PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1982 - AUGUST
3 August 1982
An entire month slips by. I have not made any entris in this on purpose. Harold has been, and his American girlfriend A is here for a few days. Colin is also here, and Rosina is somewhere in town too. But now I sit in the Ball and Coombes house with the noise of the King's road behind me. The heat has affected us all, but a bug wiped me off the streets for a week.
The man Herzog must me mad. Saw a documentary of Herzog's own film- making about dragging a steamship over the hill from one river to another ('Fitzcarraldo'). It's the story of one man's vision and how a film-maker, half a century later, decided to emulate him. Kinski is spellbinding. Ann says, 'that's commitment' about Herzog pulling a gun on Klaus Kinski to calm him down and demand he finish the last few days of shooting. That's commitment. And when the camera pans a dead indian in the mud under the fallen ship, you wonder if the indian is really dead.
I just read through an Official Journal (of the European Community). It contained a list of poultry slaughterers approved by Member States. It made me think of the performance artist - I don't remember his name - who laid a trail of animal blood (using a white road line machine) from Brussels to London. That's commitment.
AT THE ALBERT HALL
Bartok's Piano Concerto 2 - that's what I've been missing all these years since Ze left the Fordwych road flat. Its brilliant. Haydn's 81 was a little dull afterwards, though one theme in the third movement struck me. And Debussy's 'La Mer' was disappointing, perhaps all the magic always was in the opening sequence It was a coincidence that Rosina and I should choose to meet for a performance of 'La Mer' when a recording of the music had so often rocked us to sleep together. It was interesting to watch the gestalt pianist and the weasel conductor, but more fascinating was the thick set man standing near me. He wore heavy glasses which he kept repositioning by poking at them with a fore finger. His white t-shirt was soiled to grey, his trousers looked like rags; and by his scruffy shoes, on the floor, were similarly ragged bags. I kept thinking he looked like a coal man. He was enjoying the music with a greater relish than most people around him, and he proved this by nodding his square head back and forth in time with the music, which he followed from a score held up close to his face. And when the music finished, he clapped his thick working hands slowly and methodically, cupping them in time with the forward pushes of his head.
My morning was brightened by a letter from J. I do believe it was about ten pages long. She detailed various sexual exploits and said how much she had enjoyed the night with me. It's so long since something strange like that happened to me. We'd only ever spoken on the phone once, and then she arrived univited at the flat at midnight, and drank half my bottle of JB. I was not attracted to her at all (she wasn't pretty, and she was quite a few years older than me), but I loved her chutzpah, and she made all the running. My flatmate tried to get rid of her, but the ordered taxi never came, and when I went to bed J followed me. We screwed and talked most of the night. By the time she left, half way through Saturday, it felt like I'd been talking sex for a week.
Why do flies fly around in fives?
Paula came round from the housing association to talk about the flat now that Amanda's leaving. I didn't expect her to be black. She's only been there a few weeks. I'm sure her enthusiasm will be dampened as naivety gives way to reality. She said I was middle class. Middle class, middle class. Escape from all that. Is it a viable dream - to become a freelance writer and live in Ibiza - or will I be stuck in this city, forever, an unhappy bachelor struggling from one moment of ecstasy to the next. Sitting watching 'Fitzcarraldo' I thought 'is this my life - sitting in the cinema?' I never actually accept it, that this is it. I have to say I'm going to go on saying that for ever more.
Erubescent means reddening or blushing.
Coombes is working on two erstwhile cures for cancer, one of which is in an exciting stage of development. The other is about to be published in 'The Lancet'. 1) He has just finished trials on the second patient with a monoclonal antibody that should go for, and only for, breast cancer cells. Attached to the monoclonal antibody is a certain isotope that can be traced by scanning the body. If the results show the isotope can attach itself to breast cancer cells only, then, after a few more trials, it may be possible to tag toxin particles (to annihilate the cancerous cells) to the monoclonal antibody. 2) The major hindrance to using high-dose chemotherapy to kill cancer cells is that it also kills bone marrow cells. At the Marsden they have developed a technique whereby they remove some bone marrow from the pelvis and whilst it is distant from the body of the patient, they treat it with a monoclonal antibody to rid it of cancer cells (an antibody introduced into the body might kill off other cells as well). Meanwhile the patient gets high dose chemotherapy. The destruction of his bone marrow does not matter for when the pelvis marrow is replaced it can regenerate throughout the body within weeks.
Dave Rappaport is a midget. I met him at Rosie's. How easily he copes with life and people. He is a comedian and performer but rarely needs to mention his height. In the kitchen he climbs on a chair to wash up or make tea, on stage he stands on a table, proud and funny. Also, he seems to play every instrument under the sun.
Friday 13 August
Why am I not superstitious? Have I gone the way of all logic - denying spirits, spirituality, spiritualness. All ghosts are an escape from politics. Rosina says I become serious.
Loneliness is abated by Bel, I do not deserve her loveliness - and yet how many men expect such giving from women and get it. Most men take it without thinking, the plunder of marriage. Amanda and Colin attack me for mistreating her, but I feel she is becoming emancipated and liberated - and, who knows, she may win me yet.
The bombing has stopped again in Beirut. They say it's another ceasefire, but they say this every time the bombing stops. The fighters are probably just refuelling. Western states feel more and more compromised by Israel's ruthlessness, and Jews worldwide have started speaking out against the Israeli government. Nevertheless, the bloody PLO should get themselves outa there. Maybe Begin has a Napoleon complex. Poor Beirut. Perhaps out of the ashes a strong Lebanese phoenix will arise.
Monday 16 August.
Most of the weekend spent not moving other people's plastic bags and boxes, but engrossed with Mr Richard Crossman's diaries. High politics, such a perfect game. Main points to come across:
- the extent to which the cabinet members are worried about their public; how each move is assessed on the nation's reaction to it; - the amount of discussion that goes on about some topics, the endless meetings; - the incestuous dynamics of groups and alliances, forming and disforming; - the immediacy of ideas: something happens and reactions are plotted instantly.
It is strange being alone again. It doesn't feel right. The thought of the flat being empty when I get home and there being no messages, no intimate but undangerous chats at the end of the day. The hollow corridor, the empty room. The toilet always free. The fridge only ever full of my food. Yet how does one choose someone to live with. I thought Vonny's friend Mike was too dull. He smiles, and is warm and fun, but he would never stimulate me. Victoria is more of an unknown. But there is danger there. I did not like an aspect in her face: when her head dropped her chin was too large. And I never saw her eyes, they were painted into another situation already. So what is it I look for? Living with someone is a rare opportunity to get to know them. It is up to me to take advantage of this freedom, and find someone special, perhaps who I might never otherwise know. The flat is so lovely in the evening when the low sun casts shadows from the plants in the window onto the yellow walls and across the white door.
Bel came over late on Saturday night, very drunk. She was so funny. I was engrossed in an Alfred Hitchcock movie when she arrived, so she stole the television and marched to the bedroom. Later she told me about a friend with whom she had spent the evening. She said he was witty and charming and intelligent, everything I'm not! She's wonderful.
Why do people cross their legs when sitting down?
More than anywhere I look forward to going to Aldeburgh.
Tuesday 17 August
New York in September. I am not excited by the thought. Frederic will be on Block Island, so I could go straight there and swim a bit, and sun my body. A will let me stay in her apartment and Harold, no doubt, will entertain me. At the very least I can do some shopping and visit Vera Caspary.
Months have now passed in which I've written nothing. This weekend gone by was about the first chance I had, but I preferred to read Richard Crossman. And yet I am not wasting my time. This week, for example, on Monday I took dinner with Coombes and Ball after a swim. Tonight, Tuesday I'm going to a Performance meeting, and then probably to Bel. Tomorrow I'm going to the Aditi exhibition with Judy, on Thursday to the proms with B to listen to Beethoven 3. Perhaps, at the weekends I've been a bit lax, and maybe instead of working at the Tricycle I should write.
The new edition looks quite good. I do have criticisms. I think the magazine could be improved with a little money. What about an ad in 'The Lady': 'Worthy alternative arts magazine seeks sponsor to help improve standard'. Tonight at the meeting I will propose a feature on Dave Rappaport, an index and a couple of reviews. I don't know what will happen to the listings while I'm away. But Rob Le Frenais is about due back from his sabbatical and will take over the editorship again. Once in print, my reviews have a sort of zappiness but, generally, they give way to a naivety of style by the end. This is largely because I don't exactly understand the nuances and subtleties of theatre. I do resent always being shoved under the 'Guest Contributors' label.
Andrew gave me a diary that came into his shop. It belonged to a woman of 68 who wrote something almost every day in 1941. It is a fascinating study of an isolated life where the smallest things are so important. One time she spent the whole night looking for a lost letter. There is a running battle with the temptation of raisin cakes and, of course, the constant counting of pennies. The style is short, sharp and vital. She uses capital letters like a German, red ink instead of black, and often underlines to stress her points. There is rarely any mention of other people or of going out. The coalman is important, and the milk bill. Sometimes she breaks out to condemn Hitler and repeats a passage from 'The Telegraph'. A common entry reads: 'Never went to bed last night.' I can imagine her rocking to sleep in the chair by the fire. Other entries: 'Am fearly tired in Brain and Body.' 'Today Italy has declared war on us.' 'Got up?' 'There is in today's 'Telegraph' a royal, most inspiring and uplifting, speech by Mr Churchill, a most Noble Human.' I am thinking of placing an ad in 'The Lady': 'Unwanted diaries (1900-1950) please send to keen reader/writer.'
Wednesday 18 August
I"m skiving today and feel guilty. I should be on a course at work - interviewing - but I really didn't want to go so I made up a lunch time meeting which I'll have to cover up. Perhaps I should have gone. Sweet little Deirdre was going, and I heard they were going to have video equipment.
Last night I was projecting towards meeting some of my chemical industry contacts in New York and the thought of it filled me with dread. Is dread the word though? Why should I not look forward to meeting these executives. The closest my mind came to finding a reason for this dread was the fear of being bored and losing valuable time. Perhaps, though, I am more afraid of being boring and that's the real truth. Just because they dress in suits and work in an industry I don't love, it doesn't mean that as human beings they aren't fun, interesting or good to be with.
How happy Bel was yesterday in her new home. How happy I am that she is so happy.
Wind has struck up in our city. Doors and windows are banging in their frames - a knocking sound I haven't heard for some time. The light thickens with wintry signs. We begin to feel cold. Karen said she put a heater on yesterday. Do the gods know it is still August AND that we are in the northern hemisphere.
How funny that on Sunday night Luke, back from Robin Hood Bay and alone in his Friern Barnet flat, should think to go to see Beatrice and Benedict and to ring me, when I had been thinking the same thing. Again Luke is impatient. He has ridden this job with Shared Experience so well but it is a tough battle all the time. Most of all he hates having to fight to pay the bills. He has set his heart on a job with Kent Opera.
They keep asking if I'm excited (about going to New York). Not at all. I was far more excited about going to Aldeburgh but I've cancelled that now. There, in Aldeburgh, I find peace of mind. New York will only churn up the mind. The trip is all a little hurried, and there has been no time to savour the flavour of expectation. Furthermore there is no driving force for the trip. Each reason seems to hang on the others, but none provide real bait. I'm not going to the Big Apple to see Frederic, nor am I going to see Harold. I'm not going for ECN and I couldn't say I'm going to visit Vera - nor do I especially like N.Y. I suppose I was quite lucky to get this freebie flight with TNT, the courier company, and save myself £150 - the price of the flight. I almost persuaded Lynn to come with me - that would have added a buzz to the holiday.
No. of serious offences recorded by the police in 1980 - 2,521,000; no. of serious offences cleared up by the police - 996,000; clear-up rate - 40%.
Saint-Saens could play all Beethoven's sonatas from memory by the time he was ten.
Saturday 21 August
The story of a rape in the post today - J with a 16-sided letter on her escapades in Spain. Didn't I tell her she was likely to get into trouble if she behaved like that. I'm sure A's story is not much different, maybe more horrific. For some reason I didn't ask her the details. There was something about her that made me want to look away. It felt like that, if I caught her eyes, I would be accepting an invitation to an infinite conversation. And yet I can sit and listen to J for hours. Why the difference? Any how J tells me the story of her rape in exact detail. She is right to say I am interested. I see nothing strange in her telling me these things. In her letter, she was picked up in a bar by a black sailor who wanted to dance. They danced all night. He escorted her home, even up the stairs of the apartment block. She said goodnight and, as he was turning to leave, she opened the door. He suddenly transformed from a gentle considerate man to an animal, J says, pushing her into the room and locking the door behind both of them. Then, in the letter, she explains the various ruses she tried in order to keep the big man from having his way and why she didn't scream. It was only the second time in her life, she says, that she didn't get wet before intercourse.
I read the story with interest but little compassion. I cannot help but feel that J (and probably A) are not 100% blameless. Of course, I am in no way condoning any man's aggressive behaviour, but this is the world is as it is. If women do not learn from what they read and hear on how to behave in the world as it exists then they will be putting themselves at risk. Neither J or A went to the police, probably because they could see the eventual outcome, and felt the process wouldn't be worth all the bother.
Interestingly, whilst writing the above, there was a debate on the radio about sexual harassment at work. One side was using emotive arguments and gave examples of women who had been adversely affected by advances from bosses. The other side was more concerned to put office problems into perspective (suggesting there was a need for women to learn to cope and deal with situations) and to argue that this particular tack was taking attention away from other more important areas of the women's movement.
Last night Karen and Jackie took a strong feminist line in several arguments but when, in one of them, Niema and I explained that Arab women were terribly repressed, they refused to believe us. They were adamant that things couldn't be as bad as we painted them.
Thursday 26 August, New York
Anonymous. Not that I've been particularly visible but somehow having arrived here in New York City, having just travelled and travelled with my nose in a book, and now being in this spacious apartment along with all the windows open and nobody likely to call my name it feels anonymous and calm. Out of every window I can see a hundred other similar windows in the block opposite.
Well New York. I am yours. Welcome.
I have this hypothesis that our minds work largely on a normalisation system. In order to function effectively the senses have to ignore most inputs especially from the eyes and less so from the ears. So the mind establishes a norm fairly quickly and only demands attention to vision or sound if it is outside the parameters set by the mind OR if there is a conscious directive to attend a stimulus. When I go out for my early jaunts in strange places, what I'm really doing is accustomising myself to it without interference. My mind is completely relaxed and I let everything input. So much so that when I suddenly come across a street junction and have two completely new vistas to the left and the right, I go a little buzzy at everything there is to see.
By rejecting the world of the night, of bars and colour and display I can be awake early in the morning. I have always been more in tune with the early light hours. Here, there are no pretensions, the world is naked and my own invisibility is not threatened. I am more in control. The light means I can see who is what, what is happening. It is almost as though the city world - for it is hardly true in the country or even in other non-Western countries - begins to function at dawn and then, through the day, dresses itself with costume. Fancy costumes come out at night as the city exhales. The creatures of self-expression, of culture, of wildness, of dance come out, for they know that under cover of darkness they will meet others of their kind. Somewhere in the early evening, I think to begin to put on a mask to meet those with masks, but the mask feels heavy and I cannot lift it to its place. Instead, the haven of sleep takes me,
Why do the Americans in America have long phallic cars and Indians in India round bumpy ones?
The light is quite grey this morning. I don't see any scenes I wish to capture with my B&W film but I have this idea to make a collage using connecting photographs of skyscrapers, perhaps with continuing lines of sight and soft pencil repetitions of the main themes. I had this idea with the photos of the church it Kilburn (where the repeating theme will be arches), but here I imagine the them to be the rectangular windows and the great water towers in the sky.
Saturday 28 August, Block Island
Crickets. How splendid to be here again. Here with the sea, the healing rays of sun. Step by step I relax. I dance on the sand, a lonely early morning madman. Memories of Porticcio come back to me with town lights across the harbour. A generic memory of every empty beach I've ever been on comes back to me. It is the same feeling. Life ripping loose inside of me as though it were a caged animal set free. The air is so good you can't smell - excpt for the seaweed as it drifts by. This place is called Crescent Beach, which is part of Mansion Beach. The Americans are terrific, you never have to explain place names. They are their own dullness. The sand is golden, the sea rough and tempting, tempestuous and unrevealing. I run. I am legs and lungs and then I am flying.
For most of the three hour journey here to Block Island I was reading 'Gorky Park', a thriller set in Moscow by Martin Cruz-Smith. There is a touch of Frederic Forsyth, in that it is easy to tell when the scene is being described and when the plot is moving forward. It's only a thriller and I raced through it. But not Durrell. I could and perhaps should pore over a page a day: 'The more desperate the writer the more thoughtful the music - or so I believed then. Now, I don't know. I wonder a great deal about wrongdoing in art, in a way I never did before.' Is Durrell confessing? If so what is he confessing? Could it be that the idealism or romanticism of art is a drug, a truthless drug that makes people discontent with reality.
There are not many pretty girls here, and although lips smile - it is a small island - the eyes do not.
The train connected with the sea and ferries at New London just over half the way to Boston from New York. It was fine on deck, as the sun set. But the sea breeze blew cold through the coarse knit of my sweater. I sheltered on the car deck, almost sleeping, dreaming.
When I was in a pram and if I cried too much, my father, Frederic, used to leave me on the pavement outside of the Cosmo in Swiss Cottage. The cold air in my lungs, he thought, would stop me bawling.
Frederic went to church this morning. The first time in a long time. Last night he and Gail and Dennis talked at length about the island's inhabitants and who was or was not an islander. About 400 people live here all year round, and 4,000 just in summer. There is a freshwater pond at the tip of the island. This is where Frederic and Gail go swimming, and beginners begin to windsurf. Dennis gave me a windsurfing lesson, but then, in the course of a couple of hours, I broke the universal joints on both windsurfers rendering them useless. Frederic has now decided I shouldn't play with his old treasured windsurfers again in case I were to damage them further. But he's happy to pay for me to hire one. Perhaps I shouldn't be proud but he's already given me a $100 and he won't let me do anything in return. He does feel he has to organise everything, and he finds it difficult to cope with anything outside of his calculations.
The atmosphere in the house is stiffening up. I don't think I'm a difficult guest but I feel a difficult one. Whilst Frederic was running on the beach and Gail had gone to sketch some cows I looked for some soap powder but couldn't find any. When Frederic came back I asked him for some. He went out and brought me a container. Jokingly, I said, 'where did you hide it?' He snapped that he hadn't hid it, it was downstairs. When I make any observations about the island, even if they are compliments, I am immediately put in the position of protagonist, and the island is stoutly defended.
I bought a New York Times for £1. It's very well written for the most part if you can find anything to read between the fashion ads - extraordinary how much money goes into them. There are a of classified ads, too, for jobs and business opportunities. There are also 11m unemployed according to official statistics and maybe another 3-4m who haven't registered. And here I sit on a desolate beach with the wind for company.
A Gallup survey reported in the NYT showed that 40% of the population believe god made man in his present form in the last 10,000 years. 40% of Americans must be as ignorant as chimpanzees. Another 30% say they believe god helped evolution along. Thus three-quarters of the US population profess a very positive belief in god. Although the Western world has shrunk away from religion this century, perhaps the US is leading the world back to it.
A new scientific report supports the theory that the 1692 witch trials in Salem, Mass. may have followed the widespread consumption of a poisonous fungus similar to LSD. Nineteen women and men were hanged as witches after they, or children in their presence, acted as if 'satan were loosed in Salem', according to descriptions of colonists at the time. A report in the current issue of 'Scientific American' suggests that the aberrant behaviour of the adults and children, which, included convulsions and hallucinations, might have been brought about by ergot, a fungus that grows on rye in cool damp weather. The trials of 1692 were the worst outbreak of witch persecution in American history. The researcher argues that symptoms displayed by the children thought to be bewitched - fits and complaints of being pricked or bitten, for example - were typical of ergotism. Among the symptoms of severe egotism is formication, a feeling that ants are under the skin. Man hanged his fellows because he could not understand their behaviour. And yet men still haven't evolved a way of dealing with true witches like the Jones guy who caused his followers to commit suicide in Guyana.
And there's another fascinating article in the NYT. It concerns the study of evolution through molecular science. In the second sentence it says: 'Even today there are people who find it difficult to accept the idea that man is descended from the same tree-dwelling ancestors that gave rise to the gorillas and chimpanzees. Scientists, of course, no longer doubt this is so.' Compare this with the 40% of the American population who don't believe in evolution - as starters. But, for the main course, the gist of this article is that we are much closer to the apes than we thought. We may be directly descended from the same ancestor as the gorilla and chimpanzee. The other astounding discovery from this new breed of molecular anthropologists is that hominids may have emerged as recently as 4.5m years ago, not 15-20m. Genetic engineers have discovered a way of hybridising a strand of DNA from one species with that of another and comparing how similar they are. Apparently this is easier than reading DNA. Thus, at the most fundamental level, man, gorilla and chimpanzee differ by only 1-2%. Reading the article again I realise that a lot of it is about some studies that took place in the 60s with albumin. They have now combined the results of these - which were treated with scepticism at the time - with the some new fossil data to show man is younger than was thought.
This morning I sit in the Surf Hotel dining room which serves the best breakfast in Bock Island - everybody says so. I get coffee, a choice of fruit juices, a choice of cereals, a choice of eggs, toasts and meats.
After some kind of disagreement, I left Frederic's house. It's an odd story. It started with me wanting to take some B&W photos but not being inspired by any vistas, until it struck me how photogenic the wooden houses were at night, with a filling moon lighting them up. But to take photos at night I needed a tripod. Frederic wouldn't help me borrow one, so I asked in a shop and a name was suggested to me. Back at the house, Gail said he was a nice guy. So I rang him. He was very nice, friendly. I cycled off to fetch the tripod, and when I got back, we ate a beautiful dinner of baked blue fish and fresh sweet corn. Dennis was there, too. When he'd gone, Frederic asked me to leave because another guest was staying. Gail took me to a hotel. A room had been booked and paid for, for me. Gail called Mr Lyons. I was told that there is always a line, and I had crossed that line. But I never found out what that line was. I think it might have been something to do with the way I contacted the friend. I introduced myself on the phone as Paul Lyons, a friend or aquaintance of Frederic's (i.e. not his son), a summer resident. But I did this to be sensitive, not knowing how best to describe myself.
The next morning I wrote a letter, but I don't know if it ever got to Frederic. Needless to say I left Block Island and the journey back to New York was extraordinarily uneventful. Riding the bicycle back through Manhattan was a nervous hot business. Also my skin is well burnt. Am I healed, repaired enough for the city, to cope with all the meanderings of relationships in this crowded flat. Will I last another two and a half weeks?
Paul K. Lyons
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