DIARY 61: July 1999 - January 2000

5 July 1999

Coltrane’s ‘Blue Train’ livens up the evening. It is still light, although rain clouds have made it far darker than it has been of late at this time. Ads has gone to bed. He has been at Scouts all evening. When I went up to say goodnight to him, I heard him say ‘six’, and then he let on that he was counting the number of times he can get me to say ‘Goodnight’. I’ve often noticed he says ‘Goodbye’ in the morning and ‘Goodnight’ several times, always insisting on a response. I’ve never thought much about it, just laughed it off. But this evening, I discover he does it deliberately, to see how many times he can get me to respond. He tells me 10 is his record in the evening and 6 in the morning. The scamp.

There is nothing remotely interesting on the TV, and there are no books demanding my immediate attention (I read a Patricia Cornwell pulp thriller last week, but was well disappointed with the badly executed plot - up to now I’ve enjoyed her Scarpetta novels). By contrast, there is lots to write up in this journal, even though I don’t feel much like writing. It is just as well my life is not any more interesting or I would never have time to record my life’s bits and pieces.

I see my last entry was 23 June. I tap these keys in time with the double bass clicking of the Coltrane music - this portable Mac has such a nice keyboard - and now the sax comes back in, a bit like it was Bond walking in on an adventure scene. But I digress too rhythmically.

Krysia, yes, I must get her off my chest, so to speak, and out of my journal. She was a big mistake. I thought about her constantly for near on a week I suppose. I had to sort out why she was not meeting my expectations, whether I was being unfairly judgmental, impatient, and over-demanding; and how best to deal with the situation. By her second week I was already beginning to doubt I could turn the situation around, but I didn’t believe I should be able to make a decision so quickly. I bounced my thoughts off Theo once or twice, and he was fairly supportive of my opinion - that she was slow, and unable to use her initiative - but was not willing to commit himself to agreeing that I should let her go. I talked extensively to B about the matter too, and by the end of the week I was thinking I might talk to her seriously and suggest I give her another two weeks. However, I sent her to the City Business Library with Theo on Thursday and she brought in some reasonable stuff on Friday, so I decided to leave my decision until Monday. Theo came to work on Saturday (having been at his Radio Station on Friday). I quizzed him about the day with Krysia, and he confirmed my worst suspicions that she had only come back with reasonable material because Theo helped her such a lot. This time, when I suggested I would have to let her go, he agreed. And so my mind was made up. The only problem then was how actually to broach the subject. Unfortunately, people are not machines and so however many times one goes over a conversation in one’s mind, one can never get much further than the first part of the conversation because one can never predict how the other person is going to react. I did go over it all in my mind, trying to find both a full justification for the decision, in case she challenged me in detail, and a soft gentle way of explaining it all to her.

So Monday morning came, by which time I was actually quite calm (I had told Theo to keep his head down). As soon as she arrived, I sat her down in the kitchen and told her I felt it wasn’t working and that I thought we had both made a big mistake. I explained that I felt it would take me much longer than I had expected to train her and that I couldn’t afford it. She questioned my making the decision so quickly, and I said I agreed that I was taking it too quickly, but whereas, previously, I had thought the risk of taking her on was 75-25, it was now more like 25-75 and at those odds I could no longer afford to take the risk. When she said it was a big dent to her confidence, I suggested that perhaps she needed that dent, that she had taken on something too big, something out of her depth. There was no hint of an apology on her part, no sorrow that she had let me down. And I took a goodly proportion of the blame for the situation, allowing her to slink off, a half hour later. What a relief, but what an expensive mistake. At least I can be thankful that I didn’t keep her on longer. She sounded so plausible and yet had a completely disproportionate belief in herself. As I later said to Barbara and my mother, the way I approach employing people is well guarded against anyone trying to bluff, but not necessarily against someone who has an unreal belief in their abilities. Theo’s original comment that she was naive was so apt. And, finally, I understood why her c.v. carried her photograph and her name in huge letters - both characteristics found on almost no other c.v. I had thought, perhaps, the photo was there to attract male employees, but she was not that attractive nor deliberately seductive or sexy. So then why? Because she was naive and over-confident in her abilities!

So that was Monday. But all weekend, I had been busy making a paper boat for the Elstead paper boat race. I hadn’t intended to make one this year, but when we, the organisers, met a week earlier, and Richard Bourne, the dentist, and one of the co-founders of the event, made a passing comment about there still being time to make a boat, I thought I should have a go. I found good cardboard at Homebase, and bought the thixotropic contact glue that makes the construction process easier. I spent a good part of the weekend, with help from Ads, Rob and James, putting together the Yellow Shark Machine. The name came together very smoothly. I had asked Ads to think about a theme and a name at school on the Friday, and, on the phone, he told me he fancied something to do with sharks. In the meantime, I had picked up all this bright yellow cardboard and so wanted the theme to be something to do with yellow. Ads was talking sharks, I was talking yellow, and I could hear B talking in the background behind Ads’ voice. Somebody volunteered Yellow Submarine, someone else Yellow Shark, and then B, I think it was, said ‘Yellow Shark Machine’, which was just perfect. Essentially, I made three rectangular cardboard shapes, with a point at one end, and fitted them inside each other like Russian dolls. The real work was in constructing and fixing the shark design around the base - this included a tail fin, a kind of gondola body with a top fin, and a head complete with open jaws and teeth. Rob and James agreed to make the latter, while I did the rest on Sunday and Monday - Ads helping me here and there.

On the Saturday of the race, there was still much to do. Not only did I have more fixing and patching, but I also had to get down to the Moat to help with the organisation. There was Richard showing off his new army jeep, in which he had carried the various hardware we needed: a shelter, a stand, chairs, a generator, a rowing boat for rescue etc; Norman was there pottering around, banging in the stakes to rope off the boat display area, and Ads and I arrived to put up posters asking people to park carefully and to give generously. I helped with the ropes and the setting up the platform upon which Norman would sit and commentate on the race; then we came home to do last minute adjustments on the Yellow Shark Machine. Rob and James didn’t arrive until nearly 2 which didn’t give us long to stick the head on, but we managed any way. They had done a good job on the head, although some said it looked a little more like a T-rex than a shark. I left Rob to organise transporting the boat, while I raced off back to the Moat to help with the preparations. My first task was to race back again to Spar in the village to collect the entry forms and money which had been left there. Sue must have had other things on her mind this year: our first meeting about the event was too late to get any reasonable publicity, then she forgot all about the forms, and to cap it all, so to speak, she got the wrong date (1998 instead of 1999) on the prize cups.

But the weather was fine, there were a good number of boats (some unfortunately recognisable from last year), and a fair number of spectators, although nowhere near as many as last year. I think the smaller attendance was partly because we didn’t get any advance publicity (other than a brief interview on County Sound organised by Theo) and partly because of the tennis finals at Wimbledon. At first I didn’t have much to do, so I got all tense about our boat, and got cross with Ads and James for not standing by it. And then, once they were on the water, I was tense for them. It was clear from the start that a couple of boats, with no design to speak of, were streaking ahead as if they were proper row boats or canoes, and that Ads and James had no chance of keeping up. Also, we miscalculated James’ weight because he really weighed down the back end of the boat, so that it was almost below the water line. This meant that water got inside the boat, and quite soon it started to sink. But it sank in the best possible way, slowly and steadily. They got round two laps of the course and lasted 12 of the 15 minutes, but then, finally, the boat disintegrated so much they weren’t able even to pretend they were sitting in it any more. Norman, the commentator, was somewhat derogatory about Yellow Shark Machine, he kept getting the name wrong, and he also announced that we had entered the boat into the second race, i.e. mocking us by giving the impression that we had thought it would last that long. But, when Ads and James came round to complete their second lap, I gave Norman a tug and told him they deserved a round of applause, so he did give them a good cheer on the mike and the audience responded. A boy called Greg Bennett won the race, the same boy who won it last year. The Bird family’s boat, which had been used in both races last year, came second, and was then entered into the adult race.

By the time the adult race started, I had plenty to do in writing out the names of entrants on the ‘Certificates of Endurance’ which I had prepared. The Cruikshank family had made a boat called Millennium Bug, which was definitely in the spirit of the race, and which also survived well for the 15 minutes, but I don’t think it won. When the race ended, Norman declared that any boats still surviving would have to pay a landing fee. He was as fed up with boats being brought back year after year, as I was. Millennium Bug and one other had a fight to destruction, but the Bird boat and another perfect looking construction were pulled out sharpish to be preserved. That’s all wrong. They simply do not understand what the event is about.

Norman announced the prize winners for the two races and they duly came up to receive their cute little trophies and then he went straight on to the raffle. Only when he had gone through that tedious process, did he announced the winner of the design prize - Yellow Shark Machine! Ads and James, who incidentally were soaked to the skin, absolutely filthy and shivering like anything, had already had an inkling they were going to win, and were standing shoulder to shoulder in front of the prize table, edging ever closer in impatient expectation. They were, though, dead chuffed. After that, there was all the clearing up, and the post mortem. Why had Yellow Shark Machine sunk? I claimed the boat would have survived better with just one boy, and if it hadn’t had a roof construction which constrained any proper paddling action. Also, it needed higher sides if it was going to take two people.

Discussing the whole event with Theo on the Monday, I was explaining my dilemma about the boats that wouldn’t sink, and the makers who appeared to think that winning was the point of the Elstead paper boat race, and he suggested that they have a fight at the end of the race. I now intend to propose to Norman and the others that the race rules be amended so that every entrant which survives the 15 minute race must take part in a final battle of supremacy, and the boat which stays afloat longest wins the most prestigious prize. So, for each race, there would be one (lesser) prize for winning, a box of chocolates, and another (better) prize for being the survivor. See also photos and local paper cuttings.

7 July 1999

Between bouts of paper boat construction, I also had to go to Brussels in order to move flats. I took Ads, partly because he had a couple of days holiday at the same time, partly because I was going by car and it wouldn’t cost me any more to take him, and partly because I thought he could be very useful in helping me carry things. We left around 5pm on Tuesday evening, and arrived at Dover with well over an hour to spare. The drive was not comfortable because I had the old brown sofabed squeezed into the car, taking up one and half seats at the back and the front. It was both pressing into the steering wheel and covering up the gear stick. The worst of it, though, was in Belgium where I was also driving on the wrong side of the road, and unable to see either out of my left wing mirror or my rear view mirror. Ads was well excited with the HoverCat boat, and hardly sat still for the whole two hour journey. He loved being outside on deck and reported that the foam and spray spilling out back was mesmerising. My nose wouldn’t stop streaming from a cold that had started a day earlier. Brilliant timing. We arrived at the flat in Rue du canal around midnight - I was pleased to see there were no communications from Hadjadj which meant my exit from the flat would be straightforward - and went straight to sleep.

My new Westbrook CD ‘Glad Day’ is playing, but it isn’t suitable music for writing by - the songs keeps demanding my attention, not only the words of Blake’s poems but Westbrook’s imaginative music too. It’s 10:47 and I’m ready to go to bed.

When Ads leaves for school tomorrow morning, I’ve three days alone ahead of me (Theo’s in Brussels, and this weekend I’m due to spend Sunday with Ads, not Saturday). It doesn’t worry me unduly, but I note that I am aware of it, that I have thought about it. How can I go on so long, so endlessly without crying out in despair for a new relationship? Will another relationship ever come my way? Or have I spoilt myself for ever with B and A. I can see that I am going to have to sit down, once again, for the nth time, and give the problem some attention, knowing full well that there are no solutions which are less painful than the status quo.

Northern Ireland is on a knife edge. The Unionists will not take a further step without decommissioning of arms by the IRA (they have been persuaded to take so many already) and the IRA continues to refuse to move a muscle in that direction. Sinn Fein is trying to edge the process along, and doing the best it can, I suppose. But the inevitable impasse has arrived. I believe Trimble is right to take a stand here. I think the IRA needs to make a move. Kosovo is off the front pages, at last - NATO and everyone is working hard at rehabilitation. Protests in Serbia begin to call for Milosevich to be deposed.

England won a crazy test match against New Zealand. Wickets fell like ninepins through three innings, and England happened to be in place when the pitch allowed more sensible batting. The match was most notable for being the first with Nasser Hussain as captain, and Fleming as the new coach; also Reid has been brought in as wicket keeper - Stewart is on his way out.

