JOURNAL - 1998 - APRIL
1 April 1998, Brussels
A day without April Fool’s jokes. I didn’t see one in the paper. I left too early for the airport this morning to see Adam, although I did try and think of one I could do over the phone, but I couldn’t, and I was running a bit late. The journey was delayed slightly because the airline thought they had lost a passenger, but it appears as though immigration officials were trying to get on without proper authorisation. The pilot sounded really angry. I have noticed there are a lot of Africans on the Virgin flights to and from Brussels these days - I don’t know if that has anything to with it.
Not very much contact with people today. There were quite a lot documents to pick up in the Commission: a new paper on transport and the environment, another one on rail revitalisation, and another one on nuclear sector activities in Eastern Europe. Each one of them will take up a minimum of a page in the newsletters, and perhaps more. Theo is already overloaded for EC Inform-Transport 15, but EC Inform-Energy is still a bit light. This is the norm these days, we struggle to fit everything into EC Inform-Transport and struggle to fill up EC Inform-Energy.
I am still working day and night on the new book. I hope to finish in May, and then I’ll have a holiday. Fortunately, I will NOT be taking on a new newsletter. After speaking to Brooks on my last visit to Brussels, I did seriously think about running EC Times (on financial services) but I heard nothing from him or his partner Linda in three weeks, Then Brooks rang to tell me that Linda had finally got back to him and that she was agreeable. I thought about it again, and sent her an e-mail with some basic conditions and requesting a meeting this week. She finally rang me yesterday - the first time I’d ever spoken to her, a fuzzy-minded American. She said there was no question of her giving up the rights to the newsletter, and then focused on the money. She said it would only cost her $4,000 to pay back the subscribers so why should she pay me £4,000 to take it over. I agreed with her. I didn’t want to get into a messy discussion. I may have suggested I could compromise on my demand for £4,000, but when I thought about it afterwards, I realised how foolish the whole venture would be - if there’s only $4,000 of outstanding debt then there can’t be many subscribers left. They must have all run out, and her stated figure of 80 subscribers must be how many she had last October or November I would guess. I could tell from talking to her that arranging a deal would be a nightmare - and no wonder Brooks couldn’t get back to me any quicker. That’s the trouble with me, always too sensible. Never wade in. Never get caught in a mess, never sort the mess out, and never get rich (in whatever terms, money, friends, responsibilities).
Talking about friends, I should report my first (and only so far) match from Sirius. I said YES, she said YES, so the computer gave me her phone number. I was not very happy about cold calling this woman named Liz, in her mid 30s. I knew she had a son and was a widow, and worked in education, and read the ‘Times’. From her profile, I could tell she was not going to be my sort at all, but knew I had to get on with it. So I rang the 01483 number. One woman answered, I think it was her mother, and passed me on to Liz who was happy to talk. I didn’t confess immediately that this was my first Sirius call, but I did before the end. (Oh poor you! she said.) I don’t know whether everyone does this but Liz grilled me on the phone, quite pleasantly, but a grilling nevertheless. The most intriguing thing she told me was that her husband had died when he was 26 from skin cancer, possibly caused by the agents he was using in his lab work! Her 11yr old son, Ashley, was two when his father died. I got the sense of an incredibly protective mother, living perhaps with, or at least totally reliant on, her mother. Every time I told her something about myself in response to a question, she said ‘How lovely’. I got quite irked with her, and I built up a picture of a very precious woman, and a very precious son. We must have been speaking for 30-40 minutes before things started going wrong. ‘When did you get divorced?’ ‘Ah difficult question to answer,’ I said. And then I had to explain about B and I, and there was no ‘How lovely’ any more. In fact there was almost silence. ‘So what does Adam like doing?’ ‘Climbing trees, riding his bike’ I say. ‘Ashley likes playing Bahia.’ ‘What’s that, what kind of instrument?’ ‘It’s a way of playing the piano. Oh, I’ve got to go now and put my son to bed. Call me again if you want to.’ Which was a very effective way of saying exactly the opposite.
Since my letter of complaint to Sirius, I’ve now received another two dozen profiles from Sirius, every one of them is 40 or more, so I rejected them immediately.
I get an e-mail from Susan Breen. She’s working hard on the series, and is looking round for an actor to read my diaries!
On Sunday, Julian and his family pop in on their way back to London after a weekend in Bentley with his friend Peter Boswell and Simon.
