PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1987 - MAY
Saturday 2 May
Late in the week I heard a radio account of the history of the discovery of DNA focussing on the part played by Rosalind Franklin. Both accounts were very similar. Unfortunately Franklin died in 1958, and the other three were given the Nobel Prize in 1962-1963. Her part actually seems to have been fairly crucial, clues about her work thoughtlessly passed on by her jealous and resentful colleagues, Wilkins to Crick, or stolen by Watson during his reccies at King’s College. But I wanted to say that the BBC drama was quite superb - it combined cracking dialogue (Peter Nicholson) with a lovely photographic sense. The performances by the quartet were stunning and apparently quite accurate. The director gave us a whole near-perfect - it showed us the process by which pieces of the jigsaw puzzle were put together, and didn’t cry off using long words and presenting the science (even if most viewers wouldn’t have understood the differences between peptides and piptides or whatever they’re called and the importance of the position of the phosphate molecules).
Sunday 10 May
I don’t feel that my journal is capturing the essence (or lack) of the fundamentals of my life at present. Huge chunks of important things are being left out, or so it seems, well a week has gone by since the last entry. I tend to write in what is currently on my mind, the pre-occupation or pre-occupations of the moment rather than matters I might have been cogitating through the week. This is partly because the journal is not present in my thoughts, as it usually is, and partly because I don’t write in here often enough, for lack of routines in my daily life.
My wild and spontaneous idea to teach evolution night classes has come to nought. ‘Cosmopolitan’ returned ‘Veronica’ immediately.
I am quite determined to try and record Barbara’s health and the changes in her body and mind as a forerunner for writing about our child when and if it comes. Her belly has been more than prominent ever since my return, but now it is really starting to bulge, like an enormous balloon. Bwl cannot imagine how it can go on getting bigger for another three months. Me, neither.
After a big meal on Friday we sat quietly in the lounge to watch Hitchcock’s ‘I Confess’ (which I confess was thoroughly enjoyable) we were sitting quietly on the sofa when Barbara nudged my hand into a position to read her pulse - a very high 97 compared to a normal 70. She thought this was because her body was working so hard to digest such a big meal, and that it would be better to eat smaller meals more often.
Barbara is being extremely conscientious over food - she drinks her pint of milk of day, eats as many eggs as she can stand, is always at the lentils and the cheese, takes her iron tablets regularly. At the last encounter with the doctor, she was told that she hadn’t put on quite enough weight, although otherwise everything was fine and even the weight business was not worrying in any real sense of the word.
Last week, she felt quite depressed for no specific reason and tended to burst into tears. I said it seemed natural. Having a child is such an enormous event that the conscious self cannot fully take it all in, the psyche must work overtime trying to bring it, the self, into tune with the great change. Furthermore, leaving work after five years, is a big upheaval, a lot to cope with. I think it is important to have these emotional disturbances because then one knows one is really making the transition, that the self is coping psychologically bit by bit with it all. And it must help to have solid, stable aspects in one’s life, to hold on to, as it were. For Barbara this would be her flat, her parents and me.
How do I know any of this, where have I learnt it from? I seem to speak with a certain wisdom and knowledge for which I can find no real basis. Yet I doubt not what I say.
Barbara will attend National Childbirth Trust classes during the day. I hope she makes some friends there.
In the world at large, Botha is returned to power with increased support for the right wing, apartheid watchers predict everything from a blood bath to business as usual.
An intelligent, likeable US Democratic candidate, Hart, steps down having been hounded by the press which found out about his private life and loves of pretty girls. Philandering among politicians is nothing new, but someone wishing to be a presidential candidate has to be able to get away with it - one way or another, through style or deft secretiveness. Though, also, I think that with a mushrooming of religious fervour in the US, potential leaders need to be ever more clean-cut. Hart, himself, noted that if candidates are going to have to be absolutely spotless, then the country will get what it deserves. Few people of calibre, ‘The Sunday Times’ interprets, would be prepared to stand for election.
But in the UK the big news is the impending general election - the media has gone berserk. Every which way one turns someone is saying the election will be on 11 June - although nobody explains why that date is most likely. My own suspicion is that Thatcher will go for 4 June. The government has already laid the groundwork with an unending series of good news items - policies towards nurses pay, village schools and nuclear waste sites, to name but a few. These are bound to be more effective than the ephemeral thrusts and counter-thrusts of an election campaign. I shall vote SDP/Alliance. It’s time our politics changed. We need milder swings, more moderate policies. There is no reason why combination governments cannot also provide solid long-term policies, but more middle-of-the-road.
Instead of catching up I fall further behind. The election has been called for 11 June - the campaigning has begun in earnest.
I am working at the Financial Times Business Information newsletter group. Gerard McCloskey, the editor of the coal report, is employing me, and I shall also do some work for a new newsletter on European electricity. The editors want me to do some price reporting - fuel oil to power stations. It sounds dire. In fact, Gerard did offer me a six-month contract, which, perhaps, I should have accepted, but in the meantime, the BBC has invited me for a preliminary interview (I applied for a job as a contract producer). The job is close to perfect, in that I would be working with the Radio Three documentaries unit (a producer thinks up ideas, and sees them through to production end). I hope that would involve research as well as researching speakers to be asked. Anyway, I am quietly excited because after many previous applications I feel ever so privileged that Aunty has invited me at last for an interview.
Martin Goldsmith was here, terribly grown-up and serious. He has certainly matured since I last saw him. At present, he is working at a ski centre in France, but he’s intending to take a job with a small chemicals company that has projects in Bulgaria and Russia. Martin’s job will be to liaise the transfer of technology as far as I understand. He will be based in London on a salary of £12,000, and travel four months of the year. He is not yet sure if he will be allowed to travel freely in and out of Bulgaria - once or twice might be OK but more than that may be difficult. The whole area of technology transfer, though, is fraught with dangers, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets caught up in bigger games. He has already tasted bigger games with his role on the Bulgarian Olympics Committee.
Meanwhile he spreads various family gossip. Roxanne has reunited with Mike [my uncle and Martin’s father] in Paris but does not get on well with Michael, Martin’s brother. Martin says the Goldsmith flat in Paris is not a very happy place, Andrew [son of Mike and his third wife, Roxanne] has suffered from never being wanted by either parent, and living on aeroplanes.
I do get on well with Martin. He is intelligent, sharp, and not given to wasting time on trivialities. He is getting on with his life much quicker than I. I think his grounding, his foundation is deeper, broader, and he has far more self-confidence than I. I take him to the Bush Theatre to see the People Show because I think his intelligence will approve of the zaniness. It does, up to a point, but the People Show are not what they used to be, they have peaked, and two of the strongest presences I remember, George Kahn and Emile Wolk, have left the group. Also, the group now seem to spend a lot more time speaking than they used to - and that is a mistake because it’s not made up of the greatest actors.
I completely redecorate the study - white and black. It feels cool and professional in here now. I want to get into the habit of using it lots, to read as well as to write. I debate with myself about writing my diary directly onto the screen and filing print-outs in a loose leaf binder. Also, I would like to keep notes about my reading on mind and evolution. Plus, I feel the need to get into yoga again on a regular basis.
Saturday 23 May
Barbara. Monday last B came round quite late. We sat on the sofa watching the news. Something was not quite right, but she found it difficult to talk about it. Laura/Adam had not moved much during the day, hardly at all in fact. As it happened, she had an appointment at the doctor’s any way. But, she said, if the baby didn’t move at all the next day, then she would go to the hospital. She had already runga the hospital clinic and been told that a minimum of ten movements a day was good. But what sort of movements? A single kick, or a sustained bout of punching? But I could see that B was deeply worried, and not only worried but worried about being worried, and how that might make things worse. I said, first of all, that she shouldn’t worry about worry because that is very unlikely to have any consequence at this stage. Indeed, a certain worry is good and useful. I do not know this, I do not state it as a fact, but I believe it, for it seems rational, and the reassurance of my confident belief in itself must be helpful.
Then we talked about the fact that since my return we have thrown caution to the wind in terms of investing emotional energy in the child - we have no longer held back, as we did in the early days when a natural abortion could have occurred so easily. I said many things could still happen and we should be aware of them. I went to the toilet for a second to pee, and found myself in tears - an enormous depth of sorrow welled up and overflowed. But just for a second. The conversation continued for a few minutes and ended when, by touching her stomach, I could feel the little blighter happily kicking its Mum. Barbara lit up under the onslaught. Of course ,it wants its Daddy, and knows when he’s near.
Barbara rings just now - she says the child still isn’t moving very much; it’s kicked four times this morning, and whilst she’s talking with me on the phone, it moves again. B’s books tell her that about this time, the 24th week, babies do move less for some reason.
The BBC interview. I just didn’t do my homework properly. I didn’t listen to Radio Three documentaries as I should have done to have given myself the best chance, didn’t remember a single one I’d heard - silly boy. And I concentrated too much on the science side, because I thought they might be hiring someone for ‘Science Now’ and ‘Medicine World’, but the production lady who interviewed me - an American - wanted some useful comment on the arts, and picked on theatre because that was down on my form, but somehow I managed to say nothing useful. And in ten minutes I was out. A reject. In the office outside sat a most beautiful girl awaiting her ten minute grilling.
Now for the good news. The vendors of 15 Leiston Road have agreed [following the survey] to take £2,500 off the asking price, so it is now £29,500. Negotiations should move ahead fairly swiftly - maybe we’ll be weekending in Aldeburgh by July. With the price reduction I’ll be able to pay without borrowing. I’ll need to talk to the surveyor to ascertain how quickly the various works need doing. Now that I haven’t got the job at the BBC - a BBC salary would have had Barbara and I penny pinching for ages - I’ll be able to hope for a higher income.
The General Election. The media coverage is immense, every channel has several programmes a day, and as many debates as possible. Robin Day has one leading politician on each morning, Radio Four and BBC1 - and angry listeners phone in to ask their most damning questions. I’ve only heard one - Gerald Kauffman - who is little more intelligent than a rat. HIs voice squirmed out of the radio with his ever-so-cheery good mornings, and ‘yes’, that is a very interesting question . . . Yes, to one question, but not to them all! Maggie is taking it all very calmly, condescending to address a meeting or make a visit once in a while. Kinnock goes on TV and appeals to all the slushiest emotions he can find in the masses. David Owen and David Steel run all over the country energetically expounding their middle-of-the-road policies. The polls are not helping them - they desperately need some credibility but if anything the Conservatives are strengthening their position in the lead.
A Labour man engages me in debate at the front door. I tell him I think Ken Livingstone[Brent candidate] is a fine politician but he is far too left wing for me. This chap has all the answers, and quite clearly believes that one should vote for the party that is most likely to help people in need. I tell him I think it is time for change, I believe we should have less dramatic swings in parliamentary policy, and that a third party and proportional representation are positive aims to vote for. When he finds out I’m not going to vote Tory, and that Andy Komocki (also on his list) [me tenant] will probably vote Labour, he leaves not too discontent. So far the main issues have been defence, unemployment, education.
Barbara leaves early in the morning, for her parents are coming to lunch. She worries muchly about her mother who appears to be going downhill fast - she hardly eats and has become depressed. This happened once before, not long after her father] retired. Barbara thinks that by preparing tempting food she will persuade her mother to eat better. They are all the family Barbara has in the world, apart from me, and she would be most terribly distraught if either of them were to fall very ill. She, herself, has been suffering sustained bouts of indigestion, and sick feelings, and the last few nights hasn’t slept well at all.
Owning a video recorder is all well and good, but there is a tendency to record programmes but, unless they are extremely appealing, to stockpile them, waiting and waiting to be watched. I currently have five or six tapes of stored material - Britten operas and ‘The Stars Look Down’, and two or three tapes with temporary material awaiting me. But there is so much, a wealth of films and play and documentaries and news. Today, I watch ‘Uncle Vanya’ with Olivier and Redgrave, a sixties Chichester Festival production, also Joan Plowright - quite superb. Masterful Chekhov - turn of the century Russian-type existential crises. The phoenix of hope rises out of the ashes of tedium.
This evening, it is altogether lighter stuff, Joe Orton’s ‘What the Butler Saw’. I’ve not seen this play before - I’m not surprised for it is really quite risqué, up to and including the end in which a giant penis cum cigar is shown the audience. The dialogue is tight and witty, and manages to poke fun at a variety of traditional society mores as well as parodying Wilde’s farce dialogue and all other farces. I thought West would turn out to be a mental patient himself.
