DIARY 62: February - August 2000

12 February 2000

Winds and a lot of rain, and the occasional glint of sun in the afternoon. The crocus flowers show, and the daffodil bulbs are emerging. The days grow longer - thank goodness.

The February issues of the newsletter were completed more or less on time - although Mayfield, the printers, had a problem and EC Inform-Energy went out a day late. It was not much fun, struggling to get through both newsletters. I went to Brussels twice in subsequent weeks, I worked one and half weekends, and I worked late most nights for more than a week. I may have to rethink my schedule. For the time being, I do not have much enthusiasm. There was a short period last week, when I seemed to be getting two or three orders a day for the transport book - I thought, if this goes on for two or three weeks, I might be able to consider the venture a success. But this week, the orders dried up almost entirely. It was, it is very dispiriting. (At one point I tried to explain to Adam about how maths can describe the pattern of events in a ‘normal distribution’, and I explained about the shape of the curve and how it would tail off - so when I told Ads I had had no orders for a couple of days and that the peak had come earlier than I hoped, he said, never mind you’ve still got the long tail.)

I read a lot about how mobile phone technology is developing so fast that we’ll all soon be using them for sending and receiving emails and everything else besides. But I can’t believe it, the screen is far too small. Glorified pagers, maybe, but that is all. I even think the whole psion organiser market has been a kind of public con - I can only ever remember seeing half a dozen people ever using one. I think there must be millions of them collecting dust in the corners of drawers - never used more. I’m sure far too many mobile phones have been sold too. Why do I think this - because I love gadgets and I have been tempted by organisers, but I have never been able to get past the temptation to understanding what I would ever actually use it for. It’s the same with computer calendar programmes, they are more trouble than they are worth. A paper diary (or for some very busy people a filofax) is the perfect tool. And I have never been tempted by a mobile phone. I do see that mobile phones can be extremely useful for many things (unlike personal organisers) and there is a genuinely large market for them - but it isn’t an endless market.

I woke in the night last night (as I quite often do - usually because of my bladder) and turned on the World Service. I caught a news bulletin which spent a few seconds referring to 10,000 people homeless somewhere in Africa because of floods, and then very quickly moved on to sport, where it dallied for some minutes. We are so used to these juxtapositions we don’t notice them, but I did in my half sleep state. The very voice of the news reader seemed to indicate complete disinterest in the floods but huge enthusiasm for the sports results. I lay there, with the sports news flowing around me, and tried to imagine one African family, homeless, destitute, possibly hungry and injured. I couldn’t. We can’t can we.

I’m cooking a chicken for supper. Here’s a typical game Ads and I fall into without hardly even noticing it. I am peeling the carrots. Ads is standing nearby saying it is quite hypnotic watching me peel the potatoes and carrots. He starts moving his head slightly from side to side to indicate hypnosis. But I suddenly stop peeling the carrot half way down, and so he stops his moving from side to side. I finish the sweep of the peeler, and he finishes the sweep of his head. Now the pattern is set and we play for some minutes. I sweep my hand back much further than I need to for the carrot and he swings his head in a wider arc; I move the peeler backwards and forwards faster and he speeds up his head movements in time. As a climax to this play, instead of moving my hand back to the other end of the carrot direction, I sweep it in a long movement right around his head, so he is obliged to pirouette all the way round too.

19 February 2000

Ads has had an excellent verbal report from his teachers. B went along to the school open evening the other night (I was in Brussels) and talked to most of his teachers. All of them, she said, reported on how much better behaved he has become, and how much better he is working. Initially, B told me this on the phone, when I was still in Brussels, I was almost crying, not with happiness but with relief I think. On the Thursday night, on my return, I went round to see A and B, and to listen to the full story of the evening. B went through what each teacher said with A adding details here and there. I asked him if he was pleased, and he said he was, yes. I repeated several times how pleased I was, and that he deserved to get a good report, because, I felt, I said, he really had been trying hard. My ongoing work, I feel, is to ensure that he works hard and well because HE wants to, not because I want him to.

Poor old Northern Ireland. The Loyalists were not going to let Sinn Fein have it all their own way, and the IRA were not, are not, going to make any gesture - such as giving up arms - that has even the faint whiff of defeat or surrender about it. The IRA had promised to deal with decommissioning of arms by May under the Good Friday agreement, but the Unionists were unable to hold their party in the new Northern Ireland government, sitting next to Sinn Fein, for so long without guns being given up. So they agreed to start work in the newly constituted government on the condition that they would review the situation in February, and if decommissioning had not begun, they would cease to act in the new parliament. Sinn Fein said at the time that the demand was unreasonable and that it was not in the Good Friday agreement. The deadline came, and the Unionist leader made clear that his party would have to leave the parliament because its condition had not been met. In order to avoid that happening, the UK government suspended the devolved parliament. Now the IRA has pulled out of the decommissioning talks and taken back a recent and conciliatory statement about decommissioning.

This whole process is so finely balanced, so delicately tuned, that both sides need to feel, at every stage, they have squeezed the very last concession out of the other side. When Mowlem was secretary of state for Northern Ireland, there was a belief that she gave too much to Sinn Fein and the IRA; now with Mandelson in place, the reverse is true. There are plenty more plays yet in this dice game.

