Saturday 10 December 1994

John Major’s Conservative government lost a budget vote in Parliament during the week and Kenneth Clarke was forced to withdraw plans to raise VAT on domestic and gas and electricity prices from 8% to 17.5%. This was very embarrassing for the government and the papers made whoopee. The crucial factor in losing the vote was that most of the eight Tory MPs, who had lost the whip for not voting with the government on the budget for the EU, decided to punish the PM by voting against the VAT rise, which is of course a completely different issue. Most of this group voted with the government on the original budget which imposed the VAT and their vote now against the government is simply a protest - political revenge. I also feel that because the Tory party was denied a leadership challenge (the deadline for a challenge was passed last week or ten days ago), it was also denied a chance to let off steam and the lost vote was an expression of concern within the party. The government has conveniently forgotten that it justified the VAT rises on environmental grounds - there has been no talk of how to make up the lost energy saving quotient. In a mini-budget the day before yesterday, Clark put a few more pence of excise duties on the usual drinks and cigarettes to make up for the budget shortfall.

Tuesday 13 December 1994, London

Christmas is but a few days away. I fear the free time between now and then will be lost. I had hoped to finalise my work stuff last week and leave myself free for fiction this week, but, as ever, the administration etc. is creeping into my free time - and Christmas too. I have received back, from an outfit named ThamesLink, a readable disk of several writings; notably the Corsica journal, the unfinished Rats novel, and my diary from a trip to New York. All in all, it cost me about £80 to get the four old disks read and transferred to a readable format. I wonder how much it would have cost to hire a typist to type it all out. Still I am glad to be rid of those old disks which I have kept and kept and never known what to do with. And I am glad to have rescued every bit of my writing that has ever been typed up on to a computer. The Corsica journal is interesting and fresh and it documents my self-discovery that I was no writer.

‘Eastenders’ is rather boring at the moment, but that is no problem since I have my very own family sagas to follow. I can always rely on my Mum to pass on the gossip at regular intervals. Julian and Dad are currently at odds, and Dad is so pissed off he’s cancelled the annual dinner due to have taken place next Saturday. Dad had the cheek to complain that I hadn’t contacted him. Grumpy old toad that he is. So, I rang him, and asked him and Michele out for dinner on Saturday instead. He wouldn’t help with where to go, so I’ve plumped for Odette in Regent’s Park Road.

At last, Jacques Delors has announced he will not stand as leader of the Socialists in the French elections - apparently, Mitterand persuaded him to delay announcing the decision until after the Essen summit.

Monday 19 December 1994, London

Countdown to Christmas. The days disappear in a fog of little tasks - wrapping a present here, nipping to the shop there, making a phone call to confirm an arrangement. The festivities already began at the weekend: on Saturday night B and I took Michele and Sasha out for a meal, and on Sunday Mum cooked for Mary and Roger and A, B and I. Tonight, I might go up to the Black Lion, tomorrow we are going to the Tricycle to see the Fats Waller show ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ - I hope it’s a good production, I’ve seen no reviews yet; on Wednesday, I’m meeting up with Raoul and Andy. On Thursday night, I might be in Brighton with Adam; on Friday evening, family are coming here; on Christmas Eve, I shall be alone because A and B will be at the Collecotts, and on Christmas Day we shall go to Mum’s in the evening; and then on Boxing Day we shall be in Spain.

Last spring, A and I wrote our first proper story together (‘Trapped’). All year I have had one copy printed out like a book with a picture by Adam on the front cover. It lay around for ages and I didn’t know what to do with it. I finally gave it a last proof read recently, and, last week, I made up five copies using bright fluorescent paper for the front and back cover. Unfortunately, I did not find a way in Quark to produce A5 pages in sequence for a book on A4 pages without the rigmarole of printing every page out separately. As it is, I had enough trouble getting the page numbers right and working out which pages should be printed on the back of which pages. Then, I had to buy a special long arm stapler in order to stable the A4 pages down the middle. Actually, the final result is worth it, and the five orange-covered 32-page books look quite professional - although I haven’t been able to get rid of the paper curl created by the printer or been able to guillotine the edges trim (A4 pages layer out a bit when they are folded together). Adam has given one of the copies to Andy Page, I have sent one to Judy and Rob and their children, and Adam and I will give one (with a special green cover) to Barbara for her birthday.

After a disastrous start, Adam and I have got back into the Spanish, and Adam is now making progress. We are using an Usborne children’s book which I found in the library, rather than the adult one with a cassette which I’d bought. The cartoons and the slower pace do make a difference and we often find ourselves laughing, rather than ploughing on. And laughter is definitely the best medicine when it comes to learning new words and grammars.

Adam had a good day at school. First of all, he took in a copy of ‘Trapped’. Andy Page, who is no longer Adam’s teacher, was really excited by it. He even asked Adam to come into his class and read it to the children. They read half the story today, and will finish it tomorrow. Adam said he really liked reading it to the younger children. Then, in the afternoon, it was their Christmas party. When I arrived I looked in through the window and saw all the children sitting down at tables while their presents were being handed out. Adam was near the door and was the only child (of fifty or more) eating ice cream and jelly. I could not understand why he was the only one. They came out a few minutes later, and Adam said he had been slow eating his ice cream, that’s all. He explained that he had won the musical chairs competition, which is why he had two presents; that his team had won the ‘dressing king’ competition, whatever that was; and that his table had won the best manners competition too. How pleasing it is for a parent to hear about the successes of their child.

The dinner with Sasha and Michele. I had hoped we might be able to have some serious conversations but I had not counted on Michele’s incessant chatter. Piffle of the highest order. However hard one tries to listen, one’s brain runs of stamina. Usually, she doesn’t talk so much, but this evening she was ready with some trifle, meaningless anecdote at every juncture. The dinner came about because I rashly decided to invite the two of them out (feeling somewhat peeved that their invite to dinner should have been cancelled simply because Sasha had fallen out with one of his sons - i.e. Julian). The food and service were excellent and that helped make the evening bearable. We talked a little about Julian and not at all about Melanie. Both Dad and Michele repeated anecdotes from recent trips (which we’d heard before), and we talked a bit about South Africa and, for a few minutes, about energy and environmental concerns. The evening set me back £125. When I include the cost of the books I bought them both for Christmas presents and balance the total against the cheque for £150 he gave me, I come out just about even. But, considering he’s virtually a millionaire and I’m a pauper, it’s a bit of an imbalance, no?

A week ago, I drove down to Salisbury with Adam and Mum to take part in a surprise party for Cousin Mary. She is 50, and Roger had gone to great lengths to organise a secret party at a friend’s house nearby. We had instructions to arrive by 12, which we did. There were 20-30 people in the kitchen and lounge of a house belonging to Annabel and Peter (friends of Mary’s deceased mother Johnnie) when we heard Mary arriving. She had been rung earlier that morning by Peter and asked over for a drink. We closed the door so that she would walk into the house without realising what awaited her, but, unfortunately, we left Adam out in the hall area. As Mary entered we heard her shriek ‘Adam, what are you doing here?’ Then she opened the door to see her many friends filling the room. Most of them had said they were going away for the weekend, or were otherwise engaged so that Mary, apparently, hadn’t suspected a thing.

The party was very pleasant - friendly and relaxed - with lots of tasty food. I talked for a while to a man who said he was in textiles. I taught Adam how to play Monopoly, which is a game of some calculation unlike Junior Monopoly which is no more than a glorified snakes and ladders.

‘Between the Lines’, the BBC1 drama series, is coming to the end of its second series. The first was truly excellent and well reviewed. However, the second series was not so warmly reviewed and has been eclipsed by the rise of Robbie Coltrane in ‘Cracker’. The ‘Cracker’ series was also good, but, to my mind, was over-dependent on the one actor. Also, its plots were flawed by their extravagance and because the police characters were often so unbelievable - I mean they kept turning up at each other’s front doors. ‘Between the Lines’, by contrast, has proved exceptional, even though the main three characters left their original job in the police-investigation division, CIB, and continued to operate in a quasi-legal shadowy world between the police, intelligence services and underworld. However, the plots have remained dramatic and credible; and the writing and acting are so good, that the characters continue to totally convincing. In one episode, the plot revolved around a series of suicides at a defence electronics company (with a name beginning in M, suggestive of Marconi). Over the years, I have read a number of reported suicides by people working at Marconi but never an in-depth piece of reporting on why there should be so many deaths in one company or any speculation as to whether they really were suicides. Any sane or rational person would certainly suspect that some pretty messy dealings are occurring and want to know what on earth was going on. Well ‘Between the Lines’, offered possible explanations. Ultimately, I believe, TV critics are victims of their own blinkered outlook. They are the first to criticise series that go on too long, but they fail to recognise, let alone applaud, the brilliance of one series that successfully and bravely avoids the pitfalls of sticking to its past formula.

Wednesday 21 December 1994, London

A successful shopping day.

I am working on my second short story this month. The first was based on an idea I developed while sitting through Adam’s school’s Christmas play, and this one is based on an idea that came to me while listening to Holly Penfield sing at the Black Lion on Monday. The main character, called Helen at present, is an amalgam of Holly Penfield herself, two girls I knew very long ago in New Zealand (Helen and Sandy), Grace Kelly, and perhaps even Marielle. When I am in a relaxed mood, the very simplest of encounters with the world beyond my house can give rise to a story idea. Indeed, sometimes I just have to pass by a shop or restaurant and see people inside for my brain to flash up a story idea. Of course, turning them into actual stories requires a lot more sweat.

Christmas Day 1994, London

This will probably be my last diary entry for the year, since I must leave in a few minutes to drive down to Catford and thereafter I will be opening presents all day long, there, here and everywhere; and tomorrow morning we leave for Spain. Whereas in the past, I would always write a journal while on holiday in long hand, I now expend the same amount of energy ensuring Adam writes and draws his journal, and I don’t write mine until I return back to the computer screen.


Paul K Lyons


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