PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1992 - JUNE
Saturday 27 June 1992, Brighton
A bright sunny day - summer is here and half the year has gone. Shortly, I must gather up my diary entries for the second quarter (March-June) but I have made so few that such an exercise will hardly be worthwhile. Despite finishing my management report in January, and despite having no other major projects to speak off, I have managed to let half this new year slip by so quickly. And there is still no certainty of change, although possibilities do exist and I must speak of them.
The soap opera of world news takes a breather and sport takes over as the main topic of conversation among colleagues and friends. That’s not to say that the situation in ex-Yugoslavia isn’t serious and worthy of much discussion and debate (those bastard Serbs must be stopped) but that sport is more interesting and entertaining and certainly less depressing. The European football championships have just finished, for example, with a glorious result in that the Danes beat Germany 2-0 in Gothenburg. The Danish team did not even qualify for the championship but were brought in at the last moment to replace Yugoslavia who were banned from playing because of the civil war. England’s performance was awful and much criticism is being blamed on the new manager Graham Taylor. Taylor, for some unknown reason, brought the English hero Gary Lineker off the field with twenty or more minutes to play. Since Gary is about to move to Japan, this was his last match for England. Taylor will suffer for that decision.
Wimbledon is now about half way through. As I write, Jeremy Bates, the sole UK player left in the tournament is playing a Frenchman called mushroom, I think (Champion, actually). Bates has already been feted for beating the seeded player Chang in the first round (in three sets), and winning the second round also in three sets. UK tennis players just don’t make progress. All the big names are back this year, although I have paid so little attention to tennis in recent years, that I only recognise about five names among the twenty women seeds. Most of them are 20 years old or less but Martina Navratilova at 34 and seeded fourth stands out like a yew tree in a bed of annuals. Seles is the number one women’s seed and Jim Courier the number one men’s seed.
Then there’s the cricket. Pakistan are the visiting side this season. The first test at Edgbaston was drawn largely because of bad weather, and the second test was a fierce and exciting battle which finished a day early, so strong were the bowlers on the Lords pitch. That second test could have gone either way but, in the end, the Pakistanis won it by two wickets. The play on Saturday and Sunday was enthralling, with seventeen wickets falling on the last day.
In a few weeks, the Olympics begin.
I’ve been back from Ullswater for a week now, and I need to set down some of my impressions of the Outward Bound Course. It all seems rather distant now, and unimportant. During the week, I allowed myself to become fully involved with the group but afterwards, once I was back at home and talking to Barbara about it, I realised how disappointed I was with the people, indeed, I found the instructors more interesting as people than the instructees (if there is such a word). Our instructor was a young Italian called Armando; he would certainly have been a hippy twenty years ago, today he is a soft bearded man with gentle dreams about the world. He had been at the centre for three months and most of his groups to date had been schools or companies, so he seemed genuinely pleased to be leading a group of people who had come of their own free will.
After games on the first evening, we were divided into two groups. I was pleased that we were four men and four women and that all of us had come alone and were thus strangers to each other. We four men, Joe, David, Matthew and myself were all in a dorm together. The level of tension and excitement meant that people were up late and found it difficult to get to bed and then to sleep. Our first full day began with a jog and a dip at seven, and then, after breakfast, we were allocated some equipment which was all to be kept in a cage for which we had the key. Through the day we did a number of activities around the grounds. Most of these were physical challenges which we had to meet and solve as a team.
Using tin drums, for example, and a few planks we had to cross a ten metre piece of land without touching the ground. This involved keeping the eight people standing on the planks and moving the drums round in succession. We managed it without too many difficulties - but there are all the problems of working in a team and trying to find the best solution without going through a lot of silly options just because the loudest person in the group suggests them. Another challenge was to climb through a vertical spider’s web of rope, without touching the rope and using the holes once for one person. This involved planning who would go through the large holes and who would need to be held and manoeuvred through the higher up gaps. Then there was an exercise to build a raft out of plastic barrels, pieces of rope and logs. Again, there was a certain amount of competition to get ideas through the melee of chatter but we achieved the goal reasonably well and paddled on the lake for a while without any of us getting wet or the raft breaking up.
On Sunday evening came our first real challenge - the zip wire. I believe ‘zip wire’ is a common term to describe a tight high wire which slants down from some high point (in this case a tree) to a lower point (in this case another tree but near the ground) along which a runner, which can take the weight of a man, is attached. We had to climb up a ladder to a small tree house, 50-60 feet high, where Armando waited for us. He would clip our safety harness onto another attached to the tree and then clip us onto the wire runner. We had to hang from two cloth straps but much of our weight was supposed to be taken by the harness attached to the wire. Then, it was a case of jumping and sliding down across the field to where several others of the group were waiting to catch us by the legs and drag a stand underneath the wire for us to be unhooked and climb down. Well, to be honest, the actual ride passes so quickly that it’s barely worth the trouble. I mean, as a group, we must have spent the best part of two hours around the zip wire, but the actual thrill lasts just a few seconds. It was quite frightening, though, to step off the treehouse platform. One of the group, a woman called Judith, actually refused to do it, despite considerable coaxing from Armando and the rest of the group. She felt terribly guilty about it for days. But more of Judith in a while.
One activity which we nearly failed was to get the whole team across a pit covered in high parallel bars. We weren’t allowed to climb over them, so the only way was by swinging, like a monkey, from one to the next. We were, however, given a long piece of rope, but we also had to get a huge and very heavy tyre across the pit. The main problem was that at least half the group could not monkey across. At first we tried to tie up the tyre to use as a seat which we could pulley across the bars, but this proved impracticable. Eventually, the solution was to use the rope as a tightrope which people could use for balance as they half-monkeyed across.
In general the day was split into three main segments - the morning, the afternoon and the evening. When in the centre, we took meals in the dining room, almost all of which were hot. Breakfast at 7:30, lunch at 12:30, supper at 6:30; if we were in luck, it might be possible during an afternoon or evening session to fetch a thermos of coffee or juice from the kitchen to drink in our hut (yes we had a special hut for meetings - grown up Scouts, nothing more nor less). The meals were adequate and slightly better than I had expected, although they did deteriorate through the week, either that or they got repetitive. Meals and evenings were the only times to swap experiences with people in other groups. They were also times to relax, unwind and stoke up with as much energy as we could shovel into our mouths.
On the second full day, the Monday I think, we began with a jog and dip again before breakfast, but after breakfast we went out on the lake in one-man kayaks. We didn’t have to learn any safety drills because we weren’t sheeted in - if the kayak overturned we would just fall out. I found it easy enough to learn the skill of paddling and navigating with the two-spaded paddle. Joe fell out early on but did master it in the end, and we all paddled over to the other side of the lake. After our return the instructors made us ‘raft-up’ (a term to describe all the kayaks pulling up side by side and being held together by hand) and play a silly game of running all along and round the kayaks, as though they were stepping stones. Naturally, everyone of us fell in, and got completely soaked.
The afternoon was less fun - the high wires. We had already heard about these from another group and seen them in the grounds of the centre. In essence, the high wires consist of a dozen or so rope, wire and plank walks set up at 15-40 feet high between four trees roughly in the shape of a 20-30 foot square. You start by climbing along a rope ladder which is almost horizontal to a tree platform about 15ft high; from there you walk to another tree along two thin pieces of wood which start about two foot apart, slowly come together in the middle and then part again. Apart from a straight and wide beam near the end of this horrible course, this first walk was the only one without anything at all to hold onto; but I didn’t find it as scary as some because it wasn’t high enough of the ground to worry me. There was always a harness link between our body and either the tree or the wire running above the particular walk, so that, had we fallen at any point, we would have just dangled safely next to the walkway. Other walks included a single rope to step on and one above the head to hold onto, a thin plank held up only by thin wires, i.e. not supported at the ends on the trees, and another similar one where three thin and short pieces of wood provided sort of stepping stones through the air. I managed it all without too much fuss, firstly because everyone else was managing, because I knew hundreds of people had done it before, because I could rationalise the safety of the harness, and because I had to concentrate on Judith. In fact the most scary point for me, was at the highest walk, when it is actually difficult for people on the ground to see you, and when Judith’s terror was so great I thought she would fall, or at least freeze and that Armando would take for ever to get up there to help, and I would be left trying to cope as best I could. In fact, Judith did make the course, with much coaxing.
There was one bit I enjoyed, a Tarzan rope swing at the end. I let out a whoop of delight from having got the wretched activity over. I’m not quite sure how I ended up with Judith, who, just the day before, had refused the zip wire. There were several in the group who were much happier with heights and more nimble than me, and thus got round the course with barely a hesitation. Me supporting Judith through it all, was like sending the Titanic to rescue a sinking ship. As the week drew on, I did begin to recognise that most in the group were too self pre-occupied and actually avoided psychological (although not so much emotional, if I can differentiate) responsibilities.
Most of us were well drained by the evening and starting to feel physical weariness. This didn’t stop Armando, who told us, after supper, that we were to spend the night over the other side of the lake in the forest. We packed up a number of pieces of canvas, a bag of rope pieces and two stoves. Individually we took a sleeping bag and some waterproofs, all provided by the centre. In general, the equipment provided (including walking boots) was of excellent quality. This time, to get across the lake we used a large rowing boat. As a team we were far less successful at organising a six-man rowing crew than at any of our other ventures, and it took us ages to zig-zag right the way across. Once there, we didn’t have far to walk into the forest. A clearing had been used many times before for the same purpose. I was keen to try and construct a proper tent by tying together the squares of canvas and attaching them to rope tied between two neighbouring trees, but the group consensus was to use boulders to hold down the ends of the canvas along a fallen tree trunk thus creating a very low and flat bivouac, one that would not have been waterproof had it rained; but then we were lucky with the weather all week. I slept outside of the bivouac as I had intended to all along. I can’t remember the last occasion on which I actually spent the night sleeping outside in the country.