8 July 1999

A very hot day. I have just been stripping the legs on an oak coffee table I brought back from Brussels, and within five minutes I was exhausted. The table is one I bought in an auction in Brussels years ago. I decided it didn’t fit very well in the new flat, and as I was in the car I thought I would bring it back to Elstead. The one I have in the lounge, is more decorative, but it’s been falling to pieces for years. Also I now have three pieces of furniture in the lounge - the Minty bookcase, this bureau at which I sit typing (unusually for it is mainly a store for CDs and cassettes), and the large table by the window - all made of oak with a strong grain showing through, as is the table I brought back from Brussels. Out there, I had only stripped the top, and not the legs, so now I’m stripping the legs. As always with the toxic stinging Nitromors, I expect the job to be done after one coat, and it never is.

I seem to be well up on writing for EC Inform-Energy 73, and thus have been able to break off mid-afternoon to do some other things - such as strip the table, and write up more of my journal. Because of the flat move, I went to Brussels a week earlier than usual, and Theo has gone a week later than usual.

Everything went reasonably smoothly in Brussels I have to say - except the move was a lot more work than I expected. Ads and I worked more or less solidly for 12 hours, through to midnight. One of the biggest jobs was getting rid of hundreds and hundreds of documents that I had accumulated in the flat over the years; and with a cold making me rather weak, I relied heavily on Ads to carry many of them down the three flights of stairs for me. Fortunately, the rubbish collectors were due on Thursday so I was able to leave the plastic sacks out on the pavement.

Despite our late retirement, we were up fairly early and out looking for a baker and croissants. There is one about 6-7 minutes away, which is slightly too far, but better than nothing. The telephone man came early, not long after our breakfast, even though he wasn’t supposed to arrive until after 10 (the designated time for me to take over the flat). But that was fine, because it meant I had the telephone fixed. By about 9:30, I was ready to head off to the Commission to do some work. I arranged with Ads to come on his own by metro to Schumann at 12:30 - it’s only two stops, and I calculated that it was an easy way to introduce him to travelling alone in a city.

We had a nice lunch in the Council, and then went back to the flat to carry on the tidying up and organising. Later in the day, I planned for us to go to the early evening cinema session, which would be about Adam’s only treat during the whole three days. We chose a film called ‘Entrapment’ with Sean Connery, and headed for the cinema at De Brouckere. Unfortunately, the metro broke down, and we were left stuck for 15 minutes or more, twice in two different stations. We arrived long after the film should have started, but, nevertheless, because of the adverts etc, we managed to walk in more or less as the film was starting. It was fun, if a little slow, and Ads gave it eight and half out of ten. There was one moment that made me snigger out loud - it was completely uncharacteristic of the rest of the movie, as though a bit of the real Sean Connery had escaped from the actor’s role just for a second, and the director hadn’t spotted it, or the star insisted on its retainment, or there was a writer who convinced the scene needed a lighthearted moment - I don’t know how it survived. Any way, Connery, playing the aged thief, is training a much younger and more beautiful Catherine Zeta Jones, and in this scene they are on a tiring run, and we see Connery pressing ahead of Zeta Jones, but, as he passes her, he gives a grimace - almost to camera in fact, but not quite - telling us the audience that, despite his showing off towards Zeta Jones, he does not enjoy all this rigorous training stuff. Why do I mention this? Only because, a few days later, I read a damning review of the film in which the reviewer picked the scene as the one genuinely funny moment in the film.

Isn’t there just so much to write about in a journal!

After the film, we zipped into Pizza Hut because I was thirsty and hungry and dying for a pee. I had only chosen Pizza Hut for quick service, and when it didn’t come, I left. We then traipsed around a bit, looking for a better pizza restaurant, until, finally, I decided I wasn’t going to settle for any old crappy bar, despite my hunger and thirst, and walked over to Falstaff, where we shared a huge complex salad. Despite his disinterest, I insisted on Adam appreciating the Art Nouveau decor. I paid, literally, for not having peed in Pizza Hut, however, BFr20. A right Shakespearean rip-off, if such a thing exists.

