DIARY 80: September - December 2004

14 September 2004

Back from Sri Lanka. I’m not happy with the journal I wrote while I was away. It’s far from finished, since I’ve lots of sightseeing kind of material still to catch up with. In terms of the chronology I’m only on the third day, although I have written lots of bits about later days. It’s not a good diary for several reasons. I don’t think I’ve written anything very well, not descriptions of places, or people, or my reaction to either. There’s no kind of intellectual reasoning about ideas or literary ramblings inspired by them either either (because either can be pronounced in two distinct ways this unusual combination either either can be said in four different ways!). The book I used didn’t have a hard cover, and I think my handwriting is better with a hard cover book (although it did have an attached piece of elastic to keep the book closed tight, and I found this very useful because I could leave the pen actually in the book, rather than have it floating around in my bag). The weather was mostly hot, and I don’t much like writing with sweaty hands. Probably the single most important factor undermining the quality of the book was a lack of time. Even though I slept poorly and stayed up late, and was up early, I never had time in interesting places to write al vivo - at a temple, in a museum, or while visiting an archaeological site. All the touring and sightseeing was conducted very busily, and with very little time at each place. Another reason for the diary blues is that, as the tour went on, I socialised more - and then there was Cora, which left little time for the diary.

I decided at the time to leave Cora’s story out of the holiday diary and to write it up on the computer when I got home. So here I am, now, about to try and record how and why I’ve become involved with Cora.

My first memory of seeing Cora is not at the airport when the tour members were gathering, or at the first hotel when we were waiting for our keys, but of her taking photographs on our first tour around Negombo. She was very into taking photos, and, momentarily, I found she was doing so a bit pretentiously, a bit forcedly. But, I cut my judgmental thoughts off as quickly as I could, because I knew I’d been the same or worse, and who was I to disrespect someone else’s interest or actions. Perhaps I thought her photo-sense was too obvious, too touristy, but, later, I found that despite the frequency and intensity of her photo-taking she carried no pretensions about her ability or skill at all.

The next thing I remember about her is that B (of Pete and B) pointed her out, when we were all still trying to get to grips with each other’s names, and said how pretty she was. I was surprised that I hadn’t really noticed her until that point. The next specific recollection is of me being asked by someone in the group about what I’d been doing, of me briefly summarising an uninteresting walk and cheap meal, and Cora saying something sarcastically, across the table, about it being a ‘big adventure’, and me replying rather vaguely as I was leaving the group that it was hardly a big adventure. I think I felt, from that moment, that Cora herself was wanting a big adventure, or wanting to be able to have a big adventure.

At some point we had various discussions together with other people (I found it very difficult to be alone with Cora, she was always group oriented, I suppose) about why they had opted to pay for a single room (Sheena’s explanation was straightforward, but Cora’s was more complex, about wanting to be self-sufficient and spending time alone). In one of those conversations, I explained about my own fear of coming on these groups and having to share a room with people I might not like. She asked me if I was challenging myself in some way, and I said ‘yes’. She admitted that coming on such a tour was a self-challenge for her also.

It was probably on the minibus that I finally got to ask about what she did and where she came from. I learned that she had studied fine arts, worked as a picture researcher, and spent several years organising an archive. More recently, though, she had trained as a counsellor and had begun placement work, counselling students. I also learned she had a culturally Jewish life, and was an only child.

There were two moments towards the end of the first week that are worth recording. The first was at Giritale, where we had a really fun evening at dinner (was it the first time, except for the first night, that I’d chosen to eat the evening meal with the group - it may have been), much helped by the fact that Sheena, Chris, Cora and I were all sat together at one end of the table. When the meal was finally over, after all the drama of Stewart’s jumbo prawns being burnt, the five of us moved to the lounge to carry on drinking. I chose a group of five chairs partly because I wanted the five of us to carry on having a good time, partly because I didn’t want to have to sit with the others of the group, and partly because I saw an opportunity to get to talk to Cora, if only she would choose to sit next to me. In fact, when Cora arrived at the group of five I’d chosen, she stood behind the one which was furthest from me, and asked why I’d chosen this group of chairs and not the larger one, the implication being that I was trying to split up the group. Cora wanted to reaffirm her position that sticking together as a group was good. As she put me on the spot, I tried to answer her, explaining about the inevitability of group dynamics, and admitting that I thought the five of us were having a good time together. And I moved immediately to the larger group of chairs. The other four followed, and when the rest of the group came over, I found myself sitting next to Jumbo Prawn King Stewart and having to talk to him about politics, when all I wanted to do was talk to Cora opposite me. I made various quiet complaints to Sheena on my other side (who laughed with me about the situation).

I didn’t see much of Cora at Sigiriya. She chose to have a big adventure on her own. She hired a cycle, I found out later, but it wasn’t the best time or place to do so, and she got caught in the tremendous thunderstorm, the one in which I so enjoyed standing on the boulders in the small lake.

On the way to Kandy, Mahesh said we would be doing some sightseeing in and around the town including spending an hour at a cultural show before going to the hotel. On the bus I quizzed him about this. I wanted to know why we couldn’t go to the hotel first. I imagined Kandy to be quite a small place, and that it would not be time-consuming to travel through it. When Mahesh couldn’t really answer the question, I proved a bit insistent. It wasn’t so much for me, I just thought it would be so much better for the group if people could shower and change after the longish day in the bus. When Mahesh continued to provide no explanation, I eventually desisted, and apologised and said it really didn’t matter. The group had made fun of my why -ing, but there was a bit of a strained atmosphere after my pressing Mahesh. Cora turned to me and said I had sounded really angry, and I apologised to her too, and said I hadn’t meant to sound angry, it’s just that I couldn’t understand Mahesh’s position. (Later, I did understand - Kandy was much bigger than I expected and it took a long time to drive around it - although, to be fair to myself, the cultural show place was only five minutes away.) Although initially resisting my position, Mahesh did in fact change his mind, and announced to the group an hour or so later that we would be going straight to the hotel. I then felt really guilty because I thought we’d be missing out on the botanical gardens (one of the sights scheduled for the afternoon), but Mahesh had simply rejigged the schedule so we did it on the way out of Kandy.

In Kandy, the group of five had a bonding session. I managed to persuade the others to skip the group dinner that evening and come out with me to eat at a local place. We ended up at The Captain’s Table, and had a great evening. This was a week into the tour and it was the first time, anyone but me had eaten anywhere except in a hotel designated by Mahesh. And the next day, emboldened by that adventure, the same group braved a walk around the market with me, enjoying the real sights and sounds of Kandy. Part of the pleasure of this excursion was buying the ingredients for a Cuban cocktail planned by the others. Thus Cora bought the mint, I bought the limes, while Sheena and Chris bought the rum and soda.

On day eight, during the drive to the mountains and the tea plantation, Cora and I actually sat together on the bus. This was unusual since the double seats were mostly taken up by the couples. It gave us a chance to talk a lot - something commented on by B later. During the first night at the tea plantation, we all got quite merry on the Cuban cocktails, and there were discussions about what people would do on the following (free) day. I put forward several suggestions and gently tried to encourage the group of five to come with me. Sheena prevaricated, and the rest of the group prevaricated with her. The next morning, over breakfast Sheena and Chris were quite clear they didn’t want to do anything too energetic, but Cora continued prevaricating. I was all packed and ready to go, and felt like disappearing, but I kept hesitating out front, and coming back to the breakfast table to see if anyone had made up their minds. Eventually, as a last ditch effort, I talked across the group to Cora directly and asked if she specifically wanted to come. She hesitated, and then I said that I’d really like her to come, and so she did, with some trepidation it should be said.

The plan I had decided on was to bus or hitch to a place called Kithagull, where parts of the film ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ were filmed. One guidebook also talked of a waterfall which one could bathe under. Cora and I walked to Maskeliya where we just missed a bus to Hatton. I had thought we might be able to hitch more directly to where I wanted to go, but we ended up taking a tuk-tuk to Hatton because we were told all the buses to Kithagull go through Hatton. The journey took an hour, but it was very beautiful along the valley, overlooking the lake, and passed the line of flowering flame trees. Once at Hatton we soon found a bus, heading down the A7 to Columbo which would go through Kithagull. There was only one seat, so Cora and I took it in turns, the other standing. We were told it would take about 45 minutes, but it took 90. At times, the journey seemed interminable, especially after passing Gingathena where the bus filled up with loads of people who had been to market, and then stopped every minute or two to let them off. I felt very guilty about dragging Cora on such a long journey, and when we did finally get to Kithagull there was very little there. I couldn’t even find a place where I was happy to eat. We were both tired and thirsty and hungry. We walked up and down the little village, without finding any trace of a sign to the waterfall (although we did see the river which is right in the middle of the village with two bridges, one looking very like the one in the film) or an eating place. In desperation, we followed old signs to a hotel. The name of the hotel seemed to change on the way, and as soon as we went off the main road we got lost, ending up at a police station. But, when we asked where the hotel was, the replies seemed reasonably positive and so we let ourselves be led. The track seemed to get narrower, and the jungle thicker, and I was convinced we’d end up at a dead end. But luck was on our, or my side, for after walking 100 metres or more on from the police station a small tourist lodge appeared. There were no tourists there, but a small group of staff welcomed us, showed us onto a delightful terrace, pulled up the blinds (revealing that we were right next to the river), and provided hot tea and simple food.

It was a magical place, and a magical time. We talked and rested, and ate and drank, and were very easy and happy together. We had travelled a long way for nothing in particular, but since Cora didn’t mind, how could I. Towards the end of our time there, the rain started up heavily, and then very heavily. As we stood around watching the rain, and waiting for a moment to leave, I kept thinking I have to make a move now, this is the right moment, if I’m ever going to try and start something it has to be now, after this special time, in this special place. And yet I didn’t want to ruin the day for Cora. I didn’t want her to think I’d just taken her out to make unwanted advances towards her; I didn’t want her worrying about whether she’d given off inappropriate signals, or acted in any way to encourage me. I didn’t want her holiday to be tainted by the thought of an old man leching after her. I kept saying, do you think we should go now, and Cora replied not yet (the rain was very heavy, but there was also a question of time, and the difficulty of getting home). And, when I realised I’d been given another chance, I did finally speak. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I might be. She was far away, on the other side of the table. I wasn’t even sure she heard me properly or understood my intentions. I asked if she had ever considered having an affair with an old man like me, and that I thought she was very lovely, and that I wanted her to know I was interested. That was about it, she smiled very broadly, but said nothing.

Oh yes I forgot to say, that I had begun to fall in love with her smile and her wide open light blue/grey eyes which I’d seen more of in the last few days. When I wasn’t with her, I kept experiencing them in my mind’s eye, wanting to see them more.

And then it was time to go. We got very wet just walking back to the road, and once on the road I was beginning to worry about how and how long it would take us to get back. Cora had never done any hitching, but was happy to take my lead. Within very few minutes, luck struck again. This time in the form of John, a marvellous cultured Sri Lankan who drove us all the way to Hatton, and, thereby ensured our safe, and relatively pain-free, return. We never quite got dry in John’s van, and Cora was a little frustrated that he stopped for tea (which allowed me at least to go to the toilet). From Hatton we took a tuk-tuk which wasn’t quite as enjoyable as the one out, but at least we got back to the tea plantation in reasonable time. Cora took the tuk-tuk back on her own, and I walked the last bit. I got a bit lost, and as I was wandering on the tea plantation tracks in the rain, a young woman caught up with me and offered to shelter me under her umbrella! Cora, meanwhile, back at camp suggested we had fallen out as an explanation as to why we come home separately.

That night was arrack night. So called because Mahesh treated us to a bottle of arrack and a bottle of Lemon Gin. It was good arrack, and when the bottle was finished, and Mahesh saw us having such a good time, he brought out a second bottle of Very Special Old Arrack, which was even nicer, and went down even smoother. As a group we had a really fun evening, although at times I wondered if only some of us were doing the joking and the laughing and the other half were only watching. Sandy, especially, became very funny when drunk, and she and I seemed to be on the same giggle wavelength. A bit later, when the group had broken up a bit, I found myself sitting on the steps outside with a few others. Cora was on a step below me, and I would whisper in her ear every now and then, some comment about the conversation or people, and then, in a moment that went as quickly as it came, I kissed her on the neck. She didn’t flinch, but nor did she acknowledge it in any way. I was a bit drunk, but I hoped the action had been made without anyone noticing.

That night I slept out in the hall, as I had done the previous night. In the morning, I discovered that Cora had also escaped the women’s dorm, and slept in the lounge room. Later she confessed that she hadn’t slept at all, having been thinking about my proposition. She had considered, at one moment, coming to my sofa and lying down next to me! In fact, I was very unsure about what to do. I was aware that Cora hadn’t given me any negative signals, and that we had got on very well, but I had no idea what else I could or should do. I really didn’t want to make a clumsy physical move, but then I couldn’t see how else to proceed. I think I thought that Cora was flattered by my attention, but determined to keep things platonic, and who was I to push for anything else.

The next day was the day on the train. Four of us were fairly solid by this time, so we kind of picked a place on the train where we could be close, but I found I wanted to stand at the carriage ends in the doorways, and Cora joined me there. There were longish tunnels, and I wondered whether, if I’d been standing close to her, I would have tried to kiss her. Later, she said she’d wondered the same thing. But we drew closer emotionally during the journey, and Cora mentioned the kiss I’d given her the previous night.

Following the success of arrack night, I had promised to buy my own bottle of arrack, and Cora had been quite encouraging about the idea. I didn’t think I actually would, but, once at Banderawela, I did find myself going out to buy a bottle. I stashed it in my room, and left it there. That evening was much quieter and everyone was rather restrained over dinner and afterwards. Cora had said several times that she’d not slept the night before, and so I expected her to go to bed early. But she didn’t, she stayed up drinking, and I stayed with her. No one wanted the arrack, so I left it in the room. Then, as the evening got later and later, so everyone else went to bed, except Cora, and she asked me to get the arrack. I did. The bar closed, we moved to the lounge, just the two of us, and then, when she finished a game of patience, she turned to me to say she wanted to discuss what I had said a day and a half earlier.

I was close to speechless. I told her I’d never discussed having a relationship before having it! At first I wasn’t clear where the conversation would go, but when I realised that she was, in effect, saying yes, I became very emotional, and cried. I explained how I hadn’t known any intimacy for so long, I wasn’t even sure I was capable of it. After talking for a while, she took me to her room, where we kissed and cuddled and talked and kissed and cuddled for a long time. She asked if it would be OK if we didn’t make love, and I assured her that was fine. We were both very tired, and yet I couldn’t sleep. So around 4am, I crept out and went back to Chris’s room. I couldn’t sleep well there either, such was the pumping in my heart and the excitement in my head.

Then came the long drive to Unawatuna. I had asked if Cora would sit next to me on the journey, but somehow that didn’t work out, and while Cora was at the back of the bus I was at the front. It was a horrible day, and I was sure Cora would be having second thoughts about a relationship with me. Also, because we were being very careful about giving away any signals to the group about our tentative relationship, it felt we were very distant. When the night came, I was far from sure whether Cora would want me in her room, or invite me. I made arrangements to put my mattress on the floor in Chris’s room (because the beds were so close together) in case Cora’s room wasn’t on offer. But when Cora went to her room, I waited a few minutes and followed her - her door was open, she was expecting me but was worried in case I’d forgotten her room number.

Making love didn’t come easily. There was a wave of passion, but then my head got in the way, and I was afraid of doing the wrong thing, being the wrong person, not being able to satisfy her, or I don’t know what. I lay there for a long time, half apologising and half trying to say it would be all right, and that this wasn’t my normal behaviour. Then Cora suggested I drink more arrack. Instinctively, I rejected the idea - as if I would need a crutch to get in touch with my sexuality. But then I relented and took a swig or two. Thereafter, the lovemaking came more easily. I found Cora far more sexy and sensual than I had imagined; it was very very nice. But, as is the way with new lovers, making love took much of the night, leaving little time for sleep.

The next day was the day at Galle, and my trip to Koggala. There was an awkward moment late in the evening, when I was sure Cora didn’t really want me in her room a second night, and I think Cora was worried that I’d prefer to sleep. So it was only very tentatively that I ended up back at her room. But the sex was better, and we managed sleep too, despite the noise of the air conditioning system. The day after was the trip to Jungle Beach, and by now we’d become very comfortable together. We tried to spend time alone on the beach, but were surprised by B and Pete. I don’t know if they put two and two together or not, because they never made a comment or teased us in any way. That night, the third night, at Unawatuna was even easier between us. We had started talking about sex and what we liked, and moved fluidly between passion and talking and joking.