The next morning, Tuesday, we were even more tired and shattered than we had been the evening before. But the pace did not let up. This day was rock-climbing and abseiling. Oh no. The week was beginning to turn into a nightmare of activities revolving around heights. Why on earth had I come. I complained, quietly, once or twice to Armando, let him know that I really didn’t enjoy activities involving heights, got no enjoyment out of them at all. I don’t think it changed his mind as to the programme we would follow but he did admit later that he was himself aware of how much height work we had done. The instructors have latitude over what activities they conduct and these do depend, to some extent, on what the instructors themselves enjoy. The rock climbing was really not that difficult - no shear faces, a short climb only and nothing too difficult. That said, though, the climbs (there were two) were not easy either; in fact they were well judged. I managed the climbs without much bother, and had a go twice at the abseiling. Getting to the rock, setting up the ropes, and waiting while others climbed all took ever such a long time. I must have been climbing or abseiling for all of 20 minutes, in the whole day, and belaying or helping to belay for about an hour. All the rest of the time was waiting or watching, and standing around in a strong wind. Also I had a fearful headache which did nothing to help me enjoy the day.
Wednesday was another full day away from the centre. In the morning we paddled along Ullswater in Canadian two man canoes. I loved this type of canoeing as well. On the way out, I took the back position from where the navigating is done; again I found this an easy skill to acquire but, as usual, had to restrain myself from going too fast because there was always one boat that slowed us all down. Still, going slow was a chance to practice keeping as straight a course as possible. Returning was not so much fun, because my partner for the day, Tracye, took longer to get the hang of navigating and I didn’t want to make it difficult for her, by doing some corrective navigating from the front. Having beached our canoes on a shore, we picnicked before setting off for an orienteering course in the hills to the side of Aira Force. No treasure hunt this, just a question of using a given map to find numbered markers dotted around the hill and then, when found, stamping a piece of paper with the pin-press attached. Each pair of us set off in five minute intervals. Since Tracye had already made it clear she and maps were not the best of friends, I was happy to take the lead, but, when I failed miserably to find the first two markers, I took on a hefty dose of self-doubt. I oscillated between insecurity over my ability to interpret the map properly and a much more comfortable theory that the markers had disappeared or been vandalised. We didn’t even know what the markers were supposed to look like, and whether they were supposed to be hidden. They really should have made the first one easier to find, so that we knew thereafter what we were looking for. In fact, afterwards, we criticised Armando, for the first and only time, for sending us out on the course with insufficient preparation. When Tracye and I found the third marker, we were overjoyed but more than half our time had passed by. We went on to find two or three more before deciding to turn back in view of the return time written on our piece of paper. There was a convenient and quick path back which had the virtue, also, of taking us back past markers one and two, which, eventually we found.
Of the four couples that went out we came back second but we were already very late. Armando and his companion (Kristina, another instructor, an Austrian mountain climber) were beginning to look very worried.
All that remained of the course and the week was one more activity - the expedition. A fine word this, expedition, but in fact it simply meant a walk lasting a day and a half. We spent the Wednesday evening being taught how to pack our rucksacks and being told what to take with us. Armando gave us a list of map references for where to start our walk, where to camp, and where to go during the first and second days. It was up to us to work out a route. After breakfast on Thursday, a minibus carried us to the start point from where we walked up an empty valley, at the foot of Fairfield, for a mile or two before Armando indicated the exact spot we should set our tents. The rest of the day’s walk would be circular and bring us back to the camp, so that our packs would be considerably lighter. The other group, we heard, had a route which meant they had to carry their heavy packs all day long.
The trek up to Fairfield was onerous simply because Judith made such a fuss and only Joe and I seemed prepared to stay at the back and chivvy her along. Because the walk was steep and long and, in places, on quite crumbly rock, most of the others found it rather unpleasant. One of our number, David, kept insisting on checking the map and taking bearings but interpreted our position wrongly. I don’t think any of our group really had any experience of distances in mountains and thus couldn’t gauge properly how far we had to go. The climb above and beyond us looked impossibly far and high to most of them, yet we all managed it eventually. The walk along the ridge and across Fairfield, where we stopped briefly for our picnic, was blighted by a gale of wind; but afterwards walking back gently downhill along another ridge above our valley, the sun came out and the wind dropped so that we could really experience the pleasure of hill walking. Despite the gales, the views from the top of Fairfield were stunning; we could see almost the entire Lake District with most of the major peaks and some of the lakes, and out across to the Irish Sea. Later on, we passed a saddle way up above Lake Windermere and we could see clearly the U shape of the valley that leads down into the lake. All during the walk, Armando kept his distance from us as a group, preferring to shadow us and take no part in the day’s discussions or decisions.
For me, the very best moment of the week occurred near to camp on the way back. I was leading back along the river to where I knew the camp was situated slightly off the main track. Armando had caught me up and we were waiting for several others who had disappeared behind a hillock. When they reappeared, it seemed that the whole group was continuing along the main path - slightly the wrong way. Armando thus needed to join them, so I told him I wanted to stay here for a bit and would meet them all back at the camp in a little while. As soon as they were out of sight, I stripped off, socks and boots and all, and plunged myself into the small river. What delight after the day’s traipsing across hills to be free of all clothes and to be refreshed by the cool, but not icy, water. I bathed myself and splashed around in the river’s pools for some while, before settling on a rock to dry in the sun. Alive; for the first time that week I felt a touch of magic about life. Back at the camp, everyone was seated in a circle discussing the day’s activities. I had just finished admitting I’d been for a skinny dip.
