PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2003 - JANUARY
DIARY 73: January - June 2003
7 January 2003
The new year is here, and under way. Without any fanfare. Which is not surprising really, since the last year was pretty awful, and I can’t see many bright stars, or coloured lights to come over the next 12 months. At the moment (today even) I am still working on EC Inform-Energy - issue no 111 (only six times as many and I could be publishing issue 666, trouble is, I’d be over 100 years old). I’ve prepared a 14 page issue which is a reasonable standard and the 2002 index - both of which will be printed tomorrow. I’ve not heard from Newzeye since before Christmas, but, to cover myself (just in case Ian Grant has got cold feet), I’ve made it absolutely clear that none of the printing or postage costs for this issue will be accepted by EC Inform. On Thursday, I must go to Newzeye’s offices for meetings - but I’m not sure what they’ll want to discuss. Hopefully, they won’t need me for much else before the February issue, which should give me three clear weeks to get moving on Kip Fenn again.
I did not manage to start on Kip Fenn over the hols, largely because of having a cold I suppose, the remnants of which are still hanging around. I did, though, restart yoga yesterday, which is a good sign. Over the weekend, I found myself working on the diaries again. Yet, I realised, I’m never exactly clear what I’m doing with them or why. So, for the first time ever, I actually wrote down a set of notes for dealing with them. I also revised my diary index in line with the action plan (and, in doing so, discovered that many of the diaries I thought had been well typed up onto the computer, have only been partially transcribed). For the record, here are those notes:
NOTES ON DIARY STORAGE AND PRINT-OUTS
There are some 48 hand-written journals. Diary 0 covers all my life through until I started travelling in 1974. Diaries 1-39 are chronologically sequential, from June 1974 through to September 1989 (Diary 2.5 was lost). Some of the diaries (such as 16 and 20 are devoted to particular trips, but more or less fit in with the general chronological sequence). About half of the hand-written journals, plus some bits, have been typed-up onto the computer.
From September 1989 to the present day most of my journal has been written directly onto the computer. The only exception to this are several holiday journals, and one diary (March-August 1995) where I reverted to hand-writing. These diaries have been labelled from 40 through to 47 (although Diary 40, in fact, had so little in it, that the two entries have been transferred into the body of the computer-written journal, and the book itself scrapped).
All the computer-written journals, and all the typed-up journals, have been printed out and stored in A4 punch-bound folders.
However, I am aiming to improve the presentation of my journals as follows: For the diaries 1-39, these are to be typed up, proof-read, and prepared for double-sided printing on A4. And, then, perhaps bound in hard-back covers. Once completed, the files should be stored in three versions: Quark, pdf, and text only - in the special case of Diaries 1-4, and perhaps a few others, the poems/letters are stored in separate files (because of this they are laid out in separated boxes in the Quark file and can’t be exported easily - therefore, where boxes are going to be used, the text should be spellchecked first, the poems saved separately, and then produced and printed.)
For the computer-written diaries which are not numbered, these are to be proof-read, and printed out A5 double-sided (using the special template). These need to be guillotined and then bound in hard covers. Starting with Sep-Dec 1989, the diaries can then be numbered sequentially from 40 onwards. How many months/quarters take up each new diary will depend on the book thickness required (which depends on the binding) and on the existing diaries during the period, which will need to be renumbered. Again three computer file versions to be stored: Quark, pdf and text.
Afterwards I had quite a discussion with Adam about why I am planning on A4 versions for the old diaries, and A5 versions for the new ones. But the trouble with explaining anything to Adam is that he views any such conversation as an opportunity to argue; he doesn’t ask such a question (let’s say about a preferred way of doing something personal) with a view to understanding, but with a view to sticking to his opinion and arguing against mine. This happens so often, and before I know it, I’m explaining and re-explaining, and re-re-explaining in the mistaken belief he hasn’t quite grasped what I’ve said first time round.
While I’m on the subject of diaries, I could mention Alan Clark’s ‘The Last Diaries’ which B bought me for Christmas. It wasn’t a book I would have bought for myself. On the back Lynn Barber of the ‘Daily Telegraph’ is quoted as saying, ‘The only question now is whether Clark is merely the greatest English diarist of the twentieth century or merely one of the top five’. Incidentally, I note the double use of the word ‘merely’ - is this Barber’s poor use of English or the publisher’s mistake?) This book was published posthumously - with his wife’s blessing - as Clark died in 1999.
I was about to launch into a rant about how Clark is just an overgrown upper class twit who never made it out of short trousers, metaphorically speaking, when I felt I must have said such a thing before. And if I had, it would have been when I read his earlier diaries, but my memory refused to dish up any details. So, I did a word search in my diary store, and found three paragraphs from 26 June 1994 (is this the first time I’ve ever referred back to a particular diary date, in much the same way that, in my newsletters, I always use references to stories in previous issues?). Then, too, the book had been given me by B; and then, too, I wrote about him in the same vein. Here’s a taste: ‘He stinks of privilege and it is so galling to think that a stuck-up upper class git, who’s barely developed beyond adolescence managed to get into the government.’ What I find particularly galling this time round is that he should be considered such a good diarist. Why? Firstly, he’s far less objective than he makes out; secondly, he’s obsessed with his own self-importance; and, thirdly, he’s just a not a very nice person. Stripped of the references to famous people and events, I sincerely believe my diaries are better written, more interesting, and delve deeper into the human and social psyche. And, even saying that, I don’t come close to Alan Clark’s own modesty level.
Roy Jenkins, another diarist, has just died. I remember the diary of his time as President of the Commission was too full of details about journeys and daily administrative niggles. He was generally hailed as a grand political reformer, and as a great prime minister that never was. When he returned from Brussels he was instrumental in setting up the Social Democratic Party with Shirley Williams, David Steel and David Owen. It made me wonder whether Chris Patten might not return from Brussels in 2004 ready to lead a new centrist-Tory party. The position of the Conservatives, so far to the right, is a mirror image really of where the Labour Party were, so far to the left, when the Gang of Four felt the need to break away.
Note for reference (I found it on a scrap of paper - but the journal is a better place for such information). Frederic was three-quarters Austrian and one quarter Hungarian; while Sasha was three-quarters Russian and one quarter German.
8 January 2003
Three to four inches of snow has fallen and settled today - it completely transforms the gardens into white fairy grottoes; and more light comes into the house, reflected by the white surfaces. I considered going to the Common for a short walk, but . . .
. . . after having written ‘but’, I changed my mind instantly, and immediately went out for a fast trek around the short circuit (the short circuit is the shortest circular walk across the Common starting from the end of Red House Lane - it’s a particularly fine walk because half of it is across open fields with views across the top of Elstead towards the Hog’s Back). Despite the carpet of snow, walking was actually easier than usual in winter - this is because the surface under the snow was partly iced up and therefore firm. I thought I might be the first one to have ventured on to the Common since the snow, but I followed several trails of footprints all the way round. I didn’t bother to take my camera because I know from experience that I don’t take good photographs in dim grey light and snowy landscapes. In any case, I do have a few photos of the area after snowfall, some made much more interesting by a low glinting sun. It was a like a fairy land out there, with snow blanketing every surface, lining every branch, twig and leaf - the colours were just white and dark, white and dark, white and dark. A muffled squeak accompanied every footfall. And, on my return, I couldn’t resist rolling snowballs (the snow was the perfect consistency) and making a snowman. Adam soon arrived home from school and joined in a little (although he doesn’t seem to have any gloves). It wasn’t so much a snowman we built, but a snow tower 10 ft tall. After I came in to shower and make a pot of tea, Adam put a face on the top - but it has no shape.
And so I’m back here at the journal.
Adam, I should mention, is now in the middle of his mock GCSEs. He has revised moderately hard for about two weeks - he did pockets of revision before then, but only the odd hour. And during this past two weeks (counting for Christmas), I would guess he spent on average about six hours a day revising.
And out there in the world, the talk is still of war against Iraq. But it’s all the same talk, and all the same speculation, and all the same misinformed opinion. Will Blair go to war or won’t he? will he be Bush’s poodle or won’t he? it’s endless. And yet nothing has changed; the IAEA inspectors are working hard in Iraq sifting through the evidence, visiting sites, interviewing scientists. The West is making military preparations for war, even though Hussein has given it no cause as yet to launch any offensive - so far he’s kept to the letter of the UN resolution. But these preparations are along exactly the same policy that has . . .
11 January 2003
After the snow, and then the thaw, it’s cold and bitter again today. When the temperature drops below zero, the central heating in this house does not cope too well, and I find myself too hot or too cold, and generally uncomfortable. As I said to my mother last night (who cooked me a pleasant supper), I’ve failed miserably to achieve, by the age of 50, my preferred lifestyle, which would involve spending all winter near the Mediterranean coast, preferably in Provence. Either my feet are too cold, or my ears are too hot, or I’m hungry or tired. We should be so lucky as to have central heating at all - so I shouldn’t complain.
