Thursday 5 November 1998, Brussels

What a foul day! It started well, the traffic to Heathrow was not unreasonable, although the bus took a long time from the car park to the terminal. The aeroplane captain apologised for having to leave half an hour late, but, in fact, managed to arrived in Brussels only 10 minutes late. I arrived at the Central Station at about 10:25, the earliest I can remember for a long time. Then, there, at the station things started to go wrong. There were no metro trains, no buses, no trams - there was a strike, a greve. I had planned to nip to my flat in rue du Canal for a cuppa and to change bags, but that plan was scuppered. Instead, I walked to Schumann (not more than 20 minutes) by which time the first dull pains of a headache were starting to hurt. I went first to the Council only to discover that I did not have my press card. And my headache got worse. I did, though, manage to get into the Council and to the Commission without too much difficulty.

In the Council, I got a quick briefing from Lauri on the Energy Council, and a draft of the Resolution on energy efficiency (although it’s not the latest and that has caused me problems). In the Commission, I picked up some useful documents, and had a chat with Costas Verros about the forthcoming Directive on access for renewables. By this time, I was feeling deadly tired. I ate lunch and took a taxi back to the flat. There I took pills, slept a bit, and worked through until around 7pm.

For the record, I noticed that the Commission plans to prepare some important documents on health next year, and Lauri happened to mention he was preparing for a Health Council next week. These two things conjoined to give me, for the very first time, an inkling of EC Inform-Health!

There have been a couple of extraordinary politico-media stories in the last week or so which are worth noting. The first concerns Ron Davies, the Welsh secretary, and the person expected to lead the first Welsh Assembly. One afternoon last week the news came through that he had resigned. He had made a mistake, he said, in a matter of judgement, and in order to avoid any embarrassment to the government or his family he had resigned from the cabinet immediately. The story he gave was that he had driven back from Wales late the previous evening, had gone for a walk on Clapham Common, talked to a stranger, gone with the stranger, who had picked up two further people, ostensibly for a meal, but instead had been robbed and his car had been stolen. Of course he was pressed for more details, especially over whether sex or drugs were involved, but wouldn’t say. He felt he had done and said enough to stop speculation. Initially, I thought his political judgement in resigning immediately was good, but, when he refused to divulge what mistake it was that had led him to take the decision, his political astuteness must have eloped. A day or two later, under intense media scrutiny, he stepped down from being the Labour party candidate for the Welsh Assembly (he has, however, remained an MP). All over the weekend, speculation about what had actually happened was rife. He denied any sex and drug connection vehemently. Indeed, by the beginning of this week he had started to attack the press for not leaving him alone and publishing wild rumours (sue then, Ron, sue). However, the criminals appear to have been caught and charged, and the police must have revealed pieces of the jigsaw puzzle for, on Tuesday, I think, the ‘Guardian’ finally ran an article with believable details. Yes, Ron had been out on Clapham Common looking for gay sex (he has a wife and children, but bisexuality appears to be the common judgement), and then was the subject of blackmail which initially he gave into. He was supposed to turn up the next day with £1,000 but went to the police instead. Poor old Ron, the world of Wales was at his feet, and he tripped.

The other story concerns Peter Mandelson, now trade and industry secretary. He is the one politician in the government that comedians and cartoonists really love to target. I think this stems from his position as a key adviser to Blair behind the scenes before being made a minister. As with the Davies story, I am grateful to the ‘Guardian’ for providing me with excellent information on these subjects. It transpires (I didn’t know this but it seems to have been common knowledge among political commentators) that Mandelson is homosexual. Matthew Parris, a key gay figure and previous MP, outed him on Newsnight last week, because, he said, he felt it was time for the public to know. The BBC slapped a gagging order on any mention anywhere on the BBC of Mandelson being gay, supposedly because a politician’s private life is private unless it affects their work or is a bona fide news story (as in the case of Ron Davies). The newspapers and Labour politicians picked up on this individual gag and heavily criticised the BBC. Mo Mowlem, for example, on ‘Any Questions’, objected to having been told not to mention a certain subject (and at the time I didn’t know what she was talking about).

Hurricane Mitch is a bitch and is causing terrible havoc (is havoc already terrible or does terrible havoc mean more than just havoc?) in the Caribbean. An attack on Saddam Hussein looks imminent, since the inspection procedures have broken down again. He may have gone too far this time to avoid the bombs, but the West will have great difficulty in stoking up public opinion once again, having done so more than once, and having had to withdraw from the violent option in the face of apparent compromises.