The evening was spent in preparing our rations - dehydrated meals. Someone even had dehydrated beans on toast for their breakfast rations. After we’d eaten the mush, rather than staying around the camp, I went off for a short walk towards a rocky stream gully and was rewarded with discovering a quite special place - a small waterfall, again without much of a fall, and a rock pool but almost entirely enclosed as though it were in a cave. This mini-cove was thus quite dark and magical with its myriad of ferns growing out of the rock sides and trees overhanging at the top. Again when I got back, everyone was in a group and playing silly drinking songs without the drink. I was in time for ‘Old McDonalds Farm’. We filled the valley with the sounds of unnatural animals - even Armando, who had camped a little away and out of sight, told us on the following day, he had been impressed by our silliness. Sleep came easily, and I was surprised how late we all got up in the morning.
The final day Friday, we packed up our rucksacks, moved back down the valley the way we had come and trekked across to the other side of the lake. We only had about four miles to walk to a point on the lake where a boat was due to pick us up at 2pm. We might have got there half an hour early had we chosen a different route, one which didn’t take us past an ice cream shop! As it is we arrived just as Mary, another instructor, pulled up in the rescue dinghy to take us back.
From the word go and right to the end, the atmosphere of our group was dominated by a large, pot-bellied, man, of Italian descent, called Joe. He could barely string three phrases together without making a joke of some sort; his humour was neither deep nor offensive and stemmed, I’m sure, as did his paternal attitude to us all, from his role as father of four children. Joe lightened up the group if there was tendency to seriousness and he helped us all bond together. He was constantly humane and aware of everyone’s weaknesses, and despite his size, his constant smoking, and his unfit physique, he managed all the activities without showing a problem; yet, he always had time to assist someone else with a problem. In a soft gentle way, he asked quite penetrating questions at times, revealing more intelligence than was perhaps obvious. And then, to cap it all, if one asked him a personal question, he would answer it with frankness and revelation. Joe came to England as a young boy; his father married an Italian woman, but when he was 10, he died in a car crash. His mother declined to go back to Italy even though some sisters who had been living in England tended to migrate back home. Joe married young and, although looking closer to 45, is younger than me. He’s spent his entire adult life bringing up his family - the eldest son, who is eighteen has just joined the navy. He works for Eastern Electricity in the legal department with land and property contracts; some years ago he started a pizza parlour with some friends and for the first six months he was working full time at his office and then all evenings and weekends in the restaurant. Now, the business is doing better, and, he tells me, it provides him with a little extra money for the family. Joe didn’t much like the climbing, nor the canoeing but he found the hiking enjoyable and especially the feeling of being on top of a mountain. He told me, near the end of the week, that he loved being in the hills and that, a year or two before, some friends had taken him to Snowdonia and that had been his first experience of walking in the mountains. He didn’t think, though, that his wife would enjoy climbing very much. Joe said he had hoped for time to do some thinking about his life, to take stock, especially as his children were growing up and needed him less, but the course didn’t really allow time for too much contemplation. I wondered whether he had any real choices in front of him, but it didn’t seem that he did.
Monday 29 June 1992, Brighton
Jeremy Bates is playing again, this time against a French, Forget, who is seeded nine. In the fourth set, our Jeremy had a match point but then failed to win the set; now he is trailing 4-2 in the fifth set. I think he’s had his chips. Still, he’s given us some excitement.
Back to Ullswater and the Outward Bound course. One of the promises about Outward Bound is that the courses are more than just an adventure and that they are character building or can involve finding out about oneself. Armando was not very good at the therapy side. I think we had a total of three meetings during which he tried to guide personal discussions. At the first, we volunteered quite readily basic stuff about ourselves; at the second, half way through, Armando produced for all of us a picture of a tree with lots of small figures in it, some of them at the top, some at the bottom, some on the branches. The position, the facial expressions and body postures of these figures all indicated different kinds of personalities. Our task was to find one which suited the other people in our group. Having completed my allocations, I led the discussions on why I had chosen who for what figure. Everyone then did the same. Then, at the end of the week, we had a sort of summary talk; but, oddly, this was the least revealing. Each person was asked to write their name on a piece of paper and pass it round the group for each one to write a comment (and then fold over the paper).
In contrast to Joe, there was Matthew, a fit quite muscly man of about 27. From the start, he seemed the most tense and the most needy of therapy, for want of a better word. He admitted quite freely that he was rather lost in life; after attempts at farming and tree surgery he had landed up in a printing works. Yet it was clear, looking at him and talking to him, that he wanted a more physical job and one, preferably outside. Right from the beginning, Matthew was painfully serious and earnest about every activity, and particularly about working in a team and helping others as much as possible. One could see there was something of the clumsy ox about him, and it thus came as no surprise to discover that disasters had befallen him both as a farmer and tree surgeon which counted against his continuing in those professions. Until the high wire, his behaviour was largely endearing, and I was full of sympathy for him. But he paired off with Sharon, a similarly-aged Australian girl, and proceeded to talk her through every hand, arm and leg movement needed to complete the course. It was quite apparent that she needed no such instruction but it was part of her character to allow him to behave as the powerful dominant one. He loved it, but appeared to show no awareness at all that he hated it if anybody treated him in the same manner. On the tree of figures, there was one at the base of the trunk helping another climb onto the first branch - most of the group chose these two to describe Matt and Sharon. Later, they also went in the Canadian canoes together, only Sharon took the navigating position at the back and the relationship became unstuck. Poor Matt so wanted to be in control that their canoe zig-zagged all the way up the lake, and we all had to slow down to wait for them. On the way back, Matt might reasonably have expected to go in the back but for some reason Sharon was still in that position and all the way back, Matt was trying to bottle his anger at being unable to keep the canoe on a straight course. The trick, of course, was for the person at the front to simply paddle without trying to navigate at all, that way the person at the back soon gets the hang of their navigating effect. Matt and Sharon also failed miserably on the orienteering together; I’m not quite sure why that was; perhaps neither of them were good at map reading.
My closest contact with Matt came during the last two days. Since we were to share tents in pairs it was necessary to divide up the tent and cooking equipment in such pairs. I had originally asked David if he wanted to share but he said he preferred to go with Joe (my main aim had been to avoid sharing with Joe so that was all right). Matt proved a willing partner, and tried to take more than his fair share of the weight. How I disliked carrying such a heavy rucksack (about 30lb) when all my life I’ve avoided ever having to carry such packs. Matt had gone to public school and his father, although now working at some level in a printing business, had been an army man. It seemed to me that Matt was trying to break away from the public school background and his father’s expectations. A strange inadequacy at arithmetic and maths had also made getting work more difficult. As we set about making up the tent in the morning, and later when we were cooking together, I tried to get across to him the difficulties I experienced in my late twenties. Synthesising my knowledge, I told him first and foremost to try and understand that any kind mental anguish he was undergoing and continued to undergo were not necessarily his fault and that the important thing was to recognise one’s limitations, accept them, and then make the best of them. I also explained how and why I had settled on journalism and I tried to prompt him into picking certain qualities that he wanted from a job. The most clearcut of these seemed to be to work outside. Having sorted out some attributes, I said, the next job was to pick one profession, accept that it was going to be bullshit for some years, but stick to it - our culture only recognises and respects skill and experience.
I was conscious by the last few days of the course that I was unlikely to get anything from my co-Outward Bounders but that I had a little bit of experience I could pass on to some of them - as with Matt for example. I’ve already mentioned Joe above; he was a rather complete person and all I had for him was to encourage a growing taste for walking in the hills. Oddly, Joe was the least positive towards me; in the tree, he put me right at the top but scouring at everybody else below. Nothing in my conversations with him revealed that he was worried about me in any significant way.
I have little to say about Sharon, who struck me as near to a vacuum as one might find in nature. She was neither as empty nor as stupid as she pretended for most of the week, on the other hand she didn’t seem to have much interest in anything at all. She had busted up with a long standing boyfriend a year ago, decided to travel, met up with an English guy and was due to look for a job when the course was over. She had studied acting and was hoping to find work along those lines but, as far as I could see, she had no talent at all. Her best talent was for always being the last to arrive, oh and for being unduly concerned about the supply of toilet paper.
Then there was David. David was around 30-32, I would guess, was married and expecting a first child in the autumn. Unlike any of us, he had recently done canoeing, orienteering and some mountain climbing. He was a simple fellow who found true and absolute achievement out of scaling the high wires, getting to the top of the rock climb, and generally working in a happy team. I think he must have belonged to the territorial army, he was certainly well prepared and took everything relatively seriously. He loved the climbing and the heights, so my message to David was simply to make sure he joined a rock climbing club. He assured me he would. At one point, during the hike, I tried to argue that the week’s achievements were all rather artificial, in that anyone could do them, and we would have worked with whichever team of people happened to be with us. He found this very strong stuff and after some thought rejected the idea entirely. This course was very much the stuff of David’s raison d’etre. He was one of the three that said this course was the best thing they had done in their lives. Matthew was another, and Jackie was the third.
Jackie was a thin woman, still good-looking but showing signs of approaching early middle-age. She attached herself very strongly to Joe and found his wit the best medicine for the trials of the week. She had a loud and easily-triggered infectious laugh. I think more than anyone else she fooled me for longest. It was really only at the end of the week, talking to Judith about her on the train back to London, that I fully realised the poor nature of her character. She must have been in her mid-thirties. Last year or so, she had separated from her husband and had since begun an affair with the managing director in her company - an electronics supplier. She has been with this company for quite a number of years but is now its finance manager, although without any particular accountancy knowledge. I worked with Jackie right at the start, on the raft. It only seemed to be us two that appreciated the importance of tying the ropes around the barrels carefully and firmly. She seemed to have an aptitude for arranging the ropes but didn’t know the knots. I didn’t either, but together we managed to secure one half of the raft and then we patched up the other half which had been rather shoddily fixed together. What Jackie was not so good at was leading the group. She had no compunction about being the first at most things and leading us all down one alley, and then, if it turned out to be not the right way (metaphorically speaking of course), she would happily march off down another path without bearing any responsibility for having laid a false trail. Since she was always bubbling with laughter and keen to get on, I didn’t actually notice this is what she was doing. On the long hike, I was fully aware that she never attempted to share the burden of looking after the back of the group, and was always happy to take up the lead. On the most difficult part of the climb, when Joe and I were having the hardest time keeping Judith alive, she forgot her team responsibilities all together and marched off up to the top out of sight. I talked a little to Jackie on the walk and began to understand perhaps the level of her insecurity. She had missed an opportunity to have children with her husband and was now with a man who had already had a family and didn’t want more children. I felt Jackie was close to some sort of serious depression; whereas Matt probably could be described as already in one.
Tracye, like Joe, had been sent and paid for by her company. Like Joe and myself, she managed to take the week seriously and keep a distance. We three, and Sharon as well, had something different from the other four - a lack of need. Matt, Jackie, Judith and David were all after some kind of personal bolstering. I liked Tracye; she was honest, pretty and good fun. Like Jackie she was not particularly interested in looking after the group, and she paid no attention to Judith, but then she didn’t pretend anything either. Tracye loves horses, sets considerable store by material possessions and works in the advertising/marketing side of the publishing world - I think she manages advertising features for a York-based daily paper. She is far more likely to be found in a speed boat than a rowing boat, on a motorbike than a bicycle. Tracye bounced around the heights like a mountain goat. I was none too pleased that the two people most confident on the heights - David and Tracye - went together and barely blinked all the way round. Although relatively fit and agile, Tracye was handicapped by addiction to cigarettes (only she and Joe in our group smoked); she thus found the activities which involved more stamina (like the hiking and canoeing less pleasurable). Tracye’s stickiest moment of the week came when she manoeuvred herself out of one of the six rowing positions to cox or navigate us across the lake, back from our night in the forest. She was really no good at it, but refused to give up; I scoured in a friendly way at her and suggested someone else have a go (I was particularly keen to let Judith do it again because she had proved quite good at it, and it was the only thing in the week which she was actually better than most of us at - which bring me on to a more fundamental point that I’ll have to mention here inside these brackets. Although, we all congratulated ourselves on working well as a team, in fact we did quite the reverse; since their was no effective management, we never really got to the point of finding who was best at any given skill and letting them take over at it - but back to Tracye.) Only after we had all wasted a lot of energy and were nearly home, did Tracye relinquish her post having tried and tried to get it right and finally having to admit that she wasn’t much good at it. Oddly, after actually confronting her about this she warmed towards me for the rest of the week. At my suggestion we spent the canoeing/orienteering day together and got on fine although without much of a spark. Tracye appeared to have quite an interesting, rich and varied life and she showed few areas of weakness. All I had to offer Tracye was some words about the joy of children. Unlike Jackie or Judith who have foregone the opportunity to have children and now say they don’t want them, Tracye wants a family but not just yet; fair enough.
And lastly, I come to Judith. Of us all, Judith was probably the most successful, at least in terms of money and business; yet on the course she was the least successful. Now in her mid-thirties, I think, she has run her own business for many years - buying and selling special types of stone to architects. The recession has hit a bit, but nevertheless I think she makes quite a lot of money. I probably spoke seriously and equally to Judith more than anyone else on the course. She constantly needed support, whether on the high wires because of her fear of heights, or on the uphill parts of the walks because of her weak knees. She played on this to some extent and absorbed a lot of good will. Once down from the heights, or on the level, her somewhat abrasive and ill-timed humour returned, leaving little trace of the earlier hardship. On several occasions, Joe and I had to carry her pack or parts of it; she resisted strongly at first but if we hadn’t have insisted she might not have made it up the mountain. At one point she thought she got angry with me for continuing to jolly her a long when she had asked to be left alone. I can’t say I noticed her anger at all; all I saw was a rather pathetic individual. However uncomfortable and unpleasant for her much of the course was, she did persevere beyond what I would consider normal personal limits, and thus she probably achieved more from the course than the rest of us. I could see the sort of determination that had made her a successful businesswoman. On the whole, I can’t say I much liked Judith, she was always flaunting her experience or vaunting her status - she lives in a large house on Wentworth Golf Course, she has travelled extensively to quarries in the third world to check their stone, and she was just about to take over another company. The most revealing of personal details came from a story she told about her father.
Tuesday 30 June 1992, Brighton
After several very hot days, the weather has broken and it now rains in Brighton. I have bought a new second-hand bike here so that I can race down to the beach, have a swim, dry off in the sun and be back all in half an hour or 40 minutes. Next weekend, I shall take delivery of a child’s seat for the back of the bike (I’ve had to order it) so I’ll be able to take Adam with me to the beach as well. The beauty of being in a seaside town, is surely to be able to get to the sea and use it without any fuss. The moment one has to get into a car to get to the beach, one might as well be half an hour away as five minutes. The situation of this house means that the sea is in walking distance, but one is unlikely to walk down to the beach more than once a day; with a bike, I can quite easily go down two or even three times for a swim.
I am working in Brighton these two days and shall return to London this evening, after B returns. All her exams and college work are over and, for two weeks now, she has been a woman of leisure. The Royal Horticultural Library is quite keen for B to go back to work there, so until the end of Adam’s school term in a month or so, I am trying to organise my work so that she can have two days a week in London. B’s results are out a week today; she is ever so tense and emotional about them. I think she fears getting a third, because she did so badly in the exams, and she says she’ll be happy with a two-two. I feel sure she will achieve a two-one, but I have absolutely no expectations, and will be equally pleased with whatever she gets. If she does get a poor result then I will simply be upset for her and stress how unimportant it is. I can’t see it will make any real difference to her working career - she’s too set in her way.
I need one more writing session to finish off about the Outward Bound experience. I shall, at the end of this day’s entry, record the short comments made about me by the others in the group. I don’t think any of them are particularly revealing, indeed I am hard put to define any positive benefit from the week other than the encounter with canoeing. I had one insight about myself that I can recall. As an adolescent in Bill Wyman’s walking tours, I (and Colin) were always racing out ahead and trying to lead the group. I think we enjoyed finding the right path but also we walked faster and wanted the group to move more quickly. My natural tendency in this group was the same when we went on the hike, to go out ahead and navigate. But I wasn’t the only one who wanted to do this, at least two others were keen on being seen to finding the right way. It occurred to me, a little late I suppose, that there was really no point in my trying to impose my map-reading skills on the group, I really didn’t need to prove myself, and surely the idea was to let those less secure about their skills to try them out. So long as mistakes were avoided which would cost the group time or energy, why worry about who was seen to find the right way forward. On the hike, thus, I assumed a sort of caretaker role, and imagined myself as an instructor rather than an instructee - shepherding at the back and only moving to the front if there was a possibility of a navigational mistake being made. On the other activities, where decisions were needed my natural inclination was to volunteer an idea or two but not necessarily to fight for it; I was quite happy to let the trial and error system work itself out, I didn’t have enough of whatever it takes to impose my leadership on the group, and besides no one person could ever have taken the lead, too many leaders and not enough sheep
The end of the week was quite fun, it reminded me of the last night on school trips or SPYF outings (SPYF, there’s a name to conjure with - St Paul’s Youth Fellowship to which I belonged for most of my teens); certainly our behaviour barely resembled that of adults. All week Joe had been angling to find ways of getting a drink. When Armando hinted he wouldn’t mind if we took some cans to the forest the night we slept out, he purchased dozens of drinks from the small shop (on a sale or return basis) automatically assuming we would all want to drink alcohol round the camp fire. Well, I for one was quite content to look forward to my cocoa. I persuaded him to leave most of the drink behind - just carrying it would have been a problem - but he and others kept it in our hut and slipped away each evening thereafter for a quiet booze. Nevertheless, by the end of the week, we were all ready to unwind at the nearby pub, and, on the Friday night, Armando organised a bus to take us there. We also persuaded Armando to bring his guitar. Most of the group started drinking with a vengeance, knocking back the pints or the spirits; and along with Armando’s Simon and Garfunkel tunes, the mood became highly jolly in a very short time. A different group turned up at the pub an hour or more after us - they were all rather po-faced and went to sit in another of the pub’s rooms. After a while we decided to join them and a few of the other staff from the centre. Armando continued playing and slowly some of us began to dance and our mood began to infect the others. When the storeman took over the guitar from Armando, the whole room lit up; whereas Armando plays soft rather spiritual tunes, largely for himself, I would suppose, the storeman played rousing tunes with a strong beat for other people. Then the dancing really started. By this time, most of my group were really drunk and quite loud; I had not seen any point in drinking much at all and was rather sober. The pub closed late and Armando, who admitted to drinking more on this evening than at any time in the past year, had great trouble in getting us all out to the van. The other group’s instructor, Jonathan, drove us back.
In the van, my group were loud and childish, but I listened to Armando explaining to another of the centre’s staff that it was a good achievement to get a group of adults, all of them older than himself, acting like children. Having warmed to Armando through the week, this single comment struck me as rather arrogant; after all he really didn’t do much himself other than follow a set of instructions. In fact, he may have failed by some standards because he didn’t manage to bring us, as a team, to any sort of crisis; he didn’t push us enough. Back at the centre, no one wanted to go to bed. I felt a lot of unexpressed sexual tension in the air. Joe made some sort of advance towards Jackie, I’m sure, and Matthew who had really drunk too much, was talking about ‘fucking’ one of the girls from the other group, but he didn’t have the first idea, even, how to chat a woman up. I can’t be sure but the only male ‘to score’ was an American who had just joined the centre that week as an instructor. Word is he had his way with the youngest and quietest girl in the other group. I was just tired and wanted to sleep but with none of the others prepared to settle yet, there was not much point, so I kept wondering out to the porch where all were mingling in the expectation that something or other would happen. I’m not sure anything ever did.
OUTWARD BOUNDERS COMMENTS ON YOURS TRULY
Sharon: a quirky thoughtful guy - a calming influence. Jackie: really joined the team midweek - at that stage opened up and was interesting to talk to. Joe: once his outlook has been made known, he became much easier to be with. Matt: quiet and contemplative, quick decision maker, intelligent, good leader. Tracye: interesting to talk with and very helpful, good company and quick and decisive. David: a reserved man who appears very confident but tells us he isn’t; backs off the group to be with himself but when he is with us he joins in just as well as anyone else. Judith: it’s forward from here Paul, go for whatever you decide with commitment you’ve shown over the last few days - I know they’ll be plenty of support behind you - like you gave freely this week.
MY FIRST PUBLIC BUSINESS SPEECH
If the truth be known, the Outward Bound course was less of a challenge to me than having to give a speech. Both - the course and the speech - were minor offerings to my 40th birthday, but it was giving a speech which held more terror for me. I came back from Ullswater to London on the Saturday; early on the Sunday morning I drove into the office in order to prepare my application for Editor-in-Chief, more on this anon, and then on Monday I also dropped into the office briefly on my way to Docklands City Airport and to Brussels. Fortunately, I didn’t have much time to contemplate on the speech during the week. I saw Michael Brown, my contact at the CHP Association, briefly in Brussels (we both attended a conference on power in East Europe) and together we tweaked the speech. Basically, he said it was fine.
To cut a long story short, I gave the speech, to about 50 people sitting on uncomfortable seats on a boat going up the Thames towards Richmond. Michael gave a 10-minute introduction to the association’s work, and I gave my 25 minute talk, and then answered questions for about 20 minutes. I really surprised myself. Firstly, I managed to gauge the length of the talk exactly - after cutting and tweaking I read the whole thing into a tape recorder and timed myself - Michael had asked for 25 minutes and it was exactly 25 minutes. I read it through twice more out loud and each time, it was exactly 25 minutes. I don’t quite understand where I got my pace from; I would have expected to have read at different and somewhat random speeds. The actual talk wasn’t timed, but I felt I was reading slowly (and with feeling). I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on the material for nerves, but in fact I was able to deliver the talk fully cognisant of what I was saying and to ad lib on several occasions. I suppose I did enjoy it, more than I thought I would; but, interestingly, I felt no buzz at all from the applause, for example, or from being in a position of authority. Although when it came to it, I wasn’t nervous, the approach of the event did weigh, and I was quite relieved to have it behind me. I think, though, that I would accept another invitation, so long as it was on a subject about which I had something to say.
TO BE OR NOT BE - PROMOTED
Meanwhile, back at the office, real events have been unfolding, events that will change my future. Story so far: Editor-in-Chief of FT Newsletter, Dennis Kiley, steps down (see 11 May). I have no evidence that Dennis was actually sacked, or pushed. Dennis says he saw an opportunity and took it - he has taken early retirement (i.e. a good pension) and will now edit a newsletter on South Africa as well. His boss, John McLachlan, in private to me has criticised Dennis quite strongly. He said that Dennis was the right man to take over the previous regime, because there were so many personnel problems, but that mid-way through his five years, he was unable to develop the job sufficiently. Today, 30 June, was Dennis’s last in the job.
Some weeks ago, a memo came round inviting applications from journalists for Dennis’s job. The deadline given was 25 June. Between seeing the memo and 25 June, I had my Outward Bound course, my speech to worry about, and a trip to Brussels. But the biggest problem, by far, concerned the fact that I was all ready to go to John with a bid for my newsletters. I took advice from Dad, from B, from Julian, and from Henry and Kenny. I believed then, and I still do now that I have more information (for a number of reasons), that John had already decided he wants me for the job but that he has to manipulate the situation carefully - manoeuvre me, persuade his seniors that he’s making the right choice, and upset as few other editors as possible. If I am right, then it makes little sense to go to him now with a proposal to buy my titles: firstly, such a request would make it very difficult for him to offer me the Dennis job since he would no longer be able to trust me; and, secondly, he is likely to show resentment at having lost his candidate for a job that will otherwise be very difficult to fill. Thus, the upshot was, I would have to apply for the job. If I failed to get it, all my advisers agreed, I could legitimately request to move on. The worst scenario would be if I got the job! Well, it looks like my chances are increasing by the day.
I called John about a week after the memo arrived and asked him for more details. He went on at length describing a number of different aspects to the job he would like to see developed. It sounded to me like he were listing my own attributes; he clearly went out of his way to make the job sound both attractive and within my capabilities. He insisted that if I wanted any more information I should ring from wherever I am - Brussels or on holiday - reverse the charges, he said. As I didn’t have too much time, I decided the best way to apply would be to list my achievements to date, the reasoning behind the development of the various newsletters, and then just give a very brief summary of some of the things I might do in the job. In general, I feel I should give as little information as possible, ask as few questions as possible, then, if I get offered the job, negotiate good terms.
I have not heard a word from John about my application, nor has he even said hello to me in the corridors as he usually does (is this a transparent attempt at trying to distance himself from me, so as to make my appointment more palatable to others? it seems hardly credible.) Just today his secretary asked me to fax over my application to his office - what does he do with papers? However, apart from all the office rumours which seem to have as much veracity as astrology, I have one more solid piece of information. After Dennis’s leaving party - a large affair at Southwark Bridge - when a dozen of us had retired to the pub, Dennis drew me aside and said that if I was serious about my application then he would support me by talking to John. Now, he’s only likely to say that and tell me so, if he feels I have a good chance of getting the job. After all, I would be his new boss, so why not ingratiate himself. He also told me there was one other candidate, outside newsletters. He admitted quite freely that he hadn’t done the job as well as it could be done and that I could do it a lot better. He fairly sung my praises. If I hadn’t had a few jars myself I would never have been able to hold his eye for so long. But to add to my confusion, when I asked whether I should try and run my own business or seek the manager’s job, he simply told me that friends of his in the US who had started newsletters were millionaires now - I would be a millionaire, he said confidently, if I started my own business, in five years.
Paul K Lyons
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