7 June 2001

Heading back to London on Eurostar. I’ve just been reading through the papers from the Ecofin Council, earlier this week, when the issue of the energy tax raised its awkward head again. The Swedish Presidency has done some work on the dossier following high-level requests for progress on the Commission’s proposal (now more than three years old) and prepared a report. It wanted, at the very least, to get the Council to agree to focus on the structure of the draft Directive, and to put to one side the issue of actual rates. Some delegations refused to do this, and other delegations, notably the UK and Spain, refused to contemplate discussion on the rates. For the first time, Spain explicitly made a link with the internal electricity market, and said there was no need for harmonisation of tax rates until the internal market was complete. Awkwardly for me, the main discussion on this appears to have occurred during a debate on the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines (BEPG), about which I know nothing. Also, very awkwardly for me, I kept on reading and rereading the Ecofin press release to get to grips with the official record of the Council meeting only to find myself frustrated at not finding what I expected to be there. The press officer - a slimy Brit call Oliver - had briefed me, and showed me a reference to the energy tax in his press release, but why couldn’t I find it? And why am I now writing this in my diary and not getting on with writing the article? Quite simply because the press release was the wrong one - it was dated 7 May and also referred to the BEPG. If I’d known a bit more, I might have recognised that the debate had moved on . . . So, although I have a good idea of what my article will say, I don’t really know how to write the first couple of paragraphs, which are always the hardest to write any way.

Today 7 June 2001 is the general election in the UK. Quite a special event since I’ll probably only live through 20 or 25, and many were ignored by me as a younger man. This one will probably go down in history as remarkable for its lack of fireworks. The media keep trying to tell me and the rest of its audiences that we are apathetic. But we are not at all, we are just fed up with the media trying to be so clever, at the media trying to place themselves in the position as sole arbiter of the nation’s soul and truth and well-being. Of course all the journalists are getting bored with it - even though it’s been a short campaign in fact - they’ve been eating, sleeping, dreaming the election the whole time. But, they ought to have enough self-awareness to realise that the rest of us are simply getting on with our lives. Here’s another thing. In the last few days, the media (I mean Radio 4 largely but I’m fairly sure BBC television is the same) has kept on telling us that some very big issues have been left out of the campaign - transport, for example, is one quoted regularly. The media blame the parties themselves (as they do for spin and spin and spin and more spin), but this is both ludicrous and incompetent. Why should a party volunteer to talk on a subject about which it knows it is weak (I’ve struggled for all of 90 seconds to avoid that ugly sentence, but I am struggling no longer). Surely, it is for the media to ensure the public is properly informed. I think there has been far too much reliance on the presenters - by ensuring that the presenters are tough and combative, the editors/producers believed they will give their customers the best value. But this is not so. Why haven’t they, for example, set up important round table debates focused on one particular topic - and made sure that they covered the whole spectrum of issues, especially the ones the leaders don’t particularly want to talk about. They don’t have to report on party press conferences every day, they could set their own agenda. Here’s an idea, for example. The media could set up a live hustings room with a specific agenda for every day of the campaign - and promise to give it good coverage. Who could complain then that we didn’t know what the parties thought on every topic.

Ads will come over tonight to watch the election, although I don’t know how long he’ll manage to stay awake. This is certainly his first election, in the sense that four years ago his understanding of politics was negligible - today it is probably more than many adults. He knows the names of many of the politicians, understands the basic differences between left and right, and could give a reasonable account of how a government/parliament operates. At his age, and until well into adulthood, I didn’t even know/think about the difference between a government and a parliament!

I was sitting in the cinema last night watching ‘Thirteen Days’ with Kevin Costner playing JFK’s political assistant during the Cuba crisis, and thinking I wish I’d saved the film to see with Adam. Some of it may have gone over his head, but I’m sure he’d have enjoyed it. Incidentally, I thought some parts of the film were derivative of ‘The West Wing’ - I’ve no idea of when ‘The West Wing’ first showed on US television, and whether the makers of Thirteen Days could have been influenced by it, but at one point one of the President’s aides reacts to someone coming into his office with the line ‘What do you need’ which is used all the time in ‘The West Wing’. On reflection, though, this language may well be common currency in the States - I bet it wasn’t in Kennedy’s time though. Nevertheless, some of the style of ‘Thirteen Days’ reminded me of ‘The West Wing’. Tonight, it is the last episode of the first series of ‘The West Wing’ - I think it’s continuing on E4 and I have even considered trying to subscribe to a digital channel just so that I can watch it - one of my favourite TVs of all time. ‘Radio Times’ says we will get the second series on terrestrial TV next year. I can’t wait.

I took Adam to the England-Romania volleyball international on Saturday - this was a qualifying match for the European championship which takes place next year. Last year we saw an England-Austria match, but I didn’t recall what kind of game it was. However, in the England-Romania programme, I read that England had played Austria twice in the qualifying league and lost one game and won one game, and that it had lost all other matches, leaving England and Austria in bottom place together. We needed to beat Romania - top of the league - to have any chance of qualifying. John and Chris and half the club had worked hard during the previous couple of weeks to organise the match, and there was a good crowd and atmosphere on the night. I recognised almost all the England players from last year’s match, not least the setter with his legs all strapped up, just as they were last year. In the first set, the two sides moved neck and neck through points towards 25 with England just in the lead. Indeed, I think they got to 24 and were on set point, but somehow the Romanians held on, clawed back to level, and then took the set. It was all down hill thereafter. England made a little effort in the second set and held up for a while, but as the scores went into the teens, Romania started edging ahead; then, in the third set, they swept through to victory, barely pausing for breath. All the way through, with my improved knowledge of the game, I kept wanting to talk about the shots, the play, the positioning, the mistakes, the good shots, but Ads wasn’t paying that much attention, and Steve, who I sat next to, couldn’t or wouldn’t chat through the game - nor did he clap or shout at all. He said he couldn’t do it, whatever the game or the occasion. There is something very uni-dimensional about Steve, something rather linear, rather blinkered even. He lives and thinks rather rigidly, and is very short on imagination or any sense of creativity. I tried chatting to him a couple of times, he replied politely, but wasn’t interested in exchanging views. I was bursting with chat, and had to hold it all in.

9 June

I have about 15 minutes before I need to attend to the chicken and the potatoes for supper. Tom Waits screeches out from the CD player. I bought the CD a couple of weeks ago, because some article or other reminded me of him, and I remembered liking his songs many years ago. I don’t like his singing style - extra-gravelly - in the first half of this CD. Oddly, the lyrics remind me a bit of Loudon Wainright III - I have a tape of some his songs dating from more than 20 years ago, which I play sometimes.

I was cut short during the last entry on Eurostar because the Powerbook battery gave up. I usually get a good 90 minutes, though, which isn’t bad, since I’ve never replaced battery since I bought the computer. I’m sure one of the articles I wrote on Eurostar is all messed up. I was a bit tense. After Lille, a tall youngish man came up the aisle and plonked himself down opposite me in the four-seat table section. Because of the way he did it, I was able to ask why he didn’t simply sit in his own seat. It was occupied, he said (he lied I expect). Fine, my peace at the table was disturbed (even though the rest of the carriage was almost entirely empty). But then he got out his mobile phone and had a relatively long and loud conversation that was only finished because he got cut off. I stopped working (well I hadn’t been working too well during the conversation - he spoke so loud), looked up at him, and asked why he had decided to sit there when he knew he was going to be using his phone? Why hadn’t he gone to the back of the carriage which was empty? I asked. ‘I don’t know,’ he said, and that was the end of the conversation. I did think about moving myself, but then I thought maybe he really actually enjoyed winding other people up, and that my moving might give him too much satisfaction. I think, on the whole, he probably prized sitting at the table seats much more than I, whereas I, in fact, prize being alone and quiet, and the table seat really is not very important for me.

On the train from Waterloo to Farncombe I had a sexual experience. The train was crowded as usual, with all the seats occupied, and one or two people standing. I was in a window seat, and the two seats opposite were occupied by a young couple, he, small, good looking and in a suit, and she rather plain, but brightly dressed in a pink top and tight cream trousers, and with a sexy figure. They chatted gaily - and rather quietly, so I couldn’t hear all they were saying - as a I read my ‘Time’ magazine. I had assumed they were a couple at first, but then I heard a snatch of conversation and it sounded like he didn’t know enough about her, for them to be a couple. I decided they must be brother and sister going home to their parents for the evening and/or weekend, perhaps to vote. I looked at her once or twice, but she didn’t want, or try, to catch my eye, and I didn’t hold my glance very long, I suppose because she wasn’t very pretty. After a while, though, as we settled into the journey, the man fell asleep, and she wriggled about, eventually settling in a position with her legs partially spread out. I couldn’t help but glance between her legs. There I could plainly see the shape of the flesh of her sex bulging out - it was a lovely sight, right there just a few feet in front of me before my very eyes. I tried to carry on reading, but the view was too powerful, all I wanted to do, was have another look. Of course, it wasn’t that easy, because I knew she could see or at least sense, a rude stare (how else can I put it). I prayed that she would fall asleep, in which case I would have been in heaven. But I had a problem (the main reason for mentioning this episode at all in fact): by coincidence (or maybe it wasn’t but I’ll come to that) I was not wearing any underpants. This had two consequences: I was more arousable (I think this has both psychological and physical causes - a sense of freedom, and an actual freedom), and I was vulnerable to the embarrassment of the shape of an erection showing through my light trousers. The more I thought about the picture in front of me, waiting for me to lift my eyes slightly, the more stiff I became, and the more I needed to cover my groin area with the ‘Time’ magazine. So long as she had her legs open, I sat there transfixed, daring myself to take as many quick glances as I could, and enjoying the thrill of my erection. Can she be oblivious to my pleasure, I thought, is she aware of her effect on me? I couldn’t believe she wasn’t - I was sure she knew what she doing. I wondered if she was deliberately provoking me - could she have noticed I was not wearing any underpants. Although I used to not wear underpants a lot when I was young, I always wear them now (except sometimes round the house - but then I’m often naked around the house). I wasn’t wearing any then because, by mistake, I’d washed the only two pair of underpants in the Brussels flat (i.e. the pair I wore on my way out, and the spare pair there). I hadn’t been conscious of whether or not it was noticeable that I wasn’t wearing any underpants, at least not until I started to get an erection. But in certain positions it may be that - if one were to look for it - the shape of my limp penis shows through the material of the trousers. Given her position right opposite me, this sexy woman may well have noticed and thought to have some fun. Not only did she sit with her legs uncrossed and wide open for ages, but several times she bent down forward towards me, to get something from a bag, and, if I’d looked (I didn’t, although I wanted to), I might have been able to see her breasts (for she was wearing an open blouse). At one point, she also got up, turned and stretched across her friend to find something in a bag, and in doing so pushed her bottom out, more or less towards me, with the shape of her crotch from behind showing delightfully. After a while, she crossed her legs again, and I slowly slipped back into ‘Time’, and, my stiffness receded.

12 June 2001

I am at Sue’s house. It is morning, and I am waiting for breakfast. I think I’ve been there once before overnight but I have no memory of it. I wander into the breakfast room, where Sue is cooking. She tells me to sit down at table, There are several different tables, and several children sit quietly, each at a different table from me. I talk to them in turn, and try to get a smile out of them. Sue seems to be involved in more and more different activities in the kitchen, but time passes and no breakfast comes. Her lean and bearded husband strolls in silently and then out again. A huge steak on a plate is put in front of me, but it’s clearly not my breakfast. I look round a corner and see one daughter eating something out of a toy plastic bath. Somewhere else another daughter is making mashed potato. Cooking and activity continues around the kitchen, with mess being made everywhere. The steak disappears. The husband comes back. I try and think of an interesting topic of conversation, and ask him if he saw a recent editorial about why Robin Cook may have been tempted to take the job as leader of the House of Commons. I start telling him about it, but he walks out of the room to do something. Sue asks if it’s time for me to go. I say no, as I’m waiting for breakfast, but then a few minutes later, as the chaos continues to build up, and I’m beginning to realise this is a highly dysfunctional family (everyone is acting as normal but continuing to spill and splash and soil the kitchen with their various cooking activities), I realise Sue’s remark was not a question but advice. I slip away to my room, and pack my things, suddenly desperate to get away without being noticed. I have a green army sack and find it difficult to stuff everything in.

23 June 2001

It is 6:39pm and Peter Hall’s revived production of Britten’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, relayed from Glyndebourne, has just begun on Radio 3. In a short interview, Hall revealed that Britten asked him to design the very first production, whenever it was, some 30 years ago or more.

I have much to write up, now, not least our trip to Amsterdam which is already fading into memory. But first a couple of bits and pieces.

The latest issue of ‘Smith’s Academy Informer’ arrived by post the other day. I’ve been getting this four page newsletter about Mike and Kate Westbrook’s activities for many years. A renewal slip was enclosed and I duly sent it back with payment for a couple of years (£10). I did, however, hesitate before sending it back because there is a website which carries all the information in the newsletter and more. I decided, though, that I liked getting the paper version, which has barely changed in more than a decade, and that I would carry on subscribing as long as the person in Stratford-upon-Avon - who has been managing the subscriptions since for ever - can be bothered to carry on maintaining the database, and photocopying the issues and stuffing them in envelopes. This is all beside the point. I’m mentioning the Informer because I read in the latest issue that Westbrook composed the music for the Stephen Poliakoff film ‘Caught on a Train’. I love it when I find that artists I have judged as special are drawn to one another. I watched most of this film on the TV the other day even though I hadn’t intended to. It looked rather dated, but the writing and acting (Peggy Ashcroft and a young Michael Kitchen) were so good it held my attention, although I’m sure I’d seen it before. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the music. The film was being shown as a taster for the latest Poliakoff film ‘Perfect Strangers’, which I adored, just as I did the one before ‘Shooting the Past’. Both these later films starred Lindsay Duncan, another favourite of mine.

I went to London on Friday. The main reason was to have Adam cancelled from my passport, which is a prerequisite for him to have his own passport. After waiting 20 minutes, a guy crossed out Adam’s name with a pen and ruler, and stamped the page, and that was it. He made no record elsewhere of the fact that Adam’s name had been cancelled, which means I could have kept him on there for the time being, which might have been convenient, and no one would have known. This whole business of applying for a passport for Adam has proved something of a nightmare - the instructions are not a model of clarity to say the least, and my task was made no easier by our complicated surname situation; i.e. that I want Adam to have my surname on the passport even though his birth certificate surname is Collecott. Because B and I are not married, though, the form still needs B’s signature, and someone professional to certify both Barbara and Adam, not me at all.

I thought I would make a day of it in London, and perhaps go to the theatre in the evening. After the passport office, and a cup of tea and donut, I made my way to the Photographers’ Gallery. Both galleries were showing the results of a nationwide competition to compile a snapshot of Britain at the beginning of a new century, and to find one defining image. 100s of A2 bubble-jet printed photographs - divided into five categories Beauty, Work, Play, Fame, and Home - lined the walls of both galleries. They were mildly interesting, I thought, with pc written large across the selection (from 13,000 entries), and too many cliches. Later that day, by chance, I heard a positive review of the exhibition (which is also on show in Edinburgh and Manchester I think) on Radio Four’s ‘Front Row’. When I examined the short-listed photos in each category, though, I didn’t believe any one of them were good enough or clever enough to be the defining image the organisers are hoping for.

Next, I walked across the river to the square in front of the National Theatre where I watched a French brass band do some old-fashioned performance art - it took me right back to the Phantom Captain days.

I always hope, on these trips, that I might become a bit more outgoing and meet someone to chat to here and there, but I never ever do. And by lunchtime, I was already disappointed with myself and the day (realising, as I always do, this is such a stupid venture, wandering around town on my own, at the age of 50, expecting something to happen, but never being prepared to make it happen), and I had a slight headache, and the sun was hot and strong, and although I would have liked to stay for the jazz in the Royal Festival Hall at 5pm, I couldn’t think what to do until then - even though I’d trawled ‘Time Out’ - so I decided to come home.

I’ve been in the garden a bit this week, trying to keep the weeds under control, and give my vegetables a chance. There is not too much in flower now the azaleas have faded, except for the foxgloves which are everywhere, and a couple of the heathers. The rambler rose is flowering at the front, but I rarely see that, and a common honeysuckle, which has managed to climb above one of the rhododendrons, is also blossoming. I picked off and ate my first ever mange-tous from a few plants I planted in the spring, but the runner beans are running rather slow this year.

I’ve finished a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, a Japanese-born English novelist who came to fame when his novel ‘The Remains of the Day’ won the booker prize in 1989. It was made into a memorable film with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. The new novel, ‘When we were Orphans’, has the same carefully precise and dry (as in sand not martini or wit) first person narrative language which seemed to fit so well with the formal servant characters in ‘The Remains of the Day’. However, in ‘When we were Orphans’, Ishiguro has to work harder, it seems to me, to persuade the reader that the language (largely the thoughts inside the narrator’s head) belongs to a real person. We do eventually believe in him, but, as the curious story unfolds, I think he fails to deliver. It is hard, for example, to accept the idea of a ‘great detective’ circulating freely among high society, since this is largely a myth born out of the Sherlock Holmes stories; it is harder still to believe that this intelligent man, the narrator, believes his mission to Shanghai will somehow save the world. If the writer meant this belief to be ridiculous, and for this to be one of the points of the story, then we, the readers, need to believe in his belief much more strongly; and for this to happen, we need to understand the details of why he should believe the coming war in Europe hinges on events in Shanghai, and the details of why the case of his missing parents, should have any bearing on that. But, although we are treated to inordinate descriptive detail, of the houses where he stays or is living, and of his earthy trip through a Shanghai slum warzone, we are not given the requisite details to believe in the plot. And if he, the writer, did not mean the narrator’s belief to be ridiculous, then the writer is showing his own severe limitations in his understanding of other people. I was not that impressed with ‘The Remains of the Day’ but I did think it was original, and it did provide an insight into a mind utterly constrained by formal society rules. The narrative voice in ‘When we were Orphans’ is not very different from that in ‘The Remains’, at least the style is clearly very similar (the way the central character behaves and thinks). Whereas I was prepared to accept the novelist’s brilliance in the earlier book, I am now more of the opinion that the author himself is utterly constrained by a particularly formal way of thinking and acting, and that the book’s interest lies in the revelations of this type of person, in much the same way that Van Gogh’s paintings are interesting for giving us an insight into madness not for the brilliance of the painting itself - although rather evidently Van Gogh and Ishiguro are about as far apart as two human beings can be when it comes to the experience of emotions.

24 June 2001

Sunday - a gorgeous sunny day. Before lunch Ads and I made a quick trip on Kiwi to Frensham Great Pond for a dip, although the water is always a bit dirty for me, and to the river at Tilford for a paddle.

Oh, Kiwi, yes, poor thing, poor me, it cost £400 to get her through the MOT and service a couple of weeks ago. The mechanics took the front wheel off to give me a new tyre and disc, and then couldn’t get the pistons back, because they were too rusty. Every time I called the garage, I was put off and told they didn’t have time to do the work: ‘Yours is not the only bike in the world’. It sounded so bad that they were preparing to scrap her. But, I was told it would be done soon. For me, the situation was extra complicated, because of having to organise getting into and back from Godalming, and because of my trips away. I finally pressed them and got her back the day before we left for Amsterdam. She’s very oiled now, very smooth.

Amsterdam was fun. We arrived around lunchtime on Friday, had three full days and then much of Tuesday as well. Saturday was largely devoted to markets; Sunday we spent mostly in Oosterpark at a surprisingly good world music festival; and Monday we spent biking around the city, especially along the canals.

Here’s my top ten. 1) biking along the canals; 2) the music festival at Oosterpark, especially the Greek group Savina Yannatou & Primavera en Salonico and their Mediterranean songs, and Besh o droM, a Hungarian jazz-rock group whose music was so dynamic, they even had Adam and I dancing in the aisles. Of the continental music stages, I gravitated most towards the Latin beat, where I found myself in heaven dancing to salsa for half the afternoon. There were hundreds of stalls, and throngs of people - a great event; 3) the outdoor swimming pool at Flavopark, which we went to twice despite the poor weather; 4) Begijnhof - the quiet church cloisters near the city centre; 5) hot chocolate and apple pie in one of the Eatcafes, especially the one by the railway line near Oosterpark, where we escaped from the rain on Sunday morning; 6) the organic market in Noordmarket on Saturday morning, with its few stalls of organic bread and cheese, and a fabulous stall selling all kinds of mushrooms; 7) the locale of David’s flat, where there is a lovely canal with a grassy bank, and a collection of superb little shops, delis, florists, booksellers, greengrocers, a bike shop, a bread shop, a chocolate shop etc; 8) Zuidbad, the old indoor swimming pool near the Rijksmuseum; 9) the Stedelijk, the modern art museum with Chagall’s ‘The Fiddler on the Roof’, and a wonderful exhibition of the work of, and rationale behind, a variety of Dutch children’s illustrators; 10) cycling through Vondel park.

Worthy mentions for: actually riding (albeit only a metre) on the free ferry across Het IJ behind the Central Station; eating out at several restaurants recommended by the Rough Guide, where the food was invariably tasty, and the portions large; the Pathe cinema where we saw a film called ‘The Gift’ - but I’ve forgotten it already - where the seats were as comfortable as they are the cinemas in Brussels - which is 10 times as comfortable as the seats in British cinemas; the flea market behind Stopera, and the inside of Stopera itself; the exotic flowers in some of the flower shops; the trams.

Not-worthy mentions for: NEMO, a science-type museum, which was closed every time we bothered to go there; the weather, which was mostly miserable; the whole area around the central station, which is wholly taken over by the worst of tourism, we couldn’t even find a proper bank one day.

26 June 2001

This is usually such a peaceful journey, the last Eurostar train to Brussels on a Tuesday night, but this evening it is like Trafalgar Square on the move: in front of me I have a Chinese family eating a full meal, dished out from a dozen foil containers, and chatting about it non-stop; behind me I have three giggly Mexican girls; and behind them a group of Dutch lads trying to chat them up. Everyone is talking at the same time, and the click of the chopsticks is providing a musical accompaniment (no, I’m joking with the last, I can’t hear the chopsticks, I can only smell them!). Mobile phones ring every few minutes, usually between the annoying announcements on the tannoy.

I haven’t got too much say, but I thought I might find it easier to pass the time by writing than by trying to read. However, I fully expect the computer to shut down any moment because I’m not sure it charged up properly before I left.

There were a couple of things I thought of in Amsterdam that I wanted to put down in my Kip Fenn note book, but I keep forgetting so I’m putting them down here now. The first is an idea I had ages ago to include, in Kip Fenn, sometime around the middle of this century a fad for businessmen, perhaps only African but maybe not, to dye their beards with fancy colours and patterns. The second idea, which was a new thought in Amsterdam, was to have one of Kip Fenn’s teacher someone who always told a joke in every lesson.

Adam is running the 1,500 metres in the district sports again today - last year, amazingly, he came second, but this year he has hardly done any training, and only managed to get selected to go because several of his friends stood up for him when the PE teacher forgot him. But, really, he should have been training after school or at lunchtime at least since the beginning of the summer term, not just a week before the event. This year, though, his school life has been made more complicated by the punishing schedule of rehearsals for the school play. From this weekend, he has to start rehearsing on Saturdays too.

I really cannot concentrate with all this chitter chatter criss-crossing everywhich way around me.

27 June 2001

But I didn’t mention the girl who was sitting to my side, and who was a bit busy with herself, her bags and her papers, but not noisily or worryingly so. She was difficult not to notice, with her incredible mane of frizzy hair, her deeply attractive freckled, slightly squarish face, and her large bust all too noticeable behind a brilliant white tight hugging t-shirt. I tried to work a little, I tried to read, and then I gave in, got out my sandwiches, and opened a conversation. And then I fell in love. I thought she might not speak English, or might not want to talk, but neither of those applied. She was a Flemish Belgian, spoke near perfect English, and we didn’t stop chatting until we arrived at Gare du Midi. She smiled non-stop, she spoke affectionately and confidentially, and far more confidently than I, her interest never apparently sagging. I think she was about 26 or 27, and had recently bought a house with her boyfriend - her boyfriend was mentioned often, but not by name. She worked for the Belgian subsidiary of Virgin records, now owned by EMI not Branson, as a kind of PR agent, organising tours in Belgium by international artists, and liaising with the media in favour of her portfolio of artists (I think she said that today she would be escorting one of the Spice Girls around). She was often amused when she mentioned famous pop stars and I had never heard of them. She clearly loved her job, and her life. She seemed like a kind of dream girl to me, intelligent, calm, a little sexy, very friendly, beautiful - straight out of a sixties ad for milk, an eighties ad for mineral water, or a nineties add for tampons. She talked quite a lot about her job, a little about her recent holiday with her mother to Tunisia, and a tour with her boyfriend to Australia. She talked about herself quite a lot, unselfconsciously, but as time went on, became more interested in me, and started asking me a few questions. She candidly told me that her mother was becoming a bit demanding, and she expressed some laughing resentment at the group of Belgian boys in the carriage who were about her own age but were acting like children. As we approached Brussels, I gave some thought as to whether I should try and maintain some contact with her, but I failed miserably to come up with any reasonable plan. I suppose, if she had not have been living with her boyfriend, I might have suggested we stay in contact, or meet for a drink one evening, but she was very full of her boyfriend and their new house together. There was something very conventional about her, which, oddly, reminded me of the Walloon couple I used to know in Brussels, who later moved to Liege, and who I first met when they were living in 15 Aldershot Road. I recall myself feeling a bit like a watered down version of Methuselah whenever I met them, but only because of the difference between their conventionality and my unconventionality. Also, I was keenly aware that, although the warmth of our conversation might have normally precipitated some attempt, at least on my part, to maintain contact, she was nice and charming and friendly as a natural part of her character, so much so that her job depended on it, and that, therefore, she was talking to me in no different a way from that she would to a dozen people every day - and she surely couldn’t keep in touch with all of them. As we were leaving the train and walking through passport control I thought, at least, to ask her name, but I found myself too far in front of her, and then being afraid (yes, how stupid) of waiting for her at the exit point in case her boyfriend was waiting there to collect her. Instead, I waited for her a little further away, and then all I could manage was a distant wave as she went a different way (but no boyfriend there to greet her). As I waited for the metro I wanted to cry, a deep cry - not, of course, for failing to get her name, but for being faced so upfront with the truth that, out there in the world, there are lovely people, lovely women, lovely normal women, and I am so so very far away from love or intimacy or sex with anyone, let alone anyone remotely as lovely as her.

30 June

A restless night.

In one dream, I wake up in my garden only to discover that a huge billboard (like those freestanding ones, one sees from a train that is approaching a major station) has been constructed reaching almost from one side of the garden to the other. It seems to be connected with large scale works being done on a neighbouring property - I think my neighbour must be starting work on building his house as per the planning permission. But I am furious and concerned that damage might be done to my property, and march up to find the foreman. There are a lot of people around, and a lot of activity. When I find the foreman, I am anxious to leave him with the impression that I will cause no end of trouble if he should damage my property in any way.

Later, there is a problem with water. One room in my house seems to be flooding, and when I go outside, I find the foreman and his mates playing with pipes. There is also flooding outside. The foreman does something and all the water retreats. He says there is difficulty with dust, and asks me a question, but I cannot help him. As I walk around my tiled and patioed areas, I hear all the tiles creaking under my feet, as though they have come loose, and I go to look for the foreman. Also, oddly, when I look across to my neighbours property, the one I assume to which all this work is being done, I see a series, a cascade even of tiled pools and patios at a much lower level than my house, and I wonder then, if the foreman knows that this area is liable to flooding in the winter.

July 2001

Paul K Lyons


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