PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2002 - MARCH
It is three weeks since I’ve written a diary entry on the computer. There are three reasons for this: our skiing trip to the Pyrenees (where I did write daily, but in a paper book, like in the old days - but, when I go skiing there is never very much to report); the failure of the battery in my portable to perform properly on the way to Brussels and on the way back, which meant I couldn’t write on Eurostar as has become my habit; and, Anna.
And it is to Anna that I shall turn first, because she has been much on my mind this week, and still is. Up until I went to Spain, our email dialogue had been fairly shallow, I would say, despite my efforts to probe a little. She had told me about the relationship with Richard F the father of her daughter Cara, and that she had a certain amount of ‘baggage’. But I did not have any real sense of who she was. Also I had come to realise that, although I had confessed about the distortion of my age on the L&F website, she had not made any similar confession in return even though she was in fact five or six years older than her stated age of 36. Nevertheless, our email conversation has been fun and interesting, and I have felt myself growing closer to her. My mind certainly finds it difficult to stop thinking about her, well, not exactly about her, mostly about my own letters to her (which is an insecurity I think - I keep replaying my words over to myself to check on their possible interpretation. I don’t, for example, replay her words to me over and over again in my head).
Although I have her photo, and she looks attractive, I am fully aware that we could have the most stunning correspondence, declare undying love a thousand times, and that it would mean absolutely nothing until we had actually met. I am fairly sure, for example, that Anna is far from slim; and I am, therefore, far from sure whether I will be able to find her attractive. I won’t know this until we meet in the flesh. And then, after that, there will be the question of personal chemistry, whether we can actually move from correspondents to friends who can talk and communicate with spoken words, looks and touches. And I expect this will be crucial for her. These are two very big hurdles. We come from very different worlds - hers quite materialistic, I would say, quite upper middle class, socially confident, while I have an impoverished socially insecure middle class background, and I am about as far from materialistic as you can get in this society.
But this week, our correspondence moved up a significant notch. I asked about her other recent relationships, which she responded to in apparent detail. But it wasn’t quite clear whether she was still sleeping with an ex or whether she had had any other relationships since the birth of her daughter. It seemed not, so I commented, rather hastily in a short note before leaving for Brussels, on the fact that it seemed a long time not to have had any intimacy, and that I really miss sex/intimacy. While sitting in the European Parliament a long letter came in, accusing me of getting too personal, and suggesting I was after sex and nothing else (not quite but near it), and talking about ‘expectations’ of where our relationship might be going. This was the first time she had dropped her guard; it was the first time, I had seen anything remotely emotional in her letters. I should also add that although I had complimented her on her looks (on receiving a photo) and her writing several times, she had not managed a single warm comment about me or my writing. But, that hadn’t worried me because I felt the fact that she wrote every day was compliment enough.
I wrote back a short note, reassuring her that I did not have a personal agenda in writing to her, and that it was the best email correspondence I had ever had. I promised her a fully reply on Thursday evening. I spent much of Wednesday and Thursday thinking about how to reply, and composed a long letter entitled Sex and the Pity (since we had discussed, on several occasions, the series ‘Sex and the City’). This seems to have unlocked Anna, for I got two long letters in reply, explaining about her messy relationship with an ex, her agent, and other things.
In these letters, she made certain comments which illustrated the importance she had begun to attach to our relationship: ‘I suppose I am terrified of getting it wrong, programmed to believe it will go wrong, and so I descend into flippancy and indifference. But I don’t want to cock up this friendship with you, which is why it is so good to be able to be honest and open about expectations I don’t even know I have!’ And, ‘so there’s the sorry tale of my sexual/intimate ambivalence, and maybe one reason I have put my feelings on hold for so many, for so long. You’re the only person I have told - apart from women friends!! And I felt it was important to tell you - at the risk of boring you witless - I don’t know why. I could never have the sort of conversations we’ve been having with RG’. Unfortunately, her tales tell of a few rather unsatisfactory relationships and lots of unfinished business and unanswered questions.
And so I find myself embroiled with, and very interested in, this stranger (more so than anyone for a long time) but understanding that any of the hopes/expectations that she and I both might have will be dashed to pieces when we meet, by her or by me or by both of us. She has gone this morning with her daughter to Hungary for a week, and so the correspondence has paused but we may, or may not, meet next Sunday - I won’t go into my hesitations about this, since they are spelled out in the letters.
And now, from talking about a new friend (who, by this time next year, will probably have vanished into the ether like Louise and Linda before her), it is time to talk about one of my oldest friends. Astonishingly, Maja is my third oldest friend after Colin and Phil. She advised me earlier in the year that she was coming to England in February for an environmental conference, and I charged her immediately with having failed to tell me or to organise coming to see me. She then sorted out flights and said she would come two days early to stay. At first, I thought she was coming with a friend, but she came alone in fact. Even though the timing was bad - right in the middle of my production week - and even though I had not seen her in more than 10 years (nor has there been much correspondence), I was surprisingly calm about her visit. I had no idea what she would want to do, or talk about, or eat, nor was I sure we would even find any connection. She arrived fairly late on Wednesday night.
I went to collect her from Guildford station, which was an event in itself, since she caught a slow train from Waterloo (having travelled across London from Stanstead) and, despite knowing the time it left, I couldn’t get a good idea of when it was due to arrive or at which platform it would arrive. I was still wandering around expecting her train to be another 10 minutes when I bumped into her on the overhead corridor. It was already late by the time we got to Russet House so we had a simple snack - ratatouille and rye bread. I pressed my schedule forward so that I did not have too much left to do on the transport newsletter. We both spent Thursday morning working (Maja had some student work to do, and spent hours checking her emails and answering them) and then drove to Wisley to have lunch with Barbara, and look round the garden (Maja was very keen to do this). On our return, I had thought we might go out somewhere, but by the time I’d finished my work, and prepared supper, we were both content to stay in a chat. In the morning, I made rolls for breakfast, we ate a leisurely breakfast, took a stroll by the river and to Waverley Abbey, had lunch, and then headed down towards the coast. On the way we stopped once for a stroll around Devil’s Dyke, a second time to walk on Brighton Beach, and a third time for tea and cake at Rottingdean. I left her at a hostel in Newhaven, and drove home.
So what was it like seeing her again after all these years? A treat, a real treat in fact. I found her intellectually lively. She has become very committed to zero waste campaigning, being led by some gurus in America, where she studied for a few weeks years ago. Her puppet business is slowing down, and she’s reinventing herself as an environmentalist (and starting to win grants). She seems particularly interested in the interface between chemical/plastics pollution and human long-term health issues. I tested her quite strenuously on basic principles, and she did not shirk from arguing back, and nor did she get cross or disappointed in me because I put forward such non-green views. We talked quite a lot about the Lomborg book too.
She talked quite a lot about her children Matija and Nika (20 and 24) who are still a daily part of her life. I replied to her thank you email, saying that, after I left her on Friday evening, I felt some echoes of the old sadnesses. Which was true, amazingly enough, I did. I may even have shed a tear. She was, after all, my first love.
It is Saturday evening now. One of Westbrook’s more experimental jazz CDs plays. Adam will be over in a few minutes. I have a damn cold brewing. It’s been lurking in my throat for several days, and has now taken up residence in my nose. I’m hoping it won’t turn itself into a full-scale show, and that I might just escape being knocked out for two weeks - but I’m beginning to doubt it. With Brussels, and production upcoming, I can see I’m going to have a great time over the next couple of weeks.
A busier train than usual this evening, and, unusually, I’m in coach 18 - almost always on the way out I sit in coach 17, and, on the way back, in coach 3. I really have become a regular commuter. Though I was thinking just now that being able to read and write constructively, in relative peace, means that much of the commuting time can be discounted.
