DIARY 59: July - December 1998

Tuesday 7 July 1998

EC Inform-Energy 62 has gone to bed, and I am fairly relaxed about EC Inform-Transport 18, we have plenty of material and we’re reasonably on schedule. In fact, I plan to go up to London tomorrow for a short seminar on Chernobyl at Chatham House - I wouldn’t normally take a day off in production week.

Sport has been dominating all our lives recently. The World Cup is still under way. The first round of the knock-out stage was quite exciting - especially the England-Argentina match which, for my money, has been the game of the tournament so far - but the quarter finals were very exciting. The England-Argentina game was a real old-fashioned nail biter, and we should have won - I thought we would. The last time the two sides met was in 1986 when Argentina knocked us out by the ‘Hand of God’; and so the word ‘revenge’ was floating around the back pages of the newspapers. I had arranged to meet Raoul in Esher for a drink and a meal at about 8:15, I thought we would find a pub and watch the match with some atmosphere. I left a little before 8 and tuned into Radio 5 on the car radio. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard a penalty had been awarded to Argentina in the first few minutes and we were 1-0 down. Tragedy was striking early, but I had been so confident England would win. Then, no sooner had I driven a few more miles along the camera-soaked A3, when the commentator was screaming at me that another penalty had been awarded, this time to England. Our young gallant Lancelot, Michael Owen, had won the penalty by a superb straight run into the penalty area and a stupendous dive worthy of Klinsman. Our King Arthur, Shearer, took the kick and scored without fault. The score was then 1-1. I arrived in Esher, parked at the pub where we always meet, and strolled down the high street to find a post box, to post an important letter or two. On the way back, cries of joy spilled out of almost every property - Michael Owen had scored - 2-1. There was a TV in the pub, not one of those big screens unfortunately, and it was crowded, but I found a spot to watch. Ecstasy, light and frothy as a Guinness head, was floating through the room - England were playing attractive attacking football, it was a joy to watch. Raoul arrived and he joined me at the back of the crowd, where I had managed to secure two seats.

Raoul and I stay friends, but we don’t have much in common, almost nothing I would say. He has a wife and four children, I have no wife and half a child; he has a highly paid job; I earn a very modest sum; he is in charge of scores of people, I am in charge of 1; he enjoys a major position within his career and respect among his peers; I do not.

When he joins me with the drinks, he demonstrates a need to establish control almost immediately. Three times I look at him and tell him there have been two penalties already - after all it is an astonishing scenario - and he ignores me every time, insistently staring at the TV screen. Incidentally, I notice that he has only bought himself a half pint, but he always orders a pint when I’m buying. (Gosh, that’s poor student behaviour.) I suggest we eat here, they do hamburgers and the usual pub stuff, that way we can watch the full match. But Raoul objects, saying he’s not hungry. So, near half time, when it is still 2-1, we decide to go for a meal somewhere else. Not far away we find a nice place, order up some food and natter about our children. I tell him about Adam’s recent difficult behaviour, and he tells me that Jack is doing very badly and may be in danger of not getting through the public school exams taken at 13. He tells me he is working harder now, towards his five-year review which comes up in a year’s time.

The meal is enjoyable, and we walk back to the pub to catch the last part of the match. To our horror, we discover that the score is not only 2-2, but that Beckham (our free kick hero of the match against Columbia) has been sent off. England manages to hold off against the Argentine onslaught, and even scores a goal a few minutes before the end. The entire pub erupts with joy, indeed it seems like it physically lifts into the air. But then disappointment brings as down to earth as someone points out that the ball is suddenly in England’s penalty area and Argentina is threatening to score. The England goal has been disallowed! Some real thugs, who are lounging all over the seats nearest the TV, scream abuse at the TV as if it were a receiver that could transmit the message across to France, and into the referee’s ear. The game moves into extra time. (Raoul is time-watching always - he wants to know how long it is before extra time starts - and I don’t feel he has relaxed for a minute since arriving, nor is he allowing himself to enjoy the game, even though it’s one of the most exciting games ever, and the pub is providing a stacks of atmosphere.) Through most of extra time, Argentina are attacking and England are defending bravely with their 10 men. At one point, after a failed attack, I see Ortega lie down on the ground exhausted and exasperated. England survive extra time, and the game moves into penalties. (Raoul wants to know how long it takes to start the penalties.) Both sides score the first penalty and miss the second, the tension remains; both sides score the third penalty, and the fourth, and then Argentina scores its fifth penalty, and Batty walks up to take England’s last of the set of five. I turn away from the set because I know - I really know and I say so to Raoul - Batty is going to miss. How do I know? I don’t know Batty from Batman, but I watched him after he came on as a substitute in the middle of extra time - and I saw that he couldn’t match the spirit of the game. His passes were safe, he was afraid of making a mistake. I don’t understand why England’s manager, Hoddle, allowed him to take a penalty - there were others in the team more capable. (I don’t deny that Hoddle has done a good job but his commentary on ITV yesterday during the far less exciting Brazil-Holland semi-final was abysmal, he got everything wrong all the way through. Firstly, he said he thought it would be a high scoring match, then at half time when Brazil were one up, he said Brazil might hold on to that lead; then at full time, he said he thought Holland might score. There’s something un-intelligent about Hoddle which I can’t quite put my finger on.)

So we were out, and Argentina were through. There was good news for England in the quarter finals though. Both Argentina and Germany were beaten, by Holland and Croatia respectively. Tonight, France and Croatia meet for a place in the final. I always thought France-Brazil would be the dream final for the French organisers, even though neither of them are the best teams at the tournament. It’s sort of fate, and I suppose Brazil will have to win, because they are the better side; but it would be a fairy tell ending for France if they could emulate England in 66 and win the cup at home.

But to round up the rest of the sport that has dominated our lives. There was Wimbledon, and our hero Henman got into the semi-finals, only to be beaten by Pete Sampras who went on to win the men’s title for the fifth time. I haven’t followed the women’s tennis, I can’t even remember the names of the main players. Then there’s the cricket. England lost the second test against South Africa abysmally, and now look set to lose the third test by an innings, after having to follow on in chase of South Africa’s total of around 550. It looked an impossible task for England to hold on for nearly two days in their second innings, but they managed it, finishing on nine wickets and with a total score exactly that of South Africa’s first innings! Despite the draw status, it was one of the more gripping test match finishes of recent years.

Friday 10 July 1998

EC Inform-Transport 18 has gone to bed, and I now don’t have any deadlines for seven whole weeks. I am already promising myself a whole host of targets: redo the front garden; start work on a new novel; take a holiday in Ireland; reconsider the rest of my life (including work). No, seriously it is time for a stock-taking exercise, and I must do it this summer. I have had a bad six months. I have had a bad six months with work (not only have so many things gone wrong, but I had to work so hard to get the book done); and I have had a bad six months personally (no new friends, no nothing). And, it is worth saying, it is the first time, probably in 20 years, that I have gone a whole six months without intimacy. In a natural and unspoken way, B and I have drifted away from our closeness of many years, and B is becoming more involved elsewhere.

I have one or two things to tie up with work: I have the wretched business with Stroudgate; I have the VAT man coming on Tuesday for an inspection; I have some filing and admin. Then, I should be a free man. Perhaps, I will just take off and fly to Dublin. I have a yen to make my way down to Kerry and do some walking.

What is on my mind? The world cup final is on Sunday - Brazil-France. I am pleased for France, but I suspect there were five or more other better teams. Still that’s the beauty of a knock-out tournament. The two sides were clearly destined for each other: the host and the cup holder. Neither team had to go through the qualifying rounds; and both teams are led, unusually, by unpopular coaches. Also I had this from Rex Bailey (at DGXVII, who has me on his email rounds). Conclusive evidence that England were cheated out of a place ?? -the Quarter-Finalists for the World Cup: A rgentina, B razil, C roatia, D enmark !!! F rance, G ermany, H olland, I taly

What else is on my mind? Adam went for a full day at Rodborough on Wednesday. We quizzed him pretty thoroughly about it. He has been put in a class with all but one of the girls from St James and none of the boys. He gave the teachers a very mediocre review, but said, on the whole, it was OK.

What else is on my mind? Some amazing things from TV last night. (Incidentally, I am thinking of giving TV up entirely during the summer - can I do it?) I saw this film based on the true story of a man sent to Alcatraz for stealing $5 and how he was kept in solitary confinement for three years (because he had tried to escape), and then, on being let out, he murdered someone in the prison canteen; and how it took a determined young naive lawyer to prove to a complacent judicial system that the prison regime at Alcatraz was as guilty of the murder as the prisoner. He won the case, but the man was still found guilty of second degree murder, sentenced to three years, and sent back to Alcatraz! How could they send him back to Alcatraz and the same warders, after his defence which had caused a nationwide sensation about the terrible conditions there. He died shortly after, but we weren’t told how.

Then, I was caught by a brief item on Uri Geller, who has coated a Cadillac car with thousands of bent spoons and forks (each one kept in place by rivets). To camera, he pointed at individual utensils and told us they came from Elvis Presley or John Lennon, and how he was going to drive the car through the Middle East and try and persuade the leaders out there to sign a peace treaty! How can one man be so silly and pompous and famous and rich.

Then I watched a black chat show, which I liked. I find it amazing how people can be so open and relaxed in front of cameras; how little self-consciousness they show.

Wednesday 15 July 1998

To see ‘Oklahoma’ at the National tonight. To Ireland tomorrow to do some walking. I can’t remember how long it is since I took a week’s holiday on my own, to be on my own. I used to go down to the flat in Antibes once a year for a week, and after that I took to going on 2-3 day walks somewhere not to far away in England. This, then, is an innovation - a whole week away with nothing to do but walk and walk. I had intended to go to Kerry, but I met Niema on Sunday and she persuaded me to go to Clare, to Doolin, where Loreena’s cottage is, and when I realised this was the Burren, I decided to go there. The silly thing, though, is that Loreena’s cottage is being done up, and, in future, I would be able to stay there, so why go now, when I can’t stay there. Niema has given me the name of a friend, Elsa, who runs a restaurant, and she might be able to recommend a B&B. I’ve since realised, (through reading guide books) that Doolin is very touristy and this has put me off somewhat. So what am I to do, go straight to Doolin and see whether contact with Elsa is helpful, or should I just plan a long walk, that happens to go through Doolin at some point? I’ll just go where the fancy takes me, I suppose. Why did I decide on Ireland? I don’t know, I just had this idea to nip over there, a bit like I did when I finished my exams at Cardiff. I feel a bit like I’m at a watershed, and I need to clear my head a little. What of? What for? I’ve no idea? I feel quite fine and well, really.

To the pub now, to buy Theo a drink. The disloyal youngster bet me a pint that Argentina would beat England in the World Cup.

Friday 31 July 1998

Three full weeks into my summer holidays. Half a week I spent putting EC Inform’s admin into order; then I went to Ireland for a week (see separate hand-written diary), then I spent the remaining half week doing more admin and stuff. And then, this week, I’ve got down to the serious business of not doing very much. I’ve a full agenda of things which need doing or thinking about over the summer break, but writing them down neatly on a piece of paper is not the same thing as getting them done or thought through.

In fact, I have managed a few bits and pieces during the week. On Monday, Ads and I spent the afternoon and evening with Genny and David. We walked around Alice Holt forest (which was not that interesting to be honest, but Genny and I always yap a lot); and she cooked a light supper for us in the evening. David is off to Switzerland for the summer to be with his father, and Genny is working on a portfolio to show Oxford University Press’s children’s editor, I think.

On Tuesday, we went swimming, and after I collected £300 worth of framed photographs. The framing service at Compton is not as good as the one I’ve used in Brighton but I’m pleased to have gone to the trouble, to print the slides up and get them framed. They’re mostly sets: there’s four Kilburn photos, three bike photos (which the framers have ruined by using too strong a red on the frame staining), five reflections, and three self-portraits (also reflections). I’ve hooked some of them up on the walls, but the upstairs hall area has become crowded very quickly and it won’t take as many as I’d hoped. Also the reflection photos in black frames are rather dark and need a brighter wall. Altogether, I’m not as happy as I ought to be with the framed photos and their decorative impact considering the time and effort I went into getting them done.

Colin came down for the day on Wednesday, and we went for a row on the Wey from Farncombe which was delightful, and for a walk on the Common, which enabled me to take a few snaps of the hallucigenically colourful heather. Colin, Ads and I ate lunch at the Pantry in Godalming (where tea is still 30p), and we ate supper at home. I bought ready-mades from Secretts, and made a large green salad and potato salad.

I am still furious with myself for failing to produce a good crop of potatoes this year. The few potatoes that have grown are extra floury, and have none of the delicious taste they’ve had in the previous two years. I thought I could cover over the flouriness by turning them into potato salad, but instead it transmogrified into potato salad mush. I also made blackcurrant ice cream for afters, which went down a real treat. The blackcurrants were the very last of the 1997 crop, but my fridge is full of jars of blackcurrant jam from this year’s crop which B kindly picked and processed while I was in Ireland.

This week I wrote a 5,000 word story as a present for Adam’s birthday. If he can go to the effort of writing a story for my birthday and handwriting it so nicely, I don’t see why I shouldn’t put a bit of effort into a story for him. I used to write him shorter simpler stories for his birthday when he was younger, but it takes more effort now he’s a sophisticated reader. I’m quite pleased with it - it’s called ‘The King of Ireland’ and it derives from an idea given me by someone I met during my first day at Doolin.

Thursday was a really wasted day. I made the list. For EC Inform, for example, the following need doing this summer:
- I need to establish what is happening with Cameron, and whether I will use his new printing company or stick with Artigraf;
- I have to think about how to change the website;
- I need to establish exactly what I’m going to do with EC Inform next year;
- I have masses of work to do on the transport book that Theo has been writing for nine months;
- I need to consider some marketing for EC Inform-Transport after the summer;
- I must do my quarterly VAT accounts, and my annual self-assessment form (I’ve set aside four days for this in mid-August, including a weekend).

And on the personal side, I have the major job of redoing the front garden. I zipped over to Guildford on Kiwi to do shopping for Ads birthday - a £75 remote control car, £35 worth of books, mostly fiction, and a Sonny Terry tape. And on Friday, I did even less. I spent two hours shopping in Godalming, and all of an hour in the garden. I took a couple of hours out to cycle with Ads and James to the ponds, where we tried to build a raft without much success (for want of string mostly), and, as usual, I spent 45 minutes watching the Superman repeats on TV. Apart from that and the odd bit of cricket, I’ve kept away from TV.

August 1998

Paul K Lyons


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