Sunday 1 June

It was my birthday this week, my 51st. One minute it was my 50th, then I blinked, and suddenly I was a year older. At least I can document the last year, as being the one in which I closed down EC Inform, and wrote most of Kip Fenn. And, at least, this coming year will involve some changes or crises or a complete collapse in front of the television, who knows.

On Wednesday night, Barbara took Adam and I to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre to see a play called ‘Our Song’ by Keith Waterhouse. It starred Peter Bowles who narrated rather than acted his way through the story of a middle-aged man whose life falls apart because of an affair with a young woman. The mother of the young woman was an actress I recognised from television (Judge Deed’s ex-wife) but she did not have much to do. The play was awful, the set was dull and inconsequential, the acting was duller than ditchwater, and the direction was appalling. The Yvonne Arnaud purple rinse audience laughed and giggled at all the risque jokes, I smiled but once; Barbara hated it; and Adam thought it might have been all right if it had been done by the village amateur drama group PETS. Before that we had a tasty pizza at Olivio’s.

Yesterday, Barbara and I went to my mothers for roulards; Julian’s family was there too. I always like seeing the girls and Toby. Rebecca is growing up, becoming less giggly and girly, but Naomi and Toby are still fun to tease and run around the garden with. I talked about Kip Fenn quite a lot. But what a hot day - it was sweltering.

8 June

Sunday evening. It’s windy and greyish, but earlier it was sunny and warm, and I found myself doing my yoga in the garden. I am doing more yoga, more concentratedly than I have ever done before. The main reason is my knee. Having finally come to the conclusion that it will never go back to normal, that the thickness and awkwardness I feel at the back whenever the knee gets a bit too much action will be with me until my deathbed, I decided that regular, consistent yoga might at least give it as much chance of normality as possible.

Kip Fenn: I am so very nearly at the end of the first draft. It’s scary. I may finish tomorrow. Which is not to say there aren’t hundreds of things to amend. But to have got to the end - to have written the whole damn thing, what I once called ‘a ridiculously ambitious project’. Dead right. To have invented a 100 years of history, and a man’s whole network of family, friends and jobs. I’m sure when someone else reads it, I’m going to discover the wretched novel is as thin and hollow as an empty cardboard box. How can it be anything more than that, when I’ve done no real in-depth research (like wot all proper writers do) or described people’s face or places in any detail or originality (like wot all proper writers do)? Every idea of mine seems to have cropped in the media within a few days of my thinking it up - demonstrating that there’s nothing original in my ideas either, I’ve just magpied them through general reading. The stories I’ve told of people’s lives are probably pure satellite television soap opera. How can I tell? Still, I’m going to be walking around with something of a glow once this first draft really is finished. My god, have I really done it? written a 220,000 word novel covering the whole of the 21st century? No, I can’t have done.

What on earth will I do next?

10 June

I should have completed chapter 10 yesterday, but I didn’t; it’s going to be shorter than any other chapter so far, but is, nevertheless, proving problematic. I think I may end up having to revise it substantially - like the prologue. I will get it finished today. I’m promising. Then, for the rest of the week, I’m going to try and invent the quotations to head each chapter. But, before I get back to Kip Fenn, I thought I’d take a turn with the journal.

These are still hard times with Adam. I keep trying to do my best; but, almost everything I do or say or advise, Adam argues. And, he’s less helpful round the house, less tidy, takes fewer initiatives (none in fact), than when he was 11 or 12. I never expected this would happen. It really is as though he is less mature, less intelligent than he was years ago. I find it astonishing that I find myself saying this.

16 June 2003

It’s a heat wave. Adam’s GCSEs finish tomorrow. Thank goodness. And then on Wednesday morning we head for Gatwick and Porto in Portugal. The flights and car were booked months ago, so I hope there are no hitches on those; and then I’ve already booked a couple of nights at a hotel in Porto at the end of the six days. Assuming all goes to plan we’ll arrive early afternoon, and head straight out of the city north, and, hopefully find a beach before too long.

