the Reform Club no less, with Dennis and John over Brussels. All these things need to be recorded but have I the patience to sit here?
War is a terrible thing, so terrible a thing that huge masses of people around the world cannot conceive that there are things worse or that sometimes wars are necessary. I have listened to Tony Benn speaking on the radio and at the Hyde Park anti-war rally. All over the world, there have huge demonstrations against the war. These people are, by and large, fools, idiots, nincompoops. Will they not realise that the Middle East war is the best thing for the people of Iraq, just as the Falkland Islands war was the best thing for the people of Argentina. Hussein, like Galtieri, murders his own people. Who will rid the people of tyrants like this who manage, through cunning and a relentless, ruthless hunger for power to subjugate whole nations to their will. Before the twentieth century, there was nobody. Now we have powerful nations which are also democracies; these nations have persuaded many others that we need to police international peace. And so we had the League of Nations, and now the United Nations. But still we live in a wicked and uncivilised world where the interests of nations are forever clashing. By chance, and suddenly, the world is given a new opportunity to prove it is growing up. How can one deny the UN this victory when the reality of the justice of the cause is so clear.
Right until the UN deadline for Iraq to pull out of Kuwait, I expressed a rather doubtful optimism - I thought Saddam Hussein would withdraw. This view was based on my belief that Saddam could not be such a fool. He had to be, I thought, planning a retreat right at the last minute in order to win as many concessions as possible. I was, in this, completely wrong. However, once the UN deadline had passed, I was sure the first attack would come on the following night, and I was sure that it would be a blanket aerial attack - as many planes in the sky as possible, annihilating the most important military targets which had been pinpointed during the previous months of careful planning. I was also right that the first Iraqi counter-attack would be aimed at Israel and that Israel would not retaliate.
18 21, Sunday 20 January 1991, London
To continue on from where I left off yesterday. A few facts but I cannot possibly give details - the newspapers are devoting 7-8 pages, in some cases, to the war; and Radio Four is running a rolling commentary throughout the day on FM leaving the LW for its normal programmes. The war began early in the morning of 16 January. A massive and comprehensive air attack swept across Iraq and Kuwait taking out missile sites, nuclear, chemical and biological research stations, command and communications centres, military airports and so. The operation was a magnificent success and met with very little opposition; indeed, the allies sustained only minimal losses - a plane or two at most. The air bombardment has continued throughout the four days but has met more opposition both from anti-aircraft fire and from Iraqi fighters that have managed to get into the air. However, the allies claim they have virtually total command of the air. On the second day, the Iraqis managed to launch several scud missiles across Jordan into Israel. Miraculously, they killed no one, and injured only a handful of people. The Israelis were outraged, and insisted they would retaliate. On the third day, more scud missiles were launched, and landed in Israel, but again they caused only minor damage and no deaths. For those two days, the talk and discussions in the media and the politicking by allied leaders has been focussed almost entirely on trying to prevent Israel from retaliating. The point was made over and over again - Iraq is desperate to draw Israel into the conflict: the hatred of Israel by the Arab in the street is so great that, even against the tyrant Saddam, they would not support a government who sided with it. In fact, the reality has proved somewhat different, given Israel’s guarded and careful responses to the attacks, given the fact that Israel and the US have maintained a publicly proclaimed distance more akin to strangers than the regional bedfellows they are. This has allowed the Arab leaders, currently on the allies side, to discount domestic national opposition. Egypt’s position is probably the most solid; but Jordan’s tolerance of the situation (and non-siding with Saddam despite enormous domestic pressure) and the unholy alliance with Syria are important factors in the politics of this war; it is neither in the interests of Israel or the US to upset these nations. Behind the scenes, the allies have done everything possible to knock out Iraq’s threat to Israel. Finally, after milking Iraq’s attack on its civilians for all it was worth, Israel has let it be known that it will not retaliate. In the meantime, Egypt, Syria and Jordan have all let it be known that their positions would not be compromised if Israel’s retaliation were modest, military and appropriate.
Now on the fourth day, the allies’ losses have risen to over a dozen aircraft and more men. The military commanders have let it be known they have mastery over the air and are switching the thrust of their attack to bomb Iraq’s elite troops entrenched north of Iraq’s border with Kuwait. At the same time, it has also become apparent that much of Iraq’s airforce remains in tact since it has been in hangars or hidden away from the satellite eye; it is the destruction of airports and communication systems which have hindered any real counter-attack in the air.
