3 February 2001

Early Saturday evening - ‘Jazz Record Requests’ draws to a close - I have been working most of the day, in between three minute games of chess and scrabble, and an afternoon radio play. I have trawled through a lot of bitty stories, trying, as usual, to put them into some order. Although I feared the February issues might be rather light, there should be some reasonable content - not only have I filtered out the work programme for my readers, and filleted the Sixth Environmental Framework Programme, but I’ve got advanced copies of two legislative proposals, one on ports and one on energy/gas liberalisation. I’ll probably work tomorrow morning, and then I should be able to get through next week without a panic.

With one exception my email dialogues have ground to a halt. Clare emailed me on Sunday evening after our Friday meeting, and said she thought I looked rather far away (sad even). I took the opportunity to agree with her and explain that I felt I was intimidating her, and that I was older than I had said. It was a carefully-worded email, but indicated that we shouldn’t take the relationship any further. I thought she might write back at least acknowledging my frankness, or saying she had enjoyed meeting me or something, but nothing. I think if she had been mature enough or interesting enough or something enough to email me back, I probably wouldn’t have been in the position of calling a halt to the relationship so quickly.

The dialogue with Louise, by contrast, is going strong. I didn’t reply to her letter early in the week and I got a couple of near desperate messages - one with her photo - asking me to carry on writing. She’s so jumpy. I hadn’t planned to stop at all, but I had said we should slow down - but she always writes back almost immediately. It’s certainly the most interesting of the dialogues that have originated out of that free Loveandfriends website. Oh yes, I got a message from someone called Boogie during the week who suggested I look up the meaning of ZiZi, my pseudonym on the site, in a French dictionary. To my desperate blushes it means ‘willy’! I have asked the site webmaster to change the name for me.

Ads has been ill this week. He’s had a variety of flu symptoms - blocked nose, sore throat, headaches, bloodshot eyes - and he felt very unwell. His face too looked very unhealthy with little spots and rashes. Consequently, he was off school for three days. He’s much better today. I had supper with A and B on Thursday on returning from Brussels: B had made an effort with home-made soup, fish and chips and apple crumble. It was all very pleasant.

Tomorrow, I will have dinner with Manu, a friend from so long ago, I cannot even remember when I last saw him. He’s coming to London for a few days, but I don’t know why.

11 February 2001

June Tabor plays on the CD player. I was going to do yoga, but I have a slight hint of a headache, and exercises will make it worse. It’s time to spend a few minutes writing in the journal instead. I fear too much of my time has gone lately into servicing the email relationship with Louise.

Today, Ads and I went to Mum’s for lunch (cream of chicken soup, roast lamb, bread and, er, butter pudding?!). We talked mostly about Julian and Melanie. I also asked her to take on a little project - to record informally some biographical details on tape. I said she should decide on a heading or topic, mull it over for a week or two, and then spend half an hour chatting to her tape machine; and so on - I suggested she choose topics such as her school years, her father’s family, a typical day at home etc. She liked the idea. I thought how nice it would be to have her voice on tape when she’s no longer here, and that it would be useful for her grandchildren to have such a record of her when they’re older.

Ads and I went for a walk on Parliament Hill - my ankle held up well. We hadn’t been for ages. The Heath was a muddy mess. Ads had hiccups. I mentioned it several times, but on one occasion I gave a sudden loud scream to try and shock him out of them. Just as I was about to shout, I caught a thought in my head that he had read my mind and knew that I was going to do just that. In other words, I read his mind, reading my mind, and so I didn’t shout. When I told him what I was thinking, he confirmed that he had indeed expected me to give a sudden shout. When I thought about it, I recalled seeing a smile develop on the corner of his mouth, and this must have tipped me off to the fact that he had ‘read my mind’. It’s quite often, in fact, that Ads ‘reads my mind’ - or should I say the signals of my expressions, and tones of voice.

We have a new computer game called ‘Traitor’s Gate’, which is proving better than expected. We’re lost in the sewers of the Tower of London for the moment, and it’s taking us a long time to map them.

Manu’s visit was a sheer delight. I picked him up late afternoon from Godalming station - it was bucketing down - and brought him home for tea. He’d brought me fresh oranges from Ibiza, and some Palo, which I don’t remember ever trying. Later we went to the Woolpack to eat supper. He seems to be in some kind of personal crisis. He’s separated from Anna again (they married twice) who has a new boyfriend; and he had moved to Ibiza to take over running a sports shop and health centre, but that hadn’t worked out. For six years, he had been working for the Berlin Film Festival doing marketing I think, but he had given up the job to go to Ibiza. I talked a bit about my business, and how it had never taken off properly. We chatted like old friends who hadn’t seen each other for a year or two, not 15 years. His hair is greyer than mine, but he looks exactly the same as I remember him. Anna, he told me with some pride, has become quite a yoga guru, with a big centre, and several books to her name.

On Friday evening, Raoul came to visit with a young woman named Feyn, I think. I wasn’t expecting to know her, but in fact I’d met her at Raoul’s one evening last autumn. I invited Genny over as well, to make a foursome. I cooked a simple but tasty meal: bread sticks, carrot and pepper to dip into humus and a feta cheese dip (both bought), pancakes (one with ratatouille, the other with haddock/egg), new potatoes and a green salad, and home-made orange sorbet (from the oranges Manu carried from Ibiza) in a bowl with a variety of fresh orange fruits. The orange/yellow theme to the meal went completely unnoticed, but a pleasant evening. I spent much of it talking about Feyn and her difficult background, and difficult present. She works as a tree surgeon now, and finds that quite hard physically. She lives with a man 20 years older but they don’t talk about anything important, hardly ever have sex, and certainly no romance. Interestingly, her mother left when she was about five and went to New York, but she saw her every year, and she made her life there seem very exciting, so Feyn grew up in awe of her. Feyn left behind some grass and so I had a little smoke this morning - my first in many years. It was quite strong, I could feel my heart race. I then spent much of the morning sitting on the sofa thinking about things. In the afternoon, I went for a squelchy walk on the common in the pouring rain to clear out the haziness.

We now have Bush running the US, and Sharon running Israel - what chance of peace in the Middle East now?

Mandelson has cooked his goose. He’s been much in the news over the last week or so, expressing a determination to clear his name. The Labour leadership, rightly in my view, has told him to shut up, but the media now seems to be as keen to rehabilitate him (without recalling his own reputation for spin and political manipulation and that there was no support for him from other Labour MPs) as they were to crucify him in the first place. Why wasn’t he clever enough not to resign if he wasn’t wrong? But now he’s gone, he really should shut up. I thought days ago that he might make an interesting replacement in the Commission for Kinnock in four years time, but the fact that he, or his supporters, are already talking about such a possible appointment is simply absurd - and has already led to the need for denials.

17 February

Another of my free weeks over - and without any achievements of any rank. I spent a couple of hours thinking about a new novel which will extend throughout the 21st century, but I found the thinking very difficult. It’s a rather ambitious idea, and I knew I’d wouldn’t be able to get into it because work would take over in a couple of days. That was precisely the reason why I decided last summer, to take this year off and not engage myself in a project, and why I am still considering closing down my business so I can take up such projects full time. I spent an hour or so trying to think up a Valentine’s Day ‘Just So’ story, but I was mentally lazy and started writing it before I had a good enough concept, and within a few lines I’d dried up. I went out for a walk on the common in the rain once, which was very pleasant. Yesterday, I went to London. This is what I did.

I looked in on the Photographer’s Gallery. There were three exhibitions: some very large photographs of homeless people on the streets in Kiev. Some of them had been persuaded to remove some or all of their ragged clothes, to reveal ragged bodies. Actually, I found these photos neither shocking nor particularly revealing. I wonder if the beggars in Kiev are less reversely-ostentatious than those in London or New York.

Another exhibition of smaller photographs showed pre-pubescent girls dressed largely in adult styles. More disturbing to me, though, were the poses of the girls, like rag dolls without spines, head and shoulders leaning formless on a windowsill, bodies lounging off beds with feet still on the bed, and heads bent sideways on floors. Lethargic, sleeping bodies, hypnotised eyes - as though these girls were simply awaiting the manipulation of adults, or the adult world.

Another set of large photos showed nothing more or less than the surface of water, the river Thames, taken from directly above. On each photo, some 30 or so small numbers, like footnote indications, were superimposed, and below the photos, in footprint font, each number was accompanied by poetical, explanatory, or surreal text. Moderately interesting, I suppose, but more for a book of writing than a photographic exhibition, I would say.

Next I walked down to the National Gallery. There I sat, as I’ve done a number of times before, in the Sackler Room looking at the Turners and the Constables. I also strolled through the impressionist paintings, which no longer leave much of an impression on me. A fat American lady, with her two year old toddler on a lead, made more of an impression, as she wandered through the galleries talking in a loud voice to her daughter. ‘Heh honey do you remember who this one’s by, you’ve got the postcard at home in your collection, haven’t you . . .’ There was a small exhibition of paintings chosen by Quentin Blake - I bought a catalogue as a birthday present for Naomi - it has copies of all the pictures and then some cute Blake cartoons designed to provoke kids to examine the pictures more closely.

I walked slowly across the Embankment bridge, although with construction works, the views along the river were somewhat restricted. At the Royal Festival Hall I settled down to listen to a jazz band play Tubby Hayes numbers. I also took a closer look at the ‘Time Out’ I’d bought, and I carried on reading Banks’ ‘Excession’. It was very crowded in fact, and a lively atmosphere. About 6:30 I strolled round to the Cottesloe Theatre where I managed to get a ticket for a new production, still previewing, of ‘The Playboy of the Western World’. I walked along the river for a while, thinking I might eat a pizza in the pleasant restaurant where Ads and I once ate, but I couldn’t face dining alone in a place full of groups and couples. I went back to the National Film Theatre and ate a portion of sweetcorn and tuna pie.

My seat in the Cottesloe was one of those to the side with restricted view. There were five in a row and I was the only one there, until just before the start when a gorgeous red head, with a head full of curly wavy hair, and tight fitting clothes came and sat right next to me. Her boyfriend had been delayed on the train from Brighton, she explained quickly. She was very friendly, though, and sexy too. He didn’t arrive for a long time, and she kept looking round to the entrance and looking at her watch, and when he did finally arrive, she gave him such a welcoming kiss and a sexy warm touch, I felt quite quite unexpectedly devastated - not out of disappointment that he had finally arrived (if this were a film of course, he would have stood her up, and we would be on our way to the church aisle) but because her physical warmth towards him reminded me so harshly of how long it is since I’ve had a girlfriend.

The play was beautifully performed (although I would quibble about some overacting at the end) and produced.

24 February

A letter was waiting for me on my return from Brussels, from HarperCollins. A reader has read three chapters of ‘BLR’, and a Mr Sayers has now requested the full script so that he can ‘fully assess the project’s suitability for our current Publishing Programme’. Wow. In all my years of sending stuff to publishers, I have never had such a letter. But I must be realistic, since this will probably turn out to be a dead end, like the diary radio project. But, as I told my mother on the phone yesterday, both the radio business and now this letter do at least signal that my writing is at a publishable standard. Maybe I need to put ‘BLR’/’Love Uncovered’/’The Tyre Spinners’ to one side now, and make a new push to mature my writing one last time. But what an achievement that would be if HarperCollins did publish ‘BLR’ - it might give me that extra bit of confidence I need to close down EC Inform.

Louise is continuing to fill my thoughts, but it’s three times now, I think, that she has decided to stop writing to me - but the dialogue is degenerating fast, and there is too much bickering. I don’t think it will last much longer. I wanted us to talk much more about our sexual relationships, but she wouldn’t go down that road, despite her apparent experience, and I thought we might even try out some email sex, but I got nowhere near that. She can’t seem to live with the fact that I don’t want to meet. But now my appetite for such conversations is whetted, and I might try to engage a writer or two directly, perhaps through the Trace website writing community.

I wonder how long it will before some magazine somewhere allows Lonely Hearts ads with only an email number for contact rather than those expensive telephone line ads which have so taken over. It’s free to place your ad - great, but then you have to pay through the nose in telephone charges to check if anyone has responded. I think they are a real con, and to this day, I don’t think I’ve responded to one or placed one.

A foot and mouth panic engulfs the country - there’s a seven day embargo on the movement of all livestock, markets are being cancelled, hunts are forbidden, and ordinary people are being advised not to go into the country at all. Speculation rises about an early general election, possibly even in April. That would be fun - Blair should win hands down, despite the Dome, despite Peter Mandelson. Hague will not be leader of the Conservative Party by the summer.

Brussels this week was rather dull. I lunched with Fiona on Wednesday, and I went to see an interesting movie in the evening called ‘The Yards’. I interviewed nobody, and simply collected papers. I kept wondering why I was there. On the way out I carried on reading ‘Excession’ (Ian M Banks), which has some wonderfully imaginative science fiction concepts, but is far too wordy and bogged down in its own cleverness, and on the way back I mostly read ‘Archangel’ by Robert Harris. Nobody to talk to either way on Eurostar.

27 February 2001

On Eurostar to Brussels - about an hour late, scheduled to arrive in Brussels after midnight. I hope I don’t miss the last metro - but even if I get one from Gare du Midi, and one from Arts Loi, I’ll probably still have to walk from Merode with my heavy bag. The bag’s heavy with my portable computer, a jar of honey and another of peanut butter, and a tin of curry. It seems easier to carry the odd thing (I always bring a nob of butter, for example, to save buying a full pack; and tea in the flat is always sourced in the UK). Although I’m not so pressed with work this month, I’ve brought my Powerbook because when I write on the train, the time goes much quicker.

I’m not sure I’ve got too much too much to say for my journal though. A lot of my writing energy continues to go into the dialogue with Louis. It reached a kind of fever pitch at the weekend, with several letters both ways on both days. She’s a very wriggly customer, hopelessly out of touch with her real self, and living a succession of short term fantasies which never come to fruition. I thought she might be able to explore these with me, safely and anonymously through email, but she’s too hung up on the possibility of having a real relationship I think, without fully realising that if she can’t sustain a relationship by email there’s zero chance in real life. When I abstained from meeting her a week or so back, she remarked a couple of times on the fact that we could have had real sex. When I accused her of teasing me with such a prospect, she denied being a tease. But, I said, surely it’s much more intimate/personal/complicated to have real sex with someone, to arrive at a mutual point of desire and confidence, than it is to talk about it by email. She has met dozens and dozens of lonelyhearts I think, and she hasn’t got close to the bedroom with any of them. She’s not had sex for five years, what on earth makes her think we would have had sex if I’d agreed to meet her. She’s a fantasy woman.

The foot and mouth disease is spreading across the country - it’s not clear yet whether it will turn into a full blown crisis like that in 1967, or whether it will be contained in a short period of time. Personally, I think these kind of outbreaks are inevitable when a long-term strategy is pursued to try and keep a large population entirely free of it. Historically, before it was removed from the population by whatever means, the disease must have existed chronically. There would, therefore, have been a resistance to it in the population - maybe farmers have always killed diseased animals, but presumably in the past, they ate them too - but the ongoing presence of the disease, like flu for humans, means that animals maintain a general resistance to it. If you remove the disease for too long, then generations of cattle will become over-susceptible to it, allowing for a widespread and wildfire epidemic. It becomes important, therefore, to understand this and to look at the costs and benefits of no disease at all for long periods of time and the occasional devastating epidemic, and the (unthinkable) alternative of not trying to control it at all. Environmentalists are talking about this problem as the inevitable result of the intensive farming techniques that have become so predominant nowadays - which is along the right lines.

Adam has discovered the beauty of maths through some of the books in my library. It gives me such pleasure to see him taken an interest in the books that I have kept all these years: Asimov on number, De Bono’s five day course on thinking, and even Hofstader’s ‘Godel Escher Bach’ has intrigued him. He’s talking philosophy too, with such a clever understanding of the issues, and an ability to verbalise the moral and ethical problems he’s been reading about.

B comes over for an early pancake day on Monday evening. She’s excited by the fact that the RHS will be acquiring a new garden with a functioning library, somewhere near Harrogate, which she will of course be in charge of. It already has an honorary librarian and 30 volunteers so is all set up for her to put it in order.

For the first time in my life, I have a small patch of psoriasis on my left eyelid. It doesn’t itch, but the scales look ugly. I also have a small patch in the centre of my forehead, where Hindus have a red spot - mine is not so pretty.

March 2001

Paul K Lyons


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