DIARY 51: January - June 1994

13 January 1994, London

The Christmas holidays are now over - I go to Brussels tomorrow and B starts work full-time at the RHS. I had meant to give my study a thorough clean and then get down to some serious reflection on the year past and some planning for the year to come.

I have just looked at my Subscriptions file. As the year closed I had 108 EC Inform-Energy and 6 EC Energy Review subs paid for. It’s quite remarkable that I invented a target for the year and made it within a 10% margin of error. I might have preferred a 50% margin of error if it had been in the right direction. But the net result of 1993, is that I have no clearer idea of whether I can make it or not.

Mid-year, I did a crude forecast job. I used two scenarios: A) whereby I have 80 subs (turnover of £25,000) at the end of 1993 and 110 subs (turnover of £35,000) at the end of 1994; and B) whereby I have 120 subs at the end of 1993 (turnover of £40,000) and 160 at the end of 1994 (turnover of £50,000). The point of the scenarios was to show that even if I only had 80 subs at the end of 1993, I could still launch the transport newsletter, including the major cost of hiring a person, and be making a living profit by year four. With 120 subs in year one, I could launch the transport newsletter and be making a living wage by year three. Although crude, these forecasts remain useful. They indicate that I should aim this year for 160 EC Inform-Energy subs.

The festivities are over. Three days of family socialising culminated on New Year’s Day night with a meal at Mum’s. It was supposed to be the only time of the New Year when we all got together at one place, because I missed Christmas Day at Mel’s and Wednesday at Dad’s and Mel missed Thursday in Brighton. However, Mel decided at 3pm on New Year’s Day to tell Mum she wasn’t coming, and that caused a barney on the telephone leaving Mel angry and Mum at half mast. Still the food Mum cooked was scrummy as ever, and, since Adam, Rebecca and Naomi were all put to sleep before we ate, the meal was the calmest we’ve had as a family for months, if not years.

At lunchtime on the Saturday, the three of us visited Dad. He was as ruddy in the face as I’ve ever seen him. Dad and Michele were getting ready to leave for a three month sojourn in South Africa. Dad had bought Adam a Scalectrix set, which we later set up. Both he and I remembered that we had played together on a Scalectrix set he’d bought for me when I was young. As I was piecing the track together, I remembered what a pain in the neck it is to fit; and it seems no different today.

On New Year’s Eve, I went with Adam to Annabel and Julek’s house for a party; Barbara was feeling tired and her parents were with her at Tidy Street. The party was a quiet affair; I didn’t do much but catch up on Annabel’s news and monitor the children. But it was pleasant to be somewhere different, and out and about. I am pleased to hear they have put on hold plans to emigrate to New Zealand. Adam played nicely all evening, right up until we left after midnight.

Saturday 15 January 1994, London

I have just printed out the journal entries from the fourth quarter 1993 and bound them with the rest of 1993. The 1993 file is about two-thirds the length of that for 1992. I expect 1994 will be even shorter: if we buy and sell houses, and if I start up the transport newsletter, there will be no time to write and only the most mundane of things to write about.

I finished production of the January issue on Wednesday; the quarterly was finished on Monday and the index during the previous week. Even though I had had a good rest at Christmas, I was quite depleted by the time Wednesday came. I am still recovering. During the next two weeks, I must write a first draft of the 1993 Thermie annual report. Brian Jensen has sub-contracted me once again to write the text, for a princely sum of Ecu5,000. It is good money fbut does involves a fair amount of work. I hope that I will be able to break the back of it before I go to Brussels again on 31 January.

I am nervous about the next three weeks. In the first place, almost a third of all my subscriptions are due for renewal. I have sent out invoices to some 40 companies - about a quarter have paid, but two have cancelled. Also, with the January issue my mini-subscription marketing plan comes to fruition.

I am slow with books. I have just finished Gore Vidal’s ‘Live from Golgotha’. It is a rumbustious book, written with a sustained flourish of invention and language. I think Vidal’s books will grow in stature as time goes on; he will be seen to have chronicled, more than any other contemporary writer, the rapid decline of traditional religions and exposed the corrupt edifice upon on which all religions, old and new, are based. I would like to think I’ll read this book again, but I am never in a mood to reread anything; in the past I always liked to travel on roads I did not know, I can never bring myself to holiday in the same place twice, and it’s same with books and films.

I raced through Tim Parks’s ‘Loving Roger’. This was a short book of little substance. As with his other book ‘Shear’, I chanced on it at the Willesden Library.

I received a letter from Gail this morning. She talks about a new pup she has, called Toby. I also got a card from her just after Christmas and she included a photo of herself, underneath a rain hat, cuddling a small furry black dog. She says, in the letter, that she has some photos and a copy of Fred’s book ‘Murder in Mayfair’ and asks if I would like them. Yes, I will be interested in these things of Fred, even though I have no emotion for him.

I have also begun reading the Lawson ministerial autohagiography which B bought me for Christmas. It is well written (he was a journalist before becoming a politician) and easily read; and the presentation of his ideas is well structured. As energy minister, Lawson claims he put in place a lot of policies (often times against the initial opposition of cabinet colleagues or Thatcher) that came to fruition after he had moved on: privatisation of BNOC and British Gas; simplification and dilution of the oil and gas taxation regime; the abolishing of any kind of depletion policy; and breaking the coal miners strike. He puts forward the same arguments for Britain pursuing a free market policy in energy as I heard presented by Tim Eggar just a few months ago. Whether, Lawson was actually as clear and precise about the arguments at the time or whether, in retrospect, he has adjusted his thinking to show more clarity or determination than might have been apparent at the time, is not for me to say.

Jut before Christmas, B and I indulged in an evening of culture. Mum came over to baby-sit early and I met B at the Royal Festival Hall to look over an exhibition of photographs by Sebastião Salgado, a Brazilian with a worldwide reputation. Well, he may have had a reputation but I had not come across him, not until I saw a TV programme about his work, inspired by the exhibition. I have in front of me a Photo Poche about him (in French, since it was the only one available at the exhibition and Barbara secreted one into her bag for a Christmas present). Salgado has spent the last five years combining his work as a photojournalist with collecting pictures of manual workers from all over - there are deserts and docks, tea-pickers and tanners, factory-workers and farmers, miners and welders. The art in Salgado’s work is that he neither demeans the subjects of his photos nor does he glamourise them, rather he brings out the essential humanity involved in each and every job; and there are some very dirty, dangerous and dark jobs documented in his photographs - Kuwaiti workers blanketed in oil, blood-spattered tuna processors in Sicily, mud-covered gold miners at Serra Pelada in Brazil. The photos are often dramatic and informative as well as offering intense and beautiful images of light and dark or shapes and forms. One of my favourites is actually without people, although the handiwork of people in the past is the subject - it is a panorama of the landscape at Baku in Azerbaijan where hundreds of oil rigs, from 50-100 years ago, queue up like nightmarish monsters. There is another one I like of a huge ship stranded on the sand in the background and an arc of Bangladeshi shipbreakers in the foreground.

After soaking up these amazing pictures, we strolled across the South Bank to the National Theatre to see the third part of David Hare’s trilogy - ‘The Absence of War’. We have seen the first two - ‘Racing Demons’ and ‘Murmuring Judges’ - but, by my estimation, this latest play is the least good. In the first two, Hare managed to combine debate and insight with an adequate plot at several different levels of human endeavour; but in ‘War’, which was about a Labour Party fighting an election, there is barely a plot at any level, and what plot there is, is a pale shadow when compared against the actual events we all followed in intricate detail during the last election campaign. There is barely any human interest since none of the characters are given any development (which I always thought was primordial in a play). Finally, as if to seal my judgement in National Theatre concrete, John Thaw, whom we all know and love as Morse, was miscast as the Labour leader, and he failed to make either B or I believe in him. Before we even see him on stage, for example, he is set up as having a tremendous charisma and ability to charm people, but in person we don’t see this at all. These plays are not the work of a genius - Britain sadly lacks, at this moment in time, either an author or a playwright of significant stature, of world class importance.

Wednesday 19 January 1994, London

A day without orders is like a night without sleep - exhausting and unsatisfying. I wait anxiously for the results of the mini-subscription mailing and the January renewals. I need a cheque every day on average for the next five weeks to ensure sufficient renewals, and in the same period, I need ten new orders. A day like today, with no cheques, no orders, no telephone calls, therefore upsets me.

I am working this week on the 1993 Thermie annual report for Brian. I notice that the 1991-1992 report which I wrote, and which took so long to be finally published in its super-glossy form, contains a number of obvious grammar errors. Brian and his colleague Simon Burgess have taken on the job this year, i.e. without the support of the much larger Danish company Euroteam that handled it last year. I am trying to get a firm handle on their requirements for the structure of the report so that I have clear guidelines for the writing.

Now that B has begun work full-time, we are again in a different and unusual scenario. I am almost entirely responsible for looking after Adam during the week - I take him into school and bring him home every day (as I did throughout 1993) but also I monitor him through from 3:30 until about 6:30 when B comes home from work. So far I don’t have any problem with this; Adam is amazingly self-sufficient. If necessary I can ensure he doesn’t disturb me for the whole period, but more normally, I spend half an hour with him when we get back from school and then he plays on his own. Several times a week, there’ll be telly for him to watch - ‘Blue Peter’, ‘Captain Scarlet’, ‘Farthing Wood’, some schools programmes I’ve recorded during the day.

In the last few days, our lessons have been focusing on numbers and time. He demonstrates a really superb temperament - he never loses his temper, or even gets remotely cross - he puts up with everything I make him do, and, most of the time, perseveres with the tasks I have given him. However, he will take any opportunity to turn anything into a joke or fun. I suffer greatly from not knowing how much to expect of him. I am hugely anxious not to expect too much, but it is astonishing how easy I can get caught into a belief that he should know something. This leads occasionally, more often in the last few days, to me getting cross when he fails to meet those expectations.

Because my car was in the garage, I went to collect Adam on the bicycle. It is so much quicker than walking or catching the bus. Coming back I put Adam on the saddle and rode the bike by standing on the peddles; A holds onto me as though he were on a motorbike, and if I get tired I can sit down on the front edge of the saddle. At 5:00 we had to leave for Harlesden to pick up the car. We walked to Queen’s Park and waited ages for a train. We saw several going the other way, and several trains going our way came into the platform but terminated their journey. When I pointed this out to Adam he told me that that was what life was like. Then, as our train came in, he said, shall we hop on it, and I said yes. When the doors opened, I literally hopped on, making sure Adam saw me. He laughed and laughed without saying anything or acknowledging the joke in any other way.

Sunday 23 January 1994, Brighton

For a change Adam and I have come to Brighton on our own. Unfortunately, A is not on peak form, and the weather has not been at its best, to say the least, and this morning is abominable. I’m not sure what we’ll do today. A is engaged in tidying up the books and papers above his desk, and the only constructive thing I have to do is write up this journal.

I have a dream that I am in a rowing boat, on a mission to an undiscovered island. I am sharing the boat with a fat man. Not long after we start I look out and see we are just half way down the Edgware Road.

8 02 Tuesday 25 January 1994, London

Brian Redhead has died. The nation loved his youthful enthusiasm about almost everything. The ‘Today’ programme spent almost half its air time yesterday morning on obituaries from the famous and the not-so famous.

20 02 Wednesday 26 January 1994, London

Yesterday, having gone to Mum’s house to feed her dog Georgie, as I do on Tuesday’s when I’m in London, I picked up the presents Melanie bought for us for Christmas, including a Captain Scarlet doll for Adam. After undressing it once, and finding it has no willy, (shock horror, Captain Scarlet’s a woman), he redressed it. Now he holds the fully-armed doll and fires it at people. It’s a gun that can kill Mysterons, and humans twice as quick. Adam has also made a large lego vehicle, and SPV, in which Scarlet sits. The vehicle comes complete with fold-away bullet shields, a device for solar energy, an air-lock, and a launchable rocket vehicle with wheels.

While I was preparing supper this evening, Adam climbed up on his small chair, that sits by the sink so he can wash his hands, and asked if he could have a climb. Yesterday or the day before he climbed on to my shoulders. I stood very still so that, eventually, he climbed down out of shear boredom. This time, however, I saw a twinkle in his eye ‘Don’t look in my pocket,’ he cried, trying hard not to turn his smile into a laugh. When I turned round, he said ‘Oh darn it’ or something like that it (he’s full of good value old fashioned expressions such as Yippee, and Yummee). Then I saw that he had a mini-book in his trouser pocket. It took me more than a few seconds to work out the joke, although Adam assumed I had sussed him out directly. His plan, quite simply, was to take a book up the mountain so that he wouldn’t get bored when at the top.

Several times in the last week or two, Adam has told me that in class he spends so long writing a story that he never has time to do the drawing that goes with it. He told me that as he is finishing his writing he thinks of something else to put in the story, and when he finishes that, he thinks of something more. And when I asked him yesterday what he thought about in the car on long journeys, he said that he made up stories to himself. Incidentally, Barbara told me that she remembers clearly making up stories on car journeys. She said she would watch a little person (turned out to be a fairy but she was too embarrassed to say so at first) skipping along by the side of the road, over the trees and houses and moving in parallel with the car. She didn’t exactly talk to the fairy but they did communicate. I asked Adam and Barbara about this because I needed to know what Ally would be doing in the car going down to Devon (see ‘Trapped’ by Adam and Paul Lyons, work in progress).

I am reading Marina Warner’s ‘Indigo’ again. I did read the first quarter once already but I didn’t take much of it in, I found the beginning unnecessarily confusing. I have now read the quarter again, I’m not yet much impressed, and am about to get to a new bit. Today I hear that Marina Warner is to give the Reith Lectures this year. Advance publicity says she will use mythology to present a critique of modern day Britain. It certainly sounds different from last year’s lectures, which featured Steve Jones.

Monday 31 January 1994, Brussels

The February issue of ‘EC Inform-Energy’ promises to be a relaxed affair. Finalising the last three issues have all been stressed. The November issue was the start of the mini-mailing so that had to be organised, the December issue was late and there was much stress involved in getting the stories which were breaking in the Council; and the January issue included the index and the quarterly, and was 48 pages of proof-reading, apart from anything else. For the February issue, I don’t even have a mailing (apart from a very small one) and the print run will probably be the smallest ever. My mind, however, has begun to turn to other projects - notably a new management report on EC energy policy. The possibility of such a report has been at the back of my mind since I left the FT. I always thought that 1994 might be the time to do it, but I have had no enthusiasm for the project. In the last few weeks, I’ve been tinkering with chapter headings and how I could squeeze in all the various policy measures.

What has decided me to go ahead, post haste, is the failure of the mini-subscription mailing. I was truly expecting a minimum of 10 new orders and possibly 20. This mailing was my very best shot, and has unfortunately failed. Therefore, I concluded, I need to take another tack; if I can write and publish a new management report on EC energy policy, I will only need about 100 sales to make as much money as I did on the FT one (which sold 600) and it should get me publicity and consolidate my position in the market.

I need to say one or two other things about this. Firstly, the thought of writing another book is rather daunting; especially at this time, I will have the marketing to do as well as the writing, editing, and proof-reading. It worries me that I will have to chase up interviews without the FT name to back me up. It worries me that so many of my original ideas, in the first book, are still extant and I’m unsure whether I will have any new ones - it is even difficult to find a different structure. On the other hand, I say to myself, this is my area and I must exploit it to the full. It is no good, at this stage in my life, to ignore the potential of repeating a successful venture. If it’s boring, so what, I must buckle down to a tedious period in my company’s life. The first year was hard and involved tedious tasks, but was never really tedious because it was all new and so important to the success of the venture.

I will, tomorrow, tell someone in DGXVII that I am embarking on a new version of my report and that will serve as a kind of starting gun. This is always how I embark on new ventures - there is the internal process to begin with, then the testing of the idea with family and friends (a process by which I put into words, largely for myself, the justification of what I am about to do), then there is the moment when the idea becomes ‘official’, so to speak, and I get going.

Last time round, and I checked this in the journal, three months elapsed between when I wrote the first word and when I handed the document in to the publisher. This time round, it won’t be so easy - I know more, and I know more how convoluted the issues are. I don’t have the FT name, as I said, and I have a full time job coping with the existing responsibilities of EC Inform. On the other hand, I realise, that one must just get on with these projects. Ideas are fine, but to turn them into reality, one must do too.

I have chomped up ‘Imago Bird’, by Nicholas Mosely, on my way over here; I’ve only a quarter of the book left. It is the first of a series (comprising five or six novels) which culminated in the impressive ‘Hopeful Monsters’. ‘Imago Bird’ is about a 20 year old, finding out about himself among the rich and powerful in London, during the 1970s. Presumably, the hero/narrator is one of the characters in ‘Hopeful Monsters’ - I shall have the pleasure of checking that up when I get back to London. ‘Imago Bird’ is written in an idiosyncratic first person style, mixing up the young adult’s thoughts with the dialogue in which he takes part. There is some inter-weaving of other characters and a minimal plot; in essence this a character study, an attempt to picture the processes which combined to give the narrator a stammer and a homosexual nature..

February 1994

Paul K Lyons


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