B and I went to Rodborough School last night, for a year seven information session. Quick thoughts. 1) I really didn’t like the look of all the other parents, they seem unlike us, almost all of them. B says the parents we saw at the public school looked much more like us. Am I wrong to send Adam to a state school? 2) The deputy headmaster, a Mr Shackstead (he who Theo warned Adam about) is an ugly slimey creature. He looked like an evil headmaster from a cruel Dickens school but nevertheless said the kind of things you would expect from a deputy at a modern school. Ads has a double dose of him on Mondays, they are the only lessons he complains about. 3) We got no further info about the streaming system. 4) Adam’s form tutor is a delightful and very attractive young woman. 5) We met the strange parents of Adam’s new friend Vince. The father is short, thin and humourless and was dressed in a three-piece suit, the mother was more outgoing and much taller.

17 November 1998

Cold. The first real frosts have come. There is supposed to be an amazing particle shower in the skies tonight, especially visible over Asia, but also here in the form of many more shooting stars than usual. Unfortunately, there’s a mist building up denying a clear view of the above. The silver birches are now denuded, and the oak leaves are browning but not beginning to fall on mass. Already this year, the ditch has been full of water, evidence of the high rain fall through the autumn.

The diary has got left behind again through the production cycle of the newsletters. It is such an intense week from the moment I come back from Brussels on a Thursday or a Friday, through to the following Friday when EC Inform-Transport gets put to bed. Then, at the weekend, I am usually too zapped to write, and so spend most of the time moping round the house, doing a bit of tidying here and there or usually watching TV or listening to the radio. In fact I’m still in that kind of mode, it’s 9:30 and there’s a thriller starting on TV, one I saw some years ago in Brussels, but nevertheless, I am turning the computer off, and stepping down the stairs to the lounge to waste another couple of hours of my life watching it. Would it be any less of waste to be writing up my journal. I doubt it.

18 November 1998

And this evening, I have watched two hours of ‘Hornblower’. Good television. This was the second in a series, the next two will not be until the New Year.

I’ve worked hard today on revamping the EC Inform website. Largely put together by Theo, it has been running since summer 1997. I’m now extending the site and giving it a bit of colour. I decided today, for example, to make available the entire text of my first EC Inform energy policies book, dating from 1994. I’ve also devised a way of getting the front covers of the newsletters and the books onto the site to jazz it up a bit. Still a lot of graft left to do. But, once it’s ready, there should be less updating every month. But I’m also announcing - and therefore committing myself to - several work-intensive developments: EC Inform-Water, an email summary, and an Editor’s Choice section in every newsletter. I’m interviewing someone else tomorrow, my last candidate, and if they don’t prove suitable and willing, I may have to put off some of these initiatives.

The House of Lords has four times rejected a bill, approved by a large majority in the House of Commons, on implementing proportional representation for the European Parliament elections next year. The Labour government is furious and is saying it is totally unconstitutional for the unelected Lords to reject the democratic will of the Commons. Hague, the soon-to-be-forgotten leader of the Tories, is saying its undemocratic of the Commons to bring in an undemocratic way of voting. But it’s such a stupid position to take, because any sane person fully realises that a change in the voting system approved by the Commons is a democratic decision, and trying to pretend otherwise is absurd. As I understand it, the Lords has never gone this far in rejecting any bill passed by the Commons. It seems to me, perhaps, the only reason it is going this far is simply because there is no longer any doubt about reform, and the hereditary peers have nothing to lose by wielding their axes.

We went swimming this afternoon. Nothing untoward. We did our lengths, Ads 10, me 20, then messed around for a bit, diving and playing, and then listened to Dylan in the car coming home. Ads had to stop at Spar to buy fruit for his Domestic Science lesson tomorrow. We are beginning to argue a lot. He does so question everything. He was insisting on the need for melon for his fruit salad (the teacher had given the children a list of must-haves and extras), and I said it really didn’t matter what he had so long as he could make a good fruit salad. He argued and argued. He usually excepts my decision in the end, but sometimes not until after a long inquisition.

I’ve failed to direct him towards writing a short story for a competition in the ‘Ham & High’ (which Mum sent me). I tried my best to help along. He found it really difficult to think up a plot, so I gave him a title (A Winter’s Tail - because it had to be about a wintry subject) and suggested he think up three plot ideas and we would then talk about and choose the best. I would then help again, I said, after his first draft, and in checking over the final version. But he never really put any interest into it. On the surface he said he really wanted to do it, but underneath, he just couldn’t be bothered. I have enormous difficulty motivating him to do anything these days. We still have a lot of fun, but I cannot get him to do anything constructive outside of school any more. I even have trouble getting through five minutes of diving practice, because he’s become so adept at questioning, or diverting, or joking, and there is nothing in him driving the need to get better with me (not with chess, not with swimming, not with writing stories) - he is just not motivated by or through me any more.

We finally got round to publishing ‘Trapped Again’. Ten copies (eight with a blue cover and two with a yellow cover). I’ve sent ‘Trapped’ and ‘Trapped Again’ off to a couple of publishers, but I hold out no hope. The stories are too old-fashioned, too Enid Blyton.

22 November 1998

It’s taken a week and most of the weekend, but I’ve made ready some 50 pages for the new EC Inform website. I’m quite pleased with it. I’ve reduced the amount of information I’m going to make available about the current issue because I fear it may stop potential customers from subscribing. From January (or December probably) I’ll only be uploading the new Editor’s Choice (which is a short taster of the interesting stuff in the issue), and one story. There will also be a full sample past issue of both newsletters, and a sample of the new email summary which will begin next month, plus the full introduction and contents of all three books (and the full text of the 94 book). Also, I’ve developed a page of links, a site map, and a noticeboard. This last was a brain wave earlier today. On it, I can make all sorts of announcements - about the changes to the website itself, wishing subscribers a Merry Christmas, advertising the current vacancy etc.

After finishing that (all the HTML detail - its knackering), I had a short sleep, and then read a couple of chapters of ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond. I’m almost at the end now. Diamond becomes a bit repetitive after a while, but nevertheless the book is a fascinating study of how geography and the availability of natural biological resources have underpinned the success or otherwise of civilisations in the history of man since his hunting and gathering days.

Then I watched the second half of an old sci-fi movie ‘The day the earth stood still’ which I found riddled with plot inconsistencies (how does the robot manage to collect Mr Carpenter’s dead body from the heavily guarded security cells and carry it all the way back to the spaceship without encountering any resistance?). ‘Radio Times’ gave this movie five stars, but only two stars to a film called ‘Disclosure’ which I also half watched last night on the TV. ‘Disclosure’ stars Michael Douglas and Demi Moore, and is a clever role reversal plot (sexual harassment by a woman boss of her male employee) mixed in with the business of a modern electronic games company.

No society this weekend at all, unless you (who he?/she? me?) count endless telephone calls to my mother helping her secure a new car after her accident last week. Ads and I did get out for a bike ride yesterday afternoon; we rode down by Double U and along the west side of the Thursley nature reserve until we reached Two Swan Lake. There we trekked through undergrowth and found ourselves by the edge of the poor old A3 with its single file cones, before trekking back, reclaiming our bikes and heading home across past Crocodile Summit and Dragonfly Island. We had sausages, ratatouille, pasta and cabbage for supper. It was lovely.

Apart from the business, Ads and TV, there is not much to write about these days. I’ve written off another letter of complaint to Sirius and am waiting a reply. With nine months of my subscription completed, my tally remains two contacts, one which went no further than a telephone call, and the other no further than a single meeting.

On Thursday, a third interviewee came to visit, this time from Brighton. Martha Buckley was a very late applicant, and then, when I wrote back to her, she took ages to reply. I had just dispensed with Katie Wittering and was considering my options, when her letter arrived. I really thought she might make it. But, unfortunately, she remains a little hazy about her future and what she wants to do, and she seems quite settled in Brighton with a boyfriend. I told her it would be too far to travel on a daily basis for more than a few weeks. She said she would go away and do some thinking. She’s fluent in French, has worked at the Commission, and is doing a journalist’s course at the moment, so all round she would be a good catch. Katie Wittering, by contrast, was not suitable. She went to Cheltenham’s girls school, and has been steeped in high academia for several years. Most importantly she has no journalism experience at all.

Sunday 29 November 1998

Friday and Saturday sorting out my quarterly VAT returns. This was the first quarter in six years of trading where my income was less than my outgoings. Two main reasons: my whole marketing effort was stalled during the previous period because of the dispute over the mini-inserts; and there was some large marketing bills associated with the book which were held over for payment until August. However, during the last few weeks (i.e. the first quarter of the new trading year) I have paid myself some money again, so I’m not broke.

Another desperately empty weekend. No social contact at all, apart from that with Adam, not even any phone calls. I plan to spend much of today on the novel, although, after seemingly weeks of wet weather, the bright clear sky may tempt me into the garden later.

I was watching ‘Casualty’ yesterday evening, but it was boring so I switched over to Channel 4 to discover a documentary about ‘The Guardian’s’ exposure of two ITV documentaries, one recently on drug trafficking and the other some years ago on Castro. Some while ago, ‘The Guardian’ made a huge fuss of the fact that it had discovered important scenes in a drug trafficking documentary had been faked, and this prompted a Carlton investigation which is still under way. The same film-makers were then found, by ‘The Guardian’ to have cheated in their claims over a film about Castro four or five years ago. The Channel 4 programme found that ‘The Guardian’ itself was guilty of overblowing its stories - in that there were faked scenes but that this did not necessarily make the whole film a fake; and the programme brought to light some rather suspect tactics by ‘The Guardian’ journalists, and the paper’s failure to acknowledge properly the connections between one of the journalists and their target - i.e. the former was a former employee of the latter (interesting construction that - about as incestuous as the story itself).

I suppose it is not a surprise that being a journalist I am interested in media affairs. I read ‘The Guardian’s’ media section on Mondays (I think Roy Greenslade provides an excellent commentary sometimes), and I like to listen to Radio 4 programmes on the subject (but this is usually more by chance than design). Also much of my conversation with Theo concerns the news, and the way it is presented.

The second day of the Perth test match has just finished. It will now go into a third day. The England players were all out in the first innings for a little over a 100. The wickets went down like nine-pins, it was horrible. The commentators kept saying it was a good batting pitch, and when the Aussies came in, half way through the first day, and had reached something in the region of England’s total by the end of the first day for only three wickets, it looked like it would be a rout. I kept thinking, though, that there must be a reason why so many wickets had fallen for so little, but the commentators just kept saying how good the Australian bowlers were, and how poor the England batsmen were. It seemed to me, though, that perhaps the most dangerous wickets are not those with a lot of turn, but those with a fraction of a turn. Almost all the wickets were wicket-keeper or slip catches. Today (well during the last night), England redeemed themselves slightly, or to my mind were redeemed in the sense that the commentators began to understand that however good the pitch is in theory, it is very difficult to bat on. Australia reached a total of over 200 by lunch for the loss of just one wicket, but then, after lunch, were all out in a matter of a few overs, leaving a lead of just 125. England collapsed again, but, by the close, and after a couple of sixes from Hick, had taken their total to within two of saving an innings defeat, and still had five wickets left - no doubt to be knocked down like skittles tomorrow. They will lose this match, not by some extraordinary margin (as seemed possible when listening to the commentators on the first day) but only by the margin that Australia are better than England, the same margin, relative to the pitch, which was evident at the first test match in Brisbane, but which ended in a draw because of the weather.

To my surprise, Adam did complete a story for the ‘Ham & High’ competition. Having said he would do it, because he wanted to do it (not because I was persuading him to), he became very emotional about it, and wanted me to correct his first effort. I said I couldn’t because it had too many problems. I kept reinforcing how difficult it is to write a good story, and that he should not put himself under any stress about it. I was disappointed that he hadn’t done something better, and I did not want to encourage poor work. He kept on saying he would do it, and I said he didn’t have time - the story had to arrive by Monday. On Wednesday night, not long before bed, he continued to insist he would do it. He came for a cuddle on the sofa and stayed on my lap as we went through parts of his story that need reworking. He came up with some good ideas, and I guided him to how he could write the story with them in. On Friday evening he arrived late (he would normally have stayed the night at B’s but she was leaving early in the morning to pick up Les) and brought with him a nearly finished newly-written story, employing all the elements we had discussed. I proof read it and changed a few things around (quite a bit to be honest), and, on Saturday morning, he rewrote it, using all my corrections. I then proof read it again, and he wrote it out in neat. We raced to the sorting office, which I thought closed at 12, arriving at 12:25 to discover the last collection went at 12:30. And so Ads, with considerable help from me but which was only given in response to his drive, did complete his self-motivated task. I was impressed that, by the end, he had put in the work and the effort.

December 1998

Paul K Lyons


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