DIARY 46: January - June 1992

Saturday, 4 January 1992, London

No messing about, the year is well under way. Oddly, I feel better now, less depressed than I did at the end of last week. Perhaps it has helped spending a quiet week with Adam with nothing to worry about other than his meals, clothes and lessons. Perhaps, also, starting up my yoga again after a month or so’s absence has helped. Or, perhaps, my lack of depression today is simply the net effect of a week without too much thinking. I say that, but I have actually tried to do some thinking during the week, thinking about the future. I divided my life into four segments - work, family, friends and leisure activity - and then tried to think carefully about each one and what I could do to see some development in 1992. When I told Raoul mid-week about what I was doing he was scandalised, finding it all far to deliberate and calculated. Well, I wish something un-calculated and positive would happen to me; years seem to flow by without anything unexpected occurring at all. I did my general analysis on Monday which left one day each for the four areas of my life. I gave myself 7/10 for work, 6/10 for family, and 3/10 each for friends and leisure. The two biggest dilemmas exist in the two most important areas.

Thursday 9 January 1992, London

It was such a delight to have Adam for the week; it must have been over a year since we spent more than just a couple of days alone. Not only is he such good company for always being in a good humour and always having something to communicate (whether through talk or play-acting) but I find him exceptionally intelligent - not because he has any special ability but rather a general high-level of understanding and mental activity. On our way to my Mum’s once during the week, I asked him if he was enjoying the week with me. He said yes although the lessons not so much. I replied that the day was almost all lessons so he said: “I’m not sure I like the day at all then.” Actually, he disputes this because when I was telling Barbara within his earshot, he raced up to me laughing and said he hadn’t said that. In the same conversation on the way to my Mum’s, he asked me what the name was of those schools where children sleep; I asked him if he meant boarding schools and he did. He then said, for a joke, it was like a boarding school at my house.

Another example. I spoke to A on the telephone, Monday night, and then to B. As I was talking to B, A made it clear he wanted to speak to me again. When he did, he asked me, very clearly if I could record ‘Thunderbirds’ on Friday night because he wasn’t sure he would be home in time, since he was going to a party at Freddie’s after nursery. There had been no conversation on this between B and A at all: A had worked out that he might be late coming home on Friday and that he might miss a bit of his favourite programme, and that the solution would be to ask me to record the programme. In fact, B knew the party finished at 5:30, and that A would be home in time; I could hear her telling A as he finished speaking to me!

Sunday 12 January 1992, Brighton

We have all just had breakfast, the weekend potters along without event or friends. A Schubert piano quintet plays on Radio 3, B clears up the kitchen, Adam builds “a bar place” with his lego. We will go swimming later this morning. It is more accurate to say Adam will go swimming, because I never get a chance to exercise because I have to keep my eye on him. At around one this afternoon, I will leave for Brussels - my first trip of the New Year. I shall return, however, on Wednesday.

I let my beard grow long - nobody likes it, not even I. It makes me look old, unkempt and scraggy. I have vowed to let it grow until something significant happens to me this year but I really don’t know whether I can stick to that. The trouble is, I keep playing with it all the time, my fingers fidget with the hairs, and every few minutes I run to find a pair of scissors and a mirror so that I can cut off individual hairs that are tickling my nose, irritating my lips or which seem unnaturally long. Grotesque habits.

The soap opera “world news” has been letting me down of late, I have neither followed nor been interested in events anywhere. As a ceasefire in Yugoslavia appears to hold, the first UN peace observers fly in by helicopter only to be shot down and killed. President Bush takes a trip to Tokyo but fails to win any significant deals that could impact the Japanese trade surplus. The Commonwealth of Independent States, otherwise known as the the ex-Soviet Union, looks likely to last a matter of weeks rather than years, as Ukraine and Russia already battle it out over ownership of military might. Election fever rules our domestic politics with the two main parties continuing to slag each other off. Major has admitted that his government might have been a little premature in predicting the end of the recession - a few days later British Steel announced that Ravenscraig was to close several years earlier than planned.

There are no new films, plays or books that have excited my interest either. Dull days.

My train journey down to Brighton from London on Friday was, by contrast, an almost thrilling experience on two counts. The first was the presence of a dark, rather attractive, girl on the seat opposite me. For most of the journey we were not alone (so to speak), since my adjacent seat was occupied by a succession of travellers, but I was clearly struck by this woman’s appearance - her wide, unconcerned eyes, her Mediterranean complexion, a crick in the line of her lips and the Greek urn shape of her profile, the reflection of which I watched in the window from time to time. On occasions, her jacket would fall open revealing the shape of one breast, large, gorgeous in its shape defined by a tight-fitting black sweater. Once, towards Brighton, our eyes met, and she let go a small smile in recognition of a comedy taking place further down the carriage - a businessman having a loud conversation with his portable telephone. The more thrilling aspect of the journey was the light. I sat with my back to the front of the train looking out of the window to the west, to the horizon, where the sun was going down fast on a clear bright winter day. Sometimes, the sun, transforming into a fireball, was visible low down, burning up the fields in its path, but mostly I was aware of a large brilliant white (at first) area on the skyline around and above the setting sun which radiated such a potent light that almost every visible thing was turned into a silhouette - the brilliant light crisply picking out every tiny detail, whether of the myriad of TV aerials and chimneys on roofs or the dense matted branches of bare winter trees. As we approached Brighton, so the shape of the fireball disappeared all together leaving its gleaming orange-ness to seep out and fill the sky. A treat.

Monday 13 January 1992, Brussels

The weather is cold, grey and grim. My flight over from Gatwick yesterday was one beset with delays due to fog. Fortunately, I was booked on a Danair aeroplane which had the necessary equipment to land and take off in dense fog, but many other Danair flights were being cancelled, and Gatwick airport was like a refugee centre. The delay on my flight was caused by having to wait for some passengers going to Amsterdam, who were then to be taken by coach from Brussels.

The flight itself was somewhat tedious because of the delays. Fortunately, I was on the outside of a row of three seats, with the middle seat vacant, which meant I had room to lounge and spread my feet out. My neighbour, by the window, looked like an executive in his fifties, overweight, and balding. He had brought the ‘Sunday Times’ and its many sections with him; each time he finished a section he flung it haphazardly on to the seat between us. He’d already gone through the paper once before the flight took off, such were the delays, and with little hesitation he started reading through each bit of the paper again. By this time, it was looking somewhat crumpled and he began to throw section by section on the floor as if to indicate that he had finally and absolutely finished with them (he never picked them up afterwards, he just left them there as litter). By the time we were approaching Brussels, he had really exhausted the reading matter and yet he could not sit comfortably without doing something. He came to the end of the last section, threw it on the ground, pulled off his glasses, slotted them into the top pocket of his shirt, shifted slight forwards as though about to do something, and then realised he had nothing to do. As we were coming in to land, and I tell no lie, he put his glasses back on again, for the umpteenth time, and picked up the ‘Funday Times’, the children’s section, and spent a few desperate minutes scrutinising the comics.

I might as well have gone to Amsterdam and back by coach for all the time I wasted once in the flat. With little else to occupy me, I decided to install Apple’s System 7 onto my Macintosh. All went reasonably well until I began playing around with the general controls. The screen seized up on me and when I tried to restart, a sad looking Macintosh symbol came up with crosses for eyes - my Mac would not start. I then tried the installation process all over again (with the install disk waiting in the disk drive) but even the installation wouldn’t work; at the peak of my incompetence, I couldn’t even get the installation disk out of the computer. At this point, I was sure I would have to fly back to London on Tuesday or even today because I have such a tight schedule to write material for ‘EC Energy Monthly’s’ production on Thursday. Moreover, I had no idea how I was going to get the machine mended - I imagined I might have to bring the machine back to London. I kept turning off the machine and vowing I would leave it until the morning when I hoped the problem would have magically disappeared; each time, however, I turned it off some new possibility occurred to me. After a while, I managed to get the installation disk out of the machine, and I tried starting it up with a different disk. With what relief I saw the finder appear on the screen. At the very least, I thought, I would be able to work on my machine. I took a break, and ran up to City 2 for a burger. I thought I might also see a late film (it was nearly 10), if there was anything interesting on, but there wasn’t. Walking home, I worked out how easy it would be to correct the problem on my hard disk. All I had to do was to dump the new system 7 files and folders, and then reinstall. This worked like a treat, and I am up and running this morning - hitch free. That does not mean to say, though, that I like it very much. I miss a couple of my old add-on softwares, neither of which work with system 7. But it should prove useful to be able to open several utilities at the same time, and to move more easily between the finder and a utility.

A letter arrives from Adam this morning. It contains his first ever story: THE PIG FELL INTO THE MUD AND FOUND SOMETHING HARD AND HE THOUGHT IT WAS A DIAMOND. HE FOUND HIS OWN SHOE THAT HE LOST IN THE MUD BECAUSE WHEN HE FELL OVER IT SANK DOWN. And there is a picture of a pig (well it looks more like a giant tortoise) in the mud.

Tuesday 14 January 1992, Brussels

On the peregrinations of a mind while approaching forty or fifty
I know well how to dither, to dally
Wither did I go when I was my age?
Did I weather before my time?
Nor the answer find, this year
Not the next in line either
Perchance a dilly now
To the ending of the tally

14 14, Saturday 18 January 1992, London

I fly back from Brussels on Wednesday afternoon and elect to spend the night in Brighton. The 17.55 Danair flight gets me to Gatwick in good time to catch the 18.38 train which, in turn, delivers me to Brighton about 7:15 in plenty of time to spend half an hour with my son before bedtime. Although ‘EC Energy Monthly’ must be produced on the next day, Thursday, and I have well over half the copy on a disk, I decide not to struggle to London in the rush hour but rather take Adam to nursery and catch the fast 10:46 train. In fact, increasingly, I find that I aim for the same train every time I nip down to Brighton - from London the 4:01 in the afternoon and the 10:46 coming back in the morning. I watch Adam and his playmates in the yard at the nursery for half an hour or so. They have been given chalk and told they can draw on the ground or the fence, but Adam and two or three others, Ahmed and Toby, for example, prefer to be as silly as they can with the chalk - crushing it under their feet, drawing on each other, throwing the chalk over the fence.

There is a storm of developments at my office and I am not optimistic about the future. Our boss, Dennis Kiley, has been reasonably capable up to now, but he’s rub into serious problems: firstly by employing Philip Marvin as his assistant and not keeping proper control over his efficacy; secondly, over the Anna fraud affair; and more recently over the computer change over. Right from the beginning, Dennis has underestimated the difficulty of changing software, and has continued to compound his errors through not understanding enough about what is involved. Throughout last year I continued to advise him that we needed a full-time computer organiser, someone who could act as a pool of knowledge about the new computers, who could monitor all the equipment and software, act as trainer, trouble-shooter and give some design advice when necessary. He finally heeded my words, but gave the job to someone wholly incapable of doing the job properly. That person has now left, and we are without any person overseeing the computers. Absurd. All Dennis has done is to sack the first supplier company, Fingerprint, and employ another bigger company. But we will still be liable for excessive maintenance and trouble-shooting bills because nobody in our company is absorbing the knowledge as we go along.

12 49, Sunday 19 January 1992, London

I have an advert in the ‘Ham & High’ for my upstairs room, but so far there have only been three or four replies and two of them are Brazilians - do I have a secret code embedded in the few words of my advert that appeal to Brazilians? One, a certain Rita, will come this afternoon but I am sure I will decide against her even if she does work as a model!

I have now presented myself at the introductory sessions of the two London non-elite social clubs, which I am eligible to join - London Village and Breakaway. One other, widely advertised club, the Intervarsity Club sets an age range which excludes me. I am driven to trying these clubs as a result of sheer disappointment with myself and my social life.

5 19, Wednesday 22 January 1992, London

For the second night in a row, I have woken between 3 and 4am. Yesternight, I managed to get back to sleep finally, but this night, I have not. I was fortunate to catch, on Radio 3 medium wave, the last fifteen minutes of the test match in New Zealand. It was an exciting finish with only several overs to go and England needing just one wicket to win. New Zealanders Crow and Pringle were facing Tufnell and Lewis. All the attention was on last man Pringle, with Crow doing everything in his power to keep him from facing the bowlers; but, in the end and with just three overs to go, Tufnell got his seventh wicket of the innings and England won by an innings and a few runs.

Unable to return to sleep, I have risen, made some tea, turned on the central heating and come into my study for a journal-writing session. The diary is certainly my confessor. What is on my mind at the moment? Firstly, these social clubs. The LV session was held in a characterless room at the Grosvenor hotel, next to Victoria. A dozen or so of us sat in rows, as if in a classroom, with the recruitment officer and her assistant at the front desk. She started right on time at 6:30 (she told someone who tried to come in late that the next session was at 8:00) and went through methodically, like a bad actress, a set list of points. She put me right off with her working class manner and her fancy hair do. By contrast, Breakaway’s introduction did warm me to the world of social clubs. It seems to have just the one introductory meeting a week, and it takes place as part of a members’ wine bar meeting, so that before and after the introductory talk we could talk to people who had already signed up. Unfortunately, but inevitably, there was an irksome character there early on, evidently one who enjoys surveying the new intake, who was full of his knowledge about Breakaway and volunteering information to anyone who would listen - ‘go to as many meetings as you can when you start so you get to know people, now I turn up an event and there are always people to greet me’; ‘don’t go to the joint events with the sister group Kaleidoscope because they are all too old’ etc. etc. Having importuned me (and others presumably) to arrive before 8, club organiser John Fell, didn’t even begin his introductory talk until 8:30. We were taken into a separate room, where a waiter brought us all a drink. I am sure this is a good ploy, it puts everyone in a more receptive frame of mind and makes them more likely to sign the forms at the end of the evening. Fell proceeded to spend the best part of the next 90 minutes telling us much the same sort of things as I heard at London Village, only he did it in a more relaxed and humourous way, often calling on some feedback from the 30 or so people around him. Both clubs claim around 3,000 members, but I imagine there are many lapsed members still on the books, and many who pay the standing order but never turn up to events. On first impression, London Village and its programme appeared more ragged, less cultured, more insecure as an organism than the other, and so I chose to join Breakaway. So, following my Friday introductory talk, I have the January Breakaway programme.

Have I mentioned how difficult I find this whole process. Firstly, a deep aversion exists within my psyche to having anything to do with such groups - it smacks of personal failure, puts me down on to such an ordinary plane; secondly, I am so self-conscious (what is this conceit, self-regard) that I kind of feel myself above the crowds that must surely congregate within these clubs. I imagine, for example, that I will meet somebody like Rosemary (my boss’s secretary who is single and in her late thirties, I suppose) or even Rosemary herself and die of shame. I have tried to be brave about this, likening my need to do something about my social life, to that of an alcoholic and his need to join alcoholic’s anonymous (I heard Anthony Hopkins raving about AA the other day, and how, after many years, he still finds the group an essential crutch to his every day life).

Well, last night, I went to my first Breakaway event - a gathering at a wine bar near Baker Street. It was a joint event with Kaleidoscope (over 37s) and most of the people were probably in their forties or fifties. The clubs had exclusive use of a room with bar and was rather crowded (although, oddly, not at all smoky). An aged or aging lady met me near the door, and then guided me through the crowd to a small group of new recruits in the corner - I recognised one or two people from the introductory meeting. This group was definitely younger than almost everyone else in the room, and I could see immediately what the irksome fellow I’d met on Friday meant. I doubted whether the young people here tonight would come again. I talked to just two people - a small, young and attractive teacher from north London, who I felt was completely out of place, and a young man who installs computer systems for record companies. I looked around to see who I might want to talk to but the only eyes I caught were those of wickedly ugly and old women. What struck me forcefully was that there was no natural beauty here - I sensed I was in a room with ugly misfits (this may be my own paranoia and, in any case, I am becoming a social misfit too). I began to build up a picture of how it all works - there is a hard core of social and even physical misfits against which a buffer of new people are constantly being thrown. These new people like myself (although I don’t think I am going to join after all ) and the teacher sign up for three months (£38) or six months (£60) and try out all the different activities until they establish just who goes to what sort of events. If they are lucky they meet some other new recruit, not yet disillusioned, of the opposite sex (because this is what it is largely about, I think), get together and both leave; otherwise after a number of months the jaded factor takes over and they leave.

Around lunchtime on Friday I had an argument on the phone with my printer Reg. In essence, I planned to change the logo on the front cover from “FTBI” to “Financial Times” as instructed by my boss. I had sent down the new logo two weeks previously but Reg’s assistant couldn’t find it. So Reg went in, although it was his day off, and blew up at me, as I’ve already described, for no logical reason. At the end of the conversation, though, we were best of mates again, and we fully understood each other. On his way home that afternoon, Reg had a serious accident in his car, rolled it over, although he wasn’t badly hurt. On Monday, I discovered that the newsletter has been printed with the old logo! I haven’t actually spoken to Reg again about this but the sad fact is that had he done his job properly he would have known that the covers being used were PRE-PRINTED. Had he known this, he would have told me, left full instructions for his assistant, and not needed to come into the office on the Friday at all, and, consequently, he would not have had his accident. In any case his trip in and his argument with me were all completely wasted energy since the logo was never changed.

Another tale from the office, this one thanks to wagging tongues. I may have had reports before on XX’s out of hours activities - his drinking and hints of womanising - but this beats them all. I’d already heard that several women were attracted to him at the office party but not that he came back to the office with one of them, our receptionist, and there, upon desktops no less, did the deed. One up for XX? No, two down for XX. Firstly, in that the intelligence of this sordid coupling has leaked out so quickly and easily - despite John’s command that the receptionist tell no one - fat chance. Lovely muck. And, secondly, down for XX is the fact that he has scorned with looks, word and deed many a rumour about this very girl fancying him beforehand - thus, I never for a moment thought XX would respond to her crude playground advances. But there is little I understand what drives young XX.

February 1992

Paul K Lyons


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