DIARY 70: September 2001 - March 2002

6 September 2001, Brussels

East Africa is far away and far behind. It is raining here in Brussels. I will be returning to England by Eurostar this afternoon. I’m not sure if I really needed to make this hurried trip, since very little has happened since I was last here - but at least it has swung me back mechanically into work mode. Ads too went back to school yesterday, but for him a new timetable, new classes with different students and teachers were awaiting him, which he was quite excited about. Once or twice on our trip I found him missing his schoolfriends and thinking ahead to school.

I have much still to write up in my East Africa diary. It’s all a bit of a mess, with much written al vivo but not really explaining what we did; there are some days which are documented well, but most are missing entirely. I have notes for some of those days, but not all. I will endeavour to ensure it is completed by this weekend. I have no idea what Adam’s diary is like.

I have found myself thinking about my future in odd moments, trying to envisage whether I really can give up EC Inform, whether I can face all the changes this will bring, and whether I can face not giving up EC Inform. How much will I miss being involved in the EC, and coming to Brussels. I try to imagine myself as a postman, or doing a fairly menial job to avoid using all my savings.

15 September 2001

It’s Saturday now, and so far I haven’t written about the events last Tuesday which have so shocked the western world. The hijacking of four aeroplanes and the use of those planes as missiles directed at the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon, and, probably, Camp David, although the last never reached its destination. The crashing of the planes into the buildings, and the loss of life caused by that was bad enough, but the subsequent crumbling and total destruction of the two World Trade Centre towers in New York made the terrible and horrific attack ten times worse - not least because so many more people (including hundreds of firefighters) were killed by the falling buildings. But also, in a way, because of the symbol created by the changed Manhattan skyline, and the great loss of physical property and the value of that property.

I have not written about these events so far largely because I was deeply into the final days of my newsletter production cycle, which finished on Thursday, and partly because I have been glued to the TV/radio, like everyone else, watching the pictures and listening to the accounts of survivors and recorded telephone messages made by those about to die in the aeroplanes or in the World Trade Centre after it was hit, but before it crumbled. As always with big world events, I have also been fascinated to watch how the news machine itself operates. On Tuesday afternoon, for example, when I first discovered the news (rather late it must be said, since I hadn’t listened to the 2pm news, and was only alerted to developments when I flicked on BBC2 around 4:15pm), ITV was doing much better than BBC in reporting events live from New York. I have preferred to watch and read than to write, and to a large extent I have read in the papers or heard commentators commentate just about every thought or idea that has popped into my head over these days - which makes me less interested in writing them down.

I was with Adam on Tuesday afternoon when I flicked on BBC2; we watched events unfold together for two hours or so. Adam was full of comments and ideas and emotions, and, although I tried to listen, I probably should have tried harder - I was probably too full of my own thoughts and my own ideas, and however grown-up and mature his thoughts were, they were still those of a young person, not an adult. And I probably (I’m guessing this in retrospect now because Adam certainly didn’t betray any argument or crossness or resentment towards me, and he certainly seemed to respect the things I was saying) imposed my own ideas and thoughts on the conversation too much.

During the first two days, no one paid any attention to the fact that the hijackers, teams of 3-6, had not only been prepared to die, but knew they would definitely die, and that these teams must necessarily have included highly trained (i.e. pilots) and intelligent people. This is quite extraordinary in itself. And, President Bush, who has managed to show all his critics exactly why he should never have been elected President by his poor choice of words and actions, and his total inability to be a natural leader (like Reagan, but unlike Clinton, he’s totally dependent on his staff and briefings and speech writers), used the word ‘cowards’ to describe the terrorists who carried out these outrages. What a stupid thing to say. They may be detestable, evil, murderous, corrosive, poisoned, loathsome (I’ve resorted to the thesaurus) but they are not, were not, cowards. What can lead people to act in such self-lessly destructive ways: only a passionate belief in something, usually religion or nationality.

Bush and his cronies have called the terrorist attack the first war of the 21st century. They are bigots. There is a war continuing in Iraq, and there are all kinds of wars being raged all over the world - but of course they are not as important as New York. Much of the western world, led by democratically-elected leaders, who must by definition remain popular, has responded positively to the US’s calls for revenge; and much of the rest of the world, which is in hock to the US, has also supported the call to arms against terrorism.

Most attention is now being focused on Osama Bin Laden, the Saudi exile living in Afghanistan, under the protection of the Taliban. Bin Laden is already the US’s no 1 enemy, and is thought to be responsible for a range of terrorist attacks on the US. But I, who strongly supported the UK action in the Falklands and the West’s response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (against much popular opposition), am not at all convinced that the apparent worldwide response - at least that collected and reported by our media - to this tragedy is the right one (involving some kind of military action in Afghanistan, and, possibly, Iraq). First, it is really important to try and bring some perspective to the issue. It seems that around 5,000 may have been killed; and, yes, it is the most terrible terrorist attack, with more victims than any single event of its kind in the modern world, only outdone, so to speak, by natural disasters and actual and ongoing wars. (Ah, but, as I write this, I recall the Bhopal tragedy in India, which may well have been bigger in terms of deaths and injuries and generational birth defects - I would need to check - but not of course in terms of financial loss or the loss of such famous buildings.) But, as one commentator pointed out, one quarter of Afghanis (i.e. millions of people) are currently in danger of starvation, and another one asked where was all this outpouring of anguish when 20,000 people died in India earlier this year as a result of floods. And, I wonder, how many people die on the US’s roads, or are murdered by guns, in any given day. Those are senseless, selfish, greedy murders, but Tuesday’s murders, although all at once, were caused by some people’s self-less objectives. And I believe the world should not be considering revenge or vengeance, or not only, but should be looking deeper for the reasons why the terrorism exists. Parts of the world have, after all, accepted that some terrorists - the Palestinians and the IRA for example - had some argument on their side that needed listening to, or dealing with. Just because the terrorism is on a global scale, does not mean we should be trying to patch up the problems, we should be searching in a global way for the underlying causes in the same way that the UK is now trying to solve the Northern Ireland problem and the Middle East has been trying to solve the Palestinian problem. (I suppose also there were terrorists once in South Africa, and the underlying problem there was apartheid.)

I believe (and this is one of the themes I’ve already identified for Kip Fenn) that the underlying causes must be traceable back to the extraordinary divide that still exists between the rich and the poor in this world, more specifically between the rich nations and the poor nations. And it so happens that the Muslim/Arab nations are the ones most likely to be able to rally fanatics and armies to assault the rich west. The fact that, despite huge divides within the Muslim/Arab nations, one part of the Muslim world has managed to shake-up the west should not be taken as a call to arms, but a call to peace, a call to a greater understanding of what divides the world.

The US has reportedly decided to devote an extra $20bn to fighting terrorism - if there are five million afghanis hungry, that $20bn could be used to give each one $4,000 each - that would surely defuse Osama Bin Laden’s power in the country.

18 September 2001

It’s just about a week now since the terrorist attack in the US. Wall St reopened yesterday, but, although the markets have weakened, so far they have held up reasonably well. Media attention today is being focused on the possibility of war in Afghanistan. The papers are full of maps of the area, and the military options, and who might support the US in the region and why. A meeting taking place as I write in Afghanistan is said to be one at which a decision is being made by the Taliban as to whether or not to hand bin Laden over to, presumably, some other Arab state. The role of Pakistan, one of the few countries to have recognised the Taliban and itself vulnerable to a Muslim fundamentalist movement, is also under the microscope. The talk is still of worldwide alliances against terrorism, and war against terrorism. This seems to be tantamount to war against Afghanistan if it won’t give up bin Laden (apart from a round-up of suspected terrorists in western countries, nobody seems to be talking about other options). But I think this would be totally and utterly wrong.

Firstly, I think it will be very unlikely that the West can prove bin Laden was involved with the four hijackings. If, as one article I read speculated, the terrorists were only ‘inspired’ by bin Laden, the US would not be justified in bringing about a dreadful vengeance on him. Instead, they should use the alliance against terrorism to capture him, and then to try him for those crimes which he has committed. Secondly, even if he is involved, and even if Afghanistan refuses to give him up, the US should not attack the country. There is nothing the US could do which would inflame the fundamentalist muslims more. The world cannot condemn religious fervour, such as the fundamentalist muslim movement, nor is terrorism an inevitable consequence of that religious fervour, especially if governments and leaders worldwide are heard to condemn terrorism - political and economic pressure should be maintained to ensure they do. But, nevertheless, if the US is seen to be using its might and killing innocent people, this will only inflame the sick and obsessed individuals who believe it is their place to fulfil the mission of Allah and destroy the rich and pompous western civilisation. How can bombing Afghanistan help remove the threat of terrorism? It won’t. Afghanistan is one of the poorest and sickest nations on earth, and it is not being led by a mad tyrant as in the case of Iraq, but by a religious power which is only there because of the poverty of the nation. Let us show humanity, mercy, generosity, forgiveness (all the goods things about Christianity), and not demand that Afghanistan fall to its knees before we give it international aid, or agree not to bomb it. Surely we have learnt from the various experiences in South Africa, Northern Ireland, and the Middle East about what drives organisations with obsessive beliefs and the individuals within them. I was just listening to someone on the radio with a deep knowledge of the Taliban. He was saying that Afghanistan could have reaped huge economic benefits by now if it had kowtowed to the West, by, for example, not destroying the giant Buddhist statues, or by handing over bin Laden before now, but it has not done so. Only evidence about bin Laden’s involvement in the attacks would give the Taliban reason to hand him over. But the very idea that the US might launch air attacks on Afghanistan has already started a mass exodus of people towards their border, to Pakistan and Iran - although the neighbouring countries are all closing their borders. One might argue, like a judge in a criminal case, that the defendant has already suffered enough and that a prison sentence would be counterproductive.

Martin Amis, writing in ‘The Guardian’ about the situation, has similar ideas to mine, and suggests the US should attack Afghanistan with food parcels not bombs. Ian McEwan too was in the ‘Guardian’ last week - how I hate seeing these famous writers paraded in front of me often with ideas similar to, or no better than, mine, but with the financial (money) and egotistical (publication) reasons for polishing the texts into a reasonable essay.

As I write it is one week to the minute that the first aeroplane hit the World Trade Centre. Is the Western world now making too much of it? By chance, I noticed an unrelated article in the paper yesterday about Bhopal, which I mentioned the other day, and the fact that many of the victims have still not been compensated 17 years later, and that the death toll, although officially around 5,000, may be nearer 20,000!

From world politics to personal development. How amazing is it that our minds can shift so easily and quickly from thinking about big and broad events to the tiny minutiae of our own self-worth and self-preservation.

This is my free week. And already it is Tuesday, and I have been prevaricating badly over what to do with it. Yesterday, I moped and shopped; and today I’ve messed around reinstalling the software on this portable computer, and now I’m writing my journal. Unless I were to sit down and use the week to prepare some new marketing exercise for EC Inform, which I haven’t done for 18 months, the only project on my plate at the moment is Kip Fenn. But this is such a big project, I have not been able to psyche myself up enough to make the decision to get going on it in all my spare time - even in the summer when I had loads of time, I only finally got down to doing a bit when it was already too late. But what else should I do with these spare weeks.

Clearly one thing I must do is make a final decision on whether I’m going to close down EC Inform, and how best to do it. The time is nearly nigh. If I can’t get on productively even in these few odd spare weeks, what am I going to be like when I haven’t got anything to do at all? Will I just go into free fall depression and end up a postman or barman? If I think I’m getting bad enough already - in terms of my isolation and lack of social intercourse - what will I be like when all structure is removed from my life? A jelly?

I have dispatched a synopsis and sample chapters of BLR to several more agents. I’ve changed the letter slightly, made it more humorous, but I really don’t believe I’m going to get anywhere with it now. I can’t ignore the letter from HarperCollins which was a real blow to my hopes for it, I suppose. But just like I couldn’t believe it when HarperCollins wanted to see the full novel and would then publish it, I couldn’t believe it either when that production company intended to make a programme about my diaries - it’s as though I’ve conspired with myself to live in a fantasy world, and I know it will never turn real, and I don’t mind. (I think the same is true about relationships, I don’t actually believe I’m ever going to have another intimate relationship again; and when I make some little efforts here and there, I know, I truly know, they are not going to lead anywhere. How have I arrived at this melancholy calmness?)

I’ve taken out a subscription to something called ‘Writers’ News’. I get one magazine every month, and another one every quarter. But I also got a copy of the 2002 edition of ‘The Writer’s Handbook’ which carries extensive lists of publishers and agents - the one I’ve been using is five years old, and I needed a new one anyway. Thus, the subscription didn’t cost more than about a tenner. I thought I ought to see what kind of things writers read and write about among themselves. Oh, but it’s so depressing. It’s full of adverts for self-printing and vanity presses, and editorial assistance, and tips on good writing, and how to sell your work, feature articles by not-very-well-known authors, and short story competitions which cost £2-4 to enter and which have prizes of £100-250 (i.e. they’re not much different to a school raffle!).

Here’s the ‘star letter’ from the September edition: ‘Sir, I read with interest the article about Shout magazine. I bought a copy to do my research like a good writer should. I was bemused to see that there were no fiction pieces in the magazine at all, but writing my story for the age group the magazine is aimed at, I sent it in. This was Monday morning, and in the Wednesday’s post, I received by sae my story along with a charming (rejection) cover letter. The letter mentioned my story by name and the ms in question was considerably more dog-eared than when I had sent it - there was no question it had been read thoroughly. Despite the negative response, I would like to commend Shout magazine and Ms Welch for their speed of response. If all editors worked this fast, writing would be a less frustrating business.’ It won a £10 book token. GOD HELP ME - I WOULDN’T SURVIVE 5 MILLISECONDS IN THIS WORLD WITHOUT WANTING TO KILL MYSELF.

I play volleyball twice a week now when I can, when I’m not in Brussels. The sessions, which were poorly attended during the summer, have now picked up and there are many new people. In general, this means the sessions are a bit scrappy; but, nevertheless, I seem to be getting a lot out of this sport. Quite often, after a training session, I find myself replaying certain shots in my mind (either winning shots I’ve made, or stupid errors). (The fact that I have mental space and time to think about volleyball training shows how untroubled my daily life is at the moment.) I am well established as a setter now, and can hold my own in a team of better players. I rarely lose a ball, and often save wayward ones through my quick movement.

I’ve thrown a spanner in the routine of our lives, by writing to B and suggesting that Adam needs to have more stability in the how and where he does his schoolwork. So I’ve proposed he routinely do his work here, which means coming to this house after school every day, and only taking over to B’s house specific pieces of work. There’s been a lot of pre-argument about this, and Adam got very upset one night when he thought I was going to suggest he live here permanently. But I decided it would be best to write it down, in the form of a letter. That way, I thought, I could be more sure of my own rationale and arguments. It took a couple of pages, and I am now waiting for B’s response.

On Sunday, the three of us went to Mum’s for lunch. She cooked steak and mushroom pie for Ads and I and cauliflower cheese for B. On the way there we stopped at Secretts to buy a tree for her front garden. B and I have been discussing what plant would be suitable for Mum’s newly designed front patch since early summer, but there didn’t seem to be an obvious choice. We found some very attractive and healthy crab apples, and decided on one with reddish fruit decorating its thin trunk. Mum also had some presents for Adam, which she hadn’t yet managed to give him for his birthday. Julian and family came later for tea, and we showed our East Africa slides and pics. Mum had found an old envelope in which I had sent her a letter when I was young. It said, at the top of the address, ‘Snoyl lyons’ and Mum had no idea what it meant, or why I had written it. I saw immediately, it was simply Lyons backwards, and carried no more significance than that. I wonder if she has a collection of my letters - I should read them over some time.

We are eating the very last of this year’s garden produce, and there isn’t much after the daily deer visitations. I’ve had a few good sweetcorn, and there were a few beans at the top of the canes which the deer couldn’t reach. They’ve left the spring onions, but all the lettuce and spinach on either side of the onions have been gobbled to nothing.

I’ve finished ‘Air and Fire’ by Rupert Thomson. This book, set in Mexico, is very unlike other works of his, and reminded me of the magical realism novels by authors such as Llosa, Armado and Marquez. I think he must have deliberately used such a style. It was competent but didn’t set me alight.

21 September 2001

I’ve been so unproductive this week, I might just have well slept through the five days. Here I am on Friday afternoon, and I’ve managed less than one day on Kip Fenn, and I’ve nothing else to show for the week, not even gardening. Maybe I’ll do some later.

It has become apparent today that the US and the UK, with the connivance of many other countries including Arab ones, are likely to mount an invasion of Afghanistan in the next few days. The Taliban has declined to make a firm move to throw out bin Laden, and our great leaders have said this is not acceptable. And now they are talking about the need to get rid of the Taliban and what kind of government might take its place. Pakistan and others (even Iran I suspect) seem likely to be offered such large bribes that they can’t refuse their support. Also they fear large influxes of Afghani refugees, which either the West should stop or pay for, and they fear their own insurgent Muslim fundamentalists. But invading Afghanistan and deposing the Taliban, will not get rid of Muslim fundamentalists and terrorists.

25 September, on Eurostar

I was only 5-10 minutes away from missing the 19:27 train this evening. The train from Farncombe was a tad late arriving and just got slower and slower on its way to Clapham. If it had maintained the same momentum from Clapham to Waterloo I would certainly have missed my Eurostar connection, especially as it left on time today. The train is relatively empty, but all the six of seven people in this carriage are making noises: there are two French women chattering incessantly (using the word Selfridges every few minutes), a man behind me is eating his crisps loudly (next to mobile phones, I seem to have a real hatred for loud crisp eaters), and everyone else is coughing regularly - the kind of unnecessary coughing that I’ve been trying to train Adam out of - for years - without success. Also I’m suffering from a Fox’s Glacier Mint. One has melted and seeped all around the inside of my bag, and got onto the various items in the bag including this portable. It’s a ghastly stickiness that won’t rub or wipe off without water - I’ve tried to deal with the worst of it, by getting some damp toilet paper but I’ll have to provide it with a proper clean when I get in later. I used this bag on our Kenya trip, and we took mints and aniseed balls with us - one must have escaped and lodged in a crevice, and bided its time to do maximum damage.

Adam came home from school yesterday proudly sporting what he calls a ‘hoody’. It’s a dark blue tracksuit top with a hood and a kind of sticker on the front, rectangular and white, and full of writing. He bought it on Sunday when B took him in to Guildford. I’ve since established it cost £45. There are so many things wrong with this hoody: the ugliness of the sticker, which stands out horribly, the fact that it is a kind of cool skater’s hoody, its price, and, worst of all, the word ‘bastard’ occurs twice on the sticker. I should have got more cross with B, for not supervising Adam properly, but I dumped all my crossness onto Adam. Yesterday I was just really down on his choice, but this afternoon, before leaving, I got angry. Angry that he had spent so much, angry that he hadn’t looked carefully at what he was buying (he claims he didn’t see the word bastard), angry that he should be seeking kudos at school through such superficial means, and angry that he had wilfully organised to get money from his account on Sunday and buy this hoody even though he still owes me money from the holiday (we agreed he would use £20 of his own money to buy things). I’ve mentioned this money several times, but he keeps telling me he hasn’t forgotten, as though that’s OK.

He’s still the sweet charming witty loving child I know, but somehow or other I’m having a big tussle with him almost every day. Just before I left, I toned down my anger and reminded him that he’s handsome, charming, intelligent, witty and has a lot going for him, and that he doesn’t need to seek cheap playground feeling-good hits in this way. He needs to find more long-term ways of feeling good about himself, by working at things to become good at them, by achieving things that he’s spent time on. I also told him that I think these two years are going to be his toughest, psychologically, and that he shouldn’t be afraid to retreat from the playground and do his own thing if he doesn’t feel he’s getting on with his friends now and then.

An invasion of Afghanistan to depose the Taliban now looks inevitable. It seems to me that there is a huge gulf between the rhetoric of our leaders, Bush and Blair, and public opinion. Our leaders have, more or less, said the Taliban must go in the war against terrorism, but commentator after commentator, and correspondent after correspondent on radio programmes, on TV and in the papers advise caution, and call for a much closer examination of the causes of the terrorist attacks. I expect the SAS and CIA are already making incursions into Afghanistan and we the public are being told nothing. Bombings and ground troops will probably follow. Nothing I have read, including some editorials in ‘The Economist’ supporting Bush, has persuaded me that getting rid of the Taliban is the right thing to do. I think the West will make a martyr of the Taliban - it would be far better to let them prove how hopeless their regime is and wait for a popular uprising.

I must go and eat sandwiches, my tummy is rumbling.

26 September

Back to Afghanistan. Jack Straw, who made a much better home secretary than a foreign secretary - if nothing else his homey, friendly chatty (you’ve-got-everything-the-wrong-way-round kind of) interviewee style is better suited to small domestic matters than weighty foreign affairs - went to Iran the other day, protesting that he was not on US business. We the public have no idea what the meeting with Iran was really about, since the Iranian leader told the world yesterday that he would not be helping the US invade Afghanistan and that he strongly opposed any attempt to depose the Taliban. Meanwhile, protests against the US appear to be on the increase, as are the dire warnings about the starvation and mass migration of Afghanis. So now we are told that any move into Afghanistan with bombs will also bring bread. I wonder if bin Laden is sitting drinking a beer in a New York bar, with his beard shaved, a dapper moustache and a white designer suit.

I’ve just been to see a film called ‘Original Sin’. Set in pre-Castro Cuba, it tells of the love story between a coffee plantation owner, and an American hussy who as part of a con arranged by the hussy’s erstwhile partner and lover, becomes his wife. Every scene is over decorated, the direction is heavy, the plot is all too predictable as well as flawed, the dialogue is boring, and the acting is mundane. ‘Heartbreaker’ with Sigourney Weaver and Gene Hackman looked much more promising, but I have to be very desperate to see a comedy (although if this gets good reviews in UK, I might take Ads to see it).

Did I say my Mum has gone to Spain for a 10 day Saga with Audrey.

Did I mention Ian Duncan Smith is now leader of the Conservative Party, and that he has put in place the most right wing shadow cabinet ever known (the dark return of Michael Howard, Bill Cash in there somewhere too, except oddly he’s left out John Redwood - the only blessing). Surely, we must see a new party launched soon - The Democratic Conservative Party perhaps.

28 September 2001

I must move into Martin Amis territory. I do believe my own troubles are a direct result of my scoffing at Amis’s problems, so graphically explained in his autobiographical work ‘Experience’. To sum up in just one word: Teeth. My teeth have been giving me hell this week. Ever since I chipped a tooth on a right upper molar, about 18 months ago, I have had problems. First, I ignored the chipped tooth (which had an old filling in), but then it began to hurt. I tried B’s NHS dental practice first in Godalming, and was horrified at the cackhandedness and gunghoness of the dentist I saw there (not the one B or A see). I couldn’t believe a word he said - he didn’t even take pictures, and was talking about drilling, and fillings and crowns in my upper and lower teeth. After I left, I felt liked I’d escaped from a horror movie. Then I went to Richard Bourne, the village dentist, and my coworker on the paper boat races. He patched up the filling, and tidied up the tooth, and sent me on my way £100 or more poorer. Some months later, I went back to see him, because it was still hurting. This time he filled an adjacent tooth and charged me more big money. But the pain didn’t go away. And for six months or more, I lived with a sensitive tooth, which hurt every time something conductive (like water or an apple) touched it (I couldn’t even dream of eating ice cream on that side). But the pain always went away immediately. In the last few weeks, more of an ache has begun to build up. (In fact, I remember wondering whether I should see the dentist before the East Africa trip - but I didn’t.) Well, earlier this week, a real classic toothache hit me - a dull thudding, deep pain, that steadily grew into a huge crescendo of pain filling my upper and lower jaw but so strong it was difficult to locate its source. Then, after 10 minutes or half an hour it would subside, especially if I did something physical. The pain then started coming every few hours, and getting stronger each time, until yesterday, I was actually in tears several times at the pain (once on the train). I was also feverish. Somehow I managed to get through the night without an attack (I woke once, after the paracetamol would have worn off, and just lay there for ages expecting the pain to come, and it didn’t). I rang Richard’s surgery first thing, and was given an appointment for Monday afternoon. Then the pain came, and I thought I can’t handle this all through the weekend, and I plucked up courage to ring back and ask if there might be a cancellation today. I was told Richard didn’t work on Fridays. I paced around the house, swallowed some paracetamol, and carried on pacing, hoping the pain would go. Then the phone rang. It was Richard’s nurse saying he was actually dealing with some emergencies this morning, and if I came straight away he would see me when he could. I went straight there, and within 10 minutes I was anaesthetised and he was drilling out the old filling.

Although I am in doubt as to whether Richard should ever have allowed my teeth to get to this stage, I was massively relieved to be in his surgery at all, and for him to have the time to be dealing with my problem - any other day of the week, and he certainly would not have been able to see me so quickly. After digging out the tooth, he took a good look around inside . . .

I have to pause for a moment, to reflect on the guilt I feel. It is 2:46 on Friday afternoon, not a Friday in my free-ish week, but a Friday in the first of my three production weeks. I don’t NOT work on such a day, especially as the two days spent going to, staying in, and coming back from Brussels always take a big chunk out of my working week. But, actually I seem to be ahead of myself (not in the sense that I’ve done a lot, but in the sense that there isn’t that much to be done at the moment). And yet, I still find it difficult to relax. Now Richard was telling me that he never works on a Friday afternoon, and tries not to work on Friday at all. When he first went into the profession, the life expectancy of a dentist was 48 (a tall story I wouldn’t wonder) due to suicides and other factors. Having decided he wasn’t going to be a statistic, he tells me, he made an effort to ensure himself ample time for leisure - hence no Fridays. No weekends either, I bet, unlike me, who has rarely got through two weekends on the trot without doing some work.

But thank St Wisdom of Greater Molar that Richard was working this Friday. On looking around inside, he declared some surprise at finding something green in there - some vestige of the previous, and by now quite antique, filling. As he was picking away at it, I hit the roof with pain - so he gave me some more painkiller, and waited five minutes for it to work. Then he carried on filing and poking around, talking about which bit was dead, and which bit was rotten etc, and then suddenly he touched another point, and I literally hit the roof (well, not literally of course, but I sat bolt upright in intense agony) and it was hard to tell who was more hurt, Richard or me. This seemed to solve his dilemma any how - one root was dead, he said, and another root was super alive. And it would need an hour to fix. Within a minute, he’d pasted in some temporary filler, given me some antibiotics in case infection set in, in the meantime, and sent me on my way. That was five hours ago, and, although I had some twinges while the anaesthetic was wearing off, and there are mini-mini-twinges happening inside the tooth on a regular basis, I’ve been fine, and am fine. Phew. To think if I hadn’t made that second, nervous (and I really I thought quite stupid) phone call, I would have been in total agony all weekend.

October 2001

Paul K Lyons


Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG

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INTRO to diaries