1 December 2001

A wet Saturday. Most of the trees are now bare, but my oak tree, as usual, is retaining its covering to the last. The oak leaves here and everywhere were a brilliant yellow for a week or so, now they’ve gone chalk-muddy brown. As I look out of my lounge window across the garden, I see in the foreground the spiky green leaves of the mahonia pressing against the glass, the verdant green of the grass, but speckled with dead leaves, stretching into the background, the stripy green of the bamboo, and the dark royal green (I just made that up) of the holly in the shadows.

A very old tape of mine plays as I write - ‘Spartacus’. I think I must have borrowed the LP from the Swiss Cottage library in one of my recording phases. I do not even remember who composed it. But I am having another recording phase - putting things onto minidisk - and in doing so, I’m trying to rationalise my tape collection. Next to the quality of CDs and MDs, and the quality I can now get on my radio (thanks to the aerial), the quality of some tapes, especially my older ones, is poor, and now affects my listening pleasure. Indeed, I think ‘Spartacus’ is heading for the bin.

Have I not mentioned the aerial. I invested considerable time in trying to improve the FM reception on my new stereo system. The reception was significantly worse on the new system than on the old one, even though the new one was placed in the same position as the old. In fact, it was not possible to listen to Radio 3, such was the level of interference. I thought I would be able to resolve this easily with an indoor aerial, like those one buys for TVs. I scoured the Argos catalogue, and then rang up an outdoor aerial firm to get a quote. But the guy I rang wouldn’t give me one because there were so many different factors to take into account - especially the fact that radio aerials are much bigger than TV aerials. I didn’t know this. It is because the aerial has to be the length of the radio signal, which is long. I resolved to try a specialist shop in Godalming, which said they couldn’t help. I was told to try a place in Guildford. A week or so later, I found the little electronics shop at the far end of the High Street. It turned out to be a small treasure run by an absolute enthusiast. I only had to mention my problem, and he launched into a lecture on the subject. The signal in Elstead is poor, he explained, because the Guildford transmitter is not in the best place, and Surrey County Council won’t allow it to be moved a couple of hundred metres because it would then be on environmentally protected land. He admitted that a small indoor aerial would not help me much, and ended up selling me a massive outdoor aerial, and the cable and plugs to go with it. I thought I would be able to install it myself on the chimney (the stereo is very close to the external window next to the chimney column). But I realised I would need a strong brace, and that my ladder would not reach high enough. The alternative was to locate the aerial in the attic. (I had tried every conceivable location downstairs, but the aerial was too big, and to make a real difference to the reception quality, the aerial needed to be at the height of the attic at least.) But to do this, I would need to find a way of getting a cable from the lounge to the attic. This seemed too difficult for me to do.

So, to sum up, I had spent £30 on an aerial which I couldn’t use, and I still had this fancy new stereo on which I wouldn’t be able to play Radio 3, or record at an adequate quality.

Adam was around and providing helpful advice, and making suggestions. He decided I should sort it out by putting the aerial in the attic. I set about exploring how I could do this. At first, I continued to think I wouldn’t be able to, but, by trial and error (pulling up floorboards, and drilling small holes through the ceilings), I did finally manage to feed the cable through from the loft, down the wall of Adam’s bedroom and through the ceiling of the lounge to the stereo. The result is fabulous. Even on stereo, the quality of Radio 3, the most difficult station to get, is superb; and we can tune in to most London stations with good reception too.

But, how typical of me is this when it comes to practical things? I am so scared to fail or waste my time, that I won’t attempt anything unless I can see every step of the way, calculate everything that needs to be done.

Now I have Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ playing. But the quality of this tape is poor too. The rain has stopped rather suddenly, and the sky opened up to blue.

A volleyball match this afternoon at Spectrum. We are playing the same team we lost 3-0 to a few weeks back, only then we had a good team, today we have at least three poor players out of eight.

I have registered two new email addresses, both Kip Fenn, on Hotmail and Yahoo. I was very pleased to find that there is no one else registered under that name on either of those major sites. I have been contemplating whether Kip Fenn should start actively engaging with newsgroups and chat rooms. On the one hand, it’s a great pseudonym, but on the other hand, I don’t want to put the name about, and find someone else using it before I can get Kip Fenn published (ha! fat chance). It won’t even be finished for 18 months at the earliest. If I continue writing at my current pace, I could be half way through by the time EC Inform dies (euthanasia), and then I could probably complete it within six months. The ideas (more than the characters) in Kip Fenn are starting to embed in my brain, and I find myself thinking about it quite a lot. More often than not, it is something missing or an inconsistency that suddenly comes to mind. Yesterday, for example, I realised that William Caxton would probably not have called himself that until after he left the government. In Chapter 1, Kip meets Caxton briefly when, as a junior minister, he comes to the school to give a talk. But, I don’t think he would have been called Caxton yet, I think he would change his name later. And, for another example, Kip claims Jacques Delors is the most influential politician of the 20th century (I may change this later), but he wouldn’t think this unless he had just finished learning about the EU or written an essay on him, something which I have not yet written in. And so on.

George Harrison has died of cancer at 58 I think. And then there were two. His death, surprisingly, was the headline news on all the BBC news programmes.

5 December, Brussels

I was thinking about Kip Fenn - not much, I’m too fully into EC Inform mode to recall any KF details or to think about it too deeply - and I realised something very revealing. Kip Fenn plays volleyball, is keen on old photographs and the history of photography, and develops an early taste for pornography which influences his life. I chose volleyball and photography because I know something about them, but I am making Kip more into both of them then I have ever been or will be. And the same can be said for his voyeurism. I have not given Fenn the perversion of voyeurism because I know something about it, rather because it seemed the perversion most suited to the internet, and because it seemed the least offensive to write about it (I don’t want to alienate any potential readers). However, it is true that if I have any kind of sexual ‘perversion’ or taste might be a better word for it, then voyeurism would describe it well (I would prefer to watch a video of nude women on a beach than one of men and women having sex for example) - it is also extremely common. Nevertheless, therefore, I have done exactly the same with respect to Kip Fenn’s taste for voyeurism vis-a-vis me, as I have done with volleyball and photos - I’ve enhanced these tastes, these likings, extrapolating them into Kip. But, otherwise, I don’t think anyone could mistake Kip for me - he’s too tall!

I watched Romano Prodi introduce his ‘Future of the European Union’ paper this morning, and nearly fell asleep. He is a boring man. Some influential German and French newspapers have been suggesting recently he might have to go before his time is up (not because he’s boring, but because he’s simply not up to the job). The one big idea in the paper is for a Convention to be set up to prepare the next intergovernmental conference on treaty changes, presumably prior to enlargement. This will allow the European Parliament and Member States’ national parliaments to be involved in the process. The Laeken European Council next week is due to pronounce on this and a range of other important issues. I wonder who the next Commission President will be?

The Euro is only four weeks away. Amazing to think that twelve countries are ditching their currencies for the Euro. I was in the bank today and thinking how redundant the electronic exchange rate board will be - where there are 15-20 currencies on there, only four or five will be needed in future. And all those currency exchange shops and booths - will they go out of business? Mostly, yes, I should think - it’ll only be pounds, dollars, yens and euros from now on.

14 December

A post-production Friday - although I have more work than usual facing me before the January issues, because I have to prepare and finalise indexes for both newsletters

Although there is a bright sun and it is nearly 11am, the frost is hugging the earth. It is cold outside. I notice everyone going to and from the paper shop or post office is wearing a coat - not me, whatever the weather, I never put on a coat to bike to the paper shop. I usually go in my slippers too, although not today because I’ve already slipped on outdoor shoes knowing that I’m going into Godalming shortly.

On Tuesday, I completed the 99th edition of EC Inform-Energy, the next issue will be a landmark 100th issue, and mark nine years of running my own business; three years of working alone, three with Theo, and three again alone. It must be time to call it a day. It must be time to call it a day. But I have doubts all the time.

I am reading a book, widely publicised a few months ago, called ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist’ by Bjorn Lomborg (it has one recommendation on the front cover - by bloody Matt Ridley - I’m so envious of his success - he’s gone up and up and up since being science editor on ‘The Economist’ when I was in Brazil, become SOMEBODY; and I’ve gone down and down and down into NOBODY land). Lomborg is a statistician by training, an associate professor of statistics in Aarhus, Denmark. His book is a diatribe against environmental organisations - from Greenpeace to WWF, but particularly the Worldwatch Institute in Washington - which manipulate figures, he says, to make the state of the world seem far worse than it really is. He documents, in exquisite detail (using nearly 3,000 references), hundreds and hundreds of cases where published figures, used by environmental organisations, are either factually wrong, or used in a such a way as to distort the truth.


Paul K Lyons


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