Earlier today, the commander-in-chief of the Persian Gulf armies - Norman Schwarzkopf - gave a live question and answer session to key journalists in the US. Here was real information coming from the horse’s mouth, after so much talk about talk about talk. One of the journalists did ask him about Saddam Hussein. His answers were intriguing. He gave no indication that Saddam was dead, rather that he was probably hiding in a place with plenty of civilians, on the understanding that the allies were not firing on civilian targets. He stressed the armies were not seeking to kill the man, this was not their objective under the UN task of liberating Kuwait, rather they were focussing on destroying his ability to command, to cut off completely his ability to communicate.
I am very pleased with the way Adam behaved during his hospitalisation and with the results of the operation. When I arrived at the hospital, at about 6.30pm on Tuesday evening, he was happily playing in a small toy room attached to the Blanche ward. B was talking to the Mum of another boy, Sam, who was due to have an operation. Adam was quite relaxed and not all interested in me. B had been at the hospital for five hours without doing very much at all, so she went off home first, leaving me to put Adam to sleep. After one or two stories, I pulled the curtain around his bed and stood outside waiting for him to drift off.
After a meal at the Pizza Express in down-town Brighton, B returned to the hospital to spend the first of her two rather sleepless nights on the floor of the toy room. I returned to the hospital, a little before eight. Adam had been well prepared to the fact that he wasn’t going to get any breakfast; indeed, he had been woken at 5am for his last drink. The atmosphere and activities in a hospital ward change constantly through the day; mornings are always an active, busy time for the professionals while the afternoons tend to be more relaxed and the patients tend to be more lively with leisure activities and visits from relations and friends. The ward held children with a range of ages varying from very young babies to adolescents but there seemed to be plenty for all to do. There were several televisions on trolleys which could be wheeled in front of the beds and, during much of the day, two nursery workers or child teachers moved easily through the ward distributing educational toys, puzzles and equipment, sometimes stopping to play or talk with the children. Children’s drawings decorated some of the walls; above most of the beds were great conglomerations of red balloons which had been gifted to the hospital after Christmas.
Apart from the most important surgeon, a succession of hospital staff troop through the ward: the breakfast servers and the people who take the dishes away; the cleaners who act as though they own the floor which they must sweep and wash; the nurses who check pulses and temperatures; the sisters who look and act with a more officious air than the nurses but wear a costume of even more perfect friendliness; the house doctors doing I know not what; the anaesthetist’s assistant wanting to know if a parent will want to accompany the child to the anaesthetic room; the lady with the drink’s trolley; the children’s teachers; the parents coming and going; the lady who gives out tickets with permission to use the hospital canteen.
At 9am, the nurse comes with Adam’s pre-med. He is given a medicine to make him drowsy and some cream, protected by a large sticky transparent seal, is put on his hand to numb it ready for the injection which will send him to sleep. The nurse also leaves behind a tiny operation gown. Adam wants to know why he must put it on. We go to the toilet before settling down on the bed for stories and talking - he is due to go to theatre at 11am. B has gone to college for some important lectures: there was no point in us both being there. We talk a bit more about what is going to happen, about surgeons and operating theatres and I tell him about operations I have had. He likes this and wants to know about more them. In a little over an hour, Adam is fast asleep. As I stand watching his sleeping form, I want to cry. It is the same immense, deep feeling of love, responsibility, caring that I always get when I watch him intently for too long without anything to disturb me; only this time it is even more poignant for he is about to be put to sleep and his body operated on.
The trolley comes; a tall, bulky, rather ungainly man in theatre gear lifts Adam from his bed to the trolley, but he cannot do it without him waking. He lies there, eyes open, I can see a little fear begin to filter through the mist of his sleepiness. I hold his hand and reassure him. Fearing Adam might cry, I now want to go through with him to the anaesthetist’s room, but I don’t, and Adam doesn’t let me down. I walk down to North Laine for some air and for some lunch. I’ve been told I should be back in 45 minutes.
B has returned before me. After an hour or so, a nurse comes and explains that our son is still in theatre; we worry, of course, that something is wrong, or that the surgeon has decided to do a more complicated process. Finally, we are summoned to the recovery room, where several people (who are they actually?) stand around waiting for Adam to show signs of life. He is hooked up to a machine or two and seems to be in deep, almost lifeless, sleep; however, his cheeks are as rosy red as ever. He is supposed to stir before they unhook him and return him to the ward. We stand around for several minutes waiting for such a stir but none comes. All sorts of things run through our minds, but they are based on less experience than a nurse’s pay packet, and thus baseless.
