Saturday 4 April

Why am I always determined to chronicle my short-comings. I have wasted most of the day, and then I wasted more time, as follows. I rode off to West Hampstead library to see if 'Brave New World Revisited' would, by some remote stroke of luck, be on the shelves. Also I wanted to check whether my tape recorder was fixed. And I wanted to post a letter, and buy some paraffin. Well the bill for the tape recorder amounted to £41. I wanted to know what I'd got for my money, but it appeared there was no record on the bill. So, acting a trifle arrogant, I refused to pay until I knew what had been done. I left without the machine. There was no trouble at the library, but then there was no book either. On posting the letter, I discovered there was no collection after noon on Saturday, so the letter won't arrive in good time. And then, finally, to the garage to fetch paraffin. The wretched machine wanted 95p and I had all the right change except for 5p. The man in the garage didn't have any either and refused to accept that he should have. I said I wasn't blaming him, but that I just wouldn't give him my business any more. So, I managed to get nothing done, AND leave bad feelings behind me. I'm surprised the letter box didn't yawn and snap my fingers off as I placed the letter in its slot.

Mariel finally communicates: 'So broken promises. So what? Who cares? I do. I do. Time is the most precious jewel and still you glow as in its shadow. Don't care if you don't care. I do. I do. Hee Hee Hee. I have you in mind, two of a kind. I have you in thought, piss pot! I see you in rage and cage and old age. Hee Hee! I sing you a song, but you don't listen, asshole! Slips away into the den of memory. Would you dare? POETRY! So what good is love and letters. Give me flesh and eyes.'

It is two weeks since I started at European Chemical News (ECN). What does the future hold? My brain gets taxed - which is good. But I really don't feel this is my niche - industrial chemicals! But, it is a decision for the long term. I hope I made a right one.

Monday 6 April

The whole assembly of Lloyds Shipping Register, Fenchurch St, awaits my arrival. 12:00 sharp they said, but here I sit in a city coffee bar, where chips are sizzling in the kitchen, and waitresses are dressed in black folding the final napkin (good title for a Thomas Mann novel that, 'The Final Napkin') before the lunchtime onslaught. My cup of coffee transforms itself directly into a desire to piss. Woops, they are shouting, chanting my name at the Lloyds Shipping AGM. I must go.

7 April, Eastbourne

2nd European Congress of biotechnology. I feel slightly untidy here despite my suit and badge. Most talk is above my head and I fear asking questions in case I make a fool of myself among ATV documentary makers and Sunday Times freelancers. But I do pick up some of what is going on. There is a calm pool of scientists, but ideas bubble. Biotechnology is a new science, it is concerned with the manipulation and manufacture of the very molecules that make up life. It is concerned with changing iron into gold - an alchemy without magic. At present the only commercially viable production is among high cost/small volume products such as pharmaceuticals. Interferon, for example, is now being manufactured where previously it could only be taken from living cells, be it human or animal.

9 April

The Argentines say: Un pelo de concha tire mas que una junta de bueyes. (A pubic hair pulls more than a herd of oxen.)

The Corsicans toss a coin when a boy is born. If it turns up heads, it is said, the boy will be a bandit, if it's tails a policeman. If the coin lands on its side then the man will work for a living.


I heard you with deep reluctance sing
Of misquoted stories about your past
The rich jewelled prince with castle
The foreign lands with turquoise sea
Pitched high and pure with tremble tone
The half-caste throng believed all told
But I could see through your eyes of prison and pain.
The dark-skinned hero loved only slaves

Saturday 17 April, Brighton

Easter weekend. The sky is a perfect blue, the sun is streaming, but a cold wind blows. My mind is a little dull. I am sitting in the garden at Rosy and Andrew's - the family has left for Ibiza. The garden pond is slime brown-green and teeming with tadpoles. It disturbs me to see so many little sperms wriggling, wriggling after god knows what.

Yesterday, Bel and I lay in Hampstead Cemetery, sheltered from the wind by tombstones, just loving and smiling at each other amid the graveyard flowers and graveyard weeds. The times we meet are always boundless in laughter and love. She is a jewel. The rest of yesterday we repotted plants, cleaned windows and hoovered. Last Sunday, though, I hitched to Wilton, where Bel now lives above a launderette next to a busy main road and under a gongling church clock. And then we hitched to Stourhead.

Monday 21 April

I'm trying to catch up on various work-oriented aspects of my existence, i.e. reading the units connected with my Open University course 'Risk'; reading more of several books left unfinished; recording some Sibelius symphonies; thinking about my short story course. Peter is away in Wales. I said NO to Patrick who wanted to move in. Rosina where are you? Harold finds his feet in New York.

It was a good day in Brighton on Saturday. I walked with Patrick past the junk shops and teashops. He looked like an ugly teenager: dressed in white and yellow and carrying a cassette player. I discovered the splendour of St Bartholomews. I love the way the enormous expanse of unadorned brickwork dwarfs the the silver, gold, colours, statues, candles etc which are usually so prominent in Catholic churches. There are no pews, no structures inside. Instead, chairs are laid out in the centre of what feels like a big hall. My favourite church of the year. In the evening, Patrick, Flavia and I went to the cinema to see 'Ordinary People'. What a remarkably ordinary movie. It reaffirms Americanhood with a minimal amount of extra-ordinariness. Like a liquorice toffee, somewhere there's a nice flavour, but it's far too sweet.


Then, on Sunday I met Chris. We were sat at the same table in a coffee bar, and somehow got into a meta-physical discussion. We both seemed willing to compromise our standpoints in order to keep the conversation flow: he from a Buddhist-searching-spiritual plane and I from a rational-practical one. He had a very public school voice and was obviously intelligent, yet there was something controlled and mechanical about his manner, which reminded me of the Moonies or similar. He talked about 'The Study' and of three other people with whom he had been involved for six or seven years. When I asked if they were two couples he said there were no sexual relationships between them. Indeed, one of them had had a relationship outside of the group and this had caused serious frictions. He talked of a world journey they had made in search of truth on the streets of the earth. He said he knew Neil Oram who had squatted a farm near Boleskine (Crowley's place) in Scotland, and that 'The Psychonauts', as they call themselves, were parodied in Oram's The Warp. They were financed, he said, by a Scottish farmer who had become very interested in their quest.

Chris invited back with him to Eastbourne. Unfortunately he had misplaced his keys so we went to a nearby teashop but our conversation had slowed. Back at the rather large detached house in St John Street, we had just succeeded in using a ladder to get to an open window when Chris's three colleagues returned. The flat was spacious and impressively decorated with Japanese bronze dragons and a selection of Art Deco pieces. It was impeccably clean and tidy. Chris showed me around. There was a large room unused at the moment but reserved for a friend of John, a small bedroom for Chris and another young man, a small bedroom for John, a photographic room where John takes pictures, and a lounge. In the lounge, I sat down in the wrong chair and was asked to move. That was my first warning. The group assembled for tea. A silver teapot was brought upon a silver tray with porcelain cups and saucers. We were all handed a porcelain plate with an already buttered piece of toast. John sat in THE chair. He had a smug-chief attitude.

There followed ten minutes of punctuated conversation with a surreal edge: Chris to John: 'Paul is 28, has just had a bad year and has recently taken on a job. He finds it helps him to have a job, to establish a purpose.' Me to John: 'How do you fill your day then?' John to Me: 'Well, I think any of us could answer that, Judy for example.' Judy to Me: 'Cooking, cleaning, shopping, walking, all the things people do.'

With me, Chris had had some personality and was interesting, but within the group he seemed totally subservient to John and almost fearful of saying something insignificant or wrong. I did not feel threatened by these people in any way, not even there supposed tight-knitness. As I was leaving, I asked John if there was anything else he'd like to know about me. He replied scornfully that he could see enough. I retorted: 'Likewise'. It's a while since I've had such an interesting encounter.

I went on a Neo-Romantic splurge to the 'Futura Cabaret' in Wardour Street with Ros and her friends Rick and Kate, a dentist and actor's accountant respectively. Neo-Romantics I understand are the latest (and thus already past it) fashion-conscious youngsters. They wear black and white, lace and frills, turbans perhaps, and sashes; some manage to be highly individual, others awfully pretentious. At the cabaret, I got the feeling that the true Neo-Romantics had already been and gone. Amidst some terrible acts on a tiny stage there were a couple of gems. 'Big Table' sang songs like 'The Big Sleep' and most closely resembled American gangsters with guitars instead of machine guns (their raincoats left at home). Deirdre Simpson couldn't tap dance. 'Time and Dog' was all screeches, though others enjoyed his protest songs with a heavy metal harmonic style.

Tuesday 28 April

My first monthly report at work has described me as truculent and brusque causing me considerable pains of self-examination. It is undoubtedly true that I have been a little too carefree in my attitude. I did rather waltz around in my first weeks. Tonight I condescended to go for a drink with the other journalists, but they still managed to make me feel guilty when I left after half an hour to catch a train. Before taking this job, I had forgotten all about the pressures to conform. Since the warning, I am endeavouring to make myself super-nice and to work super-hard. They'll get used to me eventually as long as I don't get the sack.

How satisfying to have the house full of people again. Time begins to slip by as it must when the hours and minutes are too few to complete the necessary tasks, when two-thirds of five-sevenths of my waking life revolves around work. Evenings and weekends become precious, friends are slotted into schedules rather than schedules made around them.

The Catalan sweetheart arrived back in town - her light and merry laugh adds sparkle to the evenings. I gave a tea party with jelly and pickled herrings and pork pies and cheeses and homemade bread and cakes and swiss rolls and olives and egg mayonnaise. The flat was more crowded than it's ever been, although many of those that came were friends of Patrick (from his working on the Strindberg play 'Easter' and from his Easter job at the language school). The actor Gordon came (he with a significant part in 'Chariots of Fire') with the delicious Liz, Patrick's friend; Ann, the designer on 'Easter', came too. It started to swing at 3pm, and by 8pm Colin, yes Colin, Rosina and I were taking Janice to the bus stop for her return to Paris, and then to the cinema to see 'Superman'. Ugh! The plot was so full of holes you couldn't see the sense. Colin's eyes still rest on yours a good two seconds before he speaks. His beard is off, his hair is short, and he has two weeks holiday from delivering tofu.

And the world, god help the world, what is happening out there. Is there anything quite as important as European Chemical News and the world of industrial chemicals. It doesn't seem so. I know there's been a bit of bother out in Northern Ireland and that the unemployment figures have buzzed over 2.5m but it's pretty quiet. Odfjel-Westfal Larsen are planning a new storage terminal, that's news, that's the cover story this week. Boom Boom. 

Paul K Lyons

May 1981


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