Sunday 1 March 1981, New York

The south end of Central Park. Darkness comes at 6pm. The roller-skaters, the frisbeers, the skateboarders, the tourists, the courting couples, the bicyclists have all gone home. Earlier, I watchd a petite girl throw frisbee with her body. From the waste up she bent her body right back, arching all her energy, and then flicked her chest and head forwards projecting the disc fast and straight. She reminded me of Lillian Beecham - that's strange when real people start to remind me of characters I've created. The park is somewhat dug-up, dry not lush, ugly not pretty; there are fences along the paths; handsome cabs drop horseshit as they go by. But, during the day, the sun streamed through bare branches, and now old fashioned lamp lights compete well with the tall deco blocks in the background. I hold my bag tight in remembrance of Vondel Park, and keep my eyes peeled. From buying the New York Times in the Bronx (where Reet and Abe live) I slowly stripped it down through the afternoon, leaving sections on station platforms, in the trains, in the park, but it is still overflowing in my bag (the arts section)!

Tuesday 3 March, New York

Woken at 5.00 am. Fred and I cycle through a frozen pre-dawn to the fish market at the southern end of Manhattan. Boxes are scattered along the walkway. Trucks are manoeuvring themselves in, and, later, out. Swarthy aproned men pick their way through the busy channels. White lights bright up the business areas where buyers are busy inspecting and sellers packing up boxes with weighed fish. Using the sharp prick end of their fish hooks, the sellers catch the head of the slimy creature, still laying peacefully on the display, and flick it into the box, a clever twist of the wrist unfrees the hook. Communication instruments hang from the ceiling, they look like loud-halers. Every time a sale is made the seller pulls it down to his mouth and mumbles some words. Eyes, dead, stare up from the crushed ice. Blood trickles from the weighing pans where the fish have been de-roed. I see pink snappers lie content atop one another. Larger fish lie with their mouths gaping wide open in horror. The saltfish and tuna have already been cut up and sliced into segments. Fred rummages around looking for one fish of the right type and the right size. A lorry inches forward and blocks one exit. Three men with axes turn towards us in their move to find another exit - creating a moment of terror which is dissipated immediately by sensibility. Night and pre-light often feel dangerous in this city.

Thursday 5 March, New York

Resting mid-afternoon at Fred and Gail's Studio in Forsyth Street. A duvet of snow covers New York, so quickly blown in through the giant pillars of buildings which act more as wind generators than breakers. The temperature is only minus one, so the white stuff is quickly transformed to grey slush. It took me four trains and 90 minutes to get from the Bronx to Grand St station: such a handicap the N.Y. subway. We do not go out. Instead we talk of my meeting yesterday with Vera; we talk of Igee, of pasts, of Fred's poetry, of my career, of Gail's sculptures. Perhaps after resting we will go down to the basement and see her work, or perhaps Fred will take more pictures of me. So many stories are told me, whole histories present themselves as part of my heritage.


Vera is aging very fast now, most of the stories she has to tell are in her book 'Secrets of Grown Ups'. She is happy that McGraw-Hill have done such a lovely job on her autobiography but, she says, they haven't publicised it well. The book is fun and full of lovely stories, most readable. Her life was full and rewarding. She lived exciting times and executed her work in synch with them. She remembers her life with Igee as very happy. She quotes Igee as saying: 'For two worried people we were very happy.' Now she has Meniere's disease. This means she has difficulty in walking and often gets dizzy. It's like being permanently drunk, she says, without the advantages. She has finished the first draught of another novel but finds the correcting and rewriting difficult, her mind fogs. She realises her body is beginning to fail and swears at herself. She is small and hunched. Her straight white hair falls ungainly over her eyes. She almost twaddles around her green apartment in search of photographs, books or spoons. A nurse stays with her and Vera overpraises her cooking.

Laura, Vera's most famous book, is still in print. In Los Angeles, someone is creating a musical from it. If it happens, Vera hopes to go there for rehearsals. Her agent is also trying to get her a ticket to cross the Atlantic by liner in exchange for two 45 minute lectures. Of course, I would welcome her to London. I liked her, her honesty, her practicality, her disinterest in all the metaphysical writers, her farts after dinner, her laughter at my few stories, and the way she talks of her age with surprise: 'I've lived so long'. I did not ask why she fell out with Frederic (they haven't spoken in over ten years). I felt I'd heard enough from Fred to know it was complicated. Both she and Fred expressed a wish that I should do nothing towards repairing the breach. Gail has never met Vera, even though she only lives a couple of miles away - a stepmother, so near and so far.


I apply for a job as a manager of a nursery. I get the job and am assigned to one big greenhouse. Each greenhouse manager has a poster painted for them, and these seem to be a sum of each person's experience. But when it comes to mine, there isn't enough substance to create a poster. I look at ones done much earlier by the artist and find these posters as empty as mine, but I understand that it was OK then for posters to be so void, and that it isn't now. This embarrasses me. I try to think of ways to fill the poster. There is a sense in the dream that the job will teach me a lot about flowers and bringing me closer to Bel.

Send a salami to your boy in the army

Wednesday 11 March, London

I love London. Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves.

Have I informed these pages, these dull pages of the JOB: Staff Writer with 'European Chemical News'. Here then is a dramatic change in my fortunes. In one leap I will jump from unemployed to employed, and I will be able to classify myself as a journalist, however lowly.

The return was awful. I'd caught a cold. On Monday, the day I was booked to leave, I walked around the shops from 32nd to 42nd trying to spend $60 on books or trousers or presents, but I couldn't find anything I felt to be of value. Abe and Rita took me to JFK airport. I'd bought 'The Devil's Alternative' and so got stuck into that while waiting for the flight to be called. The DC 10 was due to leave JFK at 7.00pm but the plane was still sitting on the tarmac at 8.15. Mechanics and captains were shuffling from one end to the other trying to repair two emergency lights. A journalist was sat on my right and a businessman on my left. Kim, the journalist, had been freelance, subbing in New York. She knew Sean Lancaster and Simon in Brighton. Finally, we were asked to return to the waiting lounge as the aeroplane had to go to its hangar for repairs. For another five hours we three and others sat in the bar and laughed and talked and moaned. Among the others was Jenny. She carried two violin cases and was young and pretty, but she had an annoying way of laughing at every joke indiscriminately.

I found it almost impossible to sleep on the plane, crammed into those tiny seats; mercifully the drinks, the meals, the occasional conversations and the thriller occupied me. At Gatwick I lost all the friends I'd made, even Jenny; I didn't seek her out to give her my address even though she lives so close. It was such a relief to get home. Harold and Patrick gave me a royal welcome. Such a rush of words, the first rehearsals of stories to be told and retold to a dozen friends. Within an hour, the telephone rang. My new boss, Tony Cox, Editor of European Chemical News. I'm to start on Thursday or Monday maybe. Suddenly my life will be nothing but writing. Is this what I wanted?

Sunday 15 March

It is after midday. Light is grey. Fine rain falls. A Belgian pianist plays the most difficult pieces she knows on the radio (does one say on the radio, or in the radio, through the radio, or in the BBC studios). They are short and seem little more than test pieces. I contemplate making some coffee.

This morning I read through the Lonely Hearts columns in 'Time Out'. Am I that desperate? It is certainly full of people more successful than I. Perhaps I am there too, unaware of staying up late at night and composing advertisements such as 'Male handsome 28 seeks slim pretty woman for a lover. Box P OFF'. I thought of Jane and her confession that she hadn't been in love since she was 20, 12 years ago, and how I was to keep my eyes open for a suitable forty year old for her. Out of 200-300 ads only one tempted me to reply. Mostly men it's men looking for women. How would I reply to this: 'Fine art graduate, slim, dark and pretty, 25. Seeks intelligent and aesthetically pleasing male company, photo please. Box B046.' Should I? Shall I? What fun!!

I do not want to leave the subject of sex for long, but I feel I should return to the avion standing at JFK.

Jane went to Los Angeles and met so many people, all of whom were writing film scripts and living such fine life-styles.

I do feel drab. Have I become a crab. So early in life's lab.

So Harold was here for two days organising his journey to South Africa and talking about the Mastery course, an off-shoot of EST designed for performers. He tried desperately to interest me in it, but I couldn't see what benefit I would get out of it. Harold says he is now committed to getting work and finding a male partner. What with the cold and sleepless night and jet lag for two days, I didn't do much else but read the thriller, and talk to H. Not till he'd gone did I start pulling myself back together again. I find myself looking forward to Rosina's return.

What a lot I'm writing today. Next door a pop band has installed itself - drums reverberate right into this flat, the lounge, my room. Here, sitting at the round white table, the noise competes annoyingly with the radio. Occasionally, the youths that live in the flat above this one disturb me with loud music in the early hours of the morning. When it first happened, I felt like complaining, but then I asked myself whether the noise was really annoying me and keeping me from sleep. I realised that, in fact, I wasn't very disturbed at all. Instead my reaction was being led by a sense of justice and fairplay, one that said they had no right to make so much noise.

I took Crook's 'The Evolution of Human Consciousness' to New York but didn't read a single page. Now it's two weeks overdue. I shall have to buy it for £15. It is too important a book not to have. These are the books I brought back from New York: Alvin Toffler's 'Third Wave'; Douglas Hofstader's 'Godel Escher Bach'; Vera Caspary's 'Secrets of Grown-Ups'; Gail Goldsmith's 'Patti Hearst'; and Isaac Asimov's 'Asimov on Numbers'.

Bel has moved out of the caravan at Godshill and gone to live at Wilton. She is also working two days a week in a flower shop. Tish has given up her job but is still working at the Almeida and now plans to go to NZ at the end of the year. I've written to Tacye and Flavia.

21 March

Last night I needed company so I went to chat to Jane. She listens to everything I say with interest. Then, I thought I would go to the party being given by the Three Women theatre group to celebrate their theatrical birthday but I persuaded myself it was too far to cycle and there was literally no one I could think of to go with. I would have felt a pansy arriving on my own having cycled half way across London in rain and cold.

22 March, Brighton

I am at Rosy and Andrew's in Brighton. Tomorrow I start work at European Chemical News. I am somewhat nervous. Apart from the excitement and novelty, there will be the plain fact that I have to work. But this afternoon I will go for a walk down by the sea and perhaps visit Annabel and Julek. Just now I feel content to sit by the fire and write a little, or read about Oscar Wilde. Rosy is taping some circus music for her show next week, and later we must talk about the lights which I am to operate. Andrew has taken the children swimming. Discussion last night centred on old people and the poor way they are treated by society. The premise, as usual, was that the State, the big evil institution that it is, deliberately treats old people badly by locking them up in homes and not caring for them properly. Gill and Adrian, friends of the Gibbs, are both working in social welfare. Gill talked of the nightmare faced by some mentally deranged old folk, and how their desperation can be seen in the eyes and face. I asked if it was possible that she was interpreting their looks only in her own frame of reference. I suggested the sad old ladies might have always been sad. But, underlying the conversation - and it is this that makes me quietly furious - is the constant criticism of the current state of things as though somebody is to blame and that we are so much more knowledgeable about what is good and right etc, than all those who have gone before us. Gill, though, told a lovely story about one old woman who talks to her apron all day long. She talks to the stripes in the pattern as though they were roads, and she imagines presents are going to be delivered. Her whole world is contained in the apron, but then, towards the end of the day, she starts to tear it up into little strips, The next day she needs a new apron.


I come across a largish redbrick farmhouse covered in ivy. The road stops at the house but a track continues around the back. I follow it and then there are three of us walking along the coast route, sheep tracks on a grassy embankment. Suddenly, from further up the hill three bears come charging down at us. I slip down an escarpment to the sea. A bear is just about on top of me. Does one of the bears fall in the sea? Do we pull it our? The other three are holding one arm and me the other. I talk to the inhabitant of a house who turns out to be the owner of the bears. I apologise because of one of them almost drowned and I didn't know the bears weren't dangerous. He is happy that I have apologised, and says I can return whenever I wish.

Saturday 28 March

Mahler's Second Symphony. Resurrection. The beginning manages to tug a dozen emotions in my system, not least the desire for adventure, the pleasure of country walks, the need of love etc. Bread is baking - the dough rose quickly thanks to the bright warm sun this morning.

Patrick took me to see 'Goosepimples' by Mike Leigh at the Hampstead Theatre. I thought it a shallow farce about shallow people produced in a shallow way. Mike Leigh ought to have a butchers at Shared Experience and a chat with Mike Alfred. I couldn't unleash the full extent of my criticism on the play because Patrick had bought the tickets. I remember 'Abigail's Party', it was similar but better.

Afterwards we went to a Bistro and had nothing to eat or drink, we just talked about Patrick's continuing depression. I told him I'd learned three ways to try and cope with depression: eating well, keeping busy and regular exercise.

There are many things I want to comment on. Time will begin to pass quickly with all my days occupied with industrial chemical journalism, plus all that travelling. Most of the week I used the tube and hated it: hated the cost, hated the people, hated the energy dispersed on manoeuvring through the crowds. The train from Victoria to Sutton is quiet and pleasant. On Friday, when the sun shone, I cycled. But I experienced difficulty breathing, and the sun's rays highlighted the smoke poured out by trucks. I could see the choking gases disappearing down into my lungs. I can't remember it ever being so bad when I used to ride to MORI. Coming home, on the Friday, I caught the 5.11 from Sutton, which should have taken just under half an hour to Victoria but was running late; even so I still managed to get home by 6:00. Racy, racy!

In the introduction of Hofstader's fascinating book 'Godel Escher Bach' I read that the first person to really conceive of the computer was a man called Babbage who also led a campaign to get rid of street nuisances, especially organ grinders.

I went to see 'Mirror Crack'd', which is a film of an Agatha Christie story. Such an uninspired film, boring, ineffectual, crass. Is it a true reflection of her books, books that once I read so avidly.

29 March 1981

I organise my day. There are no people in it at all. It consists of reading and writing around various entertainments that attract me: a radio version of 'Lord of the Rings' at 12; the Phantom Captain in Golders Green at 7:00; the film 'O Lucky Man' at 9:15 on BBC2. All rather soul-less. I contemplate ringing some people to come for tea.

'I CAN U CAN' was the name of Rosie's first professional stage appearance. She performed to almost full houses in the upstairs room of the Oval (which is looking quite fine these days with its smart new cafe area). Her tricks and presentation were better than I'd seen before. Her costume was super. But still the show lacked some essential ingredients, perhaps style, imagination, slickness. I gave up three nights to do the lights. The job was quite simple and enjoyable. I think the audiences were mostly friends, and their responses therefore will have given, possibly, a false sense of what real audiences are like. Between sketches, Jason brought on announcement cards. Andrew played a weak strongman called Peanuts. Rosy, dressed as an all powerful magician, orders Peanuts around, making fun of him, knocking him down and generally scorning him. To her it was nothing more or less than a typical magician and assistant but with the sex roles reversed.

Raoul and Vonny gave a party after the Wednesday night performance. People crammed into the kitchen talking, cutting the cigarette smoke with their crowded words, while in the study room Jason played with Jake, a precocious kid three or four years younger than Jason. They sat at a table facing the window and drew pictures. I suppose it was almost midnight. I stood behind them unobserved but could see their reflections in the window as though it were a mirror. Jake began to sing a common tune to himself and Jason turned and lifted his head to watch him, his face was full of joy. Jake's mother is Susie, an old friend of Rosie's. His father, and Susie's husband, is a black musician and singer called Major. He is loud, aggressive and charming. Her life was partially choked by the arrival of Jake, but now, five years later, she is beginning to re-emerge among her friends. It seems Major has been consistently unfaithful but also violently jealous at times, or so says Rosy. Now Susie is pregnant again, and she is mortified. Had she wanted another child she would have had it straight after Jake but not now.

Sutton is a boring suburb, Its tallest building is owned by IPC Business Press where I work on one of the hundred specialist journals therein. One lunch hour I visited a modern red brick church - Christchurch. On entering the vast emptiness, I heard a small noise. On looking round I spied a tiny woman methodically sweeping out one of the pews. I walked once around the church and then back to her. I aksed if she cleaned the entire church herself. When she emerged from the pew, I could see that she was taller than four feet (!) and very very old. Her head was hunched forward down over her shoulders - she looked like a shrew. She used to clean the whole church, she said, but now it is too much work for her and others now help, but not every day. She was very pride of her work, and she emphasised how worthwhile it was to keep God's House clean.

A bent stem among the tulips and daffodils in Vonny and Raoul's lounge reminds me of a tree I saw in Carshalton today. Meandering thoughts bering me to an eccles cake I bought which so much nicer than one I purchased in Aldershot. Vonny is preparing some blue hamburgers.

Mr and Mrs Birkinshaw have invited me to the wedding of their daughter, Michele, with Mr A. Lyons, my stepfather, soon to be even more step. 

Paul K Lyons

April 1981


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