DIARY 50: July - December 1993

Saturday 10 July 1993, London

It is taking time to wind down. I have finished the 20-page July issue and the second issue of the Quarterly; both were published last Friday. Now I have a five week break since my next issue is not until the beginning of September. Before the July mailing began, I counted 75 subscribers (7 or 8 were still unpaid) - three-quarters of my target within, more or less, six months.

Sunday 11 July

After several weeks of glorious sunshine, the weather has begun to break; there was plenty of rain yesterday afternoon. Fortunately, it held off today and we profited from the clear air and bright sky by going for a walk in the Chilterns. We set off, not long after 8am, and were rewarded by empty roads all the way to High Wycombe. We have never really explored the Chilterns at all, and it is only B’s job offer in Wendover that has sparked our curiosity. With just a road map and an ancient (really ancient) Ordnance Survey map, I had no real idea where to go for a walk so I simply chose a small hamlet called Spleen, because it was the furthest from any urban centre. Once near there, I branched up whatever road took my fancy, heading up and into woods if possible, and parked at the first lay-by and footpath sign I could find. At first the walk did not look so promising; we seemed to be within a few feet of houses and the terrain wasn’t much different to Hampstead Heath. To much mirth from B, I kept pointing out things of Outstanding Beauty - the houses, the nettles, the butterflies, the non-existent views. The background to this jesting of mine is that B has large map of Southeast England on the wall of her room, on which are marked all the areas of Outstanding Beauty. And it is these areas which have guided her job applications.

In fact, the walk turned out to be most pleasurable, with corn fields, meadows of wild flowers, forests, a church and cemetery, and a village green. Later we visited Wendover, I suppose my curiosity got the better of me; but it only reminded B that she had not taken the job and made her miserable. For my part I found the town somewhat pretentious, with a few old buildings and terraces but trying to be rather more. The countryside roundabout, though, did look attractive. We drove back towards London, and found ourselves in Amersham. I surely must have been before but its beauty surprised me, its long elegant high street, free of through traffic, packed with antique buildings, barely a modern frontage along the whole street. At one end a Tesco building looks incongruent situated next to Amersham’s high street jewels with a corn field behind, where we eat our picnic of Tesco samosas, quiche and juice.

We also drop in on a fete at Woodrow, near Amersham. B watches a group of mediaeval dancers from Germany, there is a magic show for Adam, and a brass band for me. The fete is held on the grounds of an old and now rather tatty mansion which is owned by the London Fellowships of Boys Clubs. I talk to one of the ladies from the Ladies Fellowship that organised the fete to raise money for the house and its work. She moans about how much competition there is these days for raising money, and how even she must harden her heart against all the begging letters she receives and throw them into the bin.

Wednesday 14 July 1993, London

A few days of rain and the air is clearer now, but the humidity has risen and is a little uncomfortable. Worryingly, there is no sign yet of an order from the July mailing - as a result of the good mailings, there is usually some activity by the first Tuesday after, whether a faxed order or a telephone enquiry. To date though, nothing - a long orderless summer threatens.

Mu arrived yesterday with her daughters - Rosie and Alice. Rosie is ten, quite tall, rather quiet and on the verge of puberty. Alice by contrast is still a child of eight but with a wild, and almost unlawful, spirit. Whereas Rosie’s looks are slightly spoilt by the sullenness of losing childhood, Alice is beautiful, wild and beautiful. I pick them up at King’s Cross after a long train journey from Edinburgh and they do not settle in well. Adam is too young for them, and Mu wants to talk with me and not organise them. The girls sleep in my bed, Mu on Adam’s bed, B and I in B’s bed, and A on the floor by B’s bed; but the girls are still awake at 11 and very tired, and poor Mu, too, is exhausted after not having slept for days, she says.

Yesterday, in anticipation of Mu’s arrival, I did some burrowing in my journals. There is surprisingly little about her, in fact. There is no record of our meeting in Amsterdam, nor of my two weeks in Greece with her group, nor of the skiing holiday in Austria, which was the last time we met. There are references to her, and plenty of poems but very few facts and figures. It was the period in which I was trying to write in a fanciful and poetical way; histories about people never concerned me. In a way it is just as well because I would never have had the time. These days, one unusual event in my life is sufficient to keep me writing in the journal for days. Mu remembers that the Austrian skiing holiday was a disaster, and that she wasn’t very nice; but I don’t recall much about it at all. I have a stronger memory of going to see Maja in Yugoslavia.

Mu is much the same as I remember her - her face is older but her eyes shine in much the same way as in the past. Soon after, she met up with Martin and went to live outside Vienna. After the birth of the two children life became very difficult, she recounts, and her partnership with Martin was saved by the move to New Zealand. Initially, they went there just on holiday but they never came back, leaving most of their possessions unclaimed in Austria. For a year, they lived in a camper van, it seems, but then they chanced on an opportunity to buy into a community forest, this is how I understand it any way, and they now live in a 200 acre forest owned or inhabited by eight families each with two acres of their own land.

Sunday 18 July 1993, Brighton

We had all that hot weather while I was working hard, and now that my summer holidays have arrived, rain clouds fill the sky and the air turns chilly. Yesterday afternoon, A and I did get to the beach and into the water. I couldn’t swim because the waves were too strong and stroppy but it was wonderful nevertheless to get into the water for the first time in months. Adam got wet as well, but only by me holding him in my arms and ducking us both down as the waves came in. He gets a huge thrill out of this game and screams and screeches so loud I can barely hear the thunder of the water crashing on the pebbles.

Tomorrow I drive to Chichester for the first day of my week’s dinghy sailing course. I may stay here in Tidy Street and drive each day to Chichester, or I may stay in a bed and breakfast, I haven’t decided yet. A and B will go back to London this afternoon.

I feel quite badly let down by my diaries. Mu’s visit gave me a real thirst to discover more about those times when my life was so full and social and sexual intercourse. I have brought with me to Brighton Diary 8, a book with six sections of different coloured pages, which covers the period when I first met Mu. Unfortunately, I made a point of avoiding writing my entries in any kind of chronological order, preferring to choose a place for a new entry by the colour of the page. This was all very novel when I was doing it, but it is hell to try and make any sense of it now. By typing it up in chronological order (as far as I can by a few dated entries), I may be able to piece together events a little more solidly.

I am sitting here wondering what to say about Mu and her visit. She arrived on Tuesday evening and went very early on Friday morning. On Wednesday and Thursday she took her girls out for trips around town for about half a day each time. The rest of the time, mornings and evenings we rapped. She remains an intense person, calling for attention and conversation that examines the emotions. I suppose the bulk of our talk was about our present situations and Mu’s piercing questions required me to be about as precise as about my relationship with Barbara as I can remember being of late.

I am still sitting here and wondering what to say. My relationship with her lasted several years one way or another. There was the meeting in Amsterdam in 78, her coming back to London with me and staying for two months (and getting a job). There was at least one further visit to London (but I forget how long she stayed). There was my two week visit to Greece, and some days in Paris, and then the last meeting in Austria. Certainly more time in total than I ever spent with Maja, but considerably less than with Mayco or Roser. Yet my diaries testify to the fact that I felt our relationship was quite extraordinary, and Mu confirms this. The way in which we just let ourselves ride on the romantic dream of complete involvement.

Somewhere in my attic, I have a shorthand notebook full of an ongoing poem that we wrote over several weeks. The book was left lying around the flat for each one of us to write in whenever we felt inspired. The poem ranges across a whole panorama of emotions and rhymes and ideas but reveals (at least I think it does) how our relationship was intensely sensual and sexual and how, somehow, we translated our feeling freely into the world of words. This had never happened to me before or since.

As I say, I cannot travel back and uncover my mind at the time, but I think I never fully trusted Mu, and the love affair on my side must have been part-invented. Mu opened up a dreamworld of ideal romance and I just followed her lead. I could do it without fear because it was such a strange land - not real. But for Mu this was never a clear division and she journeyed in a landscape where people were the paths and emotions the weather.

Sunday 25 July 1993, London

I had meant to catch up on my journal in the evenings last week while in Brighton, but I was much too tired after the day’s sailing. Most nights I was in bed and asleep by nine or near thereafter. Now I am back in London. I can still feel the sunburn on my nose and knees but otherwise I am fully recovered from the weathering.

On the whole, I enjoyed the five days of dinghy sailing at the Chichester Sailing Centre. I had booked this course several months ago, but I’ve been meaning to do something of the sort since the beginning of 1992 when I made the decision to extend my social and leisure activities (huh!). I chose the Chichester Sailing Centre partly because I know Vic used to sail in that area and partly because it is near the area I think I might end up living. Arguably, it might have been more of a holiday if I had gone somewhere further away and taken lodgings as well; and I chose a dinghy course because I’ve never been in a dinghy in my life, and I felt I needed to get closer to the wind to experience more thoroughly the chemistry of wind and sail.

The Centre is located at the Chichester Harbour Marina, which is kept in water by a lock. For some hours around high tide, the lock is left open and boats sail freely in and out of the marina into the Chichester estuary; at other times, they must go through the lock. At low tide, there is very little water in the estuary and only boats with a very low draft can move around. The heavy tide in the estuary means that there are strong tidal currents and, unfortunately, we had about the worst of them during the week, and very little wind, which meant we weren’t able to explore any further than one port of call upstream and one downstream, - with the tides in our favour or a good wind or both we might have been able to get to Hayling Island or Bosham, for example.

In order to avoid the traffic, I left Brighton at 6.30 and arrived at the marina nearly two hours early on the first day. As the week wore on I realised that even at peak rush hour, the journey only took an hour at the most and so I could leave at 8.30 and still arrive on time. For the first couple of days, I breakfasted in the marina bar - excellent bacon sandwiches. There were about 20 new arrivals at the Centre on Monday morning - but just five adults. Fortunately, four of us adults were all beginners and stuck together for the duration of the week. There was Tom, a television news cameraman, who was staying in Chichester, had hired a bike, and intended to take tennis lessons in the evening; there was Sheila, an accident and emergency doctor, working in Cumbria and down in the south visiting her boyfriend; and there was Rachel, an outdoor instructor who was about to take a job which might have involved some dinghy sailing. I enjoyed Tom and Sheila’s company, and would have liked more of it, but Rachel became a pain because she insisted on dominating every conversation with a story about one of her travels or experiences.

The Centre’s dinghy tuition focuses on the five RYA levels and from the start we were split up according to which level we were at - and at the end of the week we were given certificates according to which level we had achieved, in my case this was level two. Each morning we were given short lessons about safety, or tides, or points of sale (much of which I knew but about which I needed reminding). By about mid-morning we would make for the boats. We spent the first three days in Wayfarers, with mainsail and gib, which are crewed, ideally, by two people; however, we had an instructor with us each time - a very experienced one for the first two, and a rather junior teacher for the third. Thursday and Friday were spent in the one-man Toppers, which only have a main sail. Once one has learnt the theory of sailing, how to tack and gibe, how to sail to close haul and on a reach, all that remains is to practise and practise until one instinctively understands the wind and how to use it take the boat where one wants to go. I do not even know my port and starboard properly yet and have to think it through each time. And as for which way to push the tiller to get the desired effect, well, I often push it the wrong way first.

I have three (well four now) sailing experiences - my first was in the Coromandel peninsula in New Zealand (near where Mu now lives) but I cannot remember it at all. Then there were the half dozen or so races in Rio on Tuna, which form the bulk of my sailing experience, and a weekend jaunt with the instructor of my navigation course four or so years ago. The only knowledge I really brought to this week’s course was that of how to trim sails to the wind. I didn’t even know how to tie a bowline - I think I can manage one now. And perhaps I have absorbed some knowledge about yacht sailing and racing which would become more apparent if I were on a yacht again, but I was about as near a novice as can be in the dinghies, as were Tom and Rachel - Sheila had done some dinghy sailing in Greece.

