Monday 1 July 1996

Six months of the year gone, gone, gone. It will soon be a year since I’ve been here, and I just don’t feel I’ve been productive enough. I’ve got a huge list, only half complete, of things that need doing in every room in the house - have I even started doing one of them in the last few weeks? No. I have been in the garden, but I do not seem to be making much progress. Yesterday I laboured for five hours (and was rewarded with a bad bout of backache in the evening and during the night - I don’t ever remember having back ache before) in the garden, but I’ll have difficulty defining what I did. I mixed up compost and gravel and covered over the surface of my rock garden creation, and then covered that with a layer of gravel. Unfortunately, gravel does not lie well on slopes - of course it doesn’t - and it covers up the bricks as well, and when I try to uncover the bricks, because the sticking-out bricks are meant to be the feature of the rock garden, all the gravel falls to the bottom. I don’t know whether I can rescue this feature or whether I’ll have to pull it down and start again. Then I planted two of the ground cover white-flowering Japanese azaleas I bought on Saturday to one side of the heather garden. To do that I had to move the manure which was still sitting in two piles, one front and one back. I planted another orange-flowered azalea in the front garden. I also planted the firecracker cutting (which I bought with a variety of other odds and ends at the Shakleford fete last week) in the deer-food bed under the bamboos. I call it the deer-food bed, because all the plants have red leaves (this was another of my wildly creative ideas!) and deer are more likely to munch shrubs if they have red leaves (hoping to keep them from other parts of the garden).

In the last few weeks, we have taken a few exploratory drives around the area, and I am slowly developing a sense of the geography. On Sunday, Adam and I drove over to Frensham Great Pond. It was a surprise to find it large enough for a sailing club and for dinghy races to be under way. We walked all round the lake, passing through a variety of habitats. It is clearly a popular leisure area since there is a large car park and an active National Trust post. There are even a couple of sandy beaches, and part of the lake is cordoned off for swimming. I drove back round about a number villages I’d not visited before and through Tilford.

On the Saturday we went to a fete at Seale and Sands, both of which are near the Hogs Back, but whereas Sands appears to be a collection of rather large and posh houses, Seale reminded me more of Chilworth with its string of bungalows and unkempt businesses. The fete itself was an under-nourished affair. There was a very competent ventriloquist who amused us, and a vegetable and flower-arranging competition in the marquee. Nothing, though, to buy or tempt us into parting with money.

By contrast, the fete at Shackleford, to which I took Adam, Adrian and Philip last weekend, was an excellent event. It was held in a field surrounded by farm buildings and with the church and rectory on the other side of the road. There was a buzz of activity with lots of people and every stall was packed to the gills - not least the plant stall where I bought some herbs and shrubs. The boys were very independent minded, and I had to keep tracking them down to stop them spending money. An arena had been cordoned off in the middle for displays and competitions.

I am to Brussels tomorrow for the last issue before the summer. I cannot see it being a very interesting one. There is much to record: the Council agreement on electricity liberalisation; the auto-oil proposals; a new Communication on the Climate Change Convention; but I can’t see a spark yet of anything exciting, and nor do I have any interviews arranged.

Monday 15 July 1996

The summer is here. I finished my July issue last week and Adam breaks up on Friday. I have half planned the summer. Adam will go for a week to a day camp at Charterhouse School, he will spend a week with B, and a week with me, probably youth hostelling. I’ll also book up other days for him to do various activities. I will also plan a programme of games, exercises and written work.

I’ve devoted the last few days to getting all my old files transferred to my new computer. I have a PowerMac and a large colour screen. I rang MacWarehouse last Thursday afternoon, paid for them by credit card, around £3,000, and they were delivered at 8:30am the next morning. It’s taken over two full days to sort out the software and files on both this new computer and the old SI which I’ve linked up with the small colour monitor. This machine is much faster and slicker, and it makes a real difference on the Internet to have colour. I’m still a real novice out there in Cyberspace, but I’m starting to pick up a few things.

Today I planted twenty or so alpine plants in my small funny rockery made at the bottom of the garden from old concrete tiles, parts of the concrete fireplace that I had broken out of the sitting room and a couple of bags of white gravel. Most species are a mystery to me, let alone the individual plants. There are several Saxifraga hybrids, Silver Cushion, Whitehill, Aizoon lutea, White Pixie, Canis dalmatica, and a Saxifraga hypnoides. There’s a couple of thymes - one is Snowdrift and another is orange scented, and another is creeping red. There’s Sempervivum (Flanders Passion), Phlox Subulata, Cotula Hispida, Sedum Spurium, and Raoulia (Australis). There’s a couple of Achillea, huteri and argentes, a Campanula and a Rhodanthemum hosmariense.

I fully expect a heavy rainfall to do for the gravel and wash it all down, and if not that, then the fall of acorns, twigs and oakleaves in the autumn will overburden the fragile flimsy feature. Moreover, there’s probably still a seething fermenting bed of brambles and bindweed deep down in the heart of the old rubbish heap about to burst through and ruin life for the smaller weaker inhabitants.

Everything has gone very quiet on the business front. I will probably go to Brussels next week for a couple of days, and maybe try to do a bit more work on transport, and find a new flat. There are no orders coming through for the book, unfortunately, and neither are there any telephone calls or faxes. It’s like my business doesn’t really exit any more.

Northern Ireland has blown up again. Was the peace process really going anywhere. I mean was there progress that could have been made? Was it possible? I doubt it. How could a government as weak and as old as that of John Major ever have the strength to bring the Protestants to heel sufficiently to allow the Catholics to believe, to trust that progress was possible. This is a problem that needs to be tackled in the early days of a strong government. Only a politician as short-termist and desperate as Mr Major could be so foolish as to try to use both Northern Ireland and Europe as last ditch hopes to hang on to power, when both issues are so important and so beyond the petty politics of political parties.

We won our first test series for ages, against India, but only just. Pakistan will be a thornier problem. The Olympics start soon.

Wednesday 24 July 1996, Brussels

A relaxed trip to Brussels this month. Normally I don’t come at the end of July but as I am not pressed for time I thought I would try and find a new flat and do some research for transport. There was a message on my answering machine asking me to drinks with all the Commissioners. So, I went over to Breydel. I stayed over an hour, there was only one journalist I recognised (a Swede) and only one Commissioner (Brittan) as far as I could tell. Still, in the half hour prior to the drinks, I managed to collect all the documents released since my last visit and talk to Costas about the PINC. This will save me time in early September when I next come.

This morning I visited the public transport union (UITP). I talked to the librarian first, and then to one of the lobby group, Euroteam. All in all it was a useful exercise even if it was a schlep to the suburbs to see them - it seemed somewhat ironic that getting to UITP was so difficult and slow by public transport.

Following my purchase of a new computer and colour monitor, I have now made the other major purchase I’ve been promising myself - a motorbike! I remember making lists last year of what I would do when I’d moved and sold Aldershot Road, buying a new computer and a motorbike were top of the list. Between them, they’ve cost me a cool £5,000, but then I’ve lived like a parson for years, hardly spending any money for pleasure. I can’t remember the last time I bought new clothes, and I haven’t paid for a decent holiday in ages.

A Kawasaki GPZ 500s - it’s almost as old as my car (which is E reg and cost me £1,500 several years ago). I bought it for £2,200. I didn’t haggle over the price because it seemed quite reasonable for a bike that had done so few miles (18,000) and looked in such good nick. Also I was keen for the owner to deliver it to me because I didn’t fancy riding it all the way from Redhill. I’ve been looking for a bike for months, but, after browsing several bike trader mags, I could never sort out what might be a good buy. I was afraid of bikes that had been raced, of bikes that had been rebuilt, of being ripped off. On the other hand, I decided it was silly buying a new bike because I wouldn’t be using it enough to justify spending over £4,000. After talking to a bike shop and reading specs on all the second-bikes, I settled on the idea of a Kawasaki GPZ 500 as about right - not too timid so that trips to London would take for ever, and not so powerful that I’d be paying for an engine which I couldn’t control.

