PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2002 - FEBRUARY
1 February 2002
I am sitting in the front row of a small theatre with stepped seating, right in front of me is a table with four people, as if in a panel game such as ‘Just a Minute’. One of the people at the table appears to be someone like John Humphries. He is leaning about rather lazily. The person next to me seems familiar, and he keeps speaking as though he were one of the panel. In the distance I hear an alarm. It doesn’t stop, and I notice people are beginning to leave. I think how silly it is that people are taking the alarm seriously, but eventually I too make my way outside via a door to the side of the stage. There are several people outside, some of them are choking or lying on the ground, and I realise that the danger is from some sort of poisonous cloud, and I wonder if I would have been safer inside.
It is Friday night. B and I were going to go to the cinema, but it’s a fearful stormy night, and we couldn’t agree on what to see. I was happy to go and see ‘Lord of the Rings’ with Adam, but I don’t think I want to bother alone or in adult company. Nor could I face seeing ‘Iris’. I would have gone to see ‘Gosford Park’, but B has already arranged to see it with Alastair. So now, I’m going over to eat fish and chips with A and B in half an hour or so.
On Sunday night, I listened to David Hare’s ‘Amy Views’ produced for Radio. I did see the original production at the National Theatre many years ago, and I don’t remember being very impressed by it, but then I don’t recall very much about it at all. It’s about family relationships to a large extent, and also about the theatre, and the theatre’s place in the world.
5 February 2002
I read an interesting article in ‘The Economist’ about Lomborg’s book ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist’. I bought this book last year after reading and hearing a lot about it in the press. I also thought it might be useful from a Kip Fenn point of view. I’ve read about half of it so far. I find a lot of his argumentation persuasive, although sometimes I think he goes too far in his global statistical kind of analysis. As I haven’t looked at it for a couple of weeks, nothing comes to mind (as I sit here writing on Eurostar - to my right is good-looking young woman, wearing a tight white woollen top which hugs her ample bosom rather attractively; I keep sneaking glances to my right. I haven’t tried to talk to her - she spends too much time looking at herself in the window and reading make-up brochures! She must want to be looked at - that’s what I reason any way.) However, I do recall, on perusing the book, thinking that the environmental organisations that Lomborg is slicing in half with a machete cannot be taking this treatment lying down. Now, thanks to ‘The Economist’, I know what has been happening - and it is not pretty. Lomborg is being shot at by green groups everywhere in every way; environmentalists are refusing to share conference platforms with him. ‘Scientific American’ even ran a sequence of articles all snatching the machete out of Lomborg’s hands and chopping him up into small pieces (in fact, I have an email on my computer from some green group advising me to check it out - which I haven’t yet done). But ‘The Economist’, which originally and very unusually allowed Lomborg to contribute a signed essay and then reviewed his book positively, has now written an editorial lambasting Lomborg’s critics for the lack of substance in their rebuttals, while, at the same time, giving the book a slightly more critical - but still positive - analysis in another article.
Yesterday I spent most of the day writing up the Commission’s five new railway proposals; and today I’ve struggled through the Advocate General’s Opinion on the open skies cases. Other stories waiting for me in Brussels are the new block exemption rules for car sales, the environmental liability Directive, and the Marco Polo programme. Once again, I have no interviews or calls lined up, I am simply collecting papers. I feel no need to go the extra mile any more; I can’t be bothered to make the contacts. And yet, and yet, every time I think about the end of the business, a shudder comes over me, and I think I must be crazy to give up a regular (and relatively easy) income.
I continue falling for Anna, my email correspondent in Truro. After probably 20 emails, most of them at least half a page long, nothing she has written, about herself or about anything else has alerted a warning light in me, whereas usually, no, always, before it’s only taken a couple of emails to set me on my guard. But Anna writes intelligently and lucidly, and what she chooses to write about, and how she chooses to write it, have begun to win me over - I start to feel that I really do want to meet this stranger. It’s odd to think that she has now written more letters to me than some of my oldest friends.
7 February 2002
Good morning journal, good morning. I’ve been restlessly awake for an hour or more, and it’s still only 7am Brussels time, 6am London time. At one point I dozed off and dreamed I was on a train, and that Anna, by coincidence, joined the train and was about to take the seat next to me. She was wearing a bright scarlet dress, sweating, and was rather fat!
On the news I hear about unemployment still rising badly in Germany, which is very poor news for Schroeder, about Latvia’s forthcoming membership of NATO, about the mixed peoples of Gibraltar who oppose the deal being agreed by London and Madrid to give the Rock a future of shared sovereignty, about Berlusconi’s plan to sell off Italy’s public service TV (how can Berlusconi act in such a self-interested way and get away with it?). In the UK, the absurd row over the MMR vaccine rumbles on, as they say; and the Queen has published a message of thanks to her people (it was yesterday 50 years to the day that she became queen).
Last night I saw a new film by Steven Soderbergh (is that his name?) called ‘Ocean’s Eleven’. It hasn’t yet arrived in UK, but I can tell by the posters around town here that it is being given massive hype. It’s a flawed movie. If I were ‘The Guardian’, I would only give it two out of five stars. It had all the makings of a classic like ‘The Magnificent Seven’ or ‘The Great Escape’, but it failed to develop the characters to any significant degree, and the focus of the movie was too heavily biased towards the mechanics of doing the impossible robbery - it was no more than an episode of ‘Mission Impossible’. Because the robbery was so difficult, and so complex, and because the whole ethos of the story was that the robbers would get away scot free and very rich, it was necessary that nothing could go wrong - we the audience were supposed to be satisfied with finding out how it was all achieved. It would have been much better cinema to have a simpler robbery with more character storylines. Since when have I become a film critic?
And on Saturday, have I not mentioned this yet, I took Adam to see a play called ‘Life After George’. Apparently it took Australia ‘by storm’ and is an ‘ambitious, daring, big-picture theatre, refreshingly mature in its handling of ideas and social history’. It opens, more or less, in Paris in 1968, where George and his first wife are arguing about the significance of the student revolution. George and his wife emigrate to Australia and he becomes a professor of history, specialising in revolutions, preaching moral authority, but unable to sustain morality in his personal life. He has two further wives each of whom symbolise a different stage in the development of women’s social history. By far the best drawn/written character is the second wife, the woman’s libber who, after seducing George as a student, goes on to become dean of the university, above George, and to sell her soul to business for the necessary investment. Of course, George still believes in pure, as opposed to, applied/sponsored, education, and becomes very bitter towards his former wife. Indirectly, George reminded me of Steve, one of our fellow travellers in Kenya, whose wife had been at Greenham Common but went on to be disinterested in her child and become a high-flying management consultant. On the whole, I thought the play was a good effort. It’s biggest drawback by far, though, was the fact that George was supposed to be an extraordinary person, but the script kept telling us this rather than showing it, and the actor playing George couldn’t convince us, with the script he had, that he was truly special.
We’re coming into Waterloo, so I’m signing off.
9 February 2002
Saturday morning. It is grey, wet, as usual. I am waiting for the rolls to rise - which will take about 45 minutes - and then I’ll put them in the oven for 20 minutes. After breakfast, I shall do transport stories. I seem to be in reasonable shape for next week - which is just as well if Maja is really coming. I’m still not sure whether she’s arriving on Wednesday, and coming here for two days with her friend, or whether she’s arriving on Friday, and I have to go down to Brighton to see her. I think the former. The trouble is, she’s arriving at Stanstead, and I think there might be a train strike that day.
While I was in Brussels, I had one or two creative ideas (they don’t usually happen to me there) and I promised myself I would try and write them down. I’m not sure I can remember them now.
One concerned the need for hope. There is very little hope in my make-up. I do not allow myself to hope for things that I know are unrealistic. However, hope has crept into my mind on two or three occasions in the last two or three years - each time in connection with a new email correspondent. There was Clare, there was Louise, and now there is Anna. The hope clings craftily, expertly to the incomplete picture of a person provided through their letters, thus allowing the mind to create a fictional person - no it’s less definite than that - to create the possibility of a person who might be a potential friend/partner. Although it is possible to read a lot into a person’s letters (as I was able to with Louise and Clare), correspondence provides a light two-dimensional framework like a clothes-hanger on which one can hang a range of clothes; whereas talking to them on the phone, or better still, meeting them, somehow provides a more accurate three dimensional picture even with less actual hard information. With Clare, I had hope of a sexual affair - and that was quite enticing; with Louise, I’m not sure, I just got excited about the possibilities of an email affair, of using words to fabricate a relationship. I did get quite hung up on the correspondence, but I don’t think hope as such was much to do with it. With Anna, however, I can see/feel hope fuelling itself in my mind, like an uncontrollable loop of positive feedback. It’s as though hope has been sitting quietly in the corner, its hands on its head, accepting having been sent to Coventry, and suddenly it has been let out, and it can’t stop jumping for joy. And why? Because, I simply haven’t gathered enough information yet to persuade hope to go back into the corner where it belongs. I’m trying, but its fairly resilient feeding frenzily on the lack of full information. If logical, jaded, unemotional, tough old me has trouble harnessing hope then I can imagine how strong its hold over most people must be.
So, hope. It occurs to me that hope is, of course, the mainspring of most religions. (And on the radio, I heard someone saying yesterday that we all need hope.) In other words, for most of us, life in its present form is not good enough, and we need hope of something better (if not for ourselves, then for our family, society, country, planet).
Now I must add something that occurred to me while reading the section on christianity in Norman Davies’ ‘History of Europe’. The christian religion took hold when the Roman empire was rich and extravagant and becoming decadent (I think) and was only one of many religions being touted at the time. In other words, it won a kind of evolutionary battle, with natural selection killing most of the others off.
And so, finally to my creative thought. I think - for Kip Fenn - Africa needs a new unifying religion, based perhaps not so much on hope of an eternal life for oneself. BUT OF HOPE FOR THE LIVES OF ONE’S CHILDREN AND ONE’S CHILDREN’S CHILDREN.
Then I got caught up on the word VIM. I thought it would make such a good title for a book. Particularly, I thought of it as an antidote to a world which ended up full of individuals with a philosophy similar to mine, i.e. people who can see the pointlessness, for them individually, of any endeavour (while at the same time recognising the world wouldn’t function without the life-long endeavour of so many individuals). But I didn’t take this thought very far. Perhaps Vim and Hope could fit together.
Paul K Lyons
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