DIARY 75: July - November 2003

11 July 2003

It’s been a warm few days, but I’ve barely been away from the house. I potter in the garden a dozen times a day, weeding a bit here and there, or inspecting the vegetables (massive growth on the runner beans but the flowers are not being fertilised and I don’t know why; best tomato and lettuce growth; and a good supply of excellent spuds). Adam is at Barbara’s house in Guildford this week, to help with the moving of the cats from the Elstead house. B has finally moved to her new house, although the sale on Yalta has been badly delayed by someone further down the chain. There’s no sign yet that the sale won’t go through but the whole business has unsettled B (she didn’t want to move all her stuff out of Yalta until the sale was certain). It could still fall through, and she’d have to put the house back on the market.

Meanwhile, there has been no inkling of a buyer for Russet House. I feel a bit silly about this, because I had really thought I would have no trouble selling it. I realise now that I made a mistake in allowing Clarke Gammon to take my house and market it for £550,000. I should have been wiser, and insisted they advertise it at the lower price of £525,000. I had fully expected them to propose this price when they came again in the spring. But, when they didn’t, I let them proceed. Now, they have put the price down to £525,00, but it’s made no difference. One or two people come to see the house after an advert has appeared in the Surrey Advertiser, but no one follows through.

In the meantime, I am focusing exclusively on Kip Fenn. I’m in correction stage, meaning I have to read the text over - glorified proof-reading, which I find a little tedious. I thought I might do more at this stage. There are a number of notes I made - during the writing process - which call for additions and changes and embellishments. But I find now, as I go through the text again, that most of them are unnecessary. They were ideas or thoughts I had during the creative phase, and now I realise there is already enough, more than enough of everything in the text. It is full, very full. It is taking me about three days a chapter. One day to do the existing corrections and deal with various notes (and to read some sections and rewrite on the hoof), one day to reread, and a third day to do the new corrections. Time is dragging a bit, I have to time-out every half or so. Thus I’m watching even more daytime television than in the past. Recently, I’ve watched ‘Call My Bluff’, ‘Cheers’, ‘Countdown’, a programme on Britains’ best houses, and some films (yesterday it was ‘Madigan’ with Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda, both very stiff). On the whole, I am still confident about Kip Fenn. I think I would actually put money on it finding a publisher - and that’s the first time, I’ve said that about anything I’ve written. But I would so so love to have an editor now giving it a good grammar once over for me.

I’ve finished Claire Tomalin’s biography of Samuel Pepys, and very good it was too. Pepys is one of those characters from history that you think you know about because he’s so well known; but I knew nothing, nothing at all. He was an extraordinary man, with extraordinary energy and a gift for social relationships. He was also very bawdy, and wrote about his bawdiness in his diaries - like Alan Clark, and, to a minor extent, like me!

Sad news about Barbara’s father, Les. B tells me on the phone how complicated (and expensive) it will now be to get access to his assets to pay for the costs associated with the future nursing home. B will certainly have to sell his house, and use all the money to pay for his nursing care. She can’t even take his car for herself, since this is now part of his estate, and she would have to buy it from him. Also, she tells me, I won’t get the £5,000 which he has bequeathed me in his will. She has told me about this so often: it was a kindly, beautiful gesture - more than symbolic at £5,000 - in response to the fact that neither of my fathers left me a brass penny. But, as I’ve told her over and over again, I wouldn’t want his money; and, if it did come my way, then I’d save it for Adam.

14 July

When Adam came back from the Isle of Wight, where he went for a three day holiday with six schoolfriends, he seemed very grown up. He managed to explain why he had been a disappointed by the holiday: they hadn’t stayed up late and had midnight feasts and stuff; and gone out buying lots of sweets. But, he said, he didn’t mind; his friends didn’t want to, and he didn’t either. Nevertheless, there was a vague sense of nostalgia for more childish times. He was only here for a couple of hours before Barbara picked him up, so that he could stay at her house for the whole week on cat-sitting duty.

Saturday 19 July

On my mind again this morning is David Kelly. Kelly was a government scientist who had worked in Iraq and knew a lot about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (the so-called WMDs). He committed suicide on Friday. Earlier, he had appeared before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee (I think) which was investigating the spat between the government and the BBC over the BBC’s claim that the government had sexed up a report on Iraqi WMDs, and especially that they could be used within 45 minutes. The BBC made this claim on the basis of a report by a journalist called Andrew Gilligan; but the government responded vigorously to the journalism, saying it was wrong and demanding an apology from the BBC. The BBC, stupidly and arrogantly, stuck to its guns, and the whole BBC edifice came out in support of Gilligan, as though a single apology was impossible to contemplate as it might bring the edifice crumbling down. The spat continued then, because neither the BBC or the government would back down. The select committee had a quick investigation of the matter, and refused to back the BBC. Meanwhile, Kelly was flushed out by the government to appear before the select committee. He admitted that he spoke to Gilligan (Gilligan and the BBC having refused to name the sources for the story), but, crucially, Kelly stated that he did not think he was the only or main source for Gilligan’s story. Despite the Select Committee report, the BBC still stood firm and arrogant, saying he had done nothing wrong, and that it stands by its story. Kelly then committed suicide, the BBC admitted that Kelly was the prime source for the story, and now there’s going to be a judicial enquiry. Several weeks ago, I heard John Humphrys interview a government spokesman called Ben Bradshaw. I was so incensed by the interview that I wrote a rare email to the ‘Today’ programme.

Yesterday, Sunday, Andy, Susie and Darcy dropped in for supper on their way back from the coast. Susie was much tired. Darcy was a good little chap, and far from willing to go sleep. He was crawling all over the place. And Andrew was full of a story about a lodger in his London flat. He tells the story with such relish - it’s almost as if he deliberately gets into these scrapes. He owns a flat in London, where Susie lived for a while, and now it’s supposed to be his main source of income. But earlier this year, he had trouble finding a tenant, and I remember him telling me about some dodgy person he had finally found. But now this dodgy person, a 60 year old Russian woman, has dragged him into a huge and, potentially legal, row. She stopped paying the rent almost immediately, joined the tenants association, and changed the locks on the flat. Andrew soon discovered how difficult it is to evict someone, and how heavy the punishments can be for illegal eviction. The Russian turned out to be a benefit fraud scam merchant, knowing every trick in the book, and being prepared to lie her butt off to accuse Andrew and muddy the legal waters. Fortunately, she mislaid her keys one day, and Andrew managed to get into the property, change the locks again, and while doing so discovered a mass of paperwork that proved she was not a legitimate benefit case. So at least she’s no longer in the flat, but she’s still claiming compensation for the eviction and Andrew is having to fight a greasy solicitor off with robust letters hinting at the evidence he’s amassed against the woman. What a mess, and all within a few months of the Russian renting the property.

August 2003

Paul K Lyons


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