JOURNAL - 1996 - MAY

Wednesday 8 May 1996, Russet House

No 38, my first ever 22-page issue. I suppose it’s no coincidence that No 37 was the first I’d ever published out of sequence - I did it a week early, partly because of Easter and partly because of the schedule for the book. The main reason this issue was 22 pages, though, was because of the wretched Energy Council, which took place yesterday. I cannot possibly go to press without the results of an Energy Council when my newsletter is going to be delivered after the Council is all over. Last week, I did as much preparation as I could, and, in fact, this largely paid off. The Council press officer, who I’ve not actually met, faxed me through all the Conclusions yesterday afternoon, and the press release at 10:30pm last night. Then this morning, I spoke to one or two people who were expecting my call, and Hughes at Eurelectric sent me through his daily news which had a couple of worthwhile snippets.

The Council was a mess and an unpleasant affair largely because of the determined stance by Germany to slash (yes, I used the word slash in my article) the budget for energy saving actions. The Danish minister, Auken, was by all accounts furious. The Commission had proposed Ecu150m for five years, but Germany refused to go above Ecu40m. The matter was closed in the morning without a Common Position, but the Italian Presidency came back to it in the evening and achieved agreement at Ecu45m. But everybody I spoke to was disappointed by this result.

There was still no conclusion to the long negotiations over the electricity Directive. The structure and principles of the Italian Presidency proposal were more or less accepted, but there was no agreement on the thresholds for market openness or on transition periods. Indeed, Germany and France are as far apart as they ever were. This has been one of the longest and most difficult negotiations on any dossier in any sphere. It’s not unusual for a Commission proposal to sit around on the Council’s table for ages and then eventually be rejected, but it is not so common for a dossier to be taken up with urgency by every Presidency for several in years in succession without finding a way forward.

I thought DGXVII was recovering from its demoralised state but, following the Council, I learned that the Director-General Ramon de Miguel, only appointed late last year, is likely to leave at the end of this week to take up an appointment as secretary of state for Abel Matutes, who has become Spain’s foreign secretary. I say these things, and I said them in my newsletter, but, to be frank and downright honest, I did not check the facts, I just took them as such from one source, and I cannot even remember who told me. I have further evidence of my lack of thoroughness. I spoke to Andrew Warren today, and told him it was a shame about SAVE especially considering that Council statement after statement had reiterated the need to strengthen the energy saving programmes. But he told me to find such statements, and, sure enough, when I came to look, I couldn’t actually find any. Have I been confused by the mention of energy saving so often in Commission and Parliament documents?

Thursday 9 May 1996, Russet House

The book sales are not going well. Apart from the 15 pre-sales to subscribers, I have only sold two so far from the 4,000 mailing that went out; although this evening an urgent enquiry came in from Canada. I have arranged for 12,000 of my brochure to be inserted into Electrical Review on 28 May - perhaps it will be a lucky insert for me on my birthday. I never felt the inserts did well last time round, but, on the other hand, I feel I must invest in widescale exposure, especially in this country, and especially considering that the FT might be doing a similar report later this year.

I have a glass of Llagavulin, it is the first whisky I’ve drunk for months. It is 8:50pm and it is still light outside, just. The garden is full of flowers in bloom, and there is growth everywhere trying to catch up from the late start to spring. My oak tree (MOT) at the back is now tinged with the light bronze of new growth on all its twigs. Sometimes, I lie back on the grass and look up at the maze of branches and twigs, some dark some brightly lit by the opposing sun, all contrasted against a deep blue sky behind. The backdrop of trees along the backs of these gardens is one of the best features of this house. To the side I can see the neighbour’s cherry in magnificent flower, a gorgeous deep mulberry colour, with the bright scarlet flowers of the chaenomeles in my garden underneath. I have potatoes, lettuce and carrots all growing, although the potatoes have been caught by frost.

Yesterday Adam and I rode out to the common, I wanted to have a look at the marshy area near Dragonfly Island, to see what if any insect or plant life was beginning to flourish, but all we found were a few water skimmers and the water fast filling with algae. Adam asked me about evolution. His questions were so intelligent. He wanted to know what might happen to a fish which was left in a pond with no food for several million years, whether it would survive. I sensed a real inquisitiveness behind his rather awkward question and so tried to explain the principle of survival of the fittest. I said, imagine a fish is washed far away by a flood and lands in a strange place where there is no food it can eat. And imagine, it gives birth to thousands of eggs which manage to grow into tadpoles, and then imagine that all the tadpoles die for want of the right food, except one or two tadpoles that have been born slightly different from the rest, and one of these manages to survive because it can eat a new kind of food. Well, that one fish will have children and the children will then be fitter and able to survive in the new place.

But, said Adam, that would need a male and a female to survive with the same new ability and that would be a tremendous coincidence. Er, um, yes, darling, it would, but things are much more complicated and I was just trying to explain the principle, er um!

This evening we play a game of scrabble. I explain how important blanks are and the letter ‘s’ and that they should not be wasted. Once a week, he stays after school for a scrabble class. And, once a week, like today, he stays to play chess, but the teacher who looks after the club doesn’t know how to play very well, and there is no attempt to help the children get better at the game. I play a game with Adam and Adrian, and I notice how bossy Adrian is (and, of the two twins, he’s the least bossy). I notice that with Adrian and Philip they are interested in what they are doing, whereas with Adam his interest is far more in the social aspect of the doing than the doing itself (or the winning).

With almost all games, whether it’s chess or football, scrabble or rounders, Adam is one of the least skilled for his age group; but I’m sure he will catch up, he has all the enthusiasm, and when he’s at home, he always practising with the football, and the rackets. What sets Adam apart, I think, is his wonderful, loveable personality. I’m not sure he uses it to its full potential outside of the family environment, but again, I’m sure, as he gets older, it will work to his advantage.

What else can I record about him, while I’m on the subject. Over the long bank holiday weekend, he wrote a magnificent story for homework. He was asked to write a diary of someone going to the North Pole. Encouraged by the purchase of a fountain pen, he spent a long time writing a first draft. It was really well constructed, well written, good handwriting, and it had a beginning, a middle and an end. I was really very impressed. His mental arithmetic is really quite accurate. I think he’s in the top groups in all his subjects at school.

And when he’s at home, he’s never bored. He will dig in the garden, or read, or prepare a magic show, or play games on his computer, or watch television, practice bouncing a ball on his racket, or come to the supermarket, or go for a bike ride or a walk on the common, or he’ll do something for B or I. Always enjoying it and rarely complaining about anything, unless it’s going to bed.

The Conservatives were trounced again at the local elections, but still John Major hangs on. Never was there a prime minister or government so poorly fitted to run the government. The BSE crisis rumbles on, the UK beef industry may be able to export gelatin and tallow soon - that’ll help! Northern Ireland and the IRA have been strangely out of the headlines for the last few weeks. The Congress Party in India has suffered a heavy defeat and will be out of power for the first time in 50 years.

I have been grappling with the task of choosing an internet provider for the last few days. I finally decided I should get hooked up, and fix myself an email address. Not so much to go surfing, but just so as to advertise an address and offer my subscribers the chance to contact me that way. I bought several magazines and a book and I’ve been studying the subject religiously. But, there are so many providers out there with so many characteristics, and, although one magazine does analyse how easy access is to the net through their services, there is very little information on how long a provider has been on the market and how financially viable they are. I considered going with a new local provider, but I was concerned as to how long they would be around, and how effective they might be in the longer run. In the end, I’ve chosen one of the largest - Demon Internet. It’ll cost £10 a month and £50 or so to get started. I need extra software because my Mac operating system dates from before Apple put the necessary extensions into the system software as standard. Adam’s very excited about going on the net, and I’ve got quite excited too, in fact, the more I read about, it the more interested I become. My address could be ecinform.demon.co.uk, but now I’ve sent off my form, I’ll probably have to wait weeks and weeks to get up and running.

Tuesday 14 May 1996, Russet House

A relaxed week, with nothing pressing, and I am not too happy about it. I know that over the next few weeks, months, I need to make some difficult decisions about the future. But we are still in a waiting time, we still have not exchanged on either Aldershot Road or Tidy Street: an exchange on Tidy Street (which might take place later this week) will spark us to panic about moving the furniture to my garage here, Barbara to look seriously at putting in an offer on a house of her own. Exchange on my house will prompt me to buy a motorbike, and to try and decide what to do with the rest of the money - how much for the business, how much to invest in pensions etc.

I spent most of yesterday trying to develop a plan of action for the next few weeks and months. I sat out in the garden, in the glorious sunshine, with a pad of paper and a pencil, and made a list of all the things I must or want to do, although I did not go as far as making a list of what has to be done in the garden or in the house. Part of my planning concerned what to do with Adam during half term, and I decided to join the Youth Hostel Association so we could go hosteling if nothing else. But, if Tidy St hasn’t sold we could usefully spend some days in Brighton instead.

I have set aside Friday to take my first look at the transport file, in view of starting a new newsletter and hiring somebody. I also have to do VAT returns at the weekend. Today I tidied up paperwork. In the hope that my software will arrive tomorrow, I have devoted Wednesday to getting up and running on the internet. This evening, I am just mucking around.

Over the last few days and over the next few weeks, I plan to record all my old records, scratches and all, because I no longer have a decent record player, and Barbara’s (which I have here in the lounge) is the best one I am likely to get my hands on before such equipment disappears altogether. Most of my records do not actually warrant a decent stylus, but I bought a new one for B’s player any way. Each day I record a couple more old favourites: Joni Mitchell, Julie Felix, Bob Dylan, Dave Clark Five, Moody Blues etc.

Primary schools threaten to go on strike in protest against the use of exam results from 11 year olds in league tables. Our own primary school has just been inspected, and the report is not as good as one might have hoped. St James scored quite well for quality of teaching for below-average pupils, but was chastised for its poor quality teaching when it came to above-average pupils. The school is in transition because it does not yet have a sixth form, and it is developing the facilities and abilities to teach and train children as they get older. It has developed an action plan to meet the shortfalls, and this was reported to parents in a short statement, but I will be looking to hear more information at the governors meeting later this year.

A registered letter arrives from Argentina. Mayco checking that I got her letter earlier in the year. I thought that after ten years of no communication she could wait a few months before I replied! On the telephone, Angela Sinclair-Loutit rang me when I was out; I’ve tried to ring her back but without success. Lucy is supposed to have come to visit one day, but has not managed to squeeze me in. I am going up to London on Thursday to see Andrew (Raoul has gone to China), to see a show at the Bush, to check my house, and maybe see David.

Wednesday 15 May 1996, Russet House

I was really hoping for my internet software today so that I could get stuck in, but the postman only brought me bills, and my YHA membership. So, I was at a loose end. I’ve got loads of database work to do, but I never feel it’s real work, and I don’t like doing it. Instead, after lunch, I strode purposefully into the garden. Most of the afternoon was spent bramble clearing as usual, although I did manage to put in place a new feature. I’ve used the discarded concrete fence posts and paving stones to create a semi-wall, near to the oak, to hold up one side of a pile of earth rubbish. I hope to turn this into a semi-rock or alpine garden. It should also provide a sight line through to the wood at the back.

There is nothing much on TV these days. I watch ‘Superman’ and ‘Babylon 5’ (both excellent - the ‘Superman’ is the best I’ve ever seen, and ‘Babylon 5’ is probably the best sci-fi series there has ever been) with Adam at the weekends. I watch ‘Murder One’ and ‘Karaoke’ with B. ‘Murder One’ is a series based on one murder trial with 30 or 40 episodes, each lasting 45 minutes. The characters are appealing and the sub-plots strong enough for us not to miss it each week. ‘Karaoke’ is the first of the last two Potter plays, produced posthumously. I am reserving judgement on it for the moment. I continue to watch ‘Eastenders’ regularly, although I will not record it and I rarely bother to catch up on Sundays if I’ve missed an episode. The script and story-lines are rather below average at present. Arthur has come out of prison after five months on remand, he can’t believe his friend Willy stole the money and let the blame fall on him. Good guy Roy is suffering as his son is under suspicion by the police. David Wickes and Cindy continue their adulterous affair, although Cindy is sure to let the cat out of the bag eventually - that one is simmering nicely. And Kathy and Phil are showing us some of the problems associated with parenthood. Also on TV, a new documentary, ‘The Poisoned Chalice’, is taking us through the history of the UK’s membership of the EU.