It’s been a busy social week, seeing both Judy and Raoul! I’ve also had a couple of site visits (people interested in the house). I saw Raoul mid-week in Esher for a pizza. I talked quite a lot about Kip Fenn, and he talked about his cancer research. He was telling me that there is much stronger evidence these days for a link between the pill and breast cancer (I speculated on this long ago in BLR but recently took it out). Last week, he was at a seminar in Nice on oestrogen receptors, and thus was apprised of the latest research. I’ve forgotten the details now. He was also telling me about how he’s into Irish Murdoch novels. Our conversation kept on a reasonably even keel; although when I was trying to tell him about Stephen Pinker’s ‘Blank Slate’ ideas, he got rather shirty, trying to undermine my relaying of the ideas by implying that I was talking pop science.

With Judy, too, I talk quite a lot about Kip Fenn. What else do I have to talk about? Judy talks about her course, about their forthcoming holiday trip to France trailing around after James’s canoeing exploits. We are at Woking to see a Dutch dance troupe NDT2. The last time we met was also here, to see Ballet Rambert, and that was surprisingly good. This was brilliant also - restoring my faith in modern dance. The first piece was complex and reminded me a little of 70s performance art, with Japanese elements; the second was a frenetic two-hander with words being used repetitively as the music. I hated it (and nor did I like the fact - because it was so unnecessary for the piece which was performed right at the front of the stage - that the woman performer was dressed in a transparent costume which did little to hide her breasts or sex). The next piece, though, was erotic and excellently performed. The last piece started with all the dancers sitting on chairs in a semicircle and dancing a repetitive round of movements. It was stunning. It segued into a kind of roll call, where each dancer was given the stage for a minute or so to dance to the sound of their own voice revealing something about their life (very 70s - Judy thought these voiceover monologues were made up, but I’m sure they were real). And then (I had actually predicted that they would come into the audience) the dancers came down from the stage and each chose someone to take back up on to the stage with them (old and young, fat and thin). Very cleverly, I thought, they combined doing a few simple dance steps with their audience-partners and more complex routines while these partners stood still. Even more cleverly, one of the dancers had chosen an audience partner who not only accepted her role with complete abandon (starrily looking into the eyes of the dancer, and really enjoying her performance role which - as it happens - was just on the edge between brave and comical) but was also dressed in a bright pink jumpsuit, contrasting perfectly with the dark costumes of the dancers. All the audience-partners were directed, in turn, to quietly walk off the stage and return to their seats, while the dancers continued their routines - all of them except miss pink jumpsuit. So, after a while, there were just the dozen or so dancers dancing on their own, and one of them dancing with miss pink jumpsuit right in the middle of the stage. And then, with a music queue, all the dancers fell flat on the floor, leaving miss pink jumpsuit alone standing on stage, still smiling, but very bemused. She had the presence of mind to keep smiling and to outstretch her hands as if to take the applause; then she trotted off into the wings. It was so cleverly done, I thought for a moment she was a plant; but, having disappeared into the wings, she came back out on stage in order to find the stairs back down to the seats.

This was a cue for me to tell Judy my Royal Ballet in Rio story.

17 June 2003

I have Joni Mitchell’s early records playing, and I’m sure it’s because of them that I keep crying. It’s not only that they plug into a kind of emotional nostalgia for my youth, but her songs are so full of the kind of aspirations about life and living that I’ve either not achieved or that I still ache for (at least when I’m listening to the songs). There’s something about this weeping, though, that is a little bit satisfying, as though by still having such aspirations, they might still be possible, and that, therefore, I am still alive - in a feeling-ish sort of way. Other singers can do this a bit, but none prise right inside me as deeply as Joni Mitchell. I don’t believe this is because Joni Mitchell is so special - although I believe she is - but because I listened to her lyrics and her singing so much during my formative youthful days.

A few more people have come to see the house in the last few days; and, on the whole, they’ve been quite positive about it. Although the agent advised me not to tell visitors about the planning permission next door until a second visit, I found myself telling all three couples. But it’s the oddest thing: when prospective purchasers come, and I don’t get any positive vibes from them, I feel the need to sell and move on all the more strongly. But when a couple, like the Andrews this morning, come and gush over the house and the garden and the position etc. they leave me thinking again about how perfect this house is, how well positioned, vis-a-vis London, vis-a-vis the coast, vis-a-vis the country, vis-a-vis shops and amenities, vis-a-vis airports. . .

I’m following ‘Big Brother’ again - I don’t why. The characters are not interesting. ‘West Wing’ is still on (although I have to record it because it’s not broadcast until 11:30pm or so) and is still the best thing - by a million miles - on TV. The script is so intelligent and well put together, I’m almost gawping in amazement throughout the 40-45 minute programme. I’m also enjoying a Paul Abbot conspiracy thriller on BBC called ‘State of Play’, in which the politics is better handled than most other UK programmes, and a spy series called ‘Spooks’ (for which Howard Brenton wrote one of the better episodes - about a Muslim fanatic).

In the world what is happening? A row in Westminster over a reshuffle through which Blair has abolished the job of Lord Chancellor and created a new Constitutional Affairs Minister (Lord Falconer)

29 June

I’m still writing my ragged Portugal diary. I’d written less than a quarter of it, by the time we got home, but I decided to carry on with it. I like having the diary books; but my writing is awful, and, because it’s got a paper, not a card, cover, it’s gone a bit mank. Also, I’ve not written anything in it worth twopence, I’ve just recorded where we went and what we did. But then aren’t all my diaries entries like that these days - not much creativity.

And today I’m on a moan. I organised a nice day for my mother yesterday, an advance celebration of her birthday on Thursday. Julian, Toby and Naomi came down also, and we all went to the Mill, and then to the Moat to see the 2003 Paper Boat Race (well attended and lots of boats despite my not putting any effort in this year). After, B came for tea, and we had chocolate cake. There were also lots of presents for Mum. Unfortunately, when we were leaving the Mill, we exited through a window, following the children. All of us were a bit tipsy, it’s true. But once I’d gone through and realised it was a fair drop of about two feet, I tried to stop Mum, or at least to position myself so she could step down by leaning on me. Julian was behind her. Suddenly, she popped down, jumping onto her two feet, as if she were a five year old toddler again. I have the picture in my head - she really did seem like a young girl for a moment, and I’m sure in her head she was too. But, having jumped, she then fell backwards on her backside and sat down in the flowerbed. None of the movements were that great or hard, but she seemed to have hurt herself, and complained of stabbing pains in her back. She managed to walk to the car, and then from the car to the Moat. We came back early, and she installed herself on the sofa. Later, she only just managed to drive home. She called me to say she’d got back OK.

At 4:30, the phone rang. I was half asleep, and didn’t really twig it until the answering machine turned on. It rang again at 6; this time I called back. It was Mum asking me to come. So I drove to Hodford Road. When I got there, she was still comfy in bed - I think she’d been sleeping. She wasn’t dressed or ready to go to the hospital, which made me a little cross. I busied myself downstairs while she decided whether to call an ambulance or let me take her. She called an ambulance, which arrived - three strong - about 10 minutes later. The paramedics helped her downstairs and prodded her a bit. I could tell by their questions and their faces, that they did not think there was anything seriously wrong - nothing broken, but Mum was insisting she had sharp shooting pains, like a knife, in her back. At one point, Mum was preparing to leave, and asked the paramedics to help her put her socks on! The paramedic lady looked at her with contempt. I stepped in quickly to do it for her. They took her to the Royal Free, and I took my own car.

This was a fun way to spend a Sunday morning. A&E departments are a world unto themselves; they have rules and codes which no one knows or understands, but the people working there don’t realise how opaque this all is for patients. It’s not clear, for example, whether patient relatives are supposed to stay with their relatives in the cubicles or not, especially when being looked at by nurses or doctors. It does not seem right for a non-patient - me - to be strolling through the department, past cubicles and sick people, nurses and doctors and orderlies; but, then, after doing it a few times, one gets used to the strange feeling of being a regular - for I went in and out lots. But I did not feel comfortable, and kept my eyes down.

They were very slow dealing with Mum, even though the department and the cubicles seemed empty when we arrived. I really don’t know how it works. Perhaps the paramedics indicated that it wasn’t very serious, so the triage nurse took her time, and then the doctor took even longer. She was curt, my mother said, and didn’t even want to x-ray her. I think Mum might have slipped back in the queue a couple of times, once because she asked to be taken to the toilet - I don’t know how much the nurse had to help her with that; and once because she wasn’t ready to walk to the x-ray.

About 11, I was relieved. Melanie and Clive turned up unexpectedly. I had been to the cafe, read the paper (nothing worth reading in ‘The Independent’), been for a short walk on the Heath, and I’d been back twice to find the cubicle empty. God knows how long they kept her at x-ray. And then Melanie was there. She and Clive were using the A&E cubicle like a reception room, and it was all a bit of a party. Clive brought a big bunch of flowers and some coffees. I left almost immediately, I mean it didn’t need all of us in attendance. I knew Mum had called Melanie, but I didn’t know she had left panic messages on her mobile and home phone. It turned out later, for she rang me this afternoon, that they found nothing on the x-rays, and it was just some bruising or spraining. I can be practical with my mother, but I can’t give her sympathy; or mollycoddle her. She’s always been too damned demanding emotionally, and she thrives on it - better ill and something to talk about, than not ill and nothing to talk about.

Most of the rest of the day has been spent lazing: I watched much of a film called ‘The Four Feathers’ which I haven’t seen for a long while, after managing to avoid watching ‘Romancing the Stone’ which is a very-easy-to-watch film. I’ve tried to finish the Portugal diary, but still have a couple of days to go, and I’ve pottered a bit in the garden. I’ve just cooked chicken for supper.

There’s a huge ruckus between the BBC and the government at present. The BBC is guilty, but it’s been more guilty in the past, and the government’s never retaliated like it is now. It’s a smoke screen being laid by Alistair Campbell, and the BBC walked right into it. If the BBC had apologised immediately, and agreed that one of its journalist did exceed the strict reporting guidelines, then it, the BBC and its journalists, could have focused on the main story (to my mind a non-story also, but much less of a non-story). The main story is whether the government oversold the arguments for going to war, and, in particular, placed too much stress on the idea that Saddam Hussein could mobilise weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. The ruckus is over a claim, by the BBC, made by a journalist called Andrew Gilligan (who was in fact brought in to spice up the news agenda) that the government ‘sexed up’ a dossier from the intelligence services. Alastair Campbell then went on the offensive calling the claims lies, and demanding an apology. I’ve heard the BBC on this story several times, each time the BBC presenter has come out much the worse for wear against the government representative. Worst of all was an interview by John Humphreys yesterday with junior minister Ben Bradshaw. Humphreys lost all shreds of neutrality and appeared to be defending the BBC - he sounded absurd, and he lost (without acknowledging it) at least two specific arguments. A while back I also heard him interview John Reid, and there was a spat over whether Gilligan had one source or more than one source in MI5, and this is where, I suspect, the BBC has made a big mistake. BBC guidelines say that a story needs to come from one on the record source, or at least two off the record sources. And, despite the efforts of Gilligan and the BBC to fudge this, I suspect that Gilligan did not get the main charge - the centre of the story in fact - properly confirmed by a second source. And now, rather than accepting a mistake, and moving on, the BBC is sticking to character and remaining pompously arrogant. You only have to listen to ‘Feedback’ to realise that the BBC only admits an error when it has made a clear resounding factual mistake; no matter how sensible and well-argued a criticism of a programme point might be, the relevant editor or producer always, always finds a way to justify him or herself; the BBC is always, always right.

July 2003

Paul K Lyons


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INTRO to diaries