JOURNAL - 1995 - NOVEMBER
Wednesday 1 November 1995, London
My nose is still unwell. It seems more sore now than last week when I fell on it. The right nostril continues to jam up with solid blood. It feels very uncomfortable indeed.
Adam has gone to sleep in my bed because his mattress is at Russet House, and Barbara has gone to Wisley for what will be her last nights there, since she will leave this week, having been asked to vacate early. While I was away, A and B had a Halloween party together just the two of them, with a pumpkin carved out, and special Halloween snacks and drinks. This morning Adam proudly showed me his new badge, a ghostly face with flashing red eyes (it’s probably Caspar, although I can’t be sure - B went to see the film with Adam not I). He loved taking it into school. When I collected him this afternoon, he was hanging on to the fence waving for me to come right up and not return straight to the car. He looked a real mess with his face and hands filthy from painting, and his shirt hanging out, and his tie all askew. He wanted me to wait so he could get his badge back from Simon in Class 3 - he’d lent it to him for the afternoon.
I spent the day typing in plain stories, mostly about the Parliament. With a holiday across most of Europe, the phone rang just once I think. A subs agent who was not quite sure whether the £405 price included next year’s business intelligence report or last year’s.
My last Aldershot Road lodger has left, and left without paying. After more than ten years of lodgers, I never had one who left actually owing me money. There was one, Clare, who stole a few odds and ends, but Amanda has left owing £430. I was too patient with her all along and stupidly accepted that she would pay me the whole lot when she left. Of course, I should have got her to give me dribs and drabs whenever she could. I really believed she was going to pay, and I don’t think she’s a thief. When she said she was going to live back at her parents for a while, that gave me faith that she was actually going to have the money, but she moved out at the weekend without us knowing that she had left finally. She also took her parent’s telephone number down from the mirror, and took the various pieces of paper with her telephone calls on. Did she expect, I was never going to track her down? I really don’t know. I rang her just now (because I had the phone number stored), and she said it was just a matter of getting up to Kilburn, and she would drop it in through the door if I wasn’t here! Now I think about it I realise I should have got angry at the beginning; she has probably been brought up with patience and understanding, and naturally learnt to abuse it.
Good news. I got a telephone message from Simon Burgess that the contract for the Thermie annual report has been paid, which means he will be paid pronto, and I will be paid this week. I remember that my accounting period finishes in mid-November, so that I shouldn’t bank any cheques until after then; then I won’t be taxed on the income for a further 12 months. Which reminds me, I must arrange to go and see my new accountant in Godalming.
AND SO TO GREECE
Miracles do happen. The Public Power Corporation finally paid the £470 they owed EC Inform from the spring for a combined subscription and report. I went to Thessaloniki a couple of weeks ago - did I not mention this before.
The Commission’s Synergy Programme held a conference in Thessaloniki on oil, gas, electricity connections in the Balkans. I was invited by LDK Consultants in Athens, who were organising the conference (and organised the Budapest conference last year) on behalf of the Commission. I had thought I would not go, but when completion on Russet House was put back from 12 October to 19 October, I was suddenly faced with a week gap in my calendar, and I thought how nice it would be to go to Greece for a couple of days. Unfortunately, I got an atrocious cold just before going and was unable to race around and explore, which is what I enjoy most when I am on one of these jamborees. In fact I felt terrible most of the time. Indeed, it was not really worth the effort when I take account of: the lousy hotel, the five hour journey each way (with a stop in Turin one way and a change of plane in Frankfurt the other), the fact that I was the only foreign journalist, and another fact, that Thessaloniki is hardly worth visiting, and the bay stinks like a latrine. I did wonder why I had been invited. Usually, one expects an invitation has been given so that the conference gets press coverage. However, I think in this case, it was more a question of providing the conference with some kind of legitimacy. It was so dominated by Greeks that one could be forgiven for thinking that it was an EU-funded Greek selling shop.
