2 August

Ah, the weather has broken, it’s cooler and rainy now. I was going to do some outdoor maintenance, sanding and painting, but it’ll have to wait. England are being thrashed in the third test against the Aussies.

I have finally - last night - put my EC Inform work to one side, and I hope to move on to Kip Fenn when I’ve come to an end of pottering around the house. This morning was taken up with vaccinations and immunisations. Adam had his tetanus/diphtheria booster, and we both had a polio dose; then we went to the Robbens Centre for our yellow fever jabs. I’ve received a package of new books I ordered from Amazon at the w/e. ‘Air and Fire’ by Rupert Thomson, ‘The Lying Stones of Marrakech’ by Stephen Jay Gould, ‘The Eyre Affair’ by Jasper Fforde, and ‘The Immaculate Deception’ by Iain Pears.

I don’t seem to have much to write at this time, so I think I’ll stop - I don’t even know why I turned on the computer.

4 August 2001

Adam’s 14th birthday. I was up at 6:30 to start preparing bread rolls, and then I went back to sleep, with Radio Five cackling away in the background. An hour later, I was up again to put the rolls in the oven, and then I did some window cleaning (having finally got my ladder back from B). At 8:30 I biked over to B’s for breakfast, after which A opened his few cards and presents (books, a harmonica, a subscription to ‘Private Eye’), and then I read out loud ‘The Fiddler on the Roof’, my birthday story for him this year. I had much fun writing ‘The Fiddler’, tying up the coincidence of our seeing together Chagall’s painting ‘The Fiddler’ in Amsterdam, and Adam being in ‘The Fiddler on the Roof’. The story is full of references only he and I understand - indeed, he stopped me half way through to complain I was besmirching his character - which I was, but only in the interests of a good joke! Now, we’re back at Russet House, and he’s playing his new harmonica, and I’m doing chores around the house.

Last night I took Genny out to dinner at the Mill - the atmosphere and the food have improved since the new owners took over. I was surprised when she told me in detail about how David had told her that one of his friends had been allowed to complete a test at home, and thereby had got better marks than David who had not brought the test home. Genny thought this was terribly unfair, and said ‘I had to go and see his science teacher any way and so I brought this up’. I don’t think either B or I have had occasion ever to seek out any of Adam’s teachers in three years.

Here’s an interesting thing - for my personal history. It rained all day on Thursday, and so I couldn’t get on with various outdoor jobs I’d planned. Instead I mooched around the house a bit - Adam was tired from late nights and his injections, and I wasn’t in a very constructive frame of mind. So, sometime in the afternoon, I looked at my rough schedule for the summer, and saw that I had planned Friday 3 August (i.e. the following day) as my big think day. But, I thought, I might start right now. I read through the folder of notes that I compiled last year, and found very little to add to it. The three basic problems, or areas that could be improved, still exist, the potential solutions are all the same, and there is nothing to add to the analysis for each. I looked again at the sheet on which I had noted the previous big changes in my life, and noticed that there was a steady progression in the gaps between each decision, something like 5 years, 6 years, 8 years, and now, if I give up EC Inform next year, that will be 10 years. It pleases me that, if I give up EC Inform at the end of 2002, that will be exactly 10 years, and I like the fact that there is a steady progression in the gaps between my big changes/risks. That was that. I suddenly realised there wasn’t any more thinking to be done about it. I walked through to the kitchen where Ads was reading the paper, and announced that was it, I had decided, I would give up EC Inform next year. A decision made.

If I’m true to my own form, I’ll carry through that decision. But as I won’t have to take any irreversible action until January or so, there’s still time for me to chicken out. I won’t really know what I’ll do, until I do it.

6 August 2001

So A, B and I trained up to London on Saturday afternoon. My idea had been to watch outdoor free theatre events, partake of the picnic prepared by B, and then take in a play at the Cottesloe theatre for which I’d managed to book tickets earlier in the week. Only, the outdoor theatre wasn’t on when I expected it to be, and it rained; so we strolled along the South Bank, with a pause in the Oxo Tower while the rain pelted down, as far as the Tate Modern. Surprisingly, but positively, it was open through into early evening, and thus available for us to use as a haven from the weather and a cultural experience also. B had never been before. Ads has been once, and I’ve been at least twice before. After discussing our reasons for liking/disliking the huge installation of apparently purposeless lifts and full-sized sculpted people lurking within the innards of the great building, we chose the gallery with pop art to look around. Ads thought it was all rubbish, and was not art. B was horrified at a collage of half-burnt and painted books in which she spied one semi-antique gardening book. I was bemused by a room decked out to look like it was being repainted and the workmen had left for the night. Adam thought it was rubbish until I pointed out (having read the notice - something which Adam couldn’t be bothered to do) that all the everyday items, such as a tea mug, a cardboard box, tools etc were not the original mass-produced items, but had been sculpted originally to look like mass-produced items.

After the Tate, we returned along the South Bank arguing about where to eat the picnic B had prepared seeing as it was still drizzling. Eventually, on B’s insistence, we opted to eat on the main thoroughfare sitting on a window ledge. It felt odd to eat there - perched and with people walking by. It felt even odder when Jason suddenly appeared in front of us, on his way to the Round House to meet Tammy. He’s living in California at the moment, working for the same production company as before, the one which makes the scrapheap challenge programmes.

The main event of the evening: ‘The Humble Boy’. A new play, by an unknown playwright, at the Cottesloe Theatre with Simon Russell Beale as the Humble boy (Humble being his surname), and Diana Rigg as his mother. I had bought the top priced tickets, only because that was all there was available and even these were only on sale because someone had returned them. In fact, they were front row seats, so that Adam could, on occasions, have touched the actors. This meant that, because of the set design, we were viewing the stage through long grass! This was a very competent play, with competent direction and first class acting. It was very funny in parts, and mildly interesting in other parts. But, I wasn’t sure why the Cottesloe Theatre was presenting it. There was nothing new or experimental or risky about this, and it could just as easily have been the kind of run-of-the-mill touring production that so often passes through Guildford or Woking. Yes, there were echoes of Stoppard and Hare, but these were so faint, and derivative in all their faintness, that we were not witnessing a striking new talent, as one felt when seeing Top Girls many years ago, for example, but a simple old-fashioned well-crafted play.

When I asked Adam which he liked better, ‘The Humble Boy’ or the Shared Experience productions of ‘Mill on the Floss’ and ‘Mother Courage’, he was very clear that he preferred the latter. Although I’m sure he knew that’s the answer I was looking for, he is very discerning too when it comes to culture.

7 August 2001

A day of volleyball on Sunday. This was the first time I’d played at the Guildford annual tournament, and only the second time I’d ever played in one of these outdoor tournaments. I did so because Ian sent out an email saying he was willing to organise teams. In fact there were 15 or 16 Guildford players who turned up and were organised into two mixed teams, which meant each team had several spare players. The first part of the day went well, we won all three of our matches and came top of our mini-league. But, by the early afternoon, the sun was truly beating down, and I was over-heating. Then we had a very long wait for the semi-finals by which time it was already early evening; and when we lost the toss we found ourselves playing against a low sun. Also, because of the sun, and because of the countless practice games I’d played, I was tired and lethargic and not as sharp and keen as a rolling-pin by the time we played our last match. We got beaten thoroughly, which left us bereft of second as well as first place. During the day, I helped out a bit in the kitchen (being managed somewhat haphazardly by Paul and Jake), and I scored during the men’s final, between the Old Farts (which included a couple of players from our Surrey League team), and another slightly better team. It’s amazing how I managed to get through the entire day without having a real conversation with anyone at all. But I’m sure being there, playing, and assisting will have helped people accept me a little more in the club - made me less of a strange oldie - and that’s good (after all these years).

John de Chastelaine, the Canadian former general charged with overseeing the decommissioning process in Northern Ireland, has said the IRA has proposed a method for putting their arms completely and verifiably beyond use. Further moves and announcements are expected shortly, but de Chastelaine’s statement is considered to be a major breakthrough. Although the IRA has always refused to operate to any timetable other than its own, David Trimble’s resignation earlier this year, and the threatened dismantlement of the Northern Ireland Assembly did bring the current phase of difficulties to a head. The IRA’s move follows swiftly on a plan jointly developed by the UK and Irish governments to implement in more detail several aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, many of them in apparent favour of the Republicans. Now, however, it is clear that that plan had been carefully negotiated to inspire the necessary confidence to persuade the IRA to take the next step much needed by Trimble and the Unionists to keep sufficient momentum behind the Good Friday Agreement. Trimble, of course, has responded very cautiously and reiterated that he needs to see a real timetable and actual decommissioning before he and his party can move on, and, in effect, save the Assembly from being mothballed.

This is still such an exotic dance taking place - it is fascinating to watch. Both sides are walking tightropes made of a white hot barbed wire: Trimble with Paisley ever threatening to take away his slim majority in favour of the Agreement and bring the whole process crumbling down, and the IRA with the Real IRA ever threatening to be a real (and not just a pretend) successor should IRA/Sinn Fein fail to convince that its route will lead to reunification.

The World Athletics Championships are taking place in Edmonton, but GB is not doing too well. Nor did England fare well in the Ashes series - they (I might have used ‘we’ if they had done better) are three nil down, and they’ve lost every match by a margin, as opposed to a small margin.

Adam is tidying up his book case. He tells me he has many more books than all his friends. He is also spending a lot of time with his new harmonica and his new harmonica books. I should get into Kip Fenn - I’ve got 9 or 10 clear days now before the Africa trip.

10 August 2001

Friday. After a day of storms, rain and cold air, the sun has returned today. I may get on with household chores. So far, I’ve managed to fritter away all my summer holiday spare time. Yes, of course, I am completing those jobs that need doing, my accounts, the paintwork maintenance, advance work on the September newsletter issues. But I thought I would have two clear weeks to tackle Kip Fenn - well that was my vague objective. Somehow Monday and Tuesday faded from me, I was overtired having not been able to sleep properly, either because of the sun/exercise excess on Sunday or because of the malaria pills. I did open up the file once or twice, but the task seemed so daunting, I would slip back to playing bridge on the computer, or watching a film on telly (‘Odd Man Out’ with James Mason by Carol Reed). By Wednesday it was becoming more difficult to avoid the task, and so I started by reading through a bit of what I had already written. By Thursday, I was finally writing a few new words. But they came so hard. Although I have a structure and some characters, I don’t have a clear idea of how the writing will be, how the style will work, how the book will gain any momentum. I mean will it work if I just start writing at the beginning and keep writing and writing and writing. What I’ve written so far appears to be nothing more than an introduction - so I may make it just that, which means this morning I should be trying to get going on the first chapter. But what can I possibly do in a week - and surely I can’t write this book in the work gaps over the next year and a half. Shouldn’t I be trying to write something simpler in the meantime, some short stories? I’m not committed to Kip Fenn yet, which is why I’m dilly dallying, and why I can’t decide to focus clearly and exclusively on it during these days.

What I’m missing is social contact - I’ve nothing planned for this weekend at all. I thought, maybe I would see David, who is back in London at his parents’ house. He rang me last w/e, but I’ve called him back twice now without result (once he was in the house but his father said he would call back later - but he hasn’t). I suppose I might see my mother, since she has presents for Adam’s birthday. But here it is, my life dripping away. I thanked Luke for the party, and got a quick email return. I haven’t seen Andy and Susie in a while - I hope things are OK with them. Perhaps I should go up to the South Bank tonight and take in some atmosphere of other, younger people having fun.

I should mention Mayco briefly. It was her 50th birthday on 3 August. She asked me to go to BA for her party, so I said of course I was coming, and of course I wasn’t coming. I sent her a card with T. S. Elliot by post, and an email on the day. I shall invite her to my 50th, if I have any friends left by then to constitute a party.

13 August

Despite myself, I keep thinking about our Africa trip, and the various arrangements and equipment. It shouldn’t take this much thought, but obviously I want to get my money’s worth, and the build up of excitement is part of that. I have to get over £1,000 worth of US dollars, I must make sure we have enough books - the thought of those long journeys without something to read scares me. I still haven’t decided which, if any, camera to take. I need to get my haircut, and I’m still short of at least one rucksack, if not a daysack also. I have not started packing, but I am thinking about it - which is very unlike me. But then this will be the longest bit of travelling I’ve done in 15 years, since I was in Brazil. And the fact that I’m taking Adam with me, means I have to double think everything. I’m worrying too about our health. Ads has a cough and a runny nose, which does not seem to be going away, and yet he’s been very well rested over the last couple of weeks. And I’ve got a weird rash or collection of blisters exactly where a watch face would be if I wore a watch on my right wrist. Sometimes, not very often, it itches, but most of the time I only notice it because I can see it. It looks like an infection is making its way around in a questionmark shape just underneath the skin. If it wasn’t for the little blistery pustules, I would have said it was the ringworm emerging in a new spot. I’ve been in two minds about whether to go to the doctor or not; I’ve also wondered if it’s something to do with one of the inoculations I’ve had - which otherwise don’t appear to have affected us at all.

I’m still engaged in repairing the outdoor window frames and sills. I must have missed some of them a year or two ago, which are now in bad repair. This means I have to fill, sand and prime as well as simply adding a new layer of paint. I should have done them properly last year. Hopefully, I will not have to replace any more windows. But what a botch I made of priming and painting the windows with leaded lights that I replaced a year or two ago - the paint all along the putty surface has crinkled badly. I’ve also finally got round to patching the ceiling of the porch. I had thought I would have to roller paint the whole thing, but I’ve just sanded it and washed it down, and painted over where necessary with white paint - who looks up any way?

16 August

A last minute shopping trip to Farnham filling up the time before tomorrow. A torch, sunglasses, passport photos, playing cards, books for Adam to read, etc. Replacing the garage door has also taken up a fair bit of time. Here’s the damage in terms of my time: one trip to Homebase looking for doors, three trips to Jewson (one to find out if they sold doors and to collect a catalogue, two to find out more about which door I should choose, and three, because I’d made the previous trip by motorbike, to actually buy it). The door comes as a block of made-up chipboard and wood. Another trip to Homebase to buy a new chisel and doorcatch (and to look for hinges, only to discover that the hinges of the right size have the holes in the wrong places - this was crucial, because I wanted to hang the door using the same hinge socket in the door frames). Considerable effort in removing the rusted and painted-over screws in the old door and frame. Sawing off half a centimetre from the bottom of the new door, and chiselling out the hinge sockets and door catch socket. Three coats of paint on the bottom edge of the door. Hanging the door (which worked well because I had used the old hinges and sockets, and carved sockets in the new door by copying the shape exactly from the old door). Much planing of the side edge so the door would close. Priming and glossing the hung door (which Adam is doing), and, eventually, screwing on of door socket and new door handles. Phew.

So my two weeks of Kip Fenn have gone up in smoke. I’ve failed miserably to do anything constructive this summer apart from house maintenance. I haven’t even done any trips with Adam, or played any sport, or even been down to the river (although his cold and my sore have stopped me heading for the pool or the river). It’s like the Kenya trip has put a blight on the summer - it’s such a big journey that it’s removed the real need, any real determination to achieve anything else this summer. And it’s not even as if I’m having to plan or do anything, unlike all other holidays, where I have to plan things to do every day.

But, I must say, it is very difficult to get going on Kip Fenn. I have made a start on Chapter 1, but only out of desperation to get something done. I don’t actually believe I can do this novel, I think it’ll turn out to be another ‘Rats’, an exciting idea, but beyond both my ability to write, and the detailed knowledge of many different kinds of facts I would need to make the story work. I started writing what I thought was Chapter 1, but it soon transpired that it was too general, too reflective, and so I’ve assumed it could be a kind of prologue. I then took a while to come up with a more specific scenario for Chapter 1, which I have started writing. But I don’t have much confidence in myself, and I’ve taken every opportunity not to write. Now my time is up, my spare time is over.

Guy Doyle rings me. I don’t recall what he looks like, but I remember meeting him at the FT. He joined forces with Gerard McCloskey in Petersfield a little before I left to start out on my own. Three years ago or so he bought half the UK power bit of Gerard’s operation and set up in Brighton under the name Power Ink. He tells me Gerard also sold half his coal industry information business for two or three million pounds! Guy wants to know if I’ll do a swap and maybe write EC stuff for his monthly newsletter. I won’t, but I’ll pretend to be thinking about it, and tell him when I get back. Talking to him for just five minutes and seeing the pdf files he sent me (he says his website gets three-quarter of a million hits every month - and his newsletter, which costs less than mine is twice as long and replete with figures and graphs and masses of information) convinces me I have to move on, I’ve failed to make anything of EC Inform, and now I need to find a way to enjoy my life a bit more, get back into some cultural and arty and social grooves perhaps, if that’s at all possible.

September 2001

Paul K Lyons


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