PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1987 - SEPTEMBER
Tuesday 8 September
So behind, so behind, dear Adam. You are a month and four days old or five weeks if you like. It seems but a few days since before you were conceived, and yet the five weeks seems forever - two parents can do one hell of a lot of worrying in five weeks.
After the chickenpox plague there was a period of calm. We came back from Aldeburgh late on Wednesday evening. On Thursday, you moved home, to 102 Sumatra Road. Barbara’s home will be your home into the foreseeable future, but you will always have a home here, and in Aldeburgh. When I was born I did not even have one home. My parents moved around from friend’s house to friend’s house. B’s house is small but cosy. She has a wild garden, and a bath in a cupboard in her kitchen. It is a flat with long associations. Originally, my friend Harvey moved there after moving out of my flat in Fordwych Road. He lived there for a year or two until forced to move by the police. The police, you see, were prosecuting him for blackmail - but a full account of that story will have to wait until you are older. The upshot of all that was that Harvey, having established a very low rent for the flat, left the country, and gave me the responsibility for looking after it. The first tenant I found, my friend Patrick, lived there enough months to turn the place into a real fleapit - with real fleas. Well, when your mother got a job in London, she took unsatisfactory lodgings around about here. By hook or by crook, I persuaded Patrick it was time to move on, and introduced him to a housing association, which found him accommodation, leaving this great little flat for your Mum - though she had to call the council to get rid of the fleas. So, during the morning we installed you in 102, and in the afternoon we went to the clinic. The first of many trips you will make. There we stripped you naked, and let you wiggle around ignobly in the scale pan - 8 1/2 lbs. In three and a bit weeks, you’ve rocketed out from the lower-weight growth graph right plump into the middle-weight growth graph. You’re a trooper son!
Sunday 20 September
Two and a half weeks since I wrote you a letter. Your father is slacking. It is many years since so many days went by without a single entry, even a short one. I suppose I must blame my health or rather my ill-health, combined with the pressures of starting a full-time job. And there has been Aldeburgh to worry about too. But it is not only journal entries that have fallen behind, your Dad is slacking on the household chores, on writing letters, and on his reading. Hopefully, this week coming, I can catch up.
I caught a cold, and nearly three weeks on, I am still not fully recovered, prone to tiredness and bouts of coughing. Four years ago when I started work at McGraw-Hill, I suffered a crippling attack of pneumonia which came on after a cold and poor treatment of the ensuing illness. The point is, though, that at that point in time I had a lot on my plate, so to speak, because alongside the new job I had just bought the house in Aldershot Road. The same thing is happening now, what with you, what with the cottage, what with looking after your Mum, and then starting a new job. It was all too much. A bug got me the first day of my new job - Tuesday.
As it happened, are you sitting comfortably my son, as it happened, the very first issue I had to produce, to edit of European Energy Report (EER), my new charge, was subject to an extraordinary number of handicaps. Take into account first that copy from correspondents had not yet begun to flow properly after the summer drought. Take into account the Bank Holiday Monday that meant a 25% reduction in available time. Take into account that EER had no production assistant. And remember, I’ve never edited this newsletter before, I knew not the style, the make-up, the production process etc. And then, on top of all that, I fell as sick as a parrot. Of course, I cannot shy off sick - had I had a brain haemorrhage, I could not have have missed a day, there was no one else to edit the rag. On Wednesday and Thursday I came home and flopped straight in bed. Friday, I certainly would not have gone to work but for an important meeting about market research on EER. All would have happily moved ahead on this without me (I was only told about the meeting late on Thursday), but I could not possibly decline the opportunity of influencing market research on the newsletter.
And Friday morning was not without its drama. Reg, the printer, rang to say he had not received the EER pages. Some frantic telephoning of courier services revealed that the pages had been sent door-to-door via Red Star and were probably sitting in a Red Star van taking its time to deliver all sorts of other packages throughout Warminster (where the printers are based). They should have been sent to Warminster Station only, to await pick-up. A little later Reg rang again - the pages had arrived, without too much delay, but there was a bit of a problem, one page was missing. I moved into overdrive. I had screwed up badly the previous evening and, in all the messing about to get the pages right, I had scrapped page 2. Well, we organised a courier to carry the single page to Warminster. I don’t know whether they managed to print the newsletter on time or not. I went home then at lunchtime, home to bed, and didn’t really surface again until the following Wednesday.
I used to be such a healthy creature, and now I fall victim to the slightest cold. On the Monday, I did try to go into work but by the time I got to the tube station, I felt so weak, so ill, that I decided to go to the doctor instead. She gave me antibiotics which eased my anxiety. I worry so about my lungs, and can never gauge whether I should remain physically active, or whether I should stay in bed. Slowly I recovered. Somehow, there was always a minimum number of things to do each day, and when they were done I flopped out, completely diminished. The most I could do was watch television. The antibiotics continued through until Tuesday morning. Tuesday evening I felt ever so ill again. Since then, though, I have felt fitter and fitter. Today witness me energetically chopping down the parasite ivy and writing. Three weeks on, though, and a full dose of antibiotics I would have expected to be fully fit again, and I’m not, with a cough and sputum still coming up from my chest albeit in small quantities. And bad news. Psoriasis is showing on my face for the first time ever. Apart from my elbows which have always suffered mildly from it, the only other parts of me to be affected by this hereditary disease (both your grandfather and great grandfather suffered too) have been hairy parts, my chest and scalp and small bits under my beard.
And you my son, well, you’re fine. You weigh over 10 lbs now, you’ve passed your first exams with flying colours - your hearing, your eyes and your weight (I don’t know what else they test at the six week). Already you are smiling, quite deliberately at me, and when you do, I cry. I sit up on the bed or a sofa with my knees up high and place you half standing half lying in the fold between my thighs. Usually, it takes you a few minutes to be still and to focus and on me, then I stare right into your eyes, and in a few seconds you are letting out a great beam of a smile.
There are other events and facts I should record. If the last passages were grouped under ‘health’, let me group the next under ‘money’. Since returning from Brazil, my monetary fortunes have wavered. One minute I seem to be wealthy enough to purchase anything and everything. The next, I have to be careful what food I buy in Safeway. Suddenly riches are flowing my way. First of all, I probably have omitted to mention that the generous Suffolk Coastal District Council has agreed to consider us for a grant, which would mean 75% of most of the monies we will spend on major repairs. We missed our first visit from the Council’s Mr Pink because of your birth. Later, we discovered that our neighbours had talked to him. He had enquired whether we were weekenders. I thought it prudent, therefore, to write him a letter explaining our situation honestly. This helped. When we got to see Mr Pink he agreed we could get a grant if I were to let the cottage to B (had we been common law man and wife it would have been simpler), and itemised those works for which we could get a grant - the roof, the parapet wall, replacing front windows and doors. This last week, B spent a further three days at the cottage, and three builders came round. One quote has arrived offering to do the works for about £1,800 - so the grant would be worth £1,350.
Not only have I, finally, received the princely sum of £675 from the Sun Alliance, the insurance company of Mr Alison, the drunk Indian who smashed in the parked cars the night of my birthday (£675 much worked for, many and long telephone calls, much inquiring, pleading letters etc, and, as it happens, the exact price I paid for the car) but I have also sold the wretched cursed car for £275. A Mr Murphy took it off my hands last night, thinking it was a bargain.
Moreover, I still have wages for my freelance FT work trickling in, and I will soon be paid for my first month’s full-time work. At about £1,2000 net, I should be able to start putting a little away for that rainy day in six months time when the FT doesn’t want to keep me on permanently.
My accountant tells me I might not have to pay any tax at all for last year.
It’s 11pm, a while since I’ve been up so late, and still active.
There is still so much to tell you, Adam, I am so far behind: two trips to the proms, one to Tring, lunch with June, dinner here with Andy, Chris and Martin; Andy giving in notice, Martin to come and live here; Julian’s talk of a proposal, and films ‘Le Cop’, ‘Touch of Evil’, ‘Champion’, books ‘Perfume’, tea with Judy and Rob, politics at the FT . . .
Monday 21 September
Motion in the political world. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has visited both Iran and Iraq to persuade them to agree a ceasefire. He didn’t seem to have much success. Odd, to an innocent onlooker, that after so many years, years in which many UN members have profited from both arms sales to both countries and from the net result of political disunity in the Arab world, the UN should decide to do something positive about the war. The diplomatic intrigue now, especially, with both the Soviets and Americans wishing for a ceasefire, smacks of the masters being upset by the naughty pupils. It has suited the masters to let the pupils play, because they have been able to get on with other things, concentrate on other areas, but now the pupils’ play threatens to be troublesome, and so the masters start brandishing their whips. But this is not the story of masters and pupils. Unfortunately, the Gulf war has begun to escalate and world peace is threatened - if the Americans were to bomb Iran, it might become expedient for the Russians to switch to the side of Iran in return for later influence. Everyone sees a lot of grisly scenarios - not least because the West relies so heavily on oil shipments through the Gulf. Democratic countries are now sending military vessels to the region as escorts for their merchant ships.
Overnight the situation has escalated once again. The Americans have destroyed an Iranian landing craft which, it says, was laying mines. Unless I am mistaken, this is the first direct military action taken by the US against Iran. Furthermore, a British tanker has come under fire. Khomeini speaks at the UN today. He is sure to warn the Americans off, threatening to plunge the whole area into chaos. Interesting to note how little the Lebanon troubles find space in the newspapers now.
