1 January 2002

The first day of a new year. The year 2002, a palindrome, the second one in recent years (1991), and the last now until 2112, when I and my son, and possibly even my son’s son (if he has one) will be dead. I expect this year to be a dead one, the deadest one of my life perhaps. Apart from my 50th birthday party, already planned for 26 May, nothing interesting or extraordinary is likely to happen to me. Last year, at least, I tried to set up opportunities, and I did a fair bit of travelling. This year, I have nothing planned. I am going to die the business EC Inform, and close it up by the end of 2002. I’ll make a fresh start in 2003. Knowing that, though, will help me pass the time through these 12 dead months. I am biding time, a year, biding time before what? Before I start my final descent to what will most surely be a severe depression. Only out of such a depression am I likely to reposition myself in the world wearing a more suitable cloak, standing in a more suitable place, sporting a more suitable hat. Perhaps it will be the final end to my ambitions to be a writer - perhaps this will be my last throw of the dice.

1 January is the right time to be writing these things, and they are uppermost in my mind. I had thought I would cease publication of EC Inform-Energy and EC Inform-Transport in January 2003 (because I would want to issue the indexes which have always been distributed with the January issues), and because there are quite a lot of subscriptions that run through from February to January. So this would have meant I did not need to start the wind-down announcements until I sent out the renewal invoices for subscriptions that finish in February (thus sending them a renewal invoice for March-January instead of for March-February). Indeed, I had printed out all the renewal invoices for February-January on Sunday. But then, I started thinking that I did not really want to have to be bothered with writing and publishing the January issue - which is a real fag - and that I should finish as I originally planned in December. As I was thinking these things, and considering how much work it would take to redo the invoices, and whether I was ready to make the final decision, and send out, for the first time invoices for a shortened period (i.e. February-December), Rob rang and suggested we go out for a walk.

I met Rob and Judy in Chilworth, and we walked up on to the North Downs ridge above Chilworth. It was a glorious day, cold but bright and blue with crisp views as far as the South Downs. Rob thought he could see rings of trees, but I said the Chanctonbury Ring had been blown down in storms and one wouldn’t be able to see them. But, he said, one could recognise the South Downs because they are mostly bare at the top and that trees would therefore stick out to be seen far away. (I mention this only because he was right, and two days later, Adam and I were in fact walking on the South Downs ridge near to the Chanctonbury Ring, and there were plenty of trees here and there.) We stopped briefly to look in St Mary’s Church, and to admire the views. A church leaflet claims that one of the towers fell down 100s of years ago as a result of an explosion in the village (far below) - what hooey. But, apparently, there was a gunpowder factory in the village. I read on a parish noticeboard that a local committee has been set up to look after the old factory. I must try and find it one day. After waltzing down the hillside, we landed at a pub with a modern name which I’ve forgotten. Rob and I had sandwiches, which were more like meals with a piece of bread laid on top, and Judy ate soup. She plans trips to Italy and Sweden in 2002.

As soon as we met up (after a confusion about level crossings), I launched into a discussion about my decision - it seemed right to do so, as though the telephone call had delivered them to me to discuss my future. Their immediate response was that I should go ahead, do it. But I didn’t demand their serious attention to the issue, and neither did I want to spend long on it (having talked about it with them much earlier when I was still cogitating the decision). Yet we kept returning to the topic in different ways (though I would try and change the subject) and they became more cautious, less willing to take responsibility for advising me to take such a big decision. When I was encouraged to explain the various options that had been open to me in the past, they took each one up and suggested, in a roundabout way, that it might be a good idea to try - consultancy, for example, or conference speaking. Interestingly, when I asked Judy what had happened to her old friend Paul (who had been an actor many years ago, and who, in some ways, I felt had been similar to me), she said she had lost contact with him, but the last time they’d heard from him, he had sent a letter she described as ‘a begging letter’. I joked that that would be me in a couple of years time - destitute and broke and sending out begging letters.

Two days later, in Brighton (before walking up onto the Downs), Adam and I ate a mediocre burger meal in a mediocre cafe, which was, at least, lively. Next to us was sat an old man in an overcoat, who kept grumbling to himself, and trying to attract our attention. After a while, he called over one of the waiters and asked why he’d been kept waiting for 25 minutes for his beans on toast. The waiter buzzed away and came back a moment later saying it would be ready in a few minutes. The old man turned to us, and explained that he was in a hurry, to go to a party, and needed to fill up his stomach. He’d only had a light lunch and a light breakfast. When I suggested that if he was going to a party this early (it was before 7pm) there would surely be food, he said ‘not enough’. His beans took another 10 minutes and he continued to grumble. Then when it came, he only ate half and left. Adam thought he wasn’t going to a party at all, and was just making it up. I said I’d be like that in a few years time - eating beans and toast in cheap cafes, and boosting myself up to strangers with false tales of social engagements.

I look at myself in the window of this Eurostar carriage (yes, here I am again - we are pulling into Lille as I write) and I see my forehead interlatticed with white and silver hairs, rifts of still-brown hair arching out scruffily on either side of the nose, and the darkening sags beneath the deep set insecure eyes.

By the end of our lunch, I was joking with Rob and Judy that they were only so gung ho about my future because they thought I would have more tales to tell and would become a more interesting friend again.

This morning, Tuesday, I finally got round to redoing the invoices for February-December. I calculated that by not doing the January 2003 issue, I will lose around £1,000. And as I write this I am reminded again why I thought to finish in January not December - because if I finish in December, I will miss a lot of the news that takes place in the last working week of the year - news that would normally fill the January issue, and which would be indexed with the 2002 index. I will still have to do the 2002 indexes and send them out in January, but they will be missing some of the final stories from the year. Still, it seems the decision is now taken. I will post the invoices on my return - and that will, at last, be the decision taken.

The big news story of the new year is the cold-blooded murder of twelve currencies: the French, Luxembourg and Belgian francs, the Dutch guilder, the Spanish peseta, the Portuguese escudo, the Greek drachma, the Deutschmark, the Italian Lire, the Finnish crown, the Austrian schilling, and the Irish pound. Only the UK, Sweden and Denmark have elected to remain outside the Eurozone. The Euro is now legal tender in all 12 countries, and banks will only issue euros. The existing national currencies will remain legal tender in some countries for two months but will then disappear altogether. I talk about it a little with Adam. He tries to take on some of the Tory party arguments, and affects nostalgia for the pound. But I explain that a currency is but a very small expression of our culture, and not a minuscule fraction of the importance of language for example. He does understand, though, that this is quite an abstract attachment he has to the pound which exists because he has grown up with it. No one in California or Texas is bemoaning the fact that they don’t have a separate language from people in Utah or New England, let alone a currency; so why should people in Europe worry about losing their currency. It’s only a fear of change. There are better arguments, of course, for keeping a national currency, to do with management of the economy, but if the third and fifth largest economies in the world have positively decided that the euro is a good thing, it seems bizarre that the eurosceptics should go around saying that because we are the fourth largest economy we should be more cautious about the euro. I believe the British people will swing round to liking the euro much more quickly than people expect - no one who ever travels to Europe can fail to recognise the advantages it brings to individuals who move around, and to businesses that trade across borders. Moreover, businesses in the UK, especially those who might expect business from foreign visitors, will start pricing their goods and services in euros, and accepting payment in euros. Eurocreep starts here. Who knows where it will end.

2 January 2002

And now it is the second day of January 2002, and I am not on Eurostar, I am in my small apartment in Montgomery. I’ve just returned from the cinema where I saw a run-of-the-mill thriller with Michael Douglas called ‘Don’t Say a Word’ (I wonder if they titled it in a conscious nod towards ‘Don’t Look Now’ - probably not). It’s a mediocre title, and a mediocre movie, and Douglas was able to act his way through it with his eyes closed (metaphorically). I’ve just drunk a fruit tea, and I’m about to slip off to bed. I should not have been here today - the institutions do not open up after Christmas until tomorrow. When I booked my journey, all of three months ago (trying to be so clever, thinking the trains would book up early after the holidays), I didn’t know the Parliament and Commission would be closed on 2 January. I did know before leaving home, though, and I had to decide whether it was worth making the journey at all. In the end I decided it would be, for the half day tomorrow when I can do a trawl around the various offices. I could have managed probably to fill up the issues without making this trip - I may get nothing new tomorrow - but, also, there was almost no reason for not coming, since the trip was paid for, and I could work equally well here today as at home.

I’ve picked up a few euros here and there in my change. There are queues at all the shops as servers and customers try to work out what is going on. All the actual work is being done by the tills. The till shows the price in Belgian francs and euros, and when you pay in francs, they tap into the machine how much you’ve given them, and the till shows how much change to give in euros. But every time I’ve bought something today, I’ve been left scratching my head trying to work out how much I gave in euro-equivalent, how many francs I should have got in change, and whether this equates properly with the amount of euros in my hand. But I’m not clear about the euro conversion rates, either into francs or into sterling. People everywhere can be seen standing in the street or in the metro studying their till receipts - well me any way. The coins are a bit boring, and the notes are a bit tacky to the touch. Back in UK I’m going to start pricing everything in my head in euros.

I want to record that I shouted at Adam again on Tuesday. He has learnt to light my touchpaper so well now - and I blame him for it, but I shouldn’t. I never just fly off the handle, it’s much more complicated than that. We start talking or quarrelling about something, and I patiently explain this or that, or try and draw him back from some stupid comment, or irrelevant jibe, and patiently explain something again, but this time a bit more insistently, and he jibes back with something more stupid than the first time, or a repetition of a red herring that I thought I’d dealt with, and then I repeat myself again, louder this time, more insistently, somehow imagining if I say it again, he’ll understand or take it in this time. And he doesn’t, and he says something ever more stupid, ever more illogical, or he refers to something he said or did which indicates that he has said or done what I’m trying to argue in favour of; and I try and point out that yes, he may have done so once, but that’s not what I’m talking about, I’m talking about something more general; and so on and on and on; and then as I realise I am beating my head against a brick wall, I decide I must bang it harder to get him to understand, and I start shouting and screaming - and for why? And once I’ve started shouting, I can’t just revert to being nice and normal again - it takes me a day or more, or an absence. And it’s not as if I’ve got anywhere or made him understand anything any better - because I’ve probably done the reverse. Moreover, he is so used to me shouting now, that he doesn’t take it seriously - it never upsets him that I’ve been shouting. It’s normal.

12 January 2002

Editing, production and proof-reading of my newsletters this week was tough. I don’t know why exactly - both issues were short, 18 pages, but it was full of old stuff from December, and I couldn’t gather any enthusiasm to work on it. I was tired and unwilling to get on with the jobs in hand. Now that I have taken the first practical step towards closing EC Inform down perhaps it is always going to be like this, for the whole year. Well, in truth, it’s been moving that way for ages, and I’ve found the production week difficult ever since Theo left two years ago - maybe I’m just giving in to the tiresomeness more.

For a break, I went to London yesterday. I had in mind a visit to the British Museum to see the Amazon exhibition, a trip to the cinema to see a new film by Jacques Rivette ‘Va Savoir’, and a drop in to the Royal Festival Hall for the early evening jazz.

The British Museum is transformed beyond all recognition. Gone is the musty corridor and offices linking the entrance hall to the British Library, and gone are all the Library store rooms. All that remains is the famous Reading Room, which has been reconditioned and is now a tourist site, not unlike a church. People come in, look around at a multi-levelled circular display of old and older books, and up to the dome ceiling, and across at the desks, so beloved of many a bibliophile from the past. And then they leave, perhaps glancing at the stone panel on which are carved the names of famous people who have used the Room in days gone by. Not too much is different once inside the Room, except that there is no one using the desks, but the area outside and all around has been opened up into a huge courtyard, or atrium, of white stone. It’s very airy and spacy, a bit daunting. Two large staircases curl up around the Reading Room on both sides, and security guards soon tell you off if you happen to sit on the steps. Information booths, museum shops, and cafes are to be found scattered around this area. I didn’t visit the ‘Undiscovered Amazon’ exhibition because it cost £7 and I wasn’t sure how it could actually show anything about the undiscovered Amazon, if it hadn’t been discovered!

As I was so near Tottenham Court Road, I tried to buy a replacement stylus for B’s record player which I’ve borrowed. Since owning a minidisk player, I’ve been convinced of the fact that minidisk can and will take over from tape cassettes. As I still have some of my old records (which I meticulously transferred to tapes five years or ago, using B’s record player and a newly bought stylus, the housing of which I had to shave down so that it didn’t touch the vinyl), I thought it would make sense to record them on to minidisk, which will preserve the actual (bad) quality of the records, rather than diminish it as on the tapes. But the stylus I’d bought years ago had broken. I carefully unscrewed the head of the player so that I could be sure of finding the right replacement stylus. I was right to choose Tottenham Court Road because after asking in only one of the multi-appliance shops I was directed to Hi-Fi Care, where a sales assistant showed me a book with small photos of hundreds of styluses (stylii?). To give him a sporting chance of finding me the right one, he said, I would need to give him the model number. Isn’t the old stylus and the head enough. No. All the styluses are sealed in little containers - and he can only identify which one is which by using his code book where all the models are listed. I could see a photo of a stylus exactly similar to the one I’d brought, but, because I’d had to shave it with a knife, it was clearly not the right one, and he was reluctant to sell me it. So I left disappointed. This was still the morning. I thought, maybe, I could phone Adam later and get him to tell me the make - but this depended on the timing of the film, which I knew was quite long.

A quick trip to Waterstones (old Dillons) where I bought a thriller by Henning Mankell, a Swedish police thriller writer. Previously, I’d read ‘Faceless Killers’ but forgotten about it, until Judy mentioned it the other day. She told me another one had come out in paperback - ‘The Fifth Woman’. The hero is a kind of Swedish Rankin, although the society in which he does his policing is more rural, not urban, and far less dominated, therefore, by gangs, well-known criminals, and drugs. Rankin in the Peak District perhaps.