I have started work on the Eurelectric electricity cooperation history. I renewed my membership of the British Library, but I found it rather complex to use (and photocopying is 22p a sheet). I searched out the Institute for Electricity Engineering library, but didn’t find much of use. And I spent half a day at the University of Surrey library, which was useful. All three of these libraries have their catalogues on line - which is really very helpful. Yesterday, I spent most of the day at the World Energy Council photocopying conference speeches from their Congresses, which have been held since 1925. What is amazing about the WEC Congresses is that they have consisted of 100s of presentations by specialists from all over the globe, often providing individual perspectives on the same topics. Thus, they provide a superb record of the progress of energy and electricity through the century - something I have not been able to find (especially for the first half of the century) easily from any other source (although I still have a bit of a gap through the 40s and the war). With this background material, it will be a lot easier to weave the information I gather (starting next week) from the Unipede reports into a coherent history. I have also purchased a couple of books on the history of the European Community, so that I can weave the broader issues in also.

27 February 2000

Another weekend slips by. I still seem to be working at weekends, even though the transport book was well and truly finished two months ago (I found a first error the other day - ‘difficulty’ instead ‘difficult’). Without an assistant now, I need to work two weekends on the issues, so that’s why I’ve worked all day today. But with the Eurelectric contract hanging over me, I don’t really have any spare time. Still, I have been active this weekend.

I played a volleyball match yesterday. I only went because Steve asked me, and because it was at Spectrum, not at Effingham which is further away. I spent several hours on the phone and scouring teletexts and reading my ski book before finally booking a holiday in Morzine, France. I couldn’t get a chalet this time, because most of them do not take children out of the holiday season. So I went for a hotel which is about a mile from the ski lifts. Another, perhaps nicer, hotel next to the lift would have been £150 each extra - I nearly went for it, but in the end I felt it was worth £300 in exchange for having to wait around for buses every day. I chose Morzine because it’s a proper town not just a ski village. We could have gone back to Les Deux Alpes where I could have got a chalet in fact, but it seemed too unadventurous to do so. The holiday is with First Choice again, so I can already see the queues and waiting and Charter flight sheep herding which we will have to undergo. Still, both Ads and I need a holiday - and I’ve booked it now.

Then, on Saturday evening, after watching an episode of ‘Casualty’ (which is really drawing out Tina’s Max/Sean dilemma), I drove over to Tilford to have a drink with Genny and her sister and husband. They are easy company, and laugh a lot.

The rewards of not having an employee are starting to filter through. I have banked £20,000 this month. This exceptional figure is because February is always a peak in terms of subscription payments, and because transport book payments are coming through and the costs were paid out in December and January. I am hoping I might be able to reach a turnover of £100,000 this tax year for the first time.

I finally got round to sending ‘BLR’ to Elizabeth White, an associate editor at a big publisher’s agent. A couple of years ago, White returned ‘Love Uncovered’ with a nice personal comment about the stories, but explaining that they simply didn’t handle short stories. I decided not to write to her as soon as ‘BLR’ was complete but to keep her as my secret hope. Unfortunately, ‘BLR’ came back within a week, and the comment ‘So sorry, too literary’. Too literary, what does that mean. My writing isn’t literary. It’s spare, it tells a story. It’s full of character. At the same time, I sent the two ‘Trapped’ stories to a couple more publishers. They haven’t been returned yet.

Frank Dobson wins the Labour Party nomination for the London mayor election by a small margin. Livingstone is keeping his head down, whilst a huge clamour goes out for him to stand as an independent. It would mean reneging on his promises not to stand, and it would mean leaving the Labour Party. The clamour, though, comes from a public that loves the fizz of fireworks - especially the ‘Evening Standard’, which sheepishly says it wouldn’t actually support Livingstone for major of London, but oh so definitely wants him to stand as an independent. Well of course it does. Not only will it split the Labour vote and give the ghastly Conservative candidate Steve Norris a chance, but it will provide endless glorious headlines and front page stories, which are so important for the ‘Standard’’s sales. I don’t understand why everyone blames the Labour Party for the mess. The Labour Party is simply trying to deal with a very difficult problem, i.e. the existence of Livingstone. It was a brave government that brought in the idea of a London mayor (surely not unaware of Livingstone’s existence) and now it is trying to handle the situation as best it can. What do the critics think: that the Labour Party should simply let Livingstone be its candidate, when he has consistently undermined the party for years. Of course not; so it is trying as best it can, using as legitimate means as it can, to keep him out, and to put its own best candidate forward. Why the hell shouldn’t it manipulate the way its candidate is chosen, if it wants to. The media scrum are such a pack of sheep, they can’t seem to think for themselves about these things.

Adam is revising hard for his exams next week - the dear of him. I let him stay up last night and watch ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’ with Robert Shaw and Waltar Matthau.

In early February, I got another attack of ringworm by my right armpit. It took over three weeks of applying Canestan to get rid of it. I have a touch of psoriasis in the centre of my forehead. And just at the moment I have an occasional uncontrollable flicker in my left eyelid. It comes on for no reason and goes away for no reason. I’ve had it several times in my life. It doesn’t affect my reading in any significant way. Otherwise, I continue in good health.

Psychologically, I am probably a little less prone to bouts of sadness about the failure of my life, simply because the combination of my main work and the Eurelectric contract are not really giving me any time in which to reflect on what else I should do.

March 2000

Paul K Lyons


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