By the last day, the travelling day, we had become a couple. It was no longer relevant whether anyone knew. We sat together on the bus, we walked around Columbo market together, we moved through the airport together. During the couple of hours at the Grand Oriental, Columbo, Cora came to my room to give me a present - a wooden turtle she had bought at the turtle factory place, and I gave her the little silver box I’d bought with the bus ticket, the bus ticket she had given me back, as though it meant something special.

We had talked a bit about what would happen when we went back, and how it would be very different, but there was no signal from me or from her that we wanted to let things go. We talked more about our age gap, and how she might deal with it, and whether it would be a problem. I told her that I thought it would be very difficult given her extensive social networks, and the relationship with her parents; and then, when she thought things through, she found herself getting quite angry at the thought of other people not accepting her choices. At one point I also told her that she need have no fear that if she wanted to stop the relationship that I would pursue her in any way - it’s not my way, I can’t do it. I always assume people know what they want. Cora had talked quite a lot about her last relationship (which sounded very unhealthy I have to say - so unhealthy, in fact, that when she moved she wouldn’t even tell the guy where she lived).

At one point during the last day Cora realised she didn’t have her flat keys. This led her into a series of communications with her parents who were away for the weekend, and to an elaborate arrangement to fetch a spare set. I did initially offer that Cora should come with me, but she didn’t seem at all keen on the idea. By the time we had arrived at Dubai, I began to think that it would be a really good idea if Cora came with me. It would be the minimum amount of moving for her (and her pack was very heavy), and I could drive her home in the evening when her flatmate would have returned. It also seemed a good way to bridge the end of the holiday and for us both to see each other’s homes straightaway. Cora then agreed, and seemed happy at the idea, and when she got a text to say that actually someone had arranged to take a spare set of keys to her flat and put them under the mat, she still decided to come with me, even though it was no longer necessary, and I’m glad she did. Thus we even left Gatwick Airport together, which must have been strange for the other members of the group we said goodbye to.

We came by train to Guildford, took a taxi to Elstead, and then biked together to Spar to get something to eat. After ham and cheese sandwiches, we showered and made love, and then I drove her to Willesden Green, where she made me tea, and I looked over her arty flat. I then went on to see my Mum.

15 September 2004

How do I feel? This is a really interesting question. It is a most extraordinary week, and yet I feel much the same as ever (although my innards haven’t yet recovered from the change of diet and climate - I adjusted much easier to being in Sri Lanka, than to coming back to England - I’ve been crapping too often and too little.) On the one hand this is the week when finally I am sending out Kip Fenn to the world. Some 80 copies are or will be winging their way to prospective reviewers. If I’m not excited about that it can only be because I’m preparing myself for the big cold zero, the nothingness cubed, the complete and utter failure of the book to attract any attention whatsoever.

What about Cora? For the first time since I was in Brazil, I am in a new and potentially serious relationship. I should be elated, if only because I’m getting laid, or taking part in some intimacy, or having someone love me a little. But I don’t feel much different from normal (with physical elements - tiredness or headaches for example - filtered out). I’ve written in my diary about how I felt really fine, happy, sometimes; it didn’t seem to matter that I wasn’t in a relationship. Intellectually, I’ve always been unhappy about this, but emotionally I seem to have been very stable in the last few years. But I would have expected to feel different knowing there was someone out there who is thinking about me, writing to me, calling me, and with whom I’ll be meeting up in a few days. If anything, I’m probably a bit disturbed - I worry about our conversations, about our emails. I worry about the relationship - not much, but enough to occupy mental space. Perhaps I’m finding it a bit difficult to adjust, after all we were together almost constantly for four or five days, and now there’s a week gap before we meet again.

Is this who I’ve become, someone so emotionally stable (or empty) that it feels no different whether I’m on my own or in a relationship? It can’t be what Cora wants, surely, someone who needs someone else so little?

And then there’s Adam. He is growing up so fast, and maturing so well. I am elated about his enthusiasm for doing politics and economics at university. And this should be making me feel, well, elated and happy.

But I honestly don’t feel any happier than usual - despite all these good things around me. It is the daily swings of moods that affect me more, the feelings of hunger and satiation of tiredness and lethargy. My mind can drift off and remember the Sri Lanka holiday and Cora and that gives me some pleasure, but they are not suffusing my body or affecting my daily rhythms.

I also find it interesting that I cannot project where the relationship with Cora will go. I feel quite insecure about it, because we are so different and have such different lives, but this week, so far, Cora has given me no cause to be insecure. We’re emailing and/or phoning several times a day; and she’s been telling friends and family about me. But how will the relationship work in practice. Will her youth and reliance on so many friends and her Jewish network end up boring me, or driving me to distraction; or will she get bored spending time just with me away from all the bustle of her normal life? Will she decide, as I’ve suggested, that she shouldn’t be wasting valuable time with someone with whom she has no possible long-term future; or do we have a long-term future. The very fact that I can’t see where this is going or is likely to go is itself, I think, positive. Perhaps I was a different person on holiday, someone with more free energy and more time for banalities, perhaps I was a younger person; and perhaps I won’t be able to keep up with Cora’s momentum, or go in and out of being the person I was on holiday when she rings or when we are together, and not when we aren’t.

Friday 17 September

Now, I’ve sent out all the review copies of Kip Fenn, over 80, at a cost in excess of £250. And all I can do is sit back, and hope, and wait. If I don’t get a single review, I think I will be so very disappointed. No I don’t think I will, I know I will. How could I not be. After all, that’s why I’ve gone to all this bother and expense. No, it’s not the only reason: I needed to take the whole business this far (the production work, the costs) because it had to be done. I’ll never be able to say I shouldn’t have bothered, because I know I should have bothered. If the book doesn’t get any attention, I will not believe it’s because it’s not good enough. That might be my arrogance, or some cock-eyed attempt by my mind to keep me sane, but it won’t really, I’ll have to move on any way.

Cora remains much on my mind. I’ve been building a very different picture of her from phone calls and emails than I was left with at the end of the holiday. I can’t quite resolve the two people yet, nor am I quite sure why. She’s very involving, in the sense that it feels like we need to be in touch several times a day. This is her way, not mine; and I’m bending to it. I don’t know where that will lead to.

20 September 2004

It’s Monday, and this is the first day of the rest of my life. That old chestnut is taking root in my day. I sit here, at my desk, writing on the computer, wondering what to do with the rest of my life. It’s not something I haven’t wondered before; and no doubt I’ll spend some more time in the future on the same topic. But this morning, this Monday morning, it’s a very relevant subject. I have no plans for tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. No project on the drawing board waiting for my time; nor even a plan as to how to work towards a project. It’s a void.

For the moment, though, while I’m drinking morning coffee, I can spend a few enjoyable moments writing my diary, and recording a most wonderful day yesterday. It was, I suppose, about as good as it gets: two new lovers, full of passion and time for each other, and with no sign of shadows yet hovering on a horizon. It was a week in which it was difficult to hold on to the sense of the relationship I’d established with Cora, not least because she seemed a very different person on the phone and in her emails, and because in the short span of our intense involvement, we’d hardly been apart for more than a few hours until our return last Sunday.

Cora had various engagements on Saturday evening, but we’d arranged that she’d come down here on Sunday. But then she rang on Saturday and suggested she might drive down in the night after her parties. I hoped she would. I tried to stay up, but tiredness got the better of me. At 12:30, she rang - waking me - to say she was on her way. I dozed a bit, but couldn’t get back to sleep. She arrived around 1:30; we drank whisky and talked a bit before making love. It was a restless night for me; I didn’t sleep that much, and decamped to Adam’s bed for a while. In the morning, I read and wrote for a couple of hours, made rolls, and then drew Cora down for breakfast around 11am. We then went back to bed, before finally dressing around 1pm. As it was too late to walk to Tilford, we biked. We sat in the garden at the Barley Mow, and shared a roast beef lunch (which was tasty but overcooked). After cycling back we went blackberry picking, and then made an apple and blackberry crumble (using russet apples from the garden). We watched the Brazilian film (‘Me, You, Them’) I’d recorded a night or two before, and ate lasagne and salad in the middle of it. Around 9pm, Cora packed up her things and drove back to Willesden. I don’t know what we talked about the whole day long, but conversation was always easy, whether serious or joking, and there was almost no strain or tension between us at any time.

22 September 2004

On the phone last night, Cora tells me it is our two week anniversary. It was two weeks to the night that we first kissed and unleashed a passion for each other (although it was to be another night before we consummated that passion). If I think back to that night, and the time in Sri Lanka, it seems much longer ago than two weeks; but if I think about our relationship, it does still seem very new. I can’t quite believe we are in a relationship, it’s come on so quickly. I talk to Cora on the phone, usually twice a day, and swap emails with her, three to six times, but sometimes I have to stop and try and remember who she is. It’s easier now I have some photos of her - I can click one open and remind myself of what she looks like. Also two weeks seems such a very short time when I try to think what might happen to the relationship: what will happen to us over four weeks, eight weeks, sixteen weeks. It’s impossible to imagine it could go on for so long; and yet I can’t see what would bring it to an end, or how it might finish. For my part, nothing that has happened between us since we got back from Sri Lanka has made me doubt why I was attracted to her in the first place. She has a wonderful vitality about her; and she is smart and quick; attractive and generous; self-aware and sociable. From what I know about myself, this is not me chasing a bit of skirt, any skirt, desperate for sex after all these years - after all, if I’m honest I’ve had several opportunities, and my failure to follow them through has not been as a result of fear, insecurity or shyness (which I did worry might be the case) but because the women were not right for me. Cora clicked for me, there’s no doubt about it - Susie would say it was chemistry. I would say it’s because Cora is special; she’s a very special person.

I’ve just watched an Indian film called ‘Manthan’ (or ‘The Churning’). It doesn’t get more anti-Bollywood than this, ‘Time Out’ said. It follows the fortune of a vet and his team in trying to set up a milk collective in a village in opposition to a local businessman who has held a profitable monopsony for years, buying the villagers milk at very cheap prices. It’s carefully wrought drama, full of tension and interest, set around a small village, but saying much about the Indian people in general. Apparently it was financed by 500,000 Gujarati farmers who paid 2 rupees each.

It’s Wednesday of this week that marks the start of the rest of my life. Yesterday, I had a phone call from ‘The Western Daily Press’. The book editor wanted to know if I lived in one of the nine western counties, in which case he would have done an author profile. When I told him I was sorry I didn’t live in one of the western counties we got chatting a bit. He said he thought the book was really well produced, and he’d try and do a review for their book section in the Saturday section. Cruelly, very cruelly, the phone rang twice more that morning, but both times it was unsolicited salesmen’s call. I suppose, if I’m honest, I think I hoped for more responses by now. All the books went out last week, 80 or more. The fact that ‘The Western Daily Press’ did ring, only emphasises the fact that no one else has.

And what am I to do each day. I look at all the analysis notes I made a year ago, about what to do with my life, and the various options open to me. But I think I know them all so well, that I found no inspiration there, and no spark to set me off into deep thinking about it all again. I seem to me in a kind of faraway misty universe where I just float about doing nothing, deciding nothing, worrying about nothing (except perhaps the tidiness of Adam’s room, and his preparations for applying to uni).

25 September 2004

Martin Simpson plays on the stereo in the lounge, and Henry Blofeld comments on the ICC final at the Oval in the kitchen. England looks like winning its first one day international title. Beating Australia earlier in the week was already some achievement.

I had hoped I might get a first review of Kip Fenn today. ‘The Western Daily Press’ guy said he would definitely give it a write up in their Saturday book section. But I can’t find any trace of it on the website, and there’s been no activity on the pikle/kipfenn website (I have a counter that gives me a crude count). If a review had been published I would have expected some modest traffic (I mean two or three visits, NOT none). This is because I made a point of stressing with the guy who rang that it would be really useful for me if he could include the website address (www.kipfenn.co.uk). I do fully expect the ‘Farnham Herald’ to give me a plug next Thursday. A young lady (very attractive) came round with her notebook and pocket camera and interviewed me for a few minutes. She also took my picture holding the book. I was all a fluster during the interview (this despite the fact that she had only been in the job for three days and previously had worked for a company organising parties!). This was partly because I really don’t know how to answer questions like ‘why did you write this book?’ or ‘what are you doing next?’

But, unfortunately, I’ve had no other calls about the book, none. I tell myself that publications are going to need time to consider the book before deciding whether to review, but, somehow, I don’t think that’s the explanation. I think that on 80 or more desks or floors, the book is already buried beneath a huge pile of other publications which will end up, sooner or later, in the trash bin. I’m still of the opinion that I could end up selling not a single copy; and if that’s not the case, the second most likely scenario is that I sell two or three copies because of the local paper.

To more delightful topics. Cora. Yesterday, after our Thursday evening encounter, she sent me an email with this in: ‘How is it that things are still so lovely for us? I keep waiting for something to go wrong ... to be rumbled and not allowed to enjoy this anymore. My head is full of you, your lovely smile and hands, your voice and laugh....GO AWAY...I’m trying to work!’ It doesn’t feel like two and half weeks, and it does feel like we are really good together, and that we are having an incredibly good time. But I know something that Cora doesn’t. I know that I’ve had many short-term love affairs, and that she hasn’t had any. None. I know that it’s quite easy to be so giving and loving in the short-term; I know how to be intimate and loving quickly and easily without all the grinding hard work of establishing a relationship from which intimacy and loving should emerge. Cora doesn’t know that such affairs of the heart are not necessarily very real, nor that they don’t necessarily lead anywhere.

And what about me. What I’ve been trying to think about is what actually happened to end all those relationships I had in the late 70s and early 80s. I mean how did they actually end. And I can’t really remember. The only clue my diaries give me (and I’m typing one up from 1980 at the moment) is that I seemed to be involved with a lot of different women at the same time, and, evidently, not taking any of them very seriously. But, although I may be falling into this relationship with Cora as quickly and intensely as I did with women in my 20s and 30s, I am not the same Paul. I haven’t had affairs in the last 10 years or more, precisely because I couldn’t take intimacy lightly any more. I don’t know how two and half weeks will turn into five or 10 or 20 weeks, but I do know I really like this woman.

On Thursday I took Cora to a private view of Ed Clark’s latest photograph collection. It was held in Old Street, and the invitation from Lucy only came about because I’d contacted her out of the blue. We had one or two phone/email dialogues about this first outing together. They were quite sweet, mostly Cora worrying about whether I would show up with my trousers inside my socks. I was a little nervous when we met at Moorgate Station (Cora looked very smart in a brown jacket and long brown boots, which later proved her undoing, they were so uncomfortable), but I needn’t have done. We went to the gallery, spoke to both Ed and Lucy, and had a good time. The photographs, under the joint title ‘Still life’ were of the country’s only specialist geriatric wing in a prison, and were a bit grim. What I remember most, though, was that I really liked being at the event with Cora, we felt like a couple, testing each other just a bit, but in tune and happy to be together.

I’ve read ‘The Jungle Tide’ by John Still, and very good it is too. I did not expect to like it so much, I was just happy to have bought it, and to have it as a memento of the trip to Sri Lanka. But the old man I met at Negombo, he who first advised me of the book, was not wrong. It is a beautiful book, singing the praises of Sri Lanka’s flora and fauna, its geography and history, in such lyrical language. Even the poems, which act as literary conjunctions between the essays, are written with style and substance.

28 September 2004

I took Adam to the Yvonne Arnaud theatre last night to see a production of Terence Rattigan’s ‘Man and Boy’. It starred David Suchet who was good, not brilliant but good. The production was well directed by Maria Aitken, very well I thought. Coincidentally, on the way there in the car, Adam had been talking about economics, and wondering if banks lent out more money than they had. (I think he’d been doing some reading up in advance of filling out his UCAS forms). And the play was about a big financier whose success depended on confidence and liquidity! Also I was quite shocked to hear Adam talking so passionately about third world debt and poverty, and to acknowledge that I had written a whole book on the subject.

Sunday was another day spent with Cora. She came down late on Saturday night. We drank whisky, swapped a little chatter, and . . .

October 2004

Paul K Lyons


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INTRO to diaries