8 September

It is Sunday morning. I spent the pre-breakfast time compiling my journal entries for the first half of the year into one file and printing it out. For the last few years, I print out six months worth at a time. The most laborious bit of the procedure is the spellchecking. Apart from my many spelling mistakes, there are so many proper names to flick through, as well as all the made-up words which are not in the spellcheck dictionary. There are 36,000 words for the January-June period which makes about 50 pages, which is fairly average. I wrote more than this to Anna, in fact. The entire Anna file, which expired towards the end of June, contains about 100,000 words, half of which are mine. Reading over some of the things I have written this year, I am bemused by the fact that, on the one hand, some of them seem so recent, while others seem so long ago - all sense of time becomes distorted with age, dependent as it is on memory. And also, there are passages I’ve written which I don’t remember writing, and the content of which I’ve almost forgotten.

I seem to be sufficiently on track for both the energy and transport newsletters this coming week so I made a conscious decision to break off from EC Inform work today and see if I couldn’t round off my work on Kip Fenn Chapter Four. It’s already the longest chapter, but I still haven’t quite drawn it to a close. I promised myself I would finish it before putting Kip Fenn aside until January. (Although, to tell the truth, there was a point during the summer where I did not think I would be able to get through Chapter Four). The four chapters together are now longer than BLR. Sometimes I get very excited thinking about Kip Fenn, thinking it really is the best thing I’ve written and should stand a really good chance of publication. But then I stop my dreaming and remind myself of who I am - and how impoverished my writing abilities really are. Even when I read books which I consider dreadful, I still know I couldn’t write them. And what evidence do I have that Kip Fenn is anything but a load of old rubbish? Only Adam - whose opinion of it has been surprisingly mature, but what can he know, he’s barely read a dozen adult books in his life.

This is a red letter weekend. Adam and Barbara are away in Ireland. I’ve only heard from them once on Thursday night. But that is not why it is a red letter weekend. I sold Kiwi yesterday, and I am in mourning. I’d advertised her once, without finding a buyer; and since I was so enjoying her again this summer (she is running well) I was tempted to hold on to her for another year. Indeed, I finally got round to renewing my annual insurance (for which I’ll now have to seek a rebate) just a few days ago. But I had also renewed my ad in the local paper. I received four or five calls, and the second person who came round, bought it on the spot - on the spot. This meant I wasn’t able to have one last communion with my friend of six years. (When asked how long I’d had her, I replied four or five years, but the licence certificate showed that I’d had her over six years.) Au revoir ma chere! I never used her enough, and she was getting a bit old. I bought her for £2,000, and sold her for £750. So she cost me £200 a year, plus tax (£60 or so), plus insurance (£70 or so), plus service/repairs (£200 or so) - so, on average, £500 a year. How many times did I use her in a year 30-40 times at most, and usually only for short journeys (I never took her down to the coast for example - and only went to London on her a few times). So, one could say that, without considering petrol, it cost me £15 for each journey!

Consider this: if there were a bike hire agency next door, and it cost me £15 to hire a bike to go to Spectrum for example, or to the library, would I spend that money rather than go by bus or car? No. What if I did the same analysis for the car. Say it costs me £300 a year in depreciation costs, £150 tax, £100 insurance, £250 in service/repairs - that’s about £800 a year. I probably use it for 200 or so journeys in a year, which works out at about £4 a journey - much more reasonable.

Perhaps it is a red letter weekend because yesterday I bought upwards of 500 books. This is the biggest lot of books I have ever bought. I paid £80 for them, the cost of a dozen paperbacks or four coffee table books. I had thought I wouldn’t drop in to view the auction sale in Godalming this w/e because I knew I would be busy with EC Inform stuff. But, after swimming on Friday I decided to drop back via Godalming to return library books. And I made the effort to look into the Hamptons auction. As usual, there were four or five lots of books, and most of them were full of the familiar dross. But one of them - no less than seven shelves worth (enough to put anyone off - I sometimes wonder if the dealers aren’t in cahoots with the auctioneers to hide good stuff or adjust the size of lots to make them less attractive to ordinary punters) - contained a really unusually literate collection of books. Now I know this because I’ve looked at so many collections of books there over the years that I have a good sense of the quality. This lot, for example, included Durrell’s ‘Black Book’ which I don’t have, and lots of other titles which struck me as desirable - clearly a literate person with eclectic interests had owned this collection. It was estimated at £20-40. I thought I might bid for it, but wasn’t sure. Saturday morning came round, and I decided to head in to Godalming. No one in the crowded auction rooms bid for the lot, but the auctioneer’s assistant had a pre-registered bid which took the price up to £65. I found myself bidding without hesitation up to £70 (£80 including taxes etc). Then I had to pack the books into a dozen or more boxes and carry them through the crowds. I left behind a dozen books on weaving, and another dozen books on cookery, and a couple of bibles, but for the rest I was astonished at how many interesting books there were over and above the ones I’d seen. I’ve left them all in the car for now. But I brought one box inside, and I found a copy of Hesse’s ‘Siddhartha’ - I’ve been searching for this book for months (for Adam), but it’s out of print and none of the libraries have a copy! I’ll have a real good look at them next weekend, when my newsletter issues are out of the way.

On Friday, I shouted at my mother. This is the first serious conflict I’ve had with her for years I think. We started talking about her investments, but she goes all loopy on the subject, and ever since I persuaded her to put some money into an ISA, she’s moaned and groaned about it. However many times I explain about the stock market, she simply won’t understand. This time, though, she started getting emotional, and going on about me not understanding blah blah blah. And I lost it. Afterwards, on my way to the swimming pool, I found myself thinking about how she had used me all up as a child/youth, used up all my sympathy so that I have none left for her today. I simply cannot listen to her if she starts crying on me - it makes me so angry. I don’t choose to get angry, I just do - that’s her fault, I’ve no doubts about it. If Barbara cries, or Adam cries I am the softest touch around.

11 September 2002

One year on - the media has been full of it. It’s exploitative, it makes me mad to listen to all the tedious pious sentiments. Yeah it’s terrible that 2,800 people died a year ago, how many people die every year in the States from murder, from car accidents; how many people are dying of famine and drought. This is not about the 2,800 people, this is about the US’s pride. It continues to talk about Al Quaeda and the terrorist threat as if the planet were about to be invaded by Martians. I mean it’s not possible that a fairly minor terrorist group made an ultra-special effort, got lucky and killed 2,800 innocent people in a land as mighty and great as the US. No, it could only happen if Al Quaeda were HUGE and TERRIBLE and the GREATEST THREAT TO MANKIND SINCE HITLER.

And this whole business with the War against Terrorism and the threat of an attack on Iraq all comes from the same genesis. The media has been full of speculation and debate about an attack on Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein. It makes me sick. The US will not attack Iraq today or tomorrow. They will certainly give the UN another chance, and have another go at weapons inspections. It would be a major mistake to attack Iraq without a good coalition AND tacit support from important Arab states. I don’t mind that Tony Blair appears to be the only voice supporting Bush, because I think he provides a bridge to Europe. He slowed Bush down over Afghanistan and a coalition involving Europe emerged; but I don’t think that if Bush decided to go into Iraq today or tomorrow, Blair would support him. He’ll do so if he can get Europe onside too.

Adam and B got back from Ireland yesterday. Half way home, B rang to say she’d broken down and had called the AA. After stopping to fill up with petrol, she had seen water streaming out of her engine and thought the radiator might be bust. It turned out to be normal condensation from the air conditioning! I had cooked a ratatouille for supper - and, after Ads went to bed, we ended up drinking a bottle of wine, and talking about Adam and her new house until late.

Adam has started his new term today. He came home from school full of chatter about the headmaster (Latham) becoming over-anxious and committing the school to all sorts just to get more money; and railing against his obsession with cleaning up litter and dress tidiness. Adam showed me his timetable for the year - it’s very heavy. He now has two extra lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays, meaning he’ll be coming home more than an hour late; and there’s still only one PE/games lesson on the timetable. He has four graphics lessons, but only two for history; four French lessons. He also says he has a new French teacher, who’s starting the course again. I tell him, this is a good opportunity to knuckle down and organise a couple of extra hours a week of French for yourself.

I’ve finally carried in the boxes of books I bought on Saturday - there are 17 of them. Already Adam has spied ‘Private Eye’ annuals, French crammers, joke books, a Bill Bryson book he’s been looking for for ages - and that’s before we’ve even looked through them.

14 September 2002

Much of the weekend, I’ve spent sorting out books! I’ve taken down from their shelves all my existing books and blended them with the new ones, and sorted them. I now have around 400 fiction paperbacks stacked in the cupboard in rough alphabetic order (including 70-80 Penguin Classics which I’ve kept together because they look impressive with their black spines - not that anyone but me will see them in the cupboard). There’s a further 50-60 fiction hard backs which are stacked on a separate shelf, and the same number of poetry volumes (mixed paperback/hard back). My next task will be to sort out the play scripts, and then start on the non-fiction.

So far, I’ve only picked out and read a couple of translated novellas by a French author called Francoise Sagan. She wrote stories about slightly racy women getting themselves enmeshed with men one way or another. I looked her up on the internet, and only found one reference in English - giving a brief account of her life and books and noting that there was a woeful lack of information about her in English anywhere on the net. Her first book ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ has become something of a classic even in English. There’s another short book, I’ve half read called ‘Miracle’, by someone I’ve never heard of (nor can I be bothered to go upstairs and check his name). It’s a satire on life in New Zealand (oddly, it reminded me of an author called Peter Dickinson who’s not much heard of these days). The only reason I mention ‘Miracle’ is that it was published in Dunedin in 1976 - exactly when I was living there! By another weird coincidence, there was also a medical book of about the same age, which was an exact copy of one I was given when working in Dunedin as a medical representative. The collection also contains various New Zealand picture books.

It’s been hard keeping out of trouble with Adam today - he’s so involved all the time. I’ve persuaded him to do three 40 minute lessons of French each week to try and catch up a bit with his GCSE work - it may help that he has a new and better teacher. After lunch I showed him how to play Take Chess and Scotch Chess. We then went for a bike ride, only his bike kept breaking down. I insisted we give our bikes a service when we got back, but Adam found this all too boring and unnecessary - and then his saddle refused to stay in position, and I took it apart, he just wanted to argue and argue and argue that it was fine to have a bike with a loose saddle. But I am trying hard to keep my cool, and not allow myself to be drawn in to argument. I must keep a clear line between discussing stuff, and behavioural/personal discipline.

I’m getting a bit peckish and will stop in a minute to heat up the remainder of yesterday’s chicken pie, with some leftover ratatouille and some fried potatoes.

19 September 2002

I’ve spent a day and a half trying to persuade myself to buy a new Apple laptop computer - an ibook. But I’ve not succeeded. For the record, here is a rough list of my computer purchases over the years: 1985 - A Kaypro luggable (bought in New York) - I forget how much it cost (say around £1,000); 1990 - A Toshiba portable plus external floppy drive (around £1,500); 1992 - All the equipment for EC Inform: an Apple 1400 IIsi (£1,400), a large B&W Radius monitor (£650), a laser printer (£1,400) plus other peripherals; 1996 - Apple PowerPC and large Apple colour monitor (around £3,000); A Hewlett Packard printer around this time also; 1998 - Apple Powerbook (£900); 2000 - Apple G4 plus peripherals, colour printer, scanner, hubs, etc (around £2,500).

From this analysis, it is clear that I buy a new main computer every four years, and that it took me eight years to buy my second portable, and it is four years since I bought the last one. Very approximately, I spend around £1,000 a year on computers.

The main reasons for buying a new laptop are: 1) it would be lighter to carry; 2) it would have a longer battery life (and thus be more useful on the move, in libraries etc); 3) it would have a more modern operating system (OSX); 4) linking up with the G4 would be easier than it is with the Powerbook (which requires me to use Adam’s computer as an intermediary because it has a floppy disk drive); 5) buying now means I save up to around 40% of the cost (VAT is reclaimed and 20% can be set off against tax).

The main reasons for not buying a new laptop are: 1) I wouldn’t be able to get any significant amount of money for selling the current Powerbook; 2) I’m not mad keen on the keyboard of the ibook; 3) OSX is not that great, and there are problems running it at the same time as OS 9 which one has to do because all my programmes will by OS9 programmes; 4) It costs money and all I’ll probably use it for is writing; 5) the mouse cable plugs in to the wrong side of the ibook.


The oddest thing: having absolutely decided NOT to buy a new computer and to stick with my current set for the foreseeable future, and then having written down the reasons (as above), I made an instant decision to buy one! I called up three mail order outlets, and bought from the third one (the one I knew would have the cheapest prices). So I’ve bought an Apple ibook 700mhz with a 12.1 inch screen, extra RAM and a new mouse for a little over £1,000 (not including VAT). It should arrive tomorrow. And, for the present, I don’t think I’m even going to try and sell my existing stock - I doubt I could get £200 for all of it together. Isn’t it weird how I make decisions - it’s like I do all the ground work, all the research - I think it’s leading me in one direction, and heh presto, I’ve taken another direction. But often, a key part of the process is writing down arguments. I think perhaps children ought to be taught in school how to weigh up the pros and cons of big decisions and big purchases.

I’ve watched a lot of ‘Ally McBeal’ programmes this summer - Channel Four has been running them every day at lunchtime; so I’ve probably watched most of them by now - I only ever saw the odd one when they were first broadcast (at the same time, C4 is showing the current series on Wednesday nights, which I’m also watching). They are very inventive, and fun - excellent television - I’m not sure they make me think much, if at all (some of the bizarre legal cases, presented in cameo, touch on interesting subjects - cloning humans for example - but they never have time to go into them in any depth). These are programmes about love and sex and relationships, and not too much else, but the way they combine the professional and personal lives of the characters, and throw in some schmaltzy singing too, is very watchable - not to mention the actors, whose characters have been so well casted.


Hoping to go to Aldeburgh this weekend, before it gets too cold. I was planning to go earlier in the year, but my knee put a halt to me going anywhere - apart from Brussels, I haven’t spent a night away from this house since our skiing trip to the Pyrenees in Feb or March was it. Perhaps we’ll sleep on the beach.

Several times last week, I was determined to write up about my walks/cycles through Thursley Common. I was making an effort to do regular exercise for my knee to see if it could withstand walking for an hour or more on successive days. I rediscovered the ‘lake district’ on the common - it’s so beautiful there, secret woodlands and lakes with lilies and swans and herons. Apart from a fisherman once, I’ve never seen anyone down there. I was blissfully happy each time I was there - I’ve very little to be happy about at present, but somehow I don’t seem to care much when I’m out there. Oh it’s a long time, since I’ve been walking on cliff tops or on mountain crags.

25 September 2002

I’m writing today on the Macintosh LC that I persuaded FT Newsletters to let me have here in Brussels. It must have been bought in 1990 or 1991, well over 10 years ago. It is the oldest of the five computers I now own. But when I shut up shop here in Brussels, the chances are I will simply chuck it in the skip. Yet it works fine, I can write as well on this as on the 2002 ibook I bought last week. These days, though, the memory and processing speed is all related to photo and video capabilities, which don’t really concern me. Still, I love my new ibook - I spent most of the time on Eurostar yesterday evening reading an OS X manual which came free with a Mac magazine I bought at Waterloo.

I had a small encounter on Eurostar yesterday. When I arrived at my seat, there was a youngish fellow slouched in it. When I told him he was sitting in my seat, he moved to the next seat, not even to the one diagonally opposite. Now, I’m a bit fed up of this - unless I’m at the head of the queue walking up the platform, someone always tries to take my table seat. I think this is really rude. Before I learnt how to book a table seat, I always used to wait until the train was under way before taking an unoccupied place. When the carriage is more than half empty, I find it really annoying to have to ask someone to move from my seat - the onus is on me, as though I’m being somewhat petty. When there are two people, I usually don’t bother, because I know they’ll just occupy two of the other seats in the table foursome, and that I’ll then move away as soon as the train starts, to be on my own. But when there’s just one person I use an abrupt tone, because I don’t think they should be there at all. In this case, the Frenchman continued to sit right next to me, and then he started playing on his little electronic organiser. So I asked him why he chose to continue sitting in that seat when the carriage was half empty. I’m not the calmest of antagonists, and so we had a little verbal fight. He said there was no reason why he shouldn’t sit there, and that I had been rude. And I told him he was the one who started being rude by sitting in my seat. If he persisted in staying in that seat then, I said, I’m sure I’ll be the one to move. And that was about it. And I intended to move as soon as the train started, but, having shown a headful of cocky French arrogance, he left the seat just as the train was departing, and so I didn’t have to bother. I wish I could be calmer in such situations, more enigmatic perhaps. There was another incident a while ago, now I come to think about it, when I challenged someone who had moved from his own seat to take a seat at my table, diagonally opposite, which was OK, but then he proceeded to use his mobile phone. So I asked him why he had moved from his seat.

Petty stuff. I could have moved - I don’t mind at all not sitting at a table seat, I only book one a) because there’s more chance of falling into conversation with someone at the other table, and b) because I can put my feet up on the opposite chair. But I’d sooner not be at a table seat than share one with someone else. But, sometimes, I simply don’t want someone else to get what they want by sheer pushiness.

On to more pretty stuff. Aldeburgh. Finally, I got back to Aldeburgh this last weekend. I had been meaning to go in the spring but then I bust my knee, and I’ve not felt confident enough until now to go away anywhere. We left about 10am on Saturday morning (since Ads insisted on doing a double paper round and dawdling round them too) which meant there was fairly heavy traffic on the M25 and the A12, but no jams thankfully or I might have turned around and come back. At Ipswich, I went the wrong way (very oddly, I went the wrong way on the return too - oddly because my mistake took us along exactly the same stretch of road and in the same direction as my first mistake had done!). I think we made it in a little under three hours (although I fully expect a speed camera to have clocked me somewhere along the way). First things first - a swim. We opted - for ease of parking - to swim on the beach between Aldeburgh and Thorpeness. At first, I thought Ads wasn’t going to swim (he never swam once on his holiday in Ireland with B), but I had misheard him. In fact, he took to the water and the waves with more gusto than I can ever remember. And, whereas, in the past he always seemed to complain of being cold on beaches, and shivering to prove it, each time we swam this weekend he stayed in longer than I did - and he swam on one occasion when I didn’t. The wave swells were quite large, and they rise and crash into the stones very quickly. At first, they catch you and scrape you along the sand and stones as if you were their plaything - we both had scratches from being caught in a wave crash or two. But then, you learn to duck through the waves, or to push yourself out a metre or two and rise with the swell before it breaks. One word of warning, though: if you stay in too long, you find yourself drifting along the beach, and with a strong wind it can be too hard to swim back, and so you end up having to walk back to your clothes. Walking, with cold feet, on the stony beach is no picnic.

We then parked behind the Town Steps and walked through the busy High Street to the bread shop to buy sandwiches for lunch (oh no, in fact we stopped at Craggs first but it was no longer the cute old-fashioned, cheap teahouse it once used to be, but a tourist trap - and empty, I seem to remember it always bustling) and took them to the beach to eat. Rix’s old seafront house, where I used to stay when I first came to Aldeburgh, looked deserted, and there was no sign of any hollyhocks in the garden. We strolled along to the Martello Tower, chatting all the time - Adam is very chatty on walks.

Our main action of the afternoon, though, was to walk back out of Aldeburgh, past the Church and the Library, past the junction (now a roundabout) with Leiston Road. There we took a quick look at number 15 - which has been painted pink, and the front yard has been concreted over. Adam, oddly, remembers the garden, by its rectangle shape and the big hedge, but when I took him round the back to have a look at it, he was surprised at how small it was - obviously, the last time he saw it he was only three!. I thought we would walk through the old brick works and follow the sea wall around the estuary to bring us back via the Martello Tower - but I made one or two miscalculations. Firstly, the brick works were still working and carefully fenced off with barbed wire trim. I thought about climbing over the high gate (Ads was all for it), but then decided that this was a legitimate business and there might be an office inside the works with papers and money and an alarm or a guard dog or someone might see us and call the police. So we began to retreat. Then a man on bicycle appeared, so we asked him. He said it was the first time he’d been here in 20 years, and was no wiser than us about the situation. Because I thought he meant it was the first time in 20 years he’d been to Aldeburgh, I began to engage him in some conversation about the changes (have I mentioned the changes: there are now TWO fish and chip shops where there used to be just one, and THREE restaurants where even one had trouble surviving before); but it soon transpired that he actually lived in Aldeburgh, and that this was the first time he’d come to this part of the town in all those years. Again we got ready to retreat (I felt sure there must be access to the estuary path somewhere from the main road), but there was a man tending to a bonfire in a garden near by. So I asked him. He did not know where there was a definitive footpath to the estuary, but - very fortuitously - he advised us that the padlock on the doorway in the fence around the brickworks is often left unhitched, and he implied there would be no problem in us using it and walking round the brick works. Sure enough, the door in the fence was openable (the padlock not having been secured on the right side of the metal slide to stop it opening - even though it looked well bolted).

The brick works look unchanged from 15 years ago. As the sun lit up a pile of bricks I took a photograph for old time’s sake. Beyond the works we discovered the mini-beach with its rotting pier and long-forgotten row boats and its picturesque views up river towards Snape and down river to Aldeburgh and the coast. I recalled to Ads that I’d once seen a troupe of scouts camping there, but now it looks like no one ever comes - perhaps because of the huge fence around the brick works. We found the estuary wall not far from this spot and set about walking towards the coast. However, I’d forgotten how far south it winds and, with my knee feeling sore and slowing me down, I did not want to walk all along the Alde’s meanders. So we cut across the Aldeburgh marshes - I knew there was a route through to the south of the town (we’d seen the path from our short walk along the dyke to the Martello tower) only it wasn’t that easy to find. Various irrigation channels and marshy ridges mean that the area is a bit like a maze. We back-tracked so much that we probably would have walked less if we’d gone by the meandering sea wall walk. By the time we got back to the beach, my knee was well and truly shot.

Ads wanted to eat our fish and chips on the Town Steps, so - as I didn’t feel up to walking any further - I sat there reading for more than half an hour while Adam patiently queued for ages. But it was worth it, the cod and chips he brought back were hot and delicious - although not quite as good, I suspect, as they used to be! From there, we went to the cute Aldeburgh cinema to see a British film - most notably with Bill Nighy - called ‘Lawless Heart’. Set on the Isle of Man, it tells the stories of several characters affected by the death of a friend/relation through three overlapping narratives - a kind of filmic Alexandra Quartet, only it was a triplet of stories and the characters were far more ordinary. Nevertheless, I thought it was well done. I think Adam was a bit bored.

27 September 2002

From the cinema we walked along to what used to be called the potty pub, that was when scores if not hundreds of potties used to hang from the ceiling. There were a couple of musicians struggling to sing songs against the hubbub. We sat outside and listened for a while. I commented how strange it was that we could sit and listen to this music with all the noise of the pub and the street, still enjoying it to some extent, and yet when I listen to music on the radio the slightest of hums can be upsetting. We didn’t stay long. Then we drove to the beach car park where we had had our first swim. I thought we wouldn’t be able to see a thing because the moon wasn’t up, but there was enough light to make our way across the stones. Adam took longer over digging himself a slight shelter in the stones than I, but when we bedded down in our sleeping bags with waves crashing just a few metres away, it seemed all too perfect and cosy - one can shape the stones to make the perfect bed. But it didn’t last - the wind picked up, and it was a cold that somehow bit through the sleeping bags and kept waking us through the night. I kept worrying about Adam freezing and not sleeping at all, and every time I woke I told him he should go to the car and sleep there. But he said he was fine. I had to go to the car once to take headache pills - I’d had a headache on and off all day, but it was OK when I went to sleep. After that it was hard to get warm again. The next day, though, Adam said he had really enjoyed sleeping on the beech.

I was too cold in my bones to swim first thing, so we breakfasted on the milk and biscuits and bananas I had in the car, and then walked to Thorpeness. My knee wasn’t in the best condition, but we took it slowly. Having got rather fed up of answering questions from Ads, I unilaterally started a game of deliberately not answering any questions and scoring a point for myself every time I got him to answer one of my questions. It was easy to begin with, but when he started to concentrate, he was able to score a few points off me. The most difficult strategy to resist, I found, was not the direct question but the secondary follow-up question that could follow a statement. Thus while I’m looking at the charges sheet for the rowing boats on the Thorpeness Mere, I might say: ‘The rowing boats are really expensive to hire.’ Adam would respond naturally with ‘Are they?’, and I’d reply involuntarily ‘Yes’. The game kept us amused for a while. We never got close up to the funny tower house (the setting for my story ‘In Flight’) but we saw it from a distance. I don’t think Adam was too impressed with Thorpeness.

Apropos nothing but that I’ve just remembered this and I’m unlikely to recall it again, let alone make the effort to write about it: I was listening to Radio Five in the middle of the night - for some reason I couldn’t sleep. Every time I’ve listened to Five in the night, which isn’t often, it has been full of interviews with Australians. Who in the UK is interested in Australian news to that extent. Anyhow, there was an interview with some Australian woman about something or other which I can’t remember, and her speech pattern was overwhelmingly INFECTED with the ‘you know’ virus. Every sentence, every phrase was punctuated with the two words, sometimes clearly spoken and sometimes rushed over so quickly one would only notice it if one was concentrating. She could not pause in her speech without using ‘you know’ to start up again. There were other Australian interviewees who used ‘you know’ a fair bit, but not that much.

28 September

We took a last swim on Aldeburgh beach - I wasn’t going to go in, but Adam persuaded me, and I’m glad he did. After that we drove to Snape which has become a kind of alternative shopping mall. There are so many shops there now, including a couple for clothes and kitchen accessories, as well as gifts and books and crafts etc. It seems a shame that it’s become so commercialised, but it still looks as pretty as ever. I thought we might go to Orford but we didn’t. We just headed home, arriving at 4 or 5 in the afternoon. My knee had taken a beating, but at least I did manage to get around a fair amount.

I’ve been typing up a new diary from Brazil - a couple of trips, one to Belem thanks to Companhia do Vale Rio Doce, which included the w/e tour with Edna, and the other to Porto Alegre to visit the petrochemical complex.

It’s Saturday evening. I expect Ads will be arriving shortly. I must do my yoga before starting on supper. I’ve kept it up fairly regularly now for about three months, missing only the occasional day. However, I still cannot do a lotus position, nor can I sit properly on my knees, my left knee simply won’t take the pressure, so I have to cock slightly to the side, or else use a cushion between my bum and the back of my heels. I don’t think I’ve made any progress in either of these positions for a month or more. I am due to see the consultant in a couple of weeks, and I can’t imagine how he could assuage my fears that my leg is never going to recover properly. In the meantime, the volleyball club has been putting out urgent messages for team players (they’ve reduced the Surrey league teams to two - Storm and Tsunami), the new season’s matches start in the next week or two - not for me. Steve rang the other day, and I wished him luck.

I rang my mother this morning. I haven’t spoken to her in three weeks or more, but Julian told me last weekend that she’d had a fall, so I asked B to ring her while I was in Brussels, and then I rang her myself. She’s all hyper at the moment because she’s found a house she would consider buying - it’s round the corner in Child’s Hill in a cul de sac. If she managed to sell her house and buy this one, she could probably bank £200,000 in the exchange, which would give her more security than she has at the moment. I’m a bit agin the location of this house, and I’m against her rushing into it. I feel she would be better advised to leave moving house until after she’s decided to give up work. Then she will be able to focus her energies on the job of finding a house and moving and redecorating and it would ease the transition from having work to not have work. But, this is a real breakthrough that Mum is even considering a move. Up to now, she has completely resisted the idea, and was becoming quite keen on equity release schemes so that she could stay where she is. I’ve been arguing, though, that she must consider moving because it only gets harder the older she gets. So, I feel I’ve won some kind of battle - and I suspect that my little spat with her over her investments has helped her to realise she must start thinking more seriously - not airy fairily - about her mid-term financial situation.

I don’t think I’ve written enough about the Iraq situation, but I’m not sure I have the time now. I fully supported the Gulf war in the early 1990s, and the subsequent corralling of Iraq (US and UK planes still patrol a UN-designated no fly zone in Iraq territory); and I support efforts for a new UN Resolution pressuring Hussein to allow more effective weapons inspectors in his country. I do believe that the West needs to call his bluff and play hard ball - and for this I respect Blair’s position to the side of Bush. I do not, though, support the idea of any kind of invasion by the US - nor do many other countries around the world. But it is hard not to believe in the Bush bullishness and the US’s determination to ensure a regime change - and I believe any unilateral action by the US would be downright folly. It would single-handedly wreck the positive and patronly and cooperative reputation that the US developed under Clinton - Bush has already opted out of important international agreements (such as Kyoto), taken a transparently short-term self-interested position on steel, and now he is using US might to bully Iraq, and possibly to kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of its citizens. All for what? Ostensibly in the war against terrorism, but no link real link between Bin Laden and Hussein has ever been proved, and, besides, Iraq’s weapons cannot reach the US. No, I’m beginning to believe this is about oil, in a way that the Gulf War was not, or, if it was, it didn’t matter because there was a higher purpose. Actions get taken where objectives can be dovetailed. The US is behaving irresponsibly under Bush; I feel sure that, if push comes to shove, Blair would step off the US platform and hold hands with the Europeans and the UN - I hope so. But if Bush went ahead, the consequences would be dire - and, ironically, it would only end up leading to more terrorism against the US, not less.

The trouble with diary writing, is that I never give enough time or thought to what I’m writing, and so when I tackle real subjects, as opposed to simply documenting the trivia of my life, I never do them justice.

29 September

Here’s a thought. Up until now, I’ve always written each new journal entry as a separate file, and then, once every six months or so, I cut and paste them all together into one file. But why not write one continuous file. I keep my email correspondences in one file per person, and I type up my old diaries in one continuous file, so why not write my current journal as one file. I could argue that I don’t because I write journal entries on different computers; but there’s no reason why I couldn’t ensure I have one master file, and simply add in other entries written elsewhere when I transfer them. I’ve almost convinced myself, but then I’ve had another thought. By having a file for each day I’ve made a journal entry, I can see at a glance when the last entry was made, and how many I’ve been making recently. Not seeing an entry for two weeks can spur me to do a bit of writing. On second thoughts, I don’t think I’ll change my system.

Shosty’s third string quartet plays - I wonder if it’s my favourite.

There was some fun news this weekend. Edwina Currie, who was once a lively MP but now runs a lively phone-in programme on Radio Five on Saturday and Sunday nights, is serialising her diary in ‘The Times’. The great revelation yesterday was that she had had a four year affair with John Major in the 1980s before he became a cabinet minister. John Major’s only response was that he had long feared this would be made public, and it was the one thing in his life about which he was most ashamed. The interesting question is not why did Currie decide to reveal this hot bit of gossip, but why she’s waited so long. Well, I’m sure she never had any intention of publicising the indiscretion while either of them was in office - she would not have wanted to damage the Conservative Party. But it must have been very galling to watch Major sack Tim Yeo and David Mellor (who also ended up with Radio Five) for having affairs, and then to see him launch the Back to Basics campaign. I’m surprised I haven’t heard anyone on the news use the word hypocrite. The news doesn’t surprise me a bit - he was, by all accounts, a charming man, not the grey bore the cartoonists made him out to be. There were always rumours about him having an affair (I have a vague memory of Raoul and Andrew telling me once that he had a mistress and me dismissing the idea as unlikely - but, I hear on the news, he took a magazine called ‘Scallywag’ to court for libel over rumour about him having an affair and won!). Now that they are both a safe distance from frontline politics, Currie wants the truth to be known, not so much for the sake of truth, I don’t think, but because she feels resentful that Major has tried to wipe his past with her. Currie was resentful, for example, that when Major became Prime Minister he left her out in the cold (she had to resign some years earlier under Thatcher for mis-timed comments about salmonella in eggs if I remember right). And even more revealing, I think, was her comment about Major’s autobiography and that she didn’t even merit a mention in the index. To my mind, Major was and is an ass. I think he was the worst Prime Minister of recent times, and he single-handedly wrecked the Conservative Party. The fact that he now appears to have been an abysmal hypocrite is no surprise. And for him now to say that he views the affair as the most shameful thing in his life only makes him seem more slimy, more hypocritical, more stupid. I mean you can say that about something that happened once or twice, but not about something that went on for four years. Evidently, he enjoyed the relationship or it wouldn’t have lasted so long - how can he be ashamed of it now. He’s just using words without any solid reference to the truth - which is what the Conservative Party have been doing since he was in charge (perhaps it started in Thatcher’s day) and which is why the public, on average, no longer trust it.

There was an amazing programme on TV today - ‘The Abyss’. Peter Snow fronted a programme monitoring live a trio of deep-sea dives. We saw the most exquisite deep-see jelly fish, a dumbo octopus, a hammerhead shark, a huge six gill shark, and, most astonishing of all, a huge ‘smoker’ surrounded by a mass of prawn-like creatures like bees in hive, wriggling and twisting around each other to get close to the food source - the massive colonies of bacteria which thrive on the sulfides that shoot out of the vents. These life forms are unique in that they do not rely on the sun’s energy to survive, unlike every other life form on earth.

I suppose I should mention a book I’ve just finished reading - ‘Thinks’ by David Lodge. Oh it didn’t half irritate me. I knew it would when I read the reviews ages ago; but earlier this year, I was on a spending spree, and I probably forgot what the reviews had said. I’ve read a couple of Lodge’s books, and I remember enjoying an early one called ‘Nice Work’. This one, though, is PRETENTIOUS in the extreme. His main character is a sex-obsessed professor of cognitive studies - so we get a lot about brain research (all so evidently researched, and regurgitated in a way that has very little bearing on the plot at all - it’s just a conceit) and a lot more about sex, which seems much more pertinent, and somehow it seems so childish.

October 2002

Paul K Lyons


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