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Diaries
of
PAUL K LYONS

1987

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JOURNAL - 1987 - DECEMBER

Tuesday 1 December

Dear Adam, we went to the cemetery briefly yesterday afternoon. Even at 3:30pm it feels dark and threatening. We did see the sun at the weekend but not yesterday, there was too much cloud, too much sky. There, in the cemetery, I showed you bare trees of winter, all the brown crisp leaves on the ground, the ivy-covered gravestones, the man working on the fallen trees with a saw, another dumping leaves on a huge bonfire - the smoke of which seemed to blend into the foreboding sky. For a while I took you out of the sling, and carried you in front of me but facing out so that you could see where you were going, but this wasn’t very comfortable for either of us, and I worried about you getting cold. As I, rather we, began to walk towards the exit I realised that I had not actually felt the walk, I had not sensed it, had not really been in the cemetery, my concentration had been entirely with you and on you. I had not relaxed for a second to ‘disfrutar’ from the surrounds. So, for a few minutes, I forgot about you, about the lump on my front, relaxed my shoulders, arms and hands’ and looked about me. The pathway stretched out towards the chapel buildings in the centre - two chapels connected by archways to a central building. All are built of rough granite (I think), grey stone. It so happened that at this point of ‘seeing’ I saw two bare and black tree trunks, bare by winter, black by silhouette, standing directly in line of the outlying sides of the two arches. Each arch, therefore, looked to have one strut of stone and one of tree trunk, and where, on each tree, the first branch angled to the side, I saw the curve of the arch more angled, sharper, more gothic than in fact.

Past the arches and now nearly out of the cemetery I thought of you again. I thought how difficult it must be for you to see anything. The walking rhythm is too jerky, you can not have learnt to see as you move yet. So, I thought to stop for a few seconds every few steps and then walk more slowly, more evenly for you to take in better the surroundings. Back on the Willesden Lane, I walked fast, nothing to appreciate in all those lorries and all that noise.

After our walk we went to the lounge and played the piano. You splayed out your fingers, and allowed me to play the keys with them, and you concentrated on what we were doing, once or twice playing a note all on your own. The late afternoon turned into an enjoyable evening. You were having such fun, you didn’t go to bed at all, but Mum brought up dinner, and then Martin came back after three weeks in Russia and he had lots to talk about. Every other word he uses to describe the country, or events within it, is ‘disgusting’. He says he has probably got his boss sacked, that the Russians took away his passport, and that he has been offered other jobs by contractors to the same job.

I watched a 1936 version of H G Well’s ‘Things to Come’ which reminded me of Lang’s ‘Metropolitan’. But, for most of the evening we watched Pavarotti in ‘Rigaletto’. Having seen Verdi’s masterpiece at the Coliseum last week and not fully understood the plot, I wanted to see it again. I didn’t much like this version, but it was useful to have subtitles.

You are so gorgeous at present, ever willing to smile, even laugh sometimes. You rarely cry or show any ill-nature, occasionally perhaps at feeding time

Dearest Adam. Still Tuesday, still at the office. My easy week. Time enough to trouble over office politics. At McGraw-Hill I was in a position of power, information came my way, and I meted out doses to others. Here, at FTBI, I have to scavenge to find out what is going on. Two new production assistants have been appointed, one for a newsletter called ‘International Trade Finance’ and another called ‘Euromarket’. Both have lesser circulations than my newsletter, so why should production assistants (EPAs) be appointed to them and not to me, why am I just left to put up with the leftover assistance. I don’t feel I can be demanding because of my position on a six month contract.

On Thursday I finalised issue 253 of the ‘European Energy Report’. In the evening I went to Screen on the Hill to see David Mamet’s ‘House of Games’, about con-men and a psychiatrist’s journey into their world. It has had some rave reviews, but I found the film a bit bare, the con tricks not so thrilling as to give the film purpose. About two-thirds of the way through, though, the film struck me as an allegory on the condition of psychiatry - on the similarities between the conning game of con-men and that of psychiatrists.

Friday

I do not think we will go to Aldeburgh this weekend. Partly because we expect scaffolding and no roof, and partly because we will go next week for three or four days. I listen to the news of a morning. The Reagan-Gorbachev summit approaches, the US Congress gets itchy thinking the President may have made too many concessions. To keep them happy he tells the nation that the USSR is still an evil country. At home another Thatcher’s government aims an injunction at the BBC to prohibit it from showing several programmes which discuss the security services, and from broadcasting an interview with a security service officer. This is quite scandalous, really Thatcher is going too far. How important it is now for the country to have a credible political alternative. Yet I cannot see the Labour Party providing it. The Conservative back benchers appear to have no teeth any more, they cannot temper these goings on. I talk a lot about the privatisation issue with colleagues and people met at conferences. There are strong reasons for the CEGB to stay government-owned, perhaps, more than any other public service, and I feel that Thatcher is pushing her politics too far - as though the theory were in control.

Saturday

My dear son, you are having a midday nap. After your mother left, we went off to buy vegetables, you in the pushchair, then we came home and played a bit. I should briefly mention Debbie and Colin, who invited us to dinner last Saturday. B met them through her NCT class. They live in a town house in the Vale of Health - I suppose either she or he is from a wealthy family. Their child, Alexander, is about three weeks younger than you, but there were no close encounters since you were both asleep. Debbie and Colin are well bred in a way I suppose B and I aren’t, they are very middle class and conform to middle class standards. They have little pretension about them, are calm and easy to be with. Indeed, I enjoyed the evening. They had invited two very close friends, on the edge of falling into the baby pit. One of them, the husband, works on ‘Investor’s Chonicle’, an FTBI publication, so that gave us lots to talk about, while the wife works on ‘Holiday Which’. Colin, I think, is a lawyer, but he says very little, happy to sit back in his chair and listen to the flow of conversation. Debbie wonders about going back to work, in a recruitment agency, and earning enough to pay a nanny.

Wednesday 16 December

For a few hours I am fine, but I fear the flu has found me. Thus will I be wretched. We are all embroiled in Christmas. Pavements are crowded with excited shoppers racing from one window display of snow fluff and green paper to the next. They carry paper bags and plastic bags bulging with awkward shapes that knock against the knees of the next noel-crazed ninny. They rush in and out of stores and departments displaying Royal Flushes of credit cards, uncaring of debt they all still carry from November’s pre-Christmas spending sprees. Between the shopping expeditions, all employees must attend their Christmas celebrations so generously provided by the employers. The lunch. The Office Party. All these events to add to our dull lives.

And your father too - attends events and bustles along with bulging bags. The office party, all agree, was the worst for many years. I went but for half an hour because the date clashed with a planned trip to the National Theatre. I had to rush to the Bracken House canteen, exotic location of aforementioned party, gulp down a warm lager and eat stale bread and cheese (for there was nothing else on offer) before racing 30 minutes later to the NT to meet B, Judy and Rob. You, young man, were left at home in the care of various relations. At the party, I talked briefly to Tessa about Norwood to where she has just moved, and to Rosemary, secretary to Dennis Kiley, about religion. She is a devotee of a sect that inhabits an enormous and beautiful mansion on Hampstead Heath, one which has often inspired my awe and curiosity.

While I was chatting away at the party, your mother was trying to get away from Aldershot Road so as to arrive in time for the play ‘Entertaining Strangers’ at the Cottesloe. I had thought it would start at 8, and arranged for Martin to be at home at 7:15 but, by the time I discovered it was 7:30, Martin had left his office and was not to be traced. Neither Julian nor Melanie could babysit that missing half an hour. I suggested B tie you down or lock you in the wardrobe, but she wouldn’t. In the end kind Julian Bull stepped courageously into the ring, and agreed to babysit for half an hour from 6:45 to 7:15. Ah, but you were screaming when your Mum left, and through the evening for your cousin Martin, giving him quite a hard time. He got so fed up of walking you back and forth that he fell asleep with you on the bed.

All four of us at the NT enjoyed our child-less evening. The play, a 19th century tale, told of the conflict between the reality of the poor masses and the high blown creed of the church. Adapted for the National Theatre by David Edgar, the show originated as a community play in Dorchester. Judy Dench played an aspiring publican, a conscientious mother and kindly neighbour; Tim Piggot-Smith was the fire-breathing vicar. The show sparkles with theatrical effect, and moves quickly from one part of the theatre to another often disturbing the floor-seated or standing audience. More or less every character in the play suffers when cholera arrives thanks to the newly operating railways. Through suffering, attitudes and beliefs are tempered, and humanity wins out. In the bar afterwards, we talk babies and Christmas arrangements.

Evening

As for you my son, you are becoming an old man right under our noses. You must be all of 19 weeks old. You smile and laugh lots, recognise your Mum and Dad, hold onto a rattle, even pass it from hand to hand. You make lots of sounds, now you’ve learned to bawl, and we’ve learned to ignore you on occasions, especially when it’s bedtime. Your muscles, in general, are much relaxed, and you allow me to move your arms up and out without hysterics. I also play with your fingers individually, so that you build up cognisance of them. The knees also, I hold you in the air with only your knees touching the ground, so you feel them, so you are aware of them. Together we play the piano whenever it’s possible, only for a few minutes, but already you can hit the keys individually. You sleep two or three hours a day in two bouts. You are being fed for about two or two and a half hours a day, you amuse yourself for two to three hours a day, and you need attention for two to three hours a day. Your weight gain and height are proceeding normally.

Saturday

Daddy’s gone all weak again, maybe it was the tetanus booster which affected him for a day or two, or maybe he does have a flu bug. B’s all sick, and even you are showing an irritability that might come from some sort of cold, or a sore throat perhaps. Altogether we are a bit gloomy. Now, this morning, your Mum has gone off home for a while. I have fed you your morning bottle, and you have taken a short nap. Awake from your nap you were full of interest in the world, so we went exploring. In the garden we looked at all the different shrubs and learned their names, you smelled the lavender and the rosemary. Then, when the sun went it, we went upstairs to have a quick play of the piano - far more interesting than a dozen Fisher Price activity centres put together. (In mid-sentence, I stopped to glance over at you, for you had stopped your intermittent playful screaming. You are lying flat on your back on the floor kicking away with your legs. You had stopped making a noise because you had managed to haul the white teddy bear onto your chest and were playing with its legs, even sucking them. It’s the first time I’ve seen you play with a teddy bear at all.) After the piano we went into my study - you do love travelling from room to room - and for the first time we looked at some books together. There is no doubt that you are going to be a great book lover. Oh, but it is hard to get things done while you are in a grumpy mood.

Some time later

You have had a snack of lunch, and fallen asleep over your first ever ounce of milk. At certain times of the day, usually after you have been fed and when you are not too tired, you become quite adorable. You are relaxed, quiet, interested, attentive. It is in these time that you are most likely to take in information, to learn. But they are also the times it is easiest to leave you alone, for you neither cry nor whinge.

This damn weakness has hindered me from achieving all I meant to this week. I thought I’d clean up the Christmas shopping. Despite the physical effort needed just to traipse round Hamleys - yes my son I have been to Hamleys for the first of many visits I imagine - I did not have enough mental energy to make purchasing decisions. This happened on both Wednesday and Friday. On Thursday, I stayed at home to rest. During the day I finished off, polished off two classics.

Cronin’s ‘The Stars Look Down’ is a profoundly pessimistic novel. It is satisfying in that it weaves the stories of many well drawn characters in and out of each other, and in so doing creates a tapestry of the times, rich in colour and detail and action. But Cronin must have been deeply upset at the way British politics and society was moving. All the decent and upright characters find their live’s rewarded only by failure, while those who are greedy and even nasty do well. The heroes find some success in the world, but Cronin tends to smash it down. The baddies are never more than incidental, but they succeed in the world: Cronin does not even show their nastiness to any good effect, or the consequences on people around them. He has taken on a bitterness about the day’s politics and unleashed it through the novel.

The other classic, I listened to. I borrowed from the library Trollope’s ‘The Warden’ read by Nigel Hawthorne on six tapes. I listened to much of it while plastering the front room at Aldeburgh, and the rest while ill on Thursday. Oh dear, Trollope does have a long-winded way of putting things. The plot of the entire book could be told in a page, but Trollope delights in telling his tale methodically and in detail. The poor warden, he is like an old and well-built cottage which suffers the terrible onslaught of a hurricane. (It occurred to me that C P Snow must have been influenced by Trollope in his ‘Strangers and Brothers’ series.)

What else culturally? On TV an adaptation of Le Carre’s ‘The Perfect Spy’ finished quite satisfyingly. Peter Egan does well right up until the last bloodshot scene. The enigmas within the story and Pym’s actions are made as clear as necessary. Insight is shed upon his life, by the letters he writes to his wife, to his son and to his network boss. The real genius, of course, is Le Carre, and this production did his novel much credit.

At Aldeburgh, the scaffolding has gone up and the roofers have done their work. Fortunately, and by coincidence, they began the Friday morning we were there, but they worked so fast that I was unable to ensure everything got done. For example, having the slates and batons stripped from the back, it was clear that some problems existed with the rafters; and the extent of the problem caused by a dislodged purloin became apparent. I then understood fully the meaning of the surveyor’s report. It also seemed to me that certain works in connection with the gable wall and the purloin and the uncovered parts of the chimney stack would be best carried out whilst the slates and batons were off. However, there was no sign of any man or men from Steer - the roofers being contracted from Ipswich. I drove over to Leiston to talk to Middleditch who promised to come that afternoon. The roofers, though, were all set to re-baton and felt the back, fearing it might rain. It seemed to me incomprehensible that the roof should be felted and battoned before such brickwork as was necessary could be done. Yet, on the other hand, it is impractical to leave the roof uncovered with rain imminent. Middleditch came mid-afternoon, organised the one area in which his men would need to collaborate with Betts the roofers, i.e. over the fixing of the bargeboards. He was not interested in the chimney stack or any of the internal repointing. That, he said, would be done from the inside after the new year. I thought, also, for example, that the entire loft space was best cleaned out with the roof off, but Middleditch advised doing this with plastic sacks afterwards.

On Monday, Steer’s man came to do the bargeboards; using his ladder I kept climbing up to have a look at the work done so far. The roofers had slated half the back, in a diagonal from the bottom left-hand corner to the chimney stack and the rest front and back was protected by installed felt and battons. At the back I found loads of straw packed down into one corner under the felt and between the edging bricks, where generations of birds had nested. That should have all been taken out. And, at the front, I found all the edging bricks loose, and some of them were not even bricks but severely rotten chunks of wood. I couldn’t work out why there should be wood blocks there, but the bargeboard man explained that they had been put there once upon time so that the gutters could be held sufficiently by brackets screwed into them. Now the gutter is held by much larger brackets that travel a foot or two down the wall. Well, I couldn’t sit by and let the roofers cover up that multitude of sins, and yet what could I do? The bargeboard man was not interested in doing more than he had been told to do (and I must check he painted them twice with the Solignum and not just once), and the roofers had not arrived but I felt sure they would brook no delay to their job. Plus, I didn’t feel I could call Middleditch again - though this is of course what I should have done. As luck would have it, one of his men came by, and I explained the problem of the loose bricks. Indeed, he said, they should be reset, and said he would do them in the morning, before the return of the roofers. And he did; but I still think about the loose bricks at the back.

Adam, I did the house proud the last weekend. Much of the old plaster in the front room was falling off, and I’d hacked most of the lower stuff off, in readiness to employ a skilled plasterer. Your Mum and I haven’t got on with this room because I was waiting to ask Steer to do this with the rest of the work. But then I plucked up the courage to buy floats and plaster myself. I did not find it that easy, but it certainly wasn’t beyond my ability - why had I prevaricated so long, we could have got on with decorating this room months ago. It helped that I’d worked with Tony Piper all those years ago. I did plastering for him, and some of the techniques came back, like putting a squeeze of fairy liquid in the water before mixing with the carlite.

We ventured out Sunday morning. The sun spread out its golden fingers before rising too high in the sky, it spread them across the marshy lands of the Alde. We drove slowly through the back roads in the direction of Orford. A small car boot sale at one village offered nothing of interest, but then we discovered Iken. A church and a mansion stand almost isolated from the mainland on an ‘island’ of beautiful trees and hedges. The ‘island’ juts out into the Alde. In the spring, we will walk to it from Snape. So many beautiful walks to discover.

Wednesday 23 December

Look at this Adam, Christmas is here, your first Christmas. Daddy has joined the Christmas rush. He has sent dozens of Christmas cards (though received but few) and spent hundreds of pounds on presents. For Mum, a clock radio cassette; for Melanie, desert bowls; for Julian, a fork and spade; for your Mummy various items - and don’t forget it’s her birthday too on the 27th, so we must make that day special. The question arises though as to when do B & I open our presents - at home, before we go to Mum’s, or at Mum’s. I took a weather reading on this with my brother and sister, and it transpires that they are having their xmas sessions before going to Mum’s. Adam, there are so many imponderables about Christmas. I worry, now, that I’ve bought enough presents for everyone, your mother in particular. What with her birthday as well. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. But I would not have Christmas deleted from the calendar. It is a tradition that enriches our decadent society, even if over-commercialisation ruins it somewhat. I mean it has become difficult to give just a little thing, or something home-made. Perhaps we should lobby for a negotiated Christmas Present Reduction Treaty - the CPRT.

Unfortunately all of us, B, A and me were sick the night of Julian’s party, all of us tired and worn out by I don’t know what. I had no energy to persuade B to go, so dragged myself off to Talbot Road. B did actually arrive not much later, leaving you with Cathy as a baby minder. Simon and Fran, Craig, Christian were there. My ex-lodger, Andy Komocki, arrived later on, and made vitriolic comments about Cathy - ‘she’s so boring’. Presumably he remains innocent to the fact that most of us know he has been sleeping with her. But the main reason for my going was to meet Gerry and Liz. I’ve met Liz before, though barely remembered her. She has since married Gerry. Gerry’s family has lived in Suffolk, and the maternal side of his family has lived in Aldeburgh for generations. He regularly stays in the family house, a bit out from the village, and is a member of the sailing club. That aside, he is also a successful photographer.

With the Warrens, we walked up to Parliament Hill past the kites down to the lower series of ponds, and then trekked through the woods to Kenwood. At first Sophie slept in her pushchair, when she did awake she looked terribly ill with mauve eyes. But having woken up, she began to smile and laugh and talk. Best of all was flying through the air, held in one hand by Robert and the other by me; second best was going on Rob’s shoulders; third best was walking; and no fun at all was being pushed.

The view of Kenwood, a cream majestic mansion, through the timid browns and greys of leafless trees and shrubs, made the trek from the southern part of Hampstead Heath to the northern parts more than worthwhile. And then there was the haven of a restaurant, with free tea because of understaffing. Sweet gift indeed! Free tea at the turning point of our walk. We celebrated with cakes. How kind and generous, the Warrens brought us a small gift and card.

Sunday was both comedy and tragedy. Early evening, I went with cousin Martin to bingo at the State Gaumont. He has been pestering me for ages to take him - his curiosity rivals my own. Quite honestly, the whole thing is a mystery to me. I mean how do we know what books to buy, how many? We bought a few for the second session and went on in. The theatre looks absolutely magnificent. Top Rank have lavished £1m on restoring this once famous cinema to near its former glory. The walls have been painted pink, and the detailed plasterwork picked out in gold and other colours. No cinema proprietor could have afforded this, but bingo has paid for it. The hall was packed, upstairs and downstairs - not a table free. The stage was glittered with decorations, coloured numbers, a microphone. There was even a drum set, and I just assumed it was normal for a band to entertain of an evening. We walked around the place, up the side stairs to the balcony, through the masses of eager and expectant groups of people, all with their beers or sandwiches, playing cards, pens and bingo sets. During the intervals, the crowds turn to the mechanical bingo machines. Needless to say, neither Martin or I won a thing, and even before the session was over we left in search of cool and fresh air. Later in the week, I learned from the ‘Kilburn Times’ that the very evening we had visited the State Gaumont, it was celebrating its 50th anniversary. Larry Adler, the harmonica player extraordinaire, present at the opening night in 1937, made a guest appearance, and the live entertainment afterwards was a special treat. Little did we know.

The tragedy struck later - a strange dull pain behind my breast bone. By the time I went to bed it had become sufficiently uncomfortable to interfere with my falling asleep. Thinking it might be indigestion, I took some bicarbonate of soda, and tried both burping and farting. To no avail. The pain and discomfort amplified, and spread across to my right shoulder. I tried watching television and videos, but nothing could draw my attention away from the pain. Finally, I went out for a walk - about 3am - along the High Road. It always surprises me to find so much activity, burger bars and chip shops open. And on Willesden Lane, a grocery store selling wholesale volumes of alcohol was doing a roaring trade. I came back, took two aspirin and finally drifted off to sleep. In the morning, my body felt no trace of the pain. In retrospect, I think it may have had a muscular cause, originating from having Adam in the sling on my chest for so long while on Hampstead Heath.

Claudia from Vienna rang, and I rang her back. She tells me Mu has emigrated to Australia with her husband and two children. Hans has just died - 2 December. I suppose from AIDS. For some time, he had tried to control his failing health through devotion to Eastern religion techniques. Claudia herself, she of the piano and glaring eyes, sounds not one whit happier. She has her degree in psychology or psychiatry now (I forget which) but will not work with it. She is a woman of many talents, with her music knowledge, her theatre diploma and her new degree, yet still she does not know what to do next. She talks fondly of her sister and her three children, but says nothing about her own personal situation. I have always felt that she has a deep relationship with music, and she was married to a piano in a locked room. I tell her that her piano playing still rings in my ears. She sounds genuinely delighted when I tell her about you.

Also I phone Thomas in Santa Theresa, Rio. We talk about his son, Henrico, and you, my son. He does well for his Danish paper. They have sent him to Peru. He sounds well and reasonably contented.

Here I am the office on Christmas Eve. There is no one else here at all, no one. I poke around in people’s desks, and find that Chris earns £24,000 a year, and Andy earns £23,660 a year, compared to my salary of £22,000 a year. And I know that Gerard earns £26,000 a year. I don’t feel too badly off.

New Year’s Eve

Why not call it New Year’s Adam, eh young man? Answer me that. So, dearest angel, here we are at the end of 1987, your birth year. As human beings, individuals, we tend to mark the passage of years by birthdays, but as a society, a culture, we acknowledge the passage of time through changing the year date on 31 December, at midnight, the start of 1 January. All over the Western World tonight will be gatherings to celebrate the passing of the old and the coming of the new. As it happen, your parents will celebrate alone, you and your mother together, and me here on my todd.

Your Grandma had ordered us to be present by 10:00am on Christmas morning, but somehow B & I (and you of course) managed to waste the whole morning, only setting off at 9:50am and having to stop at B’s. Having not wrapped Julian’s presents, I really needed to arrive at Grandma’s before Julian. So, I dropped B and you off, and raced over to Hodford Road. Carrying both spade and fork, I dashed into the house, past a bedazzled Grandma, and hid one under one bed and the other under another. I then dashed out again to see Julian’s BMW pulling up on the other side of the road. There was just sufficient time to grab the clematis plant from the back of my car, and dive back into the house without it being seen. Phew. The clematis hid between the dustbins. I had wrapped dummy boxes containing cards with clues as to the whereabouts of the presents. Barely stopping to greet Grandma, I raced back to pick up you and B. As I drove through the quiet but familiar streets, I reflected on the minutes and seconds I had managed to save, the ones that had allowed me to just get the presents hidden in time: the running up and down Aldershot Road to fill the car with packages (presents, food, things to go to B’s, your things); the speed and recklessness of my driving; the rapid depositing of you and B at her house. Every second of that process had counted, but how many times do our time-saving exercises prove worthless?

So, there we all were, settled around Grandma’s newly decorated lounge. Melanie, Sarah, Barbara on the sofa. Julian next to Melanie. Adam, you were lying quite contentedly in your baby bouncing chair between Julian and the television. Grandma on the window side of the television, then Julian next to the Christmas tree, and me the other side of the tree. We all had piles and piles of presents in front of us. (Adam, I go into these graphic details because I so wanted to have my camera, to snap your first Christmas, but once the ritual was under way I could no more interrupt it, then remove commercial decadence from the Christmas rite.)

Mum gave Julian L a travelling bag, Julian L gave Paul a kettle, Paul gave Melanie some white bowls, Melanie gave Adam a Fisher Price activity centre (identical to one borrowed from Judy W), Adam gave Sarah a parsley pig, Sarah gave Melanie pink cushions, Melanie gave Mum a pair of gloves, Mum gave Paul a hammer, Paul gave Julian L a spade, Julian L gave Mum a purse, Mum gave Adam a singing rabbit, Adam gave Melanie a pepper planting set, Melanie gave . . . Oh I nearly forgot to mention your Grandma-knitted three piece suit, quite the smartest outfit.

In fact, this must have been one of our most excessive Christmas’s ever. Firstly, there were more of us than usual; secondly Adam, your presence made Christmas again magical, allowing your relations to buy toys; and, thirdly, I suppose there is generally more money around after eight years of Thatcher. The shops and streets of London testify to that. The world seems to be buying as if there were no tomorrow.

We opened our presents one by one in an orderly circle, though inevitably people got more and more and more impatient. Calls were made for a free-for-all but I resisted them trying to restore discipline to the crowd of drunken consumers. I only half succeeded as individuals snatched at their remaining surprises. I didn’t want to miss the fun, to see who had bought who what. In general, Mum is the cleverest present-buyer - perhaps she knows us best - while Julian is the most conservative. Mel is the most unconscious about her choices, picking things she likes for others. And I, well I suppose I vary from conservatism to avant garde.

After the presents we took a short walk you, B and I. We walked among the birds and animals of Golders Hill Park. You and B then departed before lunch so that you both could spend the afternoon with B’s parents. I stayed for Christmas lunch with my mother - asparagus soup, prawn cocktail, roast duck with mangetout, boiled spuds, carrots and beans; and then I fell asleep even before the pudding: the previous night you and me had slept in the lounge, so that B could get a full night’s sleep for the first time in five whole months. Now, don’t you feel guilty that she has to climb out of bed at four in the morning and feed you?

1988

Paul K Lyons

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