JOURNAL - 1999 - MAY

Saturday 1 May 1999

Sunshine and blue sky, again!

In one dream, someone rather like Dina (the Greek spokesman’s assistant in Brussels) working for me had prepared all the material for an issue of a newsletter, but when I came to look at it, the computer files were so poorly named that I couldn’t identify which was which. And then when I looked at the text, there appeared to be very little relation to the subject of the newsletter. I kept thinking how could she have worked for me for so long and I not know how incapable she is.

Sunday 9 May 1999

Well, I didn’t manage daily entries for long - a week. And now a whole week has gone by without a single entry. Last night I watched a three hour documentary called the ‘Death of Yugoslavia’. For ten years or more, the violent events in the ex-Yugoslavia countries have never been far from the headlines. Now the news is all about Kosovo, and, perhaps because the conflict is more easily definable, I have followed the events quite closely - throughout the Bosnia crisis, I remember, I barely knew what was going on. I allowed myself to glaze over every time it was on the news - I couldn’t be bothered to get to grips with all the different factions. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help absorbing, by osmosis I suppose, many of the developments. What this excellent documentary, dating from 1995, did was to use interviews, with all the key political figures, amplified by a simple straightforward narration and regular visits to a map of the area, to explain the history of the various conflicts and wars.

I’ve been in Brussels this week. It was an uneventful visit. DGXVII is somewhat demoralised - when has it not been - and an increasing number of posts are being left vacant or with caretakers. Some believe this is because it makes it will make it easier to organise a restructuring; but, I still suspect that DGXVII could be for the chop entirely. Apart from the nuclear safeguards Directorate (which has never had much connection with the rest of DGXVII), it would be so easy to dismantle. A major reorganisation of the Commission is expected in the autumn when Prodi takes office, but until he arrives with his new team, no one can know what will happen. Despite its ‘acting’ status the Commission is, though, pumping out policy papers, disguising them as ‘staff working papers’ or ‘working documents’ or ‘discussion documents’. Also, the Parliament has just held its final plenary session, and so the Commission was churning out a lot of last minute stuff. Consequently this month’s issues of my newsletters are rather full.

I have written to Krysia Diver asking her if she wants to take up a job with us. Since my first advertisement last November, I have been rather hesitant over employing a third person, but I really must get on with it, and, although Krysia lives in the north now, she did demonstrate a very strong interest in what we did, and seemed very keen. If I had been her, though, I would have called me in the two weeks since the interview, and she hasn’t, which leads me to believe, perhaps, that she has cooled off the idea. I should know by Monday or Tuesday.

I finish a Reginald Hill Dalziel and Pascoe novel. It is a very competent plot, and the main police characters are engaging, although I think they are done a disservice by the actors in the TV series.

Arsenal are closing in on the championship. Man United only drew in the week, whereas Arsenal thrashed Spurs (at White Hart Lane), which leaves us three points ahead - Man U have one game in hand, and the goal averages are about the same. Three-four matches to go. It is very exciting.

Last Monday, A, B and I drove up to spend the evening with my Mum. She prepared a range of delicious salads and quiches. We watched the snooker final, and Ads spent a lot of time stroking Georgie. My Mum told B all about her appearance in Court (she had to give evidence against the man who caused the accident in which her car was made a write-off) and B told Mum about her RHS trip to Lisbon. I read the papers.

This week, in the Country Diary section of ‘The Guardian’, a writer was trumpeting the glories of Thursley Common - the heathland, the bogs, the lizards and dragonflies, the birds. He concluded with this: ‘Here it is, millions of years of evolution, right here, right now.’ Excellent to have this fabulous place on our doorstep recognised. It is amazing how, in this day and age, things, however special, simply do not have conversation-trade value (this is an interesting concept which I cannot quite pin down, I think it’s kind of adult boasting that we all do and need to, to our friends and acquaintances) unless they are recognised by the media in some way. When we go places, buy products, do things, we want to tell other people about them, but we only win the respect we are looking for, in having been there, bought that, done that, if the person we are talking to recognises its value. Thus, when I spoke to a friend on the phone yesterday, she told me she had been on Thursley Common with some friends a few days previously and said how lucky we were to live so close to it. In fact, I have taken her and her family there before several times, but previous to the ‘Guardian’ article (which she had read), she’d never before acknowledged - what Adam, Barbara and I have known for years - how special the area is.

14 May 1999

Kiwi’s battery problems. Did you really get a 1st class honours in physics, Dad? Ads asks. I am telling him about Kiwi’s battery problems. The problems with my motorbike’s battery had been getting worse and worse over the winter, until I could no longer start it, even after I had had the battery on charge all night. To get the bike into the Godalming garage, Browns, I had to borrow jump leads from the Elstead garage, and hook Kiwi up to the car. I told Brown’s exactly what the problem was, and asked them to look into it, while giving the bike an MOT and replacing a tyre. They said they had serviced the battery (charge £6 - a redundant charge in every sense) and it was working fine. Sucker me, I believed them. I took the bike out for a longish run a few days later, and then for a short run on the following Sunday. On Wednesday morning, 6am, I tried to start it to go to the airport (the weather was due to be fine for a couple of days), but the old problem had reappeared. When I finally got round to going into Browns to ask them what was going on, they couldn’t help much, and suggested I bring the battery in. I said I would do so on Monday, but when I arrived on Monday, I found the shop shut. I went in again on Tuesday and was told the battery was well charged. We had a long round about kind of low-key argument with me saying he must have enough experience to know where the problem lies, and he saying electrical faults are the most difficult to find. And, when I said I had started the bike with jump leads, he said it was definitely the battery then. But then I said, I told you all this when I brought the bike in before. Then he went back to saying he didn’t know what the problem was and I should bring it in and let their electrical guy look at the bike. The conversation was going round and round in circles. I asked him if there wasn’t something else in a battery that mattered apart from the charge, and I was hoping he would offer to sell me a battery and take off the £6 charge for the servicing, but he didn’t. I went away very disgruntled.

Today, I decided to visit another motorbike shop in Aldershot. As soon as I explained the symptoms of my battery, I was told immediately that it was probably fucked and not able to provide the amperage to boot the motor - exactly, the battery needs not only volts but amps, and my battery had lost it. When I explained all this to Adam, who actually volunteered that the battery needed amps as well as volts because he’s doing it in science, he then reminded me that I had a first class honours in physics, which I do. But, as I have always said, I forgot everything from both the physics and maths side the moment the exams were over. It was an exercise. I spent all those years learning things I never needed simply to get the piece of paper. What madness. And here I am today, not even able to sort out the basic requirements of a battery. Of course, the new battery works a treat and the bike starts fine.

My working life is going to change. I’ve employed a lady called Krysia Diver to work with Theo and I. She will come for two days, the week after next, and then start full time, two weeks thereafter. I plan to launch a new title in September probably on health: EC Inform-Health. But, whereas with transport, I was fairly convinced it was a good idea waiting to happen, and I had a certain basic knowledge of the area, health will be a totally new challenge. Why bother? Especially, when I’m probably not even breaking even on the transport newsletter now that Theo is earning £17,000-19,000 or so. However, he does spend 7-8 days a month working on the book, and I hope the book will bring rewards in the autumn perhaps, if we can get it completed. I have invested his time in the book, rather than in developing the newsletter, which perhaps was less than wise. He’s spent well over a year on it now and we’re still a long way from completion.

I have no idea whether Krysia will make it or not. She’s coming from the north of England, her boyfriend is in the Midlands, and she will need to find a place to live, and a car even before she begins. In the absence of another Theo, I have made the best choice I can, but I don’t know if she’ll be able to hack the density of the work. Only time will tell.

In the interim, though, my life will change, in the sense that the addition of an extra person into my daily working life, is a major development. I will have to cope with two people in the house, and there will be that much more admin and marketing to manage when we start up the new title. But, as I keep saying to myself, what is the point of simply maintaining the status quo. I’ve got to keep evolving EC Inform, just to stand still psychologically - at least that is until I am ready to, or forced to change direction dramatically. I think Krysia is probably the biggest risk I have yet taken, bigger than starting up on my own, and bigger than taking on Theo.

England have beaten Sri Lanka, rather easily, in the first match of the Cricket World Cup, being held here in the UK and Ireland over the next month or so. Unfortunately, Arsenal were beaten by Leeds earlier this week, and Man U managed to draw their last away game at Blackburn. Both sides have one more home match, Man U against Spurs, and Arsenal against Aston Villa. If Spurs can hold Man U to a draw and Arsenal win then Arsenal get the championship, but if Man U win, which is the most likely scenario (Arsenal won 3-1 at White Hart Lane just a couple of weeks ago) there is nothing we can do.

16 May 1999

We are in a small constructed tunnel which is the bridge over the river. It is just large enough for one person to crawl through, so I go first, then Steve follows. However, half across or further I don’t know, the closed tunnel gives way to a simple open wide plank with the river way below. I am terrified and cannot go on. I want to turn round and go back. Steve who is just behind me suddenly decides to jump. I don’t know if it is a deliberate decision or an accident. There is another bridge below and he tries to grab the railing as he passes - I think for a moment that he planned to do this, but then I am not so sure - but he is falling too fast and his hands cannot catch a grip. He crashes into the water. I turn to return along the tunnel, but then think I should stay there for a moment to see if there is any sign of him being alive in the water - and then I wake up.

This dream clearly has it origins in last night’s escapade. The story began some months ago when I met a Swedish man - Doug (his name seems to be pronounced somewhere between dog and dag) - at the Sunday night volleyball training sessions. We had both left our respective vehicles (mine a car, his a bike) at Spectrum after a long social evening with the volleyball club members (involving a swim and a night club) and walked back together from central Guildford. He is pig farmer, or was a farmer, but the market went against him, and he didn’t fancy staying a pig farmer all his life anyway, so he is now studying tree surgery at Merrist Wood. Any way, having failed to make progress with clientele at the night club Mambo - where the music is so loud that the only language consists of sweat and shakes - Doug was telling me how back home it is easy to meet girls because there are relaxed fun folk dancing clubs in every town. I remembered the barn dances at Godalming town hall, and promised to provide him with some info. It took a while, and when I finally got a leaflet to him, there was only one dance left - the one on 15 May. He expressed serious interest in the event, and Steve, another volleyball player who I talk to often after training, was keen too. It was only a casual kind of decision made weeks ago. Last week Doug said he couldn’t come but Steve insisted (in a rather odd quiet way) that the event was written down in his diary. I tried to wriggle out of organising it several times, but he wouldn’t take the hints. I roped in Barbara, because I know she likes dancing, and because I knew with her I was more likely to enjoy the evening. When we arrived, about 8:30, it was already well full, and the dancing in full swing. I felt a huge surge of relief that there was a really good mix of people, lots of young as well as some older, and of varied dress and backgrounds - even some guys with long hair (Steve has long hair). We sat down and watched for half an hour or more, and it became clear that most of the dancing was based on couples, and, worse, some of the dances that were being called seemed rather difficult to follow. At one point I thought we were never going to get on our feet, but then, as luck would have it, a dance was called that required three people - and we were off. Thereafter, we didn’t always dance, but we did take part in enough dances to enjoy ourselves and feel part of the evening. Some people close by were really helpful, and sometimes there were shortages of dancers and we were pressed to join - it feels better that way if you muck up the steps. In the end, I think we all enjoyed the evening more than we expected.

As it happens we are off to Merrist Wood today for an open day. Doug has given us a free entry ticket. He rode over here a couple of weeks ago and Ads and I took him on a bike ride to the Peper Harrow point-to-point, which was an enjoyable afternoon out, so he’s returned the favour with the entry tickets. Adam is interested in tree climbing competitions! Of course.

Saturday 22 May 1999

Warmer (I’m in shorts) but windy today. I have the orange tree and palm outside for their annual weathering. I spent most of Friday doing housework and gardenwork and lazing around reading. For a few weeks, until Krysia starts full time, I get Fridays off because Theo is working at County Sound (and making up the time by working longer in the evening and at weekends). I never consciously wish that Theo weren’t coming in ever, but I do enjoy knowing he’s not coming in the following day - this is more to do with the idea that his presence means I have to ‘work’ than with Theo himself. He has been a splendid companion and workmate for these last two and half years - it’s really amazing how well we rub along; but then, I suppose, I never had a problem with my lads at the FT. I do worry about Krysia. She is coming next week for two days.

The tragedy of Kosovo continues. NATO is divided over whether to use ground troops in an aggressive war mode. It seems that our leader, Blair, is one of the most hawkish while the Germans and the Italians are definitely agin a ground war, and Clinton is on the fence. I understand Clinton’s prevarication, there is no reason why the US should be prepared to risk its young people’s lives for a war in Europe, when European countries themselves are not prepared to nail their colours to the mast. More worrying is the politics of Germany and Italy, because their dithering surely stems from their political systems, and the fragility of compromise politics. Although I am in favour of proportional representation for our electoral system, it may ultimately weaken the ability of our government to take hard forceful decisions internationally. The most likely scenario now appears to be one involving a UN Resolution and a NATO ceasefire, and an agreement by Milosevich to allow UN troops to oversee a return of the Kosovans. It is difficult to imagine a peaceful future, however, with Kosovo still part of a Yugoslavia dominated by Milosevich. The UK government sees this clearly, and would like, therefore, to sanction a ground war; but the dove members of NATO will reject that approach in favour of negotiating with Milosevich now, before he’s properly defeated. This will lead, ultimately, to another confrontation, a year or two down the line, with the evil man.

Adam is practising his harmonica. After a six month gap; and he’s also had his first session at the lively Elstead cricket club. My friend Raoul had an exhibition this week at a friend’s private gallery in Earl’s Court Road. The house, a large terraced one on the Earl’s Court Road, was extremely well appointed with a lovely walled town garden. Raoul’s paintings were hung in three rooms. The place was absolutely packed with all kinds of friends and acquaintances I had never met. Niema, Tim and Richard were there so I was able to wile away some time having the usual kind of conversation with them. Andrew, though, whom I was expecting, didn’t show up. I think. Raoul was very laid back, and making cynical asides to us, like ‘That one only took a couple of hours to paint’, and ‘I’m glad I’ve got rid of that’. The whole thing was horribly pretentious - it was also loud and smoky. Afterwards, a large group went to a nearby Spanish restaurant. I had thought that at least Richard would be going, but, when I got there, I didn’t know anyone other than Raoul and Caroline. I talked to a psychiatrist for a while, but I didn’t like him, and I was glad when he decided to go home rather than stay and eat with us. The restaurant was very noisy and I was wishing I had gone home too. Then Raoul, in a rare display of bothering (I think Caroline had prompted him), moved me from one table to another, to sit next to a woman called Jo, whom I had talked to at the gallery. She works as a design manager at Heathrow Airport. We talked for a long while, and ate the poor tapas that someone had ordered; and then I had to leave to catch the last train. (There hangs another story - I was told at Victoria on my way in, that I needed to catch a train at 11.05 to get the last train. In fact, this timing meant that I just missed the early train, and had to wait nearly an hour at Clapham Junction.)

Bad results all round. England lost the match against South Africa, badly, by over 100 runs. Man U beat Newcastle to win the FA Cup.

Thursday 27 May 1999

Tuesday was not a very good day. Firstly, Theo rang to tell me that the landlord of the Brussels flat had written to tell me I was £1,000 in debt on the flat. I sort of knew this, but I also know I have three months deposit in lieu and I’ve deliberately run the rent behind in order to save my having to try and claim any deposit back when I leave. Now the landlord has made a point of asking for the money, it’s a little more difficult to hold it back.

Point two - BLR came back from another publisher. It had a standard letter, but a handwritten note at the bottom from the submission’s editor saying she thought I wrote very well or something equally inane, but that the book just wasn’t for them. Only one letter to agents remains outstanding before I move on to the next batch of pointless letters.

Point three - a letter from Waverley Borough Council telling me that Mr Tosh has appealed to the secretary of state over the rejection of his planning application.

Wednesday was better in that there was no bad news and I had the pleasure of watching (albeit on TV, but live) two amazing sporting events. The first, not promising in itself, was the world cup cricket match between India and Sri Lanka in Taunton. I had planned to work solidly all day on Wednesday (I can quite often treat the days when Theo is in Brussels like a holiday) but I kept getting drawn to the TV because two Indian players - Dravid and Ganguly - were making the most astonishing strokes all over the field, as though they were batting against amateurs. Nothing the Sri Lankan bowlers could do slowed them, and when they both reached their 100s, they speeded up. It was a majestic demonstration of fabulous batting. By the time Dravid was out, the two of them had put on 318, a world record partnership for international one day cricket. Ganguly almost went on to break the highest ever individual score but was caught in the last over going for yet another six - the total was still the third or fourth highest ever. Despite the incredibly high score, way out of reach of the Sri Lankans, the only acceptable ethic appeared to be to go for every run. Needless to say, Sri Lanka failed to make any serious inroads on the total and were all out for a little over 200, a score which would have been perfectly reasonable in many other matches. The reigning champions now look like being dispatched home at the end of the first stage.

The second event of the day was even more fabulous, in the sense that it was indeed of the proportions of a fable, a myth: Manchester United’s win over Bayern Munich. Bayern scored in the first few minutes of the match and held on to their lead through the first and second halves. Man U put on a lot of pressure but they never really looked very close to scoring. By contrast Bayern had two or three shots at goal in the second half that only God (or more likely the soul of Matt Busby, who would have been 90 on the day, as every newspaper article pointed out) could have saved them from by dint of moving woodwork. Not long after half time, Ferguson substituted on Terry Sherringham, and then near the end placed a second substitute on the field (the name of whom I can’t remember although it is already immortalised). By the end of 90 minutes every man on the field and in the magnificent Barcelona stadium had accepted as fact that Bayern had won - the German supporters were chanting away in seventh heaven, and the Man U supporters were biting their lips, and crying. Then, out of nowhere, Sherringham flicked a ball that had been crossing his path in the penalty area, on its way to nowhere, and it went in to the German goal. The Man U supporters erupted across the stadium, the German supporters looked as though they had been pickled in aspic with their mouths downturned, and their eyes pouring out disbelief. With less than 30 seconds to go, the ball somehow was whisked back into the Bayern penalty area, and another stray ball was flicked into the German goal by Man U’s second substitute. The score was 2:1 and the whistle went moments later. Unbelievable. From utter despair and disappointment one minute, two minutes later they were the champions of Europe and the first team ever to win the UK treble. I’m glad I was there watching it, live.

In my guise as an Arsenal fan, I had planned not to support Man U, but I couldn’t help a little bit of the old nationalist feeling seeping out of me, especially as I remembered the heartache of the world cup match last year.

Krysia has been here all day. I worry that she might be a bit lightweight for this job. She comes with almost no knowledge of anything we do at all - not of the EU, not of any of the areas we write about, not even of how to handle a Mac properly. Today, mostly, I talked to her, and let her read; tomorrow I’ll get her writing. If I have to, I will take the decision not to employ her, hard as it might be. With Theo I had a strong instinct he was good for the job, but my instinct is definitely worried about Krysia.

The UN has cited Milosevich as a war criminal, and posted papers for his arrest throughout the world. Good thing. But how on earth does the Kosovo crisis now get resolved. The good guys (NATO, us, damn it, I won’t let anyone suggest we aren’t the good guys in this situation - it might not be 100% white against 0% black, but the balance of good/white ought to be sufficient to satisfy any reasonably intelligent person who can sift through facts and propaganda) are now in uncharted territory as to how to finish this war - they can no longer rely on a negotiation when Milosevich has had enough. The Western public surely would not allow us to make a deal with a war criminal.

Monday 31 May 1999

I’ve slipped quietly past my 47th birthday, so that I am now nearer 50 than 45. I may not be classified as an old man yet, but I am most definitely middle-aged. I cannot understand this. The word seems so utterly alien to the me that I know and look after, and nurture from day to day. Still, I have had a more lively weekend than usual.

On Friday evening, as soon as I had taken Krysia to the station and returned (more about that anon, or not as the case may be), I went over to B’s for a pleasant meal and birthday presents (Ads bought me garden gloves and B bought me two garden chairs). At 7:30 or so we drove to the Guildford Yvonne Arnaud theatre, to see a production of Coward’s ‘Hay Fever’ with Geraldine McEwan playing the lead role. I have never been a great fan of Coward and my self-taught education about the theatre never included his often rather lightweight material. I may have heard it done on the radio, but the story was as fresh and fun as the production itself. The bohemian writer and actress with their two children were richly played, well over the top, and the four matching visitors were suitable foils for their games. I always expect the worst or, at best, the mediocre in provincial theatre round these parts, so that with low expectations I am often agreeably surprised, as I was on this evening. I thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment. Even though there was a lot of sexual innuendo, Adam gave it the thumbs up too. I do wonder, though, about the price of the theatre these days. I got standby tickets near the front for a minimum £10 each (but to get these you have to wait until half an hour before the show begins). Yet for the same price, each of us could have had a paperback novel and a take-away fish chips with a drink in the pub after.

Saturday was an odds-and-jobs kind of day, much of it spent in the garden, tidying and sweeping up. I had to stay near a radio at all times, to listen to England’s progress against India. It was a foregone conclusion that England would get through to the super-sixes stage, because a victory by South Africa over Zimbabwe would see England through even if they lost to India. But then India got a reasonable 230 or so, and England lost three wickets for 73 when rain intervened and closed play for the day, and then, terrible terrible terrible, Zimbabwe beat South Africa by a big enough margin to make England’s performance against India irrelevant, they simply had to win, but they didn’t and they were out, out, out. Why did Stewart put England in to bat when he must have known the weather forecast changeable. It may well prove his last toss for England, although the test match series against New Zealand is very close and the coach David Lloyd has now left, so the selection board may be in such disarray as to need him to stay on a bit longer - he was, after all, only an interim choice when Atherton stepped down.

Unexpectedly, Andy and Susie showed up. Well, I say unexpectedly but Andy did ring earlier in the day to say they might drive down to take me out for a birthday meal. We opened a bottle of red wine as soon as they arrived about 7:30pm, carried on with two more bottles at the Woolpack, and opened another one when got back here. I didn’t stop drinking until after 1pm when they went to bed.

I woke at 5am with the dryest mouth this side of the Arizona desert, gulped a gallon of water and went back to sleep. I took more water at 7am, and then, when I got up at 8am, I felt fine. I made bread, ate breakfast and started tidying the house for the arrival of my family later in the day. I also made a fruit salad and prepared the dining table in the lounge. B brought over the vegetables, Mum arrived with roulardes and an apricot cake, and Mary and Roger arrived a little later with a lovely ceanothus, which was just perfect for a spot which has been waiting for it (although it didn’t know it). I was already in the final stages of getting the lunch ready but Andy and Susie had not yet emerged from upstairs. So I arranged a small breakfast for them at, I think it was half past one, and then they left not many minutes before I was serving up the first course to my family in the lounge. Lunch went on from about 2 to 6. Conversation with Roger and Mary and my Mum is always very easy and quite anecdote driven, with convoluted stories of friends often filling up the time.

June 1999

Paul K Lyons


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