3 October 2000

On Eurostar again - this is rapidly becoming my favourite place to type up the journal. Last week, though, on the way back from Brussels, I wasn’t able to write a single story, or a day of my journal, or read the paper, or a book, because a youngish woman decided to sit down opposite me, and proceeded to engage me in conversation for the whole journey. She was a breast cancer medical equipment rep for Johnson & Johnson, living in Marmesbury I think, recently married in Sri Lanka, an only child of a teacher and electrician. After three hours, I don’t think I learnt too much more about her. I think she was a bit hyped up after a two day medical conference. I didn’t find her the slightest bit attractive, physically or intellectually, but it was pleasant to pass the time with her. I could have moved, if I’d been serious about working, I suppose. Just now, though, I have moved. I was in a carriage almost entirely empty, sitting in the centre table seats. Although there were plenty of empty table seats in other carriages, a tall man in trainers came and sat at the seat across the corridor from me, and proceeded to crackle his newspaper loudly for an hour and a half or more. OK, that was fine, I could cope with that - I too made noises eating crisps, and tapping away at the keyboard. But when he came back from the restaurant with a smelly meal, and then put on his walkman at such a volume that I too could hear the ugly repetitive noise, that was enough. I quietly and slowly manoeuvred my things together and took a walk to the next carriage, where I now sit on the last leg from Lille to Brussels. So far, we seem to be on time - last week we were half an hour or more late.

A slightly frenetic weekend. First of all, it was the end of the Olympics, so I was trying to stay up late, getting up very early, and walking in and out of the lounge to see what was on all day long. I was happy for our Olympians that we managed to win the most number of medals since the 1920s, but I was extremely unhappy that, even though the BBC showed the final of the men’s basketball live and complete, it only showed five minutes of the volleyball final. Yugoslavia comprehensively thrashed Russia in three sets.

This was a fantastic Olympic Games though - everything appeared to go so smoothly, so cleanly, so tidily, drugs was only a minor sideshow, records fell gloriously in the pool, the scenic backdrop so often was fabulous, as were the near flawless opening and closing ceremonies. And GB even acquitted itself well for a change (though we still ended up lower in the table than our EU partners Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands).

Secondly, my new computer equipment arrived - dozens of boxes, manuals, guarantees, cables, CD-ROMs. I have bought an AppleMac G4, a Formac 21 inch screen, a cheap colour printer, a scanner, an ethernet hub to connect up the two computers with the printer, and an adapter for the older PowerMac computer so it can run the USB scanner and printer, and an adapter for the printer so it can run on an ethernet network. This all takes a lot of time and patience to link up and get working. Initially, I just set up the G4 to make sure it would run all my existing programmes (especially Quark) but this proved surprisingly easy - even getting the internet applications going proved a doddle. I had thought I wouldn’t replace my working computer with the G4 until after this month’s production; but I couldn’t wait. So I spent half the weekend, moving the equipment around, re-cabling, re-installing etc. Several hitches came to light. My ancient version of Microsoft Word doesn’t work properly on the G4, for some reason all the command keys are out of place. Secondly, I couldn’t connect the printer to the ethernet network because I was missing a little adapter cable (not arriving now until Friday). Thirdly, I couldn’t even begin to set up the USB devices to the adapter card on the PowerMac because it states clearly that I need System 8.5 or later, whereas I only have 8.1 on there. I had thought I would be able to use the System 9 provided with the G4 and install that on the PowerMac, but, unlike previously, the install software was dedicated to the G4 and wouldn’t work on the older machine. So I rang the supplier (and several others) who said Apple would only allow System 8 and System 9 to be sold. So I rang Apple, who confirmed they couldn’t let me have System 8.5 or 8.6. Finally, I rang a small local company and asked if they could make and sell me a copy of 8.6. I have it now (£25), but it won’t work on the basic simple install command, and I’m going to have to do a clean install (which means re-installing all the inits afterwards), and I don’t want to do that until after production is over (in case I find some glitch on the G4).

Thirdly, I had Raoul on the phone each day, for up to an hour at a time.

Sunday 15 October 2000

A pleasant day out yesterday with B, Judy and Rob. Judy had organised matinee tickets to see David Hare’s ‘My Zinc Bed’ at the newly-refurbished Royal Court.

I arranged for Ads to visit my mother, partly to give Ads a chance to do a longish distance journey on his own for the first time, and secondly to give he and my mother a little time together which they haven’t had for years, I would say; but not because Ads needed looking after. I would have been quite happy leaving him all day on his own. We travelled up together to Waterloo, where we bought a present for Phoebe (whose birthday it is today). Later, I forgot to ring Mum before the play started to check that he had arrived safely. We met up with Judy and Rob at the theatre, in the rather dark, concrete-decor (oddly National Theatre exterior-like - National Theatre retro?) subterranean cafe. We were seated in the balcony but, as I’d remembered to bring my glasses for a change, I could see perfectly well. This was a three hander, with Tom Wilkinson playing a successful, cool but aging, internet millionaire, Julia Ormond playing his younger Scandinavian wife (with a French accent), and Steven Mackintosh playing the young unkempt and recovering alcoholic poet caught up by the two other characters. Although much of the play seems to be a diatribe against Alcoholics Anonymous, it does examine the condition of human kind in today’s world in a way so few plays do. Hare has both a depth and breadth of knowledge about human affairs and the ability to craft the language, dialogue and characters to project that knowledge to an audience. The direction (his) was a little wooden, and I think there are flaws in his understanding of women’s psychology, but nevertheless this was a verbal and ideas treat, and it had clever jokes/humour.

Tuesday 17 October 2000

This is the second of my 12 ‘free’ periods in the year from summer 2000 to summer 2001. The first one, in September, I used up largely in watching the Olympics and researching and buying new computer equipment. This one I am flittering away. Well, there was still quite a bit of organising to do with the computers - rejigging the office slightly, installing software, and sorting out the back-ups on zip drives (and, discarding hundreds of floppy disks, thank goodness). I’ve also spent an hour or two playing a computer simulation pinball game. It works amazingly well - I would hardly know the difference from the real thing when caught up in the middle of a game.

But, what shall I do with the rest of the week? I have been doing some research, largely internet based. I’ve downloaded a range of information about various weekend courses; I’ve signed up to a couple of free internet dating agencies. I think about going on a hike somewhere, in the Peak District, for example, or checking on teletext for a last minute holiday; but neither of those would put me in contact with people. I need to push myself into activities in which I’m meeting new people, preferably women. And it’s bloody hard to find anything. I’ve scoured the local papers, the Surrey what’s on, the residential courses info, and I’ve not found anything remotely feasible. Should I spend the week playing desktop pinball, and checking my loveandfriends/idealpartner emails?

I am not reading much at the moment. I am in one of those non-project states of nervousness. Even though writing and editing the two newsletters is a big enough task, perhaps it’s because I don’t feel I can properly relax until I’ve somehow set myself up with social possibilities in, at least, some of the ‘free’ periods during the coming year. Yes, I’ve got the next period sorted, with a trip to Egypt, but it’s not enough, I need to get a bit more going in my life. That’s why I’ve given myself these free periods, and why, so far, any way, I’m determined not to take on any writing projects (personal or otherwise) to press in on those weeks.

The coldest post-summer night last night; but, after days of rain, today is sharp and clear, the kind of day one longs for in spring. Here and now, though, with the yellowing of the leaves, the baring of the trees, and the mushy leaf-fall beneath one’s feet, one cannot forget that winter is waiting to wade in with its dank and freezing cloak of dark.

Middle East in turmoil again, after the peace talks got so close. Clinton in Egypt trying to get Barak and Arafat round the table again, but this time to stop the fighting, not to sign a peace deal. Like Northern Ireland, though, there can be no smooth, straightforward peace process. The way I see it, with some perspective, is that the very fact of a peace deal drawing near instigates radical factions to bristle, and then burst, with resentment at not getting enough in any forthcoming deal. This creates an equal and opposite reaction on the other side, and an inevitable reversal into violent words, at least, and often, actions too. Then, inevitably another concession is made here or there, and the peace negotiations continue again. Thus it was in Northern Ireland, thus it still is there. In the case of Israel and Palestine, they have come a long way in recent years, and I am sure that Arafat must want to conclude a deal before he retires or dies. But the Jerusalem problem is a very big one, and it will take time for the Arabs and the Israelis to get used to the kind of compromise ideas that peace talks have been throwing up. Strong leaders determined on peace and international political and practical support are key factors in any peace process, but, at the end of the day, there must be enough advantages for the general public on both sides, and for the generals of the activists, before peace can become a possibility.

Ads comes bouncing in from school yesterday. He throws off his shoes at the backdoor without untying the shoelaces, then comes into my office and bounces onto my desk. Even at 13, he loves jumping on my desk to see what I doing on the computer, just to be facing towards me, or onto the sideboard in the kitchen to see what I am reading (or sometimes to sit on what I am reading). I got an A1 merit for my English, he tells me proudly. This is for a piece of work which I had suggested he do again. I noticed in his homework diary that he was supposed to look over some work he had done in class, to check it and improve it. When I asked him whether he had done that, he said he had finished the piece of work in class. But, I said, it quite clearly says in your homework diary that you should check it over and improve it. This is how, I continued, you improve your English, and get better than average marks. Recently, I have been talking to him quite a lot about the fact that his English has stood still for a couple of years, both in terms of his reading and his writing, and that of all the subjects he studies, it is English which deserves the most extra work, as it is the subject that will be of most use to him throughout his life. So, he spent quite a lot of time rewriting the piece, with asked-for advice from me, first in rough, and then into his English book. So, with undisguised glee he tells me about the A1 merit - but this is no pat on the back for Dad, for he goes on to explain that the teacher had given him A1 merit for the first draft, and told him he had left out all the good bits in the ‘improved draft’! I say I am delighted, and ask what I can give him as a reward. A hug, he says. Oh he is so cute. I say I will cancel his ban on jumping in the kitchen (that’s a long story) - due to run out on the following day - early. He plays along - he jumps off the desk, and runs round to the kitchen to start jumping to touch the ceiling. You’re so easy, I shout after him.

When Ads came back from Mum’s on Sunday, he rang me from Waterloo to confirm which train he was catching, one arriving at Milford at 15:08 (there’s only one train an hour). I was there in good time, and the train was 10 minutes late. I stood on the footbridge, overlooking the track, and watched the train come in. Only the guard got off. I waited a few seconds. The guard was about to get back on, and the train was about to leave. Nightmare scenario. I had no fallback plan. I ran down the stairs and along the platform towards the guard - unsure of exactly what I would say. I could hardly search the whole train while it waited in the station. . . such were the thoughts racing through my brain. Then, suddenly, Adam waltzed out of the guard’s door and along the platform towards me. He had been caught, as I have several times, by the short platform, and the fact that you can’t exit from the end carriages of the long trains on Farncombe or Milford stations. He, too, had panicked, and had only just made his way through as far as the guard’s van. Phew. Now that he’s done one journey, he wants to march off up to London for the day on his own. No, I think that was a joke.

Since the summer, I’ve finished a couple of books: ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’ by Tom Wolfe which is a tour de force about New York life, and ‘The Shipping News’ by E Annie Proux, which won a Pullitzer price, but which I thought was a little overdrawn. Although the story was well told, I didn’t really believe in the development of the main character Quoyle, from an idiot to a pillar of society, and the humour was a little too sparsely sprinkled to classify it as a comic novel. I’ve started Tim Pears’ novel ‘Destiny’, but, like the cover of the paperback version I’m reading, its a little dull.

In the cinema, I saw a slight, and ultimately rather unsatisfying film called ‘The Virgin Suicides’. On TV, I’m watching a fun serial called ‘Attachments’, about a gang of young people starting an internet company. What makes this good, like, for example, ‘This Life’ and ‘Queer as Folk’, is the quality of the writing, first and foremost, but also the depth and originality of the characters played with sufficient craft by good actors.

The other night I took Ads to a blues concert - Paul Lamb and the King Snakes - at an Aldershot venue called the West End Centre. The main reason for this was that Paul Lamb is a harmonica player, and harmonica-based performances are few and far between. I didn’t expect to enjoy it much, and I thought Ads might get a bit bored, but the band was surprisingly good (it has won some awards which were mentioned in the advertising I saw) and original. Lamb himself was no purist with his harmonica, he used it with an attachment for amplification which turned the sound into something closer to a real organ; nevertheless, he was fantastic with it. He did also play several songs without amplification, thus demonstrating a real talent. Lamb was clearly the creative spark uniting an expressionless electric guitarist (a small but quite old man, who clearly demanded repetitive acknowledgement throughout the show - as Lamb regularly told the audience to applaud his solo efforts), a bass guitarist, a drummer, and a singer (who looked like he had strayed from the set of a ballroom dancing competition). The small auditorium was full with an appreciative audience. Hardly anyone danced despite Lamb’s encouragement. I would have liked to dance, but I would have been a bit conspicuous. Ads did yawn a bit towards the end, but it was mid-week, and he’s got very little experience of going to concerts of any kind. There was one track I particularly liked, and I shall buy the CD.

Thursday 19 October 2000

What a lazy day, what a lazy week. But I have sorted out social events over the next few months - trips to the theatre, a possible day course on Saturday - and done a couple of things I needed to do for the Egypt trip (tomorrow I will go to London to sort out the visa - I couldn’t post it, I realised minutes before the envelope went in the postbox, because I need the passport for Brussels next week). I’ve also spent a little time in the evenings on line with two (free) dating agencies. I’ve lied about my age in both of them, since the chances of a lady in her 30s choosing to list a man in his late 40s are less than her choosing one in his early forties - and age is always the first criteria on making a selection, but I have uploaded a very recent photo. I feel fully justified on the age thing since I really do look and act younger than my age. I’ve now started a short email dialogue with a psychologist - calling herself Angel - in Manchester, who is into spiritual stuff; and there’s a Fiona from London who has a fiery temper. I can’t but be rather flippant about these exchanges.

I have just ordered £40 worth of harmonica books and CDs from Amazon, mostly for Ads. As I’ve been unable to find him a teacher, the least I can do is keep him liberally supplied with his own teaching material, and harmonicas of course.

There’s a been another rail crash, this time at Hatfield. Four people died, and the press have gone to town - oh, there’s nothing it likes better than a good rail crash to get its teeth into. Railtrack, of course, is at fault, for the track should have been replaced. Corners were cut, and now people are dead. No one can stand up and say: No system will ever be perfect, there will always be crashes and dead people - for if they do, in today’s media world, they will be crucified. It’s not that I believe nothing should be done after such a crash, but I believe that the media has a responsibility to keep things in perspective. They should be reminding their readers/listeners viewers, that road accidents result in 1,000 times as many deaths; that, sometimes, four people or more die in a single road accident. Why do those crashes not dominate all the media for three days - sometimes they won’t even be reported outside of the locality.

Today, in my lazy day, I flicked through one of my antiquarian books, about General Grant’s travels around the world, and particularly the chapter where he writes about his travels through Egypt. This is in the 19th century. His biographer, or rather the narrator of his travel log, notes how the Egyptians have to protect some of their historic sites from tourists nicking bits of the walls. I am dreading being utterly disappointed by the pyramids - all the pictures one ever sees are of isolated pyramids, but I will see them surrounded by thousands of people, and probably with lots of modern houses (airbrushed out of the photos). General Grant appears to have spent most of his travels either engaging in the pomp and circumstance of rulers and deputy rulers or trying to avoid the pomp and circumstance provided by local dignatories keen to show off to the ex-US President. Still, he probably didn’t have to pay for too much on his journeys.

Saturday 21 October 2000

Two not great days in London. I have this absurd idea that things might happen to me in London - that I might meet someone pretty or interesting. Rationally, I know it’s absurd, but I also don’t know what else to do to further my chances of an encounter - and London is the place I always lead myself to. Yesterday, I had to go to get my Egyptian visa in Knightsbridge, so I arranged to see Lucy. I thought I could take her out for lunch, but she couldn’t arrange to leave her girls, so I went round to visit instead. And, against expectations, I had to go twice to the Egyptian consulate which was about as far from a tube station as it could have been in central London. I don’t know, I thought, I might find a gallery or museum to visit as well. But instead all I did was scour several bookshops, including the mammoth Waterstones in Piccadilly (which has taken over the old Simpsons department store). It claims to be the largest bookstore in Europe, and is undeniably spacious and pleasant to wander around.

Lucy was looking very attractive in a soft pink top. We didn’t do much but talk about our jobs and schools. Tim was busy doing his VAT returns upstairs. I left after about an hour.

Then, today, I went to the City Lit for the first time in, what, 20 years perhaps. Why did I do this thing? Well, this was my October free week, and by mid-week I had failed to do anything different or significant, or give myself even a million to one chance of meeting anyone. Having looked through its hundreds and hundreds of courses, including one-off Saturday sessions, I decided there must be something I could find for this weekend. There was - a six-hour course on Latin American poetry! I decided that it would be worthwhile to revisit poetry because I’ve found myself scorning it of late; and I also thought it would be worth revisiting Latin American poetry since I once was very keen on it; and, thirdly, with the same kind of hopefulness with which I make forays to London, I thought there might be one or two pleasant intelligent women worth meeting. It meant leaving home at around 8:30, which was no problem, since I had nothing special to do today. I arrived in good time, registered, and took my place at the back of the classroom.

We raced through four poets in the morning and four in the afternoon: Borges (Argentina), Claribel Alegria (El Salvador), Gabriela Mistral (Chile), and Octavio Paz (Mexico); Pablo Neruda (Chile), Ernesto Cardenal (Mexico), Rosario Castellanos (El Salvador), and Gioconda Belli (Nicaragua). Of these, I’d only heard of Neruda, Paz and Borges; and only one other - Gabriela Mistral - is mentioned in my ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’. Poets from Brazil, Columbia and Venezuela were notably absent. Psiche Hughes, our teacher, has been teaching at the City Lit for 25 years or so, she said. A small gang of the 20 strong class were well known to her, and had obviously attended her Latin America literature classes in the past, some were even friends I think - and they did most of the talking. Although the subject is very fruitful ground, she did not nurture too much from it in her six hours. Psiche’s choice of poems, and her understanding and interpretations of them were, I must say, rather limited. After a thumbnail introduction to each poet, we then read three of four of their poems, but the translations she had chosen - those she had found in some dusty library - were all too often clunky and un-sympathetic to the music of Spanish-langjuage poetry. Her choice was also clearly guided but what she could understand or interpret. The class discussed the poems and interpretations. On the whole this was OK, since there were no idiots trying to butt in all the time, but a lot of people didn’t say anything at all. At least half the class, those that did speak from time to time, certainly knew more about the subject than I did. I didn’t come away with much insight, unfortunately, nor did I fall in love with any of the new poets.

Sunday 22 October 2000

I’m pleased to report that the media has not entirely let me down with regard to the rail crash the other day. In its newspaper round-up, the ‘Today’ programme reported, that Peter Jenkins had written in ‘The Times’ about our society’s inability to accept the fact that accidents happen. Secondly, yesterday, the ‘Today’ programme ran a superb feature in which its reporters tried to research all the road accidents that had happened across the country on the same day as the rail crash. Although only managing to accumulate stats from about half the police authorities, it discovered hundreds and hundreds of serious accidents, three deaths, and well over a hundred serious injuries. And, it made clear, these figure were average for a typical day. Thus, finally, the ‘Today’ programme did provide some perspective on the rail crash - a totally unusual event (i.e. happening less often than once a year) which killed four people and injured 30 or so.

A miserably wet Sunday. I spent part of this morning looking at the proofs for the Eurelectric book from Atalink. The charts have been messed up and produced without any intelligence or care. There are also several other things wrong, and I’ve emailed Eurelectric and Atalink about them. Although I have now been paid, and could wash my hands of the project, it seems a shame not to try and help in the final stages. Given my earlier complaints to and about Anne Marie (and her failure, despite promises, to source photographs), I am interested to note that there is not one single photograph in the whole book!

25 October 2000, Brussels

I’m still not as comfortable in this apartment as I would like. I sleep on an old hard sofa bed inherited with the Aldeburgh house; last night I was tossing and turning all night long, with dreams not quite rising to the surface to be accessed. My recently-purchased computer desk and chair are better than those I was using before, but not much. The computer is old, not that I mind that since I only write text on it, but it is also filthy, and I haven’t got round to bringing any cleaning stuff. Every time I look down at the keyboard, I see the dirt marks, and the clean patches where I use a key regularly - the A, E and L are clean, as is a small patch on the space bar, where my thumb always hits the same spot. The Z, Q, and X are filthy. Oddly, the comma and full stop are grisly too, although I obviously use them fairly often. The lighting is poor. A tap drips in the kitchen. The radio cackles sometimes on Radio 4. Outside, I hear the voices of the students spilling out of a lecture theatre, or of a car idling as it waits to pull out into the main street ahead, or the rusty scraping creaks of one of the garage doors below being opened, or very late at night the rumble of a tram doing I know not what along the slight stretch of track outside my window which is never used during the day.

There is no doubt that I am losing enthusiasm for EC Inform. Here I am making preparations for the November issues of both EC Inform-Energy and EC Inform-Transport, and I have no interviews lined up at all. I have made no effort to create stories, I am simply hoovering up information I can find in the hope that I’ll be able to fill up the newsletters. I’ve noticed increasingly that I am relying on fewer and fewer contacts, and making less and less effort to find and solidify stories. I don’t know if this is a function of there being more information readily available than there ever was, so I need to collate more than dig; or whether I am simply getting lazy; or whether my attitude is a function of having to do both newsletters rather than just one.

I have mentioned my idea of closing down EC Inform quite a number of times now to different friends (certainly not anyone work related), and I’ve not found myself gulping, or breaking out in a sweat. When they ask what I’m going to do instead, though, I try and veer the conversation somewhere else. I do get scared, though, when I’m in a bookshop or a library, and I see how many published works there are, how much work has gone into them all, how professional they all are, how well written and researched they all are . . .

I’ve got this idea, now, that I am quite a good writer. Not brilliant, not A1, but good. I think it started in Brazil, when my features for ‘Flight’ were taken up by the American magazine, and was reinforced at the FT when my Management Reports were well received and sold well. Also, a couple of times, publishers made off-the-cuff complimentary comments about the things I’d sent them, which helped - but not as much as if they’d wanted to publish what I’d sent them. Apart from B’s positive comments about ‘BLR’, however, no friends have ever said anything good about my fictions (except back in the Harold/Mu days when my writing was crap). But, I do think I’m versatile, and can organise facts and fictions into order and sense. I think I do believe in my ability now - I just need to decide in which direction to push, and allow myself the freedom to do some pushing. The Eurelectric book was home territory, so to speak, and proved relatively easy - and was only made difficult by the lack of a proper editor. I feel sure I could manage something similar in foreign territory with a good publisher/editor.

Saturday 28 October 2000

Westbrook’s ‘Platterback’ plays on the stereo. Jaunty music for a Saturday morning. Rainy and windy. Mid-autumn. Yellow leaves everywhere, on trees (the birch, but not yet the oak), and wet ones on the ground. I notice one or two yellow flowers still appearing on the hypericum, and the geraniums are still trying to provide colour. I’ve discovered that the large purple (a lovely rich wine colour) flowers from the sedum, which do so well all around the garden, look excellent in a vase inside the house and seem to last for ages, even without water.

I listened to John Pilger on the programme ‘In the Psychiatrist’s Chair’ yesterday. Like ‘Desert Island Discs’, it is a programme which depends entirely on the subject in the hot seat. But whereas Sue Lawley’s programme tends to revisit the main stuff about a person’s life, which has often been aired before, Anthony Clare’s programme is a little more chewy (why did that word come to mind?), a little more thought-provoking. Last week it was Gore Vidal, and this week it was Pilger. Why am I mentioning it? Some months ago, I was moved to write to a newspaper because of an article by Pilger condemning the west for having bombed Serbia over Kosovo. It seemed such a naive analysis offering no understanding of the bigger picture.

(This is beautiful, John Winfield is singing: ‘My sum and substance stand . . . where she stands, my heart springs out and hope overflows when she in graceful movement goes, my life in its true focus I can see, when her lovely eyes turn to me, my sum and substance stand . . . where she stands, my sum and substance stand . . . where she stands, my sum and substance stand . . . where she stands.’)

Well, on the programme, Pilger explained, more or less, how it was his life’s work to report things from the ground up and not from the top down, from the point of view of the people and not from governments and organisations. This helped me understand where he is coming from, and I would not want a world where Pilgers do not exist. On the other hand, it is the complete reverse of where I come from; I WANT to see things from the top down, I want to understand why politics, international relations, history happen in the way they do. I think people, ordinary people, might be better able to cope with the unfairness of life around them, of tragedy and disaster, of wars and famines, of dictators and democracy, if the intricate workings of diplomacy and government were explained properly, fairly. I would guess, although without thinking and researching it through, that Pilger’s journalism is the kind of journalism that inflames revolt and dissension, that feeds support for IRA/Libyan/Iraqi terrorism; and yet it is the same kind of journalism that helps undermine administrations which depend on dictatorship and human rights abuses. In my very humble opinion, if the bigger picture is always grafted on to apparent abuses of power at the ground/people level in a difficult/complicated democratic world, then the actions of the powers become justifiable, explainable; but the same would not be true in the case of an abusive dictator. For Pilger and many like him, the Falklands war, and the bombing of Iraq, were abuses of power; for me, they were great actions by strong leaders, and ones which probably saved the world, yes saved the world from other similar aggressive actions by despots desperately focused only on their domestic positions.

(Winfield’s now singing, ‘The River of Doubt’)

There was a letter in the ‘Guardian’ yesterday which is perfect (the letters page in the ‘Guardian’ can be surprisingly surprising). The letter concerns the railway chaos around the country as Railtrack does a safety blitz on tracks everywhere, following the Hatfield crash. The letter reads: ‘How many more people are likely to die on our roads as they avoid the rail chaos?’.

Thursday night, on my way back from Brussels to Elstead, I took dinner with Raoul at his house (he picked me up from Clapham Junction station). I thought it would be just him, Andrew and me, and that we’d be able to have a good solid talk about Raoul’s difficult situation, but he’d invited Richard and a girl called Fay or Fane as well. We did have a short while before the others arrived, but after that conversation became more general - and I had Richard bending my ear about god knows what for longer than was comfortable.

On the way to, and the way back from, Brussels, I got stuck into two books. One, a kind of thriller by a Spanish writer called Perez-Reverte - ‘The Seville Communion’ - is fairly run of the mill, and not worth commenting on (I have read one of his before - he keeps a story going at least, but his characters, if not thin cardboard, then thick carton). But the other - ‘The Book of Revelation’ - by a writer new to me, Rupert Thomson, was rather interesting. It was about an English dancer domiciled in Amsterdam who gets kidnapped by three women, who then keep him tied down in a white room, and use him to service their sexual needs. He never sees their faces. After 18 days, and about half the book, they let him go. The rest of the book is about how the man’s life changes, and how he seeks to cope. The plot is utterly linear - with one meeting, thought or event leading to the next one. The writing is rather spare and simple, not a million miles away from my own. Thomson has taken an idea, a dramatic unexplainable event that happens to an individual, and then imagined the consequences. We, the audience, never discover anything about the three women (or any other characters) or their motivation - the story is totally preoccupied with the dancer and what happens to him. The book is weighed down with superb reviews, which I wouldn’t fully agree with. I’ve ordered another of his books, to see how much the writing was tailored to this particular story, or whether he always writes in the same way.

November 2000

Paul K Lyons


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INTRO to diaries