PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1983 - OCTOBER
3 October 1983
A week ago today, my first day in Monte Carlo, I had a throat like sandpaper. That cold has now found its way through sneezes and sinuses to my chest, and has settled quite comfortably there. Today is the first day I've felt really ill, headaches and sickness, although slight pains, reminiscent of the pneumonia/pleurisy, were present at the weekend. I am afraid of being ill. My body cannot cope with a simple cold. I am undone. At the very least I must document my health carefully because it is very difficult to be objective. It upsets my life. I don't swim, ride my bicycle, or in any way exert myself. I have to guard constantly against exertion. I hate it.
Tuesday 4 October 1983
Tuesday is plagued with solvents. I swim in acetone, wash my ears out with chlorinated products, bathe my eyes with methyl ethyl ketones. I drink volumes of white spirit. My innards dissolve in creating transparency. Tuesday is solvent day. Unusually, every call I've made this morning has been answered by the person I was calling for.
John Barnes in 'The Sunday Times' tells a moral little tale about lonely hearts ads. Suzanne Douglas, found and publisher of Intro, decided she would place an ad in her own glossy 80 page magazine. It landed her a multi-millionaire from Chicago. But, recently, Ms Douglas filed a suit in a Los Angeles Superior Court claiming that her Chicago lover had used their one and a half year 'meaningful relationship' to seduce her out of control of the magazine. The multi-millionaire is now the publisher of 'Intro'. And she is without a job.
Wednesday 5 October
My chest still roars with hoarseness, but I feel OK. Still I dare not exercise too much, and will probably go to bed early this evening.
Friday 7 October
I finally got to go to one of the evening classes I signed up for - World Politics since 1945 - at the City Lit on Tuesday evenings. The class is very mixed - the usual collection of people bored before they've started and others anxious to show off their knowledge. I found the subject matter fascinating fascinating: the formation of the United Nations and how it compared with its predecessor, The League of Nations, and how the General Assembly (a recommendatory body) is growing in power relative to its more powerful master, the Security Council. But it's a shame our teacher, Caleb Pilgrim - a young black American student - reads his notes rather fast and mumbles and he cannot answer questions without travelling through a tangled thicket of examples and 'by and large's.
William Golding has won the Nobel Prize for literature. This is more of a surprise than Lech Welesa winning the prize for peace. Both are worth over £100,000. Golding says he heard the news on his wireless, and was surprised. His work is undoubtedly brilliant. Imaginative, complex, rich, rewarding, full of insight. I wonder if my other favourites, Fowles and Durrell, have ruined their chances of a major prize by playing too much with the form of the novel itself - arrogantly stepping out of the craft and saying boo to the audience, I knew you were there all the time. Boards and committees and things are bound to be conservative by nature. Postscript. Salmon Rushdie won the Booker Prize for 'Midnight's Children', but there is a lot of Tristram Shandyism in it. However, I think this sort of playfulness is much more accepted - it is no more than Shakespeare's asides. Fowles and Durrell tear asunder the rules with seriousness and consequence.
Sunday 9 October
Autumn's settling in nicely. The horse chestnuts are on the ground, the brussels sprouts in the shops, persistent grey drizzle arrives from the heavens. My mood is similar. Sullen, empty, rather hopeless. Moping from room to room. Yet so many books to read, so many things to do.
Occasionally I give thought to Cyclone Tracy. I want to write a radio play about my experience in Darwin. I thought I could make a bit of a mystery play - who took the money? - remembering that Peter the Dutchman had a stash of cash somewhere and after the explosion he couldn't find it. I had the idea to look at the fears of the house's inhabitants and see what happened to them thanks to Tracy. So far, there's Wolfgang, the owner of the house, and ageing German, given to obsessive behaviour and absurdly jealous of the pretty friends that come and stay in his house. Susie is pretty, charming but manipulative. Annabel is rather weary, jaded, her only inspiration comes from her son, Farthing. Mac and Melvin are two American, guitar and dope types. Duncan is a young arrogant Cambridge type. I know where the play begins but have no idea of the end.
I went to the cemetery to quieten off my ill-humour. Angels were there to protect my robbing the dead of their thoughts. Instead they stole from me. My soul is shred into shivers by the impossibility of reconciliation between the inevitable sadness of man on earth and the tremendous hope, belief and faith that exists everywhere.
How about the name Blanche Tribbling instead of Susie.
Yes, autumn's settling in nicely. The virginia creeper on my bedroom wall is already red, the wind takes it in waves. It is a tidal creeper, when the leaves have fallen, my ocean will be empty.
Cecil Parkinson has announced his former secretary is going to have his child, but that he will be staying with his wife. Margaret Thatcher has supported him by saying his private life is his own concern. The press were quite accepting at first but, now, three or four days later, I sense the tide is turning. The Sundays have given the story full coverage and a sturdy group of Tories are out for Parkinson's blood. The fact is that MPs and ministers are publicly accountable for their entire lives, public and private. This is because they are only in a position of power and responsibility thanks to the mandate of the people. And these same people still believe in god and lifelong partners and the legitimacy of children. Thatcher is making a mistake if she believes she can leave Parkinson unpunished, because a great big fat percentage of her mandate comes from conservative Conservatives.
Woody Allen's new film 'Zelig' has opened to almost unanimous eulogising. The critics are happy he has reverted back to playing a comic clumsy Jew character. What a relief, they must have thought, sitting in their comfortable seats with glossy brochures on their laps, that something is as we thought in this fast changing world. Give him ten gold stars for being the Woody Allen we know and love so well. I found 'Zelig' rather dull.
Thursday 13 October
A busy week and one full of friends from the past. Harold has been in Israel for two months setting up Mastery workshops. He sports a cavalier moustache and beard. He toom me to Y musical extravaganza. A lot of girls kicking their legs in the air, a vast number of costume changes by the show's lead Arturo who couldn't even be trusted to use his own voice - all the singing was dubbed. The band was loud music and drum rolls. Waiters and waitresses trotted around in camp disguises. Awful. As for Harold we didn't have much to say to each other. He has been seeing Ros a lot. I um and ah. He says: 'I have an apartment in Tel Aviv now.' 'No kidding,' I say. Later, I rang Pamela in Luton and found out that Marielle was in England with child. A letter from Lanegra arrives.
18 October 1983, Venice
I don't want to rub it in, but here I am in Venice, sitting in a vast room - nearly twice as large as my loung - at the Excelsior Hotel. The chandelier hanging from the ceiling is bigger than my kitchen, the wardrobe bigger than my garden. The net curtains would screen my entire street. Four nights in this room would pay my rates for a year. But what magic is Venice. To be taken by ferry boat at midnight along the Grand Canal stopping at every pier to collect or deposit passengers; to see glass bowl lamps reflected in the watery ripples and lighting shadowy alleys otherwise flooded with darkness; to see such grand buildings knee deep in water, their faces lit in grimaces and smirks; to see Venetians hurrying off the boat, crossing plazas and dissolving in a maze of hunchback bridges and corner buildings; to see gondolas rolling side to side in their cage of posts; to see hoodlums in power boats with flashing blue lights race round bends at 45 degree angles leaving a wake of chaos and bells tinkering. Magic.
But I find it difficult to relax. A lot of work things on my mind. Joan S. seems to be a rather dull version of Joan L. I did most of the talking over lunch. I mentioned S. America and my desire to get back into real journalism. What strikes me plainly is that she and our other superiors in the US don't have a clue about what to do with the London operation.
Last week, the world was making Parkinson jokes. He finally resigned because the woman pregnant with his child revealed a damning chronology of events. Astonishingly, though, everybody likes him; they talk about him as a close personal friend etc. I think he's too smooth by half.
Adultery is all the rage. V came home a couple of weeks ago to find R in bed with another woman. First there was screaming then promises then an engagement ring. Now they are joking about it. I can't help finding R's lightheartedness completely endearing: every time V went out of the room, he asked how he could manage to go on seeing the same girl. He feels it is his right to have a mistress.
Friday 21 October
Len Deighton's new book 'Berlin Game' is a racy thriller. It reads as though it were already a film. Fancy the wife of the narrator being the mole at the top - it's almost as unexpected as the policeman in 'The Mousetrap'.
'Time' had an article on the Tribes of Britain - it could have been good. Why does Britain breed such expressions of its culture and the rest of the world follow - but it was padding, filling. 'Time' should be ashamed of itself and stick to the Iran-Iraq war, on which they did a very good piece.
In the past, when travelling, I always used to notice little things, curious happenings, coincidences - such as terror in an urchin's glance, greed lurking in a shopkeeper's lips - yet these days in Venice I feel numb. I walk around. I take a few pictures (which helps justify my presence here) but my mind is a vast blank. I am no longer alive to the touch of the world.
I found myself drawn to two exhibitions in Venice (although I also went into the Ducal Palace but only for a few minutes) - one was the Peggy Guggenheim and the other a display of photographs by Mapplethorpe. The Guggenheim, a small building on the Grand Canal, is unusual because it's only one storey high, because it's white and because its external facade is well looked after. It contains a small collection of famous paintings, by Picasso, Braque, Mondrian, Chagall, Kandinsky, Magritte Delvaux, Arp, with Giacometti sculptures in the garden. Mapplethorpe's photos rely on the human form for spectacle. The best pictures were of shiny skinned men tensing their muscles and forming strong shapes with their bodies. There is one picture of a semi-erect penis parallel with with a revolver - both horizontal. They are clean striking sharp images relying on symmetry and/or a neat sense of line. I didn't find them shocking, just representative of a modern, let us say, neo-sexual aesthetics.
22 October, Berlin
And now I am Berlin - as if the world were my private playpen. I go to the National Gallery and the only name I know is Otto Dix, but his paintings are locked up.
Sunday 23 October
The air is crisp, the cold is penetrating. Such a contrast with Venice - are there two European cities more different? Whereas Venice is littered with decoration, there is a marked absence of it in Berlin. Whereas Venice is riddled with narrow streets and canals and mazes of alleyways, Berlin is a grid of vast runways of roads streaming with traffic.
27 October 1983
I had hoped to be done with this journal by the end of my Berlin trip but here I sit in Tegel Airport on Thursday afternoon with the best part of a week gone by, and most of the time I've been flying as high as a kite - staying out till 3 or 4, drinking more than I ever do, and talking more than ever. The best way to record my stay, I think, is through people.
Rona arrived at Jan and Andreas's Friday evening and I arrived several hours later. We went out to a chic bar for a drink. That night and for the following two nights, Rona and I slept in an improvised bed in our hosts' lounge. I felt comfortable and confident with my friends, but Rona remained rather tense. On the Monday night, we moved into the hotel (paid for by work). The first time Rona & I saw each other that day was mid-evening. I was quite wrecked and unguarded and not very supportive of R's plans which led to a long emotional (especially on R's part) discussion about our friendship, and about R's long-standing boyfriend. It was 3 or 4am by the time we got to bed. I felt very in control, cocky maybe. Once in bed, I rolled over, lightly kissed the side of her face, and placed a hand on her skin. She spoke: 'Are you going to seduce me now?' It was an abrupt question, so I said no I wasn't. In all honesty, I suppose, I would have liked sex, but I was not as attracted to Rona as I might have been, and I had already met Andreas's friend Anke, who I found beautiful. Rona did not respond to my answer to her question. I lay still for a few minutes - my hand still touching her. Then, after a few minutes, she pushed me away and said 'let's not fuck'. I could have been persuaded either way and I was. I think Rona had sparked a bit of a devil in me. I moved to the side. I wanted to suggest we excite each other, so we could to tell ourselves we did not fuck, but I'd lost confidence in R. The night before, some time after I'd first gone to sleep, I thought I'd heard Rona exciting herself - my head felt confused about the noises. As I intended to do the same this night, I felt it would be fairer to tell Rona what I was going to do. But, as I say, I don't think I behaved very well. I don't think's it's very wise to take communication so close to the edges of intimacy and then not satisfy the physical desires that that triggers. Most commonly, I suppose, it is men who suffer from women blocking a natural or unrestrained fulfilment of physical urges. Sometimes, though, it can be the other way round. As a result of that night, up went a Berlin Wall between us. I concentrated my energies on Andreas and Anke, both of whom I liked very much, rather than on making sure Rona was having a good time in Berlin. Rona claims I went as far as ignoring her. Yes, I did, a very few times in conversation when she was trying too hard - but by then I was very much on the same wavelength as Anke and Andreas, not with Rona at all. The final morning, Rona was at breakfast before me. When I sat down, she charged with me having behaved despicably. I responded jokingly but the conversation turned highly personal.
If I had to find a reason for an inner sadness in Miriam I would say it arises out of the conflict between her belief in an indoctrinated politic and the reality of a life that is less colourful and less free than that she sees across the Wall. She is a striking woman, easily the most attractive I saw during a whole day of walking around East Berlin. She has a British passport because her father is British, and lived in England in 1980. But, she says, she found it a horrible experience and was very lonely. I was so moved by this beautiful girl saying she had been lonely. Her mother, Mrs Peet, is a lively intelligent woman, who lives today in the same room she was born in, almost drowning in books. She told us about how the state system supports actors and painters, and then we touched on politics. She thought the Americans would invade Cuba soon. I told her I thought this extremely unlikely. We talked about journalism and what we could and could not believe. I said I thought news about the West was very transparent and there was room to get at the truth more or less, but that there was a complete lack of good news about the East Bloc. What shocked me most, I suppose, was that she was intelligent and listened to BBC news yet still somehow did not have an objective perception of the world. The husband, Miriam's father, left four years ago and now turns his head away if he sees any of his former family on the street. Miriam is very bitter and finds her mother more demanding because she's alone. There is something lifeless about her as she leads us through the centre of this once great capital. She's quite difficult to talk to, nor does she initiative conversation. I didn't realise but East Berlin holds most of the architectural treasures - all shell damaged but restored badly. The streets are long and wide and grand like in Paris, but life seems grey and rather joyless - like Miriam.
Interestingly, the West side story of the Wall is all graffiti and viewing platforms (so that the other side can be seen, like a zoo). The East is barriers, soldiers, guns, paranoia. It takes three or four forms and confrontations with military personnel and half an hour to actually get into the country. It seems to me Moscow is just preserving a political system and perverted philosophy because it can perceive of no other course: no organism is likely to bring about, deliberately, its own destruction. But the facts are simple: West Europe is richer and more successful thatn the East; its people are freer of basic needs, and freer to be rich, successful or whatever. The capitalism/socialism swings of a democratic country work better than communism. I do have some ideological doubts about our system, but on practical evidence, the West winds hands down. Screw all my lefty friends who say better red than dead. It'll be they, the blind and naive, who take up arms against the reds, and me the coward that will learn to queue in the grey and empty shops.
Jan is more relaxed these days. She and Andreas are married. I think the security of marriage has helped ease her tensions. She has grown up. It is two or three years since we were together, and she recalls more about US than I. The first morning, she took us to a flea market on a wasteland - something like a cross between Portobello and Brick Lane. A lot of leather and junk, not really antiques, bratwurst stands, no arty craftiness - very much secondhand. Jan flew from stall to stall in search of a vacuum cleaner. She is much in love with Andreas, but does find such a serious commitment a strain. She meets people through her beauty and liveliness yet it is Andreas who makes deep and lasting friendships with the people she meets. Jan's response to the political debates between Anke, Andreas and I was to make stupid jokes - but it didn't matter because she wasn't trying to pretend anything. Her mind is quick and her observations sharp; her sense of dress slightly offbeat; her smile stretches so wide. She's teaching English at the moment, and is still struggling to be an actress. Every time we went out, we went to a different bar, disco, eating house, every one of which had its own special ambience.
I fell quietly in love with Anke. We met at the door to Jan's house. I had left the keys in the lock and had to rush down five flights to retrieve them. I didn't think she might be Anke, but she realised I must be Paul. Puffing, we walked up together. I did not find her attractive - she has a typical German build and facial features, not Aryan but a darker kind of Germanic beauty. We went out almost every night, and I found myself respecting her more and more and slowly being drawn into her charm. One telling moment sums up the difference between Rona and Anke. I was arguing with Andreas over the relative merits of German and English theatre - the debate was heated though very good humoured. Rona interjected to say it wasn't possible to make comparisons; Anke silenced her simply with: 'well, if you are making this debate then you can compare,' or something similar. I wanted to stay with her the first long evening together but it was impractical to ask. I decided to wait until Wednesday evening when I had asked her out to supper. Anke gave no obvious signs of being attracted to me. I assumed a lot I think - shy eyes emerging from a cool and chic personality, awkwardness when we were left together alone for a few minutes. And I was influenced by Jan's report that Anke had asked if Rona and I were lovers.
I confided in Andreas that I wanted to take Anke back to their flat, which meant that both Jan and she would know also. Arrangements after the meal were a mess. I left it very late to make any sort of proposition, and all it succeeded in achieving was for get us all to a disco dancing away a few more hours. I wished Rona had gone home by this time, for she wasn't dancing and she looked tired. In the end I never asked Anke to go with me (in defence of my cowardice, I was acutely aware that she has boyfriend). Berlin would have been half as much without Anke.
Anke and Andreas were famous together, connecting magnificently in humour, even stretching to humour over English understanding. On the last night, we took on the East-West pro-anti US debate. Andreas and Anke versus me. I defended America's presence in the world, and they attacked it. It was fascinating because little by little our arguments were whittled away to a question of philosophy. For the first time in my life, I understood something - that something didn't come from Andreas or Jan but from my examination of my own arguments. Here is a question: Is physical strength - which force was predominant in the world until modern times - any more evil or any less a basis for a hierarchy of power than mental strength, i.e. intelligence? Not very long ago, I talked to Colin about a story idea concerning Thought Police. Surely, we need some policing of those who misuse their mental intelligence to subordinate others. Now, there is a basis for communism.
And last of all there is Andreas. On the second night he took us to the National Opera to see a modern opera by Zimmerman as interpreted by Nonfeulys - I can't remember the spelling of this famous German theatre director. It was an exciting evening, although difficult to understand. Afterwards Andreas explained much of it, and about the director. A gentle man, intelligent, 26 and studying theatre and philosophy, but confused as to what direction to take. I heard him talk about keeping all his options open and not deciding on one particular type of work because he's afraid of it being the wrong choice. Ha, don't I know that one well. We also went to see Dario Fo and Franka Rame at the Fools Festival-type of space in Berlin, in a tent. In Italian and translated to German it was powerfully boring. Andreas laughed too much at what I thought was rather passe political theatre. I could nit pick a bit more, but the dialogue between him and I continued well and fast through to the end of my stay.
Paul K Lyons
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