DIARY 56: January - September 1997

Wednesday 1 January 1997

A new year. An unremarkable new year’s eve. Perhaps a slight improvement on 31 December 1995. Adam and I went to the Woolpack for a drink and game of cards. But we were both in bed and asleep before midnight. This year, B cooked a hotch-potch (is that a corruption of hot-pot? it could be called a chuffix corruption, but then again perhaps not). Then I did some more work until 8:30pm when I settled down to watch an ITV comedy drama with Timothy West about a TV company making a drama. The central character was a writer but the writer of the drama, unfortunately, was not as sharp as a prime-time drama deserved. It was full of stereotypes and stereotypical situations and repeated jokes, all of which were deliberate but nevertheless demonstrated the triumph of banality and obviousness over wit and intelligence. It was interesting only for the fact that Adam came to join us for the second half and there were one or two bonking scenes. B kept trying to send Ads off to the kitchen to get a glass of water, but he was both embarrassed and interested in what the TV had to show. I told B not to be so silly and to let the boy see what goes on.

It finished at 10 and I had promised to play a game with Adam, if he was still up. He had permission to stay up to midnight if he wanted. But as 10pm came so I faded badly (this cold has really taken my body by storm - at present I still have a cough and sore old nose) and only had enough strength to go to bed. However, I told Ads we could play a game of Uno with him acting has postman. Indeed, B went to bed too, and we played two games with Adam racing backwards and forwards bringing and taking cards. It will be remembered as the New Year’s Eve we played Uno by post with Ads as the postman.

Thursday 2 January 1997

Back to normal routines, with Theo here, well not quite because B and A have been at home all day.

Last night we watched a BBC production of ‘Mill on the Floss’. It was adequate but the ending was poorly managed. Maggie left her home in torrential rain but, by the time she arrived at the mill to find Tom, the water was as still as a pond, and then Tom fell in the water and Maggie went in after him, and they both drowned. Having both grown up in a mill and by a river, it seems beyond credence that they would have drowned so easily. Would it have been so difficult to film them drowning in a storm? Watching TV, clearly I mean to live through 1997 in much the same way as I did in 1996. I’ve got a few goodies stored on video: ‘Shadowlands’, ‘The Crow Road’, ‘Die Hard’. Duh.

Slowly, slowly I am recovering. I’ve hardly coughed today at all. I zipped into Godalming to get the post and do a few other errands. I wrote up Parliament stories this morning and this afternoon, I worked through some of the material from the transport associations.

Adam seems to have grown up a lot this Christmas. I’ve noticed his behaviour has matured in some difficult to define ways. He still takes every opportunity to make a joke or turn a conversation into fun. He’s down to two expressions at the moment which he uses all the time: ‘class’ and ‘tack’. The former is for anything good and the latter for anything bad. The range is enormous. For example, this week we watched the Royal Institution lectures - ‘The history in our bones’ - five one hour lectures looking at the fossil records. They were really good, perhaps a little too difficult for Adam but not so much that he lost concentration. Every now and then, the lecturer would use a demonstration to illustrate his point. The moment it was clear he was about to start a demonstration, Adam would say out loud ‘class’. Equally he would use the word if he was given a brand new bike for Christmas. ‘Tack’ is used in the exactly the reverse sense. He might ask me if he can have a drink of lemon squash and when I say ‘no, have some water’, he says, ‘tack’.

For most of the past few days, he’s played with his Scaletrix, having got some new long track pieces. But, he’s not looked after the cars and they’ve all started breaking down. He reads a lot; Jennings is his favourite at the moment.

Did I mention that I won a competition over Christmas. I’m chuffed about this. The FT ran a sort of stock market thriller serialised through five issues, culminating with the final episode last Saturday. On the Friday, they asked for readers to submit an altered epigram that might fit the end of the story. In other words, one had to try and second guess the author as to how he might conclude. Entries were to be sent by fax or e-mail. I had cut all the episodes and read them on Friday evening, and then discovered that I had until 10pm to send in my entry. I searched everywhere for a book of quotations, only to remember that I must have thrown my old one away, and Barbara’s is buried in the spare room somewhere among her thousands of boxes. Fortunately, I have a CD Rom, provided free by a recent magazine, which has a collection of reference works, including one on quotations. I spent about an hour going through quotes to do with crime, and finance, and so on. I hadn’t really finished but A and B were calling for me to play a game so I e-mailed off the two best I had done so far.

On the Sunday, the FT rang to say I was one of the five winners, and would be receiving an FT hamper with wine, books, CDs and some other special gifts chosen by the writers on the weekend supplement ‘How to spend it’. In fact, it would not surprise me at all, if the hamper is simply a collection of the free gifts sent in by shops and manufacturers to FT writers in search of reviews. Still, I’m not complaining, well not yet, not till I receive it.

As for my corrupted epigram, it went like this: ‘There are two times in a man’s life when he should speculate with other people’s money: now and then.’ The editor put me at the top of the list of five winners, so I can only assume mine was certainly and undisputedly the best.

Sunday 12 January 1997

The cold has gone and the frost/snow has lifted for the first time in weeks. It has been a dark, cold Christmas. I’ve been on penicillin, but now a seven-day course given by the doc is over, I feel far from fit. I am not far, though, from the launch of EC Inform-Transport. We go to press on Friday and should see the first copy the following Tuesday. This weekend I’ve been working on the newsletter design and on the first marketing letter. When I gave the latter to Barbara to check over, she laughed because it seemed so similar to so many other letters I’ve written over the past four years. Theo has proved a real asset. He learns fast, writes well, and has shown an aptitude to work hard. We don’t gossip much.

I have finished reading Le Carré’s ‘The Tailor of Panama’. I think he’s been more ambitious with this work in an attempt, perhaps, to woo more literary acclaim. The construction is fluid with the reader taken back and forth through the present and past, in and out of a character’s thoughts with barely any signposts. This does make it more difficult to follow in parts, but, like the ‘Night Manager’ before it, and most of his other novels, it is a splendid piece of writing.

I’ve also sat through the four-hour ‘La Belle Noiseuse’, directed by Jacques Rivette, although I must admit I fast forwarded and played it at double speed for large parts. Rivette is a director from my past, in the sense that I fell in love with a film of his - ‘Julie and Celine go boating’ - when I was in my 20s. I was tempted to go to the cinema to see ‘La Belle Noiseuse’, although it might have irritated me being so long for so little purpose. The main theme, that of the importance an artist gives to his work relative to the rest of his life, is a typically French one, and treated in a typical French fashion. There is no paucity of pretentiousness, it could hardly be a French film if there were. Nevertheless, the characters grow on one during the three days in which the story takes place. I particularly liked the portrayal of the complex but caring relationship between the old artist and his wife.

I received a card from Claudio who has got a job as a lecturer with the Belo Horizonte University but in Ouro Preto. He sent me a visiting card with an e-mail address but the latter didn’t work and the postmaster returned my message after eight days, so I’ll send him a copy of it by snail mail.

A week ago we went next door for a party. Jane is leaving for a nine month trip around the Far East and Australasia, so Tom and Leslie held a bash to wish her well. Both B and I enjoyed ourselves, although I got tired very quickly. There were both oldies and young’uns. I talked schools mostly. Leslie served up excellent food.

The house over the road is almost built. The roof is on and the electrician has wired up some lights. Of course, I never got further than day one with my competing project, partly because of my cold, but more importantly because of ‘EC Inform-Transport’, which in its own way could perhaps be considered as my competing project. It will be up and running before his, but can they be compared. Time spent (on construction/development plus ongoing running costs would be roughly equal after three years, but the returns on the house I calculate as 180,000 and on the newsletter as 100,000 max. Basically, the story is that I will take anything up to five years to achieve the same kind of turnover (on capital invested) while the builder will achieve the same kind of turnover within one year.

February 1997

Paul K Lyons


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