PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2004 - NOVEMBER
3 November 2004
George W Bush has won the US presidential elections. This is great news for friends of the Bush family, and bad news for the world. For four years, Bush has surely been constrained by wanting to win a second term of office. After all, any president who stands for a second term and doesn’t win is going to feel pretty pissed off about it for the rest of his life. I so wish that had happened to Bush. It seems bizarre and ridiculous and dangerous that the world’s richest and most powerful nation should be subject to dynasty rule. What odds would a statistician give on one man and his son both becoming presidents of the US - astronomically low. Consequently, the only conclusion is that power and money breed power and money, and that even in the world’s greatest democracy (ha ha) power and money can subvert democratic processes. (I have not been following the election very closely, but with the BBC obsessed by it, it has been difficult not to absorb some of what’s been happening. I was particularly interested to see that the US president can use the presidential aeroplanes and helicopters for campaigning - that can’t be right.)
Although there is only a light breeze, it has been raining leaves this morning. It’s as though the cold of the night killed a new batch off, but they hung there till the wind got up. As I cycle out along the drive to buy a paper, I notice a gust blow a dozen large virginia creeper leaves from the house wall. The virginia creeper leaves went a lovely colour this autumn, but the vine leaves haven’t - they’re just mottling brown and dying. But I’m not complaining. The vine has been splendid with dozens and dozens of bunches of grapes hanging prettily down in front of my office window and from the porch beams. I can still see one bunch as I write. Occasionally, the blackbirds perch on one of the vine’s thicker stems and peck the grapes from the bunches.
I spent a couple of hours this morning cleaning the oven. At the weekend, Cora noticed the rubbish down the side; and yesterday when I was boiling potatoes, I heard a strange bubbling sound. It was fat in the under-tray. Ugh. I’d cooked chips at the weekend, and some oil had spilled over, and joined with several year’s worth of other dross that had fallen through the hot plates.
Sometimes in the day, I stop for a moment and remember that I’m in a relationship. I have to tell it to myself several times over. It seems unreal, not right. I notice that I’m not different, that this fact about myself is not affecting me, in this moment or that moment. It’s as though the news hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s a surprise. Am I really ‘seeing’ someone? Do we really get together at weekends, and go walking, and watch television, and make love, and talk about everything and anything? Why aren’t I different? If I were to receive a card tomorrow telling me that Cora didn’t want to see me or talk to me again, would I feel anything? As I write, here and now, it feels like the answer would be NO. I’d just accept the information and carry on, as if nothing has happened - just as I appear to be carrying on now as if nothing has happened, even though my verbal, emotional and physical language with her says something different. Am I pretending involvement? am I acting?
We have talked about the future, in different ways and at different times. I have said there isn’t much we can do or plan before the spring. Cora needs to finish her course, and look for a job, and I need to find out what I’m going to do workwise. I also said that if we do survive as a couple until next spring, but then decide there’s no way forward for us, it will not have been time lost for Cora. She’s still young and vital enough to find herself a suitable husband, and, hopefully (this is what I said) the time with me will have helped her sort out what she wants in life.
What about what I want? It’s a question Cora puts to me now and then, especially when I’m appearing too focussed on her life. And it’s a damn good question.
8 November 2004
When I confiscated Adam’s last marijuana plant about a month ago, I hid it in the boot of my car, with the spare tyre. We had several amusing conversations about where the stash might be, Adam trying to trick me into revealing where it might be hidden, and me trying to work out exactly how much time he’s actually spent looking round the house, especially when I’d asked him not to. I hinted the stash might be at Cora’s because that way, I thought, he might be tempted to stop looking. I did also promise him he would never find it. I didn’t think about the hiding place at all, but it was a good choice since the only time Adam did look for it was when I was out, having used the car to go out.
I mention this now because we’ve just had another conversation about the weed. He smelled ash in the blue room, and I had to confess that Cora and I had smoked a spliff there last night. One thing led to another, and I felt it only right to tell him that I had dried his marijuana in the oven, and broken it up. He was most outraged that I hadn’t separated out the buds from the weed, because, he says, the buds give a different, better high. I was a bit alarmed at the level of his knowledge about the stuff.
His weed is a bit stronger than the dried cannabis I still have in a jar from 20 years ago when I grew it in Iverson Road, but not that much stronger. Cora and I smoked before going to bed. While stoned we had a revealing conversation. Cora asked me what my daemon (in the Philip Pullman sense) might be. I said an owl; and Cora thought hers might be a rat, and then changed it quickly to mouse, and then suggested I was a mouse trainer! And we also tried to think what each other’s daemon might be. She said mine be a deer, and then developed that idea into a stag! I was trying hard to be conscious of what I was saying, and said I thought Cora’s might be a golden tamarind, although I didn’t really know why.
10 November 2004
Normally I love coincidences but this was one too far. Yesterday morning, around 11am, I received a call from the Royal Society for Chemistry inviting me to an interview next Wednesday (17 November). I applied for this job about a month ago (it was advertised in the Society section of Wednesday’s ‘Guardian’, not the Media section on Monday). It’s for an EU policy coordinator. I cut the advert out without knowing whether or not I would apply for the job. The job itself sounded interesting, although I don’t have much sympathy with the chemical sciences. I think I was also attracted to the job because it wasn’t asking for any directly applicable job experience. The salary isn’t too bad at 36-39k, with five weeks holiday. I also like that it’s not a commercial job as such, and that it’s more about co-ordination than lobbying. Any how, I filled out the application form rather honestly, and wasn’t expecting to get an interview. So, since this is only the second proper job I’ve applied for in 15 years (except for the Managing Editor job at FTBI), I was quite pleased to get an interview. It’s at 11:30 next Wednesday, a week today.
I then went out for a run, and when I came back 20 minutes later, there was a letter from English Heritage inviting me to the next briefing session in this area. This is the only other job kind of initiative I’ve taken all year. I’ve prevaricated over voluntary work for so long, and this opportunity to take photographs looked just up my street. I filled out a sheaf of forms a few weeks ago, and have been waiting for information on when and where the appropriate briefing would take place. The letter told me it would be in Hove at 11:00 next Wednesday morning! How could fate do this to me. I apply for two jobs this year, and both require my presence at exactly the same time, on the same day before I can proceed with either of them. Eventually, I rang English Heritage and I’ve been squeezed into a briefing session in Bury St Edmunds at 6:30 on the same day. So I’ll have to proceed to there from Burlington House (where the RSC is located). Having rearranged my day, I then discovered that tickets I’d bought for Adam and I for the London Jazz Festival (a band Adam wants to see) are that very same night - meaning I wouldn’t be able to go. Sometimes life sucks.
I should also mention that sometimes life rocks. Cora came down last weekend (the weekend that ended with our getting stoned and falling asleep in the blue room). For the first time, though, she came down on a Friday night (very late) and stayed until Monday morning. This was the longest we’d spent together since being in Sri Lanka. Remarkably, we are still having such a nice time together. In the evening, we went to the Chiddingfold firework display, arriving in time to see the torch procession, to look at the various stalls, to drink mulled wine, to watch the massive bonfire (and listen to the tedious commentary on its making), and to get slightly bored before being rewarded with the fireworks themselves. There were a lot of people there, many seemed foreign, and so I wondered if they had come from London. Certainly, there was a park and ride service operating from the Witley station. With the fireworks, Cora and I got a bit silly, like teenagers, I suppose, bouncing around each other in explosive movements mimicking the firework exploding in the sky. I very rarely feel self-conscious with Cora, and that’s a magic she has.
Sunday would have been a ride down to the coast, and walk around Bosham perhaps, but for the fact that Cora roped me into going to have lunch with her parents. A cousin (the one she works for sometimes) with her five year old son Sam was lunching chez Preston also, and Cora thought it would be easier for a first meeting if there were others present. And so it proved. Cora drove us round the M25 to where her parents live in a fairly built up area. I didn’t much like the cousin who did a lot of talking and kept the conversation focused on material things: shops, brand names, mobile phones (she was genuinely horrified that I didn’t use a mobile phone). Cora’s parents seemed very easy to be with, ready and willing to talk about anything and everything. It was all very informal, we simply sat down and ate from a spread, what and when we wanted.
I talked to Cora’s father in the garden about the house and its building, and later we sat in the lounge talking about not very much. Somehow the subject of safety belts was raised, and Cora cornered me by saying I don’t wear them, so I had to explain as best I could. On the way home, we deconstructed the encounter lightly, and Cora seemed to think it went well. For my part, I was glad to meet the parents, and I wasn’t really even slightly worried about the fact that I would be closer in age to them than their daughter. I think I liked them more than I expected to.
In the evening, we went to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre (with Adam who walked down from B’s house) to see ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’, a film about a short interlude in Che Guevara’s life, during the first half of 1952. And an excellent road movie it was too, romanticised perhaps, and over-interpreting the impact of the few months travelling, perhaps, but excellent nevertheless. I loved the way it showed the hardships of travelling, and the delight in small encounters with ordinary people. Both Cora and Adam came out of the movie wanting to do some travelling.
I finally bought one of those expensive Unibind binders that I’ve been coveting for years. The salesman came round last week to demonstrate the system (it’s simply not available in shops or even on the internet) and it seemed as good as I expected. I bought the very simplest machine. The price started at £350, but he let me have it in the end for £275 (I didn’t really bargain, I just said I’d been give a price of £300 on the phone). And I bought 30 hardback covers for a further £100. I’d already prepared about 12 diaries ready to bind (I had a whole ream of double-sided print-outs guillotined into A5), and, once the goods came on Monday, I couldn’t resist binding them all up. The system is so simple and effective, and I’m pleased with the results.
12 November 2004
A few days ago I wrote this in my diary, with the intention of trying to discuss it, as if it were the topic of the day, but I never got further than posing the question: What about what I want? And now I’m faced with a job interview next Wednesday. If I work hard for the interview, and get offered the job (rather unlikely), taking it would a life-changing decision. Consequently, I need to do a bit of ruminating, projecting, thinking forward. I’ve tried this morning, but haven’t got very far, so I thought I’d try to think by writing, or rather rambling.
What do I want? What do I want? What do I want? I can’t answer this question, I need to rephrase it: what would I like? I’m fairly sure I’d like to be in a relationship, a satisfying one. Not an imagined fairy tale one, but one with enough pluses to clearly overshadow the negatives. If I can’t be in a positive, loving relationship with intimacy and shared caring and a shared intelligent approach to life and its difficulties, I’d rather be alone - as I have been. Unfortunately, and bizarrely, I don’t have enough history (or I’ve changed a lot since when I did have history) to know enough about myself to know whether I could be content in a relatively ordinary relationship. So far, my experience with Cora - two months now - has been surprisingly positive. I would not have imagined that I could start a serious relationship so quickly, so easily and for it to be so problem-free. Before Barbara, I suppose the last time I actually paired up with someone was Rosa in Brazil. But I always knew that would be a short-term relationship. Before Rosa, the last time I seriously became involved was probably with Ann, over 20 years ago. So, the verdict is still out on whether, even though I would like to think I want to be in a relationship, whether I’m capable of it in the long term, and thus really do want it.
What about work, which is the main topic of discussion here. If I pull out my past jottings on the subject (I have a yellow folder in which I store all the bits of paper on which I’ve tried to calculate logically a future path for myself) I find a detailed analysis from December 2003 on five options, but a year has gone by, and I can perhaps try and reassess those options. [. . .]
The conclusion - which actually now in the writing of I am surprising myself - is that I do need to get a job, get plugged back into the world. And since I’ve found very few jobs in the last years which I’ve thought interesting or worth applying for, and since I’ve now actually got an interview for one, I should go for it. If I get offered the job, I’ll get another chance to decide whether I want it or not; and, if I take it, it’s not the end of the world. If it leads me to deciding I want something else more, then so be it.
As for the RSC job, I have been thinking about my own view of the chemical sciences, and why or why not I’d be happy working to promote them. And I realised that there is something unique about the chemical sciences, which might explain why the RSC is apparently so big and successful. I haven’t checked but I’m sure it’s bigger and better than any Royal Society for Physics or Royal Society for Biology. Perhaps I am being gloriously self-beguiling, but I can see why the RSC might be more interesting than an RSP or an RSB. Physics seems too dry, too connected with mechanical engineering perhaps, or astronomy or pure science; and I don’t find it very interesting. Biology is probably too far removed from my academic or professional experience; and, despite my MSc, I’m not very interested in health or hygiene or agriculture. Although I’ve never been very interested in the chemical industry (working with Tony Cox for two years was enough to put anyone off), I can see the chemical sciences (now importantly overlapping with physics and biology) as being a very exciting area. The RSC is not a poor organisation. It’s located in Burlington House on Piccadilly (and in Cambridge) and has an extensive publications range; and it’s publications provide the biggest slice of its income.
I seem to have strayed off the point (what do I want?) to discussing with myself the merits of the RSC job. There is a part of me, though, that looks ahead and imagines a life working for the RSC, living with Cora, having children, and being very busy and very ordinary. And, it doesn’t frighten me! Something in me is saying if you get this chance - with the job, with Cora - it might be your last; and, at the same time, those kind of distant vague dreams that I had for myself, as a writer or someone with an extraordinary life, seem to be getting more distant, more vague. Could I have lived the life I have lived, done what I have done, and still end up with a lovely young partner, and reasonable job and standard of living, and some standard happiness for a few years? Or is this the depressed (as I’ve tried to explain the word above) Paul talking; would this be me giving up, or growing up?
14 November 2004
The first frosts of the winter, a mild one two nights ago and a much harder one last night. Puddles were still frozen on the Common late morning, and there was ice in a bucket of water in my garden this afternoon. But it was a glorious day, bright, clear and sunny. Cora came down last night, after her day at college and spending some time with a friend at a hairdressers in Muswell Hill. We ate fish and chips and watched the first Bridget Jones movie. Yuk! I’ve always held a strong prejudice against Fielding/Bridget Jones, as I have against Townsend/Adrian Mole and Hornby/About a boy. There’s something obnoxious about these people who become famous on the back of being very ordinary writers writing about very ordinary things. Any how my prejudice against Bridget was only confirmed by watching the movie (which ‘Radio Times’ gave five stars). Yuk!
Today - as quite often in fact - we talked a lot about relationships and our respective pasts. I challenge her thinking on lots of things. Perhaps I’m trying to catch her out, or prove to myself there’s no hope for us in the future, but she always leaves me amazed at the quality of her thinking and understanding, and her understanding about the extent of her understanding. She is sensitive, and thoughtful, and caring, and intelligent, and lovely - and I still can’t help but be astonished I am here, in a relationship with her.
Arafat died last week. His illness was short and sweet. He was taken to Paris for medical care and died within a few days. His body was flown back to Cairo for a state funeral, and then to Ramallah, where hoards of Palestinians paid homage to him. A flawed hero if ever there was one. A man of his people if ever there was one. Perhaps his passing will allow a new era in Middle East politics, but who can tell. The Israelis have been so hard line for years now, I suspect they are likely to see Arafat’s death as an opportunity to get themselves a better deal. Bush, soon after a private meeting with Blair (Bush’s first with a foreign leader after being re-elected), spoke about the Middle East situation. I thought he was really patronising, patronisingly offensive in fact. He said America could help the Palestinians but only if they chose to follow the path of democracy - we can help you guys, he said, but only if you do as your told.
18 November 2004
It’s been an exhausting 24 hours, mostly because I was so tense about the interview at the Royal Society of Chemistry. On Tuesday night I met Lucy at Richmond to see a French film called ‘Look at Me’, about an overweight girl and her famous father and a few people around them. It was vaguely interesting, just about relationships really, fairly ordinary ones at that. The film clearly eschewed any real dramatic drama, preferring subtle tones, which is OK, but it didn’t really have anything new or different to say, I don’t think. It wasn’t boring as such, just not very interesting. It was nice to see Lucy, who I haven’t seen in ages now. We only talk for a few minutes before the film and for an hour after, so we don’t have much time to do other than swap news. She talks about her two girls, her job, her visits to the ballet, and Tim’s photography. I noticed that I didn’t feel very easy in her company - perhaps this is because we’re so out of touch, or because I’ve got used to being so comfortable in Cora’s company.
From Richmond I drove to Willesden Green - my newly bought suit and trousers, and my briefcase full of chemical sciences notes in the boot. It was nearly midnight when I arrived, and Cora ragged me a bit about being late and having spent so much of the evening with someone else. I slept fitfully for most of the night. Cora left at 8:30, and I stayed behind in the flat to continue reading my notes, and practising my five minute presentation. I arrived at Piccadilly half an hour early, and so strolled round Waterstones and the Jermyn Street shops.
A few minutes early I arrived at the RSC. A young blonde lady called Joanna took me to her small office in the back of the building. She asked me lots of questions about my abilities and how I could demonstrate them in things I’d done in the past. She made it easy, and I always felt my answers were being viewed in a positive light. She took lots of notes, but I’ve no idea what she would have decided about me at the end of the half hour. Then, I was interviewed in a meeting room by a panel of four: the directors for communications, education, and science and technology, and a lady in charge of administering the European federation. I don’t think I handled the interview very well. I was too nervous at the beginning, and I’d probably over researched the little five minute task I had to do. At times, I didn’t seem to get a handle on what they were really asking me. And then as the interview wore on, I became too casual, too informal. And I didn’t ask enough questions, not questions to impress them but for me to understand about the job, and to ensure them that I understood what the job was about. I think they probably liked me, and they probably thought my views and approach were interesting and intelligent, but, at the end of the day, they are surely likely to choose a candidate who has experience of coordinating people, negotiating, and bringing groups round to consensus. I think they’d view me as a gamble, and if they had other strong candidates, why would they pick me? I wouldn’t pick me.
As I write it’s midday, and I’m 90% sure that they will already have contacted their preferred candidate. (I think Joanna said they would make a decision either on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning and contact the candidate directly.) But I’m not yet sure how I feel. Am I more relieved than disappointed? I don’t even know if I would have taken the job if they offered it me. I did try and think a lot about it yesterday, and I think I kept saying to myself that - were it offered - I would have to take it. But I couldn’t really project well enough. I did like the people I met, but I was disappointed to see that I’d be working in the middle of a large open plan office, at a desk without any privacy or storage space whatsoever.
I tubed back to Willesden Green, and then drove out to the North Circular, up the A10 a short way, along the M25, and then onto the M11. I stopped at services after a couple of hours, changed my clothes and slept in the car. Then, I went into Bury St Edmunds and wandered around looking for a chip shop. I didn’t see much of the place, except for all the shops. It struck me - as it has done again and again - how we used to shop for what we need, but nowadays shopping has become an end in itself. Shopping centres are little meccas; it’s obscene this obsessive pursuit of money simply to spend it obsessively.
The English Heritage briefing was held in a country hotel, called the Grange, about 10 minutes from Bury. It was a pleasant old worldly place with a huge log fire in the lobby, and an old, round shouldered lady, apparently doubling up as the receptionist and tea waitress. I was shown through to a small private room where chairs were laid out in a row and photos were being shown on a screen. I was asked to wear a name badge, and helped myself to tea (I was desperate - but would have liked a biscuit or two). There were about seven of us altogether and the two English Heritage girls who gave a 45 minute presentation each. They were both interesting and informative, and, for the first time really, I became excited about the project, about its organisation and its aims - photographing every single listed building in the country - all 370,000 of them. Volunteers are given a set of 40-50 targets, each a specific listed building, and are required to take a single photograph of each one. The Images of England project, as it is called, is looking for a ‘defining image’ of the building, one which includes the whole building, along with as much of the listed building detail as possible, as well as some elements of its setting and its function. But the challenge is not only to take one defining image (we’re only allowed one photo per building so much planning and consideration has to go into deciding which shot will be the best) but in many cases it’s going to be necessary to locate the building, and to get permission from the owner. I wish I’d found out about the project earlier in it’s life - it’s almost tailor-made to appeal to me.
At the end of the presentations, I was given a large folder full of papers, my targets and their descriptions, the photo list forms, the permission forms, expenses forms, leaflets etc, and a film. All my targets are in Tilford and Chiddingfold, and they seem to be mostly farm buildings and cottages. I shall probably try and do a reccy in the next few days, to see which ones might need permissions.
I drove straight back to London. At first I wasn’t sure I felt up to collecting Cora from her works party in Maida Vale (I’d felt heavy and tense all day and had held up on paracetamol), and thought I ought to go straight back to Elstead. But then I felt better, and decided to drive straight down the M11 into London. I worked out a route that would cut diagonally across to Camden Town on the A503, but I went wrong somewhere and ended up coming down the A10 into the city, which was two sides of a huge triangle. It took about two hours both ways.
Otto’s party was waning when I arrived to collect Cora, and so she was happy to leave. We drove back to Willesden Green, had tea and something to eat, showered. I slept reasonably well till around 5am, and then decided to come home then, when the roads would be empty. It took about an hour, and then I slept through until 9.
23 November 2004
A cold. A damn cold hit me at the weekend. I think I got it from Joanna, the human resources person at the Royal Society of Chemistry. It went the wrong way, starting in my chest, then going to my throat, and then to my nose. Hence I’ve had the sniffles for a couple of days, and felt pretty rotten. I’m feeling a bit better at the moment, because I’m on painkillers.
The RSC job did not fall into my lap. I had a very tense day, before and after the interview, worrying about it; worrying about whether I wanted the job, whether I would take it if offered, and how my life might pan out if I did. I didn’t hear from the RSC on the Thursday, the day after the interview, so I was fairly sure I wasn’t going to be offered it. A letter duly arrived from Joanna on Friday morning. It invited me to contact her if I wanted more detailed feedback. I wrote: ‘Thanks so much for informing me quickly about the job. It would be interesting to know who you chose, I don’t mean their name but what kind of professional or previous experience the person has. I did think you (plural) would not select me if you had other candidates with good relevant experience. But I was very pleased to have been picked for interview, and I certainly profited from the experience (despite being so nervous) - and I was surprised how much I liked you all! Good luck to the RSC with your European policies.’
She wrote: ‘We have not yet made a final decision but have narrowed down our selection to two candidates; both do have relevant backgrounds combined with relevant experience. We also feel that we need someone who has the confidence to represent the RSC at the level that this position demands. We felt that you perhaps lacked confidence in your own abilities, but of course this was probably because you felt nervous and because of your quiet nature. We all agreed that you were very pleasant to interview and had an interesting background. I am pleased that you liked us! We all enjoyed meeting you. Thank you again for your interest in the RSC.’
Was I relieved or disappointed. I was certainly very relieved when I found out I wasn’t going to get offered the job. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I was disappointed not to have done better at the interview, especially as I did put quite a lot of time into it, and, because, in the end they seemed to judge me on false factors.
On Friday, Cora came down, from her parents, where she’d had supper. And she left fairly early in the morning to go to a weekend course. On Saturday, the weather was quite promising, so I went out to have a look at the listed building targets I’d been given in Tilford. My main objective was to reccy Crooksbury House, because there are six separate listed buildings in the group. I hadn’t thought it would be a problem, but, nevertheless, I parked on the main road, and walked up the drive without my camera. I couldn’t work out what building was what, but went to what looked like a front door. A grumpy old man answered. I should have got his name, but I didn’t. He was very against the whole Images of England project, and the idea of his property appearing on the internet. At first he seemed not to know what I was talking about, but after a while I discovered that he had in fact checked the IoE site to see whether any pictures of his house had been added. The man seemed interested to talk to me, and was quite happy to complain about his trouble with various institutions in the past, but there was no way he was going to give me permission for taking the photos. He didn’t own all the listed buildings, but he wasn’t going to tell me who else I might be able to approach, and, besides, he owned the drive from which other photos might have been taken.
This was a very poor intro to the project for me: six whole listed buildings vetoed at a stroke. I went to look at the other Tilford properties, and they all looked like they needed the owner’s permission. I decided to proceed another day. On Monday, I went to the Chiddingfold area, to make a start on the targets there. I had slightly better luck, and managed to bag seven targets (although one I stole by straying off a footpath, to cross a field). I had one refused permission, and one big house where the owner wants a formal letter from English Heritage. Overall I quite enjoyed the process, the map reading, the house identification, the talking to owners, the choosing of the one photograph. It can be quite difficult, though, knowing where to park, how to approach private drives, and houses of multiple ownership.
Here’s my testy email to English Heritage: ‘Having made an initial circuit of some of my targets, I wish to raise an issue before asking for some help. I’m making this comment because I was specifically asked for feedback at the briefing session recently, but, at that time, I felt the briefing was as good as it could be. It’s my impression that almost all targets I’ve been given are difficult. Many are along private drives (and I wasn’t really briefed on how to deal with private drives, or multiple ownerships), and every target so far has required an owner’s permission, which is sometimes awkward and can be time consuming. This leads to me to question: 1) why these targets were returned to you without any coding (or why you allowed them to be returned without any coding, when the photographer had done every other target in the area)? 2) why they’ve been given to me without any warning that they were likely to be difficult? 3) why, if you know the targets are getting harder, you don’t adjust the way you expect your volunteers to work. I mean - and I think this is a very important point - it’s a very different task to take 30 defining image photographs when one can choose 30 relatively easy targets (call this task 1), than to take 30 defining image photographs when all the targets are difficult (task 2). It’s quite possible that task 2 could take four or five times as long as task 1 - and yet you seem to have made no allowances for this in your current expectations of volunteers. 4) similarly, why, if you know that the targets are getting harder, don’t you adjust your briefings to take account of this - i.e. by spending more time on how to deal with difficult targets or approaches for permissions, two skills which become more and more important as the targets remaining get more and more difficult.
Now, to my specific requests. [. . .]
I think that’s all (more than enough) for now.’
I follow a very slow car along the Shackleford Road. Inside are four women, all dressed up and with very grey hair. The car’s exhaust exudes rolls of smoke, in whirls, just the same shape, and just the same colour as the ladies’ hair.
The house has been burgled, badly burgled. All the equipment has gone, and the thieves have even taken the pictures from the walls. I look outside and see a strange car in the garden, but think nothing of it. Then, when I am inside again, I realise the car must belong to the thieves, but when I go out again the car has gone. I find, in another room in this house, a silvery grey suit. It comes as a complete surprise, having bought a new jacket and trousers last week, because I’ve completely forgotten I have it
I’ve had an argument with Cora today, it’s our first. I probably started it.
Adam’s been mending his bike, and talking about ‘Finnegan’s Wake’!
24 November 2004
It’s time to give an update on Kip Fenn. While preparing to publish the book, I would say to myself, and other people, it’s quite possible that I won’t sell a single copy. It was the worst case scenario, but I was ready for it, psychologically speaking. Heh presto. My worst case scenario has come true. It’s like when I decided to leave the FT, my worst case scenario was that I wouldn’t even be able to buy EC Energy Monthly (having naively hoped to buy three newsletters) and that I’d have to set up from scratch in direct competition to the FT. On the one hand, it’s probably a good thing that, when I take risks. I’m prepared both financially, practically and psychologically for the worst case scenarios; but, on the other hand, it would be nice if once in my artistic/creative life I could get a lucky break. That will be some achievement, not to sell one single copy. It’s embarrassing professionally, because I’ve set up a whole company, a bank account, VAT registration, and without any income at all, it’s going to look very suspicious.
About two weeks ago, I sent out a stream of personalised letters to all those who’d been sent a review copy (except to those who’d been sent an email and replied). It was meant to be provocative. All in all, I got about eight replies, some by letter, some by email, and some by phone. Only two were interesting. Suzi Feay at the ‘Independent’, in her email, sounded both apologetic and cross at my letter, so I ended up sending her a longer personal email. And a man named Christopher Arkell, at the ‘London Magazine’, returned my letter with a note scrawled on, saying he’d like to meet me. I rang him this morning, and it transpires that he wants to teach me a lesson (this is my interpretation). He’s invited me to come and help him choose which books he sends out for review. He said I should have a look at the ‘London Magazine’ before I respond, but, if I don’t, he’d like that even better because he’d be very interested to know how I’d go about choosing books for review! For a moment or two, when I first saw the note, I was quite excited. I imagined that he might want to review Kip Fenn for the illustrious ‘London Magazine’. But then I did some research on the internet, and found Mr Arkell to be deeply right-wing, and a raging Eurosceptic. I couldn’t imagine he’d look at Kip Fenn, and like it. I’m now basically at the end. Kip Fenn is finished. It has vanished from the face of the earth, except for the seven secondhand copies available through Amazon and other websites. What a miserable end, to a large part of my life for the last three years.
26 November 2004
It’s Friday morning, and the week has been blighted absolutely by my having a cold. This morning I coughed up a dense mass of ghoulish green phlegm. But it’s also been blighted by a first serious rift in communication with Cora, and a first crisis of confidence in each other. At least on my side, I’ve over-indulged in thinking about what’s going on between us. Because our lives are very different, I’ve allowed Cora, basically, to fit me in whenever it suits her. In general I’ve felt she’s done this sensitively, and carefully. In response, I’ve been attentive and giving (always preparing so that she has a nice time on her trips to Russet House), and available. But in the last two weeks, she stopped making any effort. [. . .] On the Monday evening I snapped briefly, and she, in effect put the phone down on me, so on Tuesday morning, I sent her an email, trying to explain why I felt she was starting to take me for granted. But why can’t I just accept Cora as she is? I should not be wanting her to be someone different? unless she’s really behaving badly or selfishly, why should I even be trying to change her behaviour. I’ve always had this problem of expecting too much from people. She’ll tire of me before Christmas.
Funnily enough Fiona MacCarthy was brought in by Front Row this week to comment on the play at the Almeida, ‘Earthly Paradise’, which Cora and I are going to see next week. I’m two-thirds of the way through MacCarthy’s biography of William Morris, but I’ve skimmed a lot. She goes into too much detail about ordinary practical aspects of his life, and this she can do because he wrote so many letters, and so many people wrote to him; but I question how interesting a lot of the detail is. And also, because of the detail, I’m losing some sense of how Morris managed to be so influential and successful in his various ventures, moving from writer to artist to businessman to politician. MacCarthy does try to find explanations for everything, perhaps too much though, perhaps in too much detail, therefore missing the broader-brush explanations.
I’m making slow headway with the David Sloan Wilson book on altruism (‘Unto Others’); it’s also too detailed for me, if I’m honest, going into very convoluted explanations of behaviour from both psychological and philosophical perspectives, often only to show that specific ways of looking at problems aren’t valid or don’t in themselves invalidate the theories of egoism or hedonism.
Paul K Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG