PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2000 - DECEMBER
DIARY 66: December 2000 - March 2001
2 December 2000
It rains most of the time. The garden has been so waterlogged for weeks now that I cannot reverse the car on the front lawn without gouging out huge tracks. The oak turned last week, there was a brief period when all the leaves were yellow, and now a few diehard brown ones hold on for the next wind.
I’ve stuck photos (snaps - I only took the little camera) into the hand-written journal of my trip to Egypt, and entry tickets with their sketches of the attraction. Having been on such a tour (for tourists pretending to be travellers), there is no further embarrassment in preparing a holiday journal complete with snaps and other memorabilia. I’ve received a couple of emails this week from the American Keith (with an Uncle Sam cartoon), and from Russel with brief details of their felucca journey. The journal, I should note, is not a classic - I was too busy socialising, and the two activities - diary writing and socialising - do not fit together well. The Egypt journal is on the same level as the snaps and the tickets; the journal written in Corfu - where I talked to no one all week - has more substance, discussion and originality than the one written about Egypt.
Sometimes, I get so depressed about the BBC and its coverage of the European Union. This morning was another occasion. Last Wednesday, the ‘Today’ programme ran a big item about the European Commission preparing a new constitution. It was the lead on the news during the programme. I thought the whole item was iffy, with terms similar to ‘something like a constitution’ be used, and because it had cut and pasted excerpts of Chris Patten speaking, but not from a proper interview. It was also clear to me that whatever this report was about it had nothing to do with the current intergovernmental negotiations being concluded at Nice - and, therefore, the whole item seemed to have no peg. Later that day, at the Commission’s midday briefing, Jonathan Faull, the head of the spokesperson’s service, dismissed the ‘Today’ report. He said the study under way, which had been the focus for ‘Taday’s’ report, had been common knowledge for many months, was not about any change in competences, but simply about rationalisation of the Treaties to make them easier to understand.
As I was writing this, I decided I would send the ‘Today’ programme an email, so I’ve spent the last 30 minutes, composing it. God forbid the ‘Today’ programme should ever admit it gets anything wrong. I don’t know why I bother. I’ve been complaining about the BBC’s deep-rooted bias for a long time, nothing seems to change, and I can’t see how it will. I hoped that under its new DG, Greg Dyke, the news service might be given a kick up the backside, but I think it’s become complacent instead.
By the by, here is a letter I sent to the FT this week; another old refrain of mine, that’s become a habit:
‘It is simply incorrect to state that the European’s Commission’s recent green paper on security of supply is the first major review of energy policy since the 1970s. Firstly, energy policy itself is about competition and the environment not just security supply. Secondly, the EU agreed some major energy objectives in the mid-1980s. Since then, there have been a number of important energy policy efforts (along the lines of this green paper) but with rather little practical effort. Why is this?
The Commission’s green paper, and your own editorial, while recognising the problem of energy dependency, fail to highlight the EU’s impotence in this area. Time and time again, during Treaty revisions, several Member States, including the UK (with its oil reserves) and France (with its special relationship with nuclear energy), have undermined attempts to incorporate energy policy into the European Community Treaties. Although there is one whole Treaty for coal and steel (ECSC), and another one for nuclear energy (Euratom), there are no Treaty provisions which adequately cover energy policy as a whole, as there are for transport, the environment, industry etc. And, therefore, energy security of supply has remained a national preserve.
The Commission’s green paper highlights, once again, the European Union’s dependency on external energy supplies. But if the Member States are to make any real progress in developing a long-term strategy in this area, one in which they are prepared to share the benefits and responsibilities of energy, they need to give the Commission a little more room for manoeuvre by accepting an energy chapter in the Treaties.’
Adam just popped over to get some books, but he was here the best part of an hour. Here is what we talked about: First, I tried to explain to him my sadness about the BBC. Second, I discovered he’d been given his interim report on Wednesday and neither her nor B had mentioned this to me. Then we talked about his visit (that’s not the right word, but what is? why can’t a find a suitable word?) last night to the fair at his old primary school on the corner. He met up with the twins there and they walked around the classrooms ‘talking about old times’, he told me. Then he told me about the film they had watched last night - ‘Gladiators’. He’d rented the video from Spar. Ads particularly enjoyed the fact that we had seen where the battle scenes were filmed (Bourne wood - we went on our bikes a summer or two ago) and some of the reproduction battle equipment.
I’ve just spent the last hour talking to my Mum on the phone. She’s poorly with a cold and arthritis. I tell her she needs to take advantage of her Bupa subscription, by ensuring that when her GP refers her for anything and everything she should check whether it can be done privately through Bupa - something she doesn’t yet do. I also talked to her about getting a new dog. I think she needs one to force her to walk in the park each day, for her health.
My virtual dialogue with Angel (aka Linda Banner, a psychologist in Manchester) continues. I’ve now sent her a copy of ‘Nancy’s Graves’ - although not without a fair bit of calculated analysis. I haven’t quite made up my mind about Angel, but I am still interested. I’m also interested, I think, in whetting her interest in me, a kind of flirting with facts about myself and questions to her. I wonder if I’ll send her story two - ‘Sandy’ - from ‘Love Uncovered’ which is the most sexually charged of all the stories in the collection. It’s true to say that I’ve had almost no positive feedback on ‘Love Uncovered’. Judy never said anything; Julian said the author was a bit too present; and Andrew said they were raw. Only one of the agents wrote back that I wrote well and that the stories held her interest.
A little drunk this evening after the Eurelectric academic conference - ‘75 Years of Cooperation in the Electricity Industry’. I got home about an hour ago and have spent most of that time composing an angry letter to Paul Bulteel at Eurelectric. I don’t know if I’ll send it yet, because I’m fuelled by drink. My anger stems from the fact that my name does not appear on the cover of the bloody book that I wrote for Eurelectric. It doesn’t even appear next to the title on the title page. My name appears in two places: once in very small print next to a copyright symbol, and once at the bottom of the acknowledgements page where I wrote about myself as the author. That really is so poor. I think this was Howard Ramsden’s doing, but I’m not sure if it was a genuine mistake or a deliberate one. He could have considered that other organisation’s books don’t have the author on the cover and therefore Eurelectric’s shouldn’t; but, I’m sure, that where that is the case, it’s because the organisation itself has put a lot of work into the text. He could have decided deliberately to leave me off as some kind of revenge for failing to mention him in the acknowledgements - at the end of the day, he had to put a lot of editorial work into the book. Perhaps, it was some vague mixture of the two. But I’m damned if I’m going to let it go. The letter, as it stands, asks Bulteel to remove the book from the website since I hold copyright for the text, and I’ve not given my permission for such a distribution.
The Eurelectric situation has continued to disturb me. I did send the letter in the end, but not before I discovered that I wasn’t credited at all on the website, being operated by Atalink. So I sent one letter to Eurelectric (with a little emotional content) and one very business-like to Atalink. They weren’t exactly as focused as they could have been, but they were close. Atalink replied in less than an hour, very apologetic, and promised to change the website in several ways. I let it go at that, even though, in fact, I had asked Eurelectric to remove the site. It would be much easier to reproduce the letters.
‘Atalink - 7 December
Dear Mr Gregoriou, I notice that you have placed on your website the text of the Eurelectric book ‘75 Years of Cooperation in the Electricity Industry’.
I am the author of this book, and I also hold the copyright for the text - please see the title page.
On the website, I find that my authorship is nowhere acknowledged at all. I also find a very clear statement of copyright assigned to Atalink and Eurelectric. These two facts together clearly demonstrate an intention to usurp my authorship and my copyright.
In addition, there was no discussion prior to my contract (nor is it mentioned in my contract) that there would be electronic distribution of the text.
Please, therefore, suspend any electronic distribution/availability of this text.
Separately, I am also writing to Eurelectric to establish why I have not been acknowledged as the author on the cover of the book.’
‘Eurelectric - 7 December
Dear Mr Bulteel, Thank you once again for asking me to write the text for the book celebrating ‘75 Years of Cooperation in the Electricity Industry’, and for being prepared to fund my trip to Montreal which, through no fault of yours or mine, I was unable to take.
I would like to emphasise that, as an independent journalist, I have had uninterrupted excellent relations with Eurelectric since its very inception. However, I cannot disguise a certain disappointment, which has now led me to write this letter, and to insist on my copyright rights.
I would like to remind you that, initially, I refused to take on this project. After a first meeting with Eurelectric staff, I felt there was insufficient willingness to support the writer and that there was too much reliance on Atalink to make the project successful. I recognised that Eurelectric was the filter through which all the information would need to be found, and, despite the contract you had with Atalink, I advised you would still need to be involved and provide support. Only on the personal reassurance of Atalink’s managing director, who said he had talked to various Eurelectric staff and he was convinced of their willingness to help me, did I agree to write 50,000 words for the book. Apart from providing me with annual reports and one or two initial contacts, no assistance was ever forthcoming - your staff advised me they had no time allocated to this project. For example, I repeatedly suggested, from an early stage, that Eurelectric make a start on looking for photographs. This was never done.
Having taken on the project, however, I did it to the best of my ability - the only way I know how to work. And, I think, I did a reasonable and professional job. I kept you informed of my schedule, and I submitted drafts on a regular basis and on time. But, be clear, this was my work, and your staff contributed barely a single sentence (apart from Bierhoff’s foreword and the appendices).
My disappointments are several. I did not receive an advance copy of the book, nor have I received any copies for my own personal distribution. This is a discourtesy.
Having seen a copy on 6 December for the first time, I now discover that my authorship has been hidden away - so my name neither appears on the cover of this book, nor next to the title on the title page. This is clearly a deliberate decision by somebody - and is so unnecessary. I simply cannot understand why you would do this. Howard Ramsden, who I talked to at the cocktail party (and who clearly had known my name was missing), seemed to imply that I should have ensured on my contract with Atalink that my name would appear on the cover. But of course I didn’t do this - why would I? I have never known a book that does not acknowledge its author on the cover. Certainly the only Atalink publication I have seen has the name of the author very clearly stated on the cover and on the title page. (It may be that, in some cases, where an organisation has to hand hold an Atalink writer, or rewrite the material provided, that, at the end of the day, the Atalink writer is hidden away. This may be the case, I don’t know, but it certainly does not apply here.)
In addition, the Atalink website makes no reference whatsoever to me as the author. It also claims copyright for Atalink and Eurelectric. I have written to Atalink about this.
Furthermore, I received a letter from you personally that you would be acknowledging the work I put into this book by presenting me with a book yourself. It is one thing to change the agenda of your meeting (and in itself this is of no consequence - I certainly was not expecting any further recognition, other than my name on the cover!) - but it is another thing entirely not to inform me about such a change.
As I now feel that Eurelectric or Atalink or both have tried, in effect, to usurp my authorship, I respectfully request that you make no further distribution of this book beyond the original print run as envisaged when I agreed to write the book. I would also ask that, as no mention was ever made of distribution via the internet, and as I hold the copyright to the text of this book, that you cease any further electronic distribution.’
And now, since Eurelectric has not responded in any way, I am thinking of sending the following letter on Monday which I just wrote (using the excuse that Atalink has not in fact adjusted its website in the way it said it would, but in fact to tighten my argument) - I find when I get as irate as this, the only ointment is to compose a new letter.
‘Atalink - 11 December 2000
Dear Mr Gregoriou, Thank you for the rapid response, from Marianne Griffiths, to my letter of 7 December. However, unfortunately, the matter is far from resolved.
Firstly, Atalink has not adjusted the website in the way we agreed, and in the way in which was set out in Ms Griffiths’ reply of 7 December. It has not escaped my notice that Atalink has only adjusted the website in such a way that my authorship is as un-prominent, if I can put it that way, as it is on the book itself.
Secondly, it is now impossible to escape the conclusion that Atalink or Eurelectric or both of you have conspired to usurp my authorship, both on the book itself and on the website. No-one has yet explained to me, for example, why I was not shown a proof of the cover or the title page for the printed version, although I was shown every other page.
After taking advice, I don’t believe there is any action I can take over the print run for the book itself - however, I can insist that no extra use be made of my text over and above that which was initially agreed. This excludes any further print runs, and any use of the text in any other form, whether it be electronically, or as part of any other publication.
At the time of my discussions with you about the contract for this work, no mention was ever made of my text being made freely available electronically. Although I would have had no problem with this under normal circumstances (due to my previously very good relationship with Eurelectric) had I been given proper accreditation, I am now absolutely insisting that my copyright not be breached.
I have asked Eurelectric and I am now asking you to remove from your website the text of the book (the foreword, the pictures and the annexes are nothing to do with me) to which I hold copyright - I am not exactly clear where the responsibility for this lies, but you are clearly the company operating the site on which my text is being made freely available.
I am sorry I have had to take this action, but I feel Eurelectric has acted in a dishonourable way, and I must now protect my interests.’
11 December 2000
‘Dear Mr Bulteel, Following my letter of 7 December, sent by fax, I am now enclosing a copy of a second letter to Atalink.
As you yourself have not taken any action in respect of my request to cease electronic distribution of the copyrighted text for the book ‘75 Years of Cooperation in the Electricity Industry’, I have now written to Atalink, asking them to remove my text from their website.
To repeat, it is now impossible to escape the conclusion that Eurelectric has tried to usurp my authorship of this book. I am still seeking advice on whether there is any action I can take over the initial print run for the book; however, I can certainly insist that no extra use be made of my text over and above that which was initially agreed. This excludes any further print runs, and any future use of the text at all in any form, whether it be electronically, or as part of any other publication.
I am sorry I have had to take this action (this is a first for me in more than 20 years as a journalist), but I feel Eurelectric has acted in a most self-serving and mean-spirited way (at the very least), and I must now protect my interests.’
It’s hard to know if I’m making too much out of this - and I probably would be, if there was a genuine mistake in there, but every time I think I might be making a mistake, I remind myself that Howard Ramsden, either with Bulteel’s knowledge or without it, deliberately chose to leave my name off the book’s cover. This was such a mean-spirited, dishonourable kind of action that I am spurred on to do my worst.
I’ve also had a bad week with Angel. She emailed me last weekend saying her interest had deepened and that she wanted to swap pictures and telephone numbers. I’ve been happily enjoying our virtual relationship in the almost certain knowledge that it would not lead anywhere - not only is she in the north somewhere, but she’s in such a different line of work that it is highly unlikely we’d ever really hit it off. Any how, I received her passport-sized photo on Thursday. I’d been preparing myself for her to look un-angelic - I kept seeing women on the underground in Brussels who I gauged must be in their mid-thirties and who had ugly or plain faces and telling myself this is what angel will look like. But, nevertheless, I was still shocked to see her picture. Her hair is half blonde half dark - I’m as likely to be interested in someone who dies their hair, as I am in someone who wears leopard-skin patterned jackets - oh and she was wearing a leopard-skin patterned jacket in the photo. She may not be un-attractive, but her mouth is neither smiling nor scorning, and certainly doesn’t give a warm impression. The word that came to mind was ‘harpie’. Given the honest sort of chap I am, I couldn’t help but give her a clue as to my disinterest.
14 December 2000
There has been some sun today - but the rains go on. The ground around the house remains completely waterlogged at or around ground level - thus where the ground dips a bit, by the heathers, the vegetable plots, the front lawn, the water forms ponds and puddles. When I walk across the lawn I’m actually squelching across the grass.
I bought a whole bunch of papers in Bryants and some milk this morning. When I got back, but before coming into the house, I dumped them on the floor or table by the back door, as usual, while I parked my bike in the garage. A few minutes later, when I came to look for the milk, I couldn’t find it. I was convinced I’d had it - not because I remembered the milk exactly, but because I remembered having to fumble quite a lot as I got down from my bike and placed the things on the table, kind of simultaneously. So I searched everywhere - in cupboards, outside, in my study. It was while I was in my study that a thought flipped into my head: why not use the find command? But then reality dawned.
Westbrook’s ‘Glad Day’ plays loudly through the house - this is the reworking of the Blake songs which brought many people’s attention, including me, to his work all those years ago, Often I choose to play Westbrook’s music - recently ‘Platterback’ has been growing on me and some of its melodies have been looping in my head. I am particularly fond of the lyric, ‘My sum and substance stands where she stands’. It’s one of those lines that evoke a hunger for a deep and powerful love. There’s a line from T. S. Elliot which finishes, ‘And her arms full of flowers’, which I can never quite remember but evokes the same kind of longing for beauty and love.
Speaking of such things, I should report a certain amount of trepidation about a visitor I shall be receiving tomorrow evening - Angel, aka Linda Banner, who ‘picked me up’ online so to speak two or three months back. I filled out a questionnaire somewhat tongue-in-cheek - and she is the only person who emailed me. About two weeks ago she was keen to swap telephone numbers and photos, and now - almost immediately on receipt of my photo - she’s coming all the way down south from Cheshire to visit me. Well, she says she’s going to stay with a friend in Woking from Friday to Sunday - but I can’t believe it’s a coincidence. She’s decided to come here on Friday evening. I suspect she is hoping everything is going to work out fine - perhaps we’ll want to spend the night together, and that we’ll then want to meet again the same w/e. I would like to hope for as much too. But, although I find myself intrigued, a little excited even, to have drawn her here after a dozen or so emails, I cannot pretend for a moment that I will be attracted to her. I’ve already mentioned the photo she sent me, but I also know from the laws of chance that there is very little likelihood of us both remaining interested in each other once we’ve met. I’ve taken on the persona of a kind of bemused spectator who must go through the experience of having a virtual relationship (enjoyable at that level) turn into a real one (which I expect will fail rather rapidly). My best guess (and I would put money on it) is that after tomorrow evening our relationship (real and virtual) will be over.
I remember an awkward experience in Iverson Road with an older woman I met through a lonely hearts ad in ‘Time Out’. She fell in love with me, or so she said, and pursued me for a while, but, after the initial mistake of sleeping with her, I wouldn’t see her again. Then she went to Spain, where she was raped! She used to send me long detailed letters about her sexual experiences. Later she asked for them back, and I gave them to her.
My dispute with Atalink and Eurelectric is over. But it took much more out of me than I thought it would. I still can’t believe how upset I became over the whole issue, and how cross I made myself act on the phone. But it wasn’t only an act because the whole saga was going round and round in my head all day and much of the night. The long and the short of it is this. My second round of letters on 11 December - the content of which I had been mulling all over the weekend and which I was inspired to send on, what turned out to be, a false assumption - hit the red button. Initially, I had only planned to send a second letter to Atalink demanding that it stop immediately from distributing my text on the website. And I felt justified in taking this step so quickly after the previous letter, because it hadn’t credited me properly on the website. In fact, Atalink had more or less done everything I’d asked but my computer cache was showing the old version. Any how, I also decided to send a second letter to Eurelectric, with a copy of my letter to Atalink.
First off, Howard rang me. But I had set the answerphone, and I declined to call him back. The next day, before lunch, the Eurelectric boss rings me. I am angry. I don’t want to speak to him, but he persuades me to talk about the situation. He deeply regrets the problems, and assures me that it was all a mistake. He tries to convince me to keep the website, but, he says, this is Atalink’s business not his. I say I will not change my mind, and he says he will ask Atalink to stop the website.
Marianne calls from Atalink. I complain that the website wasn’t altered in the way we agreed. She says it was. I say, in any case, this was a side issue compared to my dispute with Atalink. I am firm about stopping the free distribution of my text. Half an hour later. Atalink founder and boss Charles Gregoriou calls me. He is very keen to keep the website. It is part of the contract with the advertisers, he explains. What can he do to change my mind? Nothing. We have a reasonable conversation (I tell him he can still keep his website with all the components - the only difference will be that the text is not available from the contents page - I’m actually helping him try to sort out his problem!). At the end of our talk he agrees to stop the website. I check, and indeed it is unavailable.
I believe this is the end of the matter. I am much relieved. Because I now know that I do not have to take this battle to another stage. My fear was that Atalink or Eurelectric or both would simply ignore my letters, and that I wouldn’t be able to accept that. But, in fact, after the second letters, I was taken very seriously indeed.
But, then, Gregoriou calls me again. He has come in to the office from his home to try and sort this problem out. He has the two Atalink people involved with the project in his office. We talk some more. He wants to go through some of my arguments in more detail. But I trump him at every point. There can be no excuse for the series of events that led to my not being credited on the book nor on the website. Interestingly, the production bod, Martin Black, mentions my contract with Atalink and the last point which talks about me being credited ‘within’ the publication. Gregoriou says this is how the mistake was made. Martin Black looked at the contract and decided to put my name inside.
Oh no he fucking didn’t - no I don’t say that to Gregoriou, but now I know what really happened. Only two people have mentioned my contract: Howard Ramsden at Eurelectric and Martin Black. I now feel sure that Howard specifically decided my name would not go on the front, and checked with Martin Black about whether there was anything in my contract that would interfere with that decision - and that is why Martin checked my contract. Instead, I indicate to Gregoriou that it seems unlikely that Black would check my contract, but the conversation does not go that way. Gregoriou is moving in the direction of offering me some money, or persuading Eurelectric to offer me some money, but now I pull my trump card - almost as if I’ve been setting the entire scene in readiness for this. I ask him whether it would be possible to stick some labels on the cover of the book. He checks with Marianne. Yes, it would be very possible. Click click click. Gregoriou was as soft as a pussy cat.
Gregoriou: ‘And then I can have my website for a year?’
And so a deal was done. Atalink are printing 4,000 labels to stick on the cover of the 4,000 books waiting to be posted; and they have fully credited me on the website (much more than I would have dared ask for). Atalink seems extra keen to keep me happy, and they don’t care what Eurelectric think about all these changes. I wonder if they don’t blame Eurelectric for the mess - after all they might know that Eurelectric tried to de-credit me. I am now far better credited (except for the 300 or so hard back copies that were distributed at the conference) than I would have been if Howard had simply made sure my name was rather small on the front cover. Without this problem, I doubt I would ever have checked the website, or noticed my name was not there. A victory for the little man. I wonder if anyone suspected that I know absolutely nothing about copyright law.
The first really hard frost of the year. It will be disastrous for the flora if the cold holds and the waterlogged ground freezes solid.
I am here at my journal on Saturday morning to report on my meeting with Linda. As so very often, reality proves to be an insipid pastel colour, whereas I have been expecting and hoping (stupidly, of course, of course, I know, I know) fluorescent neon lights. Linda proved to be less spiky, less interesting perhaps than I had thought from her photo and emails; she was also softer and slightly more attractive than her photo, but also she was bigger and heavier than I could have guessed - not my type at all, at all. She got lost in Elstead, and I had to go and find her at the recreation ground; stupidly, she didn’t keep her lights on, so I wandered round the whole area before finding her (and got my feet wet). We had tea in the lounge (she asked for Earl Grey). I talked about the Eurelectric book for a while, and then she talked about her job. When I suggested we go out to eat, she said she had to leave in half an hour, which was quite a shock. She did stay another hour or so, to about 9, and then left. I feel sure she could have changed her arrangements if she’d wanted to. It was like she had made up her mind there was no hope of a relationship. This was certainly my feeling, but I wasn’t sure how or why she had come to the same conclusion. We embraced warmly before she left. I don’t know if our email exchanges will continue. I’ll probably follow her lead. If she wants to write, I’ll write back I suppose.
The eve of Christmas Eve. A Saturday. An old recording of a Keith Jarret concert is filling the house - piano and drums playing against one another in an insistent nearly obsessive way, with the occasional distant cry of his voice emerging involuntarily through the music.
A and B shopping in Guildford. Me all organised. Presents and food all sorted. I’ll do last minute wrapping, cleaning and tidying tomorrow morning before my mother arrives. Today is a quiet day to myself (at least until Ads come over late afternoon), but I’m not sure what I want to do with it. I could read - there are half a dozen books lying around the house which are only half read (why isn’t that word spelt ‘red’). I could work, there is material already waiting to be written for the January issues. I could potter around the house and do odd jobs, and read the newspapers in between. I could don my wellingtons and go for a walk on the common. But, as usual, I’m sitting here at the computer talking to myself!
What am I talking about? The theatre perhaps. In two days, I’ve seen two plays, one at the National Theatre, one at the Royal Court Upstairs; one an old old play, the other as modern as they come. One with Adam, one with Barbara, Judy and Rob.
‘Hamlet’, or this production of ‘Hamlet’, proved to be a bad choice for Adam’s first proper Shakespeare. I thought I had calculated this carefully - he’s done some Hamlet at school, he’s read a children’s version of the story, and we’ve read about a quarter of the play together slowly. Stupidly, I bought the tickets long ago, without bothering to read a review. I still haven’t read a review, but I know what I think. I think - well, no, in fact I know - the director was crap! I know this because he let the designer get away with a concept that seemed to have no basis in the play or in any particular interpretation the director wanted to bring out in the acting or the play. Firstly, there was a strong religious kind of overtone, through near constant hymn type music, and through the use of candles and incense holders, and other religious symbolism; and secondly, the designer used old leather luggage trunks as stage decoration and props, on which the actors sat and stood. But why religion, why luggage? Unknowable. A weak director, and a designer who is interested in looks not meaning. The rhythm of the play was awkward, with the actors speaking their lines in the early part far too fast, and several much slower scenes in the second half (one of which was far too long - oh for some of the time to have been used in the early speeches). This was neither a popular production - made easy for tourists - nor was it a new and interesting interpretation of the classic play. It was just empty in meaning, and design, and therefore difficult to follow. Hamlet is a great play, and I’m sure it can be both moving and wonderful - but this wasn’t, and Adam was badly bored. But, the theatre was absolutely packed for a matinee (many old people though).
Then, last night, at the Royal Court, we saw a new 50 minute play by Caryl Churchill called ‘Far Away’. This was a strange play which did not allow for easy interpretation. There were essentially three scenes. In the first, a child, newly arrived at a house deep in the countryside talks to the woman of the house about the violence she has seen outside in the night. It transpires that the man of the house is helping children escape from a vicious regime, but that he is not immune to violence himself. In a second scene, the grown-up and newly graduated girl is working in a hat factory with an older more experienced male hat-maker (the latter was played by Kevin McKidd, an actor very familiar to me just now because he plays one of the main characters in the excellent TV lawyer drama ‘North Square’ which just completed its first series on Wednesday). Through the scene, it transpires they are making hats for condemned prisoners, who will wear them at a parade before they are killed. All the hats, except a winning hat, are incinerated with the prisoners. In a third scene, some years on we presume, the male hat-maker is talking with the woman from the first scene in her rural house. They are talking about a war in which every animal (cats, ants, giraffes etc) and everything (the river, the silence, the grass etc.) is taking sides in the war. The woman hat-maker has travelled far to see the man and is sleeping at the start of the scene but joins the other two later, and it is her talking about her journey that ends the play. Although it seems to be about an escalating totalitarian state, this seems too simplistic an interpretation for a clever and intellectual writer such as Churchill. I find it hard to unpick the meaning. No, that’s not totally true, I do have an inkling. I think, in scene one, she’s suggesting that violence is going on all around us, and we manage to justify it, and rationalise it, perfectly well with our everyday lives. The child asks innocent questions about the apparently horrible things she has seen outside, and the old person manages to explain away all her concerns, however deep they go. In scene two, we are all engaged in commerce of one kind or another which is an integral part of the horrors and tragedies of the world around us - society, or our culture, obliges us to engage in this commerce without recognising the role we are playing. Thus the hat-makers are concerned about corruption in the company for whom they work, but not about the fact that all those prisoners are being executed. In the final scene, the adults are talking about the war, in a kind of matter of fact way - they are even arguing about the facts of it vehemently - but they are not fundamentally aware of the wrongs of the war, nor are they aware that by talking about it in such a way they are simply accepting of its absurdities. This is a play about how ‘far away’ we, as ordinary people, are from truth.
That happens - sometimes. Sometimes, it happens that my mind writes stuff, understands stuff, before I consciously know it. Before I started writing about this play, I thought that I could come to more of an understanding of it, by writing about it - look, only a few lines up, I have written ‘I find it hard to unpick the meaning’; and then I proceed to unpick. How well this fits in with this, rather recent, more solid, understanding about how the mind works - in that consciousness is simply a tracker of the events that the rest of the body, including the mind, is up to. It is an incredible mechanism which, not only provides for constant feedbacks and checks on the physical well-being and safety of the body, but also allows a kind of intellectual short-circuiting of the physical actions by way of mental cogitation.
Here’s another example. Earlier this morning I sent Linda, aka Angel, an email. But then the post arrived and with it came a card from her. In the card was one of those tiny plastic film fishes that you place on the palm of your hand and you interpret something about your character from the way it curls. In my case, its sides curled up, which meant, according to the small chart, that I was fickle. I sent Linda an immediate email. I didn’t think about it or calculate what I was going to write, but once it was written I was surprised at how clever it was: ‘PS: Thanks for your card (the mail just arrived) - that damn fickle fish, whichever way I put it on my hand, the sides curled up - I think it was laughing at me!’
Linda just rang. She wanted to tell me she liked the second story I sent her ‘Loving Alex’ from the ‘Love Uncovered’ collection. There have been one or two friendly emails since her visit. I thought maybe she felt, as I did, that this was not a friendship that was going to blossom into a relationship, but I’m not sure now from her her side. I may need to be a little less responsive on the emails. Meanwhile, I’ve added a photo to the internet lonely hearts website (where Linda first contacted me), and I’ve had three responses in a couple of days - tripling my previous score.
A copy of ‘75 Years of Cooperation in the Electricity Industry’, with the author’s name on, arrives! It is not at all apparent that a transparent label has been pasted on afterwards, the style of the text of the name is absolutely in keeping with the cover of the book. I feel it was worth all the effort. Also, I’ve now received the promised present from Eurelectric - a large glossy coffee-table book called ‘A History of Power in Europe’. Worth having. How often in life has it proved productive to cause a fuss!
29 December 2000
The end of another year beckons. It’s been a pleasant and busy enough week, with my Christmas visitors, and with the visit of Roser and her two boys yesterday and today.
Paul K Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG