Tuesday 3 June 1997

At last my kitchen is all but complete. The flooring man is in there at the moment putting the final cork tiles down. Last week, I had the tilers in, and next week I have a new cooker and fridge being delivered. What a lot of work, what a lot of money and I’m only doing a minimum job on the whole kaboodle. This evening, hopefully, I’ll be able to put all the furniture and appliances back in their place - at present I have the washing machine in the hall, the old fridge in the office here, the table in the garden, etc. I’m too young to have such a tidy, organised household. Well, that’s OK because Ads does his level best on a daily basis to untidy every room and every corner of every room.

Wednesday 18 June 1997

Tragedy. Somehow, when I was cleaning up my computer desktop yesterday afternoon, I managed to delete my entire personal folder. This is all the personal and admin letters of the last year or so, and all my diary entries. Although I am scrupulous about backing up the EC Inform files, I do not seem to have backed up my personal files for nine months or more. I was in complete shock when I discovered this early morning while looking for a letter. I kept typing ‘Personal’ and ‘Diary’ into the find file utility and getting no response. I checked through my floppy disks and the last ones I had were from August 1996 - how could I have been so doubly stupid. I then spent the entire morning using Norton Utilities to recover as many files as I could find. Some were relatively easy to retrieve, others had been chopped up and were no longer tagged as Microsoft Word files. I may have recovered more than three-quarters of the files, but some will have been lost for ever. But then, I suppose, my life has hardly been a stream of adventures over the last year, or in recent history for that matter. I do still regret, twenty years on, losing the diary from my travels between Panama and Peru, but I doubt I’ll be very concerned in 2017 about the few lost entries from 1997!

At first I didn’t tell Theo what I was doing but as the morning wore on and I still hadn’t half finished I let off some steam and explained myself. Then, later over lunch, in order to explain the importance of my diaries, I told him about my Darwin escape and how I had saved three things, my money, my passport and my diary. I was then about to recount how I hadn’t even thought about god during my ordeal, and the connected story about rejecting god and all that in an instant, when I had the presence of mind to ask Theo if he was religious. To my surprise, he said he was. He said his father had been a devout Catholic, even though his mother was an atheist. So I stalled on the religious message bit of my story.

I am tired this evening, I suppose it must be from the half hour swimming while Ads did his class, or else it’s from the stress of losing my personal files.

The news today is that Kenneth Clarke has made an agreement with John Redwood. In order to secure the support of the Redwood camp, Clarke has offered him the position of shadow chancellor of the exchequer should he win. Talk about an unholy alliance! I mean they could not be further apart on Europe. ‘The Guardian’ raked up some quotes from both of them about each other which really threw the agreement into perspective.

Saturday 21 June 1997

Rain and wind and cold. Unseasonal, nasty weather. It certainly dampened spirits at Elstead’s first paper boat race in 10 years. There were only four craft entered, and their fragile structures had almost as much to fear from the rain as they did from the Moat’s water. There was a fair crowd, many of the familiar Elstead faces, but it couldn’t stop the event being something of a washout. There were only two boats for each of the two races - one adult, one junior - and in neither of them was there anything resembling an actual race. In the adult race, one of the two paper boats sank as soon as it was put in the water. The winning adult boat was helmed by Cruikshank, the tree surgeon, and the winning junior boat was won by Nicky, the sixth-year girl in Adam’s class who always seems to be the star performer at every event. The organisers had done a reasonable job - although they could have done more promotion and encouraged scouts or schools to take part, and there was also a problem with parking. I hope they continue next year. I think events such as this provide local colour and interest beyond the banal summer fete and jumble sale. In the next few weeks, Elstead also hosts a treasure hunt, a marathon and a tug of war. I would happily help organise something on a regular basis. Standing around waiting for the races to start and seeing all the locals around, I got to thinking again, as I do more often these days since B has moved on, about my social situation. I really must start doing something about it.

I have spent the last two days sorting out my self-assessment tax return. I think I’ve broken the back of it. But most of the work revolved around going through my company accounts in order to compartmentalise the expenses into boxes that can fit on the self-assessment form. As I did so, I was able to check what sort of job Wakelin, my accountant, had done on the accounts - not a very good one. I found a number of errors and other unexplained discrepancies. But I have now sorted the accounts out myself which means, in effect, that I’ve paid out £1,500 to Wakelin for nothing. I’m just trying to wrap my logic around this and work out whether I should continue to use them or dump them altogether. I have, recently, complained about their bill and there have been a couple of letters on both sides arguing about it.

On the whole, I feel that this new self-assessment approach may prove more efficient in the long run and that I may not need an accountant. The only slight reservation I have is whether the Inland Revenue are going to intervene more to investigate those companies where no reputable accountant is visible. I’ve still to work this through. I’m pretty cross with Wakelin, but I could be cross with accountants in general, I’m not sure where my wrath should lie.

The Conservative Party duly rejected the nightmare alliance of Clarke and Redwood and plumped for Hague the Vague. One of his first appointments was Cecil Parkinson as Chairman of the Party. This was a sweet, as in cute, appointment. Hague gave his first speech to the Conservative Party Conference when he was 16, just 20 years ago, and he must have grown up worshipping Margaret Thatcher and her allies such as Parkinson. He saw Parkinson organise the Party which won the 1983ish election and he’s now called on his old hero to refresh the party. Sweet boy. Clarke has refused to take a shadow cabinet posting but most of the other heavies have been brought back into shadow government. Redwood has been given trade and industry; and Howard and Lilley are there, as are plenty of other disreputables. Despite Hague’s age, they all look and sound like has-beens, like pieces of fake jewellery where once they sparkled as bright as any government in Europe. The Conservatives second biggest mistake was to elect Major as their leader, their biggest mistake was winning the election last time round.

I’m going over to B’s in a moment for supper. She’s bought fish for us to eat this weekend, and I’ve bought fish for us to eat this weekend. We’ve still a way to go before sorting out our routines.

All out for 77. England’s worst test total against Australia at Lords for a century. OK, the weather hasn’t helped. There’s been very little play over the last three days because of rain (none on the first day), but still that’s no excuse. The Aussies are up to 140 odd for 2 and they’ve had to contend with the same conditions. It just goes to show that leopards don’t change their spots. We may have won the one-days and the first test, but here we are absolutely humiliated. We thought a miracle had happened when we knocked all the Aussies out at Edgbaston for just over a hundred, and we were right. It was a miracle. Australia can perform the same kind of crucifixion but with real style.

Thursday 26 June 1997

‘Do you keep a fascinating diary?’ ran the headline on a brief item in the back of the ‘Radio Times’. There is a small column near the letters section where the BBC sends out signals when it needs viewer participation for making programmes. This particular ad came from a production company in Bristol which makes a Radio Four series called ‘Messages to Myself’. Unfortunately, I’ve not heard it before, so I wasn’t able to make my selections on any firm basis. The ad asked for four pages of extracts which give a flavour of your diary. Well, I decided that I had to include something from the world travel diary, and from the diary written to Adam. In both cases I started with an extract from the very first page and gave a couple of other samplers (the Darwin experience, for example). Then, I thought, I should give something more contemporary. That was more difficult. My diary for the last few years is full of boring bits about my business, or about digging in the garden or about TV programmes. In the end I chose an extract from my holiday with Adam last summer on the Isle of Wight. I also included a few extracts from 1981, the year after my depression - bits about speaking to Frederic for the first time in 23 years and about friends.

I was determined not to spend long over this, but, in the end, it took me all morning to get the four pages together. Even then, I wasn’t happy with the potpourri. There was nothing at all about my work, almost nothing about my unusual relationship with Barbara, and no tidbits about my famous relations. Even I found it difficult to find truly entertaining passages to divulge, and I would be hard pressed to call them fascinating. I think, I could put together a book, which would be fascinating, but I would need the scope of a book to develop themes and cross-references, and allow the reader the time to build up a picture of my confused life.

The rain continues. It washed out most of the Lords Test Match, and almost all play at Wimbledon. It’s a shame the rain and the sun couldn’t have been metered out a little more evenly through the spring and early summer. The plants needed water earlier in the year when they were developing leaf, but now they want sunshine to help bring on the flowers and ripen the fruits.

I spent an entertaining evening last night at the United Reform Church hall, round the other side of Elstead. Although, I’ve passed it many time, I’ve not been inside. The occasion was a meeting on ‘rural crime’. It had been scheduled for the school but was relocated for some unexplained reason, perhaps because the school’s head is away in the Peak District looking after Adam and the other year five and six children. In fact the meeting had been arranged much earlier in the year (apparently, there is one on rural crime every two years in Elstead) but it so happened that last week there was a serious assault here in the village and the ‘Surrey Advertiser’ made it one of their lead stories.

Violent incidents shatter the peace of Elstead: ‘The peace of Elstead has been shattered for dozens of villagers who claim to have suffered violence, death threats, verbal abuse and intimidation,’ the story began. It went on to explain that 12 police cars attended an incident which included a man being attacked. This press publicity ensured that the rural crime meeting was attended by well over 100 locals, not least myself. For an hour we all listened patiently to three talks: one from the policeman in charge of the area, another from a policeman whose job it is to reduce crime in the area, another from a cop responsible for traffic in the area who told us more about the Star initiative. All were reasonably informative and, mercifully, not too wordy. The chairwoman, though, was both condescending and long-winded. Almost everyone there wanted to talk about The Issue. The Issue, in fact, concerns the presence of two gypsy families on the Council estate, and the trouble they cause. This is the same issue that came up last year at the Paris Council meeting and at the school governors meeting. These gypsies and their children at the school are bullies and, according to others, go around intimidating people on a regular basis. They are street wise in the sense they know how far to go without breaking the law and how to use the system to protect themselves.

However, the first questions revolved to the speakers concerned the failure of the police to arrive quickly in response to the ‘violent incident’. There was very strong criticism of the fact that police had taken 1-3 hours to arrive when called. The police representatives explained, very patiently, how the system of prioritisation works and gave their best excuses for the delay. One insistent man, sitting next to me, was filled with fury, and his wife kept comforting him. He wasn’t interested in the police response because he had already gone through the complaint procedure and even written to the Home Office.

Then the debate steered, almost imperceptibly, to the cause of incidents, i.e. the gypsy families, and why nothing was being done about them. At this point the police chief read from a prepared statement in which he told us that he could not talk in detail about the incident because there are court cases pending and anything he said or that was reported in the press could prejudice the cases. Questioner after questioner got up to repeat the same kind of question: What is being done? Families are moving out of Elstead. Springhill was once a desirable road to live in, and now people are moving. Then, one young man, fed up with the general tone of the remarks asked, specifically, why the two families concerned couldn’t be moved out of the village. One of the gypsy women, who was sitting near the back, jumped up and started shouting that she had born here, and her grandmother had lived here since the 1930s. The chairwoman was trying to tell the young man his question was unacceptable for being too personal, but the gypsy woman went on and on. And then she said she wanted to know what was being done about drugs. It wasn’t safe for her children to walk the streets, she claimed, and so forth.

A local do-gooder then intervened, with the clear intention of changing the subject, with a question about the traffic measures to be introduced. I thought, though, that this was a shame: there was a lot of pent up tension in the room, and it might have been useful for many people to air their views rather than just a few. I’m sure a lot more people would have spoken if the chairwoman hadn’t always been trying to run away from the problems.

In fact, nothing much came out of the meeting. The police chief kept insisting, for the lack of anything else constructive to say, that all sides in the dispute had expressed a strong interest in resolving the conflict. He kept stressing the ‘ALL sides’ point, in order to signal, without being specific, to the disgruntled majority that the two gypsy families had also agreed they wanted to resolve the dispute. He told us that he had hoped the police could mediate, but the pending court cases made that impossible. Now, he said, he was looking around for an agency that could bring some positive mediation skills to the situation. But, he was forced to admit he had not found anyone to do the job, and that there were no meetings planned. In other words, nothing is being done. I’ll see what the ‘Surrey Advertiser’ has to say about it all tomorrow.

By ringing Dow Jones, I manage to get Fiona Harney’s telephone number at her new house. I discover she gave birth last Monday to a girl, Emma Frederica!

Friday 27 June 1997

Rain, rain and more rain. I am waiting to collect Adam from school. I’ve been down there twice already but the coach has still not arrived back from the Peak District where Adam’s class has been for the last five days. They seem to be stuck somewhere on the M25. I’m not surprised since its Friday rush-hour and pouring with rain.

Theo returned from Brussels. He had a bad trip. That’s reasonable because he had a good trip last time. This time, though, the flights were delayed both ways, the officials he wanted to see were never in, the documents he wanted were never available. I know the feeling so well.

Last night B and I went out on a pub crawl. It’s not the sort of evening one would organise a babysitter for, but we decided that we had to use at least one of our free evenings while Adam was away. I particularly wanted to try out the pubs in the area which I had never been in. Given that it was Thursday night and the rain was pouring down, it wasn’t surprising to find only a few people in most pubs. We started with the Donkey, which would have been my local if I had bought the house in Charleshill (oh thank goodness I didn’t win that auction). It was cute, with a small lounge crammed with well-rubbed and shiny horse brasses. Two regulars were sitting by the bar chatting to the elderly barman about their day. This was the only pub where we dared to have one whole half pint of beer each. Thereon, we drove through Shackleford but decided against stopping there, the pub looked too modern, too lacking in character, and too empty.

July 1997

Paul K Lyons


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