JOURNAL - 1995 - JANUARY
Friday 13 January 1995, London
The New Year is upon us. Indeed, it is nearly 5% gone already. My last diary entry was on Christmas Day so I have much to catch up on. Not least our holiday our Spain.
First a quick update on the business, because I have spent the day doing accounts. I finished 1994 with a turnover, marginally less than £60,000. Of this I made £28,000 - nearly half - in profit for myself. This is not straight profit, of course, because I am in debt to my customers who have paid for subscriptions which must be serviced throughout 1995. Sales of the book reached about 70 by the end of the year and are up to 77 now. Moreover, ‘Electrical Review’, in its first edition of the new year, has published a stunning review of my book - I could never have written one so good myself. I have not been able to get a copy of the magazine but I have copy of the review. Andrew Warren wrote it - the sweetheart - I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve his attentions, but I will ensure he gets his next subscription free. Selected quotes: ‘This impressive volume is a positive encyclopaedia of information.’ - ‘It is all here. In 12 chapters, each dealing with discreet aspects of EC policy, former Financial Times journalist Paul Lyons takes the reader succinctly through each of the issues now affecting European policy-makers.’ - ‘There is no confusion between the rhetoric and the reality. Lyons has worked the EC energy patch for a decade or more. He knows where the power lies, where the bodies are buried. He provides that information without fear or favour, even when his conclusions may offend powerful interests.’ - ‘This is a positive tour de force, prepared by someone who not only knows his subject well, but can communicate that knowledge.’ - ‘A five-star recommendation.’
17 55 Saturday 14 January 1995, Brighton
I am in bed with the girlfriend of the boy sleeping in the next room. She goes away in the night, and I walk to the doors and go outside into the warm still night to look out over the mountains. Suddenly, I am scared out of my wits by a full size lion standing right next to me; I can feel the soft fur of its mane on my cheek. I turn away only to find a second lion equally as big and scary on my other side. One of them almost has its mouth open around my head. I tell myself these lions are friendly and belong to the palace I am staying in.
I leave a bar in Kings Road at about 11:20pm on Wednesday night to discover that my car is missing. I remember that I parked it slightly on the pavement and this gives me cause to believe, on balance, that my car has been towed away rather than stolen. In any case, I am not too worried because I think I have theft insurance, and, more importantly, I am not busy on the morrow, nor do I urgently need my car in the next few days. I calmly wonder around the streets wondering what to do. I dissuade myself from using the telephone because I have no numbers, no street map, and no pen. I decide, eventually, to find the nearest police station (which I do by asking a taxi driver) and I walk across the river to the Battersea station. The officer there calls the local car pound and discovers that my car is, indeed, there. He shows me on the map where it is, and I recross the river and make my way to the end of Lots Road. I am fuming with an intellectual anger but, when I get to the car pound, it has no use. A young black man is alone, staked out in the car pound office; he has forms and strict instructions to follow. I must pay £135 to get my car back, I have no alternative. Eventually, I get home at about 1:30am.
The man at the car pound has given me a complaint form, but, according to that form, I have no grounds to complain. Instead I choose to take a high moral ground. I write firstly to the parking authority itself (Sureway Parking Services!) and claim that there has been a huge mistake. I am both indignant - that such a minor offence as parking on the pavement has triggered such a huge fine - and determined to seek justice. I copy the letter with a covering letter to the Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea and I copy all the correspondence to the ‘Kensington and Chelsea Post’.
I am wearing a new bright red shirt, just the sort I wanted for Christmas but no one bought me (both Julian and Melanie bought me dark green tops - I am as sick of dark green tops as a dark green parrot would be). I have also bought myself a simple light black leather jacket, a pair of leather gloves, a pair of blue suede house shoes, lots of socks and some pants. I have hardly bought any clothes for two years, and my wardrobe is still skewed towards having to dress for an office every day. Now, I just need comfy house clothes mostly. I may go in to Dillons next week and buy books. Already on the shelf are: Alasdair Grey’s ‘Ten Tall Tales’, Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All the Pretty Horses’ and a new book of classical music information.
For a wonderful change, I spent the best part of the Christmas holiday season in Spain. Adam and I flew out very early on Boxing Day morning, along with Tami, Jason and Jack, to Malaga airport. The flight went smoothly and was uneventful, and picking up our hired car was equally trouble free. Both Jason and I were given brand new white Corsas - very light on the steering and quite nippy. The weather was brilliant with a bright blue sky and not a cloud to be seen. I followed Jason through the motorway systems, and for two hours we drove along almost empty roads, bypassing Granada, until we reached Acequias, a small village, half an hour from Granada, perched in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, next to the ravine of the river-stream Lecrin.
The village might have 50 houses, all whitewashed with tiled rooves, but has no shop or bar of any description. Andy’s house is right in the centre, 50 metres from the church, and forms part of a complex of buildings so that it is attached to other houses on both sides. An inset from the very narrow street (one car can just traverse it, but generally cars don’t) holds the small front door, which leads to a dark hall area, two bedrooms, a bathroom, and access to a small yard. Stairs lead to the first floor where there are two or three more bedrooms and a bathroom, and open stairs lead to the open plan top floor with its kitchen area, lounge and access to a terrace. The whole is rather spacious and still looks newly refurbished. Andy showed me pictures of how it looked when they bought it - basically a pile of wood and rubble.
