12 June 1999

Where to start, if to start at all. It has been one of those weeks I do not care to think about too much. It’s been rounded off today by shouting at Adam, and rejections of BLR from two agents, one of which (Sheil Land) had been the subject of a foolish hope because, firstly, it is the one recommended to me some time ago by Julian’s friend Simon, and, secondly, because the Writer’s Yearbook noted that it was a big agency that encouraged new writers.

I have, though, done shopping, and that always feel good - shopping is the modern communion. First, I bought an outside plant stand. I’ve been wanting one of these for ages, to keep all my little pots of cuttings off the ground and more tidily stored. Secondly, I ordered a carpet for the office - a cheap carpet with a foam back. It will be glued around the edges of the quarry tiles, and, if necessary, I will be able to remove the glue with an adhesive solvent. The main reason for this is that my feet get so cold in the winter. I asked Theo if I should get a carpet, and he said ‘yes’, because his legs get cold too. I’ll have to take everything out of the room, but I have to rearrange everything any way to install Krysia’s desk. Thirdly, I bought a bookcase, because I was desperate for one in the upstairs room, and Adam, who will have to work there now, will need somewhere to keep his schoolbooks.

Today, also, I had to repair a puncture in the back wheel tyre of my bike, and do a fair amount of other tidying up.

Monday 7 June 1999, was the 20th anniversary of when Barbara and I first met. Although the years have been flowing by recently, as if they were Pooh sticks on a river, it seems like a thousand of them have passed since that day, 20 years ago, when I arrived at Lady Olivia’s house in Downton and met the gardeners there, Barbara and Valerie. I never had any time at all for Valerie but I fell for B’s simple beauty. Her memory of those days is somewhat hazy but not as hazy as mine. By some stroke of amazing serendipity, a couple of weeks earlier, I had received a note through from Mike Westbrook (a hand-written envelope from Plymouth) about a performance he was giving on 7 June itself at the Purcell Room. And this was going to be no ordinary performance, but one of his settings of Blake poems with the same band (at least the same key performers) that he performed with 20 years ago in the late 1970s when I first discovered him! Even though it was a production night Monday (with EC Inform-Energy scheduled for completion on the Tuesday), and even though I had been unable to work the entire Sunday because of a trip down to Somerset, more of which anon, we went, with Adam too. It was a lovely evening. We took the train leaving plenty of time spare, and strolled along the south bank, admiring the many buildings on the north bank and father Thames himself. At Gabriel’s Wharf, we found a busy pizza place and were rewarded with a table right by the window overlooking the river. Adam fell for the tall black (probably gay) waiter who recommended a guava fruit drink, and we all enjoyed the rather high quality pizzas. We finished nicely in time to stroll back to the South Bank Centre with a few minutes to spare. I bought yet another CD of Westbrook’s - ‘Glad Days’. I hadn’t heard of it, but that was exactly the reason to buy. In fact, ‘Glad Days’ was the show we were about to see, and was Westbrook’s reworking of the Blake songs, with new material, and quite a lot of Westbrook’s non vocal jazz arrangements interspersed, the same sort of small band stuff I remember him doing at the 100 club in the 80s or early 90s. Some of it, including the opening number, was quite loud and chaotic, and I was worried for A and B, but there was so much variety in the evening’s music and singing that there was really no need - even Ads was able to appreciate it. A magical concert. . .

14 June 1999

. . . we were still on a high at 11:30 or so when we got home. B wanted a whisky and I was ready to keep her company, but then I made the mistake of going into the study - why for beetroot’s sake did I bother? What did I expect to find at 11:30 at night? But I did find something. I found an ominous scrawled note from Theo on my computer keyboard saying that my computer had crashed and that it was asking for a system disk. So, I started it up immediately, hoping that whatever had caused Theo’s problem would have gone away. But it hadn’t. I got a system disk, and started it up from that, and then tried the system tools. At first I couldn’t even read the hard disk - meaning that everything on it was lost, including the entire contents of issue 72 of EC Inform-Energy which was less than 24 hours away from its deadline!

Fortunately (perhaps not fortunately, for if I had been unable to read the hard disk at all, I would have been obliged to drive, first thing in the morning, to the nearest Mac dealer to buy Norton Utilities for the PowerMac, and with those I might - might - have been able to resolve the problem) I was, finally, able to read the hard disk, and transfer files to diskette. But, however hard I tried, and I tried until 4 in the morning, I could not resolve the basic problem that was blocking the computer from reading the hard disk on start-up. It was totally and utterly beetrooted. I went to bed, finally, still not knowing what I would do in the morning.

After about three hours sleep, I was up again and at the computer with tea to sustain me. I continued trying different things for the next couple of hours until Theo arrived. He had been trying to send an email, he said, and the computer had crashed. I was too cross to get the get the full story immediately, but further information eked out through the day, and, in retrospect, I think the problem was probably caused by his switching the computer off at the plug while there was a modem link still active. By 9:30, there was nothing left for me to try and I had to make a decision between whether to order disk utilities by phone for arrival the next day and, in the meantime, use Theo’s machine to produce the newsletter (which would probably have meant a courier to Oxford, because I was unlikely to get an internet connection up on the old machine without a huge amount of bother), or to back up everything I could on the hard disk, reinitialise it and then reinstall everything. I chose the latter course, and it wasn’t until after 3pm that I had enough software back on the machine to start work on the newsletter.

The most complicated problem was the connection to the internet. It took two long calls to Demon. Theo did much of what I would have spent time on during the morning, but it still took until about 10pm before we finished EC Inform-Energy. To say I was knackered was to underestimate the situation by a factor of a zillion or two, but I didn’t feel the worst of it until the next day. On Wednesday, my reinstallation problems continued. I did not, for example, have a serial number for Adobe PageMill, so I was unable to install the programme, and edit the website pages. I phoned California, then I phoned Edinburgh, and then I sent a copy of my sales receipt, and eventually I was phoned back with a replacement serial number. I also had problems with QuarkExpress and fonts, a problem which has not gone away, even though I’ve tried lots of remedies. So, I’ve ordered software to help me resolve these various problems. By Thursday, we had more or less caught up with our normal schedule, and were due for completion by 5pm. Theo was particularly keen to finish early because he was due to drive to France later the same evening for his weekend jaunt to Le Mans. I was, though, irritated with him, more so than at any other time in our two and half year relationship. I snapped at him a couple of times - I’m sure it was just that I was tired and overwrought from the work on the hard disk. At 5:30, I realised I had forgotten to post the labels, and so I raced off to post them at the Godalming sorting office (they did get to the printers Mayfield in time and the issues were posted on schedule); by the time I got back Theo had left. He’s not back until Tuesday.

Krysia has started today. She is going over all the health-related issues to see how best to categorise them. She’s taken a flat behind Guildford station and is catching the train to Milford and then cycling from there.

Apart from ordering a carpet from Allied Carpets in Guildford (I met a Slovak girl last night at volleyball who has just started working for Allied Carpets in Reading and she said she could have given me a 20% discount!), I have taken one or two preparatory actions for reorganising the office. I have shifted Ads upstairs into the large room, and placed a new (Homebase chipboard) bookshelf (Maple effect, but with blue shelves which match the carpet!) up there so he has somewhere to store his school books. This leaves the lounge table/desk for me to work at - and incidentally means the lounge will always look a lot tidier. I have ordered a new modem, so that I can give the old modem to Theo. I will purchase a new iMac for Krysia, and I’ll find a desk and filing cabinet in the auctions or in the second-hand shops in Aldershot (but I’ll do that nearer the time the carpet comes).

Last Sunday was a trip and a half to Somerset. Mum came down the night before and we ate fish and chips for supper. At my insistence we (that’s Mum, B, Ads and I) left nice and early on the Sunday - I driving Mum’s Honda which I thought would be more economical than mine - for Crewkerne and Peter’s 80th birthday party. The journey down was smooth, although I was disappointed with Yeovil for not sporting a cafe open at 10:30 on a Sunday morning. I think I’ve been into the centre of Yeovil before, many years ago, and was disappointed with it then also. On the way out of the deserted town centre where only a Burger King was open, and which we had to frequent so that the troops could troop to the lav, we saw a very busy Tesco, and realised we would have been far better off for a cafe in there then outside in the real world. After a sentimental (for B and I) journey through East Coker (the title of one of Elliot’s ‘Quartets’), we arrived at Misterton in good time. The actual party was being held in the village hall, and so, having said our hellos etc, we had to drive on from the house through the village to the large hall, well situated by the recreation ground, where some caterers had been employed to provide and serve a cold food platter.

I suppose there were 30-40 people in all, but none of them were known to either Mum or I, and nor did Peter or Tony make any effort throughout the afternoon to introduce people to one other. Moreover, the way the tables were set out, in a large U shape, only encouraged people to sit down in cliques and groups. Since I hadn’t seen Julian or his family for a while, we naturally grouped together with Mum and spent almost all of the eating time talking to each other. At one point, Julian and I spoke to one lady who lives in Brondesbury, and later I spoke to an older man, who spoke insistently about politics but with more authority than facts. Otherwise, I spent quite a lot of time playing with Naomi and Rebecca at a nearby playground, while Adam became devoted to Toby and played endless games with him, improvising with a balloon to play volleyball, cricket and football. Mum was a bit disappointed not to have met more people or spent more time with Peter. Also, there was no proper conclusion to the lunch. Peter and Tony were clearly not inviting people back to their house for tea or coffee, because we waited around long enough in the hope of such an opportunity. In the end, Julian’s car and mine were forced to seek a teahouse elsewhere. We went first to Crewkerne where nothing was open, again, what is it about Somerset; and ended up, as we had once before, at a National Trust house and using its cafe for our nine-strong tea party.

The journey home was a bit of nightmare, with jams along the A303, at every point where the dual carriageway returned to single file. About 20 miles from London the jams became unbearable and, at the last moment by a junction, I skipped off near to Andover. Within a minute or two, we had found an empty straight beautiful B road, which ran almost parallel to the A303, and enjoyed it all the way to Basingstoke where we were able to join the M3, having saved ourselves an hour or more of sitting in jams.

15 June 1999

Pleasant warm sunny weather, an early summer. I sit here at the desk in the lounge overlooking the garden, watching the birds - robins, magpies, jays, blackbirds and thrushes - foraging on the lawn and in the flowerbeds. It is so peaceful here.

And yet not far away, in this same continent, a war, a one-sided war, has been raging, with thousands of Serbs being killed, hundreds of thousands of refugees, and billions of pounds being spent in armaments and humanitarian aid. The war has now ended . . . we hope. Milosevich has put his signature to an agreement which mandates the removal of Serbian forces from Kosovo and allows NATO in to prepare the way for the return of the Kosovan refugees. Milosevich tried a couple of bluffs, but the West held firm (despite mutterings from Berlin and Rome) and redoubled its bombing efforts very quickly when it saw through Milosevich’s game - well the West has had enough experience of negotiating with him to date. The agreement was reached at the weekend, and already there have been complications. There was the unexpected arrival of Russian troops to take over the airport in the Kosovan capital - Yeltsin determined to play a part; and the premature movement of Kosovans back into the territory and the exodus of Serbians.

What do I think about this war? I think it is a just action, and I believe that the West has done its best. It often seems to me that mindless commentators, whether journalists, politicians, campaigners or academics, fail to recognise the immense constraints under which governments operate in free and open democracies. Yes, in an ideal world, it might have been better to launch a huge ground force behind the first wave of air strikes in order to try and avoid the extraordinary exodus of peoples. And, yes, it might have been a good idea at least to make Milosevich believe that NATO would be prepared to use ground troops. The whole operation has been criticised from both these standpoints. But if the Western governments that make up NATO cannot agree to send in ground troops, then a) they can’t do it; and b) they can’t threaten it either for fear of alienating their populations at home. The commentators should deal with this by always recognising the constraints, acknowledging them, and then discussing what is the best way forward given those restraints. So often the press itself, which is the most important and obvious restraint on anything a government does, is itself unable to recognise its own role in instigating that restraint in the first place.

I have just finished reading an interesting book called ‘The Folded Lie’ by Jeremy Cooper. He’s not an author I’ve ever heard of, but I picked up the recommendation from a newspaper list somewhere. War and its abolition is the main theme of the book. It starts with a trial of Japanese leaders and a minority dissenting opinion by one Indian judge. The book’s main character, an eccentric academic with enough inherited money never to work, finds this judgement and then spends the rest of his life trying to promote the idea that governments should renounce war in their constitution, and that international law should take over from war. At times the book is rambling and offkey, and there is very little narrative to hold the reader. The author’s expertise appears to be more in the areas of architecture and art than politics. At the end, I am left with the sense of a futile attempt to persuade the reader that war is unnecessary. How is it possible to be so ignorant of the real world, and how it operates. I liked the blurring of real characters with the unreal ones, and fact with fiction, to the point where I really had no idea where the boundary line was. I disliked the way the novel veered off into a long disconnected history of modern performance art at the end. If there was some kind of metaphor or analogy, it lost me completely.

And then there was the European elections. In this country, Labour did poorly, chiefly because three-quarters of people didn’t bother to vote, and those that did, did so because they felt strongly about things, mostly about opposing the Euro. More interestingly, though, the colour of the European Parliament has shifted from light red to light blue, which will mean a fascinating (and I don’t often use that adjective seriously) change of policy direction. Will the right-wing EP now continue to push the Council, made up of largely left-wing governments, to increase budgets and raise standards, and improve environmental standards? It is possible, for example, that the political leanings of the Parliament cancel out its pro-Europe leanings, thus leaving it more in tune with the left-leaning governments of the Council - which could mean less conflict in the codecision procedures. Or will things reverse completely, so we have a situation whereby the EP is always trying to stop the Council spending citizens’ money?

16 June 1999

My main computer crashed down last night, and is currently in an irretrievable state. I cannot even start up from a system disk or repair disk. My huge lovely palm, which I’ve had for years has died (when the weather warmed up a few weeks ago, I took it outside, and either the wind has wrenched the two sides apart and broken the roots or I misjudged the temperature). I am well saddened. I am waiting now to call a service company, which opens at 9, to try and get the computer repaired.

Another gorgeous sunny day. The first of the two cricket semi-finals takes place today - New Zealand against Pakistan.

I have shaved off my beard for the first time, I think, since moving to Surrey. My face looks wan, and my mouth all tight and pursed. Julian rang last night. He’d been drinking all day with a NatWest bank manager at a cricket match. His tone was a manic-maudlin mixture, one which I recognise as quite typical of him now, and reminiscent in patches of Sasha.

23 June 1999

Warm sunny days, these. A walk on the common, along the board walks - mating dragonflies and lizards in abundance, and tufts of brilliant white cottongrass dotted here and there through the marshy flats.

Most prominent on my mind is the problem of Krysia. After 10 days, my earlier vague doubts have become more concrete. I am beginning to feel sure she is a lightweight, as I suspected, for she is not taking things in. I have now explained to her my reasoning for her to compile a database of health issues three times, and still she seems confused. She tends to follow strict instructions rather than the reasons for those instructions; and, as I am having to teach her everything from scratch - how to use the computer, how the EU works, what the difference between a Communication and an action plan is, etc. - it makes a real difference if she is slow on the uptake. My instinct is to pull the plug on her tomorrow, after two weeks, but I have difficulties with that decision. Firstly, I will find it personally difficult, because she might justly complain I haven’t given her a proper chance - after all what is the three month trial month period for. Secondly, though, perhaps I do have vague doubts as to whether I am being too harsh, demanding too much, too quickly - if so then I will compound a poor first decision in having employed her, with a poor second decision in getting rid of her too quickly. I don’t feel comfortable about it at all. I am reminded of the feeling I had when I employed a decorator to do the large upstairs room, and he opted to paper the ceiling to cover over the uneven plasterwork (which I considered a problem), thus leaving a really bumpy surface. I went through agony for an evening, trying to decide whether it was my fault or his that he hadn’t resolved the problem. Prior to Krysia starting full time, I really did try hard to explain it all to her, so that she wouldn’t be coming with rose-tinted glasses, but now I feel she never really took any of it in properly.

The world cup was won by Australia in a most boring one-sided final. Wimbledon is now under way, and I suppose, to be honest, I am more interested than usual because of the British interest. It was father’s day on Sunday. Ads made me a card, and brought me a cup of tea in bed.

July 1999

Paul K Lyons


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