1 September 1999

Gout. Bloody gout in my left foot kept me tossing and turning all night, waking every few minutes unable to find any rest for the foot in any position whatsoever. I feel sure the gout must be caused by something in my diet, or for some physical reason, thus I am listing anything unusual just prior to the onset of the gout: an extra lot of parsley on my lunch at the EP the day before; a lot of walking in my house shoes on the Sunday, some 36 hours earlier; three Mr Kipling apple pies on Sunday evening (and no other food); a Belgian bread which tastes fine and as far as I know is normal, but they do sometimes have odd breads here. That’s about it.

I’m about to head for the airport and back to Surrey after three days here in Brussels. It’s been a relatively quiet easy few days. The EP hearing with Loyola de Palacio on Monday was the main focus.

10 September 1999

Gout. I don’t know if it was gout, or what it was, but it has caused me no little trouble. After the bad night on Tuesday, I still had a lot of walking around to do on Wednesday, and by the time I got to the airport on Wednesday evening, the foot was hurting badly, and I was limping. Although the plane was on time, it took a long time to taxi and park. Also, it was horribly hot and muggy, my rucksack was too heavy (I had some of Theo’s clothes in there as well as all the usual papers) and I was overdressed for riding the motorbike. And riding the bike was not that easy, for it hurt to change gear. It was a horrible, horrible journey back.

And then I had another bad night, but I was sure that, by Thursday, my foot would be better. I checked my diary, and it seemed like my previous gout attacks were over in a day or two. However, it was worse on Thursday. I tried taking anti-inflammatory tablets I had left over from my knee, but they didn’t seem to make any difference - or perhaps they did, I’m not sure. I was in agony, absolute bloody agony - not as bad as a bad headache, because the pain is one removed from one’s consciousness, but it was bad enough to stop me doing anything. I did not even consider trying to sleep, my body was too alive with the pain to relax for a moment. At about midnight, I considered going to casualty in Guildford, and I thought about calling the doctor. I rang Barbara at about 1am, who talked it all through with me. But, in the end, I decided to hold out until the morning and go to the doctor’s surgery. I took an aspirin, which must have had some effect, because at about 3:30am, I dozed off for three hours. Thankfully.

I didn’t actually get to see to Dr Hudson until after 12. All the time I was in real pain. He took some blood, gave me a prescription for anti-inflammatory pills, and told me to come back on Tuesday. He said he thought it might be gout, but couldn’t be sure. When I saw the prescription, it looked as though the pills he’d given me were lower strength even than the ones I’d tried at home. I was horrified, but when B collected them from the pharmacy she was told they had a very strong pain killing effect. In fact, it took about half a day for the pills to take affect, and that night, Friday night, I had my first good sleep since Monday.

But, even now as I write a week later, I still cannot walk properly and the foot is still uncomfortable. It has been getting better slowly, I think, and progressively I have been able to do more. My revisit to the doctor on Tuesday was pointless. Hudson said the blood test had been inconclusive, in that he knew people with gout who had less uric acid in their blood, and others who had more and did not have gout. I said it was a particularly acute attack (meaning that if it was gout caused by uric acid, then for such an acute attack, it would surely show), but he didn’t respond.

I must mention the Sunday before last, just before I went to Brussels. I met up with Andrew in Henley-on-Thames. We ate lunch, he updated me on the state of play with Susie. Then we walked along the river - an old haunt of Andrew’s, when he used to row - which was busy with people engaging in all kinds of leisure activities: boating, cycling, strolling, dog-walking, sitting in bars, sitting on motor launches drinking pimms, etc. A bit later we drove to Wargrave to look at a plot of British Rail land which Andrew has considered buying. The local council rejected his application for its use, and he feels aggrieved enough about that rejection to consider battling them further. I couldn’t see why he would do it, but Andrew loves battling authority.

We drove into London, to Andrew’s house in Shepherd’s Bush (which, in fact, he has decided to sell in the spring), and then on to the Albert Hall. We found Eva standing in the queue for the £3 promenade tickets. She’s small and bubbly, and has an open flattish face, with eyes that open amazingly wide, and, surprisingly, remind me of Rosy. Although I would probably have accepted Andrew’s invitation whatever the concert (especially because I had, for the first time ever, expressed my strong interest in a female friend of his, and this was his way of trying to do something about my expression of interest), I was pleased to see it was English night and that there was a Britten piece, one I had never heard of. Eva chose this particular concert because a friend of hers, Joshua Bell was the soloist in Walton’s violin concerto. They know each other because they worked together on a film called ‘The Red Violin’, which follows the story of a violin through several owners and across continents. Bell performs the music, and Eva acts (completely naked for some of the time) in one of the storylets.

I liked the opening piece of Elgar, but didn’t much enjoy the Walton, or Britten’s ‘Phaedra’. The closing piece, though, Vaughn Williams’ Symphony 9, was wonderful, washing over us in a great tide of huge musical ideas. Eva enthused over the whole experience of promenading. Although I have done so in the past, it was a long time ago. I had feared it would be tiring, but, in fact, we were able to sit down on the floor. It was as always very hot. Afterwards, we walked to a pub and talked a lot.

East Timor. Poor old East Timor. How sad a history is that. One of the last true colonies was annexed by Indonesia, what 20 years ago or so, and since then has been more often forgotten by the international community than remembered. Human rights is an unknown concept in the small half-island country, as Indonesia has attempted to force it into becoming Indonesian through to its core. If I remember right, Timothy Mo’s powerful novel ‘Redundancy of Courage’, a fictional expose of the horrors perpetrated on East Timor by the Indonesians, gave me some insight into the situation.

But, recently, things have started looking up for East Timor. A new regime came into power in Djakarta and wanted Western support for development and investment, and so agreed to allow a referendum in East Timor. The referendum was held a couple of weeks ago, and an overwhelming majority voted for independence. But, even before the result of the vote had been declared, anti-independent forces started to go on the rampage. It was never very clear who these people were, but they had arms, and they were joined by elements of the Indonesian army. Certainly, the authorities appeared unable or unwilling to counter the aggression. Then, when the vote was announced, the killing, looting and ransacking escalated to the point where even the UN observers were forced to leave. East Timor’s main city is a wasteland, apparently, and pro-independence supporters and foreigners are hiding for their lives. No foreign power can send troops without the approval of the Indonesian government, and it is prevaricating. Today, Kofi Annan has appealed to Djakarta to invite a United Nations peacekeeping army into East Timor. Poor old East Timor.

I considered going there once, when I was in Bali. There was a kind of unwritten law that to do the hippie trail across Asia properly one had to stick to land - any unnecessary flights were cheating - thus flying from Calcutta to Rangoon and from there to Bangkok was acceptable because there was no other legal way to get into Burma, and it was also more authentic than to fly straight to Bangkok, because by visiting Rangoon for the maximum allowance of seven days you were, in fact, keeping to the trail as much as possible. But it was not acceptable to fly, say, from Bangkok to Singapore, or from Singapore to Djakarta, one had to do these trips by land and sea. Well, a similar situation existed between Bali and Darwin. Most people simply caught the plane from the last major stop on the hippy trail (Bali) into Australia (Darwin), but the true gritters either island hopped down to East Timor, or, at least, flew to East Timor from Bali, before moving on to Darwin. This was, though, a time-consuming and expensive option. In fact, I had no time left, or else I might well have decided to island hop: I had to arrive in Australia before 1 January because if I arrived after that date, when the law was due to change, I would need a work permit to get a job.

The September issues of my newsletters have been put to bed. They were not very good ones. Four of the 16 pages in EC Inform-Energy were devoted to the EP hearings, and most of the rest of the material was about competition matters. Theo now has only more issue to write. I have a chap coming down from Stockton on Monday, and I may try him on for the health venture. I’ve interviewed another chap, John Shelley, for Theo’s job. He has been working on a local newspaper for two years and is clearly very bright. He wants to get into a more intellectual kind of journalism, and seems quite excited by the job. I thought I would employ him, but he himself is undecided, feels that the job may be a bit too unusual for him. So I’ve invited him to come and work for a day, Monday after next.

11 September 1999

Mr Tosh of Curlew Cottage has won his appeal, and can now build a brand new house between his own and mine. The appeal decision came through a week ago, but it was only yesterday that I had time to make a few enquiries about it. The inspector’s four-page report concludes that the new building would not unduly interfere with the ‘street scene’ (three houses by the same 1930s builder in a row) or with the personal space of its neighbours. I was fairly sure he would lose the appeal. I couldn’t believe that everyone - Waverley Council, the Parish Council, and all the neighbours - had called it wrong. I felt sure the inspector would be able to perceive the importance of the street scene. But, he seems to have found a narrow route through the objections, as though he were actually looking for them. In terms of the street scene, for example, he claims that because the houses are set back from the road and because there are screening trees, the new house will not affect the street scene. But from my point of view, the setbackness and the trees are already part of the street scene - that is the scene, and a scene that is valuable to the character of the village; a new house will adversely affect that scene. Secondly, he talks about the sense of spaciousness, which I had written to him about, and says this would not be affected because the house would be at the same level back from the road as this one. But, I never considered the sense of spaciousness as one arising from the house, but from being in the garden. And he has not considered this at all.

I talked to a Waverley Council officer and he expressed disappointment at the decision, and went as far as to say he was struggling to see the logic in the decision. He told me the Council would not be prepared to take the matter any further. He suggested I talk to a planning consultant before talking with a lawyer. But, before I did so, I went to the Council offices and looked at the planning policy documents mentioned in the decision. I did this because any appeal of the appeal has to be made to the High Court and needs to be based on a legal point not on an interpretation. However, I found that the policy wording is so general, it would be almost impossible to find a case for appealing, however bizarre the decision. Phrases like keeping with ‘the character of the surrounding area’ are used but without any guidance as to what that means; so how could I challenge the decision (which talks, for example, about the density of the houses on the other side of the road) because I would have no argument that they are not part of ‘the surrounding area’.

25 September 1999

No entries in the diary for ages, simply because I have nothing to tell and I am filling up every crack of the day with writing and editing the transport book. Now that first drafts exist for every chapter, it is a lot easier for me to work long hours on revising and extending them.

Theo’s leaving won’t help because he won’t be here to help with the final proof reading. And, so far, I’ve not found a replacement. One chap came down from Stockton for a day. I had high hopes, but I should have let my instincts decide. I had spoken to him for half an hour on the phone, and I got the sense of a rather dull wooden character, but I over-rode that feeling to invite him down. He turned out exactly as I feared - I’d wasted a day and £20. Then, John Shelley came back for a day. He’s sharp and clever, and, apparently, a good journalist. He was interested in the job, but remained undecided, particularly about the restraints of working for such a small firm. He came and spent last Tuesday here. I talked him through all the EU institutions in the morning, and gave him some writing to do in the afternoon. He was very confident at his own ability to take on the transport newsletter, but, at the end of the day, confessed he was still undecided. It would make the job more attractive, he said, if he would able to go and live in Brussels after three months. That took me by surprise, and we talked about it for a bit. I told him I couldn’t give any kind of assurance about such a move, since I didn’t know him well enough. I got a sense he was winding me up a little, seeing how far he could push me; and that he would find it difficult to put his heart and soul into a job where the benefits were so obviously going to someone else.

Ads is well and truly back into the swing of school life. Peer pressure rules. I’ve hardly been out with him for a month because of my ankle, which, I’m pleased to say, feels as though it is very nearly better.

My hair and beard are long and bushy. I keep playing with the long hairs of my moustache. Usually by this stage, I’ve started clipping it with the scissors, but I’ve restrained myself so far. When I get into this intense stage of a book, I find that I have less motivation to worry about my personal appearance and the state of the house - although it certainly doesn’t matter because I don’t go out, and no one comes here.

I listened to a Melvyn Bragg led discussion on the radio during the week between Matt Ridley and Steve Jones - both people I’ve had contact with, Ridley when he was science editor at the ‘Economist’, and Jones when I was at University College. Ridley has made a name for himself writing books on evolution, although he’s not actually a scientist, but he appears to have been sucked into the Dawkins selfish gene camp. Jones, by contrast, who is a geneticist, argues constantly against the hype of the human genome project and against the determinism of the genetic view of evolution. I find myself more in the Jones camp than in Ridley’s but I am unlikely to buy either of their new books.

By contrast I have bought Stephen Jay Gould’s latest (well latest published in this country) set of essays. In the same batch of books ordered from Amazon.co.uk I also bought another Ellroy thriller (I have been much impressed by the density of his plots and characters), and a book called ‘Fermata’ by Nicholson Baker, an American author who writes about sex but with high literary pretensions. I’ve often heard his books reviewed but not read one before.

Prior to buying these books, I picked up ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy from the library. I didn’t choose it so much as take it because I couldn’t find anything better. It is simply not my sort of book. It’s a cross between Salmon Rushdie, Tristram Shandy and Gabriel Marquez - a kind of Indian magical realism, where every object and action takes on a kind of heightened almost fluorescent colour and the plot is revealed backwards as often as forwards.

October 1999

Paul K Lyons


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