A vicious cold attacked and killed me at the weekend. But I’m still alive, in fact, touch imaginary wood, it was a fairly low level attack and killing. I’ve had one really bad night, and one really bad day, but I’ve managed to plough on without being too sick or sorry for myself. I have taken it easy, though (no volleyball on Sunday), and tried to sleep at lunchtimes. I feel reasonably ok now, though, I expect I’ll be shattered by the time I get to Montgomery.
‘The Economist’ calls for the resignation of Stephen Byers. The media has made such a lot of the recent mess that led to the sacking of Jo Moore and Martin Sixsmith. It was very embarrassing for all concerned, I think, and Byers didn’t make his life any easier by being economical with the truth. Jo Moore, who seems to have rubbed everyone up the wrong way, appears to have been Byers own political appointee - which is why it was hard for him to sack her when she cocked up about the memo saying 12 September would be a good day to put out bad news! It wouldn’t surprise me if she had actually discussed the idea with Byers himself - so, had he sacked her, she could have done for him. Then, when this latest brooha erupted he probably agreed to sacrifice Sixsmith because she demanded it as the price of her going. I don’t read these things in the press, I just make them up. And Blair, of course, can’t get rid of Byers because he needs a patsy to soak up public criticism of the government’s failure to make as rapid progress on transport as he’s promised. But I’ve noticed that ‘The Economist’ doesn’t miss an opportunity to have a bang at Blair, as though it were wedded, ideologically, to the idea of getting a conservative government back in power. These failures and messes of the Blair government are still several orders of magnitude beneath the kind of corruption and mismanagement of the previous Tory administrations - it would do ‘The Economist’ well to recall that fact now and then.
Elsewhere in the world, the Palestine-Israel conflict continues to sink, murderously, deeper and deeper into the mud. The tit-for-tat killings that are now taking place on a daily basis are utterly shocking - no less so for being predictable under the misguided leadership of Ariel Sharon. We all look on in horror and no one can do anything, not even the US. This is not a conflict I know much about, nor do I have firm views. But, no one can fail to see the awful one-sidedness of the conflict. Jews are only being killed when an Arab is prepared to suicide himself by carrying a bomb, but the Arabs are being killed by the ruthless Israel army. One wants to scream out to Israel: stop retaliating, stop retaliating and maybe the Palestinians might not feel so desperate that they have to go on killing themselves.
‘The Economist’ has a good article on the economic crisis in Argentina. I might not worry about this so, but for Mayco who must be one of the millions that have lost savings and more. ‘The Economist’ is gloomy for all of Latin America at the moment, although it makes a wise comment at the end of an editorial: ‘The problem is not that Latin America adopted the wrong course a decade ago, but that that road is longer and more complicated than many had hoped.’
7 March 2002
A noisy train back to Waterloo today, one carriage full of people playing their DVD players too loud, and another carriage where three of four kids cannot stop yabbering, and the parents talk to each other as though there were no one else on the train. I cannot help despising such un-selfconscious and insensitive behaviour. I stand up in the carriage for a few minutes and watch them, in an attempt to signal they are making a spectacle of themselves, but they are facing the other way and do not see me, and, even if they did, I expect they’d speak louder knowing they had an audience. Another pet hate: people who make calls on their mobiles as soon as we arrive out of the tunnel to tell someone or other, an aunt, mother or daughter that ‘We are in England’. A few seats away, a tall blonde girl talks fluently on her mobile, but with a slight accent, about an article she is writing on the Serbian divisions.
I went to see ‘Lord of the Rings’ last night, only because there wasn’t anything else to see. I got well fed up with waterfalls, and prissy garden meadow scenes, and cosy luvvy acting, and the fact that the one and only way through the caves, that must have existed for centuries, happens to break down as our heroes go through. Thankfully I was forewarned about the ending so I wasn’t expecting any solutions. I’m glad I never managed to read the books - I think, on the evidence of this film, that Tolkien sacrificed his allegories, and therefore any higher relevance, to . . .
Friday 15 March
After a stressful week, it has been a relaxed day - although the wet and cold weather hasn’t exactly lightened my mood. And now I’m sitting at home alone, on a Friday evening, with a weekend devoid of social contact (excepting Adam on Sunday) stretching before me. As usual. Surprisingly, it is still almost light even though it is half past six - but there is only enough light to keep the sky a pale blue pastel colour, but not enough to penetrate the shadows and remove the night blackness which has already descended across all the trees in the back garden.
Joshua Redman squeezes his saxophone up to the highest registers as I write this in the lounge. Maybe I’ll watch ‘Eastenders’ later, although I’m bored with it at present, and there is almost nothing else worth watching on TV these days - I long for the return of ‘West Wing’. Later, after nine or so, I can listen to the fourth day of the England-NZ test match in Christchurch. (Ah, Christchurch, I have fond memories of that place.) England have a lead of 500 or more, and so, for once, it might be a pleasure to listen in.
Otherwise, I plan to write to Anna, Roser and Maja tonight.
Why a stressful week? Firstly, I haven’t felt as fit as I should have - although I managed to get rid of most of the cold within a week, I had a lump in my throat and sore nose, and was a bit run down, I suppose. Secondly, I was stressed out about my deadlines: I couldn’t write anything about the European Parliament’s first readings on the energy liberalisation proposals since they were being voted the day after I went to press; and neither was it possible to predict what might happen on the same subject at Barcelona this weekend, even though I felt I really ought to be giving my subscribers more on both these events. Similarly, the European Parliament was due to vote on Wednesday on a couple of transport issues, which I had to cover in EC INFORM-Transport - which meant a begging email to Ton. EC Inform-Transport ended up being 24 pages with several detailed court judgements which were about as difficult to read as they were to write. Thirdly, Toby was here on Wednesday - I had agreed to babysit him while Julian and Sarah went for a mini-holiday to the Cheltenham Races so long as Mum took him off my hands on Thursday. I also persuaded Adam to take Wednesday off from school (it was a quiet week because half the pupils were away on an exchange) to help look after Toby, and he was off on Thursday too because of a strike. But, actually Adam was quite a handful too - and, in parts of the day, made things more difficult for me. And then, on Thursday, my mother didn’t just come and pick Toby up and go, she ended up staying more than half the day. In anticipation of this, I had got up at 5am to make headway with proof reading.
Despite all this, I did finish up well before six yesterday - but I was weary, and am still so today. Andrew Marr tells me on Radio 4 that there will be a slight shift towards free markets in Barcelona (British unions are up in arms about Blair’s apparent cosying to Berlusconi in favour of greater labour flexibility - Jack Straw explains that, of course, the UK government must do business, so to speak, with all the democratically elected governments in the EU, whether from the right or left of the spectrum). Marr also tells me the French will give a bit on energy liberalisation - ha! Not on domestic consumers they won’t - watch the wording carefully! I’m still interested to see whether Galileo will make it into the summit conclusions. My bet is that it will - now that the UK et al know the project is going ahead Blair et al will want to be associated with it - although they may try and extract a commitment on economic viability. Let’s see.
I don’t think I’m going to work on Kip Fenn this free week, which will make it two months in a row that I’ve passed him by (last month I was in Spain). There’s a back log of indexing and filing for EC Inform which will take a couple of days - and I need to start planning how exactly I’m going to close the business down. I might take a day to do some shopping. Add to that a cultural Friday in London, and there’s nothing left of the week. Also, there’s an unusually long list of personal chores waiting for me: photos need framing, an old diary, not typed up, needs printing, I have to start planning for my 50 party and do the invitations, and I ought to make a start on the garden stuff.
Not a productive day at all. I was supposed to be thinking about my party today, but I haven’t got very far. I went to Guildford and bought a couple of tops, took a library book back, and had a look at frames in Habitat (I’ve nine small prints of my photos waiting to be framed). When I got back, there was a long letter from Anna waiting for me, but it upset me, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I’d replied.
But why am I here, at the journal, when I visited yesterday? I want to record two things I’ve read, both of them probably rather naff but they’ve struck a chord with me this week.
The first one comes from ‘The Writing Magazine’, which comes as part of the subscription package with ‘Writers’ News’. Both of them are naff, and full of adverts for vanity publishing and associated services. I subscribed for a year, because I got a free copy of the Writer’s Yearbook, which I wanted any way, and because I thought I ought to take a little peek into a part of the writer’s world. In the April-May issue of ‘The Writing Magazine’ there is an interview with Hanif Kureishi (‘My Beautiful Launderette’) to whom one of my first email correspondents likened me!. At first I was quite surprised to find an interesting writer - a literate writer - featured, but then I saw that he’s just published a book of reflections on writing and politics and so he’s on a direct marketing venture. What he has to say about making living as a writer is what concerns me here: ‘Although I can work very fast, I don’t want it to be like being at school. It’s a great job. I do what I like. But it’s very tough. It’s not secure and I like that. There are great pleasures but it’s a nightmare as well. . . It is tough to make the same kind of living that your peers will make from ordinary professions. . . If you are writing for a living, you have to understand you will have to do it for a long time and that your income will not necessarily go up. The course of your life can be very variable and you live a much more turbulent existence than you would if you were a doctor.’
It’s not so much these words even, it’s the fact that he already had a play produced at 18, and that he’s had films and books and plays published and translated, and is, more or less, famous, and yet is still saying it’s hard to make a living as a writer. Am I having second thoughts about giving up EC Inform? I’m not sure, maybe I’m having second thoughts about having second thoughts.
The second thing comes from a book I’m reading called ‘Emotional Intelligence’ by Daniel Goleman. I’ve seen this book around for years, and thought about buying it once or twice. The title, when I first saw it, made me sweat - because somehow I thought it might uncover the reasons for my immaturity, my social backwardness, and explain why I never had many friends. But I never bought it, because it seemed a bit too populist, marketed on the same table as ‘Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars’. I finally bought it, I think, to fill up an order from Amazon and because it was relatively cheap. And I find it is more interesting than I was expecting. It’s quite scientific, to start with, carrying full references, and the author talks a lot about brain and mind function (although a little too glibly for my mind). It is also interesting - I realise - because it feeds into a general trend in mind/brain studies/writing which is focusing very strongly on the role of emotions - vis Susan Greenfield’s ‘The private life of the brain’, and Antonio Damasio’s ‘The feeling of what happens’. But it’s not the science side of the book that has grabbed my attention, it’s the pop psychology side.
In a short section in the chapter on ‘Intimate enemies’ (which looks at how emotional flare-ups in relationships are caused by a ‘flooding’ of emotions) entitled ‘His and Her: Marital Advice’, Goleman says this: ‘Men also need to be on guard against short-circuiting the discussion by offering a practical solution too early - it’s typically more important to a wife that she feel her husband hears her complaint and empathises with her feelings about the matter (though he need not agree with her). She may hear his offering advice as a way of dismissing her feelings as inconsequential. Husbands who are able to stay with their wives through the heat of anger, rather than dismissing their complaints as petty, help their wives feel heard and respected.’ This apart, I find a lot in the book makes me feel quite mature and grown-up, rather than helping to explain why I’m such a lonely fellow, and why I don’t have a girlfriend/wife/partner.
21 March 2002
Late Thursday afternoon, the light is fading fast. It has been an unproductive day; an unproductive week in fact, unless I tot up my letters to Anna. The correspondence somehow became quite intense over the last five or six days, and I’ve found myself thinking about her, or her letters, or my letters to her, to the exclusion of much else. Yesterday, for example, we posted three substantial letters to each other during the day - each one must have taken me over an hour to write, and then I was thinking about them for the rest of the day. Anna has this infuriating habit of replying almost as soon as she picks up a letter, so, however often I write, she writes back within an hour or two - unless I write in the evening, and then she replies in the morning. Also, in general, she only ever writes to the length that I have written, in other words she mirrors me, so that when I write short notes in the week, she writes short notes, and when I write a long letter on Friday night or Saturday morning she writes me a long letter in reply. We are nearly up to 60,000 words. We are now due to meet on 11 April, but I suspect our email friendship will die off after we meet.
I should mention our talks with Adam’s teachers last night. His French teacher suggested he needed private lessons to catch up; his science teacher said he didn’t give his written work enough attention; his history and geography teachers said he was doing fine; and his English teacher lavished such praise on him that I was almost in tears. I think she used the word ‘gifted’ at one point. She also begged him to start reading out loud in class again, because he’s stopped putting his hand up, and because she so likes him reading.
ENTRY INTO FRONT ROW COMPETITION
The find - 100 words (including the title). ‘The find. Pulp it, mate, pulp it! I’ve removed the binding, whacky neo-Pharaoh stuff, and the musty jacket - renegade museum pieces I’m sure (but pity there’s not a name or a code pressed into the sleeve, now that would be worth an Agent’s rake-off or more). I’ve filleted out the spine for the Marrow-boys (perfect luvvies). Yeah, pulp it. Oh, and you’d better scrub the find from the Digger Index too; we wouldn’t want those Homo Sapien pretenders to trouble us with proofs, would we now. Once those Phonies got involved, we’d never hear the end of it.’
24 March 2002
A spring weekend at last with the sun shining, and the air not too cool and not too damp. But the ground in my garden is still very damp - I couldn’t think of planting any earlies, they would just rot. I don’t know what has changed from the first years here when the ground didn’t seem to be waterlogged at all at this time of the year. The lawn, too, has fallen prey to moss nearly everywhere.
I’ve gone on and on thinking about Anna - but what is so astonishing about all this mental see-sawing is that it isn’t taking me anywhere at all. I rehearse different things to say to her; try to understand why I want to say those things to her; then compose some new idea in my head, and think about that - and so it goes on. I’ve drafted one reply. But it’s not enough, or not right, or will only make matters worse, or whatever. My head hasn’t been in this kind of space for years and years. The interesting question is this: Why am I like this? The only honest answer is that I’ve fallen for her. But then this beggars the question why? when I know she’s lied about her age (or not owned up, any way); when - to be brutally honest - she only has a few years as opposed to a decade, before reaching the menopause; when she’s clearly screwed up in a way I’ve seen before; and when she seems to have very little personal warmth or playfulness?
I couldn’t decide how to reply to Anna’s rather depressing and angry letter on Monday morning, so I didn’t. She did say, at the end, of it that she would think some more. And today, here in Brussels, I picked up a second letter from her, which is, perhaps, less angry but more depressing. I will read it again on the train home, and try to write a reply - but she’s boxed me so far in to a corner (she can’t see this), that there’s very little place for me to go. I hate to say it to myself - because it confirms a view I already hold strongly about myself: that I’m arrogant - but I’m beginning to understand her so well. Although I would wish her to be able to step outside her usual relationship patterns, there is about as much chance of that happening as of a skunk spraying sweet perfume on its victims.
June Tabor sings her melancholy folk songs as I sit here this Saturday evening with 15 minutes to go before I must boil water for pasta. I’ve been feeling depressed this evening. I’m not wholly sure why. Anna and I are back on reasonable speaking terms, and we are still scheduled, just, to meet on 12 April (but I no longer hold out any hopes that we will make something of it - and thereafter the emails will die out; I’m as sure of it, as I am that my name is Paul!)
Paul K Lyons
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