1 March 2003

It’s Saturday afternoon. I’ve been trying to do some planning, but I’m beginning to find it hard to take decisions. I don’t know yet whether this is a momentary thing, to do with today and yesterday, or part of a deeper trend towards depression. Apart from two more issues of EC Inform-Energy, and making supper/lunches for Adam, there is very little in my world that I need to do or people need to do for me, and so this sense of floating in space without any reference points is definitely growing. I am making a determined effort to go away for two days walking on the south coast, on Monday and Tuesday. Also I need to make a decision about if and when to put this house on the market. I’ve been looking at house details for a month or so, and I spoke to an estate agent last week who said prices might have fallen 5% since last summer. I’ve also made an inventory of big items of furniture in this house, in an attempt to get my head round the idea of moving. I’ve thought about it a bit this morning, and maybe I’ll put it on the market in a couple of weeks.

But what I’m going to do with the next two years, while Adam’s at Godalming College, or thereafter for that matter, I’ve no idea.

I plan to finish Kip Fenn by June, which would mean I could start contacting publishers in July. I had thought I would try and busy up my life from January, but I’ve not joined any new clubs, or found any voluntary work; my reading has thinned out, and I don’t even go up to London any more. It’s as though when I am busy I have no trouble being busier, but when I’m not busy I can’t be bothered to decide on any little things to fill up the gaps. It’s weird really. I think I just need to focus on Kip Fenn now through to June, not worry about all the time wastage that happens when I’m not working on Kip Fenn, and try not to seek or want meaning anywhere else. This would be a lot easier, as I’ve tried to explain before, if I could feel that Kip Fenn was important and worthwhile. If it does ever get published I am so going to regret not having felt better about the process of writing it.

Cooking sausages, mashed potatoes (with carrot), ratatouille (made earlier in the week) and salad. After, I’ll probably watch ‘Casualty’ (‘West Wing’ seems to have been booted out of its 8pm Saturday night slot) and then Adam will want to watch ‘Jonathan Creek’.

In the last week or so I’ve read three novels by Michael Connelly, all packaged up together in one (library) paperback (or else I probably wouldn’t have gobbled them up so quickly). These are the best crimmies (as I call them) that I’ve come across for ages. They are all based around the LA cop Harry Bosch (the kind that has a good heart but doesn’t mind breaking the rules and being tough if it’s for a good cause), and they all have satisfyingly complex but logical plots.

8 March 2003

I haven’t been on a long distance walk for nearly three years. I would normally have done one in 2001 and another last year, but for, first, foot-and-mouth, and, second, the knee. Since the autumn, I’ve been doing regularly walks up to about 7-8 miles at the weekends to try and strengthen my knee, but I’ve known I must get out and do a proper walk before I can prove my knee is in a reasonable condition. I planned to park in Dorchester and walk to Maiden Hill, and from there pick up the inland section of the Coastal Path. I had wanted to go last Monday/Tuesday, but, out of the blue, Barbara told me she was taking a couple of days holiday on those days, so I thought it wouldn’t be fair to take Adam (who said he wanted to come) when he could spend half term time with her; and, as Adam had two extra half-term days this week, it seemed sensible to go then. I didn’t let the weather forecast put me off, nothing wrong with a bit of rain. We set off together very early on Monday morning. Most of the following summary of the walk was written first in a letter to Sue (I don’t usually double up my writing either way, but here I am doing so).

Thanks to a fortuitous navigational mistake, we missed the first route into Dorchester and took the second one, whereon we found a large Tesco’s. Since it was five to eight, we only had five minutes to wait for access to facilities and a good, cheap breakfast. Also, it seemed a good place to park the car overnight. The weather was reasonable, and since the forecast had only indicated light rain, I didn’t take full precautions (i.e. put everything in the rucksacks inside plastic bags).

It took about half an hour to walk to Maiden Hill, a large Iron Age fort structure (being but a large hill with grass covered ridges and hollows now, but still spectacular), and from thence on to meet up with the inland route of the Coastal Path (which in fact is part of the Ridgeway). The clouds lifted enough for us to catch glimpses of Chesil beach in the distance, and towns nestling in the valleys. The Ridgeway is characterised by many round barrows (burial mounds) along the way (200 on the Ridgeway itself, my book tells me). Adam rightly commented that they are not as spectacular as the pyramids. And on to the Hardy Monument, like a giant’s trig point - but how disappointing to find this is not for literature’s Thomas Hardy, but for Nelson’s Thomas Hardy. On the way down to Abbotsbury, somehow we missed the restored burial chamber (the Hell Stone) and got trapped in a maze of gorse. We could have chosen to stay on the ridge and follow the inland coast path until it rejoins and becomes one with the main coastal path, but we opted to drop down into Abbotsbury, partly because the thought of tea and cake had begun to dominate our thoughts, and partly because Adam was very anxious to get to the sea.

In Abbotsbury, we took a small diversion to seek out one of the land’s largest tithe barns. Unfortunately, it has been turned into a commercial children’s playground and is crassly adorned with large red signs saying ‘Smuggler’s Den’. And from there we made for the Western end of Chesil beach, but by now it was raining, and cold. This did not stop Adam wanting to swim. I tried to warn him, but he had an image in his head of a cool refreshing swim, and would not be dissuaded. Just taking off his boots and socks and trousers, all covered in layers of mud was complicated enough, but in the rain, and the cold, and having to walk across the pebbles to a ferocious sea - I let him get on with it and collected a few pebbles. He so wanted to swim, but was forced back by the cold after only having wet his feet. I helped him redress as much as I could (his hands being too numb to tie the muddy shoelaces). And on we pressed. Only now we had to contend with a path along the backside of the beach which was either pebble shingle (which is not easy to walk along), or long stretches of paths flooded by a series of over-full meres. And the rain persisted. At West Bexington, there were so few houses that we decided to try and make it a further five miles to Bridport, which I knew was a largish place with B&Bs and food.

For two tired, wet cold people on their first long walk for a very long time, five miles proved too much. Adam is stoic, I’ve hardly ever known him complain (although he did a little on the following day for a boot problem which we solved with an extra pair of socks) and I’m sure he would have made it on to Bridport, but my legs were starting to become really weak. We cut inland to a village called Burton Bradstock, and I prayed there would be a B&B or a bus to Bridport. I honestly can’t remember being so physically exhausted or my legs feeling so depleted. Also, I was very concerned that a prissy B&B wouldn’t take us in (we were soaking from head to toe, and my trousers were covered in mud, since I’d slipped into a large mud pond). But luck was on our side - first we found a garage and gorged on Mars bars, and then round the next corner, there was an open B&B with ensuite rooms entered from the outside. (Oh for a youth hostel where we could have dried our clothes in a drying room - the B&B room only had one small heater, which wasn’t suitable for laying things on, so I was forever alternating wet clothes over it with the aid of a chair-back. By morning, only a fraction of our clothes and rucksack contents were dry.) After bathing and changing, while trying to keep the mud off the carpets, bedcovers etc, we hobbled a few yards to the pub for chicken pie and a half of bitter.

We had been warned the day before that the junk shop bit of the B&B-cum-corner/paper shop-cum-junk shop which doubled up for serving &B was under going some re-organisation so we ate our breakfast surrounded by piles of the junkiest junk you could ever hope to see in one place - it looked like what might be left on the bric-a-brac table at the end of a jumble sale, multiplied 100 fold. The man of the house, who kind of stumbled past us half-asleep into the little kitchen at the back to prepare our breakfast (we had asked for &B at the earliest possible time, which was 8, and he didn’t start cooking till quarter past), kept asking us what we wanted as though we knew what choice there might be. And then, when he had told us what cereals might be possible, and we had chosen, he dove into a pile of bric-a-brac to retrieve the required carton. As he was cooking, three sullen teenage girls, carrying school bags, trooped in and out, one at a time to say goodbye to their father. While I drank a second cup of tea, Adam went back to the room (to put his boots on the heater, I later discovered, at the expense of my socks). I asked the man, jokingly you understand, why he hadn’t trained up any of his daughters to do the breakfasts. He told me had three daughters, one wife, and four women working for him, and all of them were useless at cooking. This was very funny considering the appalling breakfast he had served up: the bacon, sausages and mushrooms must have been heated and reheated a dozen times.

At least it wasn’t raining when we set off, although the cloud was low. Most of the short way left to West Bay (the Bridport harbour) took us across empty caravan parks and a golf course. From West Bay, it was a steep climb up on to the cliffs, and, miraculously, the mist lifted to give us views along the coast. At last, this is what I had come for: cliffs, headlands and beaches, cliffs, headlands and beaches as far as the eye can see, with the sound of the roaring sea below, and seagulls squawking over head. Down to Eype Mouth, up to Thorncombe Beacon, over Doghouse Hill, along the Ridge Cliff, and down to Seatown. An old fashioned pub, the Anchor, sits close to the beach at Seatown, and, was very busy, when we arrived - with horses. A hunt was taking a break, and some of the riders had edged their horses up the concrete levels among the outside chairs and tables, and were being served by the pub’s barmaids; the hounds were being kept in a tight group by several of the horses, but were still making a racket; half the village had come out to watch the show-offs. When they finally decided to leave, they couldn’t get out of the confined space between the pub and the beach and had to wait for a van to be moved. Later, when we were back on the cliff tops we saw the hunt far below us inland chasing across fields and round copses (with an accompanying quad bike - I wondered if this was being driven by a representative of the land-owner/farmer to check the hunt didn’t stray into a sheep field). I had never seen a hunt like this, picturesque in the landscape, just as if it were a picture on a pub wall.

From Seaport it was six and a half miles left to Lyme Regis, but the stiffness in our legs from the day before had not gone, as I had promised Adam it would, and the backs of my knees had started to become quite painful (I don’t think I’ve ever had this problem before - the same problem with both knees, it was un-related to my injury - perhaps something to do with the yoga and stretching exercises I’ve been doing a lot of in recent months). We could have given up then, and made our way inland and tried to hitch or catch a bus to civilisation; but I felt I still had a chance to make it to Lyme Regis, so we pressed on. Up, up, up to Golden Cap, with more glorious views back towards Bridport, and a little further on, towards Charmouth and Lyme Regis itself. After Golden Cap, the peaks and troughs lessened, but the walking, mostly on very muddy slippery paths, remained difficult whether up or down; we skirted round the back of Broom Cliff, and somewhere along Cain’s Folly my legs said enough is enough. So, when the Dorset Coastal Path suddenly came to a dead stop - ‘Closed - landslips’ - and we were forced to take a diversion inland, we took the hint. About three miles short of Lyme Regis, we walked into Charmouth (as we were forced to do by the diversion), found a sandwich shop, and a bus stop. Within half an hour, we were on a bus, heading for Dorchester. This was a magic bus because not only did it take us on a sightseeing tour of Dorchester (including the General Hospital) but it eventually dropped us at a bus-stop 100 metres from Tesco’s car park. We used the facilities, bought a cup of tea and, wearily, headed back to Elstead.

By the time we got back home, I was thoroughly exhausted and could do little more than flop in the bath, watch a bit of telly, eat and go to bed. For two days, my legs remained very stiff; but my right leg returned to normal far more quickly than my left. In fact, I realised my left knee had swollen up, and the cyst was showing. It’s taken three/four days to recover.

Newzeye have been buggering me around. After some hesitations and messing around, the schedule for EC Inform-Energy in March (and April) has been put back one week. I found this out on Wednesday afternoon. So I spent Thursday and Friday finishing Kip Fenn chapter six. I really hoped it was going to be shorter than the previous chapters, but it’s come in at over 20,000 words, where the others are mostly 22-23,000. By the end of the next chapter, Kip Fenn will be almost twice as long as BLR, and it’ll still be three chapters shy of the end.

I’ve more or less worked out all of Adam’s mock GCSE results by now, they are mostly Bs - which is disappointing, because it confirms what I’ve been thinking for a while now: he’s settled down to being happy with average marks (B is the equivalent of a middle grade O-level). This will probably lead him to get three or four A-A* assuming he does work hard from now on; and yet with a little more application and harder work, he could have been aiming for almost all As, and four or five A* - I think he’s got the brains for it, he just hasn’t got the ambition, the drive to buckle down to the work.

War, war, war. The daily roundabout of media gossip and interpretation goes on, but, finally, things do really appear to be coming to a head. The US is insisting on invading Iraq because it is not doing enough to disarm. The UK is trying to formulate a second UN Resolution which would give the US, the UK and others legitimacy to invade. France, Russia, Germany and others are all calling for the inspection teams to be given more time. If the US insists that the Security Council vote on a new Resolution early next week (the news this morning), then it seems it will be vetoed at least by France and Russia. Worryingly, Tony Blair and Jack Straw are showing no signs that the UK might come down off the fence on this side of the Atlantic rather than in Washington. Blair said, if I recall correctly, that he would only go to war against Iraq without a second Resolution if he did not think the reasons for any veto of such a Resolution were valid. That is worrying, very worrying, for he has given no indication ever, or what reason there could be not to follow the US into war. This weekend, Blair needs to make the break with Washington, he needs to give the first sign that he will not make our troops available without the support of the UN. I am beginning to believe, for the first time, that the UK has taken its brinkmanship too far this time; if Blair allows UK troops to support the US in an invasion of Iraq, it will be the single biggest political mistake made by a UK prime minister since the poll tax.

14 March 2003

On Friday, Susie and Andy and Darcy and Ben all came down in the late afternoon. This is their first visit since my party in May when Susie was eight months pregnant. Darcy has developed a lot of facial character since I saw him last, he smiles and chuckles, and is curious about the world. Gosh, did they come with a lot of paraphernalia (as if Ben isn’t enough, he’s a huge brute of a dog, restless in the extreme, always panting this way and that, wanting to go out and come back in, leaving paw marks and patches of black hair everywhere). I know babies need lots of paraphernalia, and I do recall how much longer it took to prepare to go anywhere than previously. Barbara was fussy, but, compared to Susie, she was definitely a minimalist in terms of fussiness. We were still mobile and active and flexible, and I insisted making as few allowances for our baby as possible, whereas Susie seems insistent on making as many allowances as possible (to give a simple example, once Darcy is asleep, for example, we all had to whisper and be quiet until he was put in the other room, whereas I always thought we should carry on as normal so that Adam would learn not to be disturbed by noises).

Not long after they arrived we drove into Godalming to look around the fortnightly auction. Andy is trying to make some money by buying old paintings cheap in provincial auctions and selling them on at Christies. I think he’s managed to quadruple his money with one painting, and since then has been doing a lot of research on obscure names and running around lots of different auction houses. He sized up the various lots (although two of the ones in the catalogue that had appealed to him had been withdrawn), and we returned the following morning, when he bought one picture for £200 or so (even though he’d only planned to spend £100). Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything I fancied, so I went off shopping. On Friday night, we were going to go out to eat, but, Susie decided in the end, that we should get a Chinese take-away from Pang’s Lodge. It was horrible. But we drank a lot of wine, and bantered the evening away with ‘Comic Relief’ on the TV in the background.

After the auction on Saturday morning, we returned to Russet House. It was a beautiful day, the sun shining, bright and warm. We went for a short walk along by the river, and I carried Darcy on my shoulders, doing the wibbly-wobblies, just like I used to do with Adam on our walks to the bread shop in Aldeburgh. Darcy chuckled and giggled away up there on my shoulders. Soon after we returned I left them here and went to Guildford to play volleyball. After my one training session a few weeks ago, I feel reasonably confident on court, but I never planned to play again. Steve, however, was desperate to make up a team for a match, so I agreed to play; and, when my leg seemed fine on the Sunday, I played a second match on Sunday. I enjoyed it too, especially the game on Sunday when the teams were more evenly matched and there were longer rallies. Surprisingly, I still race around all over the place, though I think I am a little more careful than before. But, there’s no way really of controlling my movements and my reactions to momentary events on court, so how can I be sure it won’t happen again. I think the answer is perhaps not to give up entirely, but to play infrequently - thus cutting down the statistical probability of an accident happening.

19 March

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. It’s been clear for a while now, but proof positive came this weekend, and, in particular, yesterday. Tony Blair is going to stand alongside George Bush and invade Iraq. I have been wrong all along about this. I was sure that Blair would swing away at the last minute, if he had to, but he hasn’t. And I acknowledge now (perhaps, to be fair to myself I have done so before) that if he had been going to do so, he would have needed to prepare an escape route for himself weeks ago. He didn’t. And having gone so far down the road with Bush, it was necessary to follow through and carry out the threat that has been implicit behind the UN demands for so long. Air bombardments will probably start tonight or in the next few days (last minute negotiations are ongoing with Turkey over the use of its airspace). Hundreds of thousands of British and US troops in Kuwait will start moving towards Baghdad as soon as it is safe for them to do so.

Last week, the UN negotiations. France’s Chirac made it clear that he would not support any second Resolution which contained a trigger for war, and that he would use France’s veto in the Security Council. On Sunday, Bush, Blair and Spain’s Aznar met in the Azores and agreed to withdraw their draft Resolution. This happened on Monday. The US and the UK both heaped blame on France (Russia was also strongly against the invasion, although the implication of the US/UK verbal attack on France is that Russia could have been persuaded not to use its Security Council veto). Also on Monday, Blair called an emergency cabinet meeting at which he declared that UK troops would be taking part very shortly in the invasion of Iraq. Robin Cook resigned immediately. Clare Short, despite having called Tony Blair reckless and having announced a week ago that she would resign if the UK went to war without a second Resolution, did not resign. (She was castigated for her initial statement, since it was a major breach of the well-accepted principle that members of the cabinet all stick to the same line; but she is vilified in the press this morning for not following through with her threat and staying put.) Blair also announced a Commons debate on Tuesday.

I listened to Blair’s speech opening the Commons motion yesterday (essentially authorising the use of UK troops in Iraq). It lasted about an hour, and he was incredibly persuasive. He talked with passion and determination, he dealt with dozens of interventions as skilfully as I’ve ever seen and without losing the flow of argument, and he ranged widely across all the questions and doubts that have been raised from the local to the historic. To my ongoing astonishment, I remain very impressed by the man. But I was not swayed.

Cutting through all the debate that has been going on for months, I see only two potentially valid arguments for what the UK and the US are about to do: 1) an actual threat: i.e. that Iraq is in fact a serious and immediate threat to their interests; 2) setting an example: i.e. that, having cajoled and pressed Iraq to fully disarm for so long and threatened it with war, any further appeasement will damage the world order, and allow future would-be dictators and protectors of terrorists to flourish and do terrible damage in the future. (I do not think that a further argument put forward concerning Hussein’s treatment of his own people has any potential validity, since the UN has no authority to go around dumping on leaders that repress their peoples.)

With regard to 1), there seems to be very little doubt that Iraq poses any kind of immediate threat. Yes, Blair can run through endless lists of chemical stores, Hussein is supposed to have, but the reality is that these lists are based on very old information, and that very much of what Iraq had was destroyed in the Gulf war or as a result of the inspection regimes in the past or more recently. It also seems true that he has no delivery mechanisms at all. Nothing I’ve heard convinces me that Iraq poses any kind of real threat in the short term (and any possible threat is confined to its neighbouring countries - certainly not the US or the UK; and there appears to be very little evidence of Iraqi terrorist cells anywhere in the West).

So, the only argument that could hold any sway with me at all, is the second one. I agreed with Thatcher’s rescue of the Falklands against the opinion of most of my friends at the time, I agreed with the US rescue of Kuwait, and I was swayed by the arguments to agree with the invasion of Afghanistan. I don’t think I had an opinion about the NATO war against Serbia, but, on the basis of the documentary I saw recently, I understood the politics and diplomacy that led up that international event. In this case, though, I do not agree that the international community would suffer if the threats against Iraq are not carried through. The country has already been neutered for more than decade, and it continues to be an outcast in the world community, it cannot buy arms, it cannot sell its oil, it cannot develop economically. It has already been punished hugely, and the low-level punishments would continue. It has not done anything bad recently that needs a massive response on the scale of an invasion. At the very best, the US/UK invasion will transform Iraq into a better place for its people in the short or medium term. It will be at the expense of lives and money (no one knows yet how high the cost will be), but it will also exacerbate hostility in the Muslim world towards the West, and in particular, the US and the UK (especially, if the West ends up assassinating Saddam Hussein - I don’t care how evil he is, assassinating him will be seen as a terrible signal of Western arrogance), and reinforce terrorist activity around the world - which is the very reverse of one of the stated aims. The bottom line is that the consequences of not dealing finally with Saddam Hussein, and simply keeping him confined and neutered, are not that important. The US and the UK have ratcheted up the threat in the belief that Hussein will finally give in - but this was the wrong way to deal with him, the wrong psychology. We should not be invading a sovereign state. The world will need to deal with situations like this in the future in more subtle ways.

20 March

I should be working on Kip Fenn this morning. But, so far (and it is late morning) I’ve done little other than write a short sharp letter to Sue, complaining that she keeps far too much about herself secret, and listening to news about the invasion of Iraq, or rather news about news, or grand analysis of what’s happening based on very little real information (here we are on the day, and the journalists are talking about the ‘fog of war’, and analysing why they have no information on what the US/UK army is up to - hmmm! - after some discussion it’s concluded that maybe the information is being withheld because the invading troops don’t want to broadcast their movements. Stunning.)

Yesterday, I zipped around a bit. First I went to the Newzeye offices, where Tom was developing a new template for EC Inform-Energy. Astonishingly, he was preparing the template and preparing to produce the newsletter all on the same day. I overheard one or two discussions between Tom (production person) and Ian (the managing editor) and I was astounded to have my worst fears about Ian confirmed. He hasn’t the faintest idea what he’s doing most of the time. However, he has finally contracted a journalist to write and edit EC Inform-Energy from here on. A man called Simon Napper who lives near Devizes. He’ll be coming here next Tuesday for an EU energy policy training session. I think I’ve convinced him he won’t need me to go to Brussels, so that should save me some time; and also it seems he’ll be doing the bulk of the work for the April issue, so my Kip Fenn schedule probably should get an extra week, and, even if I don’t do much today, I may still have a good chance of getting chapters seven and eight concluded by the end of April.

I watched a programme about twins last night. Three psychologists had devised a series of tests to try and find the most identical pair out of 100 pairs. After a day of 20 quick tests, four pairs were chosen for more extensive tests. In each case, the psychologists commented on the expected findings (based on the literature) and explained the relevance to the nurture/nature debate. I found the programme quite illuminating because the tests had been rigorously designed, and were, in some cases, according to the psychologists, breaking new ground. In two particular instances, it seemed my own knowledge was greater than that of the psychologists, however arrogant that sounds.

One of the less rigorous tests used a sniffer dog to see whether twins smelled differently. One twin wore a shirt the previous night; the two twins set out across a field in different directions, and the dog was asked to track the twin which had worn the shirt. In each of the four cases (all of which were slightly different and more complicated for the dog), the dog tracked the right twin. According to the psychologists, a human’s odour is entirely dependent on his/her genes, and therefore the twins should have had identical smells, which should have confused the dog (it’s interesting that we can’t measure smell scientifically with any accuracy and that this experiment used a dog, but this is a red herring). So, the psychologists concluded (I’m grouping them together, although they didn’t all speak on each topic) that somehow environmental factors had influenced their smells (I forgot to mention that the twins ate the same diet for three days previously). BUT, the experts seem to have forgotten about chance. In another test, fingerprints were compared. The police fingerprint expert explained that he could almost always tell the difference between twins, and often their prints were very different. In fact, he was surprised to find a pair of twins who did have very similar thumb prints. Obviously, chance influences fingerprint patterns - there’s a functional explanation as to why they differ from person to person. So, why can’t a person’s smell be the same: it must depend on a random development of sweat gland parameters, even if they are based on identical genes.

Another test set each of the eight participants with a series of five minute blind dates with six members of the opposite sex in order that they could put them into an order of attractiveness. They didn’t know, however, that the guinea pig blind dates themselves had a twin who was, at the same time, having a drink with the other twin. Each of the participants rated their ‘dates’. I think for two sets of twins their ratings were identical, and for the other two it was very high. This shows, the psychologists said, how important genetic factors are in choosing a mate. They admitted the results were against all the existing evidence collected from twins who have married which seems to indicate about a 50-50 nature/nurture component in mate choice. They confessed to being completely baffled by the results. I’m not. Clearly, the choice one person makes over a drink as to who they fancy is not the same as the choice they make when it comes to living with someone or having children with them. Firstly, the test is one sided, it makes no allowances for the other person’s taste; and marriage requires a mutual attraction so the 100% genetic factor is always going to be muted by having to compromise. Secondly, a person’s intelligence, which comes from their learning, experience and environment, tempers their eventual mate choice, so that they don’t necessarily set up home with whoever seems most attractive after a five minute date. Psychologists - be baffled no more.

Overall, though, the tests did demonstrate some of what I’d read in Pinker and other places about how studies on twins are really beginning to reveal the full extent of genetic influences, and that they have a much more profound effect over who we are (more so, in fact than, nurture) than many of us (especially me) have always believed.

23 March 2003

Sunday evening. Mum has just gone after spending the day here. For the first time, she’s begun to talk about accepting the idea of moving out of London, perhaps going to live in Berkhamstead or around there. I feel sure that would be good for her. I showed her a few properties on the internet, and she seemed quite content with what she might get for 350,000-400,000. I should find time to take her to look around.

We had a family conversation about Adam’s A-levels. I’d already had a long serious talk with Adam myself last week about this (at his instigation), but I thought it would be useful for Adam to have a more general conversation. Although earlier, I wasn’t at all clear about what subjects I think he should take, and I was vacillating somewhat, on the basis of my talks with him and others (like Judy) I have a better idea now. I do not think he should take two English A-levels, but should pick one; I do not think he should take politics and philosophy but should pick one (politics preferably); and I do think he should take Maths and Geography. But, the stronger I argue for such choices, the less likely he is to want to follow my advice. Yet it is difficult not to argue for what I think is right, especially as he does like talking about it and quizzing me. I keep suggesting he should talk to others, and propose he ask certain questions at the Godalming College interview on Tuesday, but he doesn’t even like me suggesting questions to ask.

B comes over for tea, and we talk about various RHS issues. She may finally put her house on the market next week. So, by chance, we may end up selling our houses in parallel. I’ve an agent coming to give me a valuation.

I’ve been glued to the TV and radio since the invasion began. There has been a lot to report, with journalists seemingly in every corner of Iraq, and presenters chirpily zapping between them. The Brits have lost several soldiers already, but through friendly fire or accidents, not combat. US troops are marching in huge numbers on Baghdad and will surely reach the outskirts in the next days. Pockets of resistance have been met, here and there on the way, although, apparently large numbers of troops have also surrendered. There is a such a lot of propaganda on both sides, and far too many pundits willing to interpret and re-interpret the news from the front, that it’s quite hard to be certain about anything. This evening, for example, it seems that Iraq has captured several US soldiers and paraded them on television.

Sunday 30 March 2003

Such clement weather we’ve been having for two weeks now. It’s been dry and sunny, and the temperature is climbing day by day. Today, for example, I can sit and work in the lounge without the central heating on. The clocks went forward last night, so it’s already 11am, and I’ve done little else but talk to Adam. Later, I may plant my seed potatoes. I’m not sure they’ve chitted enough, but I’m reluctant to let the planting conditions go to waste.

A tape of Britten songs plays on the stereo, but I don’t know who’s singing - I stupidly failed to write down the details on the cassette holder label. I’m sure it’s a distinctive voice, I just don’t have the ear to recognise one voice from another. While on the subject of music, I could mention Martin Simpson, an English singer guitarist. Last night I went with Judy to see Ballet Rambert at Woking. One of the three pieces was choreographed by Christopher Bruce (he of ‘The Cruel Garden’) from Martin Simpson songs. It was a beautiful dance, not least, though, because of the gorgeous lyrical music, that seemed to wrap around and embrace me as I listened and watched. There was also a delightful piece based on Prokofiev music which moved both of us. This is Rambert back to their best - the dancers were exquisite, like lithe feline animals never making an awkward move, and the choreography was imaginative, expressive and coherent.

I’ve had my house valued twice this week. Charles, from Burns and Weber, told me initially he thought the house was worth £425-450, and, when I asked him, he told me that this valuation would not have changed since last summer. I told him I found this rather shocking (but not why - Clarke Gammon valued it at £550 last summer) and, in his follow up letter, he raised the price to £450-475. Jeremy from Emery Orchard valued the house at £450-470, and this time I did tell about the £550 valuation, and we discussed the market and other agents at some length. He said he would be prepared to put the house on the market at £495, but that I should expect not to get that amount. He showed me other properties in the same price bracket. He too said that he would have given the same valuation last summer, but accepted my point when I proposed that perhaps his valuations change over time without him necessarily being aware of the fact. Clarke Gammon told me they believe prices may have fallen 5% since last summer, so that would bring their £550 valuation down to £525, which would be within an acceptable estate agency difference then of 5% (i.e. between £525 and £495). But, I’m convinced that I won’t get over £500 any more, whereas last summer I thought I might be lucky and get the asking price of £550.

I still haven’t made any decisions about holidays. I’ve been prevaricating (as with everything else), but Adam’s prevarication over which week he might take for a holiday after the GCSEs isn’t inspiring me not prevaricate. At the top end of the scale would be a £5,000-6,000 three week trip to China; and the bottom end of the scale would be one week at Andy’s house in Granada. In between, there are other possibilities: an Explore trip to Sri Lanka which looks good; a couple of weeks in Madeira or Portugal; something in the UK. It’s hard for me to think about holidays, when I can’t see what my future holds - I mean holidays only have value as a counterbalance to work.

Newzeye has appointed Simon as editor for EC Inform-Energy. He came here last Tuesday. For about four hours, I briefed him as well I could. He understood most of what I told him (he knows about energy, and has worked as a journalist for a long time), but there’s no way he’s going to be able to do a reasonable job for the first few issues. But, and for this I am thankful, he is going to do the April issue, thereby relieving me of that job.

April 2003

Paul K Lyons


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