PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2001 - JULY
2 July 2001
I should be working - it’s nearly 11am on Monday morning, and a time when I never write my journal. In fact, I was working, I was in the middle of a story about the new Marco Polo programme; but, I’m feeling guilty and not very happy with myself. I don’t know why these guilty thoughts have surfaced at this moment, and I want to capture them before they evaporate.
Yes, actually I can identify why they surfaced at this moment. And perhaps now is the moment to write this, as I may never have done before, and I may never do again.
I have certain patterns in the way I work. They are not very pretty (but they do serve to ensure that I take regular breaks from my sitting posture, and from staring at the screen). I’ve already had my morning cup of tea, and I chose not to play a card game on screen (I have been playing a lot of bridge on the computer) because I’d played a game a few minutes earlier. So I got stuck in to a longer story - and it does take a certain amount of momentum to get stuck into a more complicated dossier. Having cracked the opening paragraphs - which, if there is going to be a difficulty in writing a story, will be there, in the way the start is composed - my inner working self often calls for a pause of some sort, a kind of pat on the back, ‘you’ve done some work, now rest-up’. But, since I’d already had a cup of tea, and I’d already taken a turn around the garden, and the post has already come (I sometimes sort of - not deliberately, but by default, by prevarication - wait for the post, which comes mid-morning at the moment, before really deciding to plough in to the work), so the natural thing to do at this moment would be to go on line and check my emails. I’ve got into a very bad habit of doing this half a dozen or more times a day, when there is absolutely no need to do so. On the one hand, there is the kind of mini-addiction to wanting communication from the outside world, somebody, anybody, even a press release (which of course make up 95% of all my emails) and, on the other, it is a break which allows me to do something mechanical, routine, and not have to use my brain. But, but, but - earlier this morning, I had thought to myself, I really must get on with work to day, and I won’t fall in to the trap of looking for emails every five minutes. Now, this particular thought - which might be classified as a kind of self-improvement message - led me on to remember some self-improvement thoughts from yesterday. Which is where I came in.
It was not a good night for me at volleyball, it was rather warm, and I was overheating regularly - just like my heart cannot keep my toes warm in the winter, so it can’t keep me cool enough in summer. I was playing lousy volleyball, and I didn’t like the way the training session was run. There was a coloured chap I didn’t know and a small young girl with glasses, to whom the coloured chap was, apparently, giving personal tuition. On occasions, I heard his instructions and the way he gave them, and it made me think, again, of my own lecturing of Adam, and how un-useful, and counter-productive it must be. And this led me to recall that I had been cross with him for most of the day, for so many different things, but often for arguing back, and for having to defend from his counterattacks, or to put aside some unlinked red herring. It seemed to me that I was in a permanent state of temper yesterday - and I don’t like it.
I’m sure there are two main causes for this. Firstly, and majorly, Adam has arrived at a point where his emotional strength, and his intellectual ability, and his argumentative skill are jointly very difficult to counter. I still see a need to impose discipline and instruction, but I am unable to do this effectively any more. I can do it, but I need to employ heavy fascistic tactics and this costs him and me in different ways, and, moreover, eats into my control and his respect very fast. I am at a loss to know what to do about this. At volleyball last night, and coming home on Kiwi (and many times in the past), I felt that I should be much calmer, that I should not engage in any of the arguments, that I should be firmer and clearer, that I should talk less, say less, argue and lecture much less. And this is what I want to do - but I have wanted to adjust my behaviour in the past, and I have not succeeded. How can I now?
Jan Garbarek streaming his saxophone chords throughout the house. Unusually, I am sitting in my reading position at the back of the lounge with a view to my left across the garden, a line of cacti on my right, and the portable on my lap. I don’t like typing like this for long, but I wanted to sit here, where the sun reaches in the morning, and I didn’t want to go into the office. It is Sunday morning, and my summer break is now stretching out before me. I have about five weeks before the start of our Africa trip, and I’d like to put them to some constructive use - although, apart from Kip Fenn (if I decided to spend more time on him), it’ll be mostly practical bits and pieces.
My first dilemma concerns our vaccinations for Kenya and Tanzania. I see from the trip notes that we should be having typhoid injections at least four weeks before we go, but Adam is off on a school trip tomorrow morning, and I won’t be able to get him to the doctor’s surgery before the following Monday. My second immediate dilemma is whether to go away myself next week, while Adam is away. I’m a bit jaded with the walking opportunities nearest to here: the South Downs and the Dorset coast. I was thinking about the Peak District, but I’m worried that the areas I might want to walk through will still be closed by foot and mouth, likewise with the Offa’s Dyke walk. So I was considering going to Jersey or Guernsey for four or five days. It would cost about £90 on the ferry. I need to do a bit more research in the library tomorrow. The week after, I’m nipping over to Brussels to catch all the pre-summer news, so that I have work under my belt before returning from Africa (when I get back, I’ll have one week less than usual before the September issue deadlines).
This weekend is blackcurrant weekend. Yesterday A, B and I stripped the two blackcurrant bushes of a healthy crop of berries; last night I spent about two hours preparing a third of them, and this morning I’ve made jam. Well, it’s probably not jam, I think it’s more like syrup. I may have put too much water with the currants (I should have allowed for the fact that they were wet), or I may not have boiled them long enough after the sugar went it. I have five jars of syrup. I would have had one big jar more, but for the fact that, as I was trying to close the lid on the one proper preserving jar I possess, it slid out of my hands, and fell on the floor tipping and spraying its brilliant purple contents over half the kitchen, not to mention my shoes and socks, and nearly scalding my feet in the process. What a lively mess. My immediate reaction was to lift my foot (complete with slipper and sock) and plunge it into the washing up bowl of water. Whether this saved me from any burns, I don’t know, but it added to the chaos of the scene. It took a good half an hour to clear up the mess, and bottle up the remaining syrup. Fortunately, despite the loss of the contents of the large jar, I still had sufficient jam to fill all my jars - I wouldn’t have known what to do with the excess if I hadn’t spilled it! B will prepare the rest of the currants, and hopefully make proper jam.
On Friday, B and I went to Rodborough School to see ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, not out of any perverse interest in amateur school dramatics, but because our son was playing one of the parts, Mendel, the Rabbi’s son. Adam put a lot of effort into the play, with rehearsals at lunchtimes, and often after school too. The show was a great success, with a sell-out house on three successive nights and loud and sustained applause after every scene. I thought Adam had done very well to get a part, given the fact that he was, by far, the smallest of the ‘main’ characters - all the other year year nine and year ten actors were much taller than him, and his small size was very noticeable on stage. He could not have been chosen, for example, to play a part which involved acting with one of Tevye’s daughters, because it simply wouldn’t look right to have a girl six inches taller than her husband. At primary school, teachers might be able to ignore size in this respect, but at secondary school, everyone involved is trying for a more authentic product.
18 July 2001
The Africa trip. If I thought organising the visas for Kenya and Tanzania was complicated, I had no idea how complicated it would be to sort out our vaccinations. After one consultation with the nurse, and much fannying around, I have now arranged three appointments for both of us to have various vaccinations. Next Tuesday morning, I will have typhoid, hepatitis and tetanus; Thursday morning Adam will have typhoid and hepatitis; the following Thursday morning we will both have polio, but Ads will have tetanus and diphtheria also; and we will then both go to the Robbens Institute in Guildford to have a yellow fever inoculation (at the princely cost of £35 each). Part of the complication was that the Robbens Institute insisted that we have both Yellow Fever and Polio (live cultures) on the same day (or three weeks apart, which is not feasible with our departure date only four weeks or so away). On top of that hefty basket of foreign viruses and chemicals, we will also have to take malaria tablets for about eight weeks (one tablet each a week, costing £50 in all). As I joked to B last night (while she was making the last of the blackcurrant jam), the cost of the visas and vaccinations alone would pay for a week’s holiday in Spain! But, at least, I hope, I have now sorted everything out. Adam’s passport has arrived safely, so I can get the Tanzania visas sorted out (a couple of trips to London; the Kenyan ones can be done at Nairobi I’m told). I’ve bought a two season sleeping bag for £60. I chose it over one half the price because, although the cheaper one was only slightly heavier, it was substantial bigger. I may buy a second one, rather than take our existing bulky bag. We are camping six nights, I think.
It has been difficult to get down to work of any sort today. After spending the weekend and a couple of days organising and tidying up, I am now faced with three full days without any arrangements of any sort, and I probably won’t talk to anyone (other than shopkeepers) until Ads gets back from his adventure week on Friday, and I have nothing urgent that needs doing, home-wise or business-wise. Thus, it’s hard to get moving on the bundle of non-urgent things I’ve set myself to do over the next few weeks.
This morning I fine tuned the vaccination arrangements, mended the gears on my bike (which I had thought would entail taking it into Farnham and paying someone to fix it), and, finally, made a fairly detailed to-do list. Once such a list is made, I’m reluctant to let jobs slip, and, consequently, I’m more productive. For today, for example, I have written down: diary, clear out cupboard, go to surgery, do one index, writing stuff (I’ve bought a naff writing magazine, and there’s a short story comp I might enter).
‘Big Brother’. I am sort of watching this, but I’m much less interested than I was first time round. The people are less interesting, and the conflicts less intriguing. The best inter-relationship by far was that between the two gay people Brian and Josh, Brian being young and inexperienced and nervous, but bright and sparky; and Josh being older and wiser and cooler. Brian really liked Josh but couldn’t allow himself or others to know it, and was, eventually, instrumental in seeing him evicted. Now, he’s pining, but doesn’t know why. Helen and Paul, two horribly boring and one-dimensional people, are struggling hard not to get it on, and we are enjoying a little of their frustration and efforts to talk in code which are a bit cute. The best thing about this relationship is Helen’s expressive face which shows so transparently her feelings as she wins (but sometimes loses) little battles in her efforts to woo Paul. Liz and Dean are not so boring as people, but are boring housemates; they are too in control, too nice, and have too little imagination to liven up the house.
I’ve also been catching the occasional episode of ‘Survivor’, the ITV desert island ‘Big Brother’. What do I think about these kind of programmes. I think they provide a sometimes interesting and sometimes useful insight into real people’s behaviour under unusual circumstances. I don’t have any squirms about the people involved being exploited or suffering later, because I can’t see how or why they should or cold be limited in their choices to decide to do such things. I think it’s probably important to follow up and report on the lives of people who are thrust into the media spotlight, and for future programmes to ensure that anyone wanting to take part is fully cognisant of the risks, and possible outcomes of taking part.
I have finished reading Martin Amis’s ‘Experience’. I don’t have much more to say about it. The contents are thoroughly dependent on the fame of the author and of the people he writes about. That’s not to say he doesn’t write well, and with insight, and with a certain panache; but the book is overwrought with literary references, bordering on the pretentious here and there. I also wonder how he comes to remember so much dialogue, without which both the style and content of the book would be majorly compromised. Overall, the book is interesting for showing us what vulnerable and inadequate creatures made up the Amis family - although I doubt Martin Amis quite sees it that way.
I’ve also completed a second Elmore Leonard novel (‘Be Cool’). His thrillers don’t hold my attention as they used to. I find them a bit lightweight, and I don’t seem to get involved in the characters or plot any more. Oddly, Ads and I watched part of the film ‘Get Leo’ the other day, which, as far as I know, is the only decent stab at filming a Leonard book. It has the same main character Chili Palmer as ‘Be Cool’. ‘Get Leo’ is the name of the film that Chili Palmer makes, and is mentioned throughout ‘Be Cool’ as Palmer tries to create a plot for a new film out of real life (well within the fiction obviously) events in the music industry.
I am still struggling towards the end of Banks’ ‘Excession’ - this overlong novel could do with ten times as much plot, or a quarter as many pages. I’m not sure I’ll find myself buying another Banks sci-fi.
In the real real world, Portillo has been knocked out of the Conservative Party leadership race. Ha ha, hee hee. With what glee we watch the Tories scratching at their sores, and being unable to find a plaster.
19 July 2001
Cooler days. I have a jumper on, and I keep considering whether to put the heating on. Wet outside. Just as well as I didn’t go walking. Was going to London today to sort out the Tanzania visas, but at the last moment I decided to post a query on an internet newsgroup (rec.travel.africa) about whether I could get the visas on the border (this would certainly be cheaper and would save me making two trips to London). I’ve been told by the Explore visa people that I can get my Kenya visas on arrival but not the Tanzania ones, but I’m not convinced.
I may go shopping in Woking this afternoon instead, buy myself new clothes, a leather jacket possibly.
Ads rang yesterday from Calshot, said he was having a ‘wicked’ time, had been wind surfing, cycling in the velodrome, and climbing (managing to get higher than anyone else). But he rang just before 6pm, and his money ran out quickly. When he looks back on this summer, I’m sure he’ll remember this school adventure holiday far more intensely than our forthcoming Africa trip, simply because he’s with other kids of his own age. And the irony is that the Africa trip is costing six or eight times more than the Calshot one! But let me put things into perspective, we are not going to Kenya and Tanzania as a treat for Adam, not at all; nor do I expect it to be a fantastic fun holiday. I expect it to be hard work, and an experience - not to be compared with a normal holiday. We are going because I decided it would be a good trip for the both of us to do, and because I have never been to that part of the world. I decided to take Adam because I felt I would enjoy the trip more, because I thought he was old enough to really profit from it, and because he’s been an amazingly economical son - no private school, no private tuition etc. I don’t care that it costs such a lot, and that he won’t enjoy it as much as Calshot, I just hope it will stay with him as a big experience in his young life.
I was idly surfing the net at the weekend and found some good harmonica sites, including a National Harmonica League, which invited queries. So I emailed about tuition/workshops for Ads, and received almost immediately a couple of replies. One from Peter Wheat near Reading who is organising a blues guitar and harmonica workshop in the summer - it would have been perfect for Ads, except that we’re away. He has also offered tuition, but I don’t know how I’d organise it; and besides B thinks (and I think I agree) that Ads is more in need of developing his music understanding, than his harmonica technique. Still Peter has a database of events and gigs, and we’re now on it.
I sent off an email to another new person on the L&F website. I always try to make my introductory emails interesting and geared to the person I’m writing to. Not for me: ‘You sound nice, have a look at my details and I hope to hear from you’. No, I can’t do it. Unfortunately, my quirky notes, don’t get too many replies; well, recently, none. Altogether, I might have emailed a dozen different women through the website who have not been polite enough even to acknowledge my emails. Their loss.
20 July 2000
This morning the sun is shining full and fare, and tempting me to work in the garden. At the moment, I am listening to my new CD of Hungarian music, the fusion between jazz and traditional that so inspired Ads and I in Amsterdam last month - Besh o Drom. I found a CD on the website of a specialist seller of Hungarian and gypsy music!
I didn’t go to London yesterday, nor am I going today, which means I’ll have to wait and do the visas the week after next, maybe take Ads up to London with me. What will I do instead today? Probably make a start on my self-assessment accounts, and do some gardening.
Jeffrey Archer jailed for four years. It is not astonishing that he has gone to jail, it is astonishing that he managed to cheat and lie his way to the very top of our society, and to be feted once there; it just goes to prove how intelligence, honesty and hard work are not always the only routes to power and success; like Maxwell, Archer was a charmer and a rogue. The fact that he seduced Thatcher and Major says more about the Conservative Party than anything else. Although he has been sentenced to four years in prison, he could probably be released within two, which I don’t think is enough. Not only did he lie and cheat his way to a massive libel win, but he has continued to uphold those lies, against quite damning evidence, and he treated the legal system like his own personal plaything. He should have been put away for eight years, not four.
Julian has moved into his new house in Great Missenden, I’m told by my mother. Melanie has gone to New York for the weekend to celebrate her 40th birthday. I send her a card saying not long now - till 50.
COP6 bis in Bonn is under way - I’m sure it’ll end in acrimony. The G8 are about to meet in Genoa, where the police have raised a 13ft steel fence around the city centre to keep out global protesters. That is not a sustainable way to treat protesters, we need sustainable politics and sustainable democracy as well as sustainable development.
I don’t like Bush. I see him waltzing down the mall or somewhere with the Queen, and strolling around Chequers with Blair. He looks harmless, and a bit supercilious, but he’s a dangerous man. The world became a more dangerous place under the Reagan administration, and a more comfortable place with Clinton in the White House. Bush has already shown his narrow view of the US’s interests by pulling out of various international treaties, and driving the Russians into a closer alliance with the Chinese. If the US’s overweening narrow-mindedness ends up also driving the Russians into following the EU’s offered pathway then that might be a good thing.
It is nearly 10am, and I’ve done almost nothing this morning.
23 July 2001
Monday morning. The weather has brightened, and the sun is shining. I have had to move this chair slightly away from the back window because in its normal position, with the morning sun angled in on me, I can’t read the screen on this portable computer. In fact, I’ve never used it here in my reading spot before the last week or so, but it’s quite comfortable. I have the computer on my lap, and my arms rest neatly on the arms of the chair, making it comfortable to type. So, this morning, I’ve solved the sun problem by pulling the chair in slightly, though I can still feel the warmth of the sun on my back, and enjoy the view of the garden.
I am resolved to write some diary now, to do some EC Inform work from about 10, and move into the garden around 4 this afternoon.
Yesterday was an unusually social day. It started early with Raoul telephoning at 6:45 saying he was lost in Godalming (on his way here from Gatwick airport). Fortunately, I was already up and awake (that doesn’t make sense, it should be ‘awake and up’, but there is no lilt to the words that way round). I watered him and his dog, Patch, and we then went for a walk on the common. He seemed calm enough, and talked about retiring at 60, and doing more travelling, and painting, and about the various new lines of breast cancer research that his lab is developing. Although, he confessed to being very out of touch and not paying attention to the research side of his work over the last year. He is soon to spend two weeks in Acequias doing little more than looking after five children. Adam joined us for breakfast - freshly made rolls, of course, home-made blackcurrant jam/juice, various cheeses - which we had in the garden. Soon after, he headed west to Marlborough to lunch with his parents.
Adam and I headed west for lunch also, but only as far as our neighbours Tom and Leslie who had invited us for a summer barbecue. I talked to Tom about his fancy new shed, to Tom and Les about their company, which has now become part of a bigger group, to Abby about university in Plymouth, and to Jane about travelling. I played catch with the son of one Tom’s employees, who lives in Witley, and table-tennis with Adam. I also listened to village gossip around the main table where we sat scoffing Les’s tasty salads, and Tom’s cooked-to-perfection red and white meats.
From there, straight to volleyball, where only six of us turned up. The sexy Catalan girl, Carolina, who works and lives at the Mariners pub near Frensham (who Dag had taken a fancy too before he left), John and Billy, another John, and a thick-built German girl with a cheery disposition. John gave us a few exercises, which helped me sweat off all the white wine I’d consumed during the afternoon, and then we played three-a-side.
As I write COP6 bis is still under way in Bonn, with the parties having negotiated all night. A commentator on the news this morning said it was a good sign they were still negotiating, but I think the reverse. I think the Japanese want out, and so they are sticking to a position they know the EU cannot accept, but neither side wants to be seen as responsible for giving up trying. And even if there is a deal in an hour or two, the detail in it will show concessions to Japan, and probably some of the other developed countries too.
The G8 did not live up to its promise either - one protester was killed, and 500 were injured. Our prime ministers and presidents may have done good things, as evidenced by the fact that the African leaders with whom they met endorsed the G8 results. But the hundreds of thousands of protesters and the media had a field day, and all but eclipsed any achievement of the G8 meeting with their hysteria. This is ironic, since this summit probably did more to control the impact of globalisation and to reach out to the poor of the world than any previous summit. I listened to Clare Short being interviewed this morning - my comments in this paragraph are partly shaped by what she said. Although she more or less condemned the protesters, the violent ones absolutely, and the white middle-class do-gooders less absolutely, it is difficult to believe that, had she been 20 years younger, she wouldn’t have been there protesting in Genoa this weekend. She made the point, rather forcefully I thought, that the media was paying too much attention to one or two NGOs who were saying the summit had achieved nothing concrete, and not enough to the African leaders, those actually responsible for the poor in Africa, who welcomed the summit’s achievement. It is also true that the media is not very good at unpicking the criticisms and observations of the non-commercial lobby groups. All too often, it (the media) is happy to have anything to lob (!) at the politicians and people in power.
24 July 2001
On Eurostar again. I thought it worthwhile to take this pre-summer trip to Brussels, because I’ll be returning from Africa with only 10 days to put together both September issues (energy and transport). I’m not sure, though, whether there will be any activity - in particular, I’m dreading to find that the Parliament’s library is closed. These days, that’s where I spend the first morning of every trip to Brussels, because I use the computers there to search all the newsletters I don’t normally see, such as ‘Agence Europe’ and ‘European Report’. It also gives me a chance to do a more thorough search of the institutions’ websites than I do at home. Hopefully, I should catch Gilles before he heads off on holiday. I tried a couple of people on the phone today, though, without any success, which is a bad sign.
COP6 bis did NOT end in apparent failure. The EU and others claimed a great success. It was particularly important for the EU to show that it and the world could put together an important international agreement without the US. But, such was its determination to get a deal, that it made huge compromises, far greater in fact than those the US had been demanding at the first COP6 in the Hague. And, apart from those compromises, still further aspects of the Kyoto Protocol - on the penalties and remedies - have been deferred for agreement at a later date. It should be recalled that the Kyoto Protocol was itself supposed to be the major agreement, and the fact that important issues remained undecided then meant two further years of negotiations leading up to COP6, which then failed, and has now resulted in a weak agreement, and one that is not yet complete.
We are about to enter the Channel Tunnel, 40 minutes late thanks to a delayed start from Waterloo. Time for an apple.
I had my hepatitis jab this morning. My upper arm ached for several hours. I have not had a tetanus injection because my diary states that, in 1995, I was considering the need for one. The surgery had no record of my having one then, but I’m fairly sure I did (it was just after I moved to Elstead, and I was doing a lot of gardening, and cutting myself fairly regularly - also in my diary at the time, I mention that I need one).
Mayco sends me a card inviting me to her 50th birthday party on 3 August.
26 July 2001
On Eurostar heading backing to Waterloo. Unfortunately, the Parliament’s library WAS closed so I couldn’t spend my customary couple of hours researching the various institutional websites. Instead, I wandered down to De Brouckere and spent half an hour in Waterstones, and then another half an hour looking through the men’s clothes in the big department store Inno. Eventually, I found an expensive long-sleeved polo which was 50% off, so I bought that - I’ve been looking for long-sleeve polos in a number of shops recently and have been unable to find any. Even in Inno, which has a huge collection of men’s clothes, there were almost none, and I only found this one style and this one colour (a very fine cotton and ivory). Why do I insist on long-sleeve polos, when, much of the time in the summer, I push the sleeves up? That is a question I can’t answer. When I try to think about it, I only get very vague kind of thoughts about keeping my arms warm or comforted - highly unsatisfactory. It is true, though, that I have a number of short sleeve polos at home, and, despite the hot weather, I rarely wear them. Something else about polos, which I do wear a lot, occurred to me as I looked in the mirror. They are an old man’s style of clothing. And, hazily, I remember hating them when I was much younger. I do, though, wear them with buttons all undone - I could no more wear a polo shirt with all the buttons done up than I could a t-shirt with a trade-mark logo on. I also always push the collar up, though often it doesn’t stay there very well - the collar on this new one, for example, is determined to flop down and be in its proper collar position, so I am forever fiddling it back into place. That’s enough about polo shirts for the next ten years.
Last night I went to see a new British film called ‘Intimacy’. I’ve read a little about this in the papers, and heard it discussed on the radio. It’s based on a short story by Hanif Kureish, a writer who I have never read, but whom Linda (aka Angel) said wrote similar stories to my own. On one hand, I was a reluctant to go and see it because I felt it was unlikely to offer me anything new, but, on the other, I was mildly intrigued by all the publicity about the sex in the film, having been told several times that this film goes further in its explicit portrayal of sexual intercourse than any other mainstream film, and that the lead actress Kerry Fox really really really took the erect penis of Mark Rylance in her mouth. Well, well, well, I was really really really underwhelmed by the sex, I have to say, and any link with the seminal film of the 1970s ‘Ai No Corrida’ is completely misplaced. True, Fox does slide Rylance’s semi-erect penis into her mouth for the briefest of seconds, before the camera moves away, and there is a modest amount of nudity, but most of it is camera close-ups on the legs, torsos and faces of the two lovers. If the explicitness of the sex was one factor that brought the movie into public debate, the nature of the affair between the two main protagonists was the other. A cynic might say that every film needs at least two good talking points to ensure fair coverage in the media. ‘Intimacy’ opens with Fox arriving at Rylance’s unkempt house, and entering barely without a greeting. The two soon start tearing each other’s clothes off. They finish, she leaves. A similar meeting takes place again, and we are soon aware of the fact that these two characters meet once a week only to have sex, and they never talk. Crucially we are not really told how they managed to get into this situation. Of course, both characters eventually become more interested in each other than they are prepared to let on, and indulge in a bit of spying on each other. This brings other characters into their lives (as we see them), and leads to side plots. Finally, they confront each other, and the film ends. I did quite like it - I liked the fact that the characters were ordinary unsuccessful people, struggling with their failures in life, I liked the fact that the sex was quite realistic (managing rather well to compress the sex act into cinematic time - but not managing to explain or show how the lovers, who were quite frenetic, actually filled up two hours of time - half an hour, yes, but not two hours when there is no chat, and very little foreplay), and I quite liked the story, small and simple as it was. I didn’t like that so much had, in fact, been made of the sex, and of the silent relationship. I think the director, and perhaps Kureish too - I don’t know without reading his stories - comes close, but ultimately fails, to illuminate on the nature of sex and relationships, in the way that, for example, ‘Last Tango in Paris’ most definitely did.
29 July 2001
Sunday. A familiar feeling of depression, no, sadness is a better word, self-sadness even better, is creeping over me. Actually a few tears are in my eyes as I write. Of course I could avoid them, think of something else, do something else. But I’m not, I’m indulging in them, hence self-sadness, like self-pity. Where is it coming from? I stop to think about this. In fact, I realise I can answer this in a lot of different ways, but there is one aspect to it, I believe, which I have never written about before, and which I shall get round to in a line or two.
Firstly, of course, there is my general and chronic loneliness and aloneness (in varying degrees of balance), which is truly attenuated by Adam (can one truly attenuate? it’s an interesting, post-modern, but probably ungrammatic, construction) - but I am increasingly aware of the times ahead when ‘truly’ will become ‘rarely’.
Secondly, and connectedly, there is the more specific, but also chronic, absence of a lover/partner or close adult friend, and the absence of love and sex in my life. This dark facet of my self-sadness, which I try to keep hidden in the shadows of my consciousness, is also dragged mercilessly into the sunlight whenever I am faced with the happiness, success, fulfilment of others, and/or a fresh opportunity to meet someone new myself without doing so (such opportunities being rather rare). This was the case on Friday night, when I went, with Adam, to a birthday party for Luke on a barge pub in Battersea. Maybe I’ll write more about this later, suffice to say that Luke - his second marriage having broken down a year or two ago - has now found himself a younger and rather attractive mate, and that there were many other attractive women at the party with whom I made no connection. With so few opportunities in my life to meet people, every one takes on a heightened meaning.
Thirdly, I have three weeks in front of me, before Ads and I go off to Africa, and not a single social engagement; and I have four days even without Adam being here - B has taken some days off work.
Fourthly, and here for the psychologist in me, is the most interesting bit: I have noticed there is a tendency for this kind of self-sadness to be a kind of psycho-sexual self-sadness, in that it wells up in me two or three days after my last sexual release. There is a whole range of devices that my body and my brain use to get me to want sex - they really want me to have sex with a female and to have babies, of course, but being the modern human being I am, released from religion and superstition by education and a slowly dawning culture of self-understanding, I can avoid babies, and can even bypass contact with females in satisfying my sexual need. But I can’t remove the sexual need itself. One of these devices is this psycho-sexual self sadness. I may not be expressing it very well, but I know for sure there is a kernel of truth in what I am saying because it is clear to me that I can dispel a good part of the feeling by masturbating. Now, for example, on Sunday morning, I have nothing pressing to do, I have nothing particular to look forward to, today or tomorrow or the day after and dullness stretches out before me. The conditions are thus ripe for the psycho-sexual feeling of sadness and depression to rise up within me - I know that to indulge in some simple sexual pleasure will not be dull, but rather intense, pleasurable, and it will be climactic, and it would abate the feeling depression.
I shall break for a cup of tea and a biscuit - I may even do some work and return to the journal later.
Tuesday 31 July
I haven’t felt too sad these last couple of days - not like I did on Sunday morning when I wrote the last entry. In fact, writing what I did seemed to lighten the load, and I’ve felt more upbeat since then. But I don’t know why.
Later on Sunday, I finished a first draft of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, a story for Adam’s birthday next Saturday, and that made me feel good, as though I’d achieved something. Although I like these stories I write for Adam (writing and reading them), it’s a shame that they have no wider appeal, and that they will never be publishable. The idea of a book of stories written every year for a son’s birthday would make a neat publishable idea, but these stories, unfortunately, are too dependent on in-jokes and in-knowledge between us two, to have any wider readership. This year I’ve gone for a slightly lighter touch, with two entwined stories linking our recent visit to Amsterdam’s art gallery where we saw Chagall’s painting ‘The Fiddler’ with Adam’s regret at only playing the minor role of Mendel in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. Because the story is constructed around a dialogue between father and son, I been able to use a number of the teases we use on each other in our every day conversations to some effect.
On Saturday night, Ads and I watched TV. First we watched a new production of Britten’s ‘Owen Windgrave’, which was written for TV. I had some difficulty persuading Adam to persevere with this, opera not being his first, second or millionth interest. He kept nipping out into the garden to practice his back-flips. Still, he did watch a fair amount and was a little bit caught up in it by the end. I enjoyed it particularly because the libretto was sung with unusual clarity and I could hear all the words, and I liked the uncomplicated filming. This is not one of Britten’s best works, but it has its moments. Then we took in a drama with Robert Lindsay called ‘Hawk’ or ‘Hawkins’. I knew this would not be good, because the ‘Radio Times’ had failed to preview it, had declined to give it a ‘choice’ label - normally any drama with Lindsay would be feted and previewed to death. It wasn’t unwatchable, largely because of Lindsay himself, but it failed to deliver on any count. When Lindsay was acting a detective, it was quite definitely a comedy, and when he was facing the trauma of his wife’s affair, it was a tragedy.
I am still working on EC Inform stuff, but I think today will be my last day. Then I’ll put everything but the necessary admin to one side until I get back from Africa. I think I’ve done enough to take the sting out the work for the September issues. I will have VAT to do in a few days though.
The sun continues to shine gloriously. My vegetable patch is flourishing. I’ve got the best tomato plants I’ve ever had, but I don’t expect they’ll start going red until I’ve gone away. The beans are coming through, and I’ve several cucumbers, lettuces, courgettes and peppers waiting to be picked. I may even get sweetcorn again this year.
Luke’s birthday party. Ads and I arrived quite early. We had parked in an industrial area behind the FedEx building and were astounded by the extent of the security around the various premises. We joked that the chances were 9 out of 10 that our car wouldn’t be there when we got back. We had to walk along a river path for a short while to get to the Battersea Barge. This was so interesting, with the factories, warehouses and assorted industrial structures on one side all viewed through a variety of fences and grills and barbed wires, and the pretty barges and other vessels moored by the Thames side. The sun was also low in the sky, creating shadows and red tones - I regretted not having my camera. Oddly, I was reminded of an expedition - photographically fishing - I made once, many years ago, to an industrial area in Brighton or Hove. I don’t think any of the photos every made it into frames, but I can still recall some of the images, particularly one of a derelict chimney photographed through a pool of water, and another one of bright red cans contrasted with blue signs.
The evening moved through various stages. Early on, there were few people and we sat in a group and talked in a group. In part two, when more partygoers had arrived - very studenty types, mostly friends of Luke’s new girlfriend I think - they grouped around the bar leaving the tables empty. I talked for quite a long time to two women: Rose and Louise.
Luke used to manage Rose English’s one-woman shows; I saw one or two at Action Space, although I cannot remember their content. I liked talking to her about the theatre although I found her rooted in the past, moulded in who and what she had been 20 years ago. I tried to suggest that the theatre is not as exciting these days - something she readily agreed to - because the young, creative, exciting writers, actors, directors are drawn to TV, not the theatre. Whereas the TV used to be the preserve of the privileged few at the BBC and ITV, these days there are hundreds of production companies producing thousands of shows for a million TV companies. She didn’t much like my idea that some of the very best creative theatre work can be found on TV, and spent a lot of time defending the theatre. We swapped ideas about recent good theatre: she was down on Robert Lepage (who I suggested was one of the few people producing interesting imaginative work), but we did agree on the brilliance of Caryl Churchill’s ‘Far Away’.
Louise was a big woman, all dressed in black, an actress who hasn’t made it at 35 but is still trying. She had worked for a while in Luke’s shows and was auditioning for Stephen Berkoff in the coming days. She had recently done jury service in a rape trial, which was interesting to hear about. We talked for quite a long time early on, and later (after part three) she came back to talk to me while Adam was asleep on the bench. I’m sure she was making herself available, if I can use that word, but I wasn’t the slightest bit attracted to her - unfortunately.
In part three, everyone moved upstairs and out onto deck to profit from the cooler air. Here I didn’t take much part in any conversation, I simply listened to the banter between Luke, an actor called Josh (whose head like a string puppet’s seemed to free-float around his neck) and a couple of other people I don’t recall.
Paul K Lyons
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