Meanwhile, the US and the Russians announced that they intend to sign an agreement for the reduction of intermediate nuclear warheads. The diplomatic process has, of course, been fraught with dangers. But anti-nuclearists worldwide should be smarting. Quite clearly the Russians have only been drawn into this because the West went ahead and deployed the Cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe. Without balance, arms reduction becomes a fantasy. And now with balance there is a chance, because both sides have clear interests in such a treaty. The Russian leader wants to lead his people into living with the rest of the world in greater harmony, what better signal to give than nuclear arms reduction. The Americans, scared of the green force in Europe and anti-nuclearists, will be more than happy to defuse their fire; also Reagan has an eye on the history books. The arms under discussion, though, are said to be only 3% of superpower arsenals.
At home, the Liberals and SDP agree to merge, while David Owen keeps everyone in the dark about his political future. Most see it as a takeover with the old and historic Liberal Party changing its name, updating its constitution but little else. Like all attempts at breaking the two and a half party mould of British politics, the SPD has failed.
Well, Adam, you’ve seen a fair amount of your grandparents. Les and Rosemary spent a day or two in Aldeburgh with B while Grandma Barbie has been round for tea. She interlocks her arms and cradles you back and forth. You seem even tinier in her ample frame.
Daddy and Grandma went to the proms twice in the last week of the proms festival. One programme, with the Birmingham City Orchestra and Simon Rattle, was quite exciting. Several works from the 1990s and several from the 1930s combined to make it unusual: Gershwin’s ‘Cuban Overture’ was balanced by a Shostakovitch piece, and an underlying theme across all the music was folk tunes. Elizabeth Soderstrom sang two works. Then, later in the week, we went to a thrilling show - one of the best orchestras in the world, Vienna Philharmonic, playing one of the most important works ever written, arguably the best ever, Beethoven’s Ninth. Thrilling, indeed, with Claudio Abado in the baton, so to speak.
The days are bright and blue just now, though I don’t get to see much of them. Let us hope the weather stays clear for the weekend, we all, you Adam, B and me, will go to Aldeburgh then.
Monday night I dined with your step great aunt, Roxanne Goldsmith. She seems proud of all these acquired titles - acquired through marriage with Mike. She tells me she was a step-grandmother (to Mary’s Daniel) before she was even a mother.
Of all the information in these diaries you may well find these passages, relating to family history and politics, the most interesting. On the other hand, you may have no interest at all in the odd sides my family. Well, I am fascinated, and never having talked to Roxanne found the experience worth recording. I don’t know why I called her your step great aunt. There’s no step about it. Mike is my blood uncle, and Roxanne his wife (although I think they are divorced). I suppose, strictly speaking, she is as much an aunt to me as Johnnie was. So, in fact, you must have four living aunts divided among three real uncles: i.e. two brothers to my mother (neither of whom have acknowledged you at all) and one brother to my father.
But I ramble. I was not expecting to like Roxanne, though this was only a vague notion, partly because of things said by my mother (Roxanne having been late for Grandma Dolly’s funeral) and partly thanks to information from Martin and Michael (wicked stepmother kind of stuff). It took us a while to sort out what to do with the evening. I had gone to meet her at the Cumberland Hotel, but came unprepared with ideas for where to eat. In the end, I brought her back to Kilburn, to a fish restaurant, Beau Rivage on Belsize Road. There we gossiped till the waiters threw us out. The fish was excellent, if a touch expensive, but Roxanne insisted Mike had left her money for us to go out on the town.
Roxanne did most of the talking, out of a natural tendency to talk, I think, for she did not need much prompting. Firstly, we talked about the nuclear industry. She works as a public information officer for the NEA, I think, a nuclear monitoring agency in Paris, and she knows my stringer there, Michael Parrot (who, as it happens, has an extraordinary ability to make all his stories boring). Before she came back to Paris she worked at a high-level in the US nuclear licensing authority (NRC), Washington. So, previously, as an avid reader of ‘Nucleonics Week’ she must have read my stories; and now, as an information officer, I should be keeping in touch with her. So we talked about the state of the nuclear industry.
Then we moved on to Martin and Michael. Despite appearances, she says, Martin is the easier of the two to live with, the more confident and controlled. Michael tends towards an artistic temperament, and he can blow up. She says, Martin is Mike’s favourite, always has been; well, of course, he never lived with Michael. Roxanne does her best to compensate. Now Michael has reached 20, she remains determined not to support him, she gives him money for accommodation and pays for education but nothing more. Martin lobbies hard to pull his brother to London, says he is prepared to pay for him, and look after him. Whether out of loneliness or a need to foster his brother, I am not sure, but Roxanne does not think he should look after him. I had thought Martin was somewhat in awe of Michael’s looks and self-confidence, was a little jealous even, but Roxanne corrected that impression, saying that Michael looks up to Martin.
And so the evening progressed talking of such things. I gave a little account of you, and the rationale behind your parents’ odd situation, and then she launched into the story of she and Mike.
I have to say that I liked Roxanne enormously, there was an innocence or gullibility in her I had not expected. A gullibility, revealed by the tale of her relationship with Mike, which, though I would not have detected from her character necessarily, was not actually hidden by her facial and body gestures. She told me that while looking through Grandma Goldsmith’s papers for a will she came across a letter from Mike in which he had raved about his mistress. This came at the worst possible time - Mike’s imprisonment, Dolly’s death - but was in fact the beginning of the end for him and her. She objected, of course, tried to live in compromise with the mistress, took a lover of her own. Eventually, two or three years on, she returned to the States and found herself the NRC job (or had it found for her for, my dear son Adam, Roxanne is no less a person than the niece of the late President Lyndon Johnson). During this time she maintained her relationship with her French lover. Andrew [Mike and Roxanne’s son] got shunted around from continent to continent. Andrew, now 14, is Mike’s fourth, Roxanne’s only offspring.
Roxanne confessed that should Mike stop travelling she would find it very difficult to live with him full time. He has become more demanding with the onset of age, she says, and is uncertain of how she will handle him, now he can no longer find mistresses to keep him occupied some of the time.
She warmly invited me to Paris to stay in the flat, an invitation never extended by Mike. Maybe in the spring.
In a week or two, Adam, Martin will move into Aldershot Road. Andy [my lodger of old] is finally moving out. As yet, he has not found anywhere to go, I doubt very much if he will find a room as large or in such a nice house for as little as £33 a week, but there we are. I am happy he is moving, though I would never have given him notice. Perhaps I was guilty of a deliberate stern-ness in my dealings with him, my complaints about the number and timing of his telephone callers, but there was nothing out of order or that could be construed as harassment. Yet one evening, one fatal evening for Andy, his mother called, and as I passed the telephone receiver to Andy, I made a sarcastic comment about his telephone callers. A few minutes later, Andy called me over to talk to his mother - to his mother. Well, she railed into me as though I were a slum landlord, and what was wrong with Andy getting phone calls at 1am? and why was I so nasty to his friends? and so on. Well, I started defending myself and shouting back. Barbara rushed out of the parlour, and started beating Andy, who by this time realised he had made a mistake, and was clearly upset that I wasn’t on my knees begging forgiveness of his mum. Finally his mother said that she would have to move him out, after all there were plenty more places to choose from. And, sure enough, the next day Andy gave me his notice. That front room will look so bare: Andy has four years of stockpiled junk lining the walls two metres deep, Martin has two suitcases.
Saturday 26 September
The air is so clean here in Aldeburgh, we - you, your Mum and me - take in so much oxygen, it positively tires us out. By six in the evening, I feel it’s time for bed. You and me, we’ve been out twice today. The first time early in the morning to fetch fresh rolls. The sky sang a rich blue, and the crisp, almost wintery, air teased your ear flaps and cheeks. We threaded our way through the back streets until arriving above the town centre ready to descend a flight of concrete steps. There was the sea, the sun glinting off it. The sea, Adam, the sea. Actually, you couldn’t see much more than my hairy chest, but how you love being in Aldeburgh.
I have to report that your Mum and I have had problems, still have. They are difficult to write about, even harder to talk about. So soon after your birth the darker worlds of our psyches begin to show themselves. It is this week, though, that I have really begun to think about the problems and try do something about them. I sat down with your mother this morning at the breakfast table, and we talked. She said I was constantly putting her down, ruining her confidence, getting at her. And in consequence she was turning against me, distrusting me, and even considering me as an enemy. I said that, although I hadn’t realised this before, it had now become plain to me that she was suffering some form of depression. On the one hand, her emotions are still all awry after the birth an’ all, her hormone balance is not back to normal, she never gets a full night’s sleep, and the necessary deep sleep, and on top of all that her psyche has to adjust to this enormous responsibility. And, it so happens, that my character grates like sandpaper across these sensitivities. I do put her down, attack her weakness, rub in her failures. She translates them into grander statements, interpreting that I am rejecting her, think her an idiot, and even that I no longer want her, only you. You see it is so much more difficult this way round, living separately - we both need to be stronger internally, secure of ourselves, and the business of having you is putting strain on this. Your Mum is still going through physical, emotional, psychological changes - but perhaps I am too.
Paul K Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG