4 December 2002

The most exciting thing happening in my life is the typing up (and rediscovery) of the diary of my travels in South America. Here is a short bit I typed this morning from 25 September 1976: ‘Maybe I really am writing irrelevant things in this book - what is it, some sort of escape - The apples I ate today aren’t very crunchy! It is a book that will give me pleasure to read in future histories. Maybe in 20 years time. I will write reviews of it in the present diary - Then maybe in another 20 years I will write a review of the review and if I live to be 84 even a review of the review of the review.’ I’m just about to start typing up the period when I settle down in Vina del Mar for a couple of months, get a job, rent a room, and meet Nene. Exciting stuff.

It is Wednesday. I am approximately two days ahead of my schedule, or more, for the newsletters. I could almost put EC Inform-Energy to bed tomorrow - and that includes the yearly index that needs to go out with the December issue, the last. I’ve not heard back from Newzeye. Since I gave Ian Grant a deadline of 6 December, I can take it that he’s not going to proceed with buying EC Inform-Energy. I never really thought he had the wherewithal (very useful word that) to do it - I think he wanted to (especially after trying once before to buy a title), but he just couldn’t cope with the financial and work commitment it would require. I’m sure he would have ended up regretting it, if he had of bought it. As for The Waterfront Partnership, there’s even less chance of them buying EC Inform-Transport, so I should be able to pack up shop a week on Friday with a clear conscience, knowing I’ve tried my hardest to get a sale. As I’m sure I’ve said, there’s probably £20,000-30,000 worth of realisable profit in the company, but to squeeze out the last pennies, I’d have to work at it for another year - and, simply put, it’s not a job I want to do for that amount of money.

A package arrives from Amazon. There are two American thrillers I ordered on Saturday, just hours before seeing one of them in a charity shop for less than half the price I paid. There is a CD of fado music sung by Mariza, a Portuguese singer who has revived the fado traditions - I hope in time to love them as much as I do other singers in Spanish/Portuguese (Gal Costa, Mercedes Sosa for example). The final part of the package is a book on human evolutionary psychology by Robin Dunbar and two of the staff in his evolutionary psychology department at Liverpool University’s School of Biological Scientists. I bought it partly because it was by Dunbar, he who oversaw my MSc thesis, and because I’d read a very positive review of it. It’s basically a text book for undergraduates. On opening the book, I noticed that he had dedicated it to John Hurrell Crook, none other than the author of ‘The Evolution of Human Consciousness’, and the leader of the meditation workshops in the Welsh hills. ‘The Evolution of Human Consciousness’ was, without doubt, the book that propelled me towards an interest in the whole area of evolution and human consciousness, which ultimately led me to do the MSc in the first place. I did a quick search on the internet and found an email address for Dunbar, and started composing a letter to him - just saying hello and telling him a simplified version of my journey from Crook to his course. But then I realised that, for all I knew, Crook’s book may have been the inspiration for hundreds, thousands of people - indeed for Dunbar himself - and that, therefore, my ‘discovery’ and ‘pursuit’ of this interest because of Crook, might, in fact, be a very ordinary story. It’s perfectly possible that Crook’s book was a milestone in this whole area and that this is widely acknowledged - and I just don’t know that, because I’m so unplugged into the whole area. I mean, apart from the two years, I studied at University College, I pursued my intellectual interest in these areas completely alone - I never discuss anything with anyone (which is probably why I don’t remember as much as I should from one book to the next).

Tonight we three, my little family, go to Adam’s school for our last encounter with his teachers. Adam’s mid-term report suggests he might get top grades (A or B) for Maths, English (two GCSEs) and drama; but only B or C for science (which is two GCSEs), History and Geography. So, we’re due to see the teachers for the latter subjects, and perhaps ask how/whether Adam can boost his chances for an A. Adam himself is most anxious about our meeting his French teacher - he’s so bad at French, and he seems to think that his French teachers are always thinking the worst about him. But, as I expect him to fail his French (despite quite a lot of help, one way or another from me), there’s not much his teacher can say that will disappoint me.

8 December

Foul weather today - damp, cold, dark. I was out for a drive at around 8 this morning checking out roads where I know houses are on sale. It’s pretty depressing to discover just how many horrible areas there are in Guildford and Godalming - parking is an awful problem in many of them. I’m coming round to the idea that Busbridge in Godalming might be the best possibility - but properties there are expensive and don’t come on the market very often. There’s nothing currently on offer which I would buy, but I begin to think I need to put this house on the market so as to be in a reasonable position to look at new houses when they come up for sale. Will have to ponder this more after the coming week - my final EC Inform week.

As I write on Sunday night, less than 48 hours from dispatching the December issue of EC Inform-Energy to the printer, I am still not certain what will happen to the newsletter. I’ve talked to both the editorial and financial directors of Newzeye, and I’m heading for a meeting with them at 4pm tomorrow. The intention is to sign a simple contract, and for them to take over the title - but until I have a cheque and a basic contract in my pocket I won’t believe it’s going to happen. And, even if Newzeye do buy EC Inform-Energy, I don’t know whether they’ll want me to publish the 2002 index with the December issue or leave it for the January issue (when they would have to pay for it). Consequently, I am prepared for both outcomes: I have the issue nearly ready, but also I have the index and Document Watch nearly ready, so, if the deal falls through, I should still be able to dispatch the December issue complete with the Document Watch (normally on the back page of the January issue) and the index. By contrast, this coming issue of EC Inform-Transport will definitely be the last, so I will have to include the Document Watch and the index, which means extra work this week.

If the Newzeye deal goes through, I won’t get the thrill, the buzz that I was expecting of a complete close down - I will have to go on doing the newsletter for four months; but, for £25,000ish, I couldn’t reasonably turn the offer down. It means I can be a bit more generous with myself when it comes to travelling, and could take Adam to China as I promised. It’ll give me a little contact with people as well, which could be good for me, I suppose.

What do I feel as I come to the end of EC Inform? A great sense of relief (tempered somewhat by the thought I may have to continue for a while); no regrets at all that I can touch; no fear at all about the future. I fear a little bit how the process with Newzeye will proceed, and how much Ian Grant will want to draw me in, and, perhaps, complain to me, if things don’t go well - but on the whole, I feel certain I’ve made the right decision, and that I’ve managed the closure in an orderly fashion.

Christmas is nearly here again, and I’ve done nothing towards it - it’ll be a bit of a damp squid, I fear. I notice there’s nothing about last year’s Christmas in my journal. I’ve watched ‘Daniel Deronda’ on ITV the last three weeks. It was a pleasure. I’m not sure I’ve ever read the novel. And tonight I watch the last part of the ‘Dr Zhivago’ put on by BBC1, also a pleasure.

My email dialogue with Sue is proceeding smoothly. We don’t get close to writing about relationship or intimate stuff, we simply write backwards and forwards about aspects of our lives. We both seem happy as virtual buddies.

Sick, sick, sick. I am sick to the teeth of our media. All bloody week, the papers and the radio have been going on and on and on about Cherie Blair and the fact that she allowed a convicted fraudster to help her out in buying a couple of flats in Bristol. This is so pathetic. So she made a mistake with her choice of friends, but she’s not done anything illegal or even wrong; and what if the Blairs have used some money that’s supposed to be in a blind trust to buy a flat for their son - they’re hardly trying to profit from any hidden knowledge, when the property market is about to take a tumble; and so what if the Downing Street press office made a blunder on information about Cherie Blair, nobody’s done anything wrong or bad or illegal. Why are the media always so determined to knock our prime minister - they do not seem to be able to tell the difference between good and bad between right and wrong, they just want to fire bullets all the time, like a bad cop they don’t care what the target is, so long as there is a target. I mean, I’m sure the French public would lap up stories about Chirac’s private life, and his second family, if the media gave them the chance, but the media chooses not do so; and look at the Bush family, and at Berlusconi; I mean we must have the cleanest most uncorrupt prime minister and government in the world. I can understand ‘The Sun’ and ‘The Mirror’ and even the ‘Daily Mail’ blowing these stories up out of all proportion, but why do the broadsheets and the BBC have to follow suit?

And on the same theme, I found myself listening to Frederic Forsyth because he was on Friday’s ‘Any Questions’. I don’t think there’s anyone I’ve heard or seen on the radio or television who has the ability to make me quite so angry. He is the most pompous, arrogant, ignorant prig, and his rants against both this government and the European Union are full of downright lies (although I was shocked to hear how much applause he got - the programme came from somewhere in Oxfordshire). That the BBC should have allowed him an opinion piece on the Saturday ‘Today’ programme for so long is a scandal. He has nothing worth saying: he is a man pumped full of pomp and stock full of prejudice and nothing more.

Wednesday 18 December 2002

I’ve been a bit remiss of late, two weeks without an entry. But I’ve been a bit stressed these two weeks, what with finalising the last issues of EC Inform-Energy and EC Inform-Transport to be published by EC Inform after 10 years, and making a deal with Newzeye to buy EC Inform-Energy. The deal happened like this. On 4 December (it must have been after I wrote my last diary entry) Ian Grant rang to say he still wanted to go ahead with the deal, but he was off to Poland for four days. He offered me £10,000 up front, and £3,000 per issue for four issues, with 10% of revenues as well - so it would be around £24,000. Could I come to the Newzeye office on Monday 9 December, he asked. I said I could. But after the call, I felt really nervous and it took a while to work out why. Having already decided I couldn’t turn down an offer of £25,000, even if it does mean I’m not completely free for another four months, I was far from confident that Newzeye would actually be ready to do business on Monday. I had advised Ian and his finance director Chris Shirley that I needed a signed contract and a cheque before I went to press on Tuesday 10 December. But I did not have the feeling, from the discussion with Ian, that this would happen at the Monday meeting. So, I assuaged my own worries by writing a letter to Ian with an annex outlining the various decisions that would have to be made in the near future if they were to proceed with the purchase. Thus, one set of decisions would have to be made before publishing the December issue (thereby allowing me to repeat clearly my contract/cheque condition), another set before invoices were sent out, and a third before the January issue. I used the letter itself to limit the extent of the role I expected to play over the next few months. I emailed this to Ian (thinking he might pick it up while in Poland), but I also sent a copy to the office addressed to Chris Shirley (the guy I knew held the purse strings). But, even before he received my letter, on Thursday morning, Chris rang to discuss what would happen on Monday. In fact, he wanted to see how I felt about a) not using any lawyers, and b) whether he could trust me to work for the four issues even if I was paid the full £22,000 in the next few weeks. He explained this would be beneficial to him for tax reasons. After this conversation, I felt much happier, and confident I wouldn’t be wasting my time on Monday. Nevertheless, I did still prepare two issues of the newsletter one with a farewell editorial, the quarterly document watch and the annual index, and the other without any of those three (the latter two will be part of the January issue) - which meant a busy weekend.

I drove up (it only took an hour - it’s nearer and easier than to get to Mum’s), and had to wait for a while because Chris was stuck on the M1 somewhere. Ian and I went through some of the items I’d mentioned in my letter, but rather hesitantly because he hadn’t given it too much thought. But, after Chris arrived, he drew up a rough, hand-written heads of agreement which we duly signed, and he gave me a cheque for £10,000. I gave him an invoice for £10,000 worth of consultancy fees, and I will give him another one for £12,000 in January. If it doesn’t get paid (for whatever reason - I’m sure it will - I just stop helping Newzeye, and write a letter to all my subscribers). I was there about two hours. Some of the time, I was helping the IT guy, Alex (who turns out to be Chris’s half-brother), import the subscription database into his spreadsheet, and some of the time I was answering Ian’s questions. Somewhat manic from my first ever such deal, I raced over to Mum’s where we chatted and ate soup for an hour or two.

Before I forget - here is the letter to my subscribers that I never got to publish: 10 December - Dear Subscribers, It is with some regret that, after 10 years, I have decided to close down EC Inform. From the beginning, EC Inform has faced two major hurdles: firstly, being a very small publisher and struggling against very dominant players (either in energy, like FT/Platts, or in Brussels like EIS) with their marketing and editorial power; and, secondly, trying to persuade enough customers that it is worth paying a modest amount for information on the kind of long-term issues under discussion in Brussels.

Consequently, EC Inform has never managed to be a commercial success, one which underpins a dynamic development of ideas and products. My aim with EC Inform was to provide consistent and accurate information on the development of policy in Brussels, giving more comprehensive detail than the newspapers, and providing more accuracy and consistency than some of the very frequent Brussels-based publications. Also I was keen to provide a commentary - not on the issues themselves which experts can do much better - but on the way the institutions manage themselves. EC Inform-Energy has, for example, documented, in some detail, the EU’s ponderous but inevitable march towards energy market liberalisation - from the lively but blundering first attempts by Antonio Cardoso e Cunha to the bumbling disinterested efforts of Christos Papoutsis (who kept one foot planted firmly in Athens) under Jaques Santer, and the more considered workmanlike approach of Loyola de Palacio in the Romano Prodi Commission.

But EC Inform-Energy has not, unfortunately, witnessed any parallel moves towards a joint energy policy. Having watched the Community sign up to new Treaty after new Treaty, having seen it take on the challenges of the Single Market, the Euro, even foreign policy on occasions, and now enlargement, it still seems astonishing that there has been no give on energy policy in general, and on a revision of the Euratom Treaty in particular. The Euratom Treaty is nothing less than the European Community’s dark dusty skeleton locked up in a cupboard. It may seem fanciful to call it a conspiracy, but certainly the industry itself, key Member States and the European Commission have conspired to keep alive a Treaty whose single objective could not be justified in a court of law, and the terms of which are routinely abused. Even now, the Commission is proposing new laws based on this Treaty as if it (the Commission) were the guardian of the dictionary that defines the words set down in that Treaty. If the nuclear industry is to have a future in a carbon-costed Europe, then it will not be on the basis of the Euratom Treaty.

But to return to the point. Unfortunately, EC Inform has never managed to find enough customers needing/wanting this level of information or this kind of commentary to give it a long-term viable future. It is worth mentioning that throughout the 10 years, EC Inform has never received any assistance whatsoever from the European Commission or any other EU institution. (The Commission, in fact, declined even to support our endeavours by taking a subscription to EC Inform-Transport - an enlightened information officer in the old DG Transport said she did not approve of what we were doing!) This has always seemed very strange considering that EC Inform has taken a very positive attitude towards the Community and its aims, and considering the relatively large amounts of money the Commission spends on glossy brochures and slide presentations, which aim to impress but not to inform.

I do hope that the Commission, in the future, finds some way to support these kinds of publications - it is certain that Europe’s citizens and workers need real information about what the Community is doing and not just headline driven news or glossy spun brochures. It is, therefore, with some regret, as I say, that I must tell you that this will be the last issue of EC Inform-Energy. Thank you so very much for your custom in past years (with a special thanks to many subscribers who have been customers for much of EC Inform’s ten years, and to those few organisations which have taken on more than one subscription).

On the Friday (after, on Thursday, having sent the final issue of EC Inform-Transport, complete with index to the printer), Arthur Leathley from the Waterfront Partnership rang to say he was still interested in the newsletter, and his accountants were putting together some figures. Could I wait until the New Year. I told him that, with the newsletter now closed down, there was no hurry from my side at all (I sent him a letter clearly explaining the situation.) I think the European guy, Eoin, who originally called me, the one who was my subscriber, must have seen the pdf version of the last issue, and then called Arthur to find out what was happening vis-a-vis the Waterfront’s interest in the newsletter, and this must have prompted Arthur to do something.

Also on Friday, I went to a Christmas party, put on jointly by Newzeye and Clarendon, which is Chris’s main company and deals in property. The party was held in the Museum of Garden History in Lambeth Palace Road - a converted church. I think I went there once with B, and we both thought it a pathetic excuse for a museum, especially one with such a grand ambition. I went up by train and arrived in time for drinks at 7:30-8:00 with dinner at 8:00 prompt I was told. Well, not till 9:30 actually! Neither Chris nor Ian introduced me to anyone, so I strolled around between the laid out dining tables, half looking at the small area of displays and the large tourist shop which was poorly cordoned off (I could easily have pocketed all manner of things) and half sussing out the 80 or so people there. Eventually, I approached the only person also on his own - a stocky man in his 60s. He spoke with a slight accent, but when I asked him where he came from, he told me to guess. I guessed Poland (rather randomly) and he was astonished. He’d lived in Poland for 15 years, and in this country for more than 40. As we talked, he kept stopping mid-sentence to ask me how I knew he was from Poland. He was a printer. He showed me a mini-plan - ‘my son’s project really’ - for a brand new building on the Harrow Road to house the printing works. Then I found myself talking to Karen, who runs the Newsletter Association which had published my ‘for sale’ advert, and through which I’d found Newzeye. She didn’t know who I was when we started talking, nor that any deal had gone through - but when she found out, she could hardly contain her delight at having been instrumental in the business. He boyfriend, whose name I forget now, was rather quiet at first (Karen later confessed that he hadn’t wanted to come). I stayed with the two of them for most of the rest of the evening (through the cold and tasteless food, and through the mediocre and far-too-loud rock band that played later). The boyfriend and I talked about William Boyd and writing and the internet and comedy (he used to be a stand-up comedian but had recently given up) and mid-life voids (but not football because I couldn’t match his interest there). I talked for a while to one of the marketing girls, to Ian and, later, to Alex, all about the newsletter and how to manage it. Talking to Alex, though, I began to build up a clearer picture of the situation. I could see his much older half-brother dancing and swinging the night away, and bouncing from table to table checking that all was well with his guests: Clarendon employs three people, Newzeye 14, and the rest were partners, and suppliers and contacts etc. But all the money has come from Chris and his property partner (also called Ian) - they apparently made a lot of money in the 80s property boom, and again recently. And a couple of years ago, through friends I think, Ian, recently made redundant by Thomson, found Chris, and Chris agreed to finance Newzeye. So the whole thing is really Chris’s baby; and, from one or two chance remarks he made to made to me, I don’t think it’ll matter too much to him whether Ian’s decision to take EC Inform-Energy succeeds or fails.

I had to catch the last train at 11:45 but left a little earlier than necessary because the loudness of the music had made conversation impossible. I walked very slowly through the damp and cold along the deserted embankment watching the swirling black river, wondering about the barges (and, thanks to a small plaque, the sinking of the Marchioness) and admiring the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. At a bench or two before walking under Westminster Bridge, I came across a couple holding long thin glasses and a bottle of champagne - I don’t know what they were celebrating, but I congratulated them any way. And then the train home - the last train - a Friday night - pure entertainment: the over-dressed and the under-dressed, the animated and the dozing, the hamburger-stuffers and the coffee-slurpers, the colourful and the drab, the hopeful and the depleted, PLUS a dramatic confrontation over a seat which ended in the pompous loser (who’d had his seat ‘stolen’) finally, before leaving the carriage, spitting out the insult ‘you little shit’ in one of the most bitter tones I have ever heard.

19 December 2002

It’s Thursday today, and the week is dissolving into a fog of shopping and watching television and doing odd bits of cleaning up. When I came back from Sainsbury’s this morning (having spent £70) I decided to tidy up the grocery cupboard. In doing so, I realised the shelves needed wiping, and that I probably hadn’t wiped them in more than a year. I also found a can - of cooked red cabbage - which had a sell-by date of 1996! Just now I’ve had a bath and I’m listening to Shostakovitch’s 7th symphony. I’d gone into the Record Corner in Godalming in order to find a copy of Mozart’s ‘Magic Flute’ or ‘Don Giovanni’ for Barbara’s birthday (having failed to identify a reasonably-priced and reasonable recording on the Amazon site last night). I came out having bought a Klemperer recording of ‘Magic Flute’, a cheapish CD of Fats Waller music for Adam, and a complete set of Shostakovitch’s symphonies. This last was a purely spontaneous purchase at the till. The set has 11 CDs - twice as many as the set of Shostakovitch string quartets I ordered and bought from the same shop a couple of years ago (I’ve just checked back - it was FOUR years ago!) for around £50 - but only cost £20. I had no intention of buying the set when I picked it up and commented to the shop owner on the price ‘11 CDs for £20!’ with a rising intonation. Then, as he was packing up my other purchases, he told me how well some of the recordings had been received, and how well the set had been reviewed. He may have been telling me a pack of lies - but I bought the set any way.

Yesterday I went for a long walk on the Common to clear my head. For the first time ever I strolled across the A3 to the Witley Common, but I found it dull and uninteresting compared to the heathland on this side of the A3, and I never got far enough away from the A3 to leave behind the atrocious traffic noise. I must have been walking for two hours, and my knee held up without any kind of problem. With no one else about, and with the low winter sun, glinting on the ponds and the wet fields, tinting everything a little golden, it was the most delightful walk. However, I did find myself, once or twice rummaging around, so to speak, in a pocket of depression about the future (something that did not happen during my walks in the autumn) - I’m sure I’ll be coming back to this theme in the next few weeks.

Also this week I’ve had a flurry of email activity. Last week, I made a rare approach (on the L&F site) to a lady calling herself Demelza, a journalist by trade, now working in TV education I think. She looks not un-pretty from her photo, and lives in the Cotswolds. She replied to my first note, but then after my reply, a week went by, and so I sent a very short farewell note. But this crossed with her own note saying she’d been busy and was rushing off to Mozambique. So, we might continue in January. Then there was a wink from Terrapin (aka Tessa Sheridan) - I’ve never had a wink before - it’s just an indication that someone has seen your profile and is interested in you but can’t be bothered to write anything. So I sent back a witty message (I get a lot of fun out of composing these little messages), and Tess sent me back a photo which I quite liked, but hardly any text. So I did a google search on her full name (which came up in the direct email she sent me). She’s a film maker and works for some kind of commercial co-op I think. She’s advertised on the company site as having won a Palme d’Or prize for a short film. So then I sent her a longer email called ‘Small talk’ as if we were at a party and she had caught my eye. A lady from an Oxford village called Sue Roberts emailed me, but her profile makes her sound like Jennifer from the Archers or Hilary from Elstead - a busy, busy village woman with three kids and oodles of horrible middle-class confidence. Then there’s Cathy a travel editor, 37 and quite pretty by the looks of her photo. She seems a bit email lazy, and I’ve probably scared her off.

Meanwhile, my e-conversations with Sue continue. Recently, we’ve been writing rather long letters. I enjoy both writing to her, and receiving her letters. I like that she’s honest and sensitive, that she has lots going on in her mind, which she can communicate; I like that she listens to what I write and responds in such a way that I know she’s listened AND understood. I always got the feeling with Anna, for example, that she never really read what I wrote, and that she often interpreted it in a way completely different from my meaning. This has hardly happened with Sue at all. We’ve not had anything remotely approaching a row or disagreement (as happened with both Louise and Anna regularly). However, it is also true that with Sue I’ve steered clear of emotional subjects, relationships and love and sex and intimacy, and I’ve not provoked at all - which, I suppose, I did do with both Louise and Anna. With Louise, it was because she asked for it, wanted those kinds of discussions, and, I thought, she was rather interesting emotionally. With Anna, I laboured under the delusion (what a silly expression that is) for quite a while that we might get together, and so I was deliberately trying to take the conversation into more intimate areas.

Friday 27 December 2002

I’ve had this ibook on all day, it’s been sitting on the lounge table waiting for me, but I’ve felt too weak, too lethargic to write anything. And now, at about 19:40 I don’t think I’m going to write much either - I mean in 10 minutes, it’ll be ‘Eastenders’ (which has picked up again, as it does every Christmas, although it’s still a running at a lower quality than in the past), and half an hour after that there’s some drama or other which will keep me busy until I can head for bed. Last night I slept well (I was stoked up with ibuprofen and paracetamol) and today I’ve been a bit more active than yesterday. I barely slept a wink all night (Wednesday/Thursday) and had the misfortune to be listening to ball-by-ball coverage of the first day of the Melbourne Test Match. After only three matches, England have already lost the ashes, now they’re just playing for their pride. But there’s none to be had. The Aussies were slogging them all around the ground, and lost only three wickets all day, while scoring 350 runs. Pathetic. I’ve managed to get through today without any pills (although I will take some before retiring), and hopefully, after another night’s rest, I’ll be properly active tomorrow. It’s D Day - Dobostorte Day; so I’ll be cooking, and when I’m not cooking, I’ll be writing this journal.

Saturday 28 December 2002

No, I didn’t manage to do any further writing yesterday, but I will make an effort today. I did have half an hour between ‘Eastenders’ (reprising the Kat/Zoe conflict over Anthony - haven’t they done that to death already) and ‘No night is too long’, a two-hour drama based on a Barbara Vine novel (which I don’t think I’ve read), but I found myself watching ‘Outtake TV’ for half an hour, not because I find the outtakes from popular BBC programmes very amusing or edifying, but because Paul O’Grady (aka Lily Savage) can be very funny (although his humour is no different from that he uses in his Lily Savage character). (Barry Humphries’ Edna Everage, by contrast, who has been around much longer, is a brilliant comic creation - she/he even took a main character role in several episodes of Ally McBeal recently.) Incidentally, ‘No night is too long’ was partly set in Aldeburgh (and partly in Alaska) which, although in non-fictional Suffolk, was, for some unknown reason, fictionally called Saxborough (presumably a conjunction of Saxmundham and Aldeburgh). Although quite an involving drama (I find the actor Marc Warren reminds me of the German actor Klaus Kinski) with satisfying twists near the end, ultimately it was rather vacuous.

Now, as I write (before I set to work in the kitchen), I have June Tabor singing and the TV showing a documentary film ‘Microcosmos’ which takes my eye now and then. I’ve watched a lot of television this last few days, not because there have been good things to watch but because of my cold. I feel better today, although the virus has dropped down into my lower respiratory tract (thankfully it hasn’t embedded in my sinuses which colds do sometimes). I suppose I should mention Michael Caine, because he seems to have been much present: entertainingly with Steve Martin in ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ (TV), chillingly in ‘Dressed to Kill’ (on video recorded from TV a while back), and maturely in ‘The Quiet American’ (newly released in the cinema - I saw it with Adam on Christmas Eve, we both thought it a cracking film, although it’s the story of course which is cracking, and that’s thanks to Graham Greene).

Yesterday was Barbara’s 50th birthday. She insisted on not making much of it. In the morning, though, she came over here for breakfast. I had already been down to Spar to buy fresh bread (I was too ill to make rolls, and besides I had a stack of home-made bread in the bin) and daffodils. As we are trying to buy each other less presents these days, I’d cut back a bit from previous years: the ‘Magic Flute’, a box of Belgian chocolates (bought in Brussels during my last trip), a bottle of Lagavulin (Adam had told me she’d run out - and the bottle took some finding), a fancy bottle of ginger and tomato sauce, some second-hand books saved from the auction lot earlier in the year. Adam gave her a book of Delia Smith recipes. For Christmas, I’d given her a Pru Leith recipe book, the ‘Life Laundry’ book (TV spin-off about organising your life), a Shostakovitch CD, some chutney, a set of nice chopsticks. B gave me a biography of Pepys, Alan Clark’s diaries, a sweater, and biscuits bought in Nurnberg. What did we give Adam: an instrument tuner, pens, lots of books (‘Stranger in a strange land’, P.G. Wodehouse among others, a shirt, DVDs, and a b flat harmonica (which is still on order). I think this was probably the last Christmas Adam, Barbara and I will spend together as a family (the Adam co-op) - it’s really time for B and I to go our separate ways - well, to be more exact, for me to go my separate way since B is already off, so to speak.

Monday 30 December 2002

DOBOSTORTE DAY: D Day or Dobostorte Day or Dolly’s cake day was not without incident. I had bought all the ingredients well in advance. On the Friday, Adam declared that he wanted to make the chocolate filling, and I agreed on the condition that he follow the recipe exactly, and that he make it under my supervision. Saturday, cake-making day, I set to work soon after lunch. I based myself on a recipe that Cousin Mary had sent from a Robert Carrier Cookery book; but recipes for dobostorte can be found easily on the internet with a Google search. Although I didn’t know it was called dobostorte until I received the recipe from Mary, this is the cake that Grandma Dolly used to make for me on my birthday. What follows is my recipe for Dolly’s cake.

Ingredients for the Genoese sponge: The quantity for the sponge depends on the size of the cake. These quantities will be a little more than enough to fill two shallow trays 9 in (23 cm) by 13 in (33 cm) to a depth of about a centimetre. Each ‘sheet’ of sponge can then be divided equally into three rectangles to make the six layered cake. Baking trays need to be lined with greaseproof paper, which itself should be brushed with melted butter (if the butter solidifies before the sponge mixture is poured on, it might be a good idea to warm the trays slightly - otherwise the paper sticks to the cooked sponge).

8 large eggs, 8 oz caster sugar, 2 level tablespoons of cornflour, 6.5 oz plain flour, 4 oz unsalted butter. Sift the flour and cornflour several times in one bowl. Gently melt the butter in a saucepan and leave to cool - it will need to be used when it’s cool but not yet solidified. Use a large bowl over a saucepan of heated water. Put the eggs in and whisk for a few seconds, before adding the sugar. Continue whisking for a while until the mixture turns white and thickish (when lifting the whisk out, it should leave a thick trail). Remove from the heat and continue whisking until the mixture is cool. Sift half the flour onto the surface of the mixture in several waves, and, using a large metal spoon, ‘fold’ the flour in. It takes time and a lot of folding to ensure the flour becomes integrated into the mixture. Gently pour the butter down the sides of the bowl; and continue sifting the remaining flour onto the surface in waves, and folding in, in between each wave. Continue folding until the mixture is fully blended. Pour onto the baking trays. Cook at 190 C for about 10 minutes. Remove sponge from tray, turn over on a wire rack or bread board, and remove lining paper.

Ingredients for chocolate sponge (otherwise use standard chocolate buttercream filling): 3 large eggs (lion-marked, salmonella free), 3 oz caster sugar, 4 oz dark chocolate,1 teaspoon vanilla essence, 5 oz unsalted butter. Whisk eggs and sugar over hot water until thick and pale (as with the sponge). Remove from heat, add chocolate and continue to whisk until completely dissolved. Cool. Blend in vanilla essence, and leave until quite cool. In another bowl beat the butter with a wooden spoon until soft and fluffy, gradually add the chocolate mixture, beating vigorously. Chill until stiff enough to spread.

Ingredients for caramel: 5 oz sugar. Select one of the six sponge layers to be the top one, place on a plate or bread board. Dissolve the sugar in a strong-based pan, watching it carefully and swirling it around when liquid enough to do so. Cook to a rich golden caramel colour but removing from heat before it goes to too dark and burns. Pour evenly over the surface of the sponge layer. Wait 45 seconds or so, and then, with an oiled knife, mark deep parallel lines across the surface to make for easy cutting when cold. (If the caramel sticks to the knife, wait a few more seconds - move from both ends in, since the centre will remain hotter for longer.)

Ingredients for cake assembly: Jam of choice, chopped roasted hazelnuts. Spread chocolate filling evenly over three sponge layers, and jam filling (black cherry is good, but it may be better to mash up the lumpy fruity bits first) over two layers. Place sponge layers carefully on top of each other so the fillings alternate; caramel layers goes on top (obviously). Use remaining chocolate filling to spread evenly across cake sides. Sprinkle chopped nuts to stick on cake side. Leave cake to cool, possibly in bottom of fridge.

Dolly’s magnificent cake. Ole. That’s the recipe as adapted from the several (I had to find the Genoese sponge separately) I followed, and after the experience of the making. My first go at the Genoese sponge, for example, was a complete failure. I was expecting my second go to end in failure too, and was prepared to abandon the task (after the loss of so much time and so many ingredients), but it came out of the oven acceptably OK. When Adam got back from Spar with more eggs we began to consider stage two, the chocolate filling which Adam wanted to make. He beavered away, and must have taken more than two hours, for a job that should have taken 20 minutes, plus he wrecked the kitchen. But, he did get to the end and present a final product. I tried spreading it on a sponge layer, and it worked well. So, after supper, we did the caramel (getting it right first time) and the cake assembly.

Also for lunch yesterday (Julian, Sarah, Rebecca, Naomi, Toby, Mum, Barbara and Adam), I cooked chicken soup, savoury pancakes (with ratatouille and smoked haddock/chopped egg fillings), red cabbage, a gingery carrot salad, broccoli, and apple crumble. After lunch we spent an hour or so opening presents (a polo top from Mum, and a book from Julian), and played a word game of pass the bomb. I was either too busy or too tired to chat to anyone for long. I was bit resentful, although I didn’t express as much, that no one helped Barbara much with the washing and clearing up. Rewardingly, everyone admired the cake - I think Adam said its taste was a bit of a disappointment, but I told him I didn’t make it for the taste, I made it for the event, for the making; just like making a paper boat for the paper boat race. Mum, of course, remembered Dolly’s cake well, but I was surprised to discover that Julian did too. Hopefully, I’ve now kept that tradition alive, and, by writing the recipe in the journal, I might inspire Adam or his children to make it one day for a special occasion.

Fortunately, the cold, which knocked me cold for two days, has not been so severe as to make me unwell for any longer. I am still a bit stuffed up and under par, but I can function well enough (as the weekend proved) - when I was first felled by the virus on Christmas Day, I fully expected it to whack me for a couple of weeks.


Paul K Lyons


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