PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1991 - SEPTEMBER
Sunday 1 September 1991, Brighton
I lurch from one morning cup of tea to the next. My weekends through the summer have been devoid of any personal interest; I lack any private projects, it seems all my endeavours are work-based. I spend my time with Adam mostly, going to the beach, doing number lessons, reading stories, talking. Last weekend, we decorated most of this house, ceilings white, walls magnolia. None of the surfaces are very good, they are all covered in anaglypta wall paper. I had to patch a couple of bits which I didn’t do very well - as usual, I was sloppy with the instructions over mixing the paste and over how long I should leave it on the paper before putting it up. Result, the paper was stretching all over the shop and I was unable to control it properly. At least the house looks reasonable and clean now. In Aldershot Road, also, I do a little patching of the outside paintwork so that the coming winter doesn’t exacerbate the poor state of some of the window frames. Meanwhile, my reluctant builder, Jim, works on the bathroom. It hasn’t all been plain sailing; first we put in the wrong size of bath. This is because I replaced the old bath with one the same size but, it turns out, that it’s impossible to build a cupboard round the hot water tank with that size bath - both builders that gave me an estimate said it would be possible! The shop which supplied the bath was prepared to swap it for a smaller, but slightly more, expensive shop-soiled version, and that involved taking out the one and re-plumbing the replacement. Then, when Jim had built a cupboard, I was rather disappointed with it: he had constructed it to the ceiling which made the room rather dark and claustrophobic. Jim said it would be easy to cut the upper part off leaving the top as a single shelf, so I agreed he should do that. I have had white tiles put on the walls, with a single horizontal row of half-size, green patterned Portuguese tiles. With Jim working all week, there has been chaos in the corridor, and the girls have had to use the shower in my bedroom.
To finish off this memorable week, Clare informed me on Thursday that she was moving out at the weekend. The decision was not wholly unexpected since I had shouted at her on Monday. I should not have shouted, that much is clear; however, I had built up loads of resentment about her never doing any cleaning around the house yet not found the wherewithal to talk to her about it. So, when it came to my extreme frustration over her indolent attitude to paying the rent - on Monday after a number of light-hearted requests and a sternish demand, she only gave me half - I found myself raising my voice. She, in turn, stared me down, told me not to be so paternal, or else I wouldn’t get any rent at all. She left me a scruffy note saying she was moving out, and I left her an interesting card with a good-humoured message. No doubt, I shall never see her again. If she had been in the house, if she had been present, I would most likely have asked her for a drink and tried to be straightforward with her, however, she left the house minutes after that conversation on Monday, and I’ve not seen, or heard from, her since.
Monday 2 September 1991, Brussels
Do I reduce my life expectancy by getting up so often at four in the morning. This morning I had a plane to catch at the City Airport so there was just enough to time to water the plants, to check Clare’s room and close the windows properly, to admire the half-finished bathroom (I must put in a new floor and decorate the room yet), and to pull together the few odds and ends that I carry to Brussels. I had a short rest around lunchtime. I will be here until next Tuesday so I needn’t panic about getting the work done. Although I have written the bulk of an introduction to my EC book, I am rather nervous about writing the chapters: I am not at all sure that I have any insight or information to sell; I am also scared of how long it is going to take. I have four scheduled visits to Brussels before the deadline for handing in a first draft. Therefore, it follows that I should do all the interviews for two chapters on each visit. I am finding it hard enough to get started on one. By the time I return to London next Tuesday I should have a fair old idea of whether I’ll make the deadline or not. I plan to write the very minimum necessary i.e. 40,000 words - I am truly lazy when it comes down to it - and fill up where necessary with tables and graphs; by a simple calculation of payment at £100 per thousand words, which is reasonable on such a large commission, I will need to earn at least £4,000 to make it pay as well other freelance: at a price of £200 a copy, it will only need to sell a little over 100 copies to make that. A more fundamental, more testing calculation will be to relate my earnings to time spent on the project and compare that to possible benefits derived from spending the time on some other pursuit.
A sneaky idea has come into my mind - to go to Corsica this winter. There will probably be a six week gap between ‘EC Energy Monthly’ issues and I should have finished the book by the time of the December issue. Such a trip would give me an opportunity to try my hand at fiction again (just as I did over ten years ago) and, possibly, set the scene for a necessary 40th year tectonic shift. Whatever, such a trip would certainly provide me with some interesting resonances, echoes, from that trip in my twenties which set me properly on a downward path towards a nervous breakdown.
MORE MOMENTOUS NEWS FROM EAST EUROPE
Barely a day goes by without some momentous news from Moscow. It appears that the world’s news corp has set down roots there and in the capitals of the other republics. It was just a few days ago that, first of all, Gorby left the Communist Party, then he disbanded it altogether across the Union. In the last few days, the Baltic States have won recognition by most Western states, including, today, the US. Gorby has yet to fully recognise this, but commentators fully expect him to do so within hours. Today’s main item has concerned a meeting of the highest body within the Soviet Union and a proposal put forward by Gorby and other republic leaders to form a new economic union. Our leader, John Major, has been talking with Gorby and Yeltsin and finds that there is some cooperation between them. Just as well, the alternative - raging civil wars and battles for control over the nuclear arsenal - is too horrible to contemplate.
The EC succeeds in overseeing another ceasefire in Yugoslavia, but those Serbs look very very restless. Riots in Cardiff - the TUC conference - David Owen says he is to stand down from Parliament.
Because I am cycling down to Brighton marina with Adam to watch a fun raft race there, I take the opportunity to have a close look at the naturist beach - I’ve only ever seen it from the road before. I walk with Adam over the ridge of stones towards the sea and am staggered to see the designated patch of beach for nudists full of people, far more crowded than any other part of the beach. We do not actually walk around, we just stand at one corner and I tell Adam about how grown-ups usually have to wear clothes and swimming trunks if they want to go swimming, but that some people like to wear no clothes so they get a special place such as this beach. Later, A, B and I go for a swim nearby the nudist patch. Watching the activity, it becomes clear that the majority of nudists are gay, many of them keen on a certain amount of controlled exhibitionism - they strut up and down the beach, for example, way beyond the frontier of nudist land. I really like swimming nude, but it seems to defeat the object to do so on such a beach; although I think about it, I decide against it - I can’t see any point; the pleasure of swimming naked is not so great that it outweighs the displeasure of being surrounded by a somewhat seedy atmosphere. Nudists who go to such places are surely into something else - presumably the whole voyeur/exhibitionist bit and/or the teeming oddball culture of such groups - than the real sensual pleasure of finding a deserted place and taking a healthy dose of primaeval nakedness.
Friday 6 September 1991, Brussels
Such a quiet life I lead here - I’ve nothing to think about other than my work. And clearly I’ve nothing much to write about either. Although I organised my interviews this week around collecting information for the book, I also managed to pick up material for next week’s ‘EC Energy Monthly’. I finished my interviews yesterday, in fact, and could have gone home then rather than stay until Tuesday night, if my ticket had been transferable. Perhaps, it is just as well to stay the weekend because I am far more productive here than I would be in the office or in Brighton, and I can see I shall have real problems in finding the time to write the book. I’ve written four pages so far, and I hope to fill another four on Monday. There is clearly much scope for being efficient when writing something as large as a book - I can see enormous potential for wasting masses of time in collecting too much information. Similarly, there is great potential for good planning and efficient use of interviews to collect precisely the information one wants rather than spurious facts and opinions. I shall spend the best part of tomorrow, Saturday, working on my first substantial piece for the book.
Apart from having an evening meal with Fiona, my social life over the 8-9 day period is precisely zero - I have not one single event lined up for the weekend. However, I have just bought Alvin Toffler’s ‘Power Shift’ - the last of his trilogy which consists of ‘Future Shock’ and ‘The Third Wave’. I could quite happily bury myself in Toffler’s insights for the weekend - I’ve also got Radio Four to keep me quiet.
Good poll results for the Tories have given rise to a bout of election fever - I have no doubts that an election will be called this autumn. Pundits suggest that the Tories won’t go to the polls until they’ve got a 6 or 7 point lead, and until they’ve had that lead for a couple of months because, they say, John Major is a cautious man.
I am disturbed to hear from my source in the Belgian Permanent Representation that the apparent affinity between the French and the Germans at the highest political level (which provides so much of the impetus for Community togetherness and for progress on the internal energy market) has evaporated of late. It is only the strength of the Franco-German desire for greater political and economic union, I have felt, which can stitch together the very different outlooks on energy policy. Certainly the news from the intergovernmental Treaty negotiations looks bleak in that there appears to be a blocking alliance against the inclusion of chapter on energy. If this macro view of my Belgian colleague is correct then it’s not the best news for ‘EC Energy Monthly’. On the other hand, I suppose, the energy industries have been woken up to Brussels, and are slowly cottoning on to the magnificent value of ‘EC Energy Monthly’, and so, no doubt, will continue to want to keep abreast of the latest moves, even if the potential of Commission influence is on the wane.
21 02, Thursday 12 September 1991, London
Two anxiety dreams about Adam. In the first we are in a swimming pool crawling on our bellies across a line of floats. To begin with we are crawling in parallel but I am asking Adam to keep up with me. He doesn’t, and when I look back I see him flop forwards but there is no float in front of him, and he falls into the water. I wait for him to appear near the surface but I don’t manage to pull him above the surface. I fail twice and then wake up. In the second dream, Adam and I are at the playground. It is like the one in Brighton at The Level but we are in Brussels. I watch Adam play with a number of his nursery friends. When they all get on a train I get on too, assuming Adam is there; however, after a while, I look for him but cannot see him. To my horror, I realise he is not on the train. I get off at the first stop but cannot get anybody to tell me where or when the next train goes back to Brussels. I am in a terrible panic thinking of Adam all alone at the playground. I realise I must ring Barbara but the telephones don’t work. I see a newspaper stall; there is a small sales window and a man inside. There is a telephone on the small ledge of his sales window and I plead with him to let me use it - it’s a real emergency, I say, but he isn’t interested and suggests he’s seen enough student tricks in his time. I wake up in a panic.
Riots start again in our large cities - Oxford, Cardiff, Newcastle. The Labour Party has not been able to resist the opportunity of linking the riots to growing unemployment - and by doing so they are giving a mandate to the unemployed to carry on: it’s OK, the Socialist politicians are saying, it’s not your fault, you can’t help unemployment, your riots are a direct result of Tory policies.
Headlines tonight are that more Western hostages may be released - the UN bargaining with Israelis and Arabs seem to be going well.
7 17, Monday 16 September 1991, London
I will be fairly busy this period now until December, what with the Management Report and the launch of the new newsletter, so I expect my journal entries to diminish through lack of time. In any case, I’m unlikely to have very much to say, rather like the first half of last year, when I was compiling the East Europe report and still trying to complete my Masters.
Adam and Barbara went back to Brighton last night after having been here for three days. Although we spent most of the time working on the bathroom, we still managed to get out and about. On Friday, we met at the new wing of the National Gallery. The lobby feels strange as there is no activity on the ground floor apart from the book shop and information counter; one must go the second floor to find the collection of renaissance paintings that the Sainsbury wing was built to house. Nevertheless, I did find the building impressive with its imposing staircase, its Cumbria fine slate floors and granite blocks. The grey painted galleries set off the renaissance paintings a real treat, and I found myself enjoying them for the first time. The point, I suppose, about using the top floor for the galleries is that natural light can be utilised. These were good paintings for Adam to look at too, since they have bright colours and strong definition. When I asked Adam to go round and look at every painting in one particular room and then tell me which one was his favourite, he came back and told me they were all his favourite - a clever way to get out of having to pick one and then explain why he picked it.
All three of us were particularly impressed by the room of computers sponsored by American Express. Here, truly, was some advanced technology to touch. Some twenty large monitors were set up in individual cubicles with two seats per monitor. All control of the computer is carried out through touching the screen. There are four main areas of the database to explore including an alphabetical listing of painters, history, and an alphabetical listing of painting themes. Simply by touching highlighted words or painting miniatures one can go on an adventure of information discovery. At any point with a picture on the screen you can ‘add it to your tour’. I really like this feature - up pops a small but detailed map of the gallery and the location of the particular painting. ‘Do you really want to add this picture to your tour?’ YES, and the gallery is filled in on the map, and a miniature of the picture is then added to the others on your tour for you to see. At the end of your session on the computer you can then print out the map - brilliant.
On Saturday, I took Adam to Lauderdale House for his first show of the new season. I, happily, tucked myself into a corner of the cafe and read ‘The Guardian’ - of particular interest for me was an article about Sappho Durrell - some of her journal writing is due to published in ‘Granta’ later this month. The poor woman seems to have had one hell of a life; desperate to move out of the shadow of her father and be published in her own right, but lurching from one personal crisis to another. One cannot help but read into her life a tale of incompetent parenting. And now it seems, or so she suggests in her writing, that there may have been a touch of incest when she was fourteen. Whatever the case, I am only interested in the story, and I will only be interested in the ‘Granta’ article because she is Durrell’s daughter, such is life. It sounds, by all accounts, that she had no real writing talent.
There is also an article by Cosmo Landesman - also about diary writing by coincidence, it seems that those of us who cannot write real stuff, take refuge in the private world of our journals, where we can pretend to be great and gifted and undiscovered. Cosmo lived at Raoul’s house in the King’s Road for quite a long period, before moving in with Julie Burchill, the enfant terrible of latter day youth culture criticism. I think they now have a baby too. He was always trying to be writer, I recall. I never really liked him very much, he was all intention and charm, and rather little substance; he was unable to see through the glitz and gloss of life; if something didn’t have glitz and gloss then it didn’t exist. Now, he has a new project, care of his wife’s money no doubt, upon which to vent his talents. Julie has started a new magazine called ‘The Modern Review’ which has received a certain amount of publicity. I have to say the magazine sounds dire. But who knows, perhaps the two of them are at the very centre of today’s equivalent of the Bloomsbury set - they live nearby the same area I think! And there can be no doubting their life is infinitely more exciting and interesting than my own.
On Saturday afternoon we go for tea with Mum - as always she has a project or two in hand to improve her house. Shortly, she will have her hall redecorated; she has just bought a Victorian easy chair for her lounge; and now is considering have the trees in her garden heavily pruned and talks enthusiastically about a young man who seemed to know exactly what to do and advised her carefully on a tree by tree basis.
I am still struggling with my bathroom. Jim (he of Elan Painters and Decorators) has not done the best of jobs. I was rather silly to employ him in the first place, his skills at tiling and carpentry leave much to be desired, and various bits of advice one would expect from a builder were not forthcoming because he’s not a builder. So, I am left to try and edge off the tiles, fill in a chunk of wall where he has made a hole, and paint the hardboard face of the new cupboard round the hot water tank, because he hasn’t provided a piece of panelling to match the white side of the bath.
On Sunday, I wrench my family out of bed to drive off early (before 8am) to the East End. I have been keen to take a closer look at Canary Wharf, the UK’s tallest building, for some time but not got round to it. The building and several others are just about finished; indeed some shops in two shopping precincts (on either side of the Canary Wharf Docklands Railway station) are due to open next month. Nothing, though, is open yet, and construction workers still swarm all over the place. Unfortunately, it began to rain not long after we had arrived; moreover we were all dying for a pee and couldn’t find a toilet anywhere. We found shelter on the light railway, which as luck would have it, was running, and running for free! Although not yet open, the operators had taken advantage of a fun day on the Isle of Dogs to give it a thorough and public testing. We took full advantage of this, and went from one end to other. Most of the buildings are attractive, and the whole area really does have an appeal, especially with the ancient docks providing moorage for old boats and the like. There are some housing estates but otherwise building sites still predominate. I know nothing about the financing: it is clear that the wealth of the 1980s, of the Thatcher era, has fed this construction binge; the buildings are not plain and simple, rather they reflect, for the first time in some decades, a certain amount of decadence, as opposed to cost-efficient plain-ness. It is difficult to know whether the area will be a major success in the future, or whether it will remain a kind of appendage to the city.
Thursday 26 September 1991, Brighton
I have begun work on the book in earnest and, so far, seem to be coping reasonably well. Interestingly, I did all this work, initially, indexing papers and newsletter articles and then thought I’d spent far too much time indulging in that easy preparatory stage; now, though, I find how useful it was. In fact, because, after starting to write, I didn’t carry on with the indexing, I now find I am getting into a muddle over more recently acquired reports and papers: I need to take a breather from writing and update those indexes. My first Management Report was so easy to organise since each chapter was about a different country, I just had a file for each country.