I am not reading much - slowly plodding through a Tim Parks novel.

Sunday 26 May 1996, Russet House

A miserable wet rainy cold Sunday. I feel pretty miserable inside too, though I can’t identify any rational reason. It looks like the saga of the houses may be reaching its finale. I spoke to both the estate agents for Aldershot Road and Tidy Street to discover that both buyers had been hoping/expecting to exchange that very day with completion on Friday for Tidy Street and Monday for Aldershot Road. This will involve a certain amount of transport juggling, and all the furniture will have to be stored in the garage.

Because we were due at my mother’s on Saturday evening for a birthday dinner with Julian and his family, we spent a few hours packing up yet more things in Aldershot Road.

Presents from Mum and Melanie were on Mum’s patio. Two huge terracotta pots with geraniums and a fuchsia. I spent a few minutes after my arrival, digging up two self-seeded plum trees (they may be from the excellent greengage Mum has). I potted them up and will bring them down to Russet House, as soon as all the moves are over.

Mum cooked roulardes, and very tasty they were too. She assured us that the beef came from a BSE-free Welsh herd! Not that I was concerned.

The whole BSE saga has turned into a sad, sad farce. Because the other Member States will not accept a first stage in lifting the ban on British beef and beef products (on tallow, semen and gelatin - why will no news story tell us what proportion of the market these products make? Is it 5%, 1% or 0.01%?) the John Major government has begun a strategy of non-cooperation in the European Union. I couldn’t believe it when I first heard it. It sounded such an extraordinary thing to do. When a park-keeper tells you off for walking on the grass and you say but I’m doing no harm at all, the park-keeper says, no sonny, you’re not doing any harm, but the harm comes when everyone walks on the grass. This government has only one line of action, time after time after time: damage limitation. Nowhere is this clearer than on European affairs. The media and the public are as gullible as chickens in a battery. They are fed chicken feed, and their opinions are no more worthwhile than a McNugget.

Mum is reasonably well. She sprained an ankle last week, and it looked very swollen even a week later. At dinner, after I told my anecdote about going to Brussels instead of Paris, we talked for a while about holidays. We managed to identify the following:
- When I was about six, after Julian was born but before Melanie, I went to Grandma Dolly in Switzerland with Mary, while Mum, Sasha and Julian went to Bandol (I don’t remember this at all).
- A year or two later, we all went to Bandol again. (I remember the outside shower, cold water, but the picture I have of the dry hillside rolling down towards the coast, I think comes from a photograph).
- A holiday in Plymouth.
- The year we moved into Hoddesdon, Mum broke her leg (she says) and so we didn’t go on holiday.
- A holiday in the Black Forest (when I was about 12 or so).
- A holiday in Chiclana, before Sasha bought the house.
- The first holiday at Sasha’s house in Chiclana.
- The second and last holiday in the house. This is the one when I crashed the car. It’s also the holiday that Mum, Johanna, the previous nanny, and us three children were apparently stranded in Spain, with no money and plane tickets home. Mum says Dad flew home earlier than the rest of us, and promised to send on the tickets, but they never arrived. She says it was a real nightmare. Finally after three days of waiting and trying to get the tickets and money, they arrived and we returned to Gatwick. From Gatwick to Hoddesdon was one helluva taxi fare and Sasha apparently was blisteringly angry with Mum. According to Mum’s story she doesn’t seem to have done anything wrong at all. I’m sure it wasn’t as clear cut as that. In general, Julian remembers more about these holidays than I do. He said he remembers Dad shouting at me lots in the car on the journey down.

These tales inspired Julian to remind us about the time he had gone to the US to work at Dad’s partner or subsidiary company. Sasha had said don’t worry about a work permit, it’ll be alright. When Julian arrived at the immigration counter, the officials wouldn’t let him in and so he had to return to London on the next plane, much to the surprise of the whole family.

