PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1999 - APRIL
3 April 1999
I am at some (holiday?) place with Adam and many people are taking the coach, as they do every Sunday evening, to a church worship. I have no interest or intention of going with them, but for some reason I get on the coach to talk with someone and then decide to stay. It will only be for an hour or so, I think, and Adam will be fine, but I am not looking forward to a boring church service. I sit next to a young surly girl, but she becomes friendlier as time goes on. When I look up I can’t believe how tall the coach is - it seems to be cavernous. There is a row of seats at a level above me along the bus side, but not a new whole level - it is cavernous because it is so tall and spacious. The driver and his wife or partner sit at the helm which is like a balcony attached to the front of the bus rather high up. There is a door for them to exit at the side, but I wonder how they get down to our level. I start to worry about why the journey is taking so long and about the fact that I have left Adam on his own. I ask the girl when we will be back and she makes a joke of it. When the bus driver stops for no apparent reason on a dark road - everyone in the bus is quiet - I go to talk to him. He too teases me, but when I tell him that I have left my young son alone, he finally admits we will be back at 10pm. I am much relieved. We start up again shortly and soon we are arriving in a big city, and I recognise the landscape of Rio. The bus pulls up at a large arena thronging with people; it appears to be some kind of evangelical event.
I am looking around a large mansion with several outbuildings. It is owned by one of the people I know at the volleyball club. Suddenly there is green paint on the floor and it is difficult to move through to where I want to go. I test the paint and it seems fairly dry and thin at one point so I cross there. I am talking to someone I know well about her photographs. She usually will not talk about them but I have persuaded her and she is explaining something about a mirror. She is very close to me physically, and I have the feeling we are in love.
I have been very slack with my journal during March. So slack in fact, that there are only two short entries. And now it is April. It is true I have been preoccupied with BLR. I’ve been proof-reading and doing corrections ever since I received the manuscript back from Barbara. The first read through took for ever because there were serious changes and additions to make. I am almost finished with the second and final read through and hope to send it sent off to a couple of agents/publishers before going on holiday. I had hoped to send it to Deborah Rogers - she is a famous agent, so I understand, with several Booker prize winning authors on her lists. Raoul knows her well, because he’s has been hiring a holiday cottage from her during the last year or two. He has mentioned her several times, and his offer to introduce me seemed quite genuine, so, a few weeks ago, I pinned him down on the offer, and asked him to find out from her, how I should best approach her: i.e with the whole novel, with a letter, or what. I saw him in the week, and he didn’t mention it, but then he rang on Thursday to suggest that I contact another friend of theirs who knows the book market well and does synopses of books for publishers. This seemed to be more of a Caroline idea - she came on the phone for a while. As for Rogers, Raoul admitted he felt a bit uncomfortable approaching her now, as they no longer rent the holiday house. As usual, I made all the right sympathetic noises to let him off the hook. I cannot complain, I don’t, because Raoul has always been so generous with his own professional expertise, on medical matters, and there is nothing equivalent I have ever done for him throughout our lives.
Thought Barbara did end up reading BLR as a novel rather than an exercise, there was no bubbling enthusiasm for it afterwards - how could there be when it’s little better than mediocre. I was discussing with Judy the other day, publishers and agents have piles and piles - roomfuls - of publishable material. But in order for a manuscript from an unknown even to be given time by a publisher, it has to have something a little bit special - unfortunately, I am not able to say what’s special about BLR. I couldn’t even answer the questions: Why did you write it? What’s it about? Why should anybody want to read it?
There’s a name that will fill up a few history books in the future. Milosevich, there’s another, and it may well be in the same breath as Hitler and Stalin, if he carries on the way he’s going. Kosovo is peopled with many ethnic Albanians, and the Serbians have been making life very uncomfortable for them, as they did to the Bosnians beforehand. This time, though, the West decided it must do something, and it negotiated and negotiated and negotiated with Serbia to give Kosovo some degree of independence and security for its ethnic minorities. Milosevich would not play ball, and NATO, after substantial warnings, started a bombing campaign against Serbia. Milosevich’s reply was to accelerate ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, which, within days, has led to the largest migration of people in Europe since the Second World War. People have fled from Kosovo, fearing for their lives, to Albania and Macedonia and Montenegro, none of which have the capacity to deal with so many refugees. NATO has stepped up its bombing campaign, but many are beginning to accept, what some have been saying for a long time, that ground forces will be needed to save Kosovo and to allow refugees to return to their homes. There was a draft deal forged a few weeks ago, whereby Kosovo would stay part of Serbia, but how many Kosovans will want to live in a country ruled by Milosevich? It is difficult to see any solution other than the annexation of Kosovo by the West using ground forces. Such an initiative, of course, will be made a lot easier after days and weeks of NATO bombardments - but, in the meantime, the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of refugees are homeless, cold, probably wet, and hungry - and soon they will start dying and the West will have to answer for them.
Northern Ireland too is on the brink. The IRA has refused to decommission any weapons, and the Ulster Unionists have been saying all along they would not accept Sinn Fein into the new Northern Ireland Assembly unless there was decommissioning. Sinn Fein has said it cannot oblige the IRA to give over its arms. And the deadline is here. Nevertheless, the politicians are working feverishly to find a way through - and this will surely mean the acceptance of Sinn Fein into the assembly without the demanded decommissioning. This will certainly rankle the protestants - more than rankle, anger would be more accurate but would still under-define their emotion - but it is the brave and hopeful way forward.
Monday 19 April 1999
The flight out to Spain went very smoothly. B drove us to Gatwick, we checked in with hand baggage only (three bags between us), hung around for a couple of hours, and the aeroplane took off on time. The plane was full to the gills. The weather was fine, so Ads got good views for take-off and landing. We arrived in Malaga about five, had some trouble finding the car hire office, and then the car in the car park. Although a rather small-powered 600cc mini Fiat, it was new and clean and gave me no trouble throughout the holiday. The steering was somewhat light, and it was only after a few days, that I was able to swirl it around the treacherous mountain curves with confidence.
Having collected the car, and stowed our luggage we were off into the sun. I decided to drive along the coast rather than to take the motorway route. Within half an hour we’d stopped and were swimming in the sea. Glorious. Clean, fresh, cool sea. A few locals sitting around looked at us as though we were mad. Further along the coast we stopped for our first sumo de naranja. Freshly squeezed orange juice is one of Adam’s abiding memories of our last trip to Spain. I had thought we stayed with Andrew and Rosy, just three years ago, but my journal tells me it was four and a bit years ago - four years ago, I could hardly believe it. Our last trip here was a superb holiday. We had lovely weather, perfect for walking and exploring, and lots of social contact with Andrew and Rosy’s family and friends. With only Tammy there this time, though, I knew the holiday would be more activity than society.
We continued to race along the coast towards Motril and then turned left up into the hills. My aim was to arrive at Acequias before dark. Ads became excited by the mountains, the steep-sided roads and the bridges across narrow canyons. The Motril-Granada road is reasonable most of the way - there is dual carriageway along the long uphill stretches, which allows for cars to overtake the slower lorries. As we pulled into the familiar small village and parked by the church, dusk was already falling. Tammy was cooking a Spanish omelette.
The house is much extended and changed. Andrew has shifted the front door’s position, so you now find it after going through a gate and small courtyard (where Tammy has been busy potting colourful plants). The whole downstairs area (which has two bedrooms, a shower room and one other room I think) is still in a mess because work remains to be completed. On the middle level, there are four bedrooms and a bathroom. And, on the top level, there is the large (now extended) area with kitchen, dining and lounge parts, and a balcony. From the balcony, a staircase leads up to a higher roof balcony. Tammy explains that a greedy, exploitative neighbour is building 10 units surrounding Andrew’s property, obstructing the views of the hills and valley. Andrew and Tammy were (still are) so angry about this they built the extra balcony to recoup the view. Adam loved it up there, on top of the house. He liked sitting on the walls with the long drop down to the street only a few tiles away.
Ads and I are always getting confused about when we took various holidays - so here is a holiday index covering 1990-1999: Paris, France - Jul 90; Brussels, Belgium - Mar 9; Malvern, Worcestershire - May 91
Algarve, Portugal - Jan 92; Swanage, Dorset - Apr 92; Tenby, Pembrokeshire - Jul 92; Dartmouth, Devon - Apr 93; Black Forest, Germany - Aug 93; Budapest, Hungary - Nov 94; Fowey, Cornwall - Jul 94
Sierra Nevada, Spain - Jan 95; Isle of Wight, Hampshire - Aug 96; Les Deux Alpes, France - Feb 97; Fowey, Cornwall - Aug 97; Sierra Nevada, Spain - Apr 99
22 April 1999
Yesterday, I finally completed the first phase, the first wave of my exercise to get BLR published. I have bound up two copies and these have been sent to two major publishers. I have also sent careful letters (plus synopses of BLR, LU and TomSpin) to three agents. I will try another three agents in a few weeks time. The letters and synopses took time to prepare, but I am reasonably pleased with them. What are my chances of finding an agent? Because I write a decent letter, and because I am being persistent, I must be giving myself the best chance.
April showers. I finally got kiwi back on the road on Tuesday. I’ve been having battery problems all winter, and then the MOT ran out, and I had to wait a month (partly because of the Spain trip) to get it into the garage. So, today, I decided to blow away a few cobwebs and drive up to Kingston. The weather was fine when I left, but I had to ride through rain on the way back. It wasn’t so bad. Why was I in Kingston? A CD player I bought at John Lewis last December has been playing up. I took the opportunity to buy a few items of kitchen equipment and a new telephone. Now it’s half past three and I haven’t done a scrap of EC Inform work all day. I’m so behind with this journal that I must dedicate the next few days to bringing it up to date.
I’ve hardly been in the garden since our return from Spain a week ago. There were hard frosts while we were away and the first leaves on the early potatoes are ‘burnt’. The amelanchier flowers were all but washed away within the week we were gone, which was a shame because they are so glorious. The daffs are all over, and some gardens are now sporting tulips, but not mine. There are blue (and white) bells in the front and back gardens, though, which I like. The Japanese quince has kept its lovely red flowers, and the apple trees are all beginning to bloom. The silver birch has come out in leaf, but as ever the oak is the last to grow the new season’s greenery. In the veggie garden, the first lettuce and spinach plants have sprouted, and I have new parsley seeds coming up. The sweet pea plants appear to have survived the frosts but are desperate for tying on to the canes.
Another dreadful school massacre in the US pushes Kosovo off the main headlines for a day or two. There is, though, more and more talk of the ground troops going into Kosovo and making the territory safe for the return of the ethnic Albanians. Milosevich is a dead man. He has wrecked the lives of his own people for the next ten years, as well as taken the lives of so many other people.
Over the last two nights I watched a drama on ITV called ‘The Butterfly Collectors’. It’s an obscure title, which I have not been able to fathom out. It starred Pete Postlethwaite, not one of my favourites, as a policeman close to the edge, and followed his complicated relationship with a murder suspect. It was eminently watchable as TV drama but never really climbed far above average, either for acting or script. I only mention it because it appears to have been feted as ‘excellent’ by some reviewers.
Ads and I continue to watch the first series of ‘Babylon 5’ again. We have seen most of these episodes, but we are watching the whole five year sequence again. Channel Four screens them late on Sunday night, and I am well in the habit of videoing them now. We have missed a couple but we’re back on target. Yesterday, we watched one of the most important episodes of the first series ‘Signs and Portents’. It’s the one where, for the very first time but still obliquely, the presence of the Shadows is confirmed - one of their agents starts to intervene in Babylon 5 affairs, and one of their ships is seen very briefly. I usually pull down off the internet background about each episode and then discuss it with Adam. These backgrounds contain a synthesis of the responses given by the writer J. M. Straczynski to the many questions sent him over the internet, and often discuss his techniques for writing, or how the music was put together, or information about the actors, computer simulation, sets etc.
To continue with our holiday in Spain. The first day, the Friday, I had told Ads to be up at quarter to seven, so he set his alarm and woke me in good time. We were on our way to Granada before it was even light. Although it was deserted in the village - it might as well have been 3am - as we approached the city, the traffic was already quite heavy. I did not know how to get to the ski field and had been afraid of getting caught in rush hour traffic. In fact, a dual carriageway bypasses the city entirely and takes one through a tunnel and on to a good fast road, at least for a few miles beyond, towards the resort. The road, which is in very good repair (it must have been improved for the world championship which should have taken place here in 1995/96, but didn’t because of a lack of snow), winds up and up above the huge plain. Ads, of course, loved the hairpin bends and steep drops, but I was still trying to get to grips with the car’s light steering. Eventually, around 8am, we arrived at Sol y Nieve, the ski resort. It is always very confusing when arriving in a new place, I didn’t know where or how to park, I didn’t know what the ski conditions were like, I didn’t know where the best place to hire skis might be etc. We were nearly caught by the large car park, which almost sucks you in as you arrive in the village, but, with some research, I found one could park up the hill for free. This meant a short walk, but saved over £5. It was really quite cold and nothing, but one bar, was open. We took breakfast and discussed our strategy. First, I wandered around asking people about the snow - because I still did not know whether there were any runs open at all. Everyone kept telling me it was ‘spring snow’: hard in the morning, OK for a couple of hours at lunchtime, and slush in the afternoon. The tourist office proved most helpful in assuring me that about the half the runs were open, so then I bought our day passes which cost a little over £20. We got fitted up with boots and skis - another £20. It was cold enough to make me glad I had filled out our small bags with my ski jacket and an old, but warm, jacket of Adam’s which he’s had since he was about seven and is really too small for him (I left it behind in Acequias after the holiday - determined that Adam should never have to wear it again).
We rode up in the cable car, and then used the beginner chairlifts for a while to practise on the gentle slopes. There were a lot of people, but the sun was shining in cloud free sky and the views down across the plain were stunning. Both of us were a little shaky to start, and skiing on hard frozen snow was a first for Adam. Before long we discovered the fast chair lift with no queues which takes one up higher and gives several choices of runs down. For the rest of the day, we stuck to this lift and occasionally varied the runs down, although both of us favoured the one called Zorro. There was a little bit of tension between us because I was insisting that Adam slow down and that he remember the things he was taught during his ski lessons, and the things I was telling him, and practise them - otherwise, I said, he would develop the same bad habits that had stopped me ever having any style in skiing. My shouts of ‘Get your shoulders back’ may well have rung loudly round the mountain all day. We stayed together the whole day, always taking the lift together, but I would often ski ahead of him and wait at the bottom; other times, I would ski more slowly and let him ski in my footsteps, so to speak.
We stopped only once to take a drink and eat a hamburger, and then around 3pm I found that I was starting to fall over. I could not remember skiing in slush before, and did not realise it was more difficult than skiing on frozen pistes. By then we were both deadly tired from the sun, and our tireless efforts to ski and ski and ski. Ads didn’t really want to stop, but I said it was time, and promised we would come back on another day.
I thought we should stop in Granada on the way back, but I couldn’t find a parking space, and anyway I was really tired. We stopped in Durcal to do shopping at the supermarket. It was seven or so by the time we arrived at Acequias, and Tammy was already on her way out.
Our reading material was as follows: Ads had ‘Coral Island’ which he never looked at, and a book by Spike Milligan, which he read a lot. He also listened to a tape of the ‘Goons’. I read a thriller by Ian Rankin. I also read D. H. Lawrence stories to Adam. I had plucked the book, somewhat at random, from a shelf of old Penguins, thinking that Adam could do with exposure to excellent English literature. I read three or four stories over the course of the week: they were all characteristic of Lawrence in that earthy physical passion of some sort provided the climax to each one. They were, though, a little dull, with only minor excursions into plot, and a laughable repetition of many words and descriptions. Even Adam was quite able to find fault with the stories. I was also particularly critical of Lawrence’s over-romantic view of the mental world of a blind man.
Before dark, we went an a short excursion round the village. There is a footpath that leads up to the summit of a hill overlooking the village. There is a tremendous view of the valley and Lecrin and Durcal in the distance, but then there are tremendous views from everywhere in this place. I cooked pasta for dinner, and we slept heavily.
23 April 1999
A wet cold Friday. One of those days which I fill with errands and reading the newspapers. I check out the fortnightly auction in Godalming - there are interesting books, but none of the lots really inspire me, not like the one a few months back which had both gardening and photographic books. I was sure I would take it, for having decided to buy a lot, I am usually prepared to go higher than anyone else. On that occasion though, the lot was estimated at £40-60, and I stopped bidding at well over £100. I still regret losing that lot. I am also looking for some bookshelves, but I’m not quite sure what sort or where I would put them. This room, the large upstairs bedroom, which now houses my portable and private (as opposed to business) papers, is cluttered. An old sofa (the brown one we acquired with the Aldeburgh house and which B has retained until now) has found its way back to my house and this room. But I do not use it for sitting on, but for holding stacks of papers. In fact there is a chest of drawers and a wardrobe in this room, both of which are empty, and which I could adapt, I suppose, to take papers. I did find two reasonable looking chests of shelves, but on reflection I don’t think they would fit in here very well. I had to go to Sainsbury’s because I was completely out of starch: rice and pasta and potatoes. I usually hold a variety of pasta and rice types, but supplies had run dry. I forgot to replenish the tea stores. On the way out, I thought how well I would profit from being able to shop on the internet. I was imagining myself as an old man (I saw one with his zimmer frame, staggering towards the shop entrance) and thinking I would not want to go out and about like that, and I saw myself controlling my life from a computer terminal. Of course, I do conduct my shopping in a super-efficient manner (how did I get on to this subject; I suppose it is worthy of a comment every few years!). I usually go twice a week to Sainsbury’s (but never use the loyalty card) for fresh meat or fish, pasta, fruit, vegetables, tins etc. and once to Secretts for fruit, veg, cheeses and always fresh yeast. The way I shop, though, might not suit the internet, because, within certain parameters, I allow the special offers and marked down items to dictate my diet. The other night I had a ready-made indian chicken curry meal, which I would never normally buy, simply because it was reduced. The only ready-made meals I buy regularly are Sainsbury’s lasagne (every couple of weeks - it is very good and the ingredients are reasonable), and pies and quiches. Tonight, we will have fried liver with a potato/onion bake and brussel sprouts (frozen). Yesterday, we had fishfingers (the larder was really empty), carrot and butter bean soup, salad and pasta garnished with butter and cheese. The day before we had roast chicken, potatoes and spinach and peas. Just now, we each had half an apple cream turnover, bought from The Pantry this morning. The Pantry, in Godalming High Street, does the best cream cakes, pasties, and organic bread. Tomorrow, because B will be coming back from Portugal and may or may not be hungry, I’ve bought in a Sainsbury’s vegetarian lasagne and quiche. This weekend I’ll also make a bolognese sauce, to be used on pasta and rice for several meals early next week.
Now, can I get on to something more interesting.
To return to Spain. Tammy had been invited to a wedding over the weekend and was busy preparing to leave in the morning - and then we didn’t see her again until Sunday night. It was a proper Spanish wedding, in Alicante I think. As for our own affairs, I chose to drive into Granada again, as I had failed to achieve anything there the previous day. I wanted, first of all to change money. Secondly, I wanted to buy guide books or maps. I had bought both on my previous visit and left them there, and I rather hoped they would still be in the house - but they weren’t. There were maps and guides but only second rate ones. Thirdly, we needed to do some sight-seeing. Fourthly, I wanted to find the tourist office. And, finally, I thought perhaps we would do some shopping. At the tourist office we acquired a map, information about a bullfight on the following day, and confirmation (only after a phone call) that I could actually change money without my passport. Spaniards - including those in the tourist office, who should know better - are always horrified to discover I travel around without any form of identification. Subsequently, I did carry my passport for I realised that if I had an accident in the car, the lack of an identity document for Ads and I could immensely complicate out lives for a short period. So it was, we headed up to an American Express office, which was open (although as a quiet as a morgue) on Saturday morning, and which did not ask for my passport, as the banks had done. That first chore done, we took a sumo, and a chorizo sandwich, in a great little bar, and then headed back towards the car. First, though, we stopped at El Corte Ingles, which, the tourist office girl had told me, would sell English guide books. But they were only the glossy sort, not the informative type. I looked for shoes too (last time I had bought cord slippers for about £2, which lasted me as indoor wear for several years) but didn’t find any I wanted. By then, our parking time was up. We returned to the car, and drove around looking for a new parking space. But failed. Before long I found myself caught on a narrow uphill cobbled street with the walls of the Alhambra high above us to the right and no entry signs at every left turning. We finally stopped way up on the hillside, in an area called Sacromonte, in the old quarter of the city, with lots of outdoor cafes. Here we rested, I with a beer, Ads with a Sprite, in the shade of a table umbrella. I read ‘El Diario’, the local daily, and Ads looked at the pictures. Some wandering minstrels played for a coin or two.
In the late afternoon, we set out for a walk around the ravine, one we had done on our last visit. From the top of Acequias we follow a path along the top through olive and almond groves, until we reached the point where the ravine shallows out and there is a crossing point. At Niguelas, we sat in the shade of the trees in the church square eating an ice cream. We watched the men chatter and the women bustle their way into the church for evening mass. On our way out of the village we found a small uncared for public garden with an orange tree. Ads could not resist scrambling up it for fruits, most of which were just out of reach. When he got down, I told him there was a much easier way to get the oranges - and I leant against the tree and shook it. He laughed, as always. He is such good company.
In the evening, we went to eat in a restaurant recommended by Tammy, half way between Lecrin and Restabal. I ate hake and chips but it wasn’t too good - we should have eaten at home. I thought I might find someone I knew at Bar Nuevo in Lecrin, Tammy’s favourite hang-out, so I popped my head in, but I didn’t. That was Saturday night.
Saturday 24 April 1999
Wonderful. It is half past ten, and I’ve barely started to do anything - in fact, I only have my journal and gardening on the agenda this weekend. We started with a late breakfast, for no other reason than it’s Saturday and we got up late. Adam had a huge bowl of crunchy with the milk spilling over the top of the bowl - he still eats his breakfast cereal with a teaspoon. Throughout breakfast I tried listening to the news, while Adam kept asking me what my agenda for the day was. This is a daily refrain that has been going on for months. I once asked him what his agenda was, and since then we are constantly asking each other what our agendas are. After breakfast, I put the washing on, cycled over to B’s to check her bin had been taken in and her fence hadn’t fallen down, and to the paper shop; and then I tidied up a few personal papers. I decided to surf the internet for business stuff - it’s quicker and cheaper at the weekend. But then I found the printer had broken down, and then the computer had a mini crash. The printer breakdown appeared serious because all the lights were on, which, according to the manual, indicates a major failure. I tried turning it off and on, unplugging and replugging it (lovely language!) and then went scurrying around looking for the warranty and information on when I’d bought it. Eventually, I found it among the receipts stored for last year’s accounts. Bad news. Twofold. Firstlyfold, the printer was bought almost exactly one year and a week ago (the warranty was for a year); and secondlyfold, I bought the printer from a company called DABS Direct, who I have since had a row with over delivery costs for a printer cartridge. I had another look at the manual, and decided to take the printer to pieces. Well, not exactly. I simply emptied the various trays, unplugged all the cables, shook the machine around a bit and then replugged in the cables and re-papered the trays. And it worked. While doing all that, I noticed the floor in the office was filthy, so I hoovered. Whilst I was hoovering, the washing finished, so I pegged out the clothes on the line. And here I sit - Ads interrupts to check something on Encarta - having achieved next to nothing. Thus a morning disappears.
The post arrives. It is depressing. Two of the three book agents I wrote to have written back depressingly quickly and depressingly decisively - with two line replies of rejection.
Back to Spain. Sunday (18 April) dawned as bright and cloudless as ever. We decided to drive down to the coast for a swim. Tammy had told me there was a market somewhere on the coast on Sunday, but I couldn’t remember which town. We drove to Almunecar and couldn’t find any sign of people let alone a market. By the time we arrived at the beach, we were already well hot, so we took a drink in a local bar, before changing into our swimwear. The water was delicious. Then we drove back along the coast to Salobrena. This town, partly perched on an isolated hill overlooking the sea and the valley plains, turned out to be more interesting. Later, I learned that both Offra and Biff have bought properties here. It was a stiff climb to the top, through the winding alleys of brightly whitewashed houses, crammed in on top of each other. At the top, we found the entrance to an old Moorish castle, and after paying to enter, we were rewarded with the most magnificent views, covering a full 360 degrees, from the various turrets and wall walkways. To the east, ran the straight line of the coast with its multi-apartment blocks, access roads and beach bars. Much of the space between the castle hill and the beach was filled with sugar cane plantations. In some ways, I liked this castle more than the Alhambra. The latter is so ruined by the scale of tourism, while the Salobrena castle, which is far less accessible, is almost a surprise. It is all a question of expectations. Ad’s only interest was in whether the walls were sheer or not; he seemed at one and the same time to want to get close to the sheer edges and to be wary of them.
On the way out of the castle, I asked the ticket sellers whether they knew the name of a tree with bright red flowers. I should have known better. The first person insisted on answering questions I hadn’t asked, questions which he was expecting, such as, when does the castle close? can I take photographs? Then other visitors passed by and heard my question, and repeated it almost word for word as I had said it (and my accent is not that bad, the ticket seller had simply not listened), and a second person tried to suggest a name for the tree. However, the visitors were intelligent enough to know that the name proposed was wrong, although they did not know it themselves. After five minutes or so and the involvement of five or six people, my question remained unanswered.
We strolled down from the castle through the town discovering it was much bigger than we had initially thought. I caught the shops just before they closed, and bought more fruit and vegetables. Finally, we drove to the beach we had seen from the castle, and I took another quick swim before heading back to the mountains and Acequias. Once back at the house, dead on three, we ate ravenously and rested for an hour or so.
Despite his initial hesitations, Ads was quietly excited about the bullfight. We parked some distance away in a cul-de-sac (where an itinerant, who had claimed temporary ownership of ht parking spot, took 100 pesetas off us for informal charges) and arrived about half an hour early. Inside the bull-ring it was already packed, and we had some trouble finding somewhere to sit. We did eventually squeeze ourselves in near the back of the steep stalls. The sun was beating down and, even though it was nearly 6pm, was still very hot. No wonder the prices for ‘Sol’ are 50% lower than for ‘Sombra’. Fortunately, I had brought a large bottle of water, but, unfortunately, neither of us had hats. Instead we plastered ourselves with horrible white suncream, the same stuff that had remained on my face all day after skiing. Later, our excessively friendly neighbour lent us each a baseball cap. This neighbour offered us eats and drinks all the way through the entertainment. Most of the time I managed to decline gratefully, but Ads got in once before me and accepted a large handful of well, what I call, birdseed - the seed which has to be cracked open prior to consuming the tiny bit of edible matter inside. With both hands full, Ads couldn’t cope so I had to take the seed off him and eat them too. Nevertheless, the neighbour’s friendliness enriched our experience of the bullfight.
I had found, in Andrew’s house, a literary traveller’s book about Andalucia - I cannot remember the author’s name, but he lived for most of a decade in Tarifa in the very southern part of the province. He seems to have been very keen on bullfighting, and there is a very good chapter on the subject, which I persuaded Ads to read before our visit. I did not realise, for example, that the term bullfighting is a misnomer. The Spanish do not call it a ‘fight’ but a ‘corrida’ which is a race or run. The English term is now so universally used that one cannot refer to it in any other way. He also explained how bulls reared for fighting are never exposed to a walking man because within about 20 minutes they learn to attack an upright person. This is why bullfights rarely last longer than 20 minutes, and why, by law, bulls must be killed after a fight - they are too dangerous. The author also explained some of the techniques to watch out for and described two exceptional fights out of the hundreds he’d been too.
Ads and I stayed for five of the bulls, leaving before the last (partly because we were well cooked by then, even though the shade had fallen on us, and partly to miss the crowds). Of those, the crowd appeared to appreciate two of the matadors. There was one who was well cheered for the preliminaries, but then failed to dispatch the bull quickly and cleanly at the last - and the crowd did not like that at all. However poorly the matador and his team of picadors and bandilleros perform, though, the matador always walked around the ring at the end bowing to the audience at every angle. A successful matador, I learned, will get lots of things thrown down at him, not least the wine skins from which he will often take a swig, but they will all be thrown back to the crowd. This particular corrida was being held in aid of a Downs Syndrome charity and so there was much procession in front of the area where a group of Downs children were seated.
The most exciting part of the two hours was when one bull gored both a picador and a bandillero and had to be taken out of the bull ring without being killed - they had trouble getting him to go through the gate! Afterwards, I theorised to Ads about this. The bullfight is an entertainment. Entertainments have a promoter whose aim is to make money, and he makes money by putting on a good show. Audiences like excitement. Perhaps, I thought, this bull was deliberately prepared to be dangerous - perhaps he was exposed to a walking human, perhaps he had his horns shaved to make them less dangerous, perhaps the picadors knew it was coming and had protective body shields (despite being gored by the bull’s horns neither man appeared injured).
We discussed the pros and cons of bullfighting for most of the evening and through the rest of the week in fact. Once, we had a discussion with Tammy, and we also discussed it again at dinner with Offra and her brother on the last night. Ads took a very active part in all these discussions, but ended up professing very much my line about whether it was cruel to bulls (I see from a quick research of my diary that my own view remains unchanged from what I wrote in my journal in autumn 1992). I do not care that it is cruel to bulls. They have a good life and then 15 minutes of pain. All animals, including humans, die; and almost certainly experience more than 15 minutes of pain somewhere along the way. That’s one simple argument. Another is that these bulls would not exist if were not for bullfighting. Ask any human (or animal if you can) whether they would prefer to have life and 15 minutes of pain at the end, or no life at all. Of course we would choose life. And so on. Ads, however, insisted on his own limit to any cruelty to animals. He said there should be no testing on animals where other ways of testing products existed. I thought he took a very adult approach to the subject.
By the time we returned to Acequias we were dead tired. Tammy was home. I cooked a meal and we discussed the wedding she’d been too and bullfighting. Adam insisted on playing Jenga - a came in which you start with a stack of wooden bricks and successive players take a brick out and place it on the top. The aim is to be the last one to remove and replace a brick without the tower falling over. As usual in our games there is lots of dialogue and friendly teasing gamesmanship. He enjoyed winning so much that I let him win once or twice (but he got a sense of it, and so I had to deny it strenuously and I didn’t pretend again - in any case we were very evenly matched).
Sunday 25 April 1999
Sad isn’t it, very sad, that my prime occupation this weekend is to get my journal up to date. What’s the point? So I can read it during some future weekend when I’ve no other occupation. Sunday, absolutely nothing to do today. Still feeling miserable about the quick blunt rejections from two agents. Know my stuff just isn’t good enough for publication. What else will I do with my life? How much does my inner self rely on the hope of making it as a fiction writer at some point in the future. It’s a dreadful dead end. I know it is. But I seem unable to stop myself driving down it; diving down it; drowning down it.
‘I’m a melancholy man, that’s a what I am, all the world surrounds and I think I understand. I’m a very lonely man, doing what I can . . . ‘This was my favourite song for a while when a teenager, ‘Melancholy Man’ by the Moody Blues. Nothing much has changed. I bought a compilation CD a few days ago - the music is a bit clinky clanky for me these day, but I knew all the songs so well, they still hit a chord.
Last week, I drove up to London for a dinner with Raoul, his family and a few friends to celebrate his 50th birthday. All four children, and Caroline were there, as well as his brother-in-law Richard (Fiona, his sister died two years ago or so), his other sister Annie, who had just flown in from Australia, with her boyfriend, whose name I forget, Andrew and Richard. We met in a regular Indian restaurant. I sat next to Sophie and talked to her about bullfighting and schoolwork, and next to Annie’s boyfriend and talked to him about his research. I drank quite a lot, and ate quite a lot and chatted merrily away. I also spent a while talking to Andrew about Spain, Tammy and Susie. Raoul relaxed a bit when Caroline and the children went home, but he was looking rather tired, and wanting to get home himself.
Monday in Spain was devoted again to skiing. Ads was very keen to go a second time. This time we managed to find a parking space in the main square which saved a long haul up the hill to our car at the end of the day. The whole day went better than our first visit, as we knew the layout, knew how to avoid queues at the lifts. Ad’s skiing improved considerably, and in the early afternoon, while the snow was still good, I left him alone for an hour or so. He got used to using the lifts on his own, and I got to go on the t-bars to a higher level where there was good red-run mogul skiing. Again, by about 3, the snow became so slushy that it was difficult to ski effectively. We had skied non-stop for about six hours so we called it a day and took the cable car down to the village.
On the way down the hill, I stopped at a Sierra Nevada tourist office and was able to buy detailed maps and an interesting book about the region. I also picked up one or two presents - such as olive paté - for B. I had thought to drive across the pass, but the tourist office told me it was not open at this time of year. Back in Acequias I took a long time to wash the white stuff off my face.
Tuesday was a long day. I had hoped for a rest day but, because the weather was so hot and walking was out of the question, I couldn’t think of anything restful to do. In the end, I decided to drive to Guadix, a town in the north of the Sierra Nevada beyond Granada. The guide book said it was attractive, and I could see no good reason not to drive a little further afield than we had last time. I would have liked to go Jaen, or Cordoba or Seville, but looking at the maps the distances really put me off; maybe another time. It might also be interesting to revisit Cadiz and Chiclana one day, which are also in the region.
On the way to Guadix, I began telling a story to Adam. No holiday is complete without a story. The last time we had come to Spain, I invented a long saga set in the last days of the Moors, but I never completed it. This time, I started on a bullfighting story (young boy with an uncaring mother ditches her one day in the city of Granada so he can stay behind and go to a bullfight. There he falls in love with the sport and vows to become the greatest matador in all Andalucia etc.) but I never got beyond the first chapter.
It was very hot in Guadix, of course, so we bought hats. We visited the attractive cathedral, which, like most of the buildings in the town, was built of a light coloured stone, a sandstone I suppose. The old moorish fortress was closed, unfortunately, so we visited a part of the city where caves have been turned into houses. I suspect tourism has enriched this area over the years, once people lived in caves because they had nowhere else to live, now the caves and their constructed fronts are well looked after, and regularly whitewashed. Buses were arriving all the time, depositing tourists who poked around. I did not feel comfortable walking down the alleys, through people’s yard, over their roofs; although Ads liked to climb up the little hillocks here and there. The area reminded me strongly of Goreme in Turkey, although it is very many years since I passed through that area.
Having explored Gaudix by 1pm or so, what to do next? I had mapped out a route along the north of the Sierra Nevada range, and crossing the mountains at the one and only passable point and returning along the southern foothills. However, I knew it would be a long and windy road, and was undecided about whether to bother. In the end I let Ads decide. As he was keen on heights and mountain roads with sheer sides, and as he wasn’t doing the driving, he naturally chose to take the long route. We drove along the plains as far as a place called Lacalahorra. Before turning off the main road I was able to fill up with petrol which was just as well for the next four or five hours we never saw a town big enough to support a petrol outlet. There was a stunning unadorned castle on a hillock overlooking Lacalahorra. There was hardly anybody around, but I asked a man in the street if there was somewhere to lunch and he directed us to the only place in the town with any activity. The restaurant, hidden beyond an empty bar, was actually busy, and we ordered one menu between the two of us, which was more than enough. There was a thick bean soup, a large salad, lots of bread, a main meal of fresh sardines (which were a bit difficult to eat and there wasn’t much flesh on them) with oily potatoes and aubergine, and a large ice cream. At least it set us up well for the gruelling drive up the mountain to the saddle Puerto de la Regua. The road was newly tarmacced (tarmaced? tarmacked? tarmacadumed? tarmacadamed? tarmackadammed?) but there were no painted lines and the road edge often held a six inch drop to earth and then, in some places, a rather sheer drop a feet or two beyond. Ads loved it as I steered round the endless hairpin bends hoping not to meet anything coming the other way. There was hardly any traffic, in fact. I think we met one car. At the top, I stopped for a rest, and Ads raced to the top of a hill for a view. The altitude affect my breathing, although I’m not sure if were higher than the 2,000 metres of Sol y Nieve.
The route down the mountains, along the foothills - through the small white villages such as Jubar, Valor, Yegen, Berchules, Juviles - was not very interesting, and nor did we stop to explore. As we moved westward, however, the landscapes became more interesting, I don’t really know why. We stopped at Trevelez (the highest village in Spain) and at Bubion and Pampaneira but I was disappointed because they all seemed to be dominated by tourist shops.
On the windy roads, I had a bit of a run in with a coach. It is only possible to overtake vehicles on these roads with their help; i.e. they need to hug the right hand edge of the road and slow down a bit. I gave this particular coach plenty of chances to let me pass and then I got fed up of waiting. As I overtook him, he refused to move across, so I hooted, then he hooted back and I hooted more. There was a bit of a drop to our left. Ads enjoyed that. A few minutes later he asked me to stop so he could have a pee on the side of the road. I said there was no way I was going to stop and give that coach a chance to overtake us. We joked about that for a while, but otherwise the journey proved rather tedious, just as I had feared. We stopped at Orgiva, the first sizeable town since Guadix, but I was unable to find the whereabouts of an old mill I’d read about, and again at Lanjaron. I had planned to walk up to the castle which had inspired my story last time we’d been in Spain, but we found the way across the fields had been blocked, so we went a long way round. Then, when we got to the bottom of the castle’s hill, we found a fence and a gate, which was closed, neither fence nor gate had been there last time. There was a way through, though, so we took it but another locked gate higher up prevented us entering the castle proper. The sun was falling away fast so we stopped for a few minutes, peed over the edge of the hillside and headed home. I was well knackered after all that driving. So much for the rest day.
How is the business doing? Pretty slowly. Theo is still here. He turned down another job, and is now looking to do some part time work at County Sound every Friday. I have someone coming to be interviewed tomorrow from my last advert, but they originate from the North of England, and I am very reluctant to employ someone with no links in this area. I did explain this on the phone, but the girl, Krysia, in Warwick today, still wanted to come back to London for an interview before returning to the north. Two other possibilities are still in the air. One woman from Reading replied to my letter, but she hasn’t yet rung for an interview. Also, I got a late and scruffy application form from a highly qualified person who lives down the road in Hindhead. So, I’ve yet to see whether he’ll want to come and see us. The newsletter ambles along, subs remain over a hundred on both newsletters, but neither the website nor the email edition have made any difference to their success. I should be grateful that they earn enough money to keep me off the streets.
I’ve sent my proposal to the Elstead Parish Council. I am hoping they might offer to give me a £1,000. Then I would definitely proceed.
Monday 26 April 1999
Wet. Grey. Jan Garberek’s latest CD - ‘Mnemosyne’ - is playing. It has something to do with this weather. All the 20 tracks have been created from ancient texts - Quechua, Basque, old English etc - which are sung by the four singers of the Hilliard Ensemble, and Garberek plays a lonely almost improvised saxophone behind. So there is a monkish, religious character to all the music on both the CDs.
I should mention the nail bombs in Brixton (two Saturdays ago) and Brick Lane (last Saturday), which have injured a good number of people, and which the police are now certain were racism inspired. A group called Combat 18 have claimed responsibility but then so have several other right wing groups. There has been a great deal of press coverage which gives the perpetrators more credence, more substance, more weight than I’m sure they have. I mean, at the moment, it’s probably two guys, maybe even one, pissed off with their life, broke, on drugs, and out of their heads. Now, they will be glued to the television, loving the press attention. They now have a purpose in life, a very important purpose - to keep alive, to win against the police. They are somebodies. They will become alert and attentive and start acquiring some of the professionalism, perhaps, that has been ascribed to them. On a sociological level, it is interesting to see this kind of activity erupting into the headlines less than two years after the Labour government came into power, following the extended period of right wing rule in this country.
After a very tricky start, NATO’s war against Serbia appears to be back on track. The NATO leaders met at the weekend for the 50th anniversary celebrations (!) - odd that this has coincided with its first military engagement - and there was a surprising degree of unanimity that NATO was doing the right thing. There had been suggestions that some NATO countries might start finding fault with the current strategy. Germany’s plan for a halt to the bombing, raised at the EU level, lasted about a day. There has also been growing support for the use of ground troops, and, today, we hear that leading figures in Serbia have called on Milosevich to tell his people the truth: i.e. that NATO is not going to back down, that Russia is not going to come to his defence, and what has really happened in Kosovo.
Volleyball. I continue to go every Sunday evening. If I don’t have anything else on, then I look forward to it all weekend. The sessions vary enormously in character, and it is never possible to predict how well a session will go. Sometimes they are very slow and the games at the end have no flow, at other times, the evenings are energetic with exciting games. On top of the general character of the evening, there is also my own performance, which affects how I feel about the session. Last night was fairly average. Although I can now spike the ball with some cleanness (not very hard, of course), I still have trouble digging. I can catch smashes and dig the ball in the air quite well, but I can’t direct accurately the softer digs. I’m also still lousy at blocking. I’m great at diving all over the court without result. Afterwards, I chat to Steve about his ambition to travel to the US, and about his efforts in search of a girlfriend.
The morning was spent writing up my diary entries. The afternoon was occupied with interviewing a 25yr-old girl called Krysia Diver. She was brought up near Reading, but her family now live in the north of England. Today she came down from Warwick. She is really very keen on the subject of Europe, has completed a print journalism course, and also speaks fluent French. She’s personable and attractive. However, she has no hard experience of writing business/political stuff, and has almost no knowledge of European affairs. She did two written tests for me, one was proof reading, and the other was a precis of a Council Resolution. She did not make a particularly good job of either, which raised vague doubts in me as to whether she could cope with the density of the work here. I am tempted, though, to employ her, and to set her to work on a new health newsletter. Her father is a bus driver having trained as an artist and opted out. Her mother is the bread winner, although I don’t know what she does. Krysia told Theo on the way to the station that she was very enthusiastic about the job, the only hurdle for her, was her boyfriend who has only just begun a postgrad course in Warwick. I’m still waiting to hear from two other possibles.
27 April 1999
No less wet, no less grey. But not cold.
The death of Gill Dando has shocked the country. This might not have made it into the diary, but for the fact that I’m writing an entry today and the news is dominating the broadcasts and newspapers. She was shot through the head with a single bullet outside her home in Fulham. It appears to be a particularly clean and premeditated murder, and yet Dando is the archetypal girl next door, a massively loved TV presenter - I’ve not even seen the comics target her as they do others like Vorderman, Hunniford, Wogan. There are very ironic circumstances surrounding her death. One is that she was one of the presenters of the Crimewatch programme, and the other is that she is on the cover of this week’s ‘Radio Times’. From the newspapers I learn that she was 37 and about to marry a gynaecologist.
And so to return to Spain for one last report. Apart from the two days when we went skiing, Ads had enjoyed lying in and getting up late, past nine in some cases. I asked him, why stay up late and get up late, when the best part of the day, the coolest part is just after dawn. On Wednesday, I blackmailed him into getting up early by saying I was only prepared to climb the big hill behind Acequias if we did it early in the morning. We didn’t take the long route, as we had on our last visit, along the track road which winds slowly around the back of the mountain-hill, but cut up the side more directly, with Niguelas opposite. The earth, and semi-formed earth rocks were very crumbly and often gave way underfoot, but we managed to gain ground without too much difficulty. The maquis-like scrub reminded me of Corsica again: wild rosemary was in flower everywhere, but there was also lavender and santolina giving off their pungent lovely smells. A surprise awaited us at the top - a no entry sign. I’m sure it wasn’t there last time. It seemed so inappropriate, so out of place. The whole area is rock strewn and open, so why would anyone place a single sign there. From the top, we scrambled down to Acequias, just as we had done the last time. Although the sun was climbing up into the sky, most of the descent we stayed in the shadow of the mountain, as I had planned. The climb up took one hour, and the scramble down took one hour, two hours in all.
By 11 we were on our way to Durcal to check out the weekly market. There were clothes, and vegetables, but only one truly exotic stall - of medicinal herbs and spices - and otherwise it was a rather dull market. We found a gift shop and bought odds and ends, and then took a fresh orange juice before returning to the house in Acequias and having lunch of bread and cheese and chorizo. This was the one day we spent a long restful afternoon in the house. Ads was writing his diary, and reading Spike Milligan. I was reading s Rankin thriller, and trying to catch the news about Kosovo on the world service.
Then there’s Dave. I had met him on the previous evening at Bar Nuevo (having forewarned Adam, I had left him alone in the house after he’d gone to bed). At Andrew’s invitation, Dave has been living in the house for the best part of the year, and is doing some of the painting and decorating work. But he has overstayed his welcome, and Tammy finds his presence in the house annoying, especially as he doesn’t contribute to the food or cleaning. Indeed, Tammy went on at some length about Dave, but I wondered whether she had actually ever confronted him with his failures around the house. Then, later that day, I had personal experience of Dave’s selfishness. I came up to the main room to find he had prepared a large plate of pasta, on top of which was sitting the last large portion of a ratatouille I had made earlier in the week. I asked Dave if he normally took things from the fridge without asking. He ummed and aaghed a bit and claimed that Tammy had said the food was days old. I stressed that if Tammy had said he could eat it, that was OK. My main aim was not to rescue the ratatouille (which he offered to return to me!) but to make him aware of the rudeness of his behaviour. When I told Tammy later, she was thrilled with the story, and it became known as the ratatouille incident. The next day on leaving, my parting words to Dave were to be careful of what he takes from the fridge.
After the worst of the afternoon heat, we drove over to Restabal and Chite, and did a couple of walks near and around the reservoir. What Ads liked best was finding the orange and lemon trees and stealing the fruits and hiding them in our bag. Seeing so many trees laden with fruit everywhere, he found it difficult to comprehend that taking one or two could be seen as wrong. We had several conversations about this during the holiday. Nevertheless, as we wandered through endless groves of orange trees, I couldn’t stop him picking two or three fruits; and when we saw a group of people filling bags with oranges, Adam was convinced they were stealing too. We carried one freshly picked orange and one lemon back for B. We considered whether to take a third walk in search of a castle above Lecrin we had visited last time but voted against the idea.
In the evening, we dined with Offra, her brother (a dentist from Tel Aviv), and Tammy at the Garvi in Lecrin. The restaurant appeared closed, with the lights off, Offra marched in and told them to open up the kitchens. She knows them all so well. I would have preferred to drive across to Lanjaron for a meal in a more lively place, and I did consider suggesting it, but, in the end, decided against. Most of us had either a steak or fish with chips which was perfectly edible. We talked about bullfighting for a while, and I was well impressed with the way Ads held his own in the conversation (indeed I was really proud of him all evening - he hardly appeared to be a child at all, so adult was his involvement in our conversations and banter). We talked a bit about parents and backgrounds, and Tammy revealed (this may have been earlier in another conversation, I can’t remember now) that, when she was a child, I was an important part of their family, but that she never liked me. (Later, Andrew told me that her term for me ‘Shakespeare’ was a nickname of dislike rather than endearment, which is odd considering that she works as a stage manager at the Globe Theatre!) Of course, I only ever remember being something of an outsider. Tammy also revealed that she resents quite strongly the way her parents brought her up so liberally, exposing her to all kind of strangers, some of them criminal, not least Guido who killed his cleaning lady, and the raging queer Larry who would follow people to the toilet and, apparently, propositioned her brother Jason still only a young teenager at the time. As with the several times, I’ve met Offra before, I found her much sharper and intelligent than the sometimes scatty character she presents.
We were packed and ready to leave by the time the loud car horn of the bread man sounded down below. I bought fresh baguette-type bread and sweetbread, which Ads has a tooth for, and Tammy joined us for a last breakfast. We said our goodbyes (I gave Tammy 10,000 pesetas) and headed down from the mountains. Our first stop was the beach at Salobrena. For the first time during our holiday there were sufficient clouds and a wind to make the prospect of a swim less than attractive. Our first major stop was at the caves of Nerja. This is a big tourist attraction with a large car park, scores of cars and coaches arriving all the time, and hundreds of people milling around. We paid our money and stepped down into the caves. A photographer stopped us for a moment and took a picture which was later offered to us for a few pounds in a paper frame with some info on the caves. I bought one (largely for B), despite disliking that kind of thing. The caves, themselves, proved justly famous. Huge, giant caverns with stalagmites and stalactites as tall as houses and more, and bunched together in massive formations. A walkway takes one through the open area of the caves, which are all dry (they finished forming millions of years ago), with people always in front and behind. The lighting is quiet and not flamboyant. We wowed at the caves but the fact that they were dead caves, had been visited by millions of people, and were as busy as a street in the middle of a city, did detract from their specialness. I came away believing intellectually that I had seen something interesting, but I wasn’t moved.
Further along the coast, at Torre del Mar, we body surfed in a raging sea, with no one else even on the beach, let alone in the water. I wasn’t going to go in but Ads ventured forth and I couldn’t have him calling me a wimp. Once in, we well enjoyed the surfing. Still further along the coast towards Malaga we found a small restaurant which was busy from trade at the tail end of a market. We ate a good menu lunch with soup, salad, chicken/escalope, chips and ice cream, and then headed for Malaga and the airport. I made the mistake of deciding to drive through the city in search of a main beach, but we got caught up in post-siesta rush hour, and our deadline for delivering the car started looming fast. Eventually, I found the route to the airport and then doubled back to the nearest beach, because I was determined to have one last swim. As I parked in an odd place, a police car pulled up and several police got out, but it was nothing to do with us, and then as I was stepping into the water, Ads came rushing up (he had decided not to swim) to show me a giant jellyfish (over a foot in diameter). My potential pleasure has already been largely squashed by first time pressure and then the panic of the policemen (I’d lost the rental documents for the car, so knew that if the police did stop me we’d be in trouble). Still, I had my swim, and we made it to the airport in good time, in good time for a nice long queue at check-in and in good time for a two hour delay for take-off (which gave us a chance to read one last lousy Lawrence story)! B kindly picked us up at Gatwick and we were in bed not before half past midnight.
Theo has gone to Brussels. I did errands this afternoon: the bank, WH Smiths, The Pantry, Homebase, Sainsbury’s, the PO Box, and the school (Ads does drama class on Tuesday’s and needs to be collected). Ads saw the paper on the table and the story about Dando, so we talked about it over tea and carrot cake. A few minutes ago, I watched the opening interview on ‘Newsnight’. It was with a clinical psychologist (Oliver James, I think, I’ve never heard of him, but he was obviously important enough to be the main and first interview). Apart from bringing to bear statistics on the murder of women (something over 200 last year in this country, of which half were by a spouse or former lover, and only 4% of which were by gunshot), he said exactly, but almost word for word, what I had said to Adam, about thinking it a crime of passion, and even to the point of explaining that most criminals would be intelligent enough to realise how Dando was only a presenter and that they would, therefore, be more likely go after any person who provided information to the police. Apart from the statistics, he made not one comment that I hadn’t made to Adam. Aren’t diaries great, you can boast away to your heart’s content, nobody’s listening but you can still feel good. I’ll boast about it to Ads in the morning, but I’ll confess first that I am boasting because he often accuses me of boasting, as though I were a playground mate. I tell him it’s not boasting between father and son to draw attention to achievements.
I watched an excellent production of Britten’s ‘Curlew River’ this evening - I’d recorded it on TV a few weeks ago. I’d never heard of it before. It’s a rather haunting piece about a mad woman who has lost her son, finds his grave by the river, loses hope, and then encounters his spirit and regains hope. There are only two other characters, a ferryman and a traveller. The music is spare, with solo instruments often used, or just singing. All the parts are sung by men, and there is a fair amount of plainsong. It’s full of echoes, as one would expect, of other Britten works, and there is a deliberate attempt to fuse east and west with some of the Noh theatre ideas brought into the music by Britten, and into the production by the producer.
28 April 1999
A lovely sunny spring day. I was idling away the morning on proofreading Theo’s work, but I couldn’t resist going outside to do some gardening. Even now, at 7:30pm, the evening sun is glinting through the trees into this the large upstairs room where I now keep my personal stuff.
I don’t have much to write about this evening, I simply thought that, for a change, I would see how long I could keep writing every day. I’ve been such a poor correspondent with myself this year and because of the Spain holiday, I’ve been trying to catch up and, in so doing, I’ve written every day now for almost a week. So, I’ll see how long I can keep it up.
I am still in a post-novel wind-down phase. (BLR, by the way is returned from the first of two publishers - Hodder and Stoughton - who’ve seen it: ‘I’m afraid this is not right for our list’. Oh isn’t it.) And time sits a bit heavily on my hands, not for want of things to do, but for want of an incentive to do them. This failure of mine to find a lover/friend/partner or to even search for one seriously rises to the surface so easily when the pressure of work is off. The business could do with attention, especially if I am to employ someone new; the transport book needs lots of work, which I really ought to get stuck into; there is lots I could do in the garden too; and there are half read books all around the house, which were abandoned earlier this year when BLR moved into completion phase, but which I have not attempted to get back into.
I must go and prepare supper for Ads and I: spaghetti bolognese and broccoli followed by fruit.
29 April 1999
Another gorgeous spring day. Theo is still in Brussels. I have made up my mind now, that the transport book will be my next major project, and that I will try and publish it in early autumn. If, and it remains a big if, I were to employ Krysia and start up EC Inform-Health, then that too would be ready for launch in September.
I watched a movie on TV for a couple of hours after lunch! It was an RT five star 40s noir with Humphrey Bogart which I don’t recall ever seeing before, ‘In a lonely Place’, directed by Nicholas Ray. Very enjoyable, even if the theme was a bit hackneyed. Disillusioned famous screenwriter finally meets girl to fall in love with, but a murder charge against him hangs over their relationship. He is temperamental and violent, but not so violent as the charge of murder might suggest. The woman begins to suspect her man might be guilty, which leads her to leave him. That fact alone sends him over the edge, and to do her harm, not enough to hurt her physically, but enough to mortally wound the relationship. Only then, does the news come through from the police that all suspicions against him have been dropped. But it is too late. The movie, somewhat obliquely, also comments on the movie industry itself.
After that, I went into the garden and for planting and repotting and sweeping. I’m planning to clean up the garage at the weekend. I came in at about 6:30 and then, apart from 15 minutes with ‘Eastenders’ (do I care about anything that’s happening there at the moment? no), I spent the best part of two hours on the phone. My mother wanted to invite me up for roast beef over the bank holiday weekend. Colin rang for chat (I had rung him on Sunday), and David also rang for a chat. I had left a message on his answering machine earlier in the week. Bloomsbury have offered him £6,000 each for two books, one on Dutch football, and the other on a German cabaret theme, but he is wondering how to fund his life while he writes them. There was also a brief conversation with Barbara, as there is most days.
The news came through today, although not on the BBC I hasten to add, that a Serbian has claimed to have killed Jill Dando in revenge for NATO’s bombing of the television station in Belgrade. The same man also threatened the BBC executive Mr Hall. Apparently, the killing was carried out at the same time as the funerals in Belgrade of those killed in the bombing of the TV building. This makes absolute sense, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Dando had been chosen simply because she was on the cover of this week’s ‘Radio Times’.
Friday 30 April 1999
Another glorious day, but I confined my presence in the garden to doing the lawns this evening.
Another nail bomb, the third. The first went off in Brixton (blacks), the second in Brick Lane (Jews), the third, tonight, in Soho, in a park frequented by gays. That’s three bombs in three weeks, and I think two people died this time.
I’ve had a funny, heavy forehead all day, not a normal headache, but something more akin to the cluster headaches that I’ve had in the past. This ache, though, is not behind the eyes, or sharp, but seems linked to a painful spot on my forehead, a bruise or something. Also my left thumb won’t repair itself properly - I don’t know if its fungus or psoriasis of some other horrible thing, but the skin goes all sore and stiff and painful. It’s already shed one round of skin, and I thought it would be OK after that, but its now going all crinkly and sore again. Not serious though.
Theo brought back a large pile of material from Brussels, both for energy and transport. It now seems there won’t be an interim Commission and that a brand new Commission will be appointed in September, and then reappointed in January. So, until September, the existing Commission has realised it might as well get on with as much day-to-day business as it can. And, despite its resignation and statements to the effect that it will only conduct business related to essential time-sensitive procedures, it has begun to issue reports and working papers, and even a white paper and a draft Directive. But who is chairing the Commission meetings that approves these dossiers? Theo has tipped a German called Wissman for the transport dossier; Kinnock is still hoping for external relations, but Prodi wants to combine all the foreign affairs positions back into one, and I don’t think Kinnock carries enough international stature for such a post. I still think he will have to settle for the competition portfolio.
Around lunchtime, I nip into Farnham on Kiwi to do some shopping. I buy another money magazine - I’ve been a bit obsessed this week with ISAs and such like, and trying to decide how to invest another £20,000 of money - and a new book called ‘Vienna Blood’ which I read a good review of some time back.
During the afternoon, I continue reading over and editing the transport book chapters.
I bath. I eat a chicken pie, potatoes, carrots and salad. I listen to ‘Any Questions’ with Edward Heath, Tony Benn, Roger Scruton and Max Hastings. Heath is a pompous ass, but one cannot deny that to have reached the top in three different worlds, politics, yachting and conducting is some achievement; Benn is as mad as a hatter, and infinitely more dangerous (he may even be more dangerous than Enoch Powell was); Scruton I don’t know very well; but I was pleased to hear Hastings declare that despite always having been a Conservative he would never vote for Hague and that he was certain Hague would never be a prime minister. I believe the Conservative party is strangling itself with its right wing noose, and cannot unhitch itself from the tree.
Mum rings to arrange our visit for supper on Monday; and then again to say she and my cousin Mary and Roger will come here on 30 May to celebrate my birthday. Now, 11:06 I shall go to bed with my new book.
Paul K Lyons
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