The property and the rebuilding and furbishing cost around £70,000 Andy says, which is reasonable; but he believes he was ripped off by his builder. Every ex-pat community everywhere in the world has one - the visionary/con man, the man who knows everyone, the man who can fix it, the Englishman who is more local than the ex-pats. I must have had a dozen conversations about him during my week stay though I never got to meet him. Several people said they would choose him for an evening’s company but never do business with him. It was said of him that he would sell a plot of land to strangers who wished to build a house even though he knew a hydro scheme was due to be built there in two years. But, at the same time, people will tell you that he has real vision and can bring that vision to fruition. He sells the English people dreams and then helps them build them, but he charges a lot on the way. Personally, I don’t see how it can be any other way - why shouldn’t the foreigners pay for the man’s vision, for his contacts. I suppose there does need to be a line drawn between making money and cheating, and this builder perhaps steps over it too often. Who is there to regulate him? He must deal with a lot of very stupid, arrogant people who expect everything to be done like magic and cost next to nothing.
Adam and I took one of the bedroom’s on the ground floor; it was a cold dark room, but Tami put thick blankets on the bed and we were as warm as toast at night.
We arrived about 4-5pm on Monday afternoon. After a short snack, Adam and I strolled up through the village and along the top of the ravine towards the mountains. The path weaved around the sides of the olive groves and almond trees, occasionally crossing and recrossing the irrigations channels. Bellow us, we could the see the agricultural patterns in the wide ravine. Once, there must have been torrents of water flowing down to have given the ravine such steep sides, but now there is nothing but a trickle, and even the trickle was dry during our time there - I suppose partly because the weather was so dry but also because the irrigation steals it all away.
The light was fantastic - not a cloud in the sky and the sunlight crisp and sharp in the late afternoon. Around every corner, I took a picture with my new camera, whether it was of an olive grove, or an olive tree, or Niguelas catching the sun. Everything was so picturesque. About a mile along, the path took us down into the ravine and we crossed to Niguelas on the other side. It proved to be a rather attractive village with a couple of shops and bars and a lively town centre. We bought some flavourful confectionery blackberries and raspberries (a type which I vaguely recalled from some distant past) in a small kiosk.
We came back to Niguelas on our last day, this time in the car with Andy, to look for an old but preserved olive mill we’d heard about. In fact, to our astonishment, the mill turned out to be preserved as a small museum in the centre of Niguelas. I hadn’t noticed it during my first visit, and neither Andy nor Rosy had known of it previously. Unfortunately, for this story has a sad ending, it was Sunday, and we could find no one to give us the key to the museum, and neither could we see anything of what might be withinside (new word) the sturdy walls.
Above Niguelas, Andy showed us the caves in the hillside in which some troglodytes had made their homes. A few of them were extensive and their owners had staked territory and put up barbed wire. Several had been extended and enhanced with proper building materials. One of them was rented from the baker by a strange Dutch couple who lived there several months of the year with their adult son.
On the way home from Niguelas, on our first day, we got hopelessly lost for a while. This is how it happened. Before leaving for Spain, I had visited Stanhopes to find the best maps of the area I could - I bought two 1:50,000 charts. On arriving at Acequias, I found that Andy had a 1:25,000 chart of the area which was clearly the best available. But all the maps were out of date, and footpaths had not been given much of a priority - the contours, for example, were so strongly inked they tended to confuse interpretation of other lines. Nevertheless, throughout the week I did use them a lot, although always wishing for an Ordnance Survey.
On this occasion, then, when we were just taking a stroll around the local area, the maps were little use. However, I saw no problem in walking up along one side of the ravine, crossing to Niguelas, and then returning along the other side of the ravine as far as a road bridge just below Acequias. Returning from Niguelas we opted for the path that kept us close to the edge of the ravine, but, when we got near to where the road bridge was below us, we could find no way to get down. Our main problem was not one of being lost, but one of being lost in the dark, because, by this time, the light was falling fast. After wondering around in a daze for a while, we found a farmhouse and decided to follow the roadtrack which led from it. I felt that once it was dark it would be safest to stick to roads however much longer the route back to the village would be. It did add about a mile to our journey all told, but when we walked along the road back to the bridge we could see how sheer the earth cliff was at the edge of the ravine and I was glad we had made no desperate attempt to descend it. Fun to have had a little adventure on our first day.
9 49 Sunday 15 January 1995, Brighton
Acequias. Rosy and Andrew arrived a day later, and throughout the week, Adam and I lived on a different timetable from the Gibb family - they tended to stay up until the early hours of the morning and not get up until after lunchtime; by contrast Adam and I were up and doing early in the morning - despite it being rather cold. I tried to get a pattern going by which Adam and I would creep up to the top floor, have a quiet breakfast, and then read or, in Adam’s case, write his diary. But this pattern was scuppered on the second morning because there were strangers sleeping in the lounge. Instead, we drove to Durcal where we found a splendid breakfast - fresh orange juice, hot chocolate, and toast. Throughout the week we tried to find excuses for having a ‘Breakfast in Durcal’ but on our last day - the Sunday - when we especially wanted one, a power cut had left the bar shut.
Without my guidebook (I had left the excellent ‘Rough Guide to Andalucia’ behind in London - idiot) I found it difficult to plan where to visit. As a first trip we drove to Lanjaron - an attractive, long and thin spa town, some 15 miles from Acequias. The village proved uninteresting for both of us - I was at a loss what to do next. We were about to drive off when I noticed, on the map, a ruined castle nearby. So we parked the car and headed for adventure. We only had walked a few minutes out of the town and away from the houses when we saw the castle, perched dramatically on top of a sharp hill as though it were the top of the hill itself. The approaches looked impossibly steep, we wondered whether there was any path. We tripped down into a valley across irrigated fields and past huts and soon found a way up quite easily, onto a ridge which provided a sort of natural bridge to the castillo. Because I had no guide book, I thought, foolishly, this was our discovery, but when we were in the castle, which was as romantic and dangerous as it looked from a distance, with high walls, tunnels, trap doors, dodgy paths, crumbling sides, we were scared by the sound of footsteps. It was only a Canadian tourist who filled us in on the history - that this was one of the last Moorish strongholds and that its general, rather than being taken prisoner, had committed suicide by jumping from the walls.
On Tuesday evening, we visited Ian’s house in Restabal, a larger village further down the valley. The idea was to take part in the village fiesta, but to start off at Ian and Carol’s House. We did not arrive until quite late and then, rather than going down into the village, we sat down to talk. Adam got very bored and eventually fell asleep on a sofa. At about 11:30pm, when the assembled company was ready to trot down to the village, I woke Adam up and asked him if he wanted to go to the fiesta. He was super-groggy (people do not seem to be using super as a universal prefix anymore, do they?) and said ‘no’. There seemed no alternative but to go home, and we took Jack, who has a certain amount of difficulty in walking around with his two metal knees. Once at home, Adam had woken more fully and he wanted to know what had happened to the fantasma (we had learnt the word for ghost in our Spanish lessons); I corrected his vocabulary but all the next day he kept on saying how he couldn’t believe he had said he didn’t want to go to the fantasma.
But I need to say a few words about Ian. The first thing to know is that Ian is Rosy’s cousin, the son of one of Jack’s brothers. He left the England/Ireland academic world years ago to live in Spain and divorced himself from his family. Once in Spain he wrote a highly successful piece of biography called ‘The Death of Lorca’, and followed it with a definitive biography of the Spanish hero. These books have made him a well-known and loved person in Spain with a certain literary following (I think he has even been made an honorary citizen of Spain). He is now working, for four years, on a biography of Dali. By the most amazing coincidence he lives in a village not ten miles from where Andy and Rosy bought their house. There appears to have been not the slightest bit of collusion towards this situation, since Rosy did not know Ian previously and since Ian, in fact, only moved to Restabal after Andy bought the land in Acequias.
Ian proved a hearty fellow and quite charming. He loved Adam and the way he’d fallen asleep in his house without disturbing anyone, and he seemed on good form the thrice I saw him - on this evening, later in the week at a party, and then on New Year’s Eve at his party. But I must recount why my meeting with him was so significant.
In the mid-1970s, after my travels and when I was living in London with Harold, I think, I saw a modern ballet at Sadlers Wells, created by Lindsay Kemp and performed by Ballet Rambert. I can remember parts of the ballet to this day. It was called ‘Cruel Garden’ and it so inspired me in some way that I wrote my first ever piece of fiction (apart from shorts in my travel diaries) and I called it ‘Cruel Garden’, although it had nothing to do with the ballet or its subject (at least I don’t think it did). The point is that the ballet ‘Cruel Garden’ was based on the life of Lorca and, in part, on Ian’s book ‘The Death of Lorca’. I did not even realise I had read Ian’s book until I started delving into my memories surrounding ‘Cruel Garden’. My piece is an astonishing work, more a stream of consciousness than a proper story but it has some power and I understand far more about what I wrote now than I did at the time.
On Wednesday we headed early for the Alhambra. I have wanted to visit the Alhambra since, again in my twenties, I was enamoured of patterned designs and was researching them for my silk screen printing attempts. I particularly liked the patterns with mathematical or geometrical symmetry, and was led to Escher and to Moorish tile patterns using tesselations. But, all these years, I have imagined the Alhambra as a beautiful white palace somewhere far from a city with endless rooms and terraces with white patterned tiles, and myriad designs of the kind I used to copy for my printing - where the background pattern is the same as the foreground. I was shocked enough to find that the Alhambra was actually in Granada and not beyond somewhere in the Granada region countryside, but I was more disappointed not to discover any of the patterns I have so longed to see. As I write this, I realise that, in fact, I’ve had the experience of seeing many arab mosques and palaces which were dazzling in their tiled beauty. But the Alhambra is largely a ruin and has been a ruin for centuries, and I had not realised this. None of the main buildings are occupied and so there are no furnishings - it’s the architecture one comes to see. Tiling, like painting and curtains, is a furbishing and does not age well without maintenance. There is some tiling and quite a lot of very intricate plasterwork which has survived, but, overall, I was not very impressed by the various rooms, the palaces, which make up the core of the Alhambra. I was impressed, I suppose, by the complex of many buildings and fortifications within the Alhambra and by its situation high above Granada so that there are stunning views through the windows and from the towers.
In the Alhambra’s defence, I should say that we suffered badly from the cold. I had left our coats in the car, and all the rooms of the Alhambra were freezing since they were designed to keep cool in hot weather and there was no heating. I had thought it would get warm later in the day, and I did not want to be saddled with carrying coats. Also I was miffed as hell because I couldn’t find a decent breakfast, either in the Alhambra or outside before we started, nor could I find a halfways literary guide book any where.
Later, we explored the centre of Granada a little and, in the afternoon, when we had finally warmed up, we climbed one of the hills below the fortress and found a pleasant spot for a drink and a rest.
In the evening, Adam played outside in the streets with the village kids - he loved being free to run all over the village. He got a bit lost on the first day, but after that he ranged quite far without any trouble. At one point he brought all the village children into the house - they love coming in to see Rosy, and Rosy will let anyone in. Nobody knew what to do with them all, so I organised games before dinner. We all ate supper together, and afterwards Adam played drafts with Jack, who would never give him any help (however, if he won, he would start the next game one draft down). We all ate dinner together. We were treated to a visit by Carlos, the villager who looks after Rosy’s horse Serrana in his bestiary of various animals. Carlos was drunk and reiterated over and over again how he loved Rosy like a sister, and how he looked after Serrana only letting Ros pay for the horse’s feed and not for the business of caring for him. He was a one-man show speaking Spanish with a heavy accent hardly even stopping with the rest of us trying to keep up and understand his meaning. He never stopped smiling for a moment and accepted every drink put before him.
Later that evening we went down to Bar Nuevo in Lecrin. This is the one bar in the region where all the foreigners congregate of an evening, and it will stay open as long as there is somebody to order drinks. The bar has snooker, electronic darts!, various computer games and bar football, and a full range of exotic drinks. Jason was to be found on the Tetrix machine most nights; despite my experience on the Mac, I was unable to match his speed. But I did beat Tami at snooker.
B and A went to the Collecotts on Christmas Eve, and they had a first present opening ceremony early on the day. When I arrived about 11, we had another present opening session, then a lunch. Rosemary had gone to a lot of trouble to prepare a feast, including smoked salmon for our starters (since they won’t eat anything non-vegetarian), a handsome nut roast for main course, and an exceedingly tasty Christmas pud which she had made. At about three we drove back to Aldershot Road and had another present session. B was pleased with her earrings and mouse, while I came to appreciate a thin shoulder bag about A4 size (which can hold my camera) she had bought me. In fact, it’s the perfect bag for sight-seeing (I hate proper camera bags - such as the one I got with my Minolta - not only because they tell all and sundry that you have a camera and a thousand attachments, but because you can’t carry anything else usefully in them). A little while later we drove over to my Mum’s where the adults were being slowly driven mad by the three toddlers. We opened more presents amid chaos and then came home. Mum had bought me some horrible pottery jars for the kitchen with the imprints: sugar, tea, flour, ugh, and a ghastly waistcoat - it is the kind you can see in every clothes store on Oxford Street and has a mottled autumn colours pattern which is as common as money in yuppiedom. What a waste of time and money, Christmas is.
I should mention Chechnya and its attempts to break away from Moscow. Since Christmas, the Russians have been trying to reassert their authority in the capital Grozny, there have been bombings and now the army is making its way in. The Chechnyans are a determined people and there may be a long guerrilla war. Domestic politics is dull - only the British Rail privatisation and the export of live calves to the continent is causing any excitement.
My January issue of EC Inform-Energy ended up being 20 pages even though I was trying to limit it to 16. The Review was 18 pages long (the longest ever) and the index was 12 so there was a substantial package in the post last week to my subscribers. Most of the issue was taken up with the Conclusions of the mid-December Environment Council which I thought were quite strong (even though the German Presidency had presided over the formal demise of the CO2/energy tax proposal). I also captured the story that the Germans had withdrawn their coal cases from the Court of Justice.
Interestingly, I think there is a connection between these two stories which I only alluded to in passing in the newsletter. Germany has fought tooth and claw for the Community CO2/energy tax since the Commission first put forward the proposal two and half years ago. But UK opposition and the difficulty in finding a formula to satisfy the Cohesion States has led to little progress. The German Presidency, however, finally chose to agree to a statement by European leaders at the Essen summit that Member States should be free to impose their own energy taxes within, perhaps, a European framework. A few days before the Essen summit, a German court had ruled that the Kohlepfennig system of taxing electricity use to subsidise coal production was illegal and had to be phased out within a year - the Commission had only asked for a phase-out within two years. The death of the Kohlepfennig means the the German government needs to find some other way of financing DM7.5bn in subsidies for the coal industry - what better way than an energy tax. If it had had to wait for agreement on a Community-wide tax, Bonn would have run into serious time trouble; now that it has a free hand, it can implement a mechanism much closer to its needs.
Last Wednesday, the day I went to press, I got a fax through from Brussels (having asked for it - nothing comes without a request) with the summary details of the new Green Paper on energy policy. How could I ignore it. I typed out the whole lot in verbatim, slapped an extra couple of pages onto the issue, and told my readers I would comment on the document in my next issue.
Despite having to do the Review and being on holiday, I was well ahead of myself on the Wednesday until that fax came; and I had Adam at home, who had been horribly sick in the night. He was sick again as I drove out to Artigraf printers in Ealing, poor kid, but he hardly complained and put up with the journey. My printer Frank had also been sick, perhaps that explains why EC Energy Review was printed on a blue paper darker than usual - I was as sick as a parrot when I saw it. What do I do about that - the colour is distinctly different but not that different. Do I make them do it again and send it out to some 200 subscribers?
Tuesday 17 January 1995, London
Back to Spain. Because the Alhambra day had been exhausting and because there was a party in the evening, we thought we should have a quiet day on the Thursday. On the maps, I picked out a circular walk from Durcal taking us past a cemetery and back along the Durcal river ravine. The cemetery, which lay about a mile outside the town, isolated among fields far from any other buildings, proved to be the most glorious place. I told Adam that it was probably one of the most special places I had ever been. I took half a dozen photographs and Adam got a bit bored, and took more pictures than me with his camera. I’m sure, on reflection (ha ha ha) there must be dozens of cemeteries in the Sierra Nevada like this one. Although in the middle of nowhere, the walls of the cemetery and all the tombs inside were sparkling OMO/DAZ/Ultrabright white, far better painted and maintained than the buildings in any of the villages. Almost every tomb was strewn with flowers, whether plastic or not it didn’t seem to matter in this place, and most of them had a photograph and a neat tidy inscription on the white brilliant marble. But all this is common to all the cemeteries in the region. What made this one special was that when you looked out from inside the walls you could only see the mountains of the Sierra Nevada in the distance - there were no buildings in the middle distance, no telegraph poles no hillocks or trees, as you revolved around through 360 degrees all you could see beyond the walls and the protruding crosses was the mountains. And the light was brilliant too, glistening off the white of the cemetery and casting sharp dark shadows within, and painting the mountains beyond with all the subtle colours of the Sierra Nevada in winter.
But, but, but, my new Minolta camera does not seem to be up to the task. I took a full roll of 36 snaps on holiday in Spain; as I have said I found the scenery so photogenic. With my previous Olympus camera there was a gauge on the lens which told me depth of field for any given setting of the zoom, lens and speed. But I cannot work that out with my automatic camera. I had chosen a fast 400 ASA film which, in the very bright light of Spain, was actually unnecessary. But it meant I could use a small aperture (the lens does not have a large aperture any way) and retain a reasonable speed. And, in fact, the slides are largely in focus, but all the landscape photographs look flat - flat, flat, flat. And I’m not experienced enough to know why. I am currently trying to find out.
After the cemetery, we walked down towards the Durcal ravine and discovered a few deserted houses. As we walked back towards Durcal, the narrow and overgrown ravine widened out with fields and tracks and a few houses. Near Durcal there are three bridges which span the ravine: the old road bridge, a disused iron tram bridge reputedly designed by Eiffel, and the modern road bridge. On another day, I took a spectacular picture from the modern road bridge along the valley towards the mountains, but the film or the camera or both failed to pick up the variety of gold and yellow tones giving instead a monotone yellow tint.
In the evening, we were all invited to Ian’s house. There was food and wine a plenty and enough people to make the evening interesting, and not so many that it was crowded. Ian’s wife Carol is relaxed and friendly and able to make her guests comfortable. I met one of their children, whose name I forget now. He works in Madrid as a scout for a record company. He is close friends with a young man called James, whose surname I also cannot remember, but who was my correspondent in Madrid for a short while. I remember him chiefly because I met him a couple of times during my stay in Madrid (September 1992) and because I had a fearful headache during one of our meetings.
Another encounter was with David Harley who is quite a senior administrator at the European Parliament. He smoked a lot. I didn’t like his Belgian or French wife much, but I enjoyed talking to him about the EC, and he seemed to appreciate my views. Although we didn’t go into any details, he was quite involved in the Desama/Scapagini business. As an insider, he was not quite as effusive about Charles Grant’s book on Jacques Delors as others have been. We talked again on New Year’s Eve at Andy’s house, and he insisted I should call him when I am in Brussels.
The day after Ian’s party, Adam and I headed off on our only genuine car tour of the week. I had intended to drive straight through to Orgiva, the tourism centre of the Alpujarras, but we got bogged down by a traffic jam in Lanjaron. So, I parked the car and we strolled through the streets again, even though we didn’t enjoy it the first time round. Then, when we did get to Orgiva, we found nothing at all of interest, except the preponderance of hippies. Without any guide to direct us to villages and their attractions, I decided to take the windy high road across the mountains down to the coast. Adam was a wonderful companion, he never complained, he sometimes read if the journey was too boring, but most of the time he looked out of the window and we talked about the wonderful views, or the amazing skies. The high road proved to be virtually deserted, and I could drive as slow or as fast as I pleased. We stopped often to get out and examine the views, or take a photograph. Later, on the way down to the coast, we stopped at a sleepy village which had a web of steep streets that dropped down to a church and to a bar which had a terrace overlooking the foothills down towards the sea. (It reminded me a little of the villages in Alpes-Maritime, and Alpes de Haute Provence.)
We sped down to the coast road and looked for a beach to swim. We tried one without any houses but there were gypsies or similar with dogs. We landed finally, off the fast coast road, in an apparently modern resort. Adam didn’t want to swim. I splashed around but the waves were strong and the beach dropped away very fast so I was afraid to swim properly, and the water was cold. All the way along the Costa Tropical there was town after town of holiday homes and apartments it was a relief to turn inland and back towards Acequias.
Wednesday 18 January 1995, London
On New Year’s Eve, Adam and I went back along the path by the ravine which we had taken the first day, but this time we walked on past the turning to Niguelas to climb up in to the mountains. I had not planned any specific walk just to climb up higher than the towns and village roads. As we walked I continued telling a holiday story, the title and elements of which Adam had made up. The title he chose was ‘The Bad Days of Alhambra’, and the hero was to be called Snowy. I chose to make up a tale from the last days of the Moors which would encompass the Alhambra, Acequias, and the ruined castle at Lanjaron. It seems that these stories get longer and longer on every holiday, and this one is no exception, we only finished four chapters while actually in Spain and I told a few more last weekend while we walking on the South Downs, but I am still only about half way through.
We walked on up the mountain to its very peak - this was the nearest mountain to Acequias and not one of the high peaks that provided the backdrop to so many of our walks. At the top, we had an amazing view of the whole Lecrin and Durcal valleys, it was also very windy. I was afraid we would have to go back the way we came, but instead we picked our way slowly down the steep mountainside, without a track, jumping from rock to rock, and skirting round the thorny shrubs. It took us a long time, but we made it straight back to Acequias - I hate going back the way I’ve come. Adam loved the rock-climbing, although at times he was quite scared - on several occasions I was still worried we might come to a precipice and have to go all the way back.
In the evening, Rosy and Andrew invited about 20 friends over for dinner, with the idea was that the dinner would turn into a party before midnight. I’d already met most of the characters. Ofra is an attractive, quite flirtatious 30 year old Canadian girl who has become a fixture in the area. She has one or two houses, and rents them out to tourists while trying to fix up others. She’s living with a builder called Bif, who left his wife and kids for her. They both have a history of moving on from relationships, and their latest one together is no less tempestuous (or so I understand from Tami, who always has the inside gossip on everyone). Ofra and I flirted a little, but I also had my dreamer’s eye on a young Norwegian girl, Anna, who lives in Brussels. With seven or eight languages and a degree from Cambridge, she was a little out of my class, but she dressed down and was shy of her own looks. A power cut meant we had to resort to candles, and Adam took full advantage of this. I had given him full freedom for the evening, but there was nothing much for him to do. But, when he discovered the candles, and the cigarette lighters, he darted around among the adults trying to light any candles not lit. At one point he must have burnt his hair and eyelashes because I could smell the burnt hair, and even now, two weeks later, the singed hairs are visible. But he looked so angelic with a candle inches in front of his head lighting up his face and weaving quietly backwards and forwards through the groups of grown-ups.
Although most of the time I was with them in Spain, Rosy was her normal bouncy outgoing self, I did see her relationship with Andy in closer detail than I have for a long time. Andy lives life next to her permanently on an edge. Everything he does, whether it’s to go out for a walk, or start cooking a meal, he must check with Rosy that it is OK; and there is nothing he can do, which in any way excludes Rosie without asking her first if she wants to join him. Andy really doesn’t mind too much, he so self-secure in his own way.
Later I was talking to Andy about Harold. He had asked why our friendship and broken down, and I explained how I had become very angry that Harold, through his immense charm, was pulling people into the Mastery groups (alternative group therapy), and how these were having a very serious affect on my friends - Colin, Patrick, Rosy. And Andy, astonishingly, confirmed that he thought that Rosy doing those groups had ‘damaged his marriage’. It shocked me to hear Andy use the words because I realised that I had, in my small way, been a mightily significant force in Rosy’s life and consequently in Andy’s. Would Rosy have become a clown/magician if, at that point in time 15 years ago, I hadn’t met her and encouraged her? To this day I am still introduced to her friends as the person who introduced her to clowning. But the truth is that Rosy was desperately looking for something new to do, and she might have fallen into any other pathway given the right introduction. And then, on top of that, I was then responsible for introducing her to Harold who pulled her into a damaging world of self-analysis, which has never done her any good at all.
On our last day, Adam and I went walking with Andy and Rosy up into the hills behind Lecrin, to another old fort. This was the only time, during the day, that we did anything at all with Rosy. Adam had spent some time in the stables with Rosy and Carlos and been fascinated by all the animals kept there; I had gone for a walk with Andy one afternoon; and, later on the last day, Andy Adam and I toured around a little together, notably to Niguelas and to the iron bridge at Durcal.
We did have a splendid holiday and, after so many insular holidays with just the three of us, it was great to have a social holiday for a change. I failed miserably to persuade Adam to do much of his diary while in Spain, and then had trouble back home to get him to complete it. This is the first diary he has done without any drawing, it is as though now he can put down his thoughts in words he doesn’t need the drawings. In any case, he is going through a very un-drawing phase. And, let’s be square about this, he did finish his diary before I finished mine.
21 47 Thursday 19 January 1995, London
While in Spain I devoured ‘South from Granada’ by Gerald Brenan avidly. Brenan came to live in Yegen, a small village in the Alpujarras, after the first world war. He wanted to escape his background and spend several years isolating himself, to which end he shipped out some 2,000 books. ‘South from Granada’ is a wonderful travellers book, on a par with Durrell’s, I think. Brenan lived there for six or seven years and established a deep interest in all aspects of the local culture, the details of which - food, customs, festivals, agriculture, sociology, history, even anthropology - he brings to life in the book. There is also a peppering of stories about some of the people who undertook the arduous journey to stay with him, not least Lytton Strachey (whose name is familiar but about whom I know nothing), Virginia Woolf and Bertrand Russell which adds a literary interest also. The portraits of customs and people are beautifully sketched while Brenan draws the reader in to whatever subject he is writing about. It is also surprisingly full of insights one would not have expected of a young man in his twenties. I made this point to Ian Gibson, who is a great fan of Brenan’s, and he informed me that, in fact, the book was not written until he was much older.
I have since found the biographical work ‘Personal Record 1920-1972’ but not ‘The Spanish Labyrinth’ in which Brenan gives an account of Spanish history. ‘Personal Record’ is full of gossip about well known people and detailed descriptions of his own relationships with friends, about whom he is often quite scathing. Much of the book is taken up with an oblique analysis of his relations with women, which often seem childish, petulant and often flawed. He puts a semi-romantic gloss on his various encounters with prostitutes, and often explains his impotence with women friends as stemming from their behaviour and not his character.
One chapter in ‘South from Granada’ recounts a visit to Almeria - the largest big town near to Yegen. In a bar, Brenan makes friends with a man who tells him that he has terrible weakness, he cannot keep away from women, he loves them too much. He is a thrifty, sensible man in all other respects except this one, which will be the ruin of him. He then borrows money from Brenan for the evening and promises to pay him back. The next day they meet so the man can return the money, but in lieu of payment, he offers to take Brenan around the brothels of Almeria (ostensibly because Brenan says he is studying the Spanish ways of life). Brenan accepts the offer but makes it clear he is not at all interested in the prostitutes’ services. Never mind, the man says, if a girl talks to us simply give her a few coins. He then takes Brenan around all the brothels starting with the lower class ones and ending with the more expensive establishments; at each one he knows the madam and the girls and the reader is introduced to many of them.
Brenan’s picture of the prostitute addict is a vivid one, and we end up feeling quite sorry for his predicament. For some reason, which I cannot now remember, I mentioned this particular chapter to Ian who told me that Brenan’s biographer had discovered that this chapter was a complete fiction - I think through the content of certain letters (though, Ian added, the letter too could be a fiction) - and that Brenan himself could only find sexual satisfaction with working class girls and was, for a time at least, addicted to prostitutes.
I found the story delightful; ten years ago I might have turned it into one of my own labyrinthine short stories - like ‘Don Juan’ or ‘The Mezzeri’ or ‘York’s Story’.
Saturday 21 January 1995, London
An empty weekend before me. Adam and Barbara are in Brighton and I have no EC Inform work to do. I am struggling in an attempt to put some imagination into old story ideas - the novel and the tyre people. The latter is the most original and interesting idea I have ever had for a children’s story. When Adam was two or three I told one or two stories about the tyre people but I never developed the idea. Now, I think about doing so with Adam’s help, but the concept may well be flawed. On both these writing projects, it feels like I am in a padded room and I am rushing from wall to wall banging my head inconsequentially.
I notice that it is now over five years that I have been writing my journal entries on computer. I miss not having the physical objects to caress and admire but the advantages of the word processor are immense. The writing is easier in the first place, it is easier to read; and most importantly it is very easy to find a particular entry by looking for a key word. I can, for example, find all the entries about Julian or about Dreams in just a few minutes.
Sunday 29 January 1995, London
Such rain - it keeps pouring down and has exposed flaws in my roof and in the walls of 31 Tidy Street.
I’ve agreed a plan with myself to spend one week a month trying to write fiction but this month I managed two weeks because I did absolutely zero marketing for EC Inform. But what a waste of time it seems to have been. How difficult I have found it to work - I have taken every opportunity to listen to the radio, to play a game of chess with the computer, to do a few minutes of EC Inform admin. Writing fiction needs space and time, and then routine. I have no routine and no place to do my thinking. In Aldeburgh or in Corsica, I would go for a walk on the beach and traipse the sands allowing my mind to cogitate the plot in question. Here at 13 Aldershot Road where I can I do my creative thinking. I walk in the cemetery on occasions but it is too small - I know that sounds a strange thing to say, but, like this house, there is not the space to think properly; there are no horizons to focus on, nor is there any monotony of the landscape, as on a long straight beach, which does not disturb the thought processes. Another problem was a kind of pressure block, because I knew I had a limited amount of time and that, if I was going to do something useful in my one week a month, I would need to get on with it. I mean a whole week open for creative writing and, as it happened virtually two weeks - what a complete luxury - a luxury I haven’t allowed myself for years. But could I perform? Of course not, I was as impotent as a eunuch; and all the more impotent for being in a hurry. I am so pissed off with myself that I couldn’t get on with something more substantial.
I wrote a very short stort story entitled ‘Nancy’s Graves’, based on an idea that’s been sitting around in my head for a while. I finished and tidied up two shorts from December: ‘Loving Alex’, and ‘Old Pepper-face’. I also re-edited a story I wrote in Brazil - ‘Love of a Mountain’ - which I consider one of the best I’ve ever written. It is probably the only piece from my oeuvre which is worth publishing. And, I am considering putting together a collection of stories, all written from the first person singular - diaries (‘Loving Alex’ and ‘Nancy’s Graves’), letters (‘Love of a Mountain’), and simple first person narration (‘Old Pepper-face’). So far the collection of stories could be classified as love stories and I might try and develop the theme. If I could write just one short every month, I could, at the very least, have a collection by the end of the year. There is one story dating back to my Corsica period (Winter 1979/80) which could also be used in the series. It is called ‘The Friendship’ and as I wrote the ending I found it took me by surprise. I will have to rewrite it though, and strip out the stream-of-consciousness passages.
Most of the wasted time has been spent on The Novel. The Wretched Novel. The Wretched Wretched Novel. The Wretched to the power Wretched Novel. And I have got nowhere. Why am I a standstill? Because the plot and characterisation are flawed and I can’t find a way forward. But, I have persisted and persisted to think about it. I have read it over twice, I have written out a story board of what the characters have done and might do. But I haven’t written a word. Will I write another word? I still don’t know.
More successfully (?), I have made a start on a collection of children’s stories about the tyre spinners. I finished the second chapter today and have written about 8,000 words. It may well be a complete load of trash - but I will persevere until there is a body of work there before I go back and start pulling it to pieces. Adam appears to enjoy what I have written even though there is very little tension or adventure as yet.
Violence in art is a hot dinner topic of conversation - not a topic of conversation one has over hot dinners, but a hot topic for dinner conversations. In the cinema, a director called Tarantino has been revered for recent films which are extremely gory. I have seen two - ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Action’. The former, which came out a while ago, shows gangsters as insecure incomplete adults living in an ugly anarchic world where the usual form of communication is screeching. I couldn’t see at the time, though, why it was so applauded by critics. Last week I watched ‘Pulp Action’, and I found that movie even more difficult to fathom. Like ‘Reservoir Dogs’, it has been feted widely. Three interlinked stories revolve around a couple of hoodlums - one white and one black - who engage in their daily business, which includes killing people, as though they were carpet cleaners. We listen to their gossip and banter and engage with them in their fortunes and difficulties. These are two very human characters, both of whom are likeable but who engage in violence in a matter-of-fact way without giving it much thought. The black guy eventually rejects the violence, and is still alive at the end of the film; but the white killer does get his comeuppance. Despite the gore and the terrible practical difficulties of killing people as show, the film as a whole does romanticise the killers’ lives. I cannot see how that can be a good thing.
There is a similar trend apparent in the theatre. Two plays - one at the Royal Court and one at the Bush - are currently causing a stir for rubbing the faces of their small audiences into piles of shit: violence, rape, murder, buggery, cannibalism - you name it. Quite recently I went to a similar play, also at the Royal Court. I think it was called ‘Penetrator’ (but I cannot find a reference to it in my diaries). What is the point of this violence? What is the director trying to do? What is the playwright trying to do? Although I’ve read some highly critical reviews of the two most recent events, I still don’t understand the rationale. One commentator said, without further comment, that he had overheard a professor of history saying it was metaphor on Bosnia. Maybe this does make some sense: the audiences sit their motionless, action-less, while rape and pillage take place on the stage apparently without motive.
This morning Adam and I went to Hampstead Heath. It was raining cats and dogs and there was more mud than heath. We strode confidently across the bogs in our wellies and sailed A’s model boat on one of the Highgate ponds. The last time we had come here the water was too low, and this time we nearly lost the sailboat. It sailed beautifully but never came in to port. It sailed from one end to the other then, before reaching the side, switched tack for no apparent reason and went back to the other end. It must have done that a dozen times. We played football and got frozen and thoroughly wet. Still, the yacht must have enjoyed itself on its long voyage.
I have established a fixed timetable of lessons for Adam - 45 minutes every day before breakfast, and an hour in the afternoon after school. I feel this is much more sensible than ad hoc lessons since Adam knows exactly what he has to do and there is no remonstration at the thought of extra lessons out of school. We do maths, swimming, drawing, music, story writing, reading, handwriting, gym, Spanish and games. The swimming and gym are external lessons, I organise all the others.
Paul K Lyons
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