A hypothetical - consciousness. Science seems to be getting nearer explaining consciousness. I’ll have a bit more to say, I suppose, when I get back to the two books I started but have ignored for a month or more because of my energy 2000 book. I am beginning to wonder whether an eventual explanation for consciousness might not reveal varying levels. We all take it completely for granted that consciousness is one thing, one state, common to all of us. We talk about it as one thing, like a table or a ball or an eye. But there are some glaring discrepancies in the way people live their lives. For example, at the end of the day, any explanation for consciousness has to be able to explain how so many people for so long have believed in God, when god quite evidently does not exist. So many people live in a world that is of their own construction and bears very little relation to reality, to truth. I don’t disclude myself from this, but I do wonder whether there are levels. If consciousness is a kind of a self reference, a feedback system in which we are simply watching ourselves, then maybe there are degrees of intensity at which we do this, or filters which we place in the way.
I have this ongoing debate with myself (always have done in one form or another) about my self-awareness and this terrible need to understand things, and whether this gives me any kind of advantage as a human being, because it seems to give me a lot of disadvantages. Is consciousness something developed with time, like a skill in music or language, but through circumstance rather than deliberate effort? Here’s my final conclusion, the explanatory power of psychological thinking is inadequate because it explains so little about the why and how of people’s being - and, for me, mine in particular.
Sunday 5 April 1998
Wind all weekend. The amelanchiers are flowering. It’s Sunday, so I’m working. I’m currently trying to write the assessment section of the first environmental chapter.
Sunday 12 April 1998
Easter Sunday. Clear blue skies and sunshine this morning. The weather has been atrocious, though, with intense rain across the country and some of the worst floods on record. A and B have gone to Catford to see Les. The density of work on the April newsletters up to Wednesday and my Easter social activities are over and I now must buckle down to get the book finished. I thought I would just take a few moments to write down a few bits and pieces.
The peace deal in Northern Ireland. I was very conscious all day on Friday, Good Friday of the deal being brokered in Ulster. I had no doubts that a deal would be agreed, and even said so to Theo some days ago when the media was full of doubts. I knew there would be a deal, because the time is right. The time was completely wrong during the Major period, because he was always going to need the support of the Ulster Unionists. This is so clear to me, I cannot understand why the world continues to congratulate Major for taking risks and setting the peace process in motion. He set the thing in motion not with an eye on peace, but with an eye for making sure he had the best possible leverage over the Ulster Unionists. Peace in Northern Ireland never stood a chance under Major, it only allowed the IRA to call a ceasefire, regroup its operations, and get a few people out of prison. John Major should be crucified for using Northern Ireland to keep his own party in power. But I am so pleased that a deal has been made and that, unlike past agreements, this one includes a much wider range of players. As someone said - it was probably Blair because he’s got a great PR team - it is now time for the men of vision not the men of history. There will be many troubles to come, and it will take a generation for peace to settle properly, because there are so many for whom the conflict is a religion, and they will need to carry it on for their own flawed personal reasons; it is these people that will go on killing and causing trouble. Sustained support from the bulk of people and politicians on both sides will help to isolate them in time. A long process, and one that could be jeopardised, for example, by the next government, being Conservative and weak.
My business has had a couple of hiccups. Last week’s issue of EC Inform-Transport was printed very badly - the problems at Artigraf never seem to go away. More importantly, though, I was relying on a major promotion - brochure inserts in ‘Pegasus’, the Chartered Institute of Transport’s internal magazine - to keep the marketing of EC Inform-Transport going. I paid out £1,700 for printing 13,000 mini-editions of the newsletter, and agreed to pay £1,450 to the Institute for the inserts. But the mailing has gone very badly wrong. We have had one single solitary order (and no telephone calls, or e-mail enquiries or any other contact whatsoever). I quizzed the mailing company, who faxed me the postage dockets. The dockets show the mailing went out all right, but one whole week late. They also show that only 9,000 were posted, which is scandalous (when I was told the mailing would be nearly 50% bigger) and that the weight of each one was entirely different from the weight I would have expected for an edition of Pegasus with inserts. I should be able to justify not paying the invoice for the inserts, but I’ll still lose the print costs, and the loss of expected business.
I’ve had a busy couple of days with friends. Fiona and Mark came down on Friday afternoon with their nine-month old, Freddy. I took them to the Compton teahouse and to Waverley Abbey. The last time I saw the three of them was at the little party Fiona gave after moving into the Tulse Hill house. Fiona was very nice to me in Brussels for years, and always invited me to join her and her friends when they went out clubbing. Soon after Fiona and Mark left, Genny arrived, and then Andy and Susie. Andy had rung during the week and asked if I would mind him bringing his girlfriend Susie to stay for the night. I was delighted, since I can’t remember Andy every imposing himself on me before, and since I was anxious to meet Susie. I then asked Genny to join us, because I thought it would be easier if we were four, and because I thought Genny would quite enjoy the company.
Susie turned out to be a live wire, full of fun and frolics, quite intense and head-over-heels in love with Andy. We drank a bottle of wine and removed to the Woolpack, where we drank more wine and ate. It was a lovely evening; it is so long since I’ve had a normal fun evening with friends like that. Susie confessed she believed Diana was still alive, and we had a long debate about soap operas. We came back here and drank two more bottles of wine, before Susie collapsed and Andy carried her off to my bedroom.
Sunday 19 April 1998
Working again. If it’s Sunday I’m working. At least I don’t have to worry about my social life while I’m working on the book - I haven’t got time for one. I need one day at the weekend - which at the moment is usually Saturday - just to catch up on chores and do a few things with Adam. Yesterday morning we spent at the Godalming auction. I haven’t bought anything at the auction for ages, haven’t seen anything I wanted. But on Friday, during my usual fortnightly recce, I was attracted by all sorts of things. I fixed on half a dozen lots that I was prepared to buy. There was a bicycle for B, which at £30 would have been a real bargain, but it went above that and I wasn’t really intending to buy her a bike just now. Then there was a standard lamp, which I thought would go well in the upstairs bedroom. Because I missed the bike, perhaps, I went slightly higher on the lamp than I intended - to £30. Still I got it. There were also two miscellaneous lots. One had some nice wooden bowls and a complete French linguaphone set, and the other had an ironing board, wrought iron tables, and a number of other things that might have been useful. But I missed both - the prices moved beyond my no-risk kind of figure, and I hadn’t inspected the lots carefully enough to warrant higher bids. About 20 minutes later, there were two lots of books we were keen on. I say we, because Adam was with me and terribly excited about two boxes of magic magazines. I was excited about a lot which had 100s of good quality old books, but also some bound volumes of old gardening magazines with lovely colour plates.
I bid over £100 for the books, even though B had not expressed much interest, but had to let them go at £125. There were so many books, I wouldn’t have known what to do with them all. Then came the magic books. They were down at estimated price of £20-30. Adam made me promise that I would bid up to £35, and he was prepared to give me all his savings - £20 - and pay me more from his pocket money. But, we were lucky, no one else was even vaguely interested, and so we bought them for a fiver. Adam was ecstatic.
We had an hour or so to wait then for my next lots, so I did some other shopping, Ads had his haircut, and we took an apple turnover (with cream) in The Pantry - I love that bread shop. I overheard a conversation which told me that it’s owned by a French woman. You can get a cup of tea in there for 25p! or a cafetiere of coffee for 52p. Excellent products, and cheap prices. Some of the staff are a little surly, except for the old man, who’s as sweet as one of the iced buns, but it’s the surliness of a busy factory where there’s no time or need for pleasantries. If there’s a problem or enquiry, they’re always very helpful.
Back at the auction, I declined to top a bid of £25 for a box of postcards. I hadn’t looked inside properly, so it would have been foolish to speculate. I’d have paid £15 for fun, but not £30. Then came the nun. The auctioneer was a little dismissive of the plaster cast nun, as if to suggest why would anyone want such a thing. I wanted it. I would have paid £70-80. I made a mistake, though, by not bidding first. I was waiting to see if the auctioneer would go down to £5 as he did on the magic mags. But someone else got in at £10. When I bid £15, there was no further interest and she was mine. She’s a bit chipped here and there, and there’s some flaws on her face, but she’s got some character, and nearly ranks alongside the other plaster figures - Mephistopheles, the urchin, the shepherdess, and the roman soldier in Brussels.
Vic Peeke popped over for a couple of hours at lunchtime. He wanted to talk about his marital problems. He displayed considerable natural history knowledge, and was quite clear about the shell we found on the Common some months back - a freshwater mussel. He said they were quite rare, in fact. He seems to know the commons round here like the back of his hand.
Paul K Lyons
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