PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2000 - APRIL
I didn’t give it much thought this year, but just enough to April Fool Ads. He came over from B’s at around 8:30 and I’d laid a traditional trap for him with a pillow and a set of cards above his door. There was one problem with this easily conceived, and rapidly executed, scheme: he would be able to see the items above the door (which had to be partly open so I could get out of the room after laying the trap) when coming up the stairs. Ingeniously, however, I sorted out a handful of change which made up his pocket money, and laid a trail up the stairs, along the hall floor and into his room, with the aim of keeping his eyes down as he approached the fateful moment. Boom-bang-a-bang. It worked a treat, and I even had to explain why I’d laid the money trail.
On the ‘Today’ programme, there was a soppy April Fool about a French town deciding to use Sterling as its currency. Towards the end of the item, which was replete with French voices and translations dubbed over them, they noted how there was also a trend towards English cuisine!
I took Eurostar this last week to Brussels for a change. Although it is so much more relaxed, and I gain a couple of hours in the morning, I also lose two full evenings in the process of travelling, whereas by plane, I only lose about half an evening. I don’t actually get any more work done on the train, but I do manage lots of reading. On the way over, I talked to a pleasant girl who works for a consultancy servicing Commission NGO contracts in the Balkans. Oddly, she was going to Ljubljana in two weeks, and she looked rather like Maja as I first knew her. On the way back, the carriages filled up at Lille with families of young kids returning from Disneyland.
Apart from picking up a lot of papers, I didn’t do that much in Brussels. There was a hearing on energy efficiency but I had to rush away after 45 minutes because of a pre-arranged interview with a nervous young man, Christopher Jones, in DG Tren, who’s in charge of the internal market stuff. He’s one unit head I’ve never managed to crack. He insisted on fiddling with a paper clip all the way through the interview and gave me so little, I doubt there will be one fact I can use for the next issue of EC Inform-Energy. However, he is speaking next week in Brussels at a workshop which, by coincidence, I should be able to attend. I could have saved myself the bother of the interview.
Now that the Spanish elections are over - the right wing has been returned to power in a vote that appears to have finally laid to rest Franco’s ghost - I expect the non-partial Spanish Energy and Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio will be able to push through a few dossiers. I am keen to see how she will propose to resolved the Eurocontrol problem - although, in the press, I read that Spain and the UK are making piecemeal progress over the Gibraltar issue.
The book sales have come to a standstill. I am upset that none of the promised reviews have yet materialised: one in ‘European Report’, another in the major German transport mag, and another in an American aviation email. I should be doing some more marketing, but I don’t know where to get the labels from.
I took Andrew to see a play the other day, I can’t recall what it was called, but it was by Dusty Hughes who used to be involved with the Bush I think - he may even have written a play called ‘The Green Man’ all those years ago. It was at the Donmar Warehouse, and concerned some characters not dissimilar to Andrew and Rosy and myself, I suppose. It was very funny in parts, but ultimately rather shallow, and Hughes failed really to follow through any of the themes he had opened up, or to propel a character or two believably through change and development. Afterwards, we had a long chat about Susie and his life. He is certainly depressed, although he would never recognise it as such. How can he be else.
22 April 2000
Easter Sunday. I seem to be taking a few days off work, which is probably just as well. On Friday, I drove up to London to have lunch at Lucy’s house. Lucy and Tim now have two children, Eliza, who played up a lot during the day, and Flora who was as a good as gold; and Fiona and Mark, who were there, also have two children Freddie and Elliot, both of whom seemed very well behaved. I was somewhat confused on arrival to find they all looked the same age - I had thought the older children were nearer four, but in fact they are only two and half. The presence of four children under three, however, was not conducive to relaxed flowing conversation. Like all parents, Lucy, Tim, Fiona and Mark were constantly swivelling their heads around to observe or comment on or command their children. And children talk totally dominated the conversation - I remember it well. But through lunch and an afternoon of sitting around in this toddler haze, I managed to extract the relevant information about their lives. Lucy has moved on from planning to edit a programme on East Asia news (she bumped into Theo the other day). Tim seems to be making a good living from his freelance work as a photographer. He has a forthcoming exhibition of photographs he’s taken over the last 18 months or so. They are of streets with a tree in the name, one for each borough of London. In each one, there is a person standing, usually in the middle, holding a plaque with the street name handwritten on it. About half of them were reproduced in the ‘Independent’ magazine a few weeks ago. What can I say? The main point of most of them, made well enough, is that many streets with nice tree-like names, are full of monstrous ugly building and no trees, or very few trees. I think the project has been partly sponsored by an organisation promoting the planting of trees. Fiona is now once again working in Brussels. She has been made bureau chief of the AP-Dow Jones office. She and Mark have bought a house in Brussels, and Mark will commute to Mons where he works at NATO. I left about 4:30. . .
And promptly had a kind of breakdown. I was just about to turn on to the A3 when I noticed the temperature gauge had leapt off the scale. I took an instant decision to do a u-turn, and within a hundred metres or so, found a garage. The water container was empty, and steamed up like mad when I opened it. I thought the engine block must have split and the water was disappearing into it. I called the AA, who came within 20 minutes. The patrolman diagnosed the fault as no more than a sticky fan - the engine had overheated and the water had turned to steam and exited through the valve. When he fired up the engine again, the fan turned itself on at the right time with no problems. It is possible, he said, that a connection had come loose, or that it had soiled up, and just by taking it off and putting it back, the electrical connection had been revived. Just in case, he gave me a piece of metal with which I would be able to short circuit the connection (from the thermostat), thus leaving the fan on permanently until I got home. In fact, I didn’t need the device at all. One small incident like this makes up for at least two or three years of paying the AA annual charge.
I listen to a programme this morning on the World Service about celebrity status. (The World Service has made major changes to its schedule, which may find me listening in more - reception is still poor though). The various celebrities (a writer, a psychologist, an ex-tv weather girl) discussing the phenomenon don’t seem to get very much further than describing the cult of celebrity worship such as soap stars, and how people believe their characters are real. In a rather ugly way, they particularly deride the idea of people who become famous for no good reason (like those who star in a tv series about bad drivers) and chat about how awful it must be for them to be approached in the street and feted. The psychologist somewhat tortuously explained why he thought that, maybe, there was some good in the fact that people could at least talk about what happens to soap characters’ live, and that, in this way, they could project from their own problems whereas otherwise they might never talk about them. However, they didn’t seem to touch on any link with religion - the common people need to worship and have heroes.
So Friday, I got home from London, having been baby-bashed, and spent the evening recovering from a headache and watching TV. There has been so little TV recently that I’ve wanted to watch, but the film ‘Evita’ was on, and I had long wanted to see this. I saw the original musical many years ago, and had a cassette of the music which I listened to loads. At the end of my travels, I had spent some emotional weeks in Argentina, with Nene and Christian. But it was knowing Mayco that gave me my strong interest in all things Argentinian - and somehow the story of Evita, and the passion within it, reminded me of Mayco and the intensity of our relationship and time together. Also, I think Mayco’s mother had known Eva Peron in the radio business, or at least worked in the same radio station. I was surprised to find the movie, by Alan Parker, was simply a film of the music, there was no additional story or dialogue. Nevertheless, Parker had directed it so magnificently, so grandly and with narrative skill, that it didn’t matter much. Madonna, who played Evita, was superb, always watchable, and I enjoyed the performances by the men around her: Jimmy Nail playing Magaldi, Banderas playing the Che-type narrator, and Jonathan Pryce as Peron.
On Saturday, I did a major shop to start, and then lazed around reading papers and magazines, before doing a final bit of tidying up before Mum arrived. We had lunch, Mum and Ads went into Godalming, B came over for tea, she and Ads went back to Yalta, Mum and I talked all evening about this and that.
This morning, we all four of us went up to Wisley. The weather held, although Mum’s leg is a bit poorly so we only stayed a couple of hours. The camellias were noticeable for having been partially ruined by the very wet weather in recent weeks (I suspect my potatoes will have been rotted by the waterlogging in the garden). Ads took me on a long walk around the perimeter of the garden, which I enjoyed, although it does share a long border with the M25 which makes it very noisy. Once back at home, I cooked a chicken, and we drank a couple of bottles of wine. B went to Yalta to spend the rest of the Easter holidays with Alistair, while Mum and A and I played scrabble in the lounge.
I will zip off to volleyball in an hour and leave Ads to look after Mum.
What else do I have to say. Very little.
The last week I’ve been working on the electricity book, and completed the basic draft for the two history sections, from 1925 to 1980. I’ve been helped enormously by the sources I found here at home, the ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’, and, most surprisingly, a ‘History of the 20th Century’, which I collected in magazine format as a child. I found a whole two pages on electricity in 1930s, which proved invaluable. I’m still waiting for some more bits from Bill in Brussels, but, this coming week, I hope to have time to start looking at the more complicated and detailed sections on the Single Market and the environment.
Meanwhile, I have persuaded Eurelectric to pay for me to join them at the Montreal Congress in June. This will be the last of the major Congresses, about which I am writing so much for the electricity book, and also the first one to be held outside Europe. Eurelectric are not paying to take any other journalists, but, because the last chapter in the book will be looking forward into the future, it is considered the material will come partly from the Congress. It should also give me a chance to talk to some important people who may need a mention in the book. There is this chap in Poland, Mr Opacki, who I’ve been put in touch with, but my questions seem to have flowed past him. So far, the only sentence he’s helped me write is one about the victory bells in Paris being able to ring on liberation because of German electricity.
The two newsletters went OK for April, they were both long, and needed a Document Watch. I also organised a couple of mailings, which didn’t help my schedule. With Easter chomping off two weeks out of this three week schedule, I’ve no idea how I’m going to fill up the May issues. I’m only going to go to Brussels once, in the week before production, so will have to write my socks off, assuming I can find anything to write about.
I’ve been reading an autobiography by John Simpson. It’s very entertaining and readable, largely because he writes about events and people I know about having followed the soap opera of news for many years. He clearly has the real thirst and hunger necessary to be in the thick of things and at the centre of any potential story. According to his own tales, he has taken a number of dubious risks for the sake of the story, and is clearly more wedded to the service of BBC news than to his family or any other part of his life. I suppose he has the same attitude to life and work as did my uncle Mike Goldsmith: the one hot international political news story is more important by far than anything else going on anywhere in the world - and there can be nothing more worthwhile to be writing about and reporting upon than those top stories.
23 April 2000
Only eight people at volleyball last night, mostly all good players. I seem unable to make any improvement with my hitting or digging, although I believe my defensive work is as good as some much better plays. I chase and predict the ball quite well, and I appear able to return a smashed ball by digging to the setter more accurately than I can a soft ball. Although in some training routines I can hit the ball with modest force and direction, I seem to lose the ability in games - I can almost feel myself over-conscious and therefore too predictive in my running and jumping. But, apart from failures to hit well, I do think I’m an asset in a team, in that I am rarely responsible for losing a point, whereas better players, who do not actually win points very often, lose them more often than I do. It is clear, though, that at any level other than beginner, the only means for winning points is to smash the ball (or occasionally dump it).
In June, there is to be an international match played at Guildford, the first ever it seems. Although it’s a lot of work for the club (a special court has to be laid out, and proper arrangements made for the game), it also excellent for the kudos of the club, and is an opportunity to stimulate interest in the sport. My own interest in the sport is slowly growing. I will certainly endeavour to take Adam to see the match (I have taken him to see a national league game before, and we enjoyed a women’s league national match the other day). However, it’s odd, for I would never dream of taking Ads to see an ice hockey game at Guildford which is played at a very high level and is a far more popular spectator sport than volleyball.
Dentists, don’t mention them. After I cracked a bit of a tooth on a nut some months ago, I decided I should see a dentist. But, in my wisdom, I decided that, as I might need expensive work, I should try out Barbara’s National Health Service dentist, of whom she had given a good report, rather than go to Richard Bourne, the private dentist here in the village who I’ve been to before. So I made an appointment at the practice in Godalming - by this time the tooth had begun to ache on a daily basis - but the appointment was with a D J Quinn, not Barbara’s dentist. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. By the time of the appointment, I was truly looking forward to having my teeth fixed, and I was well prepared for the worst. I lay down in the chair and D J Quinn began poking around in the broken tooth and within seconds was telling me that I needed a crown. The tooth was all rotten, he said, and the neighbouring tooth wasn’t too good either. He didn’t take any photographs, but kept streaming air on to the tooth in an attempt, I think, to make me wince and prove it was rotten. He could prep me up there and then he said, do what he needed to do, and then the crown would be ready for installing in a couple of weeks. It would cost £300. I believed him. Then he moved to the other side, and told me there was a rotten tooth there too - he could tell by the creamy colour. Then he told me I didn’t brush my teeth properly. I said I did brush my gums, and he started really poking into my gums to make them bleed and prove his point. His manner was offhand, not to say almost aggressive. What frightens me, looking back, is how near I was to letting him go ahead and start work on a crown. But, my hesitations were clearly annoying him, and so he asked if I wanted to think about it, and I said, yes, oh yes.
I got home and immediately rang for an appointment with Richard. I had to wait two weeks being in agony some days. Richard was ready to receive me as I arrived, took x-rays straight away, and told me I needed a little patch on the filling in the broken tooth as some of the old one had leaked away. The sensitivity, he said, was simply that some of the dentine was exposed. He looked at his watch, noted that he was slightly in advance of his schedule and declared he could fix me there and then. Before I knew what was happening, he had injected me with anaesthetic. It was a minor bit of tooth repair he conducted - it took him about 20 minutes, and he did it with such care and skill that I simply could not believe the contrast with D J Quinn. The next day I went back for some tooth cleaning by the hygienist. The whole lot cost me £90. I would describe D J Quinn’s consultation practices (at least towards me) as borderline criminal. If I was nearly hoodwinked by him, what damage might he be doing to other people’s teeth. And, as for my own stupid/moneypinching efforts to save money - well I nearly paid for them dearly.
I am buying a ticket for the tube, I think. I give the ticket seller a pound and ask for a pound ticket. He presses a button, prints off a ticket and charges me £5. I am very quickly furious. I wanted a pound ticket I say, and he says I must pay £5. It seems that he has the authority to sell £5 tickets, which cover any journey, whenever a traveller asks for anything other than a specific journey ticket. In my case, the cost should have been £1.05. I get so angry, I’m shouting and screaming at the ticket seller. But he will not budge from his position that he’s printed the ticket out and it must be paid for. Afterwards (whether in the dream or in my remembering it after I fully awoke) I thought that I should have told him I was a journalist and that I would take this story to the ‘Evening Standard’, who would no doubt print it with the headline - £5 tube tickets!
Adam is increasingly interested in computers. He’s taken on the Applemac cause, and tries to persuade his friends at school that they are better than PCs. He’s forever taking my ‘MacFormat’ magazines and scouring them from cover to cover for information and tidbits. And there is nothing he likes better than exploring the various demos and shareware programmes on the CDs that come with the magazine. In the last few weeks, we’ve been playing a Scrabble-type game - well, I’ve played it ten times as much as he has, often when I should have been working. It’s rather good in that it allows one to compare one’s own best move with ones formulated on the basis of the computer’s dictionary. I find it is particularly good (compared to my own modest efforts that is) in finding combinations on the board (utilising letters already on the border but separated by spaces), and in using compound words, such as cowgirls. The dictionary is somewhat limited though.
Before the scrabble game, there was a good dominoes one that I was playing constantly, and before that a cribbage game. I do eventually get tired of these games (or the trial period expires), but I always keep chess on my desktop. I have a version that works quickly and effectively, and limits moves to five minutes each. With the chess, and to some extent with the scrabble, I find that I will not spend very long thinking about a move and will chose to move it along quickly, rather than ‘battle’ carefully, seriously. And, to that extent, playing a computer component is not necessarily very conducive to improving one’s play - one is always underperforming, and then cheating by going back a move or taking help.
Easter Monday - it’s 10:30 and Mum is still here - she’ll be going soon. I suppose I’ll fritter away most of today as well - that’ll be four days I haven’t worked!
President Clinton finally authorised the authorities to snatch a 6yr old Cuban boy from his Florida-based relations and hand him back to his father. This story is one of the most remarkable of modern times, and has been headline news for months. If I recall right, the poor boy was on a raft trying to flee Cuba to Florida when it capsized or was caught - in any case he ended up in the care of relations who themselves had escaped from Cuba and were part of an obsessive anti-Cuba faction. They refused to let him be transported back to Cuba to be with his family. Since then, he has become a political football, and there have been endless cases in the courts. Even now, as he sits at an airforce airport with his father waiting to return to Cuba, there are legal challenges trying to prevent his repatriation. Ironically, it appears as though the anti-Cuba fanatics may have played a card too many, as Clinton and Castro are rumoured to be working together to get the boy back to Cuba, and that this could lead to a detente between the two countries.
UK politics has gone a bit dull of late. Livingstone still polls a massive majority in the race to be London mayor. The government finally came off the fence and said it would try and prepare a £100m scheme for giving help to the UK coal mines. But this will be easier said than done: it may receive a sympathetic ear from the Commission, but it will still have to satisfy the ECSC Decision conditions, and it will undermine some of the pressure that the UK has tried to bring to bear against German and Spanish coal aid. I took a call on Wednesday from someone at the BBC World Service about this - thanks to Theo who now works there. Although most of the BBC reports did mention the fact that the aid would have to be cleared by the Commission none of them made any reference to the half dozen court cases that are currently under way against the Commission for its failure to act on German/Spanish aid - and yet one thinks of all the fuss made over the BSE court cases.
Paul K Lyons
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