JOURNAL - 1996 - DECEMBER
Sunday 1 December 1996
Wet but not so cold. My garden looks like one of those fields you can always find nearby farmhouses, full of piles of earth, rubbish, old equipment, bricks and stones scattered everywhere. Yes, finally, I chose someone to do the back garden. I chose the cheapest quote, from Shackleford Turf. Jim, who did the quote, and will do most of the turfing work when they get round to it, is an interesting character. Well, I say interesting, more in the sense of having found something to examine than to engage with, as such. He reminds me a lot of myself twenty years ago. There are big differences because he has a public school background and the kind of external confidence that goes with a mildly upper-middle classy background. But he is like I was in the sense that he has not quite come to ground yet. I sense that he thinks the job with Shackleford is only a fill in until the magical day arrives when Faber & Faber will give him a lifetime contract for his writings. He tells me they are looking at some of his poetry and that he expects this will transpire into some kind of long-term contract. I also find out that he has not yet completed a degree partly because he spent too long travelling and enjoying the ex-pat benefits of working in Nigeria where he had high level connections, and partly because he was hooked on heroin for a while. He says he has been clear for three years and is still working hard at reestablishing himself. He has converted a loft in Farnham in a friend’s house. He talks a lot and often strays across some unmarked line towards a childish kind of boasting. He asks me every day what’s going on in Brussels, even though I’ve explained that I only follow events once a month.
Then there is Andrew, who is a quiet fellow, but, over the few days he’s been working here on the patio, has warmed up considerably. He doesn’t talk much but has a surprisingly attractive smile. Both Jim and Andrew boss Ted around. Ted doesn’t talk, and he’s treated by the two of them as simple. I’m not sure if he really is clinically mentally retarded or not, but I’ve found him helpful and hardworking. The other two always seem to think he’s doing something wrong and shout at him. The situation reminded me of the Prince’s whipping boy in ‘The Prince and the Pauper’, which is being serialised on BBC1, and which A and B watch every Saturday.
Overall, I am very pleased with the quality of the work they are doing. I am surprised how big a job it is (I never considered that lorries would be backing down my drive every day delivering piles of sand, gravel, bricks and paving stones), and how I excited I am about how it will look when finished.
A and B have gone to visit Rosemary and Les. I have suggested B invite them here on Christmas Day and that I could collect them and she could drive them back. My mother will come here on Boxing Day.
I must write to Mayco today. A couple of weeks ago when I went up to London to a party at Rosy and Andrew’s I met someone who I had known 20 years ago! It is such a long time since things like this happened to me. I think I wrote recently in these pages about meeting, for the very first time at a social event among the Rosy/Andrew/Raoul crowd, someone who remembered me from my previous life in Iverson Road. I’ve always felt that Rosy’s friends from the past were in some way superior to my own. They, it seemed, were always running into each other, keeping in contact; but it was not so with my old friends. I never established any relationships with other people in a wider circle than my close friends. It came as something of a shock then to be reminded that I did have a life and other friends before Rosy and Raoul.
And now, a few weeks later, it has happened again. I was about the first person to arrive at Rosy’s party and I spent some time talking to her. I asked if she had made any new friends who would be coming, and she said there would be Magic Circle people (one of whom I talked to for a while - a middle-aged lady fire eater who used to be in the Guinness Book of Records until they decided it was a bad example for kids) and a few Argentinians she had met. My ears perked up at ‘Argentinian’, and I asked her to let me know when they arrived because, as she knew, I said, I had Argentinian connections.
The evening wore on. I talked for a long time to Tim, a bit to Richard, people I always talk to. Then, quite late, I found myself talking to a guy, whose accent was a little off key. By the attention he was giving me, I had already assumed he was gay. He told me he was a psychiatrist, and so we talked about Sandoz drugs for a while and then Hydergine (two of the medicines I sold for Sandoz all those years ago in NZ). He told me Hydergine had become one of the designer drugs in the US. Suddenly, I had a flash of insight, and I asked him if he was Argentinian. He said he was, and then I asked how long he had been in UK. When he said about 20 years, I immediately asked if he knew Mayco. And sure enough, he did. But more. He was then, and still is, very good friends with Mayco! And then he realised that he knew me. When he told me his name, I remembered him as one of Mayco’s closest Argentinian friends in London. And all my old insecurities flooded back. Mayco and her friends were so mature and sophisticated, and I used to get so paranoid when I smoked grass at their houses. Like the woman artist a few weeks earlier, Edmundo had a better memory of me than I of him. But, in this case, at least I did remember him a little.
Sunday 22 December 1996
I’m in terrible trouble with the journal. Not an entry for how long? Since 1 December. That’s three full weeks. True, I’ve been smitten with the worse cold I’ve had for years - I really must get back to doing yoga more regularly when I’m better. And true I’ve had Theo here every working day, which means that I no longer can relax once in an issue is put to bed, and mull over a few boring paragraphs for the diary. Instead, I’ve had to concentrate on business things. I went to Brussels for three days the week before last. The trip was ‘orrible because I had to go by airplane (I didn’t dare risk booking on Eurostar with all the problems - even if it was running again, I guessed, it would take ages and be extremely unreliable). Going by plane, means queuing and more queuing: queuing/waiting to check in; queuing/waiting to pass through baggage inspection; queuing/waiting to go through passport control; queuing/waiting to pay for duty frees; queuing/waiting to have the boarding pass checked; queuing/waiting to get on the plane; queuing/waiting to get off the plane; queuing/waiting for passport control; queuing/waiting for the bus to the car park. By complete contrast the only one time, I have to queue when going by train is for a few minutes to get on the train.
That’s one gripe over. Another is this cold English winter; another is having this wretched cold which has virtually incapacitated me for me two weeks.
The Brussels trip was reasonably fruitful - it’s so long ago, I can hardly remember it. Oh yes, for the first time I watched an Energy Council in progress. I can’t say it enthralled me. However, I met up with Anna Aguardo, ex of DGXVII, now with Eurelectric. She proved very friendly. The Irish Presidency did well in the end. They achieved Council Conclusions on gas, although somewhat strange in format, and Council Conclusions on climate change, on oil refining. They also got agreements on Synergy and SAVE before the end of the year and formally adopted the electricity liberalisation Directive. I did a bit of work on transport, although not as much as I had hoped.
Even though I had Theo helping me a lot on energy, the work just seemed to go on and on. I did manage, though, to finish on Tuesday - and the issue was 24 pages, the longest ever. I left the two-page story on the Energy Council until last, though, and found that I didn’t write it as well as I would have wanted. I’m still not completely relaxed with Theo around. He’s proved an able and willing assistant but he will need close supervision for some time to come.
We have done a fair amount of preparation work for the transport newsletter and we’ll put the first edition together in mid-January. Our key problem will be insufficient knowledge about the issues - there are so many of them in all the different transport fields.
Adam has had a bad cold too in the last couple of weeks. He’s done a good job in both the school play and in his class play, and he’s been chosen to do a part in a show in Farnham next year. He can learn his lines well - and that’s a big plus - but he’s still bit stiff and nervous on stage.
The worst news of the winter was that B’s house fell through. She spent seven or eight hundred pounds, which was partly my fault, before pulling out. Basically, there was a slight risk of subsidence and we felt that, all things considered, it was not worth taking on the risk. I had told Barbara to avoid Peperharrow Road because it is well known to have subsidence problems due to the river valley on one side. But B has had such a hard time finding a house that, when this one came along on the other side of the road from the risky side, she fell for it. It was well looked after inside, it was largish, well positioned and just within her budget. I looked round and thought it was fine, not wonderful but good enough. On my advice, B moved swiftly to get her mortgage, and First Direct sent their surveyor without delay. That cost a few hundred, and resulted in demands for further electrical, woodworm and wall cavity examinations. But it wasn’t easy to work out exactly how to get these examinations done, so we decided that B should go ahead with her own survey through Mr Sweetnam (who reported on this house) and seek his advice. Well, Mr Sweetnam didn’t resolve any of the three problem areas but agreed they did need further examinations. More worryingly, he also found evidence of possible past subsidence. On his advice (and under pressure from me), Barbara rang the Council surveyors department and found out that, yes, there had been subsidence on both sides of the road, yes, it had stopped in the recent past, but there was no guarantee or evidence to suggest that there might not be further subsidence in future years. B organised the extra tests, but, regardless of whether we could get the money to put right everything they might find wrong, we still had to cope with the subsidence problem. I think Barbara would have carried on, but I advised against it. And I think my main reason was that the climate is changing and the temperature and rainfall conditions are pushing out beyond recent limits. It would only take one exceptional rainfall period, for example, to flood the valley and to trigger off further subsidence problems. Well, the risk is there, I thought. And so, despite having spent money on two surveys and on solicitor fees, B was back to square one.
Sunday 29 December 1996
About ten days before Christmas, Julian, Sarah, Rebecca, Naomi and my Mum came down for a Sunday afternoon visit. We gave them tea and cakes and Adam played rascal with the girls. They all admired the work in the garden, although at that stage it wasn’t complete. They also had a good chortle at a letter I’d received from Dad advising me, on the advice of George Marlow, to get in touch with Gail Goldsmith, because she is ‘extremely rich’. I sent him a long reply. Dad called me a couple of days before Christmas to thank me for a bunch of flowers Barbara had sent via Secretts, and to thank me for the letter. He said he didn’t know any of it and was shocked to learn about Frederic’s Jewish obsession. He asked if he could show the letter to both George and Julian and I couldn’t see why not. I had originally planned to extend the letter further and suggest that if he were to leave pots of money to Julian and Melanie the money should carry with it the responsibility to look after Mum. But when I tried writing it, I couldn’t make it work.
Monday 30 December 1996
I have spent a good part of the weekend finalising my accounts for the Nov95-Oct96 year. EC Inform’s gross income totalled £67,345, and the outgoings reached £30,748 - a pre-tax profit of £36,597. This will have to be confirmed by my accountants. The figure is considerably less than the previous financial year, when I took in £75,262 with outgoings of £32,521 and made a pre-tax profit of £42,741. The year before my income was £21,297 and in my first year I made £5,920. I suspect, with Theo on board and the expense of marketing a new title, my income will be back down close to the zero line.
This morning I had another attack of what is probably gout in my left foot. I had an attack a couple of months ago and couldn’t walk properly for two days. Only afterwards did Barbara discover that it might be gout. Here I am at 44 and my body is closing down already. I must get back to regular yoga - my new year resolution.
Lots of TV this Christmas of course - ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, a delightfully cynical film about four salesmen and their office manager, with Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino, both brilliant, ‘Jurassic Park’ (a film I never wanted to see in the cinema), ‘Dial M for Murder’ which both B and I have seen loads of times before but which we still wasted an afternoon watching again,
Lots of presents - jumpers (asked-for polo-necks although I’m undecided as to whether I like polo necks or not), plants and books (mushrooms, Rackham’s classic on the countryside) from Barbara, chocolaty things from Adam, garden things from my mother. I bought B mostly kitchen things, some of them jokey, because that’s what she asked for. I cooked, on Christmas day, ratatouille (as a first course), salmon, boiled potatoes, fresh peas, salad, and banana split for afters. I also cooked on Boxing Day for my mother. I went to town. We started with a good tasty spinach soup from a packet, then for main course we had a pheasant, chipolatas, roast potatoes and parsnip and mashed potatoes and parsnip, red cabbage, brussels with chestnuts, carrots with parsley, and a gravy. I made a slight error over the timing of the pheasant, I had to leave it in an extra ten minutes after the vegetables were done, so that by the time I came to have seconds, the vegetables were cold. Still, it was all very nice, everyone said. The sorbet in orange desert was a bit of a flop, for the sorbet was never cold enough in my freezer and was virtually melting, and the orange, unfortunately had frozen; and then I forgot to do the Christmas pudding, which was just as well because we were all bloated.
Mum stayed over, and in the morning, despite the wretched weather, I dragged everyone out for a short car ride to Hambledon church to have a look at the old yew trees. I’ve checked my Rackham and they’re not mentioned there although there is a reference to a book which does document many yews around the country. Rackham does talk about yew trees a little bit but he devotes a whole chapter to elms which he considers more historically or culturally important (I don’t know which because I haven’t read it yet.)
Just before Christmas we went over to Judy and Rob’s for a meal. It is many years since we’ve actually been to a proper dinner at their house. Also invited were Philip and Sheila, who both live in Brighton, and whom I have met before once or twice in Stoke Newington, and an American lady friend of Judy’s. It was a very pleasant evening. Adam played football in James’ room and then watched a video while we were eating. Philip is an actor. His brain buzzes around so fast and he really dislikes the conversation scooting off in some direction without him contributing.
Paul K Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG