PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2001 - JANUARY
2 January 2001
A new year has dawned unceremoniously with the cold icy weather turning but to wet and more wet. For the first time ever, I saw the access path to the Common, the one that runs from the end of Red House Lane, so full of water it was actually flowing like a stream. For our New Year’s Day walk, Ads and I stuck to the main track that cuts through the western end of the Common and ends at the Milford Road. The nearer we got to Milford Road, the more people we saw, since cars park at that end, and the track is metalled from there. The pond, the one by the part of the track we call the Avenue, was still mostly iced over, although the air was already warm - I wasn’t even wearing a coat. Most of the way we discussed, although bickered might be a better word (Ads and I often bicker, I suppose, like an old married couple), his new year resolutions. I suggested he make three resolutions. The first concerned his harmonica. He said he wanted to step up his practicing to 20 minutes a day. I suggested he start to differentiate between practising and playing for pleasure. I said he should stick to 10 minutes hard, thoughtful practice, and allow himself the luxury of playing for fun after that if he wanted to. I also proposed he should spend a little more time trying to play music by ear by listening to it on CD or tape - and learn to play longer pieces of music, rather than 30 second snippets of well-known tunes.
An aside about Ads and his harmonica. The night before, i.e. New Year’s Eve, we were sitting in the lounge trying to decide what to do, and I said I would do whatever he wanted. He offered up several ideas, but I played hard to get, and difficult to please; and, in any case, his ideas were only things we often did, and ones which he knew were acceptable to me. I pressed him to come up with something he really wanted to do. His eyes lit up, and he said ‘harmonica’. I said I’d like that, but he said, no you have to play too. You try a tune first, and then I’ll try. I stressed that I can’t play a single note, but he insisted. He raced upstairs and brought his harmonica down. Sitting cross-legged next to me on the sofa, he cleaned it on his sleeve and then requested me to play some tune. I blew a few random notes, and he laughed. He was truly enjoying himself. No, no, no, he said, let me show you. And so he did. Then, we moved on to another tune, and he insisted I try and play that too, and when, of course, I couldn’t, he cleaned the harp on his sleeve and showed me. Then he gave up asking me to try and play, and simply ran through his repertoire. At last, he is really starting to get pleasure from playing, to take pride his skill; playing the harmonica is becoming part of who he is, and this gives me enormous satisfaction, because it is a small part of him which is so evidently nothing to do with B or me, or our interests or pasts.
By the by, in an aside to the aside, I should also note that Ads is starting - but he’s not yet there - to take control of his diary writing also. I do still insist on him taking time to write it, and remind him rather often, but he is beginning to do it in his own way. I was always unsure whether I was pushing him too hard on his diary, and whether I might turn him off it, like I did with chess. But I feel that I’m nearly there. Even if he were to give it up during adolescence, I think he has enough of the diary-writer in him now to be able to return to it profitably and pleasurably when he’s older.
Resolution number two was more problematic - and I don’t think we came to any serious conclusion on that - not that we came to any agreement on his harmonica resolution either, well it wasn’t for me to insist on anything any way, I was just offering advice. Oh yes, I remember now, he turned it round a bit. On the assumption that one always breaks such resolutions, he suggested he should resolve not to save any money, and not to do any homework, or something like that.
As our walk was progressing, I started to wonder whether he would be happy talking about himself throughout our walk, but was pleased, after a moment or two of silence, to hear him ask me what my resolutions were going to be. However, I cannot be certain if this came from a maturing conversational skill, or from his near mystical ability to read, or pick up on my thoughts. He’s done it several times of late, but whenever I point it out he simply (I say simply to describe tone not content) remarks that this comes about because he’s my son, I’ve brought him up, we think in similar ways, and similar sights or remarks spark similar thoughts. in fact, this is to the word, exactly my own explanation for telepathy and similar kind of remarkable coincidences.
I hummed and hahed a bit, saying I was too old for resolutions, but, when he pushed me, I said I suppose I should resolve to find myself a girlfriend. He said that’s what he was going to suggest. Easier said than done. Why should 2001 be different from 2000, 1999, 1998 etc.
By the time we were walking along the Avenue, we had moved on to another topic. I had asked him how many cars he thought would be in the car park at the end of the track. We decided to bet on it - for who would do the washing up that evening. We bickered, as always, over the conditions and details of the bet right up until we could virtually see the answer. I won. Thereafter Ads was excitably anxious to double or quits. He didn’t seem to understand that he would need to find a bet that I would want to undertake (because I felt I had a good chance of winning) and that he would still have a fair chance of winning. We ended up betting on how many cars there would be in the car park by the recycling bins. Unfortunately for him, a car pulled out a few seconds before we reached the entrance, and there was only one car left in the car park - my guess. Then, Ads wanted to quadruple or quits, but I told him I was well satisfied with the current status of our bets.
Somewhere round the back of Ham Lane we went wrong, and found ourselves cutting through brambles and back out on the main road. This meant a slightly longer walk back, plus it had started to rain, plus I had a cluster headache coming on.
I’ve had another period of cluster headaches. A quick search in my diary reveals that the last time I had such an infliction appears to have been about 18 months ago. This time round they started rather quietly, just before Christmas I think, and there’s been a kind of progression from daily and regular light headaches to severe headaches. At their worst, they were seriously affecting my ability to do anything at all, they were making me very irritable. Also they were causing catarrh which was blocking my right sinus. I thought at first the cold symptom might be causing the headache, but then I realised it was the other way round: one day I had a bad headache plus the blocked sinus and runny nose; the next day I only had a mild headache and no blocked sinus or runny nose; and then the next day I had a bad one again with the blocked sinus and runny nose. All the headaches, as usual, were pinpoint aches behind the right eye. They’re now gone - I think, I hope.
9 January 2001
I managed to finish EC Inform-Energy 89 a few hours early, and thus was able to take Ads swimming. I ought to get on with transport stuff now so as to keep ahead of myself, but instead I’m choosing to write a journal entry.
My trip to Brussels last week was a pleasure, since I managed to get to see both transport and energy officials at the Swedish representation without any difficulty; plus I saw a couple of DG Tren unit heads, admittedly old contacts, but now they’ve all moved offices it’s more difficult to pop in on them. Cleutinx (who now covers oil and coal) in particular was expansive and enthusiastic about the Energy Partnership with Russia. This is a story that I downplayed last autumn, its provenance was suspicious (Prodi’s cabinet?), and it didn’t seem to make sense, next to both the EU-Russia PCA and the Energy Charter. But Cleutinx, in his own inimitable style, managed to persuade me of its advantages - it helped that he gave me a confidential document summarising the Director General’s presentation to Coreper. So, on the one hand the problem with the Charter is that it involves too many parties, too many countries and that the EU will not profit from any particular advantages over other trading nations (such as the US, Canada, Japan etc). I remember this was always Jacques Delors’ point of view about the Charter, and that he lost interest in it as soon as the decision was made to open it up beyond Europe. Interestingly, it dawns on me now that the French always seem far less interested in the overall international well-being, preferring to keep things close and tidy in a European club, while the UK is always more aware of the longer term advantages of a larger bigger club in which more parties gain advantages. Obviously, this stems from the UK’s closer relationship with the US, while France’s position has always been to deny, and remains focused on denying, the UK the double advantage of being linked into the US and the EU; and, on the other, the PCA is not working very well; it is slow and bureaucratic. Cleutinx was also keen to point out how important it was for the EU to seize any opportunities opened up by the Russians to exploit the geopolitical links within Europe which should give the EU a natural advantage over the Americans for example. Although Putin appears to be gung ho behind the initiative, Cleutinx and his boss Lamoureux are finding it heavy weather because of some opposition within the Commission itself, and some from the Member States who want to make sure they are suitably positioned for any material advantages that may eventually accrue. Be kind to us, Cleutinx kept saying to me.
We also talked briefly about Lamoureux, who has been billed as a Pol Pot in the press. The DG Tren boss is not liked by many people I talk to (and is reputed to favour strongly French nationals and non-women), but Cleutinx gets on with him OK. Cleutinx rationalised his positive opinion of the man, by saying, in effect, that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and that he likes people with initiative, and ideas.
We had two other conversations. One was about the German coal aid approval. This is such a scandal, and I couldn’t help ribbing Cleutinx over it. He managed, mostly, to defend the Commission’s position, but with a twinkle in his eye and a nod to my points. Basically, the Commission has been trying for years and years and years to insist that Germany cut back subsidies to its coal industry - coal production is uneconomic, the Treaties prohibit subsidies, and the special arrangements for coal aid require a progressive reduction in such aid. They also require that any aid for uneconomic pits should be notified as part of a plan to close that pit. However, Germany has always notified the majority of its aid as if it were operating aid for viable pits - because anything else would imply the closure of pits and which would lead to unemployment . . .
I must just stop for a moment - every now and then my brain makes an extraordinary leap, becoming suddenly conscious of a memory which has absolutely no connection with anything in that moment. Usually, I’m busy doing something - I casually note the memory and wonder if it was caused by a particular image in my vision, or a sound, or even a smell, but the memory disappears as quickly as it came, and I take no time out of my current activity to think about it any further. But, just now, the same thing happened as I was writing those words . . . ‘would lead to unemployment’. I don’t recall this happening very often or at all while I’m writing my diary, but, as it has, I have the interest to write about.
So, the memory. Well, it was rather faint and distant at first, but because I stopped and focused, I found it. It was Bruges, I think, when Adam and I stopped to visit on our way back from Brussels some years ago. I remembered that he had been naughty, and I had left him alone in the car for half an hour or so.
Two possibilities come to mind (ha ha ha) as to why this happens. One, a simple coincidence, i.e. that a key to the memory, stored somehow somewhere specific, is switched open as a random side-effect of the normal linkage of neurones being lit up, so to speak, by the thought trail. It could be a bit like a game of golf, where the ball basically follows a trail through the course, but occasionally hits a spectator in the bushes. My thought of Bruges then could have been a neuron transmitter hitting the spectator in the bushes, instead of zipping on down the fairway. That explanation relies rather strongly on a geographical placement for a trigger or key for the memory; and one might ask why it doesn’t happen much more often. A second possibility - and as I write I find myself becoming more convinced of this one - is that there is a linkage between the momentary action and the apparently unconnected memory, but the links between them have been bypassed. In this case, there is an interesting connection between the word ‘unemployment’ in the context of the coal industry and Belgium. Although I am writing about German coal aid (and have written about it extensively over the years), and although it’s many years since I’ve written about the Belgium coal mining industry, and although one might imagine the strongest link between unemployment and the a coal industry would be that in the UK (because of all the strikes and social turmoil it caused for the best part of a year), I have seen a photographic exhibition of the remnants of the Belgian coal mining industry (I may even have seen a short film about it) at the photographic museum in Charleroi. And Bruges might be considered an archetypal icon for Belgium. Well, it’s a theory - now back to the main narrative.
. . . and would be very unpopular politically. Last year, the Commission insisted that Germany notify less of its aid as operating aid, and more for restructuring. Legally, however, for aid to be approved for restructuring, a closure plan needs to be notified first and approved by the Commission. Well, the Commission finally approved German coal aid for 2000, on the basis that some DM1.2bn of aid was switched from operating aid to restructuring aid. However, there was no identification of which pits this would involve, and there was no restructuring plan, and the Commission approved aid for 2001 without any further reductions. It made all these compromises (which I think will be challenged in the Court of Justice) because Germany carries such a lot of clout and wouldn’t budge without them. To help himself defend the Commission, Cleutinx called in one of his officials; but, as I challenged them again and again, they both appeared equally resigned to the lack of rigour in the Decision. Indeed Cleutinx kept returning to the point that, at the end of the day (one of his favourite phrases), the German people are paying for this uneconomic behaviour, they are the ones who are suffering. But I know that, for many years, for most of the nineties in fact, Cleutinx has fought tooth and nail with the Germans over the issue - and this was now the end of the story.
At the end of our talk, Cleutinx brought over a report he was reading, or helping to compile (he wouldn’t explain to me his involvement in the project) about the problem of nuclear submarines in Murmansk. He told me that whenever Russia was obliged to dismantle more subs under the Start Treaty with the US, they would take one or more of these subs, and literally cut them in half, take out the nuclear bit, and then weld them back together again and leave them floating in the port to rot.
I remember the remnants of two dreams I’ve had in recent days. In one of them, I found Adam smoking. He wasn’t hiding it from me, rather he was enjoying his cockiness. I asked why he was smoking, especially after everything he’d always said about never wanting to smoke. He wouldn’t answer me, instead he just gave me an inane wide smile, a cheeky grin. It’s one I know well, he uses it sometimes when I’ve cornered him in an argument, but refuses to acknowledge his position, preferring to cheek it out. In the other dream, I am expecting to play volleyball, but when I go through to the gym area, I find lots of people sitting around waiting because the gym is busy. A girl is missing, and I’m told she has died, committed suicide. (I have a very clear picture her, she is the woman who used to write the Company News section on European Chemical News, my first journalist job - I can’t for the life of me remember her name, nor can I find it in my diary. I think she ended up having an affair with the guy who did the news pages, whose name I can’t remember either.)
I thought the cluster headaches had come and gone, but I had a kind of reprise. There was one day when they seemed to come and go all day long. Yesterday, one threatened but never came, and today there’s been no sign of any. I’m back into the volleyball and swimming routine, and it may be that the headaches were triggered by my stopping the exercise routine a week or so before Christmas.
My email dialogues - originating from the LoveandFriends lonely hearts website (which remains free for the time being) - continue to intrigue me. Linda Banner has sent me a personal diary entry about a meeting with an old friend, and is now treating me like an old friend in her emails. I hope she doesn’t want to take it any further. I’ve rejected an invitation from Sophie in Oxford who is far too involved with horses for my liking, and I’m having a very slow conversation with a mother of three in Cornwall, who only has a computer at work, and only goes to work now and then. Then there is LCO246, aka Louise, a lecturer in London, who has the most unattractive personality I’ve encountered by email so far. I think I view her as something of a challenge. I’ve been almost rude back to her, but she hasn’t taken offence yet. She particularly said she wanted to write and to have a virtual, not a real relationship, so I offered to engage with her, and suggested we create a format: old friends, antagonistic, or sexual. She wasn’t up to it, said she preferred not to, but I could choose. So I actually composed three beginnings, and was about to email her back, when she sent me another curt impatient email, which led me to be curt and unhelpful in response. Most promising is Clare, who works in Guildford twice a week. I’ve offered to meet her for lunch or after work - which might happen soon. She doesn’t seem to have many interests other than drinking with friends, but she’s only the person that I’ve chosen to get in contact with who has responded back. I’ll see.
My first free week of 2001. On my mind, various things. Mostly, my email correspondents, well Clare in particular who I’ve now met, and like, and am attracted to do. We have a tentative agreement to meet again Friday week, and I have raised the stakes by suggesting (in an email) that I will, then, ask her to stay over. She’s quite young, 32 I think, quite attractive, but not beautiful; intelligent enough, but not very cultured I would guess - more given to clubbing than the theatre. She seems to have a busy social life, but is getting a bit bored by it, and is looking for something else in her life. I’m not sure what it is, if it’s some sparkle, then I could fit the bill, but if it’s a need to find a real and proper partner, and she clearly indicates that to me, then I won’t. She comes to Guildford twice a week, and will do so until September I think, so there’s potential on the logistics side. I felt, after our evening at the pub on Friday, that she was attracted to me - in particular I remember, when the conversation went still, her gorgeous wide open eyes seeking out my more complicated and reticent eyes and not swivelling away too quickly; and I remember, outside the station, the touch of her conventional parting kiss on my cheek. I think I knew she would take, or at the very least pretend to take, some offence at my words - ‘Next time we meet I may not be able to resist (as I did naturally last night) from asking you to postpone your train journey home’ - but I wasn’t sure how much. I think her reply was an acceptable balance: ‘I doubt I’ll think it wise’, she said, but then asked if this would diminish my interest in meeting her again. Also her email was titled ‘You don’t waste time do you!’ Little does she know how much time I have wasted.
But, it isn’t a good sign that she has taken my words not as a compliment, as an acknowledgement of how attractive I find her, but - I’m stumbling here over how to say this, which may mean I’m being a little self-deceptive - as a standard ploy in the standard kind of situation where man wants sex and a woman gives sex. This is such an English attitude (I wanted to say this to her, but I thought it would make me sound too experienced), to my mind sex is an activity of equals, and not something to be gained by one person from the other. I have spent some time composing a reply, in which I feign being a little upset at her suggestion that my interest in her might be diminished by her email.
I take heart, though, from the tone of her email which is warm and slightly encouraging. I do have a problem, though, about when and how I should reveal my true age. I’m being rather hypocritical about this with myself. If I were to be proper, I should tell her now, before she makes any kind of commitment towards intimacy with me. But, but there is a certain desperation in me - not desperation for sex, but a desperation to engage once again, after so much abstinence, in a relationship with someone new, someone I like, someone I can kiss and touch and hold hands with and, yes, go to bed with; and, therefore, I need to be a little more selfish, a little bit less sensitive than I have a tendency for, so as not to blow my chances for such a relationship. But, dear dear diary, I do project to a situation, in which, possibly she has decided - trusting me hugely - to come home with me. To tell her my true age directly after having slept with her, would be horrible, for her and for me. But, if I were to leave it any longer, then I would find myself needing to lie about dates, and periods in my life and stuff.
Because I don’t have much else to engage my few neurones at the moment, I have found myself going over and over these things in my head - far far too much for comfort, or for sleep.
And then there’s Louise, who is proving to be less than stable, quite vulnerable I would guess. She’s very quick with her emails, and her judgements; she’s intelligent but in scrawny, not sensible, ways (that phrase just emerged, and it will have to do). But, so far - after the rather rude beginning - we’ve had a little chat about Argentina, where she stayed once upon a time. It’s strange, but I’ve found myself only telling self-effacing stories about myself. Despite peppering our emails with literary/filmic references, we’ve yet to find any mutual interest at all.
I played in my first volleyball match for the Polekats this season. It was a real pleasure - I liked the people on the team (for some reason they’re mostly setters) and they were all good players (no Monica!). By coincidence, it was the same team - Egham - that I’ve now played three times - twice last season when we lost both times. This time we won, three-nil; and we won both friendlies with me (and Steve) setting.
I had told Adam that I would probably be home about 7:30-8:00, and that, if I could, I would call about half an hour before returning and then he could put the chicken in the oven. I also asked him to peel the potatoes and prepare a salad. In fact, we didn’t finish playing until after 7:30, and when I rang Adam, to tell him I wouldn’t be home for an hour, he told me he’d already put the chicken in the oven! I think he was trying to use his initiative, and had wanted to take responsibility so as to have supper ready in time for the start of ‘Casualty’, which is our usual schedule. I had to tell him to turn the oven off and wait until I got home. However, on the way home - I was carrying Steve and Dag as well - I thought I would ask them over to eat with us. From Steve’s house, I rang Adam again and asked him to turn the oven back on, to cook the potatoes and to boost up the salad. He managed that all perfectly. I got back to my house about 10 minutes before the others, which was sufficient time to complete the arrangements, including putting some felafel, which Steve had given me, in the oven for him. The whole evening went smoothly; Ads went to bed at about 10:30 and the three of us stayed up till midnight talking mostly about women, I suppose.
I’m nearing the end of Le Carre’s latest novel, ‘The Constant Gardener’. Like all his others, it’s extremely well written, and an excellent read as well. He has such a sure touch with language; but, I suppose, I would have to judge him as a brilliant craftsman, rather than a literary artist.
I was disappointed by a two-parter on the TV called ‘The Innocent’ - it was better reviewed than it should have been. The plot revolved around three barristers. One, a man, is accused of raping his wife’s best friend, and also someone he has known, and flirted with, for a long time. The drama keeps us guessing until quite near the end, as to what actually happened on the night in question. But the answer we were given - the man was guilty - was simply not the plausible answer, it would not have happened in real life. What would have happened in real life, with those particular characters, is that the woman might have cried rape if there were a little more reason for it than was given. But, we were given no psychological underpinning at all, as to why the man, suddenly, after all these years, would rape one of his friends.
I was similarly disappointed by a police thriller, called ‘Birdman’, I finished recently. It’s by someone called Mo Hayder, who I’ve never heard of. It was well reviewed on the back cover. The police stuff was competent, I thought, if a little unoriginal, but it was the psychology given to the criminals - extremely gory and sexual - that I found so totally unconvincing. It doesn’t matter in a who-dunnit, because, usually, the reader is not provided with an insight into the mind of the killer; but in a novel which introduces us to the baddy early on, and takes us into his/her world, then surely the reader is entitled to some reasonably accurate psychological rationale for the behaviours exhibited.
By contrast, I much enjoyed a drama called ‘Judge Deed’, written by G. F. Newman, with Martin Shaw as a kind of crusading judge, exploiting his independent powers. I read that this might be made into a series. I hope so. According to an interview with Newman, who is certainly one of our more original and reliable TV writers, he chose to provide us with a true goody for a change - he’s better known for mavericks outside the system than in it - not because he was wanting to portray true life in this case, but because he wanted to hope about how true life could be. In other words, he’s making an attempt to encourage judges to be a little more human, a little more original in their judgements - to think a little more.
18 January 2001
There was a fox strolling around in the garden this morning - it’s quite a while since I’ve seen one. Yesterday, the House of Commons voted by an overwhelming majority to ban fox hunting; although there is going to be a tough parliamentary battle in the Lords. Most commentators think the bill will not get through before Blair calls a general election in May.
It is Thursday, and this is my free week for January. I have no plan, and so find myself frittering away the time. I have no projects pending at all. My life is simply on hold. Last summer I decided to allow myself a year without any projects for the quiet weeks in my work cycle. The idea was to spend more time on holidays, on meeting people, on perhaps/maybe finding a girlfriend or partner. I made a commitment to myself that I would do at least one thing in each four week cycle which got me out and about at least with the opportunity of meeting new people. There was the poetry class one Saturday, which was my one thing for October (it hardly took up a week); there was the Egypt trip in November which was fine. For December, I accepted that preparations for Christmas would take up the spare week; and I don’t remember what I did in September. Between that September and August 2001, there are only 12 of these spare bits of time, and a fifth of them are almost over.
I have come to the computer to write, not because I have anything in particular to write, but because I am faced with the self-accusation that I am allowing my free time to slip away. This is absurd. On the one hand I give myself free time, and on the other I can’t ever relax into it, because I’m determined that I should be forcing something more positively social on myself. I am here at the computer in the hope that by writing about this I might be able to sort something out. Should I, for example, start thinking about a new writing project - I sort of think to myself that that is what I want to do. But then I think, no, that’s not what I’ve decided - yet I can’t think what I should be doing: I have two full clear days (no work, no Adam, nothing) - well only one and a half now, as I’ve successfully frittered away half of Thursday - and I can’t think of how to use them. Already, this week, I’ve done a lot of reading, and paper work stuff - but that’s easy to justify while Adam is here, toing and froing from school. And, to be fair, I’ve done shopping, and printed out my journal for 2000.
The other thing I’ve done this week - which does sort of fit into my plans - is to spend several hours composing email replies. I’m wondering if I should do more; but, with the possibility of a relationship with Clare pending - however blase, calculated, rational I may sound about this, I have found myself unduly nervous while waiting for her messages - it doesn’t seem right to be pursuing any other avenues, so to speak. On the other hand, I do know if I’m honest - especially from our recent emails - that Clare and I are living in such different worlds. I don’t think I’ll want to spend time in her world, and I’m far from sure - but there is a possibility - that she would want a kind of one way affair, in which she comes to visit me regularly around her trips to Guildford. The fact that I’m thinking about these things, and going over them in my head endlessly, demonstrates all too clearly how little else of substance I have to do right now.
As I’m here, frittering away time, I might as well record an interesting conversation with Adam yesterday. Actually, we have interesting conversations all the time. Yesterday, for example (this is an aside) he was writing his diary when he came tilting down the stairs with a cry - Dad, Dad! I just been reading about the worst moment of my life! He said with a strange combination of glee and remembered terror. He proceeded to remind me of the day he got lost on the ski field in France last year. He was keen to relive it and tell me all the detail. Why had he suddenly remembered it? Because he saw the relevant entry in his diary.
Apropos of exactly what I can’t remember - I think he was asking me about why I write a diary, and then hit on this question as a kind of way of helping me answer it: ‘If you had a few hours spare, Dad, assuming you knew you were going to die in a few hours time, and you had a spare hour before you died, would you spend it writing in your journal?’ After some explanation, I said yes, I probably would.
I told him, as I’m sure I have before, that my journal writing has become a complex part of who I am, and that I can identify several different reasons for it. One important reason (and this is why I have encouraged you, son, to do the same), I said, is that it helps me to sort out things about life in my head. In order to write things down, it’s necessary to arrive at some clarity of thought, and this can be an extremely useful process. It can often force a kind of objectivity. It helps one argue a case through, and perhaps see the flaws; it helps concretise what one might like or not like about a film, a person, an event, a plan, a wallpaper . . .
Secondly, I said, I love to read my diaries, probably more than anything else - and this pleasure has certainly fed through into one reason why I keep writing. In particular, a journal entry written al vivo (where did that expression come from? I seem to have just made it up out of vivo for lively and the tonal sense of al dente - to write one’s diary al vivo, in other words to write with the taste of the experience of what one is writing about still fresh in the mind, still full of flavour, colour, sound and feeling) is one that can serve particularly well to bring back a memory that might not otherwise be recoverable.
Thirdly, my journal provides a record of my life, which, I think, is actually valuable. It is certainly valuable to me - it serves as my memory - and it may be valuable to you one day, or to your children, but more than that, I think my diaries, with the right editor and publisher, could be publishable. And, for this reason, I probably would want to write something on my death bed. I even suggested - as a kind of distant hypothesis - that he might find, later in his life, that he is a writer, has contacts with publishers and agents, and that he might find some means to use/publish part of my diaries. But, I insisted, it would always need a lot of work to wade through so much material.
I told Adam I’d booked for the Africa trip - he must have dived at me with his arms outstretched half a dozen times since then and given me a huge hug while saying ‘you’re a lovely dad’. These days, these months, these couple of years - maybe one or two to come, and one or two just gone - with Adam I feel I’m being treated to a bonus reward for being a hands-on father. I’ve always said, I’ve always felt that my fatherhood has been a responsibility which is a reward in itself, without ever expecting or wanting anything in return in the future. I have enjoyed and loved him from day one, and that has been my fullest reward. But these days - with Adam so intelligent, so funny, so warm, so loving - are a bonus I never really expected. I imagine we could be such good friends for the rest of my life (although I hold out no expectations or illusions) but he will never again (after the next year or two) spend anywhere near as much time with me (or B), he will have his life, his friends, his lovers - I will be background, not foreground.
It’s been a very cold week. Although I did make one trip out on my motorbike - it was very sunny that day, and I needed to make a quick trip into Guildford without parking hassles - I’ve spent most days cooped up in the house with the central heating and the office gas fire on. I haven’t done much else this week, but I have caught up with some reading. I finally concluded Stephen Pinker’s ‘How the Mind Works’. I’ve just done a word search of my journal and found that I bought this in January 1998 - that’s three years ago. I thought that it was about one year ago, and found it strange that I couldn’t find any reference to it in 2000; but when there was no reference to it in 1999 either, I was rather worried. I don’t usually buy such a book and fail to mention it completely. But, sure enough, it was three years ago I bought it. It’s been sitting, half read, on my reading table in the lounge for most of those three years. This is a staggering realisation.
The final two chapters in the book are about human relations and about art/philosophy/religion. He has used a tempered reductionist approach throughout the book, and - admirably - has resisted the worst temptations of the Dawkins camp. I enjoy the book when he is summarising existing knowledge and comparing theories - he is a great communicator - but his attempts to place over the top of human behaviour, an evolutionary perspective is too often one-sided, based on subjective opinion without an opposite explanation. And he deliberately confuscates by talking about primates in one sentence and humans in the next, without fully and constantly recognising how much of human behaviour is cultural. He cites endless statistics and studies by scientists in support of how relevant evolutionary theory is to human behaviour but he is too insistent, for my mind. One example comes immediately to mind: Pinker often quotes a statistic based on a study of a large number of societies in the world, but gives the societies within that sample no weight. And he makes too little of the differences that might exist between the majority of those societies (which presumably are small native groups) and the huge mass of, say, Western society - which will most certainly make up 99% of the readers of the book; and too little of cultural trends which most certainly divert individual behaviour from an evolutionary aspect.
In the last chapter, he tries to have it both ways. He states that art, music and religion prove rather difficult to pin down from a Darwinian perspective, and he says he accepts that there are, indeed, traits in society which are not adaptations. Nevertheless, he still spends much of the chapter trying to deconstruct them.
Most of all, in these last two chapters, I’ve enjoyed his discussion about sex, but only because he confirms much of what I knew, and have known for a long time, but which is still not understood or accepted by most people I know and meet. The fact is that, biologically, men want sex more, are promiscuous by nature, enjoy different partners, and can have sex without involvement. As a general rule, I believe men curb their instinctive nature much more than women ever give them credit for. By contrast, sex is not so important for women, but a secure stable relationship is. Some of Pinker’s discussion veered towards the territory of my MSc thesis - and I found myself wanting to find fault in his detailed argument, but without the resources in my head to do so properly. My MSc is ten years distant now.
For the record, here are the titles of several other books that have been lying around, for some while, unfinished on my lounge or bedside tables: ‘Destiny’ by Tim Parks (going nowhere); ‘The Plato Paper’ by Peter Ackroyd (pretentious); ‘Still’ by Adam Thorpe (interesting but difficult); ‘Foucault’s Pendulum’ by Umberto Eco (complex but not enough story); ‘The Cunning Man’ by Robertson Davies (not his best - saving it for a rainy day).
What an idle day, what an idle week. Brecht’s ‘Threepenny Opera’ - English version - reverberates through from the lounge. This Brecht CD I bought a while ago. What is it that makes one decide which CD to put on at any given moment. I was in Guildford yesterday or the day before, and bought four CDs: a cheap collection of old folk stuff; a collection of June Tabor’s songs - I’d never heard of her until recently, but she’s older than me, and is clearly a key figure in the folk side of British music; a Joshua Redmond CD - I hadn’t heard of him until I picked up the CD, but it was on sale, and he’s a saxophonist; and some Mozart serenades for easy listening. I listened to most of them once yesterday.
Still getting an occasional cluster headache. My teeth, top right, are not right. When I eventually go back to the dentist, I’ll be hoping for third time lucky.
Friday 26 January
Six days of misery - another five weeks to go before I’m reasonably recovered, or so I’m told. What’s my problem - a twisted ankle. Sounds rather benign. But it wasn’t, and isn’t. Last Saturday, I was due to play my first Polekats volleyball match against a side other than Egham. I arrived a little early, just in time to see the Tafekats side lose 3-0 - although the team was full of good players, they didn’t seem to work together very well. I warmed up with Steve and Dag and Ian, who else was there? Gary, I think, and Brian and the curly-black haired chap who can hit well but is a bit erratic. Seven of us again, as at Egham the previous Saturday, I thought, which probably meant I would be left out for one game again - on no particular criteria. But our opponents ‘The Slayers’ failed to show, and so we played friendlies - four a side at first, but then a couple of the Tafekats people returned. I was really enjoying this nice long run of games (playing setter too which I don’t often do when the team is full of good players), when I jumped to block a hit by Chris, and, on returning to earth my left foot found Chris’s foot first, then buckled in the wrong direction with all my weight on it. I too buckled down on top of it in searing agony, screeching out in pain. Everyone stopped of course and circled me, which was just great since embarrassment and self-consciousness tried to compete for attention with the pain - Ian was trying to be helpful I think, and I said I am just trying to deal with the pain for the minute. I dragged myself off to the toilet where I sat on the sink letting cold water run down over the ankle. It didn’t feel like my ankle at the time, but the top left side of my foot. A few minutes later Ian went to fetch a Spectrum staff member who brought an ice pack. I sat for the best part of 45 minutes with him, holding the ice on my ankle - which began to swell and swell and swell. Then I had the dilemma of how to get home. I wasn’t at all sure I would be able to depress the clutch, but, if I allowed someone else to drive me home, then there would be all the bother of reclaiming my car later. I determined to try. It must have taken me 10 minutes to hobble through Spectrum and out to the car park. I almost crashed before leaving, because on braking to avoid a car in front of me, my foot failed to press the clutch automatically. It was a bit awkward and a little painful, but I did manage to drive home. The rest of the weekend I lay on the sofa reading books and watching television. During the day the pain was not too bad - although I was horrified at how much swelling and purple shading there was. In the evening, though, there was little relief in any position even when I didn’t move the ankle. I found some anti-inflammatories (I’d been saving in case of gout) and took one of those. But that didn’t help with the immediate pain, and I had taken a sequence of ibuprofen and paracetamol to get any respite in the night. On Monday morning I went to the doctor, who pressed his thumb into my ankle in different places and diagnosed nothing broken. When he suggested it would be such a bore to go for an x-ray, I agreed. Later, though, I was worried because my foot had been so much better when I went to the doc - perhaps because of the anti-flams, and I realised I should have asked a few more questions.
In fact, I think, my foot has steadily got better. By Tuesday night I no longer needed pills to get me to sleep at night, and by Wednesday I had returned to my bed (for some reason it was so much easier to sleep on the sofa - to achieve the right leg and ankle position without undue pressure from bed or duvet). I should have been in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday - I still have to go next week. Yesterday, I managed to cycle to the paper shop, with one foot doing all the work, and the other simply easing the pedal round. And today, I will drive into Guildford, and hobble several hundred yards to meet up with Clare in a pub.
Meeting with Clare. It seems like such a long time ago since we first met - but it is just two weeks. Because of my emails immediately after that meeting, she may have on her mind what to do if I ask her to come home with me tonight - although I suspect she will have decided definitely not to. I certainly have it on my mind whether I will ask her or not. The situation is complicated by my foot. But foot or no foot, I’m sure anything I suggest will depend on how the evening goes. It would not surprise me at all, if I were to talk her out (rather than into) an affair with me, out a mixture of honesty and not wanting to compromise myself and have to deal with the consequences later (not least the business about my age).
My email conversation with Linda has slowed right down to one or less a week. I finally sent her ‘Sandy’, at her request, but she failed to understand that the two voices in the story are the same person. This is such a fundamental part of the story, I wonder what she can have been thinking about as she read it. Also I bet she never realised that the woman was working herself up to a climax, which, although not explicit at all, is surely implied in the way the ending is written. She wanted to meet again next week, but it was when I’m due to be in Brussels.
My email conversation with Louise, by contrast, is proving quite interesting. She has a relatively interesting background, as do I, and so we are swapping various details every couple of days. I’m encouraging her to be more detailed in her stories - but what I’d like is more intimate stuff about her past relationships, I don’t know if I can take her there.
Poor Peter Mandelson. He’s gone again. Sacked on Wednesday after providing deceitful answers to apparently simple questions. The press has had a field day. The facts are simple. He was asked at the weekend if he had intervened with the immigration service on behalf of a wealthy Indian businessman. He said, initially, he had had no conversation with the Home Office. The Home Office minister, however, a day or two later denied that. Then Mandelson corrected his statement by saying that he had had a two minute call with the Home Office minister simply requesting information on behalf of the Indian, and that there was no question of trying to speed up or lubricate the procedure. Unfortunately for Mandy, in between his two statements, he had made the mistake of briefing the Prime Minister’s spokesman, and another minister, on the untrue version, and they had propagated that version in good faith. Blair was thus compromised, and then, during a meeting on Wednesday, Mandelson agreed to resign from his Northern Ireland job after less than a year. I watched the PM’s questions live on the TV which followed a few hours later. Hague bit into Blair like a terrier on heat, but Blair simply refused to respond. He told the House that Mandelson had done an excellent job in Northern Ireland, and that he was sorry to see him go. He demonstrated an impressive brand of sorrow for the situation and scorn for the childish antics of the opposition. He seemed to be supported in his stance when Charles Kennedy, the leader of the Liberal Democrats refused to follow Hague in attacking Blair, and took a more gracious approach to Mandelson’s resignation. The Liberals will miss him, since he was one of the chief supporters of consensual politics, and developing the Lab-Lib links. I will miss him because he was also one of the key Eurofiles on the left, and the European cause will miss him badly whenever a referendum is finally announced on the Euro.
I have been working all week - fortunately I was able to find enough material through the internet to keep me going, more or less, although I’ve dried up a bit today. This should stand me in good stead next week. I just hope that hobbling round Brussels doesn’t set back my ankle’s mend by too much.
Lots of rain yesterday, and then a hard frost last night - several of my flowerbeds are mini-ice rinks. The sun is shining now which is pleasant, although I can’t go for a walk at all.
I’m only visiting the journal to record my disappointment after meeting Clare a second time last night. I managed to park near the pub, and my ankle held up reasonably, then we drove to Pizza Express. I’d put myself under an illusion after the last meeting, and this time I couldn’t sustain it. I think the truth is I found her boring, she didn’t ever take the lead conversationally, she never told any anecdotes, not one I think - and she seemed to have little to say for herself. I could get her talking about her work, or about karate, or about her short travels, but I couldn’t open her up at all. I deliberately did not steer the conversation into more personal stuff, as I did previously, and nor did I broach the subject of a further meeting. I can’t press on with a relationship simply with sex in mind - I can’t do it; I have to become involved with the person, there has to be some link, some empathy there - I thought there might be some, but there wasn’t.
I was actually unhappy last night and this morning because I continue to hope that I will, one day, be able to form another relationship, but all that happens is that I am endlessly reminded of how impossible it will be for me to find anyone who I have an interest in and who is interested in me.
31 January, Brussels
I’ve managed to hobble around today without too much difficulty - I’ve used buses wherever possible, and walked very slowly otherwise. I tracked down most of the paperwork I needed, and sifted through most of it to be sure that I wasn’t missing any major stories. One did break today - the Court of First Instance annulled the Commission Decision approving the German coal merger a couple of years ago - but I’ll have to get the details from the CoJ website when I get back to London tomorrow. I did think about struggling down to the cinema to see a movie but decided against it - in a few minutes I’ll probably listen to the radio before going to sleep.
Brought two books with me on the train: Zadie Smith’s ‘White Teeth’, and a conventional but well written Swedish thriller called ‘Faceless Killers’ by Henning Mankell. Zadie Smith is flavour of the year, she won a Whitbread prize for best first novel, and everyone is talking about her. I’ve read about 100 of 500 pages, and I’m failing to see why it’s so good. There is almost no plot, no narrative, and the writing strikes me as simply talented but not brilliant or particularly crafted. I think older people - and critics tend to be older people - are afraid to say it’s not that good or that it’s ordinary for fear of what such a comment might say about them.
Warning - the d on this keyboard is developing senile dementia.
One Libyan has been convicted of placing the Lockerbie bomb, the other has been freed by the Scottish court in The Hague. The US and the UK say they will not discontinue sanctions until Gadaffi pays $700m in compensation to the victims’ families. His regime says it was a criminal not a government-sponsored action. The stand-off remains. I wonder if we will ever know the full story.
Yesterday, a comprehensive report was published about the mistreatment of body parts from dead or injured people who underwent surgery at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool - apparently some 100,000 body parts (livers, heads, lungs etc) were stored in the early 1990s and sometimes given to medical companies without the authorisation of the families involved. There has been a massive hoo-ha about this, with doctors, politicians, and representatives of the families anxious to reiterate how dreadful, how awful, how terrible this is, and how it must never ever be allowed to happen again. We have moved away from an age in which paternalism was acceptable, they tell us, and citizens have an absolute right to know what is going on these days: paternalism - one of the given excuses for these practices - was that doctors simply did not want to distress relatives. Well, there’s 10,000s of relatives across the country distressed now - special phone lines have been set up, and thousands of people are ringing to find out whether chopped up bits of their loved ones were caught up in this scandal.
I tried hard to think about what my reaction would be if Adam had died some while ago and I suddenly discovered his whole head say (the worst I can imagine) was being stored somewhere without my knowledge (in fact this couldn’t be possible because I would have seen his dead body before burial or cremation). I really don’t think I would get upset. Why? Because, I believe, I have a full and deep understanding of what death is. Why then are so many other people getting upset about it now? Although I would not want to discount any individual’s right to feel a profound grievance at such a situation, I do also suspect that in a case like this, a kind of feedback loop takes over with the media feeding a public frenzy, and people being caught up in it, because a) they want to be part of an event, part of something that is in the news (the least charitable view), or, more importantly, b) they feel that they ought to feel the disgust and loathing that everyone is talking about in the media and therefore they do (the more charitable view). It frightens me when I am reminded how much people’s lives are dictated by the advertising and media.
was in a ski resort at a friend’s house asking to borrow some salapats. My friend was not there, but a relation of his was looking for a pair of salapats for me. Meanwhile, I was in the toilet peeing. I woke suddenly. I WAS ACTUALLY PEEING IN THE BED! This is the first time I can ever remember peeing in my bed. But how strange is this - I did once, a long time ago, pee in my sleep, and that was at a friend’s house in a ski resort in New Zealand - the infamous incident, where I peed in the doorway of the girls’ bedroom thinking it was the toilet!
Paul K Lyons
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