I still had much to do on Friday morning, and so left Ads again for two or three hours. I had to take back a telephone which had been rented from Belgacom since I’d first had a line at rue du Canal (back in those days, Belgacom insisted I rent one of their phones, or else they might not get my line working too quickly). I had to pay rent. I had to talk to Costas and to Lauri, and I had to pick up a load of papers. I managed more or less everything with reasonable efficiency and was back in time to take a short stroll with Ads to the shops at Merode. Thereafter, it became a bit of panic since my landlord was due to arrive at 2pm and I wanted to leave for Ostend, the moment he was gone, but I had underestimated how much there was still to do in tidying up the new flat.

Mademoiselle de Wael, my landlady, arrived unexpectedly at 2pm - I had only been expecting her brother with whom I had been making all the arrangements. Very sweetly, she had brought a large bag of provisions, but her visit, born out of curiosity I suppose, since we had talked on the phone several times, meant I had to engage her in conversation, which included listening to a potted version of her life story as a nurse in Africa. I wouldn’t have minded but for being somewhat behind - and very worried about being caught in the Friday afternoon rush hour out of Brussels. Her brother arrived quite late, and I raced them both through the various bits of paperwork and other outstanding matters, while Ads filled the car with our luggage. There was a hint of the rush hour already as we left Brussels, with the beginning of a traffic jam in one of the long tunnels, but we fortunately made it out onto the motorway in time.

We had a short wander around Bruges, which along the shopping streets feels more British than Belgian. We passed by some lovely buildings, bridges and canals, and took tea and waffles in a cafe. This was an interesting experience. The waffle came with butter and jam, but I had no idea how to use the butter and jam on the waffle - its shape does not lend itself to being spread upon. As I gainfully struggled with poking butter and jam into the waffle’s pits, I noticed a girl and her mother kept looking around at me in curiosity and amusement.

From Bruges to Ostend was a short drive. We had about an hour or so in the terminal before the hovercat set off. Ads, as usual, was busy racing around the boat, and enjoying the on-deck experiences. I was feeling somewhat knackered, but couldn’t sleep. When I finished my bad Cornwell novel, I was feeling disgruntled at not having anything else to read, but then, when dragged into the duty-free shop (the duty-free shop which of course was no more duty free, not since the day before - 1 July) I found a daily newspaper which I gleefully bought and which then kept me well occupied for most of the rest of the journey.

We were back in Dover by about 10, and were making good progress towards London, when I decided to exit the motorway in search of a pack of chips. This was a bit of a mistake. It took me longer than I thought it would to find a chip shop, and then, when I found one, I had to wait a good 15 minutes for my one pack of chips. The shop was crowded with a rather disorganised queue of people who had already ordered, who were waiting, and others who were waiting to order. I got miffed (is that a real word?) when I noticed one of the servers starting to prepare the orders of people who came after me, instead of serving me my chips - and they were pretty horrible too. Ads slept much of the way back, and we arrived on the nail at midnight.

10 July 1999

I am not usually up this early - 6pm - but I woke an hour ago when it was already light - and listened to the radio, which usually puts me back to sleep, but not this morning, so I rose, showered, dressed and had a cup of tea. The item on the radio as I switched it on concerned the future of nuclear power, and within moments of my listening, Marko Bojcun, director of some Ukrainian institute or other came on, to talk about Chernobyl. The very same Marko, of course, from my FT days. His voice was unchanged, his subject was fairly familiar too, although something he said echoed a specific idea of my own which I’ve written in the energy books - i.e. that the West wants to exterminate the name of Chernobyl, which is why it is prepared to go to such lengths in wooing Ukraine. However, Marko said he believes this is because it wants to resurrect the nuclear industry and can only do so if it buries the Chernobyl name.

Oddly, about 20 minutes later, the World Service carried an item about monsters in lakes, saying there are at least 300 of them around the world with some associated monster myth or other. And then on came Jason Gibb, Andy’s son, who was asked about the expedition to the Norwegian lake in which he had taken part, and particularly about something they had detected below the surface of the lake. Jason was only on for a second, and I know that trip was a bit of disaster. Still, I thought it was some coincidence to hear two people I know on the World Service within 20 minutes of each other.

Yesterday was the Elstead Marathon. Adam came second of the boys in the under 14 race. He was well puffed at the end, and cross - cross that he had failed to beat either a girl called Lizzy, who is 13 and came in first of both boys and girls, and a boy called Oliver in his year at school, who was just ahead of him at the end. It was a brilliant warm evening, and there were crowds galore on the green. B and I waited anxiously for Ads to run his course, and, in the meantime, talked to Norman (I proposed my new idea about a rule requiring an end-of-race battle of destruction). Later we also talked to Josh and Ursula, who were there to watch Philip in the same race as Adam (three miles) and Andrew in the adult race (five miles). We bought some drinks in the Golden Fleece and strolled down to the bridge to watch the racers splash through the river on the home run. All the time, Ads couldn’t get over his disappointment at not having done better, so I was able to keep congratulating him. And, in the end, he was quite pleased with his medal for second place.

Adam has also achieved some local celebrity this week for being, with James, on the front page of both the ‘Surrey Advertiser’ and the ‘Farnham Herald’. Both papers used a photo of Yellow Shark Machine and mentioned that they had won the best design trophy. Ads came home from school on Friday well chuffed because lots of his mates had seen his picture in the paper.

The new Commission was announced by Romano Prodi yesterday. Of course the British media focused on the appointments of Kinnock as vice-president, and the anti-fraud/reform Commissioner, and Pattern in the high profile external affairs job. Prodi has also appointed a right-wing 49yr-old Spanish politician to be the other vice-president, Loyola de Palacio (am I going to get fed up of writing that name), who is in charge of transport and energy. However, for the meantime, Prodi has not merged DGVII and DGXVII, as some thought likely, and no doubt this will be left for Kinnock to organise.

18 July 1999

A hot bright weekend. This Sunday afternoon, post-high-tea-type lunch, I am sitting in the garden, with the table just by the back door in the shade, with the intention of spending an hour or so writing up the last week for my journal. Satie’s piano music plays in the distance, from somewhere deep inside the house, and I can also hear the domestic banter of conversation from the Red Leas garden. From where I sit I can see the wonderful display of sweet pea flowers, along the fence under Curlew Cottage’s apple tree. My bean plants are also flowering although not as much as I would have liked. None of the veg have done at all well this year - the potatoes are as bad as last year, the lettuces seem to have grown very slowly, and the sweet corn are only a foot high (whereas I saw them a metre high in a nearby field). Ads has just gone over to B’s. Yesterday afternoon we cycled through the Common to Milford, in search of a fete, but I couldn’t find it, so we had an ice-cream and cycled home. In the evening, we watched a ‘Babylon Five’ two parter, ‘A voice from the wilderness’, which was excellent. This morning we spent an hour or more discussing how to fill up the summer. We also discussed redecorating his room, which I hope to do in a couple of weeks. Then we cycled down to the river for a swing on the rope-swing. We didn’t stay that long, because a four-car group of people arrived complete with their coolie bins and a barbecue set. I don’t mind groups arriving for a picnic, it is after all a public place, but I do object to the cars which should have been left at the road’s end near Westbrook. After lunch, we lay together in the hammock for a second visit to ‘Brave New World’. Although I don’t remember it seeming dated, it does seem very old-fashioned now as I read it out loud, the scientific concepts are anachronistic, and there is a concentration on science and theory without any real plot or characterisation in the first couple of chapters. On the other hand, the whole issue of genetics and cloning is more real today than it was then, and so it should throw up interesting topics for discussion.

Northern Ireland ran into problems this week. When the final moment came, the Ulster Unionists would not sit down in the new assembly with Sinn Fein and so the start of the legislature was abandoned. However much they had been wooed by government, and given new concessions, at the end of the day, the Unionists were not prepared to make any further leaps of faith without evidence of decommissioning. Sinn Fein says the Good Friday agreement does not require any decommissioning before 2000, and only calls for all the parties to make their best efforts towards decommissioning. But Trimble felt he wouldn’t take the bulk of the Unionists with him if he went ahead now. I do actually sympathise with Trimble, and feel he has made the right decision. The government, perhaps, was trying to press the process a little too fast. I think Mowlem and Blair have done a fantastic job, as have Hume and Trimble, but there is a limit to how far they can go, and how soon. I think the root of the problem is that Sinn Fein cannot deliver arms decommissioning, or not much anyway. It has been able to deliver a ceasefire, and it has kept it going by bringing to the peace process significant concessions for the Catholics, i.e. prisoner releases, and a promise of power sharing. But the IRA won’t give up the bulk of its weapons. I suspect that all the key players see the benefits of sustaining the peace for as long as possible, and, given time, being able to demonstrate that the Catholics and the south are being integrated into the policy-making process, and that there will so much to lose by taking up arms, that, even though the weapons have never been handed in, the ceasefire will survive and peace will become permanent. With time, for example, the terrorists will be integrating themselves into society and may lose their appetite for violence; with time the weapons may become less dangerous; with time, the terrorists may find themselves more outcast than heroes. Thus, I believe, the whole thing is a con trick, and because Trimble realised he couldn’t sustain it any longer, and that it was about to be exposed, he had to pull the plug temporarily, in the hope that the con trick can be revivified at a later stage.

Last Sunday I drove, with Adam, up to East Sheen cemetery for a kind of celebration at Rosy’s grave. Andrew had imported a wooden sculpture of carved dolphins and erected it as a headstone for her grave; Tammy and Jason had also planted some plants in the bed. Twenty or so people had gathered - there was cold champagne, although we preferred our home-made lemonade which we had brought in a thermos. Tim and Niema were there, and Richard, and Cedric, he of folk and Canada fame, much talked about in Niema’s circle. Frankie and her daughter were there, and several other women, I half knew. Ads went off climbing trees. At about 1:30, we drove back to Andrew’s house in Shepherd’s Bush, where a huge feast had been prepared. I don’t know why they asked people to bring food, because the food just sort of piled up all through the afternoon. I talked a bit to Tammy, Jason, Caroline (who turned up with Raoul and all his children) and didn’t really enjoy myself. All the way home, I was metaphorically kicking myself for not being more capable socially. I thought Ads must have had a boring time of it, too, but he didn’t admit so and said he would choose to come next time, if there was a next time.

I timed the drive back just right so as to arrive at Spectrum in Guildford by 7pm. I thought Ads might quite like to watch the volleyball session, and I knew he could wander off now and then to look around. But it was Paul taking the training session. There were only six of us on the beginners’ side - the advanced session was much fuller - and he started off OK, but then he got talking, and he wouldn’t stop, trying to teach everything all at once. And then he started to use a complicated switching routine even though there were two brand new people, which meant slowing it down even more, so I suggested quietly that he keep it simple. He retorted that I was there to learn, and I said he couldn’t teach every level at the same time, and then he punched back at me: ‘If you don’t like it, fuck off.’ So, I turned around and went, and, on the way out, I shouted back that he had been talking for 12 out of 15 minutes. I changed, and then talked to Ian and someone else for 10 minutes, and then came home an hour early. I really didn’t feel good about it; and I know my name will be blackened by Paul among all the others - I only hope that if they discuss things with the other trainers they’ll soon realise that I’ve only ever said positive things about them. Paul’s the only one I’ve ever spoken to like that, and what I said was out of helpfulness, not for any other reason. I’m not looking forward to the session this evening, in case the bad blood spills out in some way.

We put the two newsletters to bed last week, although I made a stupid mistake about the name of one of the new Commissioners. I have a carpet arriving for the office tomorrow, so two days will be devoted to moving stuff around and reorganising all the office equipment. I’ve already thrown out two wheelie bins full of papers.

25 July 1999

Sunday. Beautiful weather for the start of the summer holidays. Sunshine, and hot. But what to do with it. Yesterday, Ads and I motorbiked over to Frensham, but the notices advised against swimming because of the blue-green algae bloom, and sitting around on the hot sand, without any possibility of cooling off, wasn’t my idea of fun. So we drove on round to Tilford, where we paddled, along with many others, in the cool running water of the river, and watched a few overs of cricket, on the pitch that must be one of the worst in the country. We can’t have been out for longer than an hour. It was more pleasant to potter around in the garden while keeping an eye on the cricket (not that England are doing very well against the Kiwis).

And today, Ads is here for the morning only. I thought maybe to drive down to the coast, but I couldn’t summon up enough enthusiasm. I might have gone on the motorbike, if Ads was keen, but he doesn’t much like sitting on the back, I think he finds it difficult to hold on. So, instead, I’ve decided to advance our plans for decorating Adam’s room. He’s started sorting his books, to be moved into the next room, and I’ll help him a little later on. Then we can aim to finish it over the next three days.

A week of my ‘holiday’ period has already vanished - mostly with the aftermath of the carpet installation. Somehow, it took until Wednesday afternoon to get even my desk back to normal, and then I managed to get through the rest of the week, doing very little in the way of constructive work. And now I feel really nervous about the summer period, about wasting it, about time passing, about my life vanishing away. This seems to be partly because I have no personal projects on, no personal goals to meet, and neither do I have any interesting social possibilities ahead of me for the whole of the summer. Nor do I even have a proper holiday ahead (apart from driving down to Cornwall for the eclipse). I am sitting here, unable to relax, wanting, needing to have something more significant, waiting out ahead for me. And there is nothing.

This is what I have scheduled. With Ads: to redecorate his room and the toilet; to play ‘Riven’ (this could absorb an hour or two a day); to spend his birthday (4 August) walking somewhere; to go to Cornwall for a few days; to do sports with him now and then. For me: to work on the transport book, and to develop the health newsletter. But why can’t I consider these latter two projects as enough. Maybe its right to compartmentalise them into my working life, and to dismiss them from any justification for the rest of my life.

Westbrook’s ‘Glad Days’ plays on the CD. ‘Tyger Tyger Burning Bright’ sung by a girls choir has just come on. This was one of the few pieces that the Westbrook band played the other week that I had never heard before.

David rings to tell me he is finally set for a sojourn in Amsterdam. He has sorted somewhere to live, a short let for his own flat; he’s bought a new computer with voice recognition software so he can transcribe his interviews by speaking. His primary task is a book on Dutch football, but he think he’s been commissioned for another book as well.

Mum rings to tell me she is heading for Devon, to spend a weekend with Julian and family, and then some days with her friend Mary at Porlock.

B has been up to her ears in preparing to argue a case to spend thousands of pounds on storage of her library books. Julian rings. He wants me to go with Mum to Lords next Sunday for a county championship match, but I decline. I talk about going to visit in August, and he is again encouraging, so I may yet, go with Ads, Colin and Elizabeth, for a day or two prior to the eclipse.

31 July 1999

Another week, another seven days closer to my end, with little to show for it. I’ve been in Brussels for a couple of days, where I did one serious interview with a transport research guy, saw one reasonable film (‘Matrix’ - a virtual sci-fi story, totally preposterous but enjoyable none-the-less), and did a bit of tidying up in the new flat. I was wearing my gold watch (ex Sasha) for a change and was thus able to time my trips and coincide them with the times of the metro. I also bought a bread board and waste paper bin for the kitchen. Um, yes, are these details truly worth recording?

With Adam I’ve been continuing ‘Riven’ and ‘Brave New World’, and nipping down to the river when it’s too hot. We have also been decorating his room. I suppose that is the main achievement of the last week. Ads did some actual painting, his first on real walls, and made a reasonable job of it. We’ve painted his room white and red, to complement his room at B’s which is white and blue. This evening, I’ve been finishing off the final bits - cleaning the carpet. When he comes back from his weekend at B’s the room will be ready to take all his furniture and books and boxes. I’ve also repainted the toilet and thus annihilated the last of the horrible pink that characterised both the toilet and Adam’s room. Only the upstairs bathroom now remains entirely untouched from when I arrived here, nearly four years ago.

I do often look around this house, both inside and from the outside, and enjoy it. I like the house itself, and am pleased, mostly, with the way I’ve decorated it.

I’m staying up late in the hope I’ll have the stamina for a late night five star Chinese film. But I am beginning to yawn.

So what has been exercising my intellect in the last seven days. This is a hard one. I think I might be going a bit soft. This afternoon, a bit late, I started on a story for Adam’s birthday. It’s a bit uncontrolled, and I don’t know yet if I’m going to contain it. I tried to do a ‘Just So’ (my type not Kipling’s) kind of story, like the ones I read to him recently and he thought were really funny (the bike one, and ‘RumourMongers’). But however short they are, they need time and work to make them good and, so far, I haven’t found the motivation to invest the necessary time. Perhaps I’ll get round to it tomorrow. I’ve also decided to give the summer over to the transport book, and so I’ve been getting on with that.

August 1999

Paul K Lyons


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