I had been monitoring the local papers and the free ads papers for a while, hoping that I would recognise what I wanted when I saw it. Then, last week, I saw an ad for this bike. The low mileage and the one owner appealed to me best of all, but it was over in Redhill. When I rang I had to make a decision to trek all the way over there, and I hesitated: clearly, I wasn’t ready to make a real decision, and if I wasn’t ready to make a real decision then there was no point in making the trek to check out the bike. But, as it turned out, when I found out someone else had agreed to buy it, I was disappointed; and then, when I was told the buyer had pulled out, I went straight away to MotorCycle City in Farnborough and bought a £300 helmet. That evening I drove to Redhill. The bike looked and felt fine. I didn’t drive it, but I went on the back and looked at the paperwork, and agreed to buy it. It arrived here Monday night.

On Tuesday morning I fixed up insurance at £90 for the year, and by mid-morning I was riding through the Surrey countryside. I found the steering a bit heavy, but otherwise it was super. I’m sure it won’t take me long to get used to biking again. Adam was really excited about the whole business, although Barbara is naturally more worried. I let Adam sit on the back, and was pleased to see that he can easily reach the footrests, which means I could ride with him on the back immediately: I had thought I would need to wait a year or two until he was tall enough, but not so. I shall wait until I feel fully confident on the machine, and then I shall buy him a helmet. My immediate problem, though, is to work out how to carry shopping and stuff.

We took Mum out for a meal on Sunday night. I bought and fixed a new hose up in her garden for her birthday, and B bought her a huge geranium.

Ads has started his summer holidays, and on Friday goes to Cub Camp.

The Atlanta olympics have begun, and Britain, so far, has won but a single silver - even the Irish have several gold medals from the swimming arena.

Friday 26 July 1996, Brussels

A very laid back trip this one. I return to London this morning, having achieved the absolute minimum. It is one of the main troubles with working alone and for oneself that there is no one to prove anything to, there is no one to keep up with, there is no one to keep ahead of, there is no one to show-off to. At the FT, I could set up a new newsletter in a couple of weeks. True, it was a matter of resources, but also my own energy was focused. No sooner had I put forward an idea than I would dance with it until something emerged. Not so here, alone. I have planned to start a transport newsletter for more than three years. Instead of finding reasons to go ahead, I’ve always found reasons for delays. Most recently there was the move, and then there was the new energy book. But that was over at Easter, what have I done in May and June. I should have advertised for an assistant, but I got cold feet. And here I am in Brussels for two days, and I’ve managed just two appointments.

What do I do instead. I listen to the radio, read my books, go to the cinema to see an adventure movie (‘The Rock’ with Sean Connery - too much fighting, not enough plot).

I did make one semi-social visit to see Jorge (George) Vasconcellos at Eurelectric. He has been its key man for many years, because the Secretary General, Angelika Riedl, has never understood the issues and acted only as an administrator. George, though, has now been appointed the electricity regulator in Portugal. This is a massive change for him, in every respect. It will be an important job, and he will be able to put into practice many of the ideas he has been discussing and negotiating positions on for years. He may have a team of 50 working for him eventually, but for now he’s looking on the job as more of an intellectual challenge. I only stayed to chat for a few minutes - he is packing and leaving for Portugal in a few days and his phone never stopped ringing. He said he would take out a subscription to my newsletter, and he warmly invited me to visit in Lisbon.

Yesterday I caught the World Service’s World Business Report for the first time. And there I found Lucy Walker’s dulcet tones chiming out as presenter. She has a good voice and manages to read out the currency information with some enthusiasm. I must ring her later today. And Luke too, who sent me a card last week.

August 1996

Paul K Lyons


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