From there, I hiked it to the Brunswick Centre and the Renoir Cinema. I think Louise lives there somewhere (she is still writing me). Rivette made a film many years ago called ‘Julie and Celine Go Boating’, which was long, and full of games, and mysterious relationships. I remember almost nothing about it now, except that I really liked it. So, when a new film by Rivette - ‘Va Savoir’ - was reviewed well in several places, I determined to go and see it. But it was far from what I expected. It was all I dislike about French films - intense, self-obsessed, over serious about relationships (and art), and completely divorced from the real world of politics, and industry, and poverty and disease, and logistics, and shopping. It was a banal tale of an actress who returns to Paris and confronts an ex-lover, along with a series of near farce-like relationships between various characters brought into the story. Perhaps, he’s trying to be a modern day Moliere. Throughout the film, we were given short extracts from the play that the actress and her husband the director were putting on in Paris, but I never got a real sense of what the play was about (perhaps sub-titles don’t work very well for such a jigsaw puzzle of scenes) even though it was clearly supposed to counterpoint the main story. It was all shot in close-up, and might have suited TV. Something as small and slight as this simply doesn’t stand up against modern day cinema - unless there was a metaphor being played out (I doubt it).

Next stop - a phone box. Adam said he would go over to my house to note the record player model number. I raced back to Tottenham Court Road, and then rang him again. Armed with the model number, I returned to Hi Fi Care. Astonishingly, this very old model was in the shop’s catalogue, and the specified stylus was in the drawer. I was overwhelmed with gratitude (and a feeling of success) until I looked at it through the sealed perspex container to discover it didn’t have the right shaped connector. When I pointed this out to the knowledgeable assistant, he said that the manufacturers sometimes changed the heads they used on their models. Great. So what do I do now I asked him. He wasn’t very helpful suddenly, and so I suggested that I buy a stylus the same as the one I had brought in - at least I knew it would work if I shave it slightly. And so I did come away with a stylus which works perfectly well, I just spent some time fretting and rushing around for no purpose.

My last stop was, as planned, the Royal Festival Hall. I bought myself a glass of red wine, which is an unusual thing for me to do, and found myself a perch on the balcony. I listened to the jazz, and read brochures. A rather attractive blond girl, a sky blue roll-neck sweater, came to sit at the same table. She had asked me first if the chair was free, and I’d smiled that it was. After a little while a friend joined her. I watched them discreetly, and tried to listen to their conversation, but I couldn’t hear more than that the friend was Australian. I liked the way sky blue moved and spoke gently, and the way she was. Then, out of nowhere she caught my eye, or caught me looking at her, and gave me a gorgeous smile. I was transfixed trying to think of ways opening up a conversation with the two girls - but they were busy chatting all the while. And then I thought I should write her a note - something funny, charming, and ask to take her out for a meal. But I never got round to it. They left soon after the jazz finished to go to a ballet performance. All the way home, I regretted so much not having given her a note. Of course she may never have responded, and nothing would have been lost, but then again she might have responded. I think it was only once I was at home that the right words to say came to me - if I’d taken myself and the idea seriously at the time, I could have thought more carefully what I might say, and, if the right words had come, I might have done it. What makes my loss of nerve worse, is the fact that when I go to London on these sort of cultural pilgrimages, I am hoping for exactly such an opportunity to meet someone.

13 January 2002

Ads and I are watching ‘Shackleton’ on TV, a four hour adaptation, screened on Channel Four over Christmas, about his ‘Endurance’ trip overlapping with the start of the First World War. It is a beautifully realised production (although the music is too heavy, too dramatic) with Branagh doing a fine Shackleton. Knowing a bit about him (from the drama but from reading also) makes one wonder about whether he was truly courageous or just a bloody fool.

Laurie Styvers, Julie Felix, and Sandie Shaw. All squeezed onto one minidisk from three LPs. It’s not that these records are special in themselves, it’s simply that familiarity with the songs makes them special to me. Yesterday, it was all the Joni Mitchell records (although two are missing) and the Gal Costa/Mercedes Sosa LPs.

I am writing to two new email correspondents: Anna and Yvonne. The latter contacted me; overcoming her difficulty with my brief, curt intro on the LoveandFriends website ‘Intriguing man seeks beautiful woman’ (Yvonne is the first person to respond for months), stating that she was definitely NOT beautiful, so I told her I had better not be intriguing. She wrote me about Zanzibar, so I was able to respond with a tale or two. I contacted Anna, I can’t remember why, perhaps because she’s a writer, and has a daughter. We’ve written every other day for a week, mostly about motorbikes.

21 January 2002

Kip is back from Brazil - I’ve brought him back safe and sound, and must now write a couple more sections before a first draft of Chapter Two is complete. I spent parts of the weekend writing the Brazil section (which I could do because all the ideas and material were fresh in my head from the week gone by), trying to bump up my average for three days last week to 2,000 words a day, which I did, but I’ve dropped back again today. The chapter looks like being nearly as long as the first, that’s to say over 20,000 words. I get stuck often, but it’s usually because I haven’t stopped to think and imagine for a little bit. This is my last two week (marathon) writing session until May, so I expect it will take my free single weeks in February, March and April to put Chapter Three together, unless I try with more determination to work at the weekends.

Colin rings to tell me has bought a small house, in the same town outlying Paris, but with a garden. He was able to do this, no doubt, since he has been gainfully employed as a computer programmer. I invite him to my 50th birthday party. Manu emails in response to my new year card saying he may be able to come to my party also. This 50 must be celebrated - there’s no backing out now, however scared I am about bringing all my diverse and quirky friends together.

On Saturday afternoon, Ads and I trained up to London. Rather than walk along the river to the Tate Modern which we usually do with time to kill, we strolled over Westminster Bridge to wander around Covent Garden looking at the shops. We spent half an hour browsing in Waterstones and 20 minutes sitting at a cafe table on the sidewalk watching the tourists. Still, we got back to the Royal Festival Hall a good 90 minutes or more before the show I’d booked. Then I found the poetry library on the 5th floor was open until 8, so we went there. I read a few poetry/literature magazines, and was amazed to find, in one evidently successful publication, a collection of very short travel stories, no better than the ones I wrote in my diary more than 20 years ago - like ‘Pepi and the serviettes’. Adam dozed, I think, with a Ted Hughes book on his lap. Later on I attempted to introduce him to Walt Whitman, but I couldn’t win any more than dutiful attention. Unfortunately, the performance I had booked us to see turned out to be no more exciting than the rest of our half day in London: the acclaimed French troupe Compagnie Josef Nadj at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (part of the London International Mime Festival). Adam has been interested in mime for ages, so I thought it would be good for him to see some. But, although there were no words in this show, there was no real mime either. It was a somewhat abstract interpretation of the writings of the Hungarian Geza Csath, who’ve I’ve never heard, Freud and Kafka. A dozen or so performers moved, mysteriously around a carefully constructed set of walls, and doorways, and furniture, mostly intent on displaying sets of movements or quasi-dance steps, and very occasionally interested in giving the audience a laugh. It was the kind of dance-theatre, or theatre-dance I would probably have loved when I was 27 (in some ways it may even have been reminiscent - a pale shadow - of that amazing piece, Tenjojasiki, I once saw at the Riverside) - but, even though it was well performed, I found it too abstract and meaningless. For Adam it was little more than ‘weird’.

A dreadful game of volleyball on Sunday, against one of the Teddington carpet teams. We had bloody Toby playing, who’s no better than a lamp-post on court, and Paul who’s hopeless, and Nick who makes too many mistakes, and Dave who’s good fun to have on the team but is lazy in defence. And Steve played badly too, which isn’t surprising since he’d played a hard game on Saturday and had been out cycling all day on Sunday; and Barry crooked his neck, and I played crap too - how could I not.

25 January 2002

Well, I’ve achieved my aim for this two week period, which was to complete Chapter Two of Kip Fenn. I’ve written about 12,000 words to add to the 11,000 I’d already done, making the chapter, slightly longer than the first. The two together are now already as long as half of BLR! I should really be able to do more than 12,000 words in a two week session - I allowed myself two whole days in which to do nothing but psyche myself up, but once, I’d got going I should have done more. At this rate, I’ll do only one chapter a quarter. And, the writing is going to get more difficult not easier.

But, am I pleased with it so far? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t get the same kind of frisson of pleasure as I do when I read bits of BLR or ‘Love Uncovered’, but whether that’s because it’s not as good, or simply that I don’t know it so well yet, I can’t tell. On the whole, I am pleased that I’ve managed to take Kip’s story to places I wanted to go. I’m less pleased to find that it’s impossible for me to weave more general philosophical themes and grander ideas into the overall arch of the story. I had a vague idea, for example, that over and above everything in chapter one, I could make it about the theme of, say, memory, and chapter two could be about, say, change; and chapter three could be about love; and that these themes could be reflected in the quotations chosen for the start of each chapter. But, the narrative is too strong, and varied, and constrained, as it is, largely by chronology. Also I worry a lot about telling the reader things, rather than showing him/her (which is quite difficult in the pseudo-autobiographical style I’ve chosen).

Perhaps I’ll give some thought to Chapter Three over the weekend to give myself a head start for my next free week in the middle of February.

My two new email correspondents are still alive as it were. Anna, who I contacted, and who writes almost every day. There was a sticky patch at the beginning of the week, when I told her my real age, but we’re over that now. Unlike any of my previous correspondents, she writes easily, and I get a sense of someone who likes writing. She is, however, not very inquisitive about me, and nor is she very intimate or personal in her emails. Yvonne is very different, a controlled businesswoman, a marketing director. She doesn’t write well, but would like to be a travel writer. I feel she wants to sort through the dross quickly and find out whether she’s interested in me. I teased her to start with, and now I’ve gone full frontal so to speak. So I expect we will exchange photos soon and then she’ll want to meet or not, as the case may be. But I can see my relationship with Anna, who lives in Truro, lasting a lot longer. From what’s she told me about herself so far, she does not sound my type at all - not small, not slim, not informal, not Bohemian, but it’s great to write to someone who can actually write well.

Robert Worcester was the castaway on ‘Desert Island Discs’ this morning. He must have been so very chuffed to have been chosen, not only because he’s a bit of a music buff (sings in a choir), but because he’s always sought fame and recognition in British Society. In fact, he talked, to Sue Lawley, about his obsession with living in London, which dated from a very early age, and his pride at achieving said aim. He spoke and sounded exactly the same as when I worked for him 25 years ago. He spoke also with pride about the concept of corporate image polling which he more or less introduced into the UK when he started MORI - I recall it as the most boring work (which Stewart, who was Worcester’s loyal servant and with whom I shared an office, must have done for many years). I spent a moment or two wondering what my life might have been like if I’d stuck it out with him, and reflected that I would never have been happy helping him become a millionaire, or multi-millionaire as Lawley dubbed him.

26 January 2002

This afternoon, I have been carefully cutting and sticking onto my framed photos the labels that B kindly printed out for me on her RHS label machine. Since I don’t want the labels to look wonky, and I want them to sit exactly centred, I needed to work slowly and carefully using a ruler to cut and position them. The labels - some black on white some black on transparent - are not ideal; they either show up too much (white tape), or not enough (black print on dark green/blue frame cards). I’m hoping B will be able to get some gold on transparent tape, or at least gold on black, which might suit many of the pictures better. (Intriguingly, and thinking of my computer-written diaries, B has told me about a new award-winning binding machine she’s just bought at work - which kind-of perfect binds books exceedingly well, and very simply - she’s promised to bring it home one day. )

I am a little aflutter today. After a dozen or so emails, Anna has sent me her photograph (my own pic, which should have been on the Love+Friends website, and which I thought she had seen, went missing, and was sorted on Friday). She is rather pretty, beautiful even. No wonder she didn’t bat an eyelid so to speak about my ‘intriguing man seeks beautiful woman’ intro on the website. I’ve been rather flippant about the dialogue so far, and I’ve been simply enjoying the writing - now suddenly I am sitting up and taking notice.

This afternoon, while labelling my photos, I watched the film ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, and directed by Clint Eastwood. The ‘Radio Times’ promised me it was not a sentimental film, but the damn thing had me crying at the end. I thought it was a splendid duet, however the story for me was not true. Everything about the love story was true - I know from my own experience, this kind of magical love affair because I was party to several myself when I was younger (would deal in them again now, if I had the status, or opportunity, I suppose) - except for the fact that the Eastwood character, a rough diamond, a roving well-travelled photographer, would fall long-term for the Streep character. His character would have met and fallen in love with Streep-type women a few times in his life, and there was nothing about Streep’s character or position that would have meant more to Eastwood. The Streep character was no more than a small-town farmer’s wife. The Eastwood character would have known all too well that his love could not have lasted.

Adam has gone to see ‘Lord of the Rings’. I had hoped he might want to go with me, but he’s gone with friends, and I shall have to pick him up in Guildford later this evening.

Ian Duncan Smith is going to last no longer than Hague as leader of the Conservative Party, that’s my prediction. He’s a real lightweight; and I don’t think he has a strong intellect either. In my view, he made a real cock up this week over the health service. The family of a patient that had been badly treated in a hospital came to him as their constituency MP, and asked him to do something about it. Smith chose to bring the details to Prime Minister’s Question Time at the House of Commons, and when the government responded in kind with details about the case, the Tories cried foul play, and complained that the government was acting atrociously by making public details about the particular patient. But I cannot understand why Smith should bring the issue to PM’s questions when he was only being petitioned as a constituency MP - why should his constituents have privileged access to the corridors of power. The PM can’t give special treatment to his constituents, so why should Smith. And then, by going on the attack, he only made matters worse to my mind. It transpires that the case was brought to Smith’s attention by the patient’s son who happens to be a journalist. But worst of all Smith’s office never checked any of the details given to him by the patient’s son with the hospital.

27 January 2002

I’ve finally finished Stephen Jay Gould’s ‘The Lying Stones of Marrakech’. I enjoyed the final few essays, which, as usual, were a bit wordy, but they did make me think. There was one about how the media, without bad intentions necessarily, corrupts science results for the sake of a story and a headline. It concerned several studies which purported to show how evolution was a fact even in the short time-frame of current research. Gould explained how the newspapers still tend to use such studies to provide headlines stating, more or less, Evolution Proved; when, he points out quite rightly, there is absolutely no debate about the existence of evolution - one might just as well see a piece of research highlighted in the press saying Earth Does Go Round Sun. He also went to some lengths to analyse the limitations of such research, which although valuable in itself, could not really bring much fruit to bear on the general discussions of evolution, because evolution, even in its punctuated equilibrium mode (as propounded by Gould) takes much longer than the few years of the studies quoted. However, I was reminded of a thought I’m sure I’ve had before that the kind of evolution noted in two of the studies (leg lengthening, and body size decreases because of competition pressures) is probably the kind that goes back and forth all the time - in other words there is nothing linear about it. Genetic variation there may be, but certain genes could be going up and down like a yo-yo every decade, century, millennium without making any move towards new species or speciation. So, if you measured say leg length on five different occasions over five centuries you might find them 5, 8, 10, 7, 10 - but if you measured them over two you might just get 5 and 10, and the estimate of evolution rate or change would be out by a factor of at least two. I think genetic change takes place in all sorts of different ways, and at all sorts of different paces, and it is no good trying to box it up into one kind - which seems to drive so much of evolution writing. Why would nature limit itself to allopatric speciation or sympatric speciation when it can use both.

Back to EC Inform this week. I’ve tried to do a little thinking about the next Kip Fenn chapter, and make some notes. But I fear I may need to go way beyond my competence when I get stuck into internet regulation and technology.

I spent time trying to write something to Anna today, but having had such a boring weekend, nothing much came to mind, and I ended up sending her one of my shortest and most boring messages yet. However, in the subject line, I thanked her for her photo and commented on how attractive she was. This is absolutely the first time, I’ve actually liked the look of an email correspondent - there’s only been three I think (two of whom I met and Louise) with whom I’ve swapped photos; but if I think of all the pictures on the L&F website, I would definitely have stopped to take a closer look at Anna’s if it had been there.

29 January 2002

On Eurostar with a full moon before us. The train is relatively empty as usual on a Tuesday evening. I am quite peckish and so will stop writing before long to eat my sandwiches. Apart from ‘The Economist’ and a Swedish cop fiction, I have a play on tape as well, so the time should pass by quickly enough.

I am typing up my Brazil diaries at present. I don’t spend very long on them, maybe half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening. I’m amazed at how often I wrote about being depressed and down, and unhappy with my situation, and unable to make more social contacts. I am nine months into my time there, and I have a range of contacts and activities, but I still write a lot about being depressed and lonely. However, at the point I am now, I have just met Eliane, and I am seeing both her and Elaine.

I do not write about being depressed so regularly today - I think I am more self-conscious about my writing, and I don’t want to project a poor image of myself. And it is also true that I do not feel ‘depressed’ as such on a day-to-day basis. I do sometimes get terribly deep pangs of loneliness and of wanting to be with someone; and sometimes I weep silently in the car. On the whole, though, I have got older, and more accustomed to my aging state (gosh, in the Brazil diaries, I think it worthy of mention if I haven’t made love in two or three weeks - look at me now). And of course, I am not so lonely because of Adam’s permanent and reliable companionship.

But, so often - sometimes every day, and several times a day - I experience a psycho-physical tiredness (I don’t know how else to describe it) - a deep tiredness with what I am doing, or have to do, whether it is proof-reading, writing another story, continuing with the index work, or whatever. I don’t think I have properly written about this before now. The feeling is too amorphous, too bound up perhaps with normal feelings of boredom, tiredness, tedium, too difficult to isolate and describe. I may have mentioned difficulties with working in general, but not described the specifics. I get this kind of mental thickness that sweeps over me, telling me I simply do not want to carry on - and so I choose to play a game of bridge, or check my emails, or walk into the kitchen, or read the newspaper. And then, five minutes later or 15 minutes later, I return to the desk, and the task in hand, and try again. Then, I might work for five minutes or 10, before again deciding on a break of some description. I think this problem was already getting worse last year (witness my unsuccessful attempt to impose a work timetable on myself allowing for a long break at lunch and several other breaks during the day) and now, with the decision taken to end EC Inform it seems to be even harder to focus on the daily grind. This said, however, if a deadline is approaching, the problem disappears, I can still work hard and do so in the days leading up to deadline (although the proofreading is a particular problem).

Adam has been a bit ill this week. He has a cold, and with it a headache, which has gone on for several days. I recall he’s had persistent headaches with previous colds.

When he came in from school this afternoon we had one of our typical conversations: he tells me he can go to Botswana for a free holiday in the summer after next. I think he is joking, but as his chatter persists about some madcap scheme at school, I feel the need to quash the idea completely, and tell him, no, of course I’m not going to let him go to Botswana. But I have underestimated how strongly the idea has appealed to him. Unfortunately, he doesn’t appear to have the details and is quite confused in his own mind as to how the venture would work. He has had to put his name forward for a leaflet. He thinks the money will be raised in sponsorship somehow (he’ll be told how to do it), that the trip will be organised by experts, but that he and his 50 friends will nevertheless be able to organise everything too. I think this sounds like one of the sponsorship schemes I’ve seen advertised in the papers, where youngsters can get a free adventure trip if they raise x thousands of pounds for a charity. I try, patiently it has to be said, to explain that there is no such thing as a free holiday, and that you can’t just go out and expect people to give you money for a holiday. You will either have to raise an excessive amount in sponsorship, which will be really hard, or else I will end up having to pay. I also explain that, since life is very long, he would be well advised to start organising smaller and less ambitious holidays first, and that there are plenty of dangers in far away countries. It is quite a battle to get him to listen to me and some sense. But, I should have played it more sensibly, just downplayed his expectations a little, and then waited for the details before going in for the kill, so to speak.

I continue to think about Anna. Although she always replies to my emails the next day, she is not very good at talking about herself or revealing aspects of her history and relationships. I tried to move the dialogue on to quite a jokey personal level, but she always retreats from it, and keeps her emails serious and formal, I suppose. I’ve given her meat about my life, history and anecdotes, but I feel she is holding back on me. Yesterday, for example, I asked her for detail on how come she switched her international journalism lifestyle for a reclusive job as a creative writer tutor in yonder Truro, and all she replied was ‘burn-out’ - as if that tells me anything. She is successfully harnessing me, I think, so that I don’t dare ask any more personal questions, and so that I restrict my own writing to general comment. As I am far from wanting to lose her as an e-friend, and I would wish to meet her should the opportunity arise, I shall write my emails a little more straightly (that’s ugly, strightly would fit better if it were a word) for a while.

Last night I watched a Jimmy McGovern drama based on the events of Bloody Sunday. Also on tape, I have another drama about the same tragedy broadcast last week. Both have been made with the 30 year anniversary in mind (I must have been at Cardiff at the time, but I have no memory of this or any other news event throughout the whole of my three years there). It seems quite clear now, and common knowledge, that a) the paratroupers behaved criminally in shooting and killing 13 innocent civilians (and wounding others); and b) the Heath government made a tragic error of judgement in discretely allowing the gun-happy paratroup regiment in in the first place, and in trying to cover up the truth afterwards. There is a deep enquiry under way at present - it has been uner way for four years now, under Saville - which is expected to put a final seal on the issue. McGovern’s drama brings out, in particular, how Republican anger at the whitewashing of the UK army’s responsibility for the killings was instrumental in boosting the ranks and role of the IRA.

30 January 2002

I’ve just returned from the cinema where I saw David Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Drive’. I noted, at the end in the credits, a dedication to Jennifer Syme. I wanted to write this name down before I forgot it, because I feel certain I’ll be able to find out something more about who she was through a search on the internet. I suspect she may prove to have been a young actress who never made it in Hollywood and died young. It is not an easy film to get one’s head round. From the start there is a patchwork plot of sorts, based around a few characters, but there is no fancy language, no fancy cinematography, nothing particularly special film-wise; even the acting is a little bit wooden, although it’s fairly clear that this is intentional. It’s a small film, set in small spaces, and would have been fine on TV. I do feel a bit cheated at the cinema, these days, if the canvas is not big enough - as I did with Rivette’s ‘Va Savoir’ for example, and as I do with ‘Mulholland Drive’. But, that said, let me move on to try and deconstruct the film, because it’s probably worth it. David Lynch has done some fantastic stuff - the film ‘Blue Velvet’ and the TV series ‘Twin Peaks’ - both of which were stunning in their own ways. The first thing to say is that there is much more of ‘Twin Peaks’ in ‘Mulholland Drive’ than ‘Blue Velvet’. The second thing to say is that, coincidentally, the first two-thirds of the film (there are two halves, one two-thirds long and the other one-third long) reminded me of Rivette’s earlier film ‘Julie and Celine go Boating’. As I said before, I don’t recall much about that film, but in ‘Mulholland Drive’ there are two girls, one blonde one dark, who become embroiled in a kind of surreal adventure (which is the feeling I remember about JaCgB). The third thing to say is that the first two-thirds of the film also reminded me of some surreal photos I took of Mayco with a blonde girlfriend many years ago. I had hoped the contrast of the two girls would make for great photos, but it didn’t - Mayco was strong and photogenic while the blond was insipid and un-photogenic. Fourthly, the first two-thirds reminded me of ‘The Truman Show’, in the way the director had all the characters use cheesy smiles, and act somewhat woodenly or, more accurately, pre-ordainedly (that can’t be a word, but it fits my sense perfectly). Of course, in ‘The Truman Show’, the actors were, in fact, supposed to be playing the parts of actors with scripts, and so this pre-ordainedness was evidently part of the film - in ‘Mulholland Drive’, this is not quite so clear to begin with. It is only when the film crosses the threshold into the second part, the last third, that it becomes clear that the whole first part has been scripted, more or less, in the mind of one of the characters. In this script, she is a heroine, a good samaritan, a genuinely brilliant actress, a sensual lover, a nice generous person. Only across the threshold do we see all the people in her script she has imagined (which has sucked us in for 90 minutes) in their real place, and that she has a sour character, is a failed actress, and a deeply jealous lover. I think this film is basically about the Hollywood dream, and people’s power to convince themselves of alternative realities. This must be Lynch’s answer to Altman’s film ‘The Player’ about a screenwriter and which was a savage attack on Hollywood.

February 2002

Paul K Lyons


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