Sailing the Wayfarers was relatively simple and panic-free, partly because they are very stable boats, partly because there were at least two of us, and partly because the wind was not very strong. By contrast, The Toppers are smaller and more sensitive to the wind and water movements. Also the wind picked up on the days we were sailing them. On the first day, I went in the sea just once, in the afternoon; but on Friday, which was the only day I didn’t enjoy, I went in a number of different times. But it was in the Topper, that I felt I was really beginning to learn and take in some of the skill of dinghy sailing. Although the boats are very similar to windsurfers, they are large enough to sit in and have three hand controls (unlike a windsurfer which only has one) - the tiller, the mainsheet and the daggerboard. Having three adjustments to make every time one changes a point of sale means that sailing these dinghies requires constant juggling.

The beauty of sailing is that there is never an end to the challenges one can face and the techniques one can learn. One needs a combination of physical and mental skills, one can concentrate on the physical in races or on navigation for cruises. One can be a materialist and spend masses of money on all the mod-cons or a Bohemian and make do with the simplest of equipment. One can stay a novice and potter about with short trips in known waters on calm days or one can go on learning indefinitely by making adventurous journeys in unknown waters. With my level 2, I should now take the trouble to hire a dinghy and do some sailing on my own, otherwise my new knowledge will fade along with the old.

On Friday morning, the chief instructor Dave, a tall gangly chap with a pock-marked face and a calm temperament, said we were going to have fun today; but, instead, the day was a wash-out really because the tide was so strongly against us. We had just one race in the morning, before heading off down river, but against the tide, to Itchenor for lunch. It was our bad luck that the wind dropped and as we had to tack all the way, there was barely sufficient force for us to match the sweep of the tide. I had a raging headache and was dead exhausted by the time we arrived at Itchenor; and as soon as we headed back it was time to sail the dinghies back to the marina. I had already capsized in the morning so I spent the day wet as well as with a headache and fed up.

I was sorry not to spend longer talking with Tom and Sheila, both of whom I liked. Tom, in particular, revealed very little about himself or about his work. Almost all our conversation revolved around one sport or another - whether sailing, parachuting, bungy jumping, climbing etc, because of Rachel. Once, I went to the pub with Sheila alone, and we talked a bit about her coming two-year sojourn in New Zealand and the difficulties this might cause with her boyfriend. Tom reminded me quite strongly of Robert Cutts-Watson my school buddy. He had the same teeth which showed when he smiled, and rubbed his hands in an identical way. I wanted to ask Tom his surname but I felt shy to do so for some reason. Whereas Sheila was still quite young (26) and fresh (despite working in A&E!), Tom was altogether darker and deeper. I wasn’t sure I would like him, if I knew him better - on the second day, he became very moody, in a childish way, because he felt three pupils in a boat was too many. He was right but he didn’t say this before becoming sullen and having the instructors pay him a lot more attention.

On several evenings, I explored parts of the country around Chichester. Once, I went to Petersfield (where McCloskey works and where I have considered moving myself) but I didn’t like it much. The countryside roundabout, though, is lovely - an advantage for Chichester I feel rather than Petersfield. And Chichester is further advantaged by the coastal area for sailing beaches.

On Monday, I had a quite bizarre experience. Because the Chichester festival lasted until Tuesday, I thought I would go into the centre of the town to see if there was anything on in the evening. I parked my car and began to look for the tourist office. As soon as I did so, it began to rain, and within minutes it was pelting down. I ran as fast as I could but, nevertheless, I was fairly wet by the time I reached the office. However, the place was no longer the tourist office since it had moved the previous week. The new address was given but no map. The rain continued to pelt down. I ran back to the central point where the high streets meet, and along South Street looking for the new office. But there were no numbers on the shops so I couldn’t gauge where it would be - all the while the thunderstorm continued. Finally, I found it, at two minutes to six, and it had closed at 5.15. But I have yet to come to the bizarre part of this tale. Soaked from head to foot, I then proceeded back to where I thought my car was. But I just couldn’t find it. I had parked it on a side alley just off the main street and I had good impression in my head of how the street looked but I couldn’t find that either. I checked every street in the area where I thought the car might be, several times, and I just went round and round in circles, on the ground and in my head. I panicked a bit, then calmed down, then panicked some more. I thought of going to the police but I couldn’t think how they might help. Still drenched I ate a Big Mac, and then continued my search. Finally, after about 40 minutes, I decided that I would have to look in an area on the other side of the main street. In my mind I had been absolutely convinced that I was on one side of the street and I had therefore restricted my search to that side.

In the few hours I spent in Tidy Street not sleeping, I read. I have several guide books out from the library both about the Chichester area and about Germany (Adam and I leave on Wednesday for the Black Forest), I am reading the third part of Brian Aldiss’ ‘Helliconia’ trilogy - ‘Helliconia Winter’, and I am getting stuck into Chris Stringer’s book on the Neanderthals.

EC Inform trundles along slowly. Two weeks after the July mailing I have netted four new subs (taking the total to 79), not enough as yet either to pay for the mailing or to keep the tally rising sufficiently to meet the 100 target by the year’s end. I am particularly sensitive to this mailing because all the ‘EC Energy Monthly’ readers have been targeted and I must win a proportion of them over or else ‘EC Inform-Energy’ is going nowhere. During the summer I must make some decisions about what to do with the company in the new year, about whether to employ someone and whether to start another publication

There was excitement during the week in Westminster as the battle between the government and the unholy alliance between the opposition parties and the anti-Maastricht Conservatives on the Social Chapter reached its zenith. On Thursday, the government lost a vote calling on the House to support its policies on Maastricht, and Major was obliged to call another vote on Friday asking whether MPs had confidence in the government’s approach on the Social Chapter. This vote was no more nor less than a vote of confidence in the government, called by the government itself - a desperate measure. What an immense amount of twaddle has been presented in the media during the last few days as news. The plain facts are simple - this country needs and wants a different, more socialist-oriented government. The Tory party is in disarray, it has no policies left, its leader is inexperienced, ineffective and lacking in authority as well as ideas. He is Thatcher’s shadow and carries about as much weight and light.

Adam’s school report was a delight. His teacher, Mrs Adams, was positive about his progress in almost every subject. From his report: ‘Adam is a very mature person for his tender years. He settled in very quickly to the working environment of Class 2. He has made some friends whom he enjoys playing with. . . Adam’s general progress has been rapid and most successful. Adam is keen to gain knowledge and succeed in all he does. I am extremely pleased with his progress in writing. He has made a solid effort to improve, this has succeeded very well. Adam thinks very logically in all subjects, he has an excellent general knowledge and vocabulary. A sterling effort in such a short time. Well done Adam.’

I was so pleased with this report I promised Adam £5 to spend on any thing he liked in W H Smith. I couldn’t think of a better way to consolidate his success and reinforce the getting of a good report. He really looked forward to his visit to Smith’s. We finally got round to it on Saturday in Brighton. After about 20 minutes he chose a set of magic felt tip pens which write on top of each other and a multi-nibbed biro with ten colours.

On Saturday (the 17th) we went to a party at Annabel’s - it was Julek’s 40th birthday.

August 1993

Paul K Lyons


Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG

1974 1975

1976 1977

1978 1979

1980 1981

1982 1983

1984 1985

1986 1987

1988 1989

1990 1991

1992 1993

1994 1995

1996 1997

1998 1999

2000 2001

2002 2003

2004 2005

INTRO to diaries