I got three positive things out of the trip. The first is that I met Costis Stamboulis, who is still the Greek correspondent for the FT energy newsletters. When he was my Greek stringer (for ‘European Energy Report’), I always liked him - he was a lousy stringer, but he did have good contacts. The trouble was that Greece was never very important for the newsletter, and I had no way of knowing when a story was breaking, so Costis could get away with filing stories late or never depending on what his schedule was like. We did not talk for long but long enough for me to understand a little more of his way of working. He has a small company which publishes several magazines and employs half a dozen or more people. He keeps the work for the FT on because his foreign correspondent status is valuable - I can’t remember if this was for tax reasons or for editorial access. I think it must help his image too, that he works for the ‘Financial Times’.
I told Costis about my problem with PPC. He said it was quite usual, but he introduced me to PPC’s public relations manager, and she said she would try and sort it out. As soon as I got back, I faxed her with the documents, and, heh presto, within a couple of weeks, the money was paid.
Positive thing no. 2 may not turn out to be positive at all, but offers potential nevertheless. A nerdy English guy I met at dinner one night, who works in Romania as a liaison between the Romanian government and the Commission’s Synergy programme, rang me a few days ago and said he was interested in buying the rights to translate Energy policies of the European Union into Romanian! At that dinner, this guy had known my name because he remembered the first book I wrote on EC energy policy, and been much impressed and he must have taken away a brochure. I have faxed him back saying that he could have the rights to translate the book into Romanian and distribute up to 50 copies for £1,000. I would also give him five English copies.
Positive thing no. 3 was that there was a small core of people I knew - who were neither Greek nor East Europeans - with whom I spent a lot of time. There was Leif Ervik - the Norwegian who is now chief negotiator for the Charter Secretariat; Patrick Lambert, the gas guru, and Ian Brown, he ex of Andrew Warren’s outfit and now running the Hungarian Energy Centre.
Sunday 5 November 1995, London
There’s some bangers and whizzers going off right outside my window as I type. However, Adam is fast asleep in the front room on the ground floor in the lodger’s double bed - half his own bed is already in Russet House, the vital half, the mattress. I am going to watch ‘The Final Cut’ in a minute, then the last episode of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ which I videoed, and then I shall go to bed. I am tired from a busy day. I started early this morning, by finishing the painting in the study. I had to roller the walls again, because some of the white underneath was showing through the rose white colour I had chosen. Then, I took out the carpet from the upstairs back bedroom, and, since I was heading for the dump any way, I did some more cutting back of the dead rhododendrons so as to fill the car with rubbish. Back from the dump, I tidied up the office - which does now look good - ready for B to spend time trying to clean up the quarry tiles.
Later in the morning, we all went for a walk. This time we strolled past the church down a road that promises to be a no through road. What a wonderful walk. Within a few hundred yards we had arrived at Westbrook farm with its beautiful outbuildings and spacious greens.
20 27 Saturday 11 November 1995, Russet House, Elstead
I am sitting in my new office. The room is decorated. Two telephone lines were wired in yesterday by British Telecom and I have installed a fax and telephone answering machine. I have partially refurbished a desk I found in the loft and am now sitting at it. The tapping of the keyboard echoes through the hollow room.
Barbara and Adam have gone to Brighton to be with Rosemary and Les. It is Les’s birthday on Tuesday. They will come back tomorrow and Adam will go to St James School for one day, before starting properly this coming Friday.
Adam and I came down early on Friday morning. I set the alarm for 6am, and I have rarely felt so tired as I did then - I had been as active as a worker ant on Thursday to get things ready - including the purchase of a new fax modem and answering machine.
It happened like this. I had thought I would buy a new fax machine, in order to cover both the London and Elstead numbers during the cross over period, and then sell the older one, when Aldershot Road is sold. I was, however, reluctant to spend £600-700 on a plain paper fax, and even the halfways decent ordinary fax machines cost a few hundred. I had not decided what to do when I went to the AppleMac show. I try to get there ever year, just to keep a bit up to date with the technology. I did think if there was anything to buy, but it was only on the way home that I realised the best solution to my fax machine problem would be to buy a fax modem. I could have the fax modem in Elstead and leave the fax machine in London.
I looked through the magazines, and decided that I needed a modem, similar to the one I have in Brussels, but more modern and powerful. Prices ranged from £199 to £299 for exactly the same machine. Several companies said they did not have the machine in stock, and there was one that was constantly engaged, so eventually I decided to go for the £199 machine. However, although I could get it delivered next day, I couldn’t get it delivered to Russet House (because delivery has to be to my credit card address). I rang the credit card company and changed my address but they said the change would only go through on Friday. When I rang back the mail order company they said they could only process the order on Friday which would mean I could only get the modem on the Monday. I told the seller I would have to leave it. And, after I put the phone down I felt rather churlish, because Monday would have been fine really (at least I thought it would have been), and, after it all, it was the cheapest company.
Then, I tried the company that had been engaged the whole time long. I finally got through and a woman, actually at the AppleMac show, answered. She told me that, not only did they have the modem I wanted in stock, but that it was on offer at £159! But how was I to get it? Their showroom was closed because everyone was at Olympia - such an irony I thought, because I could have bought the thing when I was there and that would have made my trip worthwhile, for I purchased nothing else (unlike in previous years), and it would have saved me all the subsequent messing about. But, all was not lost, for the charming woman said she would take the modem back to the offices from where I could pick it up that very evening after 7:30!
Without stopping to pause for breath or even for a paragraph, I drove out to John Lewis (after picking Adam up from school) and bought an answering machine. I had tried to buy the very same model in Dixons in Kilburn but they were out of stock (they are always out of stock of everything I try and buy). I had tried to buy it at Dixons because at £49 it was £10 cheaper than at Argos! At John Lewis, my good fortune held out, because the answering machine was only £39.
On our way home, we stopped for a cup of tea with Mum. At home, I spent about an hour getting the electric cooker from the upstairs kitchen into the car. David helped me manoeuvre it down the stairs and lift it up into the car. Then, Adam and I had liver and bacon before rushing over to Euston to collect the modem. I was convinced that when I got there nobody would know what I was talking about. It was all dark at Unit 2, 10 William Road, but when I rang the bell, someone came down the stairs. I explained my mission, and they went back upstairs and brought down my modem - sweet, sweet, sweet.
After putting Adam to bed, I was then able to examine the new kit. What amazing value. This modem will do faxes and data transmission at the fastest current standards - and works almost the same as my one in Brussels (they are both Teleport) so the system workings are familiar. But it also includes Optical Character Resolution so that, if a received fax is in reasonable condition, one can actually turn it into a text file. I was so impressed I had to ring Barbara. The whole business of taking my computer to Russet House now, before I really had a chance to think through all the implications of taking it immediately, and taking it alongside the oven in the car, filled me with apprehension. When I told this to Barbara she said I should just bring the fax machine and use the modem in London. Of course. Brilliant. And not something I could not have done had I succeeded in finding someone to deliver the modem to Russet House! I spent the rest of the evening checking the modem by sending and receiving faxes from the fax machine. I even tried out the OCR software which proved a bit flawed - the first word ‘people’ of a fax from Europia got translated into poopig!
Instead of wasting half the evening writing down such absurd and self-indulgent tales, I should have been writing about the Nigerian writer who was hanged yesterday and about the decision by the heads of the Commonwealth to suspend Nigeria as a result. I cannot quite understand why Nigeria decided to go ahead with the hangings while the Commonwealth summit was in progress. It must have been a welcome relief to John Major who was heavily criticised by other leaders, meeting in New Zealand, for supporting the French government over the French nuclear tests.
But how boring is world politics when I have just bought myself a new bicycle. This is the first time in my life that I have bought a NEW bike. I bought Adam one the other day, and the idea of buying myself one has grown and grown. On Friday, I popped into Godalming to get a cooker socket so that the electrician could put it in while he was here; and while I was there I wandered over to the bike shop (the same one from which I bought Adam’s bike) and bought a Dawes Street Lite. It’s a lovely machine - 21 gears with simple changers on the handlebars - quite light yet sturdy enough on the common. It has straight handlebars which come out much wider than I am used to, but then I won’t be ducking and diving through traffic like I do in London. I so wanted to get a bike quickly so that Adam and I could go riding on the common - it’s marvellous riding country because it’s so flat.
Yes, an electrician came on Friday (as well as the BT man). He only worked until about 1pm, yet I’m going to be charged £200. The materials he provided - two strip lights for the garage, a waterproof outside socket, and a trip mechanism for the central fuse boxes - cannot have cost much more than £50, so £150 for half a day’s work is fairly excellent.
Monday 20 November 1995, Russet House
My first day in the new EC Inform office at Russet House. There is not much chaos, as I sorted through a few things in London and have stored them away in one of the many cupboards in this house, and for the rest of the things and papers, I transported them down in their drawers or organised boxes. The desk I found in the loft turns out to be bigger and better than my old desk so I am using that and the old desk is on the other side of the room. The gas fire is on a gentle flame keeping the cold away. My various phone lines sit idle. I am trying to get down to work on the book but it is not easy, there is so much to do around the house, so many different ways to divert my attention. I like having a big floor space so I can lay out piles of papers, and leave them there for ages before clearing up.
I spent most of the weekend working on the back bedroom. If I can get that finished, then B and I can move in, and Adam can take over the front grey room. We can then work on the other two bedrooms over the next few weeks. The back bedroom is smaller than this office, but there is much more work to do. The plaster was in a bad state and needed repairing above the window. The walls are done and painted but the window-frame, doors, door-frames all need painting I have chosen a grey carpet, but I’ve also chosen three different paints, which are not as harmonious as I would like, but I can’t be bothered to change them now. I also spent a couple of hours clearing brambles from the front of the front garden and my hands are all cut and grazed.
For a few hours we drove off to Guildford to meet with the Warrens. Rob, myself and the children swam - Adam loves it at Spectrum, which he calls Scarlet (because Spectrum is the HQ in Captain Scarlet). B read the papers and Judy arrived a bit later, then we all went for a Pizza in Guildford town centre.
It has been a hectic few days, and the chaos will continue until, at least, the hall and lounge have been decorated. I must report on last week, especially on Thursday, which was Adam’s last day at Emmanuel School. Adam has been saying for a long time that he doesn’t want to move, and we have had many conversations about why we are moving and what will happen in the future. He went to St James School for the first time last Monday, and started full-time on Friday. On Thursday, he took into Emmanuel school a huge jar of Roses sweets, and he was in good spirits. We laughed together in the car on the way there about him coming into the classroom late with a huge jar of sweets under his arm. I said the whole room would crack up with laughter, and he liked that and we both laughed a lot thinking about it.
During the day, I had masses to do; especially packing and preparing to move my office, but also I had to go to John Lewis for the third day in a row to choose wallpapers and carpets. Fortunately, Mum who had been quite ill on Tuesday and Wednesday was sufficiently recovered to meet me there and help. She gave me the confidence to be a little bit bolder than I had intended. I ordered £400 worth of wallpaper! And the carpets, well I haven’t ordered them yet, but I’m looking at over £2,000.
From there I went to pick Adam up at Emmanuel. I said goodbye to Jane Oliver and to several other of the staff, and found Adam manically kicking around the plastic sweet bottle in the playground. Andy Page said Adam had behaved a bit childishly during the day but he was sad to see him go. He confided in me that he had applied to emigrate to Canada. Adam seemed OK at first. I talked to him at home and told him it was OK to cry if he felt sad. At first he busied himself with packing boxes. I was due to pick up the van at 5:00 but when I went to the hire shop I found a sign saying back at 5:30!! What a cheek. I went back several times after 5:30 and Julian arrived at 6:00 to give me a hand loading the van. It was about then that Adam broke down. He began to weep, and he barely stopped for two hours. I cuddled him often and talked to him; he cuddled his teddies and we talked about why we had to leave. Without any doubt, he was the most unhappy I have ever seen him. I am almost crying just writing about it. I tried to keep him busy and then to send him to bed, but as he got more tired so he kept on thinking about his friends and the school he was never going to see again.
It wasn’t until after 7:30 that the van hire guy eventually arrived back. He hardly apologised, and blamed the delay on traffic. He certainly didn’t offer to give me extra time in the morning (although, I suppose, if I had demanded it, he might have). I managed to park the van outside 13 Aldershot Road, and Julian and I loaded some of the heavy stuff: the desk, a wardrobe, a bookcase, a dressing table; and he helped me pack a few boxes. The van soon filled up. Julian left before 9:00, and by 9:30 or so we were on the road. Adam had not managed to sleep and was still wide awake when we left in the van. He was better by then and found it quite an adventure to be high up in the van seat. Most of the way to Elstead, we talked about his school and the friends he was going to miss. It was only on the very last stretch that he began to fall asleep. B and I unpacked the van, leaving a couple of larger items in the garage, and then I drove the van back to London. I eventually got to bed around 1am.
In the morning I was up at 8am, packing more boxes, more papers, unplugging all the equipment and filling up the Escort. There was more work than I thought, and I didn’t get back to Russet House until mid-morning. Barry, the decorator, who had started on Thursday, was busy sanding and stripping. I spent the day beginning to organise this office.
Friday 24 November 1995, Russet House
Wind and rain - the garden full of leaves.
Friday night, and I am running out of steam (no surprise since I was up at 5am this morning). Again, my office floor is covered in papers. Early this morning I brought down the last of the office papers in half a dozen boxes and I’m trying to make some order here, while, at the same time, putting my source papers into piles according to the chapters of next year’s report. Hopefully by tomorrow, Saturday, I should have made some inroads against the chaos.
I am very happy to report that after his first full week at St James, Adam is progressing really well. Every single day his enthusiasm for the new school has increased and he has had no more fits of sadness. One day his class did the morning assembly, another day he played rugby for the first time, and another day he had to take in comics to discuss their relative merits in class. And today, he was given a speaking part in the Christmas play. There are chess, football and choir clubs, all of which he will join. And tonight he went to the local Cubs.
The decorator, Barry, told me I had bought insufficient wallpaper. I had picked up the £400 worth of rolls from John Lewis yesterday and dined with Mum afterwards. But she had paid for them, because I don’t have a credit card. So this morning I called Mum and asked her to try and order me three more rolls - a classic mistake; but I’ll kill Barry if he’s made me over order.
Before I forget I should mention the very old man I saw walking on the common the other day. He was ripping up a cloth in his hands and dropping small pieces of it behind him as he walked. He looked embarrassed when he saw me.
28 November 1995, Brussels
This morning I met the new energy attache at the Danish representation - Anna. She has an unpronounceable second name, but nevertheless is the most attractive energy counsellor yet to have crossed my path. I was well received as Sven, her predecessor, had given me a good press. We talked over most of the issues briefly, but focusing on liberalisation and freezers. She is very excited by the thought of the coming Energy Council - indeed many people are. The Spanish Presidency has told all the delegations to expect a late night, and so, for the first time in my experience, the energy ministers may not be booking their flights home at tea-time. Last night, I talked to Clara at the Italian representation. She will be chairing the energy and the environment working groups in the first half of 1996, since Italy takes over the Presidency. She believes a Common Position is achievable. Perhaps this is wishful thinking on her behalf as she does not want to handle the dossier herself. However, I am coming round to the belief that the ministers will reach a CP. There have not been any of the usual disclaimers back in the national capitals, no loud posturing (except from the Germans) to support any breakdown in negotiations; and the Spanish Presidency appears to have stoked up a good head of steam - everyone has their heads down and is heading for agreement. I shall say so in my newsletter, unless something serious happens at the Coreper on Friday which I shall check up on next Monday.
The Spanish Presidency may also get formal agreement on the networks (assuming the EP and the Council found common ground in the conciliation meeting today) and a CP on the standards for the freezers. All in all, it could prove to be a highly successful Presidency. I shall have great difficulty in reporting as such since I have never been able to communicate with the Spanish energy counsellor, Zarco, and everyone else also agrees he is a rather dull-witted chairman. I suppose it just shows that the ability of the counsellor is not necessarily that important.
Paul K Lyons
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