Once returned to the ward, Adam continues to sleep heavily. I decide to go back to Tidy Street and do some more work. B has promised to ring as soon as Adam wakes up. I get on quite well, typing up my EC stories into Tosh. I am disturbed at one point by a telephone call, I assume it is going to be B, but in fact it turns out to be Julian. He is on his way down to Brighton, quite by chance, and intended to call in and see A and B (not expecting me to be in Brighton). I explain the situation, so he agrees to come to the hospital.
A little after two, I become somewhat anxious because B hasn’t rung. I have finished one piece of work and decide to make my way back to the hospital. During the day, I must have walked up and down the hill to and from the hospital at least five times. I arrive within a minute of Adam waking up, and before B has had a chance to call me. But he is so, so groggy, and remains so for most of the afternoon. He has a drink and a piece of toast. His eyes are glazed, he barely knows what is happening. We talk to him, read him stories but he takes little of it in. Once or twice during the afternoon, he suddenly comes alive and we recognise our son. The first time was not long after his waking; he wanted to race off to the toy room but with the anaesthetic still affecting the lower half of his body, he was rather unsteady on his feet. We put him back on the bed, and he fell asleep instantly. Later on, when he was generally more lively and alive, he tried again, but after just a few minutes he was tired out. Even when Julian arrived, after six, Adam was still phased and groggy.
By Sunday, Adam had returned to his normal charming smiling self, showing not a trace of his trauma. On the Thursday and Friday however, he went through various moods - there was a very naughty phase, the punishing-Mummy-for-allowing-all-that-to-happen-to-me phase, and then there was a very clingy phase where he needed constant attention and lots of cuddles. Overall, I am pleased with the whole business. I believe it is important for difficult and traumatic events to be felt, to be experienced, and not to be buried in the psyche. In this case, I am satisfied that Adam reacted fully to the events of the week. B and I may have overplayed both our preparation before and our presence during his hospitalisation but I do not believe so - the fact that he was difficult and then clingy for a couple of days is not proof against our approach rather, I feel, proof that it worked. And there was no doubt that by Sunday he had fully recovered and was ever the joy of our lives.
10 24, Tuesday 22 January 1991
I woke in the night with a terrible sore throat. A lazy day is in order. Much of the weekend I felt a little off colour; today I definitely feel vulnerable to a cold.
Radio Four continues its non-stop coverage of the Gulf situation. Each day there are new and sinister developments. This morning all the newspapers carry pictures of prisoners taken by Saddam and presented on Iraq television. These prisoners were forced to make pro-Iraq statements but, of course, no one in the West would believe them. In general, the display of these prisoners and the promise by the Iraqis that they will be used as a human shield at ‘scientific’ sights has outraged Western publics and allowed politicians to raise the tone of their propaganda against Saddam personally. His actions are already deemed as contrary to the Geneva Convention and thus liable to a war crimes prosecution. Observers suggest that Saddam has made a grave mistake by bringing these haggard and bruised men on to television and that it shows that he must be desperate.
Some estimates emerging from travellers to Iran have suggested that Iraq’s casualties could be 100,000. Iraq has managed to launch a few more Scuds but the allies have knocked them down with their Patriot missiles. As far as I can make out, there has not been a single death yet outside of Iraq and Kuwait. The only allied deaths are of aeroplane crews. News this morning, just in, tells that the Iraqis have set light to oil installations.
I have finished Roy Jenkins’s diary. I must return it to the library today. Overall my impression remains the same as that recorded in December’s notes. The style of his diary reminds me exactly of that I used as a teenager. The content is occasionally interesting but more often is far too concerned with lists of people, engagements, places; with general comments about whether a meeting was ‘good’ or whether people were ‘interesting’ or ‘dull’; and with travel arrangements. His tone is generally pompous, and the reader never gets any idea about the people who arrange his travel, his dinner, his paperwork; we never get an insight into any of the more minor issues or about the more mundane workings of the Commission.
I must record the final details of my quest to get management approval for my Brussels move. The climax of the campaign came with a luncheon, last Friday, at the Reform Club with both Dennis and John. Since I had never lunched with either of them before, this was surely an honour of the highest order. Indeed, I now feel so important that whatever my job brings, I will not need to feel dis-satisfied for years and years and years.
