Monday 1 August

The weather finally broke and thunder and lightning swept across the night disturbing sleep and dreams. I tossed and turned in time with the thunder crack and as the rain massaged my garden so I was filled with muscle tensions.

Riots in Sri Lanka where the Tamils are murdered for being Tamils. This Hindi tribe of dark-skinned indians who have been increasing in numbers on the beautiful island of Sri Lanka to the point where they now have an active guerrilla movement. The Sinhalese erupted against this insidious corrosion of their peace. 50,000 Tamils are said to be fleeing. In Central America loud voices are being heard about the danger of US involvement turning into another Vietnam. Castro has offered to withdraw military personnel from socialist Nicaragua if President Reagan agrees to pull US advisers out of El Salvador and drop US support for Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries based in Honduras, so reports the 'The Sunday Times'.

[Gerald Scarfe cartoon. North and Central America as Reagan's face in profile with his mouth open. Caption: When America gets a sore throat the rest of the world has a headache.] In remembrance of Rosina and the Beast of Greece. [Rosina once drew me a personifiied map or Greece.]

I called R&V and was invited over to dinner. Marsha was in town. She'd invited her wine dealer to dinner and was determined to impress with champagne and salmon and strawberry gateaux on the menu. Colin - that was his name - played his part to perfection, using adjectives I hadn't even heard of, by trying to guess the names of the wines Marsha served for him to taste. He won smiles with his correct answers, but was not beyond glancing for a glimpse of the bottle and/or label. At one point he informed us we were drinking the best wine in the world. Needless to say, I forgot the name.

4 August, Brussels

This really is a dreary capital. Any city with a Mannekin Pis as its most well-known statue must surely be begging for lavatorial complements. But the Grande Place is beautiful. Made interesting by the gold painting and giant coloured flags. It's inhabited by tourists. Every restaurant has a board outside displaying colour photographs of the meals available. They could the serve best food in all Belgiumdom but I wouln't eat in one of them because of those horrible photographs. I retreated to my hotel (The Amiga) for dinner. I expected a reasonably classy meal, as the hotel is reasonably classy. But it was dreary, in a dreary room, in a classy hotel in a dreary city in a dreary country. Glass and lace and chocolates. If it wasn't for the EEC and NATO Belgium might disappear into the sea.

I begin to understand the responsibilities of my job more. I've come here to Brussels in order to talk petrochemicals at an industry lunch. But what exactly do I want to talk about. The Petrochemicalscan, which I edit, is still highly regarded in the industry but its customers are being eroded by a new team working out of Paris under Humphrey Hinshelwood. My colleagues at Platts talk of him with hatred. But he is well liked among a certain group of traders, some of whom regard him as a friend, and he is, undoubtedly, eroding the Petrochemicalscan's sales. And I am not the right man to compete with him because I do not believe. My enthusiasm is manufactured. A job is a job. A chemical is a chemical is a chemical. Add to that my disinclination to socialise with the industry, my lack of experience/knowledge of it, and you have a publication on the wane.

Tuesday night 9 August 1983

I've just came from eating a Chinese meal with my new boss John Norman - he is two years younger than me. This evening I discovered he's only been with Platts for three years. But, as a consistent plodder at the job (his description not mine) he has stayed when others have left and been sucked into a managerial position. He doesn't really know what to do with us since Peter Savage left such a mess. But the big wigs are flying into town from New York over the next couple of weeks, and big meetings are planned, not least over the future of the Petrochemicalscan.

I'm going on holiday to Ireland with Bel. I never did such a thing a before. I never went abroad just to be a tourist. I never went with a girl for a week.

And Andy Komocki, who's only 22, has moved into the front room at 13 Aldershot. He told me it's quite exciting because nobody has ever said to him he can do what he likes to his room.

Monday evening 15 August 1983

The warm sultry weather returns to make us all feel like monkeys in the jungle. Monkeys wear ties don't they? There I sit in my office, wishing I was bathing in some lake locked in by mountains, but instead trapped by Dover St traffic noises.

During my little tete-a-tete with John over a Chinese, he told me I was due for a 7% pay rise after six months. Andy got 10%. But it occurs to me that I am taking responsibility for three money-spinning publications with no overseer and that this is worth paying for. I am teaching John the business. What a paltry sum of money I'm being paid. What happened to Peter Savage's salary and car and expense account? Bitch bitch bitch. Have been feeling a bit more positive about the Petrochemicalscan, and that we can survive well despite Hinshelwood's mob.

There is a black cat which lives on the wall between my house and the West Indian family. It can live there forever. I like my wall having a cat on it.

I cut the ivy. Once I had a ladder and got up there with a saw in hand, I found how easy it was to chop down. Every time I look up at the back wall now I feel I've had a haircut. There's little leaf left but the root/branch system makes a pretty pattern. The mass of cut down branches in my yard, though, doesn't make a pretty pattern.

Some of the words were written up on a poster in hand writing which was fixed to the window of a closed down shop on the Kilburn High Road. I thought of China. And I thought I must read Hamlet especially as I had had this thought only a few days ago following my visit to Lorenzaccio at the National Theatre. Guy de Musset, living in Paris, in the 18th century wrote this play about 15th century Florence and the political and religious intrigues of the time. It is impossible not to think of Hamlet seeing this Lorenzaccio. Later, I read that de Musset had been strongly influenced by Shakespeare.

So what reads't I at present. Karl Popper's 'The unended quest'; 'Hamlet'; 'Constance'; 'The Mathematical Experience'; 'The Mind's Eye'; and at least five books on Ireland including 'The Companion Guide to Ireland' by Brendan Lehane.

I paint the kitchen insipid yellow. I lend £800 to Mum and £150 to Vonny. Andy moved in at £32 a week rent. He's already painted the room. He's talked more to Ruth in one week than I have in four months!

I've been fairly manic the last ten days or so, but I suspect it's coming to an end. I felt a strong urge this evening to go for a walk which I just did. Strolling through the back streets north of Willesden Lane and west of Kilburn High Road. I hardly saw any person either walking or in rooms. A few lights in rooms were on and I studied the decorations with interest, but it surprised me that nobody else was just walking about for the joy it. Through one frosted glass of a front door window I sensed a long dimly-lit corridor. This made me feel sad, for it reminded me of the house in Stockton-on-Tees where my grandparents lived, and the kind of house where so many people live. How can I fail to be impressed by such harmony, the harmony of so many people living so closely together, so peacefully. There's hardly a noise form any house. But I feel very small. From god to ant.

Wednesday 17 August

Plots thicken at work! And I have problems with cars, and too many bills: mortgage, rates, water rates, electricity, gas, telephone, car insurance, tax.

Wednesday 24 August

Completely obsessed with bills and cars and painting the external window frames. There is little more to life right now than existence. Television is a bright star. I look forward to a good programme almost as much as I look forward to anything. (It's a shame that there's no better way of saying look forward to - anticipate is near its meaning in this sense is not well evolved in English. The Spanish verb esperar is better.) Tonight, for example, on Channel 4, there is 'Man and Superman' with Peter O'Toole recorded at the Haymarket. And last night there was a short story by Borges - a new one. I neither liked the translation or the actor, for they both played down the technical rather academic aspect of his writing which lifts it above the indulgent fanciful flirtations with dream and writing of other authors. It was the Borges of 'Circular Ruins' fame in this story. Called 'Thursday 25 August 1983', it is about a younger Borges booking into a hotel where the Borges who is 84 on this day is already booked in. It is a reflective piece focusing on the last 15 years - perhaps since he went blind - and tells of the suicide he is about to become. Will the real Borges please not commit suicide. I sensed a unappealing over-ripeness in the story. It was as though Borges was taking his theories about dreaming and being dreamt to a limit with nowhere else to go. There is no freshness in this writing, no new insight. Borges is an old man. Maybe there is a self-reference to this and thus to suicide. I should have taped it, it needs to be reheard and reread.

I write a letter to Maja detailing my domesticity. I ring Phil Needham to tell him I met Graeme Ogden. He's going to Aldeburgh tomorrow. Luke rings to ask jokingly if I'm a 6ft 4in transvestite into drag racing and greyhounds (I told him I'd put an in 'City Limits' this week. The rest of the ad reads: 'Lonely now that Humphrey's gone. I need submissive replacement with artistic leanings' etc. But of course I'm not. My ad got left out of this week's edition. Ann rings to say she's not coming out to play this evening. It is certain that if I arrange to meet Ann of an evening she will phone in the day to say she's ill. She's cute. We talk about her boyfriend, Kevin, and his father who is dying. Mind alert but body going. Much worse that way. Better to be a cabbage. She is indifferent about the new Glenda Jackson play for which she worked. The theatre is a whore. Her clients, the public, the audience suck their pleasures and satisfactions from her stage, yet she is forever superior, indulges forever in the pleasures of life only occasionally wary to abuse or fear of neglect.

Oh the cars. The Cortina, which ran out of petrol and was left on Minster Road for about three days, was stolen. Fancy stealing it with no petrol, a locking petrol cap, and a completely bashed in side. It'll probably be found in Birmingham, and I'll have to go and collect it in the middle of my holidays. And the Audi has cost me £120. I hate cars.

Back to television for a moment. A fascinating film on the sex life of flowers. There's an orchid that grows a flower to look like a female fly it utilises for pollination. The flower is attached to a lever arm and looks similar to a hammer - being on a long stalk. The randy fly alights on the flower and clasps it in its vice like grip and begins thrusting, as it does so the flower rocks back and forth until the back of the fly hits the cushion pad having travelled through 180 degrees. The cushion deposits pollen on the fly's back and off it goes in search of another mate. Hopefully, for the good of the orchid species, it will be another fake mate. There is another orchid in the steamy jungles of South America that hangs down in a single flower from tree branches. It is an upside down bell into which a small nipple drips liquid. A bee with a green metallic sheen comes to the flower to scrape off a waxy substance useful in its mating ritual; but, on occasions, it slips into the pool of liquid. Just as it thinks it will never escape from this swamp it finds a trap door. On exiting, however, it is trapped for about10 minutes. The length of time it takes for the liquid - a kind of glue - to dry and secure two yellow pods that have been deposited on the bee's back. The next time the bee falls victim to such a plant it crawls out of the trapdoor and the plant snatches the pods off its back, thus achieving pollination. There is a rose in the Arctic that focuses the warmth of the sun into its centre where the pollen lies. Insects come for the warmth and pick up the pollen. To make sure of plenty of visitors, this clever little rose follows the sun around its 360 degree orbit during the five week summer. And there's an enormous cup-shaped petal of a plant in Sardinia that smells like rotting meat in order to attract the blowfly - producer of the ugly maggot. The blowfly falls into the centre of the evil flower where it gets drunk on nectar and covered in pollen. Such remarkable photography - it's like the insects' eyes have been plugged into the TV screen.

Paul K Lyons

September 1983


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