12 August 2004

I did plan to handwrite a diary while on holiday with Adam in Devon this last week, but I only wrote one page, so I’m going to transcribe it into the journal here, and then try and remember all the stuff we did over five days.

8 August: An early start, before 6:00. I was afraid, very afraid of tourist traffic on the A303. It was Saturday, it was August, and the weather forecast was sun, sun, sun. Ads had arrived earliesh on the Friday evening, and spent much of the evening packing and helping me pack. (Every now and then we’d congregate in the lounge to watch the Big Brother finale, and gasp in disbelief that Nadia, a Portuguese trans-sexual, should win. It’s not as if she was charming, intelligent or even witty - she wasn’t. I’ll probably have to return to write about BB when I get back to my computer.) The run went smoothly up to Stonehenge where the A303 becomes a single lane, and everyone slows down to have a look at the stones. Even at 7:00 there was a traffic jam, and the whole line of cars came to standstill, and then inched forwards for 15-20 minutes. I was horrified, thinking it might be like that all the way to Devon. But it wasn’t. We stopped around 9:00 at Buckfastleigh for breakfastleigh, but didn’t find any, not a proper one anyway, so we had a buckfast of pasty, bun and tea. From there we drove to a campsite I’d identified from the maps - it was near Modbury, half way between Dartmoor and the south coast. I had no idea what it would be like or even if it would there. It took some finding (with Ads navigating really well) and when we arrived it looked horrible - dense-packed caravans and lots of children racing around. But the owner or manager directed us to fields at the back which were largely empty and quiet, and he said he would only charge us £8 a night. So we set up the tent there and then.

Soon after we headed south, not directly to the sea because we planned to do a walk that would take us to the sea and by some beaches (from a book of walks). The local roads thereabouts were very narrow - very Devon, and it takes a deal of concentration to find one’s way in the absence of signposts. We arrived at Kingston unsure of where to park. It seemed a wedding was about to take place and the car parking spaces outside the church were needed. Ads said the wedding was already under way, but I thought it couldn’t be because there were too few cars parked outside. He was right. But our car parking space was needed for other purposes, to park vintage cars for display during a fete that was to take place that afternoon. This was good news for us because cream teas were offered in the village hall. All we had to do was wait an hour and a half. We re-parked in a field (especially opened for the event) and lazed around reading until two (this was also a good idea because it was a very hot day, and I didn’t want to be walking in the midday sun). I tried to doze in the shade of the car, and Ads read a book by Patrick Neate about hip hop.

In the village hall we were greeted with open arms - the first customers for two aged women, experts in tea-making. We were given huge dollops of yellow cream and little packets of jam for our scones. When I went to take a second tablet of jam and left 10p, I heard one of the women tell the other I was ‘very sweet’! The fete was being run on a wild west theme, and so youngsters and adults alike were parading around in cowboy and indian costumes. Sad and sweet at the same time.

It was a long walk across fields of ripe corn to Ringmore. We had been heading for Bigbury-on-Sea because I was intrigued to walk to Burgh Island, but we cut off part of the walk and ended up on Challaborough Beach, which was full of families; and the tide was way out, meaning I had to wade a long way to get my swim, for which I was desperate. From Challaborough it was less than a mile across the cliff tops to Ayrmer Cove. This was a much more pleasant place to swim (no car park, no hoards of daytrippers). There were one or two folk on the beach, but Adam was content to swim here, and, for a while, we had fun, racing and splashing around. And then, once dressed, it was back up to the cliff top, with glorious views east towards Burgh Island and westward too, until Erme Mouth and Wonwell Beach. The River Erme doesn’t have much flow in it, and the estuary is very sandy so it makes for a pleasant beach, but I didn’t want to swim again, so we made our way inland along the river, along the way we thought the path took us. Oddly, for this was very odd, we were following another walker (a single female as it happens), and this led me not to question our way, at least until it became increasingly difficult to follow the increasingly muddy river banks. It was only because the tide was so low that we had been able to go so far upstream. The lady walker in front continued to struggle ahead, and so I continued to think this must be the right route. But she turned out to be a Siren! I let Adam spec out (a new phrase we used) the way, but it became clear that there was no path at all, and that we would have to turn back. Looking more carefully at the map, I decided the path must be in the woods up the hillside and so took a tiny path that led steeply through the trees. Adam continued to backtrack, with a view to take the straighter route along the road from the beach. I did find a trackway, not very far into the woods, but after half a mile I realised I was still going the wrong way, and so jogged back to find a path that took me over the hills to the road. And still this was the wrong way, leading me along two sides of a right-angled triangle. I met up with Adam in Kingston, where we stopped for a shandy in the Dolphin (the fete having long since disbanded) before returning to the car.

We drove back to Modbury, where we did some shopping in a co-op store, and ate ham and cheese sandwiches in the cemetery as the sun was going down in the distance.

Neither of us slept well this first night in the tent. I don’t know why. I’d brought a much softer more cushioned sleeping bag (B’s old one) than the crinkly lightweight one I’ve used previously. I’d also brought a duvet (to sleep on) AND a pillow. Why not, I thought, since we had the car. I was very comfortable in the tent, but I tossed and turned a lot. As did Adam, and, I suppose, we woke each other up.

13 August 2004

On our second day, we decided to do a walk on Dartmoor. Again we chose it from the Ordnance Survey ‘South Devon and Dartmoor’ Landranger Guidebook, and we chose it because it promised ‘to conjure up an aura of lonely moor and a sense of prehistory’. And it did. It was quite a drive to get there. Apart from the two main roads that cross it, Dartmoor is interlaced with small weaving roads that take a long time to negotiate, and never seem to be going exactly where you want. We parked at a place called Ringmoor Cottage, not far from Sheepstor, and headed out along a metalled track into the moor. Adam did most of the navigating (which is why we went wrong near the end - doing half the walk twice and half the walk not at all - that’s just a tease for you Adam if you ever get to read this. It’s not a joke I would have made before, but now you’re good enough at reading maps I feel you can take a jibe or two). I thought the walk would take us up to a tor or two, but it didn’t, so, near the end, I had to take a diversion to visit Gutter Tor. For some reason, Adam stayed down below reading his books (although later he seemed to think that climbing tors was his favourite thing to do). The walk did feel very moorlandish, lonely and atmospheric, and this feeling was enhanced somehow by coming across the deserted and boarded up Ditsworthy Warren House, all alone, grey and brooding, with crumbling garden walls and outhouses, and sheep and cows grazing sombrely on the garden lawns. The sense of prehistory was provided by some old stone settlements, one small one with menhirs and what looked like a large barrow, and another large one with many remnants of stone houses. I am not, however clear about what these old remains are of, or how old they are. Crossings, in his famous guidebook which is now a 100 years old, but which has been reprinted many times (I had a library copy) describes many antiquaries in and around Drizzle Combe (along which we walked), but I found it very difficult to match up his descriptions with what we saw. The map shows many settlements, cairns, pillow mounds and blowing houses, but even so I didn’t really get to understand what I was observing. Nevertheless, with menhirs always visible in the distance, sticking up above the bracken, the aura was definitely there.

It was raining by the time we got back to Ringmoor Cottage, and tea was much on our mind. We decided to go to Yelverton (rather than back to Cornwood, where we’d seen a sign for a teahouse) with a plan to return to Sheepstor to climb Sheeps Tor. At Yelverton, though, we couldn’t find a teahouse, and went round in circles looking for a place mentioned in one of our guidebooks. It was really tipping it down by this time. When, finally, we did find the tea rooms, they were only open for lunch bookings. Not quite knowing what else to do, I decided on a car tour that would take us to Tavistock (where surely we’d find tea) and back to Sheeps Tor. On tiny narrow roads, we went through Crapstone, Buckland Monachorum, Bere Alston and Weir Quay before getting to Tavistock. Being a Sunday, there wasn’t much open in Tavistock, and, when we did find a place for tea, it was a horrible tourist trap. A slice of Bakewell Tart would have cost £2.75, had I bought one to go with my tea. (Later on that day, I purchased a whole bakewell tart, a very tasty one as it happens, at least six times as big as the slices on offer in the teahouse, for £1.75!) We strolled along the river for a while, before returning to the car, and driving back onto the moors, and parking nearby Sheeps Tor. The mist had descended by this time, so we headed up the hill, following an easy track, and noting the shape of rocks in order not to get lost on the way back. At the top, and in the mist, I did the standing elements of my yoga exercises, and Ads climbed around. I made cursory efforts to find a letterbox, as I had on Gutter Tor, but without any success. Ads loved it up there in the mist. It was only afterwards, I realised, from the map, that there was a feather bed on Sheeps Tor, and I’ve liked to have seen one.

It was already latish by this time, so we headed back to Modbury, partaking of a tasty and filling gammon meal at the Modbury Arms before returning to the campsite after dark. The only other tent in our field had gone, so we were effectively alone (although there were a few campers in the next field). This night we both slept much better.

For day three, we chose another coastal walk. We drove to Dartmouth and parked freely at the top of the town, and then walked down to the harbour area. Dartmouth is a delightful town. We’d last been here in 1993, when A, B and I stayed in a rented cottage a mile or two south. I remembered some aspects of that holiday, but Adam remembered none. He did, though, have a vague recollection of finding a dead rabbit at the back of a cove. On returning home, I looked up my diary entries for that holiday, and was surprised to discover how little I’d remembered. In Dartmouth, we found a great cafe where we had sausage and egg sandwiches, and then we took the ferry (expensive at a quid each way) to Kingswear. The route took us up the hill, down into a dale, and up to Brownstone Farm, and from there we walked across fields to Scabbacombe Head. I had hoped to find accessible beaches or coves along the coastal part of the walk, but from Scabbacombe Head the path kept firmly to the cliff tops with ragged rocks far below. At Ivy Cove, Adam thought he would be able to get down, across steep scree and rough looking brambles, but I tried to explain that if a way down did exist there would be some signs of a path, and there were none. We argued about this for a while, as Ads couldn’t quite understand why that would be the case, and I didn’t find it easy to explain. My next hope for a swim (it was very warm and muggy) was at Pudcombe Cove. I had a vague memory of this place, accessed via a National Trust Garden which takes up the whole gully. We had already passed an entrance to the garden on the outward walk inland and found that it was closed on Mondays, but I was still hopeful we might be able to access a little beach in the cove. When we arrived at the dip in the coastal path across the gully, the access upward to the garden was closed, and there was no sign at all of a path downward to the cove. It was all shadowy and overgrown. Adam tried to force his way through along the stream, but found it too difficult, and then I found that the entrance to the old path had been hidden by brambles, and I only had to burrow through a few metres to find a gate with a big ‘Footpath Closed’ sign on. On the other side, though, the path was reasonable if derelict and uncared for. It descended sharply, sometimes via broken up concrete steps, to a litter-strewn beach with various concrete constructions. The water too looked fowl, full of seaweed. Adam thought it a great shame that the path was closed. Maybe the steep path erodes too quickly, maybe the beach is simply not attractive enough (because it collects so much seaweed and litter), or maybe the owners of the garden were fed up with daytrippers coming for the beach and not the garden. Whatever the reason, I was very happy to get down to the sea. The water was reasonably clean and seaweed free in one corner of the beach, so I immersed myself there, and felt infinitely better for it. The beach is quite invisible from the coastal path, so I was happy swimming and exercising in the nude, until, that is, a launch motored into the cove. It might have been a coastguard or a fishing boat, we weren’t sure. In any case, I was fairly sure we weren’t doing anything wrong since beaches cannot be private. Ironically, we would only be trespassing if, because of the presence of the boat, and in front of it, so to speak, we went back onto the path, to return to our route. In any case, I put my clothes on. The boat hung around for a bit, and then disappeared. I left Adam alone, so he could have a swim too.

It’s a beautiful walk along the coast. We saw hardly anyone else, until we got back near to Kingswear, where the views are splendid east and west. On the outskirts of Kingswear, there’s a gate and a sign saying ‘Construction, beach closed’ or similar. We’d seen it on the way out. On the way back, though, a woman and two children were emerging through the gate, so I asked if it was possible to swim on the beach. She said it was. I also recalled a notice on the ferry concerning protests that the local authority was doing nothing to ensure the reopening of the beach. So, of course, Ads and I descended. It was a much easier and shorter journey than at Pudcombe Cove, and the little beach was far prettier and cleaner. It wasn’t so private, in that we could be seen by any passing boat, and by builders working on a nearby house, but the swimming was fantastic. We stayed there quite a long time. I went first, keen to get something to eat, which turned out to be an ice cream, and while I was walking through the crowds on Kingswear Station, by the ferry dock, where the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway terminates, I realised I’d left my glasses on the beach. Adam arrived and bought himself an ice cream, but then kindly went back to collect my glasses for me. I sat in a corner in the shade reading my book (Ballard’s ‘Millennium People’).

Back in Dartmouth, we returned to our favourite cafe for tea and cake. I wanted to do some shopping so Ads sat on the riverside reading. I found a great clothing store, where I bought FOUR hats (at less than a fiver each), three baseball types, all logo free in nice muted denim colours, and one beige brimmed hat. I’ve been thinking about buying such a hat recently, and this one fitted me perfectly. Adam liked it too, and purloined it for a while, although, when I offered to buy him one, he declined the offer. I also bought a pair of a schooner-type shoes, just the type I’d been looking for for ages, but which are so out of fashion you can’t even find them in Marks or Debenhams. I’d have been quite happy hanging out in Dartmouth for the rest of the evening, but when I asked Adam if he wanted to try and find the dead rabbit cove he appeared enthusiastic. We caught a bus up that long hill to the car, and drove a couple of miles to a car park very near where we’d stayed in 1993. From there it was a short walk, across a picturesque wheat field with large cylinders of packed hay silhouetted against the blue sky on the curve of the land, to the coastal path. We walked a bit east, and then west before we found the dodgy track that took us down to one of the coves. I was sure it was the same track and the same cove that we’d taken years ago. Quiet and secluded, I could swim nude and Adam could mess around on the rocks. Then, while I was doing my exercises, Adam humped big boulders into a pile thinking he might dam the tide. He thought he was succeeding, only the tide was going out not in. In my diary I had called this Smuggler’s Cove (and it may have been the original cove I used for the story ‘Trapped’), but on the map there is no Smuggler’s Cove. I’m fairly sure it’s Redlap Cove. Back at the car park, which had a pleasant grassy area, we ate the picnic supper I’d bought in Dartmouth, while listening to Joni Mitchell playing loud from the car stereo.

We then drove past Blackpool Sands, which looks like a perfect beach, and Slapton Sands, which like Chesil Beach is a long pebble spit with a mere on the landward side, stopping at both places for a few minutes. It was nearly dark by the time we got to Kingsbridge.

My tentative plan for day four and five was to go to Torquay and embed ourselves in a B&B for a couple of nights. This would give us a chance to read and write, to go to the beach, and take it a bit more easy. I thought Adam might want to hire a windsurfer or surfboard and I’d buy him some instruction, but he took strongly against the idea, and said he would prefer to spend the time on Dartmoor.

Again we chose a three hour walk from the Landranger book as the focus for our endeavours. On the way there, though, we stopped to look around Widecombe-in-the-Moor, which is little more than a heritage village, with a very pretty church, especially viewed in the landscape from above in the north, several tourist shops and at least two large tea rooms. All the shops and tea rooms don’t open until 10:00, which coincidentally is the time the first coach parties arrive. Ads and I looked around the church, which is pretty inside too, light and spacious, with many painted bosses on the ceilings. I read inside that the churchyard contained the gravestone of a writer whose pen name was Beatrice Chase. I searched in vane for the cross, and for her real name. But I’ve just looked her up on the internet and this is what I found. Olive Katharine Parr lived from 1874-1955 and was known as ‘The Lady of the Moor’. She was a direct descendant of William Parr, brother to Catherine, the sixth wife of Henry VIII. She lived at Venton Cottage, on the outskirts of Widecombe, and wrote many books, amongst including ‘Through a Dartmoor Window’, ‘The Heart of the Moor’ and ‘The Ghost of the Moor’. But she died penniless at the Newton Abbot Infirmary. This is interesting because I mentioned to Ads that I’d been unable to think of any great literature that emerged from Dartmoor, apart, perhaps from Conan Doyle’s ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, or even any authors who had lived on or near Dartmoor. (My playwright in Kip Fenn, Finbar Oakley, of course retires to Dartmoor.)

We took tea in one of the tea houses, before driving a couple of miles and setting off up Hound Tor. The walk itself didn’t take us up the Tor, but Ads was dead keen to climb it first. So we did. It’s a popular Tor, though, with a car park so close by. There were people climbing it already when we started, and, on our return several hours later, there were hoards of people. Adam much preferred Sheeps Tor in the mist. From Hound Tor it’s a short walk along a grassy track to what is called a ‘medieval village’ (named Hundatona) on the map. One can see the shapes of stone houses, and even steps carved in stone, but I don’t know anything about it. It reminded me of the pre-Roman villages in Portugal, but, since this one is called ‘medieval’ I suppose it must be only 1,000 years old, not 2,000. These two or three walks on Dartmoor have given me a great thirst to read more about the archaeology of the moor. One of the books I had borrowed from the library talked about the Beaker People, in the Bronze Age, as being the originators of almost all the ancient stone monuments, but I’d never heard of them before.

The walk took a complicated course through tracks and woods. Adam and I must have been talking a lot for I don’t remember much. We did take a diversion, though, along a river, a lovely river with grassy banks, like many on Dartmoor. At one place I was able to disrobe and splash around. I also went for a walk up the river, from moss-drenched boulder to moss-drenched boulder - it’s a beautiful feeling. Adam discovered a great place for foot massages (where one could sit and puts one’s feet between two rocks with the water streaming over them). A little further on we tried to find Becka Falls, which is prominently marked on the map. Well, we found the entry point, and lots of people and cars, and a sign saying it costs £5.50 to enter! We made a cursory attempt to walk round and to see if the falls could be seen from somewhere not on private land, but I figured that if the owner was charging so much, and it was so busy, the chances were fairly high that the falls would be well enclosed in a gorge and not accessible accept via the owner’s land.

At a place called Water, we stopped at a ghastly all-purpose pub, with no one in. We shared a tuna sandwich (£3.50) and a pot of tea for one. The young man behind the bar who took our order had to work a till with a screen that looked more complicated than the most complicated fruit machines. Kindly, he brought us two plates, two cups and two sets of cutlery for our single order. Later, I heard him tell another customer that he was the landlord and that his parents were looking after the kitchen. He and the place seemed very organised, tidy, clean, special menus, different bar areas, a garden, and I wondered if he’d been to a pub management school. He must spend sleepless nights trying to work out why no one comes to his perfect pub. I can tell him. It had zero character. Before opting for a mini-sustenance at the pub, we trekked up to Water itself, drawn by the prospect of a shop, since a post office was marked on the map. But, on talking to a dog walker, we discovered the post office had closed many years ago.

We had to find somewhere to stay, and headed for the nearest campsite. It proved to be very full, with the only pitches available, either close to other tents and caravans or on sloping ground. We mulled it over for a while, and decided to check out another place. But we couldn’t find it. Instead we ended up at a car park with an information centre. There I worked out that the only other campsites were on the edge of Dartmoor, near the A38, and I didn’t really want to drive there. However, an officer at the information hut explained that we could actually camp on the moor, under certain strict conditions (written out in a free magazine). So, Ads and I decided we’d do this. But first we ended up driving back to Ashburton to get food. We stopped for a few minutes by a river so I could have a swim (in the Dart near Buckland Bridge), then we drove to the car park at Combestone Tor not far from Hexworthy. We were there before 18:00 which meant we had lots of time to kill before it was worth setting out across the moor. Ads climbed atop the tor to write his diary, and I went for a walk down into the valley to Dartmeet and back. The walk down, through grassy tracks, with the evening sun glinting across the meadows, was so delightful it felt like I was in some kind of paradise.

When I got back, Adam and I had a bit of testy argument. Then it became too late and dark to go out on the moor and pitch the tent, so I just took my sleeping bag and went to sleep behind the tor. Near full darkness, though, I suddenly got scared that Adam might be frightened, and so I went back to find him. But, he was OK, he’d set himself up with his sleeping bag, nearby me (very quietly for I hadn’t heard him) but just out of sight. In the night, it began to drizzle, which was fine, but when the rain started coming down in torrents I was forced back to the car. I hate hate hate sleeping in the car, but it wasn’t too bad with the comfy sleeping bag and duvet. When the rain seemed really bad, I put on the car lights expecting Adam any second, but he never came. He stayed out the whole night - brave boy. But he was lucky the rain didn’t last long and his sleeping bag managed to stave it off. Sensibly, he had also put everything but his shoes, I think, inside his bag. In a crisis, he always tends to act very sensibly.

14 August 2004

The Olympics began last night. The Greeks put on a spectacle, of course, but I don’t think it compared well with Sydney, although my memory for these things is not great. And this morning, the games are under way with swimming and rowing on the television. Also today, the third test against the West Indies at Old Trafford should resume, after a lost day because of rain on Friday.

I must return to Dartmoor for one last visit. In the morning, Adam expressed interest in doing a walk on his own, and, separately, he’d chosen a walk near Combestone Tor. So, after a bit of breakfast from the boot, I walked us to a point on the tour, and Ads set off in one direction, and I went in the other. It was a fantastic walk, again like walking through heaven, on soft grassy banks, past rivers full of moss-covered boulders, and ancient trees growing out of ancient stone walls. Several times I had to cross stepping stones. At one point I was able to have a morning swim, in the Dart again, without fear of being observed. Later, the walk took me across the side of Yar Tor which was clad in flowering gorse and heather, beautifully so, and lovely young ponies scampered around between the bracken tufts. Adam seemed to have taken a long time, since I was three-quarters of the way round before I met him. I thought maybe he’d fallen asleep or gone wrong somewhere, but he claimed not to have done. I stopped at Badger’s Holt for a ghastly greasy breakfast (I’ve never known mushrooms so full of fat), but at least the tea was hot and wet. On the way back up from Dartmeet to Combestone Tor, through the fields I’d walked the previous day, I stopped to read ‘The Economist’ which I’d been carrying around for days. The sun was shining and the fields so like garden lawns I could stop and lie down to read anywhere. Near Combestone Tor, I stroked a few of the old and gnarled and semi-bonsaid hawthorn trees that have such a character.

I waited nearly two hours for Adam to return. I spent part of it reading, and part of it talking to an old rambler who was waiting for his wife who was leading a ramblers tour. He had recently had an arthroscopy and was recovering. He told me about his many walking trips to the Alps and the Rockies, and never asked me a single question, nor even listened to anything I had to say. The thought of tea drove us to Blympts Farm, which I’d passed on my walk, and where there was a teahouse. It wasn’t very far away. Adam stayed reading in the tea room, and I went for another swim, more or less in the same place, after which I did my yoga exercises in the rain.

15 August 2004

It’s a Sunday, and a very quiet one too. I haven’t spoken to anyone since I called Adam briefly on Friday morning to tell him about a hop picking job I saw in the local paper. Apart from that call, I haven’t spoken to anyone since Thursday night.

Since I finished writing up our Dartmoor walks, I’ve been focusing on Pikle business. First, I had to finish off the website. This required setting up an ordering page, and, in order to do that, I had to decide on payment options, and in order to set up payment options, I had to sign up to PayPal, an Ebay company, which allows people to transfer and pay money to each other. This was a slightly involved process, and involved me in creating four different pay buttons. And then I wanted to create a link to Amazon, as Amazon will be the only way (apart from direct purchases) to buy the book.

I had given some thought to the relationship between the main pikle site and the kip fenn site, and decided to treat the kip fenn pages slightly different, not to advertise directly a link from Kip Fenn to pikle, but to allow any website visitors to Kip Fenn to find my other stuff on pikle if they look for it. So www.kipfenn.co.uk in fact leads to www.pikle.demon.co.uk/kipfenn.html.

I wanted to write about a few things I read in ‘The Economist’ last week. I didn’t know, for example, that in Mongolia voters have the right to vote wherever they like, a right which stems from their nomadic traditions. As a consequence, at the recent elections the long-ruling communist party lost power, partly because the opposition party bussed its supporters across the country to vote in marginal constituencies.

The cover story concerned sport and drugs. ;The Economist; is advocating a much freer regime in which sportsmen and women should be allowed to take what drugs they like within reason. It argues that some of the drugs currently illegal are no more or less damaging that some training regimes, and that, before long, people will in any case be able to alter their make-up with gene therapy which will be undetectable.

An article on the housing crisis in Britain, especially in the South of England, suggested that the crisis is caused by an imbalance in supply and demand, and that this could be resolved if those landowners given planning permission for new housing developments were to be obliged to compensate those whose properties’ values might be negatively affected by the development. Such a system would reduce the number of people complaining about and opposing proposed developments. I’m sure this isn’t a new idea, but it’s the first time I’ve heard of it.

An article on languages in the Europe Union informed me that English is becoming even more prevalent following the most recent enlargement. While official documents now have to be translated into 20 languages, almost all informal work takes place in one of three languages: English, German or French. While English has been growing in dominance since the last enlargement (when Sweden and Finland joined), there was some expectation that German might see a resurgence when the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland became members (as they are very much within the German business sphere or influence), but not so. The Germans seem much less interested and active than the French in propagating the use of their own language. Apparently, English is now the second language in all but one of European countries with Romania still teaching French as the first foreign language.

In New York, a new website is setting out to match up editors with freelance journalist contributors, as if they were males and females on a dating site. It seems to be working quite well. An article on scientific publishing was very interesting. I’d read before about major moves to open up publication of science research, but this article didn’t seem to think much of the idea of free publication (there being costs which have to be met by somebody, and there being a need for some quality assurance in the publication vehicle) but gave credence to two ideas: a legal obligation on publishers to make all science research publicly available after six months (the internet, of course, makes all this much more feasible); and a system whereby researchers or their organisations pay a reasonable but acceptable fee for publication.

An obituary of Henri Cartier-Bresson informed me that, for the last 30 years of his life, he eschewed photography, living quietly and refusing to allow himself to become any kind of celebrity. When interviewers asked him about it, he retorted that if he’d been divorced they wouldn’t be asking him about his ex-wife. The French government even delayed the announcement of his death so that his request for a quiet funeral could be carried out before anyone knew he had died.

18 August

Kip Fenn will be here tomorrow - all 800 copies of him. He’ll fill up the house with boxes, and these will haunt me for the next year or more (probably until I eventually move when I’ll be able to take them all to the dump). I got a bit of a shock on Saturday when the dust jacket copies arrived - they were glossy and shiny. I’d expected them to be the same as the proofs and the sample book I’d been sent months ago - with a kind of matt sheen. For some reason the dust jackets now look dark and gloomy when they didn’t before. I talked to TJ International on Monday morning, and they said it would cost nearly £300 to re-do them (the TJ quote clearly stated ‘gloss laminated’ and I should have enquired more carefully about that). I did consider paying out the £300, but this would have meant delays in production (and I had to worry about being away from the 28th). In the end, I decided to stick with the gloss jackets because of a vague feeling that the darkness and greyness of the design might be even more so in matt, and that, at least, the glossiness gives the book a bit of glossiness. I don’t like it, but I decided that it might better promotion/sales wise.

I had another hiccup yesterday when I discovered that, despite being registered six weeks ago, the book is still not appearing on the central book database run by Nielsens. It is from this database, managed by the same people who look after the ISBN Agency I think, that Amazon knows what books are on the market. Kip Fenn needs to be listed on the Amazon site before I can sign up to its Advantage system, which will make the book much more readily available and quickly. So, I’m waiting to hear back from Nielsens today about that.

I’ve bought several boxes of padded envelopes. I’ve printed off some ‘return to sender’ labels to stick on the back of envelopes. I’ve created a database of people to sent the book to. There’s seven library suppliers, and 40 reviewers so far on it. And I’ve created a four-side A5 brochure to stick with the book when I send it out. I’ve designed the front page of the brochure to look a bit like a letter, and I’ll personalise it with the editor’s name if I have it. But I’m working in such a vacuum. I mean I know NOTHING about book marketing and promotion. For example, my biggest headache at the moment is bookshops. Despite having read several books and having scoured the internet I still don’t understand how I can, at the very least, offer Kip Fenn to large book chains. I know that I can go round to local bookstores, books in hand, and try to talk to store managers, but that’s very labour intensive, and if I were a store manager, I wouldn’t want to waste time on a salesman who was only offering one book. The most useful and practical information on this matter I’ve found relates only to people publishing books with local information; and I can see how much easier it would be sell a book about Guildford to shops in Guildford. But I’ve found no information on how to approach Waterstones or Smiths as a chain of stores.

20 August 2004

I’ve tripped up to London today, Friday, to visit the City Business Library. I’m not sure I’d been there since I was doing preliminary research for EC Inform-Health, at the very zenith of EC Inform’s existence. This time I went to find out a bit more about the book publishing industry, and thus what more I should be doing or trying to do to market/promote/distribute Kip Fenn. In the library, there were a few industry market reports and several directories, and I did manage to build up a slightly better idea of what goes on between publishers, wholesalers, distributors, book shops etc. But, on the whole, the exercise has left me more depressed than I was before.

Adam got his AS results yesterday, They are not bad, but they’re not very good.

24 August 2004

I played volleyball two Sundays ago. It was a real pleasure, a fast and furious training session. But, although my knee held up perfectly well, it seemed to suffer afterwards, and even now, 10 days later, it’s still recovering. I have been on a couple of runs, but then I thought I’d better not do any more, and give the knee a chance to recover before I go away on Saturday. Today, for the first time, the BBC broadcast team volleyball, a women’s quarter final between Korea and Russia. It was a joy to watch. There have been several beach volleyball matches, but they are boring to watch in comparison. I’m hoping the team semis and finals will also be on in the next few days.

Adam is working his way through various university prospectuses he picked up at an open day earlier in the year. But he’s finding it very difficult to pick and choose what courses or what universities to be interested in. And I can’t help him much. I don’t have any confidence in my ability to know what is right for him. I am gently advising him against English and Philosophy and towards Economics, perhaps with politics or philosophy. But I’m not convinced I should be. I’m probably most sure about arguing against English - I think it’s a grossly over-egged university subject, and too many people come out of university with a mediocre degree in English and not the faintest idea what they want to do with it. I think the study of English literature is indulgent and purposeless for all but the very few who go on to be academics or to pursue a lifetime of interest in the subject. But I am less clear about what to guide him towards. I picked on economics because it’s the only subject which would allow Adam to profit from his knowledge of and skill in maths, and because it’s a very useful subject. I would argue for him to do a degree with politics rather than philosophy because I think it’s a more useful discipline, but he only got a C at AS level, plus he’s always shown more passion and ability in philosophy.

September 2004

Paul K Lyons


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