Talk of Brussels did not arrive until the main course which, in my case, was luke warm roast beef and roast potatoes accompanied by ratatouille (rather gauche, don’t you think, the combination, or is it an attempt by the Reform Club to accept some European ideas!) Beforehand, we had talked about FTBI’s further move into electronic publishing with the public offer for a two-year old company Analysis Holdings. On my exit from the office Thursday night I had picked up a memo from my pigeon hole about this venture. I was about to chuck it into the bin when a little bell chinked at the back of my mind. Indeed, on closer examination I was sure that Analysis Holdings was the company for which my Belgian neighbour Geoffrey works. On showing him the one-page memo, he showed me a much thicker document detailing the share offer for the firm. John McLachlan seemed to agree with me that FTBI might be paying too much, and that this heavy investment in electronic publishing may not be a profitable way forward.
But about Brussels, I gained hardly an inch. John remained adamant that he would not budge from his official stance, that I could spend five days a month in Brussels. On several occasions, Dennis intervened to sing my praises but to little avail. I said that if I had wanted to spend just five days a month in Brussels I would not have asked for anybody’s authority. Early on in the conversation I understood that I was getting some sort of unofficial green light from John, but I was not prepared to let it go at that. I brought the conversation down to a personal level, got a little irate for a few minutes and stood on my high-horse (listing a number of the un-rewarded activities I had been party to over my three and half years at the firm); I suggested that I had understood John was giving me the nod, so to speak, but that I was afraid of presenting applications for airline tickets with dates separated by more than 5-7 days would be rejected. John fudged the issue and we passed over to other topics such as marketing.
Afterwards, as Dennis and I were entering the taxi to return to Tower House, he said ‘I’d won.’ We then conspired together over how best to get expenses through the system.
I would just like to blow my own trumpet for a second. In our discussions about marketing, there was a general acceptance that my titles had never received enough attention. John remains absolutely sore that I managed to bring into existence the East Europe Supplement without his involvement. He says it is better than another title or two which is being heavily promoted for a proper launch - my ‘East Europe Supplement’ has no funding at all. Dennis said on more than one occasion that my ‘EC Energy Monthly’ had been ‘sabotaged’ by the marketing department, who didn’t believe in it and couldn’t cope with the novel methods I was using. John insists it would have done much better had it received proper launch funds. Finally, on the way to the Reform Club, Dennis told me that the marketing department had developed a new approach - more mini-mailings, inserts, etc. I couldn’t believe my ears. It was as though all my efforts, last year, to switch the direction of marketing on ‘EC Energy Monthly’ had failed then for my title, but had now been recognised as an improvement on the old system. Did Dennis say this knowing my part in it, or without cognisance that I would recognise this as the method I had been ‘punished’ last year for pushing? His use of the word ‘sabotage’ and the rest of his praising comments would seem to indicate the former.
As to Brussels now, I just have to do it. There was no need to tell Dennis and John, I already have an apartment. I will go next week in my car; I can take sheets, blankets, carpets, tape-recorder, books, office supplies etc. I must sort out the equipment I need and buy it. I will present the bills to the office, and just expect them to pay up. I will try and buy cheap flight tickets on my company American Express card. In order to cover rent, I could try claiming £10-12 day in taxi expenses. In any case, I will need to write a lot to make up for the extra costs. One main worry is how I am going to keep track of events at the Commission when I am actually not there most of the time. I haven’t yet discovered any place which keeps a copy of all the press releases, so that I can go back through them and find what I’ve missed. Use of the FT office, its files and newspaper could be a key.
The truly horrible task of learning French continues to tax me heavily.
I have booked a five day flight to Nice in the middle of February, and stay at Dad’s flat in Antibes. Hopefully, I can get a couple of days skiing too.
12 23, Sunday 27 January 1991, Brighton
My life, this last week, has been dominated by three interweaving influences: a cold virus which, by hovering on the edge of a serious scud attack on my body, has kept me below par; the ongoing war in the Middle East which is so serious I cannot go more than a few hours without a Radio Four update; and, finally, my ongoing preparations for driving to Brussels on Friday. A phone call from Maja mid-week advising me that she was coming through London twice on her way to and from Luxembourg, and the possibility of a computer training course at work on Monday morning, both served to complicate my travel planning. It took a lot of brain power to work out how best to get down to Brighton in the car this weekend (so as to bring B various items she had collected over the Christmas holidays) , meet up with Maja (thank goodness her flights are through Gatwick and not Heathrow) and be ready to catch a midnight-on-Monday boat from Dover to Ostend.
We met for 90 minutes on Friday afternoon. She trained into Victoria from Gatwick and we talked over a cheap pizza. This was our first meeting after many years; the last was when I visited Hrvatini (her home town) after my skiing trip in Austria (which was also the last time I met Mu). It must be eight or nine years ago. Her second born was just a baby then, he’s ten now, her daughter is 14. Every now and then she interrupted our conversation and would almost expel my name from her lips, stare at me intensely in the eyes, and enjoy the feeling of amazement that she was here in London again after all these years. After that last visit, in the early 1980s, she didn’t contact me for years and years. Recently, though, she has made contact again, largely, I think, because of the international puppet festival in Luxembourg which brought her so close to London on several occasions.
By staying in Brighton on Monday, I will get a little extra time with Adam as well, which should make up for missing him next weekend. I plan to stay in Brussels through from Tuesday morning to the following Wednesday night - eight days in all. It is unlikely, I’ll get the telephone line, so I’ll be rather handicapped. I’ll need the time to get the flat in order, sort out my working conditions etc. I have decided to take the Dover-Ostend route, since this avoids travelling across France, means less driving distance altogether - only 70-80 miles on either side - and allows me enough time (perhaps) to sleep on the ferry. I’ll take my warm sleeping bag, and doss down as soon as I can on a deck somewhere. The ferry should dock at 5.30 - 6.00 am, and I should be able to arrive at Rue du Canal by 7.30am. I can then sleep before beginning my business.
This last week was a ‘European Energy Report’ week; I left most of the work to Kenny who copes very well; he has learnt many of the more mechanical criteria which I use to edit the newsletter, and is largely faithful to my ways and means, to my aims. Miriam has become a great help and has, finally, absorbed much of the detail of what we do, needing almost no supervision. She continues to believe her future lies in learning journalism; she takes courses, and I have promised to take her to lunch to talk about her future; my intention is to disabuse her of journalism and encourage her in other directions; as a friend I feel this is my duty but as her boss it might not be the course most likely to keep her in my fold. Kenny has already been somewhat disillusioned. Last week, he finally got news about his new salary as a fully trained journalist. Rumours about the minimum NUJ wage for trained journalists at the FT had encouraged him to believe he was going to get more; inevitably, he showed signs of disgruntlement but was reluctant to talk or go into details with me. The more I prompted, the more he seemed to withdraw. I explained that, if he seriously felt under-paid, I could help him choose the right route to protest. I suggested that if, on consideration, he did want to take steps he should come back to me, otherwise I wouldn’t mention it again.
Getting a mild cold put me in a tither this week. My experience last autumn suggested that if I take it easy as soon as any symptoms of a cold display themselves, that I can avoid the worst consequences, particularly any lung problem. When I woke in the middle of the night with a throat rougher than a bed of nails I determined on pursuing this same policy. Unfortunately, for once in these middle years of my life, I had a number of social engagements pending. The cold never seemed bad enough to cancel any of them; neither did it really seem plausible to restrict my alcohol intake to zero. On the Wednesday, therefore, I went for a drink with Eric Johnson. He used to be one of my US correspondents when I edited the Platts ‘Petrochemicalscan’; he shared the workload, if I remember well, with Jeff Ryser, who later moved to Sao Paulo and was instrumental in my move to Brazil. After working out of Houston for less than a year, Eric left Platts to join a chemical consultancy. I never heard of him again until the phone call last week. Apparently, he had seen my name on the Management Reports brochure. He told me that he had rejoined McGraw-Hill, after working at two different consultancies, because he’d been itching to move oversees and had been offered a job in Frankfurt. His working time was split between ‘Chemical Week’ and ‘Chemical Engineering’ but when Chemical Week was sold off, he stayed with McGraw-Hill and worked full-time for ‘Chemical Engineering’ for a while before moving to London, about a year ago, and taking a job with Chem Systems. Eric says he finds he likes the British way socially, but that he cannot get used to it in business. He finds the British much less straight-forward and down to earth than his American counterparts. I explain why I think British people are like they are - reserved, shy, difficult to get to know, rather obscure. We didn’t once talk about the Middle East war.
There was a dinner one evening with Philip. I haven’t seen him for six or nine months I suppose. We met in a Turkish restaurant in Maida Vale. The food was edible and tasty even if it was served a little too cool. I couldn’t help commenting on his bright metallic green bow-tie and asked if he wore it out of a conscious decision to create an image or out of an inner instinct. He said a number of other teachers at Westminster wear bow-ties most of the time, and a handful of others wear them quite often. On Thursdays, David has choir practice or some such thing, which is why we are meeting on this evening. I promise to invite him round one Sunday (when David is also out) to meet Adam. We talk about their house in Italy, my flat in Brussels, our jobs, the war. He tells me, quite openly, that he does not want to become a head of department.
One evening, quite late, Rolf and I go next door to have a farewell drink with Anna and Geoffrey, the Belgian couple who are leaving the flat and returning to Liege. They will use my corridor to store some belongings between trips back to Belgium in their car. Neither they or I have heard from David since Christmas. In the street, I meet the couple who will take over the ground floor flat 15 Aldershot Road. He is French; she well-lipsticked and rather tight.
Allied losses remain extremely low. Scud missile attacks have continued on Tel Aviv, Dahran and Riyadh. Most of them have been intercepted by Patriot missiles. A few civilian deaths have been reported in those cities but the total is still below ten. Less than a score of aircraft have been lost, and less than a dozen airmen captured by the Iraqis - some of whom have been paraded on television. Other than the Scuds, the only other action apparently taken by the Iraqis has been the release of huge volumes of crude oil into the Persian Gulf. Media attention has focussed on this ecological terrorism for the last couple of days. The West insists that the 300 square mile slick will not hinder military operations. However, for an evil man, the slick is quite a clever move; not only might it actually hamper the landing of naval vessels on the Kuwaiti shores; not only might it foul up important desalination plants on the Saudi coast further south; but it also gives focus to the anti-war demonstrations sweeping across the Allied home countries. However, Saddam will win no friends among the Arab nations for this hateful action.
A few clues as to how the war is going for the Iraqis do emerge. Clue one: some 24 or more Iraqi pilots have landed their planes in Iran, where the authorities will keep them until the war is over - although no-one is saying so, they have defected as surely as I am a man. Clue two: Iraqis captured from Kuwait so far are said to have been infested with lice, and not in the best of physical of mental health. Clue three: reports by Iranians returning home and journalists that have exited Iraq give graphic accounts of the destruction ranging around them. Clue four: Allied military reports tell of damage to power stations, refineries, and command and control centres, factories, supply stores, pipelines, arsenals etc. Clue five: all sales of petrol and diesel internally have been stopped. All that adds up to the most horrific desolation in Iraq; many of the people must be living in terrible conditions of cold and hunger; the troops must be utterly demoralised and scared out of their wits. They probably all believe that if captured by the allies they will be tortured and shot. I wonder whether Saddam Hussein himself really knows the extent of the damage. Perhaps the extraordinary reports on Iraq radio about the extent of the Allied losses, compared to low losses for Iraq, are what Saddam himself believes.
16 50, Wednesday 30 January 1991
Here I am in my little one-bedroom flat in the Saint Catherine area. The journey from Brighton to Dover did indeed take two hours even though the traffic was extremely light. The route to Brussels turned out to be so simple, I certainly needn’t have bought a map. Unfortunately, driving was hampered, at first, by some nasty fog; and, later nearer Brussels, by traffic jams. Well, silly me, it was about 7am Brussels time on a working day; would I drive into London on the M1 at such a time?
This is the first time I have taken a car overseas since I was twenty or thereabouts. First of all, I noticed how poor the Dover signs were; I didn’t get lost but I might have done. Moreover, I wasn’t sure how I was to know whether I was due to leave from the Eastern or Western Docks since nothing on my tickets or the road signs gave me any clue. At the docks, cars are channelled through a number of, what look like, toll booths. The first one acts as the equivalent to a gate; somebody checks the ticket and then directs you left or right or straight on. The next set of gates have company names attached to them - P&O and Sealink for example - so that helps you to know where to go. Here the ticket is checked more thoroughly and the process of sticking labels and other indicators onto the windscreen begins (I think there were three altogether); a route is assigned (A, B etc). A policeman inspected me after this gateway and discovered my tax disc was missing. I could say, honestly, I had no idea where it had gone. Next, the car passes through a customs gateway, though I can’t say I saw anyone there; and, finally, well not exactly finally, the car is channelled to a particular column in a huge car park in front of the ferry loading bay. Between all these various booths or gates wide wastelands of tarmac exist; sometimes there are road markings and sometimes there aren’t; the landscape through most of this no-man’s wilderness comes to be festooned with lorries of all shapes and sizes - indeed the whole area suggests Gulliver’s land of giants with the dimensions having been worked out on a scale of lorries rather than humans. As with the signposting through Dover, one feels that arrival at the next and correct gate is more through chance than design, although this cannot possibly be the case since these docks deal with massive numbers of travellers and sailings.
Having parked my car and been told the ferry was due in shortly I was uncertain as to whether I ought to stay with my car or whether there was something else I could do. Again, by chance, I discovered a kind of terminal building, half closed for refurbishment, in which I could buy magazines, sweets, travel paraphernalia of various kinds, where I could change money, or where I could buy a beer or a cup of tea at a small bar. Apart from the half dozen chairs in this small bar, there was nowhere to sit, so I wasn’t sure whether the place was just a shop, or whether it was supposed to serve as a terminal lounge. Here was more evidence, it seemed to me, that, as with the whole port, no underlying concept or strategy had ever been developed; rather the utility had evolved organically as need turned to desperate need (for whatever change or new facility) and had been met at the point of breakdown with the minimum necessary to avoid that breakdown. The process of driving the car onto the ferry took just a few minutes, and before long I was tucked up in my sleeping bag on the floor of the lounge. The crossing was so quiet and gentle I barely felt any sway. I woke just minutes before the tannoy would have woken me anyway. Once in the car, I had to wait 10-15 minutes before driving off, but it must be a lot a worse in summer or when the ferries are much fuller.
My first day in Brussels. What a way to start: three hours sleep on a ferry, a 90 minute drive through fog and traffic jams, a flat full of chaos, a body so weak it has to take all day over bringing up the goods from the car boot. Trip one took me to Sibelgaz to persuade them to turn on my gas and electricity. Even though I had the authorisation from the city hall (which was a business in itself), the official at his huge desk was still not satisfied - I didn’t have the full contract for the apartment and besides he wanted some other evidence of residence and suggested I come back with a friend. I’ll swear it was only the ‘Financial Times’ letter-headed paper that got me through to the stage of a form’ and to an appointment for the technician to come round. This is a very antiquated system for connection to the utilities, especially for a city so full of strangers and people half living here. In UK, you can get gas or electricity turned on with just a phone call. By contrast, the telephone administration is considerably easier and the RTT requires no proof of residence; the trouble with RTT, however, is that it can take months to get a phone line. I need to change £1,000 to pay the deposit and a month’s rent in advance. I make a modest attempt to check exchange rates. I figure that on £1,000, a relatively small difference is probably worth having. However, I find no difference in two banks and so plump for BBL where I have my deposit account. The nervous teller takes an age to count the 50 £20 notes. I resist the temptation to let my impatience show a little and am rewarded. He makes a signal to me that he is going to telephone; I think he means that he needs to ask for the cash to be brought him, but no, he is ringing to get me a special rate for such a large lump sum - BFr59.6 as opposed to the normal rate of BFr58.74. Another teller, less nervous, less inexperienced might not have bothered - I was in luck to the tune of BFr860 or £12-13, but more valuable was not having to wonder for a day or two after whether I should have checked rates in other banks.
My second visit to RTT. I carried the letter they had sent in my absence and I fully expected to be able to organise a line quickly. The lady, however, suggested I ring the technical department in a few weeks time to arrange a visit some further weeks or months or years into the future. When I protested that I had been told as a journalist I might be able to get connected this century instead of next she made a special effort, and suggested I come back next week to make an appointment. Poof. Hard work this place. I shall go again tomorrow, Thursday. I shall dress smart and push my FT letter of accreditation in front of their noses.
Then there was a trip to buy food. This locale is not well served with shops of any description except fish restaurants for which Saint Catherine is famous and, I discovered today, a weekly second hand furniture auction 200 metres away. There isn’t even a decent corner shop near, nor a supermarket reasonably near. I bought some fruit in a small market on the Place du Nouveau, Marche de Grains, but the prices were a little high.
Another trip out to get some electrical equipment. Odd how cultures differ on such little things. I needed plugs, but could I find a shop that sold them? A shop similar to Comet or Rumbelows sold extension leads but not plugs. When I asked why not, the assistant said ‘this isn’t a do-it-yourself shop.’ I did notice that most appliances possessed a non-removable plug. Since most of the electrical goods don’t use much power and are without fuses in this country, the plugs don’t ever need to come off.
Then there was another trip to buy milk and bread.
In between times I gathered together all the crockery and kitchen utensils that I didn’t want and stuffed them high in the kitchen cupboards that I would never open. This job really took most of the day, so numerous were the glasses and plates and pots and rubbish. I was left with two large cabinets in the lounge completely empty and ready to take my office materials.
I have now organised the lounge and it begins to take on some character. The large yellow, cream and mustard rug with a small rectangle pattern which I brought from London fits perfectly into this room, both in terms of its size and in terms of what I want a rug to do - add colour and cover the horrible parquet. On one wall, I have hung the large piece of yellow and olive batik silk (also with a rectangle pattern), last seen decorating our stairwell in the Aldeburgh house. Whereas before the room was dominated by the table in the centre, I have now created a lounge area with the three chairs, and an office area with the table and the cabinets. I am quite pleased with the transformation. I now need to buy a coffee table and some interesting pictures and decorative items.
There remains much to do. I must empty the two hall cupboards, rationalise the space therein, and refill them to good purpose. I must change the curtains in this room which, at present, are the most vulgar orange. I must clean the net curtains which are more filthy than inside the bag of a vacuum cleaner. And so it will go on. I do worry about doing things too quickly. For example, I have now spent the best part of two days around the flat, but have done virtually no office work at all. Shouldn’t I be organising this place at the weekend? But let me not worry about such things. It is important to feel good in the flat or else I will not work efficiently; there is a minimum that needs doing before one can relax. Moreover, I have been told I cannot get my Commission pass now until Friday. Getting on with projects is nigh on impossible without a telephone and without easy access to the Commission facilities (since the onset of the Gulf war, I discover, the Commission is making it far harder to gain access to its buildings - they want a journalist’s pass as well as a passport).
I have my Technics radio cassette and speakers all hooked up now; and I have brought with me some of my favourite cassettes - I so rarely get a chance to listen to them in London these days. Some of Britten’s Song Cycles have just been filling the room. I must go for a stroll and find a hamburger or some other simple nourishment.
17 54, Thursday 31 January 1991, Brussels
Three full days in this city now. There remains much to do in the flat and I have done no FT work at all. Today, I renewed my pleas at the telephone office. The attendant said I might get a letter in the first week of February and get the phone hooked up within a fortnight of getting the letter. At least, then, I could be fully operational from the moment I arrive next time. I will, though, have to enlist Fiona’s help again if the technician is needs access while I’m away.
Also today, I found my way to a maxi supermarket, and did a £75 shop. I was surprised to see how empty my kitchen cupboards still looked on emptying the bags. Essentials: black pepper, salt, olive oil, vinegar, tinned tomatoes, black sacks, mayonnaise, sugar, coffee, jam, spaghetti, rice, muesli, orange juice, mustard and so on.
I am so pleased with this rug. I notice today that the pattern matches the carved rectangle decoration on the cabinets. In a sale, I bought a yellow fruit bowl which also matches this pattern. Moreover, the olive pattern on the two old armchairs (the seating straw of which is desperate to travel) is uncannily similar to that on the batik I have stretched across the wall above them.
I must report that during Tuesday, my first day here, a whole rainbow of deep-felt feelings kept flaring up within me. By now, most of them have been diluted and replaced by more usual daily thoughts, experiences and emotions. The most prominent - purple - was that feeling of angst which I have encountered only at some points in my life and usually at partings which are also beginnings - leaving London for my world travel, for Brazil, for Belgium. It is a profound sadness of loss, loss of the warmth and security of family and friends. In this case, in this moment of my life, the purple was a rather false colour since I am only away from London/Brighton for nine or ten days. The purple arose partly out of the tiredness of travel, particularly the travel which marks down the division between lives; but, perhaps, emerged more out of distance I was realising between myself and my family. How simple, safe, warm would life be in the company of Barbara and Adam ALL THE TIME - no more of this struggle, this sleeping on floors, these leavings, these desperate attempts to do more, know more, experience more, learn more . . . but instead the comfort of Barbara’s love, of Adam’s happiness sweeping over me day by day by day.
There was also the green of envy of others who achieve these new experiences of new places without all the hassle I must go through, whose companies provide considerably more luxury, organise much of the necessary admin and who pay for it all.
The oranges and lemons of excitement were there too - the discoveries to come, the people to be met, the places to visit.
The blues of the sheer volume of work that must be done to settle, and then, once settled, to produce enough work to pay for it all.
And the fires that burn within me provoking me to such excesses, and the crimson red feelings of satisfaction which come with the prosperity of action..
Paul K Lyons
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