Last night, after B brought A home from the nursery I took him off on the bike to a park on the border with Hove we’d not been too before - St Ann’s Well. The sun was already falling low in a blue sky streaked with cloud slivers low and dappled with cloud tufts high; the air already holds an autumnal chill. Cycling across the hill between here and there, we had many fine views across the terraces to the sea, which was also looking handsome in an evening hue of blue. Adam checked out the playground’s swing, slide and climbing frame (managing to get mud all over his shoes and leg) and then we cycled home chatting about things round.
Two new apostles have arrived in my life this week: Mark Gaudet moves into the front room at 13 Aldershot Road. He seems a rather serious man, burdened by I’m not sure what; I hope he proves he can be lighter. At the office, John Leslie joins my small team. He too appears to have his heavy side. There’s a tension within him not apparent in Henry or Kenny; a tension that gives him drive I suppose, (and one that probably encourages his smoking - something we didn’t gather at the interview). I’m not sure he has the cultural breadth of Kenny, Henry or even I; he’s interested in serious topics. Well, I make these snap judgements with little basis. On Monday, I took them for lunch and chose to go to Fatboy’s Diner - an odd joint that has just set up shop on Maiden Lane: a 1940s diner from the US, a gleaming chrome caravan in a clean construction lot with plastic grass placed in front. Kenny and Henry were keen to check out this new arrival in our neighbourhood, but John couldn’t quite understand why we were there.
Another hostage, Jackie Mann, has been released. Finally, the saga draws slowly to a close - the Arab Sheik Obeid held by the Israelis and our own Terry Waite will surely be the last and most difficult moves to negotiate.
Election fever continues apace. No election has been called but you would barely know it from the amount of politicking currently in hand.
Claudio goes to stay in my flat in Brussels. Rosa writes me a provocative card from Brazil. Raoul reports that Caroline is now pregnant for the fourth time. Judy and Rob have moved to Surrey.
17 46, Saturday 28 September 1991, London
The weather forecasters tell us autumnal air is on its way. It’s here, along with rain and wind. I expect the leaves to start turning yellow in a matter of days. I have finished the bathroom, finally, after laying cork floor tiles.
On Monday I fly to Brussels for nine days. When I come back I must produce ‘EC Energy Monthly’ on the Thursday and then ‘East European Energy Report’ on the following Tuesday. This Thursday just gone by, I suddenly got nervous about the new newsletter launch. I had managed to sign up correspondents in all the countries (except Romania) but, I realised, I had made no arrangements over choosing a printer, nor had I made a decision about the cover, nor about the design inside. Apart from that, I had to organise my trip to Brussels, and spend time with my new assistant John Leslie. In the end, I went into the office at 7am on Friday morning, and played around at length on the big Mac screen. By the time the lads arrived at 10, I had made a decision on the cover - employing a bold red diagonal stripe. During most of the rest the day, we all played around with formats for the inside, and made two changes from the format we use in the other two newsletters - the briefing section will run with three columns, and, throughout, we are going to use bold italics for headlines. In the afternoon, I raced over to the printer, PRT, near Caledonian Road. When at McGraw-Hill I used PRT to print International Petrochemical Report but the manager then and now, Frank Abrahams, didn’t remember me. He says he will test three colours on a cover for me in time for my return from Brussels. This gives me sufficient time to choose the colour and for them to order the ink. By the time I got back to Aldershot Road that evening, I was really beat, but, at least, I felt I had put together a reasonable product for the new title. It continues to niggle me, however, that I only managed to negotiate a 10% pay rise.
Adam and Barbara are here, they go to a show at the Tricycle in the afternoon. Tomorrow we will go to visit Melanie and Julian in their rented house at Temple Fortune. In the morning I will take A to meet Andrew and Rosy. In the evenings we watch television. I bide my time. Next year I must make a move, but what? I see no magic or mystery in the future, just time - a machine threatening to gobble me up in two blinks of an eyelid if I do nothing to create change, if I take no risks; if I let routines and safety encompass me.
Paul K Lyons
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