In the week I meet Luke. He has a clean tidy flat in the back streets of Soho. It must be worth more than my house. He really landed on his feet with that - the perfect bachelor pad. Now he has a pretty girlfriend who wants to move in with him and have babies. He proudly shows me a picture of her. Luke loves to talk about women and sex and relationships. I have come straight from the FT, but I had to ring him first in order to ascertain his address, and it never occurred to me to ask Lynn [Luke’s girlfriend of some years], also at the FT, who works down the corridor from me. He says, in fact, he hasn’t seen Lynn for two months. We eat at Apollo’s, and then drink at a Covent Garden pub. Luke quizzes me on what I really want to do now. I am evasive and avoid telling him about the BBC interview. Instead, I ask him about wanting to direct. He talks of bringing theatre back to the people, of being committed to large-scale community theatre. Luke tells me he has begun work on his production of ‘Midsummer’s Night Dream’ for/in Deal. He intends two casts, one normal, and one all girls and women - he jokes about it being a lesbian version.
I think directing is intensely hard work; bringing a play to fruition requires immense single-mindedness and focus of thought. So often, directors just cobble bits and pieces of right-seeming direction together. It is not often that one sees plays where the director has a bold, centred vision, and has the ability to impose it across the work.
That was Tuesday night. Wednesday night I go with Barbara to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show. Going out twice in one week makes me feel a busy man. The entry fee to Chelsea is around £10, and yet even at the end of the day the entire grounds are packed. The main marquee has more pedestrians trying to follow its one way signs than are seen on Oxford Street at Christmas. The model gardens cannot be seen for crowds 20 people thick. Tea costs 35p, and a bar of chocolate can’t found anywhere - no profit on Mars bars? As usual, I found the displays of bonsai impressive, especially as they sat serenely opposite the hubbub of a design by Torbay - every year it does a twee, pretentious flower sculpture. I do get great joy from gardens, but I only see ostentation at Chelsea, unnatural creation and arrangements that could never be in real life. It may be useful to discover varieties of plants but the chances are they are either very expensive or unobtainable for the ordinary man-in-the-garden.
Sunday 31 May
The end of May. The lilac blooms are past their prime; now, laburnum, hawthorn and horse chestnut enliven our streets. Yesterday, we went to Aldeburgh so B could see the cottage, and so I could have another look at it. Unfortunately, the owners were in residence, making it difficult to relax and take it in properly. In my mind, the rooms had shrunk, and the gardens grown, so that on second inspection the rooms seemed adequate while the gardens felt cramped. I had forgotten how well kept the garden is, with squares of lawns and well-looked after shrubs. Barbara, of course, loved it, and we talked vaguely of plans for the garden. Mrs Whitehouse, the owner, appeared to possess a strange family, an odd man who kept saying he was nobody, just Mrs Whitehouse’s son-in-law, two adolescents who gave the impression they were too large for the cottage, bursting out of it, so to speak, like Alice in a doll’s house, and an elderly man, probably the husband, who was too tall even to enter the cottage, and spent all his time monitoring a young girl who was cutting three square feet of the lawn with a rotary lawnmower.
In the afternoon, I raced back towards Ipswich to a fete and general auction in the village of Flowton. The village took some finding, though with the aid of the FFF (fundraising for Flowton) signposts we arrived without too many errors. Some of the lanes were beautiful, with banks of flowery cow parsley, but masses of it. Disappointingly, the auction offered nothing of interest, old garden tools, an ancient teas-made, dire pictures, wobbly garden benches. This meant we didn’t stay for long. Barbara bought hand-made tea towels, while I was content with tea and cake. Actually, the event itself was rather sweet, being held in a farmyard, with bales of hay for seats, but to my mind the place was overwhelmingly INTO its country-ness, what with the bell-ringers, Antiques Roadshow invites, and dairy ice cream.
Nearby to Flowton, we walked through fields. The earth of track and field alike was parched, though the fields of rye, grass and barley looked rich green and healthy. We saw a bright red beetle crossing the track, and a ridge of broad bean plants - with lovely white and purple flowers but insect-bitten leaves - left over from another year’s crop at the edge of a cereal field.
Barbara remains very well, looking as lovely as ever, her freckles almost fluorescent, and her eyes sparkling. After a week of Laura/Adam pretending to be fast asleep and worrying us sick (no that’s an exaggeration - worrying us a little), this week she/he has hit out with a vengeance, and Barbara is feeling like a battered Mum.
Thursday, I hit the half three score years and ten stage of my life. Last year, I passed a miserable time, spending the evening alone, and I received maybe two cards. This time round, though, I felt famous. Barbara came the night before in order to be present early in the morning, and bring me goodies at daybreak. Inspired by a carrier bag, all striped in bright orange, she had filled it with things orange and green - green asparagus, green flower stems with orange lilies, an orange and a chocolate orange, and two books wrapped in orange paper. The books, both gardening books, are lovely and well-chosen. Until now, I have relied on the ‘Reader’s Digest Year Planner’, but these new ones are more sophisticated.
Barbara had taken the day off, for I too was not working. In the afternoon, we tripped to Osterley Park. without any great expectations. I’ve been meaning to visit since Philip told me he was so enamoured of the place that he was modelling his lounge decoration on the Robert Adam style at Osterley.
Why the trip out on the tube towards Heathrow is so dislikable remains one of the world’s more trivial unsolved mysteries. T’was a fair old walk to the house. The grounds looked and felt like any old suburban park, while the house itself had a strange, rather incongruous appearance. Adam took ancient Greek and Roman style columns, erecting them above the entrance steps as though they might frame a grand doorway, but instead you walk under the Adam-painted ceiling, suspended by the columns, and find yourself again beneath an open sky in a plain courtyard. It may have broken architectural barriers and pleased the mansion’s owner at the time, but not me, and not B. I have to say, I was tempted to cut our losses, and not bother to pay the extortionate £1.60 each to enter, but it was my birthday after all. In fact, as it turned out, the entrance hall with its especially attractive wall designs, somewhat geometric, and the oh so very Adam grey and white colouring, proved the most attractive of all the rooms, and we’d seen that before paying a penny.
Adam, my EB says, is one of the greatest neoclassical architects and designers. Certainly, the room decorations, the wall reliefs, the beds even, were quite stunning; and whereas, before my visit to Osterley, I couldn’t have told Adam from Eve, I now know and feel a little of who he was. A potentially dull and run-of-the-mill video at the end of the visit actually proffered a useful history of the house and grounds, and gave information on how the National Trust hopes to restore the grounds to the splendour of Adam’s time. Ah ha, we have our explanation as to the rather common state of the house surrounds.
On the way back along the Piccadilly Line we dropped in on the Natural History Museum: the Great British Public has generally to pay to get in, but there’s free entrance after 4:40pm. I wanted Barbara to see the exhibition about John Gould the famous mid-19th century bird man, and I wanted to have a repeat peak at the evolution exhibit.
In the evening, we dined with Mum who, as usual, made a lovely dinner - Julian and Sarah joined us, and we went through all the old stories (trifle on my head, Julian in the cupboards), and argued about poltergeists. Mum bought me a lovely book on English literature, and Julian gave me a squash racket.
Lunch at Raoul’s. I trek down by tube to Clapham South, and walk across Wandsworth Common. I find Rosy and Andrew there, Jonathan, another cancer consultant, with girlfriend Kate, all sitting in the garden, passing the time of afternoon. I am surprised to find Rosy there, as she and Caroline have not really made friends, perhaps this is an attempt to bridge the gap between them. Andrew talks a bit about undergoing marriage guidance with Rosy (he’d told me previously but I didn’t know this was common knowledge among their friends); I talk to Jonathan about Brazil, he has been switched on to the country by reading Jorge Amado. Last time I saw him, he was paired with Naomi a rather gorgeous sexy number (as Andrew would say). Personally, I thought she would eat him for breakfast. His latest wife, Kate, is also quite presentable, a solicitor to be. Caroline and Kate sided together to attack David Lynch’s film ‘Blue Velvet’ as evil and degrading to women. I, alone, defended Lynch’s work. The argument tended to be rather cyclical. Although, the women agreed that intelligent people might be able to rationalise that the sadism in the film was evil, they argued that simpler, less intelligent men would be tempted to go out and do likewise. From my point of view, I thought the film betrayed such an evil person, such sadism, that intelligent and stupid cinema-goers alike would not be led into degrading of women, rather the opposite. Time and again, Caroline and Kate returned to say, but if you were a woman you would know what we mean. But, what I think is that both Caroline and Kate did not like the film because it showed a debasement of relationships, the very core obsession of man with a woman’s body, her sex - and it shows the debasement in a very uncomfortable way. But for me, this reveals women’s power over men, that men can be driven to such depths - degrading for men, not women. Lynch’s film forces men tied by sexual leads to get a glimpse of their situation through a magnified exaggerated fable.
Returning with Andrew on the tube, he hinted that he was prepared to leave Rosy. He confessed to being cunning and calculating, and implied he knew when and how he would leave. I did not want to push him for further information, or to offer any advice, but I think, on balance, he should leave her.
Paul K Lyons
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