And then I told my story about how Sasha had lent me his BMW to go to Spain to the villa with my friends. The problem was the car was only registered with Zoll plates, which are valid for a year, and the year was over, only Dad didn’t tell me. I arrived at the Spanish border with three friends in my car (and three other friends in another car) and they wouldn’t let me into Spain because the car’s papers weren’t in order. Disaster threatened - seven young people’s summer holidays at stake. I don’t actually remember any of this - in fact I do not remember anything about the holiday at all - but I know this is what happened because I’ve told the story so often, it’s etched in my memory. So, we swapped around who was in which car, so that the two girls were in my car, and then we drove to another border in the Pyrenees. The girls and I smiled sweetly and we prayed that the border guards wouldn’t check out the papers - our prayers were answered. Although I know my friends were from the church group, I cannot even remember who came with me on that holiday.

8 30 Thursday 30 May 1996, Russet House

I’ve got out the old Tosh, just to see if it’s still functioning, and to check I can still charge the battery. It’s a perfectly serviceable portable computer, except for the problem with the battery.

My birthday has been and gone, and I am now in my 45th year. Perhaps my best present was to exchange contracts on 13 Aldershot Road, with completion due for 4 June, next Tuesday. I’ve just looked up when I bought the house - 16 February 1983, over 13 years ago, over 4,700 days ago. I don’t really feel sad, or emotional about it. When I’m in the house, as I was yesterday (and will be again today), I’m just glad to have got rid of it without too many complications. Although I painted most of the rooms, and maintained the exterior paintwork, I never stripped any of the wallpaper, or put new wallpaper up. I never put up curtains anywhere, and only in one room did I lay a carpet. In fact, the house is a real mess. Thirteen years was a few years too many. Something dramatic must have happened to me, because prior to my return from Brazil in 1987, I had never lived in one place for more than two years. That ‘thing’ of course was Adam.

My birthday was a pleasant day. Barbara had made a big effort (she usually does) and bought me lots of presents: socks, pants, biscuits, gardening books (cacti and heathers), a collection of heathers, a shirt, two CDs of Spanish music, and the promise of a wheelbarrow. Adam bought me sweet things and wrapped them up sweetly, and he’d made me a giant aeroplane card. I worked during the morning, after lunch Adam went to play with Adrian and Philip for a couple of hours, and then Adam and I went for a walk around the Devil’s Punch Bowl near Hindhead. This is a famous area for walking and has a youth hostel plum in the middle of the valley. There are great views along the top and pleasant woodland walks below. We told stories and chatted as we walked for three or four miles. B came home about 7 and cooked a special meal and we drank champagne to celebrate both the exchange on 13 Aldershot Road and my birthday.

Colin sent me a fax ‘Bon Anniversaire’, at least I suppose it was Colin, there were no identifying marks. Julian sent me an e-mail message, and Sasha rang from the South of France.

About two weeks ago, I got hooked up onto the internet. There were complications, but I made it in the end. It cost me about £150, including a year’s subscription to the service provider - Demon Internet. I can now send and receive e-mail, ‘lurk’ with newsgroups, and browse the world wide web. The main business justification for this expense, and for the time in getting it all going, is so as to offer my subscribers an e-mail address for communications about EC Inform-Energy. I can see no business purpose for the web or newsgroups yet. I have accessed the web pages of CMS, which sells a wide range of newsletters, including those of the FT, but I’m not convinced that CMS wins much new custom through those web pages. I have also looked for a news group connected with energy politics, but without any success.

I have, though, looked at a sequence of chat from several news groups, including two on ‘Babylon 5’, one on ‘The Archers’. I think there must be great material for fiction out there in the newsgroups. There is an excellent piece of software, of which I have a demo (but which I think I will buy for £40), which connects up to the Demon News Server, grabs as many articles from whichever news groups are tagged, and pulls them down on to the hard disk and then disconnects. This means you can read them at leisure from the computer without incurring phone charges while you’re reading them when hooked up.

June 1996

Paul K Lyons


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