I’ve now re-read all four chapters of Kip Fenn, which makes for a reasonable length novel already. I remain excited about it (thank goodness), although I did find on this reading, that there were passages where even I lost the thread, the time period, or the people relationships. That cannot be a good sign: if I’m losing the thread, then how is any reader going to manage. I may have to simplify some passages, or reiterate relationships and chronologies more often. I definitely think that the book should have an index of people, noting their relationship to Kip and when they were first mentioned perhaps. Although it sounds a simple idea, there are so many people, and they are of so many types, not necessarily characters who appear in the novel, but simply names that are mentioned in one context never to be repeated or referred to again. Although I can’t believe I’ve got so far with Kip Fenn, I still have huge doubts whether I can make the whole work. I mean there is a very little narrative drive, and I’m not sure that the reader will care for Kip - if he/she doesn’t care for him, then he/she’s not going to be to concerned what happens to him.
I spent a tedious three hours at Newzeye: sitting around in meetings, answering queries, deflecting unsuitable questions and enquiries from Ian. The premises were horribly hot, and I developed a stunning head that wouldn’t respond to paracetamol. I feel my responsibility is just to get him through the renewal period, and to get a new editor started. Otherwise, he’s on his own - I just wish he wouldn’t keep asking my advice. It feels as though he’s mentally trying to offload some of the responsibility for the decision to buy the newsletter on to me - but, if I’d been his adviser, I’d have advised him not to buy it. Which reminds me, I need to send off my invoice for the other £10,000 Newzeye is going to pay me.
This is quite a weird time because the business is effectively closed, the new year has started, and everything feels the same. I have made a kind of short-term agenda for myself, but I don’t feel I’ve started a new life in any way. I suppose this is partly because I am still doing EC Inform-Energy, partly because I’ve been doing Kip Fenn in fits and starts for a year, and partly because, although there are the negative changes (work taken away), there is nothing new on my agenda, practically or mentally to signify the change.
So here’s the short-term agenda: Kip Fenn - continue reading, start considering planning chapter five; Diaries - continue typing up Diary 4, proof-reading Diary 3 and new Diary 40/41; Consider possibility of new website, and what I would do with it; Consider new writing project to carry out in parallel. The latter two will depend, I suppose, on how well I can get stuck into Kip Fenn - if I can keep up a steady 7-8 hours a day, then I won’t need to bother too much with other projects.
12 January 2003
Shosty’s 15th plays in the background (playfully shifting from one quote to another).
Another cold day - I have not even gone out once. The snow remaining after Friday’s semi-thaw has frozen in place. A long phone call from Colin. I haven’t spoken to him since before my fiesta when he told me he wasn’t coming. He tells me about how his father but mostly we talk about old school days. I tell him about discoveries on Friend’s Reunited and I run through a list of people who left Broxbourne in 1970; he remembers much more than I do. Astonishingly, there is one new name on the site since I last looked at it, just a few days ago; and it is the one person, apart from Colin, who stayed a good friend through university years (I recall going to see him on occasions at Kingston Poly): Chris West. He doesn’t say much about himself, other than that he has been living in Alaska for the last 13 years. A search on Google establishes that he works for BP there, and is some kind of technical engineering team leader (quoted in press releases). Colin recalls that Chris and he and I went to Wales once but that he had some kind of falling out with Chris. Some years later, we also met up with Robert Cutts-Watson, our other big mate in the sixth form, in my flat in Iverson Road. But that didn’t go too well either - I have a vague feeling of myself being arty, cultured, alternative and pretentious by contrast. Colin tries to recall our walking holidays. He believes he and I and Mark Hutchings (otherwise known as Groundhog) went walking in the Yorkshire Dales on our own when we were 14 - I doubt that. The most likely time for us to have gone would have been in the summer after our GCSEs (i.e. when we had turned 16), but, possibly, we could have gone the summer before when we were 15 - but surely not 14. Otherwise, he remembers three trips, two with Wyman in the first and second years, and one in the lower Sixth which, although through the school, we organised. All of these four trips are a fog in my mind and add up to far less than a memory of even one trip.
Tuesday 14 January 2003
Starting work on Kip Fenn again is always a slow process - every time I restart it gets slower: there’s so much previous material to take into account, so many characters, so much history. In first considerations for Chapter Five, for example, I find the list of people that will need to be mentioned (along with reasons for mentioning them and their stories) is already long, and yet I don’t want the chapter to be a simple record of what’s happened to Kip’s friends and family. The main new theme for the chapter is the suicide epidemics that are to take place in the 2040s, and the genesis and consequences of this trend. This will link in and lead up to Crystal’s suicide - I hope. But I have to deal with Arturo’s arrival, too, Guido’s growing up, Kip’s relationship with Diana, etc all against a backdrop of growing religious conflicts around the world, conflicts which will lead to war in Chapter Six (the God War as it becomes known, or the Holy War to end Holy Wars or whatever, I haven’t found a suitable name yet) and the end of Israel. But I have thought a bit about this war, and I realised today that it will, of course, have to be like the cold war in the sense that it will build up in stages, and take place all over the world, in those countries which are shared by muslims and christians. It will have to lead to major successes for the muslim world both in terms of territory and power in international organisations. But it’s so slow at the beginning of a new chapter, my head is always racing off trying to follow every lead at once, trying to resolve every unresolved situation in one go. I’ve given myself a full three weeks to write this chapter, starting yesterday, so three or four thinking days shouldn’t go amiss.
20 January 2003
A great start to the week. I’m barely up five minutes and Adam tells me the towel rail has come off the wall in the shower room. There are bits of plaster all over the floor. And, I notice, water in the corner. I assume it’s as a result of Adam’s shower, but when I quiz him, he says he was surprised by the water in the corner. When I investigate closer, I see that the water is actually pooling all along the skirting board, and it doesn’t take too long to realise I must have a leak. I immediately assume it’s a leak in one of the pipe’s coming down from above inside the boxed off corner of the room. But it’s far from easy to get inside the box; the sides are screwed in and wedged one to another. I unscrew, wrench, lever, pull, wiggle, and eventually open up the long tall side to see the pipes and some wetness at a pipe junction. Having already amassed a range of tools (hammer, screwdrivers, torch, lamp and extension lead) I now go and fetch a range of wrenches. I succeed in tightening up the pipe junction slightly, and, for a moment, believe that this will do it. Unfortunately, I suddenly notice a drip coming down from higher up. Unless there are two leaks which, by coincidence, have sprung at the same time, I am still no further forward. I decide to investigate where this corner of the shower-room leads to above, and discover that it is the store-room next to my bedroom - the one which, only recently, did I completely re-organise (as a result of buying all those books at the auction earlier in the year). At this point I am still thinking the leak must be in a pipe, and I am very distressed to realise that there is no way I am going to be able to get into the boxed off corner of the store cupboard without removing all the fixed shelving (which would mean taking out all the books), and in fact hammering the wooden covering apart (since it’s fixed with nails). But then, a little light dawns, and I work out that there can be no pipes coming down this part of the house (even if the immediate extension of the same boxed in corner a floor below is used for pipes) because there is no water in this area of the house at all. My thinking then, metaphorically, follows the physical movement of my eyes - upwards. I climb out of the bathroom window onto the lower flat roof, and then, in the pouring rain, I pull myself up onto the upper flat roof. There, I find that, immediately above the boxed corner is a little flue chimney, although I have no idea what it’s for. When I scrape away the gravel chippings, I find that water is pooling around the base of the flue, and, even though I can’t see a hole or crack as such, I decide this must be the source of the leak. Thinking about it a few minutes later, I also realise that proper roofing skills would have left the bitumen seal to the flue as a mound not as a dip. I call the roofing company, who say they can’t get anyone here until midday.
Meanwhile, I have to remove all the books in the store cupboard which are touching the increasingly damp walls - not least my precious diaries which are in the most vulnerable of places. Had Adam not broken the towel rail, I might not have discovered the leak for - I don’t know - a day perhaps, and it’s not impossible that my diaries could have been ruined.
Last night I watched the final episode of an excellent three part documentary about Milosevich by Brian Lapping and Norma Percy. They also made an earlier document, called ‘The Death of Yugoslavia’, which I watched in 1999, and which also inspired a mention in the journal. It is documentaries like these (and dramas like those made by Stephen Poliakoff, a new one of which was showing at the same time as the documentary - both BBC - requiring me to video the latter, which I’ve not yet seen) that make TV so special.
TV is too accessible, too easy; and we need to learn to be more choosy and careful about what we watch, and why we watch it. In general, we make more precise choices about the books we read, because a) we have to acquire them, and b) it takes some energy to read them. But there is no effort or expense involved in watching TV, and so we watch the trash and gems with equal ease. But we shouldn’t. Adam yawned all the way through the Milosevich documentary, and then went to bed before it had finished - and yet it showed real dead bodies, and interviews with real world leaders (Clinton. Blair, Yeltsin, Chirac). I can’t imagine him yawning through a James Bond with fake dead bodies and actors for world leaders.
But back to the documentary. With clear narration and a strong reliance on interviews with not only world leaders and their advisers (even Milosevich’s wife) but Serbian and Kosovan citizens, policemen, army officers, coal mine workers etc., the first episode told the story of how the West came to the point of being prepared to go to war against Milosevich (having failed to stop his ethnic cleansing in Bosnia). The second episode told the story of the war itself and the complicated process by which the West came to the point of threatening a ground troops invasion (and the bizarre Russian/Milosevich attempt to hive off a bit of Kosovo for Serbia). And the third part showed how, within Serbia, Milosevich was finally deposed and handed over to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague (where he is still under trial). Each episode lasted 90 minutes, and was quite rivetting.
Yesterday, ‘The Guardian’ ran an informative article about the Milosevich documentary. (This is what makes ‘The Guardian’ such a good newspaper - it is there, answering the questions I want answered. I was about to check out the BBC website to see if I could find out a little more about the programmes, something I never usually do.) The article focuses on Norma Perry (who incidentally - and I’m not normally one for tittle-tattle - lives with Steve Jones), and how she managed to land interviews with such important people. She says her success in this was down to a combination of writing careful letters, taking her time, perseverance, politeness, ensuring that each party would be able to review the tapes, and demonstrating how and what they had done before. She says they flew to see Clinton once and he cancelled; and then the second time round they only had 18 minutes, but he gave such good value that they could use 12 minutes of the interview (which was enough, with additional material from his aides, to give Clinton a solid presence in the documentary; Madelaine Albright was also much in evidence giving the US policy). In summary, the article said the programme was already being hailed as ‘an instant classic, and an example of how to craft documentaries that spread light and truth’. Definitely.
Friday 24 January 2003
Friday evening. Dark. A cold but bright day. Went for a walk around the short circuit, fields first, short run at the end. Thinking about Kip Fenn mostly. Came up with a new idea, which I shall probably use. In Chapter One, Kip mentions a film by a Mexican director called PAM. And, in passing (in parenthesis), he recalls that he met him once. For some reason, I was thinking about this and trying to work how Kip might get to meet PAM (I like this process of working towards some random occurrence made up at an earlier stage). I had vaguely thought PAM might become a Mexican representative to the IFSD or in some negotiations; and then I was wondering whether Jonathan (Kip’s uncle) might know him, in which case, at a stretch Kip and PAM could meet at the Jonathan book launch scene which I wrote this week. But then I had a better idea: United Artists. Not the film company, but a powerful organisation made up of chapters of different kinds of artists such as film makers, painters, singers etc. I thought United Artists could involve an independent think tank of retired politicians perhaps, lawyers, diplomats, thinkers, philosophers charged with developing ideas and opinions on ways that artists could influence peoples, organisations, governments for the good of mankind. The signed-up paid-up members of United Artists would then be able to dip into the ideas and opinions put forward by the think tank for use in their artistic endeavours, in the same way that soaps are sometimes employed by governments to get across public health or safety ideas. I think this United Artists would be largely funded by film-makers, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t involve song-writers, TV soap and drama script writers. It’s an idea still in gestation (I can tell just by trying to write it down now that it needs a lot more thought), but I thought Kip or his partner could be the one to seed the idea to PAM, who is then instrumental in setting it up.
I have managed to write around 10,000 words this week, about half of Chapter Five. But it doesn’t feel like I’ve achieved anything. This is going to be one of the hardest things to combat: the passage of weeks and months without any measurable progress, without achievements to notch up mentally, without seeing any tangible results of my being alive. So I ask myself why doesn’t the 10,000 words feel like a result? Better surely than the previous week when I didn’t write anything but a page-long plan. I think this is about value and belief. If this book, for example, had been commissioned or a publisher had already signed it up, every word I wrote would feel good. It wouldn’t be any the less hard; the working process would be very similar, but, at the end of the day, at the end of the week, I would be able to experience varying levels of satisfaction depending on how much progress I’d made (as was the case with the electricity industry book). With Kip Fenn, though, I’m beginning to realise that I can’t or won’t view it as real work, a real construction, and consequently it’s hard to allow myself any psychological pats on the back, or feelings of self-satisfaction or achievement. (I’m finding this very hard to explain in words.) Intellectually, I can acknowledge I’ve written 10,000 words and that that conforms with the timetable I’ve set myself - but, when, at the end of the week, I flick through the 12 printed pages of pure invented fiction that nobody’s asked for, nobody wants, nobody will probably ever know about - I get a very flat empty feeling. Before, with my monthly deadlines, at least I had a framework in which I was regularly set a task (by myself evidently) and achieved it - and there was always a real concrete purpose behind those tasks. And there was always another one ahead (in fact, I have lived by monthly deadlines for 15 years). If, then, I spent a few weeks here or there on fiction, it always felt good because this was in addition, an extra to my regular work and schedule. I was fulfilling myself.
Two further thoughts on this: If I had more faith in my writing or in the work, then I’m sure I would now be finding the writing process more significant, more important. (Ah that’s the word I was looking for, I can’t feel that what I’m doing has any importance.) But where would such faith come from: having been published previously (which I’ve already mentioned) or high degrees of self-confidence or the confidence of a wife/partner, which by definition would be based on thin air, and liable to lead to me into pits of despair when the rejection letters start pouring in. It’s as though I have the minimum amount of self-confidence, self-belief to be undertaking the task at all, and there’s none left to be pleased with myself or to attach any importance to it. (And yet, if Kip Fenn were ever to be published, I know I would wish that I had allowed myself to enjoy more confidence in it.)
There is, I should mention, a qualitative aspect to this. In other words, the thin/slim sense of achievement that I do manage to feel can be marginally improved if I feel what I’ve written is good, or completely negated if I feel it isn’t very special. This is what happened yesterday when I read over the 10,000 words.
26 January 2003
Yesterday, Saturday, Adam was at Barbara’s. This is a fairly standard schedule at the weekends now. So I treat Saturday almost like a weekday, in that I let the central heating go off and base myself for the day in the office with the gas fire on. I have nothing much else to do but get on with Kip Fenn.
The talk of war goes on and on and on. One second the media is telling us an attack on Iraq is imminent, and the very next second it is telling us that no decision has been made. It is true that in the last couple of weeks the UK has dispatched a considerable number of troops to the Middle East (although I’m sure the decision to do so was not new). And the US appears to have stepped up its rhetoric. Yet the significance of this deadline had already been discussed in some detail when it was first set, and the UK/US indicated at the time that no war would be triggered as a result of this deadline. Yet, of course, in advance of the deadline, the UK and the US want to keep up the pressure on Iraq. They know that Saddam Hussein is a master of exploiting any cracks in the West’s discipline towards him. But, in response to the build-up of troops and increased rhetoric, China, Russia, Germany and France have all made public statements against a war with Iraq. Demonstrations are also building up in the US. This indicates to me that the US (and perhaps the UK, which only has limited influence over the US) has handled the situation with too little subtlety.
There is a case for dealing with international terrorism, and dealing with it hard, and showing the world that it will be dealt with hard. I am convinced that this is the UK’s main position. There may be a case for making Iraq and Hussein a target, although, the US and its allies should either display their evidence for this case, or allow the UN inspectors to prove it for them. What seems to be happening now, according to the media, is that the US is becoming increasingly hell-bent on war with Iraq whatever the evidence, and whatever its allies say. But, as I’ve said, all along, I don’t believe, when push comes to shove, the UK will be alongside Bush and the US in a war against Iraq without the support of, at least, its European allies. I do believe, though, that Blair has decided - especially after the Serbia business - that tough talking is an essential part of these ploys; and I’m sure that he continues to want to create a bridge between Washington and Brussels.
What I don’t know is this: is Bush so in hock to his hawks that he would actually allow the US to attack and invade Iraq without the UK (and others) at its side. I can’t believe he is, but this might be my own naivety. Clinton, most definitely, acted for Good, at least in a relatively wide sense of the word; but Bush? I don’t know enough about him or his administration to trust that he isn’t being led into a war by hawks who are, in essence, motivated by narrow national interests (including those connected with oil).
Overall, what I think is this: The West is still learning to be a beneficial bully. It had some experience in the Balkans, but Iraq is a different story entirely, one that is taking place in a wider, much more complicated arena than the Balkans. The West’s tactics are starting to look crude; it has over-played its hand. By triggering negative public reactions from three Security Council members, the US (and the UK) must have undermined their cause.
Day-diary - Saturday 25 January
One hour - 8-9 watching bits of TV recorded from the night before (‘Friends’, ‘The Book Group’, ‘Midsomer Murders’). Otherwise, I spend the morning tidying up the various Kip Fenn papers, reading over cuttings I’ve collected. In the afternoon, I start reading the chapter out loud, and making corrections. I don’t finish. Also during the day, I spend half an hour sweeping up outside, popping in and out of the lounge to check the football scores. I watch the start of a Columbo film with William Shatner as the baddie. Throughout the day I read bits of the Saturday ‘Guardian’. I spend about 90 minutes writing to Sue in the early evening. After supper, I watch casualty and Poliakoff’s ‘The Lost Prince’ before going to bed around 11. No yoga, no walk, no run.
Day-diary - Sunday 26 January
Get up just before 8. Write diary for an hour, then breakfast with Adam (plus half hour argument over clothes). Two further hours on diary (and some tidying up). Two hours reading the new Kip material out loud and making corrections. Half an hour talking to B on the phone. One hour shopping with A. One hour making and eating lunch; another hour fidgeting around after lunch. From 4 to 8 roughly I worked on corrections/improvements to Ch5. I also had a run (with a crimson sunset) until a pain in my calf returned, and I wrote a couple of short emails. In the evening, I watched the second half of Poliakoff’s drama and then did a few more corrections until around 11. Adam went to B’s for tea and was with friends playing music.
27 January 2003
Stephen Poliakoff’s drama ‘The Lost Prince’. Anything by Poliakoff is likely to be head and shoulders above other telly, so there’s was no difficulty in deciding to watch. Adam wanted to watch it too, although he yawned and gave up half way through the first 90 minute episode. A couple of years ago, he would have had no difficulty with such a drama, but now it’s hard to get him to watch anything that isn’t James Bond or ‘Friends’ or something equally lively and in your face. ‘The Lost Prince’ was an exquisitely drawn portrait of John, son of George V, who was hidden away by his parents because of his epilepsy and learning difficulties. Gina McKee starred as the boy’s dedicated nurse, but Michael Gambon, Bill Nighy, Miranda Richardson, Frank Finlay as well as the young actors who played John and his brother George (future George VI) were all in excellent form (no Lindsay Duncan, though, a Poliakoff regular - I don’t think there was any role she could have played.) This was not familiar territory for Poliakoff and I don’t think he managed it that well. There was not much of a story to tell about the Lost Prince himself, and Poliakoff relied (too much I thought) on sequences of elaborate tableau simply to show off the life of the royals. He often got sidetracked to telling other stories that were not connected to John, and relied almost extensively on his brother’s life (and view of the world) to bring in all the politics of the day but without going on to tell George’s story. He also succumbed to introducing stylistic elements in the second episode which were out of keeping with most of the rest of the film: sequences of John imagining his relations visiting his humble home; and also a couple of sequences set in Russia to show what happens to the Russian royal family relations. Adam commented that it was a costume drama, but in fact, although there were sumptuous costumes and interiors, it never felt like the costume department had been given too much money, or that the director was relying too heavily on costumes for audience interest. Mostly, I realised, this was because the Royal Family would always have been dressed sumptuously; their cars would always have been immaculately polished; their interior decoration would always have been of the most ornate kind - and that, therefore, over-dressed actors and over-elaborate scenes were not out of place. Most of all I liked the subtle way Poliakoff managed to draw the viewer into the children’s world, and the way he elaborated the increasing stress on all the main characters (even though the illness and subsequent death of the Lost Prince was, in fact, only responsible for the stress in one of the other characters - the nurse).
Phil and David visited today. I thought I’d lost contact with them - I didn’t invite them to my fiesta, and I didn’t send them a Christmas card. But, out of the blue, they sent me one from Italy, telling me they’d retired and moved out to their house in Umbria. I wrote back, and they called me Sunday to say they were staying in Farncombe with Phil’s parents. I do find it strange that Phil must have visited his parents 20, 30, 50 times over the period that I’ve been living here, and, despite my regular suggestions that he do so, he has never visited before. Now, he and David are in the UK for four or five weeks doing a tour around their friends. I think they are staying with Phil’s parent for six days. We talked about the education system. They said they had become completely fed up with the education policy in this country and that they felt they were just shuffling kids through exams rather actually teaching them something. I expressed my surprise at their decision since both of them had excellent teaching posts, which, it always seemed to me, were particularly fulfilling (where many teachers’ jobs are not). But, they said, they’d been planning the move for years. They have saved up enough money to tide them over the seven or eight years until they are 60 and then their pensions will kick in. They’ve spent six months there so far, much of it dealing with the house and turning it into a home. We talk also about the ex-pat life and integrating themselves into Italian life.
Day-diary - Monday 27 January
A little diary and diary typing-up, tidying up around the house, about half an hour of Ch5 corrections. Phil and David came around 10:00 for a couple of hours. Lunch. Ch5 corrections for two hours. A walk around the short circuit (seeing as it was so warm and sunny) thinking about next bits in Ch5; yoga; tea with Adam; shouting at Adam about having not tidied his room properly on Sunday (after our agreement of a week ago); finish Ch5 corrections; half an hour on internet booking Young Vic tickets for Saturday; start-up writing Ch5 again; put chicken on; listen to the ‘Archers’ and ‘Front Row’; supper, telly (‘University Challenge’); an hour reading (Pinker); telly (a recorded 40s film with Humphrey Bogart). Bed 11.
On ‘Front Row’, I listen to Mark Lawson interview Nicholson Baker, whose book ‘The Box of Matches’ has just been published. Publication of this book and the fact that it is the subject of a major ‘Front Row’ (the daily Radio Four arts programme) interview are further evidence, to my mind, of the cul-de-sac in Western fiction. Baker tells how of how he decided to get up at five in the morning, make coffee, light a fire (with matches) for warmth in order to have time to write because he was busy during the day. A key part of this process, he explains, is that he would make the coffee and light the fire and work without putting on any lights, because this allowed him to take a different approach to his writing. What is the book about? Oh, I’ve just written that down. It’s about getting up early in the morning, making coffee, not using any lights and working in the dark. And what was the interview about? Oh the same, why he got early in the morning, why it took him half an hour to get ready to write, why he decided to work in the dark, why it was necessary to make coffee. Mark Lawson’s questions to elicit Baker’s answers were as serious as if he were asking Bush why he was going to war. I listened with rapt attention. Could art (as in the art of writing) be so so meaningless? Yes. By this standard, my diaries must contain a hundred best-sellers.
Day-diary - Tuesday 28 January
Clear up kitchen, do Ads lunch, type up diary, write diary. Breakfast with Ads. Sleep until 9:30. Work through on Ch5 until 12:30. Cycle to Spar. Lunch. Work from 1:30 to 2:45. Go swimming. Back at 4, work on Ch5 until 5. Write diary till 6. Ch5 till 7. Supper. Conversation with Adam about psychology. Yet another thing he’s giving up. Reading Pinker. Some diary corrections. ‘Buried’ on C4. 90 minutes writing to Sue. No yoga.
Day-diary - Wednesday 29 January
Up at 6:45. Clear up kitchen. Spend the best part of two hours looking round and round in circles for the film holder frame for the scanner which I appear to have lost, and scanning in slide of Mum, Mary and Me which I sent on to Sue with a short note. At 1pm I raced to the train station. Arrived at Newzeye at 3pm for a silly wasteful meeting with young and inexperienced marketing person. Then to Shaftesbury Avenue to see ‘City of God’, home by 9pm. Adam made supper (having been asked to). Rest of evening, proof reading diary, writing diary, and watching ‘Sex and the City’. No yoga, no run, no Kip Fenn.
30 January 2003
Unexpectedly the world outside is covered in snow this morning. I got up late, just before eight, without any foreknowledge that we were expecting snow. It’s blanket covered everything and everywhere in the night, much more so than the last snow fall, and it is still snowing, snowing, snowing.
One of the Newzeye marketing girls wanted to meet with me about EC Inform-Energy. I tried to discourage her by email, and explain that I didn’t have much to tell her, but she naively insisted. Which meant I felt obliged to make the trip to the Newzeye offices. As I expected, she hadn’t done any real work herself in looking at the material I’ve already given the company, but wanted me to start her off. I don’t think she asked me a single question that I hadn’t already answered in my briefing notes, in early conversations, or in the folder I’d given Newzeye. I went by train, and it takes two hours each way. On the way back I stopped off at Piccadilly Circus to go to the cinema to see ‘City of God’, a Brazilian movie (‘Cuidad de Deus’) about hoods in a slum town near Rio. Very violent, very real, and largely dispiriting about the human condition - that kids and youths can so easily turn to violence and killing and treat it like a game without feelings.
I’ve not made as much progress on Ch5 as I would have liked by now. At a very basic 2,000 words a day for ten days (i.e. not counting weekends, even though I do work at weekends) I should have achieved the rough 20,000 word target for the chapter by the end of tomorrow (not forgetting I took a whole week of preparing, but actually started writing towards the end of it). But, I’m only on about 16,000 words, and I’ve got at least 5,000 more words to write to get through the planned stories for this chapter. I’ll have to work through this weekend as well, but come Monday I’ll have to start work on the February issue of EC INFORM-Energy.
Day-diary - Thursday 30 January
Up at 8:00, straight into Ch5; Adam back from school a little after 9:00 because it’s closed due to snow and power cut. He goes outside to play all morning. Work on Ch5 through from 10:00 till 12:30. Lunch. Reading PG Wodehouse to Adam for half an hour. Work from 1:30 to 3:00. Hour long walk through the wintry snow; bath; tea, a bit of ‘Countdown’. Adam to B’s. Work from 5:00ish to 7:00. Cook supper, listen to ‘The Archers’; ‘Front Row’ and ‘Puzzle Panel’ (via the net), watch the end of ‘Eastenders’. Work from 8:00 to 9:00. Watch telly (‘Trust’). Write a bit of diary. Do yoga after 10 (very unusual). Bed at 11:00.
Day-diary - Friday 31 January
Up before 7:00, typing some Diary 4; Ch5 all morning with breaks to read the newspaper; lunch; more Ch5; to Godalming, to bank to close down EC Inform account, to auction, to Sainsburys, back 4:15; Adam already at B’s. Yoga, ‘Countdown’; Ch5 through 5:15ish to about 6:30; letter to Sue to 8:00; making supper; telly cop thing, and C4 comedy until 11:00ish.
Paul K Lyons
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