JOURNAL - 1994 - OCTOBER
Saturday, 1 October 1994, Brighton
The first of October, three-quarters of the year has now vanished, and the end of my company’s second year is fast approaching. How scary. We never got away to the Peak District, as my cold still never left me fit enough for a strenuous weekend. Adam too has a lingering cold. So, we’ve come to Brighton instead for a quiet weekend. Adam adores his new bicycle and can now ride it quite competently. Similarly, with practice, his swimming is coming on fast as well - he goes with the school once a week, and I take him to a lesson once a week. He should really be developing a music skill but, in truth, he has so little chance of being good musically (because B and I have nothing to offer him) and neither does he seem very keen, I don’t think it is important if we skip that part of his education.
The sale of this house to Mrs Pelling has fallen through. This will be the first time that any house sale in which I have been involved with has failed after the solicitors were engaged. She stuck at £65,000 and we wouldn’t go below £68,000. On the whole, I think the estate agent is most to blame because he pushed the formal sale through before the survey in the hope that expenditure on both sides would encourage settlement after the survey. We went along with this but, at the time, I felt it was a little suspect. Since it became apparent that we wouldn’t match prices, the agent, Peter Gladwell, has gone remarkably silent. I think he knows he pushed a bit too far and retreated into the background. The house is again on the market but we haven’t had a bill from the solicitor yet.
The book business is going very slowly and it has been a painful two weeks - every day, seeing nothing in the post, and nothing come in by fax. I sit there at my desk, day after day, thinking it just can’t be this slow. I received two enquiries from 100 press releases. Oddly, three orders (about half the total so far) have come from East Europe (Slovenia, Estonia and Poland).
Estonia has been in the news this week for no good reason. A passenger ferry with over 1,000 on board sank on the way to Sweden, there were only 150 survivors. This is one of the worst peace-time ferry disasters in Europe this century. There are a number of similarities with the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster seven years ago. Both vessels were ro-ros and, in both cases, it appears that water flooded in so rapidly through the bow door (which is lowered on ro-ros to allow the vehicles to drive on or off) that the boat went down super fast. A huge international effort is now aimed at trying to discover why the Estonia went down (cruel irony that the ship is called Estonia as the media coverage will instil a poor image of the country as well as the boat). I think the location of the wreck has been pinpointed, and the next job is to send cameras down to film it to see whether the bow door is indeed open. It is hard to imagine any other circumstance that would have sunk the ferry so quickly leaving so little chance for abandoning ship to lifecraft. There is much discussion about the intrinsic design problem of having a major opening in the bow of the ship, which if faulty, allows water to flood in as the ship ploughs forwards. These major disasters obviously attract a huge amount of attention, but it would be useful to see real figures on the relative safety of different transport modes in terms of passenger miles or passenger journeys - is travel by ro-ro for example, safer than travel by air, which is itself much safer than travel by road? A disaster is a disaster but press speculation must be tempered with facts and informed debate.
10 13 Sunday 2 October 1994, Brighton
Yesterday, I bought a strange little book called ‘Adam’s Diary’ by Mark Twain. It is a first edition from 1904 and takes a few minutes to read. I just liked the book itself and the name. At the same shop I bought a ‘Boys Own Annual’ for Adam. He is ready to begin the literary journey away from dinosaurs and giants towards true life adventure and human endeavour.
This morning, Adam and I stroll up to the market in Brighton station car park; I have a vague idea to look for more Scalextric to complement Adam’s minimum set. Adam is disappointed he can’t go swimming this morning - he had an accident yesterday on the bike and hurt his groin so I thought it best he didn’t go. To cheer him up, I give him two pounds to spend in the market. But, as usual, we can never find anything worth spending money on. We stroll through looking at the people, Adam occasionally asks me about some item or stops to look at some broken toy or other. We are on our way out when I see a few old boys annuals. There is a ‘Tiger Annual’ and a ‘Lion Annual’ both of which are a mixture of adventure stories in comic and written form. I realise these are more the kind of book I was hoping to buy yesterday - the ‘Boys Own Annual’ is too old for Adam. I call him over to look at the books. He is immediately interested and asks the dealer how much. The dealer says, ‘ten’. Sheepishly, Adam asks if he means ten pounds and the man nods. I have begun to walk away, and Adam gets up to follow. Suddenly, the man picks up the book and gives it to Adam: ‘Here, take it for nothing,’ he says. Adam digs into his pocket for the pounds and tries to give them to the man, but he won’t take them. Adam says ‘thank you’ and we walk off trying to work out why the man gave the book away for nothing.
Near the exit, I show Adam a display of chrysanthemums and point out that each pot costs exactly two pounds and that, if he has money to spend, he should not always, necessarily, spend it on himself. He needs no further encouragement, and proceeds to buy one of the pots as a present for his Mum. I would have chosen a copper-coloured flower but I resisted the temptation to advise and Adam chose a plant with purple flowers. When we got back, Barbara was delighted with Adam’s present and noticed, to all our amusement, that the plant variety was called ‘Barbara’. So this weekend, I have gained Adam’s diary, Adam has gained a Lions annual, and Barbara has a Barbara plant. These little synchronicities cheer us up.
About six months ago, I wrote to John Mclachlan asking if the FT might be interested in selling EC Energy Monthly but had given up waiting for a reply. On Friday afternoon, between picking Adam up from school and leaving for the swimming pool, he rang. He told me, on phone, that he had been very busy on the Pearson reorganisation that was merging the FT newsletters and management reports with the Longman publications into a new company, Pearson Professional. This is all news to me, I don’t remember seeing anything about it in the FT or ‘The Guardian’ media pages. All the newsletters and management reports are again moving to plush offices in Tottenham Court Road, so John tells me. He is talking to me as if I were still part of the company, and as if we were still in daily or weekly contact. I wonder why he is telling me all this. I am not listening very well, since Adam is nearby and might call out loudly at any moment, and we are supposed to be leaving for his swimming lesson. But, it seems that the main point of his call is to invite me to lunch ‘to see if there is anything we might have to talk about’. This is no innocent contact but neither is it aggressive. He goes out of his way to assure me he is not trying to win competitive information (as if I could possibly imagine that it would be worth his time to do such a thing). No, surely, the only logical reason for inviting me to lunch would be if he saw the possibility of my rejoining the company. Two clues: firstly, when I asked what we might have to talk about, he suggested casually that he might ask me how much I want for my business; secondly, he mentioned that Pearson Professional would be divided up with clusters, including an energy cluster. Does this mean he might want me for the energy cluster? I always seem to over-estimate what McLachlan might have in mind for me, so I shall not expect much, but I will accept the offer of lunch.
B has cut back some of the sycamore, buddleia and russian vine that have flourished through the summer, and I’ve just been to the dump by Brighton race course to dispose of half a dozen sacks of rubbish.
I come across a group of ordinary horses playing football; then I and a number of unidentified others are playing football but the pitch is in a steeply sloping field with one goal at the bottom and the other at the top. I am rushing to catch a train from a small station. The trains run every half an hour and there is one waiting to leave. I can see the train and the guard with his whistle as I approach the ticket office. There is no one else around. Just as I am buying the ticket, the guard blows his whistle and the train leaves. I can’t believe he has done this knowing that I am about to board the train. In disgust I say I shall never use this station again.Sunday 9 October 1994, London
A bright autumn day. Barbara has taken Adam to Soho for his theatre workshop. I have just watched the second half of the celebrated Chinese film ‘Raise the Red Lantern’.
I should be working since I have both EC Inform-Energy No 20 and EC Energy Review No 7 to publish this week. Life must go on, but at what cost. Only ten sales on the book, and several of them at half price. No media attention at all, despite my hundred press releases.
The silly season has taken over in domestic politics with party conferences in successive weeks. The media suffers a terrible addiction to these conferences. The journalists practice their growl techniques, and the politicians test their growl-proofness.
I spent most of last week in Brussels. I was out and about, here and there. But there is dearth of interesting information. There are several reasons for this. The Commission really is in its ‘fin de siecle’ mood and no longer has the weight to propose major new initiatives. Secondly, there is always a lull in the mid-term of a Presidency as the nitty-gritty negotiations are conducted with a view to preparing the key achievements for the Councils at the end of the Presidency. Before the Councils, the direction of policy starts to seep out more readily, but in the middle there are many closed mouths as the Member States jostle for position. Thirdly, the German Presidency, in particular, is crippled by the uncertainty of the national elections that are due to take place in a few days time. The possibility that the ruling coalition may lose its majority has meant that it has no power to drive through policy in Brussels. In my field, this is certainly true. Gunter Rexrodt, the economics minister, comes from the Liberal Party, and the opinion polls suggest that the Liberals may not even get into Parliament after the elections. Rexrodt has already prepared a piece of national legislation to liberalise the electricity market, and is very keen to get more competition on a European level. If he loses his seat in government, then his bill goes out the window, and his enthusiasm in the Brussels arena will also be lost.
Tuesday 18 October 1994, London
I can see a full moon if I lean forwards a little over the keyboard and look through the study window. There has been a cold wind all day and it has taken its toll of the autumn leaves. I notice the beautiful Virginia creeper - the one on the long wall that backs the gardens of most of the houses down this side of Aldershot Road - has started to show large leaf-less patches. For two or three weeks, we have watched the leaves at this end turn a brilliant crimson tinged with pink while those nearer the plant’s roots remained dark green; now they are blowing off and the first hints of winter dance across our shoulders and through the gaps in our clothes.
10 18 Sunday 23 October 1994, Brighton
We thought this might be our last weekend here in Tidy Street, and that we would be packing up the furniture and moving it to London, but it was not to be. Mrs Pelling continues to keep us guessing. About two weeks ago we heard from the estate agent and the solicitor that she had, finally, accepted the £68,500 price which we had said was our best offer. We then expected the sale to move rapidly to a conclusion, and spent last weekend packing and organising the move. We stuffed the car with boxes and bags and expected to bring a van down this weekend for the rest. However, despite repeated attempts to get some indication from Mrs Pelling and her solicitor on a date for exchange and for completion we have heard absolutely nothing. We did, however, hear from a neighbour that she had visited the house again and had been asking about parking problems. Neither Barbara nor I have confidence that she will actually go through with the sale, not until we have a deposit. It would be a real pain in the neck to empty the house and then for the sale to fall through - we would have to bring beds and crockery and curtains back again. We decided, thus, not to move this weekend, and now with other commitments we cannot move until mid-November. Meanwhile, we are left biting our fingernails, so to speak.
We are all going to Budapest on Wednesday. It was one of life’s little jokes that I was invited to two conferences taking place both on the same days and both in places that I have never visited before. Derek Fee, an official in DGXVII, invited me to the SAVE conference in Florence and was prepared to pay out some £500 for me to go - I would probably have been the only journalist paid to go. I was all prepared to go and, because it was half term, to organise for Barbara and Adam to come too. But a day or two later, just as I was about to firm up the Florence trip, I received an invitation to a major East-West gas/electricity conference in Budapest. The conference is being run by the Commission but Eurogas and Eurelectric are involved also and have sponsored the invitation of some journalists. Since the full cost of my flight and three nights in a hotel were being paid, and since I am less likely to visit Budapest than Florence in the future, and since the Budapest conference is more important for my newsletter than the Florence meeting, I decided to accept the Budapest invite. I am flying out on Wednesday morning, while A and B will fly out in the evening. I shall fix them up with a hotel and for two days leave them to explore the city on their own. I shall join them on Saturday and we will spend the weekend together and fly back together on Monday morning.
The biography of Prince Charles by Jonathan Dimbleby and its serialisation in ‘The Sunday Times’ is again the top news item this Sunday. This week we learn that the Prince has no intention of abandoning the throne but wishes he could have succeeded Elizabeth earlier. Last week, we learnt that he had never loved Diane and that his father had forced him into a marriage. This week ‘The News of the World’ publishes photos of the two newly-weds which clearly displays that they were in love; it says Charles is twisting the past because of his resentment. This morning, all the papers have their own angles on the Royals and all do their own twisting in an effort not to lose too many sales to ‘The Sunday Times’. I do not think it was a mistake for the Prince to allow Dimbleby to write an authorised biography, as so many commentators are suggesting, but it has been a mistake to allow serialisation in the media before publication. In the long run, the book will do well for Charlie boy; but whether he gets to be King before too long is another question.
Judy, Rob, James and Sophie came to visit us yesterday. We met at the Jugs in Kington and ate bangers and chips while swapping recent histories. They told us about their camping trip in Sweden and we went on about our various difficulties. Afterwards we walked on to the Downs and were rewarded with bright sunshine and gorgeous autumn views. Back in Tidy Street we scoffed cake and drank endless cups of tea while debating the merits of the internet and washing machines. The boys played with the racing track which is the only thing of Adam’s left down here; and Sophie read an Enid Blyton book.
Overnight last Wednesday, Adam developed a severe bout of tonsillitis. I don’t think I have ever seen him as ill as he was on Thursday. He stayed in bed most of the day, sleeping some of the time, or just lying there doing nothing. When I asked him what he was doing, he said he was making up stories. His throat hurt badly, and he didn’t eat anything the entire day except ice-cream; I even had difficulty getting him to drink water. On Friday, he was much better.
Paul K Lyons
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