Monday 12 February, Russet House

The weather this winter will not let up. After horribly cold days, and some snow (much worse in the north), we now have wind and rain. The garden is the most water-logged I’ve yet seen it. Last night, a storm blew open the garage doors and banged the side door back and forth until the glass broke. I can hear the wind rumbling in the chimney that serves the central heating boiler in the corner of the study behind the gas fire.

I have been working on accounts for the VAT returns and for my accountant. I now have figures for three trading years:
1993 1994 1995
Outgoings -26,391 -31,015 -25,050
Income 33,197 59,724 70,148
Net profit 6,806 28,709 45,098

Unfortunately, 1996 will not show the same exponential growth in profits, indeed, is unlikely to show any growth in profits at all - if I manage the 1994 level, I will have done reasonably well. I should always remember that the profit figure is not real, in that it presupposes fulfilling all the subscriptions that have been pre-paid. To service all the remaining clients, I could probably keep the actual expense down to less than 10,000 although this would not include my time.

It is Monday morning, I should be getting on with the chapter on cohesion, but I am finding if difficult to get down to it, as can be gauged by my taking a turn at the journal. Monday morning is a very unusual time for me to be writing here. I am keeping to a kind of schedule on the book. This chapter is the last one to be worked on, I have done a good chunk of every other chapter except the conclusions, and a chapter on the Member States if I do one. I must finish cohesion today, and then go back to look at each chapter in more detail. I aim to have a first draft of the entire book by the time I head for Brussels again in two weeks.

I am not able to relax with a book on the go. I am not reading, or contemplating, and I certainly am not writing anything else. I even feel the times I venture in to the garden or to watch telly are stolen moments, and I do not properly enjoy them.

Roser and her two sons, David and Robert, came to visit a couple of weekends ago, and, after they went, I felt like I had hardly made contact with them, because I was so closed off to everything. It is a hard feeling to explain. I don’t feel tense, as such, or stressed, I just feel as though I cannot let my mind relax, wander (or wonder), or enjoy, because I know I need to press on with the book.

Roser’s visit came as a surprise. Her ex-husband Wally, who now lives in Japan, came to London, and Roser came also so he could see his children. Usually, he sees them but once a year when he stays with them for a few weeks in Spain. She makes a living with her pots, partly by traveling to fairs in Austria and Germany with a car load, and lives in a village where there are other potters and friendly support for looking after the children. She brought me a bag of presents: a beautiful potted plate, some potted stars on metal probes for decorating plant pots, a string of garlic, and a bottle of Spanish wine. We went for a walk on the common but it was cold, and so wet and swampy we couldn’t even get to the moat. On the whole, I didn’t feel happy about how I’d entertained my old friend.

Yesterday, Adam and I drove to Kilburn to check on the house, collect the mail, and visit Mum for tea. Julian’s family were there also, the girls chattering away. They like Adam, though I think he is a little rough and arrogant with them; and spends his time showing off, and sulking if they don’t do what he wants them to do. He really hates it if they play hide and seek and he can’t find Rebecca. Julian talked about work, of course. Although they had a bad year last year, he seems to have won a couple of big orders in the last few days, which bodes better for 1996.

Wednesday 14 February, Russet House

Adam and I have an appointment with our new doctor today. There are two doctors at the surgery, here in Elstead, and another one in Milford, and the three run a joint practice. Our neighbours told us that the older man, Mr Hudson, is not a very good doctor, and it is with him we have our introductory appointments. I had thought we would not have much to talk about, and I was only going to mention my scalp, but this morning I had a real scare. I woke up from a dream in which someone was burning (as I write this I realise the idea of burning was sourced in last night’s ‘Eastenders’ episode when Bianca burnt Ricky’s belongings). I could tell it was still early. The first thing I noticed was a pain in my neck. I had it a little yesterday, but it was really killing me this morning. Then I got up to go to the toilet and and as I did I began to panic. But I couldn’t work out why I was panicking - was I worried about my neck, about something I had to do today. And then I started to feel faint, and I dropped to the ground. I felt my bowels loose and wanted to open them. I saw coloured lights. It was so scary, not knowing what was happening. After a few minutes I recovered and went back to bed, and I’ve felt fine, except for my neck, since then. Now I’ve got plenty to talk with Doc about - it’s like having an accident on the way to the garage.

Valentine’s Day. Adam secretly prepared a Valentine’s Card for B. He did it last week but left it on his desk. Fortunately, I found it last night (it has a big Happy Birthday on the front and then, in small letters ‘whoops, I mean Valentine’s Day’), and I put it in an envelope and placed it on the mat.

England have lost against New Zealand in their first match of the Cricket World Cup.

A huge bomb in Docklands last Friday has broken the IRA ceasefire after 18 months. The action has devastated everyone, even the media seemed less than enthusiastic about this disaster. But, at least, the Irish and UK governments have avoided, so far, any damaging split. Only Gerry Adams failed to condemn the bombing, and his own authority is now certainly in question.

Saturday 17 February 1996, Russet House

I had hoped to go to the Godalming auction this morning, and swimming with Adam, but for the last couple of days, I’ve had a boil on the back of my heel, and this morning it was really huge, full of puss and painful. I fussed around for ages, and eventually pierced it with a needle. I needed to put a proper lint over it, but there was none in the house and so had to cycle down to the pharmacy. When finally I had it dressed, I began to relax a little again. I hope it will be all right. It is on the same foot as the dislodged toenail; and, to make matters worse, I’ve had a pain my groin this morning, and a dull headache; which is why I am sitting here at 11:30am having achieved nothing this morning. Time off is valuable at the moment, and I would have liked to have been in Godalming or at least out in the garden. But I thought I would try and work at the computer but that is not happening either.

The Scott report was published after three years of investigations. What a media and political hullabaloo. The results are fairly, if not completely, straightforward. Scott concluded that there was no conspiracy by the government to deceive Parliament, nor was there a conspiracy to cover up mistakes. But he also concluded that the guidelines on sales to Iraq, did change, and that Parliament was misled over this change, and that public immunity certificates should never have been signed to prevent information coming out about the changed guidelines in the Matrix-Churchill trial. The media and political hullabaloo arose because Scott’s five volume report concluded with ambiguous interpretations of key events. With certain statements he appears to say that Nicholas Lyell and William Waldegrave did not deliberately lie; in other statements he says that Parliament was misled, and letters, signed by these people, told untruths. The government is firmly backing the ministers in question and reiterating, ad infinitum the passages where Scott says they did not deliberately mislead. The case put by the Labour Party and a large part of the media is that the Scott report catalogues an endless succession of deception, and somebody really should be found responsible.

I think that, regardless of the specific facts, public opinion knows there was a big mistake made by the government, and it wants justice to be seen to be done. By defending itself, over and over again, against charges which are patently true to one degree or another, it is just making a mockery of itself.

Notification of a planning application for the plot over the road came in the post yesterday. I went to the Council offices to have a look. The application is to knock down the bungalow opposite and build two two-storey detached houses with garages linking them. I’m not sure what I feel, but I doubt I have real grounds to object. I will ring the parish clerk and find out if there are any other people worried about the project.

Monday 19 February, Russet House

A gale is blowing. Bitterly cold. First day of half term and Adam is home. He has a few lessons to do, a project to sort out his coin collection, homework from school to make a collage about spring. I will not have time this half term to play much with him as I still have loads of work to do on the book.

I am on the telephone to a consulting group about selling the unlimited rights to my book in Romanian for £1,000. The house phone rings, Adam answers it and talks to Adrian or Philip. He makes an arrangement for them to come round. He waits until I am off the other phone, asks me if it is OK. I say yes. He rings them back (he knows the number) and confirms the arrangement. This is the first time Adam has completed a social arrangement entirely on his own. Adrian and Philip arrived a few minutes later and the three of them have gone out to the woods. God knows what they are doing out there.

Good news from Brighton. Having finally dispensed with Alliance & Leicester and the six months of messing around with Mr Love, our new agent Sparks, has an instant buyer at - wait for it - £69,950 - and, wait for it - a special condition that the buyer pays for the damp problems. We are looking at a price £5,000 higher than with Mr Love.

Sunday 25 February, Russet House

We had more snow last week, and since then it has been raining, and it is still raining now. A and B are in Brighton. Yesterday, when the rain was bucketing down, I went out all togged up in my wellingtons, dungarees and waterproof jacket to investigate the water run along the ditch. It is all clogged up most of the way long from next door down to the culvert by the road side. But the main problem is that there are several well-constructed dams along the small ditch. I broke them up a little but the water is carrying so many leaves and twigs that they will self mend quickly, I should imagine. My main purpose in going out there was not to unblock the ditch but to try and gauge the extent of the problem. I think, with a certain amount of perseverance, I could make it run more freely. However, I began to wonder whether the dams had been constructed by the owner of the house on the other side - the ditch runs very close to the edge of his garden. He could, for example, have tried to block the flow because he is worried about erosion. Alternatively, the dams could have been made in the summer and have been used to preserve water resources. My next step, I think, will be to talk the man in that house and find out what he thinks. I will also visit the man further up the road, who Jackie (from Oakdene) told me has been concerned about the waterlogging.

I meant to go to the Parish Council last Monday, but I forgot. I did, though, ring the Parish Clerk. He said the Council had discussed the planning application for the plot over the road and it felt that it was perfectly acceptable. There was also a discussion at the Council about possible traffic calming measures in Elstead. I got this mostly from the paper. There is money available from the so-called Star Initiative and this means we might get a 20mph limit, road humps, and traffic lights at the bridge. I am beginning to get a sense of over-attentiveness in this village, an over-attentiveness that itself can ruin things.

More news from Elstead. The bakery finally closed a couple of weeks ago. This is a great, great shame. The breakfast rolls were delicious, and I loved cycling down there at 7:15 in the morning and returning with fresh rolls still warm from the oven. How many bakers anywhere in the country are ever open at 7am; and to have had one in cycling distance was a real boon. The French beat us hands down on this, no self-respecting boulanger would ever open later than 7am. Before I came, but not very long ago, there were several shops in that parade - The Tuck Shop, the bakers, the butchers, and the large frontage of Holroyd’s hardware. Only the butcher is still working - unusually, he opens at 7:30 too. But I expect him to shut up soon. The old hardware shop, I read in the paper, is to be reopened as an antiques market next weekend, an initiative by Holroyd. (The Spar too is owned by Holroyd.)

I was supposed to be working solidly yesterday on my book (and today too) but my eyes felt so heavy and sordid that I felt the desperate need to go out. Even though it was raining I took the bike and went for a ride. I’ve been holed up in the house for a week with the infection in my boil and my groin and a general feeling of weakness, but yesterday I shook all that off and went exploring. I ended up taking the shortest possible circular route going west out of Elstead. This took me down the track past Ravenswood, and, eventually, to Tilford. From Tilford I cut back along the route by the river, coming out at Westbrook and the church in Elstead. I felt so much better for that, and was able to get on with some work after lunch.

I have next to me on the desk drafts of the first six chapters of the book. By the end of the day, I hope to have the rest printed out, even if they are missing bits. This evening I go to London, and I catch the train to Brussels at dawn tomorrow.

Tuesday 27 February 1996, Brussels

The dry stagnant air and the dull illuminations in this flat make me feel only half alive. The radiators are on full pelt. I felt like a cactus, unable to do much but poke out a few spikes and spike into the computer a few words. I’ve been in Brussels two days, and I’ve hardly done a thing. My eyes go all blurry when I try to read drafts of the book chapters. I know material off by heart: I’ve written it in the monthly, I’ve written most of it in the Quarterly, I’ve indexed it, and I’ve written the chapters, then I’ve read them over. Blimey, it’s like going to a jumble sale and only finding items that you yourself have donated.

I am sitting here unable to think of anything to write. Next door through the wall, I hear an answering machine respond; and coming up through the hall well, is some very loud choral music. Isn’t it amazing that I can rent this place for so many years and not know anyone here at all. No, not amazing for me at all.

I had a conversation with Rex Bailey on the phone this afternoon. He’s been skiing for a week at his cottage in France - lucky devil. We always find a lot to talk about, and it is sometimes difficult to get him onto energy topics. He mentions a visit he had a while back from Margie Lindsay. I haven’t thought of her for many years but the name immediately brings her back to life, not so much in appearance, but more in character. She is doing the same thing, running a publication on East European business, from Kingston, but has some kind of deal with DGX. Rex is good on gossip, most of which is completely unusable. He tells me Ayral is leaving DGXVII, and that an Austrian might be chosen in his place. Conversely, rumours that De Miguel might leave after the Spanish elections to become a junior minister are unfounded because he doesn’t want to leave Brussels.

I am reading a Morse novel by Colin Dexter, the first I’ve read and not one that has yet been turned into a TV movie. It is so easy to read, I am chomping it up. It is the first mashed up novel fodder I’ve had for ages, and it’s going down a treat; even if Dexter’s style is a bit irritating; he’s too anxious not to let you forget he’s there, guiding you one way then the next, making sure you can’t see over the walls but always, always reminding you that he could let you peep over, if he wanted. In fact, I think I’ll go to bed now, to read, and allow him to me move an inch or two closer to the final solution.

March 1996

Paul K Lyons


Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG

1974 1975

1976 1977

1978 1979

1980 1981

1982 1983

1984 1985

1986 1987

1988 1989

1990 1991

1992 1993

1994 1995

1996 1997

1998 1999

2000 2001

2002 2003

2004 2005

INTRO to diaries