PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1992 - DECEMBER
5 December 1992, London
There are still half a dozen lilac-coloured flowers on my hebe; the winter jasmine in the corner is blossoming in a flourish of yellow; a few pale orange quince fruits still hang on the glorious chaenomeles bush; and, tucked up in the darkest corner close to the bedroom French windows, the dozen or so branches on the magnificent mahonia all accelerate into bud. It is a crisp bright dry day; a welcome respite from the winds and rains of the last few days.
THE NIGHTMARE OF BANK MERCHANT SERVICES
I do not feel I have had a very productive week. I have worked less on the database and instead I’ve been tackling such things as setting up a bank account and finding a printer. I failed miserably at my first meeting with a bank manager. The story is not a pretty one so I won’t go into details. I had decided that I needed to offer potential subscribers the chance to pay by credit card. I never considered this would be much of a problem but I couldn’t find out how to organise it. I decided, in the first instance, to go along with Dad who suggested I call his contact at the Midland Bank, Jim. Jim suggested I sign up for a business account at a branch where he knew the manager. Thus it was that I went along on Tuesday to meet Keith at the Marble Arch branch on Edgware Road. When setting up the appointment by phone I had mentioned my need for credit card facilities and he said that this wouldn’t be a problem. But it was. Having had a general chat, I was about to sign up for an account but I wanted to be sure I could get the credit card facilities. Keith had said such things were handled by a different part of the company and he didn’t know much about them. Indeed he had been unable to enlighten me as to how it all worked. Before agreeing to the account then I asked him to check up. He left me alone to make a phone call and returned to say that the Midland could not offer me such merchant services because I was working from home. Well, I said, I would need to shop around then.
I came home in a panic and began making phone calls to find out how on earth the credit card business worked. Having got nowhere by ringing the banks themselves, I telephoned the London Enterprise Agency which gave me a help line telephone number. On that number someone gave me another number which turned out to be Barclays Recruitment. The girl there talked a different language and within a few minutes I was understanding more about the system. Barclays, she said, would only consider giving such services to people who worked from home if they had a Barclays account. She also gave me the equivalent number for the other three banks. After ringing all of them and cross-checking the information, I realised that my very best hope of getting credit card facilities was actually with the Midland Bank, not only because of the Dad/Jim connection but because my personal banking track record is with First Direct, a division of Midland. I also understood that, although the banks had rules about 12 months trading and working from home, there was also a discretionary element left to the branch manager. Thus, I realised, I had failed to win over Keith, and I wasn’t sure whether he really was just playing by the rules, or whether he was unwilling to support me. (What had I said wrong in the interview?) So, I began to wonder whether I should try a different branch or whether I should try my luck with a different bank. I finally decided to ring Jim back and explain my problem. He listened sympathetically and, within a couple of hours he had sorted it, by ringing a senior exec in Midland merchant services. I have to say I was much relieved. I rang Keith back the next day to set the account up and, on Friday, a lady from merchant services rang me to arrange a meeting to go through the necessary processes. Interestingly she is not allowed to come to my home (unlike the American Express chap who is coming next week) and we must meet at Paddington station since she will come from Reading.
Finding a printer has been far from easy either. I thought I would simply have to look at one or two other newsletters in a library and see who printed them. Unfortunately, this land and the world is a large place full of printers, a rather small number of them are based in north London. So far I have three quotes, two around £600-700 for a 1,000 run and one double that (from a printer called Flashprint which does work for charities!)
On Wednesday I went to a talk on Maastricht by Simon Jenkins at Chatham House. It wasn’t much about Maastricht at all, even though the Treaty itself is rarely out of the news, rather it was a smug talk as to why Jenkins himself is a Eurosceptic. Now a columnist for the ‘Times’, he has worked as political editor for the ‘Economist’ and been editor of the ‘Evening Standard’. I have to say I found his views shallow and rather blinkered. My opinion was reinforced during questions when he seemed unable to expand at all on his theme, nor offer interesting or considered responses to any of the high quality questions put to him - among many notables were David Howell and Sir Anthony Mayer. Criticism is easy, Howell said, in this time especially, but what is needed from the media are solutions, ways forward. All Jenkins could say was that it was the job of the media to be sceptical, positively critical.
There was no understanding at all of the historical perspective, which I subscribe to, that man has sought through time to raise the level of altruism to a higher and higher level, wherever there are benefits to be had - in the animal kingdom animal fights animal, as man evolved so the family unit became more important, then tribes evolved with a common purpose, and from there regional groupings ensued, and then the nation state became paramount. Now in the 20th century there are concerted and consistent attempts to create multinational groupings because there are clear benefits; it is quite clear that high degrees of protectionism and nationalism ultimately lead to conflict and are inevitably bad economics - much money can be wasted on bureaucracy before the ultimate costs of isolationism and war would be exceeded. I saw the public school boy in Jenkins so clearly. He often answered a critical question by saying something like ‘well, I could criticise your criticism’ with a grin before going on to repeat a platitude from his talk. The Chatham House hall was full, much fuller than when Sir Michael Franklin spoke last week on the Community budget; and Franklin had something real to say, and a lifetime of real experience on which to base his ideas.
A and B have gone off to the see Zippo’s circus in Grange Park; as the light fades this Saturday afternoon I listen to Mike Westbrook’s ‘Citadel’ on the tape and tap away at my computer. I don’t have much to write about in my journal any more. During the week now, not only do I not got out during the week but I no longer feel much compulsion to do so either. Starting my own business has so completely taken over in the priority stakes that I am quite happy to flop in front of the TV at nine or half past nine (rarely before except for ‘EastEnders’ and then I always turn the TV off at eight.) There is some good TV at the moment, as one could expect during the autumn. Channel Four has an excellent series called ‘The Big Battalions’ written by Hugh Stoddart. It stars Brian Cox as a powerful and charismatic archdeacon and Jane Lapotaire as his separated wife, a worldly-wise but yet naive aid worker (not unlike my friend Angela in some ways, I suppose). The five part serial is made by the same company that produced ‘Traffic’, which I also thought was excellent. These films have geographic range, which is a huge plus, superb character actors and plots which deal with large issues and the people caught up in them. I suppose they are the stuff of blockbuster novels by Leon Uris or James Mitchener, but to make them work on television requires the genius of whole teams of people, not just one author. ‘Big Battalions’ deals with three churches - Christianity, Judaism and Islam - and the personal and political clashes between them. Cox is superb as the maverick priest who needs the power games in the Church to keep him going. Watching him in the role communicating with the other characters one senses, tangibly, the danger and excitement of his presence. Lapotaire is good too, she manages to infuse a true sense of vulnerability along side purposefulness but she is not quite as convincing as Cox, perhaps because her role is a more complex one is some ways.
Another superb series - ‘Between the Lines’ - finished last night. This was a collection of one hour stories loosely tied together around a number of key characters in the CIB, the unit of the police that investigates the police. Most of the stories were credible, although some in the middle, written by a different writer, fell short of the average set by the series originator. As a viewer I got involved with the lives of the main players just as much as the film-makers wanted. The series ended with the hero, having successfully uncovered the corruption of his boss (yes in the CIB, its the MouseTrap all over again!) against all the odds but being left alone to celebrate - his wife having left him, his girlfriend having died and his colleagues having better things to do. I liked that ending, it could have been written for me.
Then there is ‘Framed’ by Lynda La Plante, a cop drama about a supergrass. But again we are treated with a such a high level of directing, acting and writing that we couldn’t see better in the cinema. This story is about the relationship between a young and ambitious cop and a criminal who is grassing on all his mates in the hope of gaining freedom.
Sunday 13 December 1992, Brussels
My first visit here on my own expense. Nothing has changed, of course. I have had to come on a Saturday afternoon, because the cost of the return air flight is about half what it would be if I didn’t stay over a Saturday night - £89 as opposed to £180 something. As a rule, I shall stay over on a Saturday any way - from a Tuesday to a Wednesday - so having the fares structured that way quite suits me. Although, I hadn’t planned to spend the weekend here this time, I have profitably passed the day sorting out my papers and tidying up affairs for the fresh start. My files are in order, many papers have been thrown out, all names and telephone numbers are in the same place now, rather than scattered on dozens of different pieces of paper; and, best of all, there is room to store more stuff in the future.
In the morning, I went out for a walk around the markets - to the flea market first (where I saw a Mephistopheles, made from an identical mould, selling for £40 - I had always thought my purchase at £50 was a bargain but mine is in much better condition, and far more carefully painted). From there I walked on to the Midi market to buy vegetables. I would have bought fish or meat but the quality looked awful, especially the meat. In one van, there were stacks and stacks of chops and steaks and various cuts, but all the meat was identical in colour, as though it had been sprayed with a dye, or as though it was being lit by a red lamp. Horrible. And all the fish looked as though it had been frozen in ice blocks for weeks. I shall be confined tonight to an egg dish and salad.
I am upset by the news this week that Prince Charles and his wife Diana are to separate. The royal family has had a bitch of a year but this news is the worst of the lot. Charles is in line to be King and Diana to be Queen, therefore anything they do and say matters. The separation (and ultimate divorce) of Prince Andrew and Fergie does not matter half as much. By refusing to accept the strictures of royal family life, Diana has betrayed the trust and responsibility invested in her. We, the people, do not shout and wave and adore Diana herself, we wave, shout, love and adore her because she is a symbol of the royal family, she has accepted the role and the responsibility that goes with it. She is sorely mistaken if she thinks she can carry on as a famous and important person, and be treated as such everywhere she goes, now that she has stabbed the whole system in the back. Royal families cannot expect to live like ordinary people; they have immense privileges and there are costs that go with them. Diana appears to want her cake and to eat it. And how on earth can she go on speaking for the marriage guidance charity Relate, when she doesn’t have the stamina for her own marriage. She and Charles, like many royal families, already live separate lives; what does Diana hope to gain by proving to the world that she is not living a dream happy marriage as shown in cornflake advertisements. And poor old Charlie must be in the very pits of depression - he has failed to provide the leadership that he so desperately wanted to give, he has failed personally to hold his marriage together, and he has failed the whole historic tradition of the royalty in this country by choosing the wrong wife.
The Annus Horribilis, as Queenie has called 1992, begins to sound like an understatement, a pathetic statement of personal frustration. Yet the tragedy is of historic proportions, and the Queen herself must take a huge chunk of the blame; all three of her children who married are now separated. The fact that one of them, Anne, remarried this weekend does nothing at all to mitigate the historic fall of the House of Windsor.
The Edinburgh summit has ended in relative harmony. The UK Presidency got agreement on a whole Rubik cube (as Johnnie Major put it) of issues. But surely there was never any doubt that the 12 would reach agreement on the budget and on a framework for Denmark to have another referendum? There was far too much at stake. If the 12 had shown signs of serious doubt, disagreement, and hesitation, then those anxieties would have spread out across the Community like ripples in a lake after a stone is thrown in. All the leaders knew that, and they all knew they would have to reach agreement. No one would be standing up and shouting foul at this summit; there was too much to lose. Most of the 11 others were also concerned that Johnnie didn’t get too much credit either, so they had to play a quiet and subtle propaganda game.
THE FOOL ON THE HILL
I have not heard anything from Sheffield about my play, so I must be out of the running; as if I ever really suspected I could win. I realise I do have a tendency to be unrealistic about some things. I cannot imagine, for example, that I really thought John McLachlan would really sell me ‘European Energy Report’ for £100,000; I must have been mad to even think it, let alone to put it on paper and wait for an answer. Perhaps if I had been more realistic from the start, I would have had a better chance of getting ‘EC Energy Monthly’ - perhaps I should have resigned first as well (i.e. contrary to Dad’s advice) and then negotiated the one newsletter with a full and careful economic justification. Why do I think that my play has a chance against a country full of would-be and proven playwrights? I know I am neither a particularly good writer, nor a particularly imaginative one, nor even am I technically very competent. I must be out of my mind, dream on! Likewise, probably, the same could be said about starting this business. Anyone can see I must be a complete fool setting up a newsletter in direct competition to one that already exists. Dream on Pablo, dream on, and go nowhere. Perhaps I should have sat back at the FT, had a couple more kids with B, and moved heavily into golf and amateur photography or something. We could have had a nice house in the country and holidays abroad every year.
Every now and then, in my life, I remember a moment in the south of Chile. I was standing outside a town hitch-hiking somewhere. It was pouring with rain, I was cold and miserable and no one was stopping. I remember thinking that I couldn’t possibly have got there, to the south of Chile and been to so many other places round the world, unless I was content to stand in the rain and feel cold and miserable. I feel a bit like that now about my life. But I can’t see any Macchu Picchu or Foz d’Iguacu in the future to look forward to.
Adam has a nasty cold and is sniffling all day long, or at least he was when I left him on Saturday afternoon. I took a series of photos of him because B wanted some in school uniform to send out with Christmas cards. This last week Adam has been active at school, although we only tend to find things out by chance. Of his own accord, he made a book about light and electricity - it has pictures and words in, and he stuck several pages together. When he took it into school, his teacher gave him house points, about which he was very proud. Then he has also stood up in Assembly and talked about Christmas lights and how there are two ways of turning them off and on. Finally, he has taken part in a puppet show with two or three other children (the whole class was divided into a puppet show groups, each of which had a chance to show to the rest of the class). B went to watch and said that A told most of the story and even said, at the end when all his group had dried up, ‘and they lived happily ever after’.
Tuesday 15 December 1992, Brussels
Two nights ago I had an extremely lucid dream - I had won the children’s play competition. At first I saw my name and address printed in some brochure or other, and I couldn’t believe it at all. I closed my eyes and looked through other parts of the brochure and tried to sneak up on the part where I thought I had seen my name printed, but sure enough it was still there. The only explanation for this was that I had won one of the prizes.
It is nearly nine in the morning and a grey dismal light has only just arrived - at eight it is still completely dark. I cannot get motivated in the dark. And dark days in my mind. At the bank I run into a silly problem with an official who doesn’t speak English (why should he); and then I find that the Commission has refused to renew my press card; for several hours I thought this must be because it had found out I’d left the FT (I was fuming with rage and trying to fathom out how the press service could have known). It transpired, however, that it was more to do with the press spokesman in charge deciding that journalists working for monthlies should not be admitted. I have appealed to Xavier Prats, after consultation with Joao, a spokesman who is now at the ESC, but I hold out little hope.
Not only that, but two of my top sources in DGXVII - a high level one and a low level one - are leaving. Jean-Claude Guibal, director for energy policy, one down only from the director-general, has been told by the Commission he must go to make way for another Frenchman. The other source - Teresa Vilella - is a low level information officer from whom I never received any political information but I would always chat with her, and get information on conferences and such like. For the last six months, a character called Rex Bailey, straight out of a Punch cartoon, complete with paunch and stripy braces, has been put in as her boss. She cannot stand him so is looking for another position.
I do not feel well of spirit here in Brussels. These are dark times, I do nothing new, yet I am struggling away. What for and where to go?
New Year’s Eve, Brighton
After several year’s of spending New Year’s Eve alone, it looks like tonight I will be in company - with Julek and Annabel. If B hadn’t fallen sick with a chest infection we would have been spending the evening together for the first time that either of us can recall.
I have a pile of Christmas gift books on the piano in Aldershot Road waiting to be read - that gives me a warm glow; I will have daily contact with Adam for the first time in three years - that gives me a really warm glow; I am of sound health, that pleases (and frightens) me; it is the end of this year, and that is good news.
Everything is now in place for the start of my business and I can go ahead on schedule with my first issue next week. One thousand lucky punters will get the January edition for free, but how many will buy - I need 1% to keep my morale up. 1993 here I come.
Paul K Lyons
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