PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1989 - APRIL
Saturday, aboard Waxholm 1
The powerful motors on this ferry boat can take it in and out of a small landing stage within a minute or two. There are so many islands, so many stops on the ferry’s route, that were this not the case journey times would be prohibitively long - as I’m sure they were once. Houses, huts and boatyards are scattered along the shores of the forested islands. Many of the trees are evergreen but have lost their sheen, and seem to blend into the dark dull brown background. Here, on the islands, as in Stockholm, grass grows everywhere, but it is dry and yellow from the cold winter. In close-up, one can see signs of spring, buds on the trees, blue scilla growing through the old grass; but, from a distance the dry wintery texture of Scandinavia dominates landscapes both in and out of the city.
Now we are well beyond Stockholm city. Most of the islands seem to have a few wooden huts painted ochre or maroon, many of the islets are uninhabited but for holiday homes. Few people get on or off at the landing stages now, most of the people remaining on the boat are day trippers and will travel with the boat to the end of its journey at Majan, and come back with it. Outside the glass windows, a cold wind bites, and brings a flurry of snow every now and then.
I am heading for a place called Sollenkroka, from where a land connection to Stockholm exists. I am told a bus will take me back to the city by 1:00 or so. I think I’ll have had my fill of the ferry and the islands by then. The seascapes change little as we move along.
I am reminded of my recent trips to Iceland and Finland - architecture, standards of tidiness and organisation, food, people’s faces.
Sunday, Arlanda Airport
I got the time of departure wrong, so I have two hours here instead of one. Benzi kindly drove me, though he was worried about the roads being icy following the night’s snowfall and not having winter tyres on the car: Swedish law dictates that winter tyres must be removed by the first weekend in April in order to save wear on the roads. Benzi, his wife Ingrid and son Adam, will move to Kuala Lumpur in July. They made the decision to accept Ingrid’s foreign ministry posting a week ago, and already have ordered a car to be shipped out for them. Benzi has chosen a Volvo because it has a reputation as a safe car, and he has heard Kualo Lumpur is full of crazy drivers. I remember this about Benzi, he can be a bit soft, overcareful. It’s hardly an extreme fault though. I have met Benzi a few times at Raoul’s house or at Rosy and Andrew’s, but I only remember the last time, when he come for a holiday with his 11 year old son, Adam. I certainly cannot claim any friendship with him, yet his friendship with my friends makes for a strong link. His life and wife, however, remain a mystery to me.
He grew up in Haifa, as far as I can ascertain. His father was an Israeli businessman who came from Africa, I think, originally. His mother is Greek and still lives in Greece. He was somewhat wayward, and pestered his parents to allow him to live on a kibbutz. He believes this was crucial to his character formation, especially with regard to his selfishness. The kibbutz cracked that, he reckons. He fought in two Israeli wars, but gradually turned away from violence and aggression. He arrived in London between the wars, in the middle of the swinging sixties, and met Rosy in Hyde Park and Raoul at a party and brought them together. He lived with Raoul in a Hampstead garret, and describes him as very naughty with women. He talks fondly of those days and mentions adventures with wild and pretty girls. He admits to 46 years, and he says he has been with Ingrid 14 years. They met in Israel, and have been in Stockholm for some years (before that Ingrid has a posting in Nairobi). Their flat here is full of African wood carvings and weavings. It is tidy, spacious, in the suburbs of Stockholm, full of equipment. Swedes love equipment, Benzi says. He is quite happy to go along with local custom, if not being a slave to it, then a servant. They even have a dough-making machine in their kitchen.
A few minutes walk away Benzi has his workshop. There, he makes assorted home decorations with glass and pewter and copper solder: stained glass lampshades, bowls, ornaments, vases and so on. He makes them very well. skilfully, but I do not like the style very much.
5 April, London
Snow fell on Saturday in Stockholm, the temperature had fallen rapidly to 0 and below. The weather seems to have followed me here, for a snowstorm was raging this morning. B said she had marvellous weather in Aldeburgh whilst I was away.
I’m not sure if I have finished writing about Sweden. What more should I say? After the boat trip, I came back by bus from Sollenkroka, a kind of reverse experience to that on the boat - more land than water, a windy, bumpy journey, short sharp stops. Back in Stockholm, I ate a foul meal before treading the weary tourist path to Skansen. The idea of Skansen put me off, even though it is billed as one of the most important tourist attractions in the city. An English girl on the boat had persuaded me to go. I am glad she did. Located in Djurgarden, Skansen occupies a large area filled with old buildings brought painstakingly from other parts of Sweden. A small village has glassworks, a bookbinder, a bakery, a grocer and so on, which are open to the public, as though it were really an olden age. All sorts of buildings - many forms - are scattered across the outdoor museum, and most of them open at one time or another, revealing authentic decoration and home furnishings of the period. Unfortunately, Skansen includes other sites such as a zoo and a fairground, and many selling points offering brightly-coloured sweet-tasting modern things (housed in shops that look old when closed). For instruction and amusement, it is a superb outing for families; and it’s surely a major achievement to have gathered together such a large collection of authentic buildings.
I am glad I went for two reasons. Firstly, I think I took some interesting photographs, largely because I had both sunshine and snowstorm within minutes of each other, giving me a huge range of atmospheres to capture some of the oldworldiness. Secondly, I did enjoy one or two of the exhibits. The bookbinder was closed, but looking in through the small panes of glass, it was possible to see the workshop and absorb the feel, the lifestyle of the time and of the profession And the old wooden church, from 1700, was beautiful. Outside, it looked modern, perhaps because the maroon colour over the tanned wooden planks and wooden scales was freshly painted. Inside, it had been preserved exquisitely, and in such a way as to be reminiscent of its age: large-scale but quietly-coloured frescos adorned the wooden ceilings; floorboards and pews made of broad planks and polished to a shine by centuries of use; and an altar piece that I cannot describe yet would call gorgeous in its all grand and artistic proportions. This church made my heart sing.
DIARY 39: April-September 1989
8 April, Antibes
The anticipation, the excitement, the expectations of a new book - and one handmade in Sweden!. I am scared to start, scared to set the tone of the coming period of my life. I could comment first on Frederic’s will or on the positive aspects of my writing. Or else I could start on something completely different.
I have such routines here in Dad’s flat in Antibes. Within the first two days, I have bought sufficient vegetables to make a huge ratatouille; lots of cheeses for breakfast and tea, and some flowers to decorate the lounge - bright orange marigolds. All winter the weather has been fine, but just now it’s cool and cloudy. I swim each day, as usual, even though the water is ice cold, like the North Sea in summer. No one else swims; I need a short period of adjustment, splashing myself and running through the shallow waves splashing. In the distance I can see snow-capped peaks. Maybe I will go skiing on Monday.
A postcard to Adam has a picture of bicycle handlebars in front of the blue sea. I write: ‘this is my hope for you, one of many, that at many times in your life you will be able to ride bicycles by the sea. When life is fine ring the bell, when not brake a little.’
Ah, the paper in this diary book is too thin, I shall be able to write on one side only. Good.
On Tuesday evening, before I left, I received the last will and testament of Frederic Goldsmith. It is a sad document, the product of a bitter and somewhat twisted mind. I don’t have it with me, but I remember some of the provisions. It is not every day one reads one’s father’s will. He partitions out a few personal effects, but leaves everything else to Gail. Most of the will is hypothetical, what he would do with his estate should he survive Gail, and in that section of the will I find myself singled out as the only person mentioned by name who is absolutely excluded from making any claim on his estate (worth, after Gail’s death, in excess of $1m, he calculates). He leaves $7,500 to 30 different people, the only ones I know are Roxanne and Andrew and Peter and Tony. In another clause, he leaves $5,000 to his dog if he should have one when he dies. In another, he excludes me, his brother, his ex-wives, and his brother’s wives from making any claim. There is a codicil to his will in which he leaves finance for someone to be employed to finish the book he was writing about the genealogy of Gail’s parents. The bulk of the estate is left to further Gail’s work.
Ggiven the break in our relations all those years ago what else could Fred do but exclude me from his will. The spelling out of the exclusion is somewhat shocking but, on reflection, I understood why he had to do this in order to avoid any possible mis-understanding, any claim I or his other relations might make.
Gail has written me also. She mentions, in her letter, that there are a few of Fred’s items not listed in the will. Indeed, I suspect her of such great loyalty that she will carry out everything in the will to the best of her ability. So that, however unjustly she might come to feel Frederic had behave towards me, she would never do anything against the terms of the will. However, as I said to B, if she does feel like doing anything for me she has the loophole of Adam - he is not mentioned at all in the will.
I still wonder whether I should have been more vigorous about finding information concerning Vera’s death. I heard nothing about her estate, except that, through Mary, I got a few hundred pounds. It is remarkable that I have had nothing, absolutely nothing from either of my grandmothers on Frederic’s side nor from my father Frederic, now that they have all died.
I am not sleeping well here in Antibes and I don’t know why this should be. The first night I had entangled dreams about lost money that unsettled me; the second night I dreamed of Barbara completely changed; and last night I woke several times for no obvious reason.
A Mediterranean morning. Bright blue sky, still air, the promise of a hot day.
I am reading Dawkins’ ‘Extended Phenotype’, also Penelope Lively’s ‘Moon Tiger’ (found in the flat), and I am listening to a few music tapes I brought along (Westbrook, Shostakovitch, Gounod, Piazzollo) as well as two recorded plays ‘Under Milkwood’ and a play about Kepler.
My week of calm relaxation has not had a good beginning. First of all, I lost money, and, secondly, I have had contact with both Martin and Caroline who are in these parts (such contact interferes with the ‘lonely routine’). I suppose I must record that I have lost all over £400. Twice before in my life I have lost such sums. Once in Panama when a kid snatched my wallet, and once when I was fined £500 for fare-dodging on the trains. This time I was even more stupid, if that is possible.
I went to check in for my Britannia Airways flight to Nice. At the counter, they asked to check my hand luggage. It was weighed, and they said it would have to go in the hold. I objected and objected but, finally, pulled out my camera and a book, and put them into a plastic bag. They stuck a tag on the bag. I walked away somewhat disquiet. Two minutes later, I returned to see the bag had disappeared down the trail. Thus my worry began almost immediately, for I had left open a pocket in which my goodies were stashed: lots of cash, Dad’s keys for the flat, my diary. The entire journey long I worried about this open pocket. I replayed the scene at the check-in counter, and I imagined my bag rolling over and over and the money falling out. With great anxiety, I rushed off the plane and through the airport to the luggage delivery area. When my bag came out, I grabbed it and looked in the pocket. My worst nightmare had come true: it was completely empty. I strode up to an airport official who was overseeing the baggage operation. Fortunately, she spoke English and was sympathetic. She spent the next twenty minutes on the walkie talkie (while being constantly hassled by me). I was getting more and more irate - I felt new baggage would be filling the cargo hold of the plane. Then, when the area was empty of other passengers, all were on their way, she told me the handlers had found something, but she couldn’t tell me what. A few minutes later, a man in blue overalls clambered through the flap where the bags emerge, and brought three pens, the keys and my diary (and a few French francs).
Secretly rather grateful that the keys, at least, had been found (saving me the embarrassment of facing Dad with my carelessness - although on balance I’d have preferred the £450), I then began to call for the police, since it was quite obvious the money had been stolen - every note of it. The lady then strolled round the airport with me to the general office. There, I sat patiently for half an hour or so. At one point several other officials told me it was forbidden to carry money in one’s baggage. I got increasingly cross, and continued to demand to see the police, and for Britannia Airways in London to be informed.
The same sympathetic lady eventually took me through to see the police. The young man behind his desk looked vaguely surprised that anybody should actually be reporting a crime. He listened to the story as told by the French woman (who translated for me when necessary during our conversation). I had had the foresight, I suppose, to not take possession of the four things that had been found - the lady carried them for me. They were prime evidence of the theft of the rest of the things in the bag pocket - cash. The policeman duly typed out a report - he even briefly interviewed one of the baggage handlers but hardly in a way to bring about any kind of confession. I was given a copy of the report, with my own statement, and sent on my way. A more immediate problem then presented itself. How to get to Antibes? The last bus had gone, and, in any case, I had only about three French francs to my name, and a credit card. Hitchhiking was the only reasonable solution. (I had called Martin from the policeman’s office but he didn’t have a car that moment.) It was difficult getting a lift, and I had to walk a fair way with my heavy bag. Finally, a sweet lovely girl stopped, and drove me to my doorstep.
About my writing. A body of world opinion seems to be building up that I am a ‘good writer’. Can it be wrong? From the US Gail writes a letter in response to mine about Fred’s death. She comments something along the lines - you certainly are a good writer. From Italy, a prospective correspondent goes out of his way to say how well written my newsletter is. From University College, a lecturer tells a colleague how well written my essay is (I’ve already mentioned this I think). Martin suggests I am already a better writer than his father [AP senior jouranlist]. Barbara, for the first time, said the other night how beautifully I write sometimes. This is praise indeed since has never really been a fan of my writing. If all this is true that I have, over the years, developed a certain skill at writing then I am well gratified. However, I suspect my ability is confined to letters and journalism where only short notes and concepts need to be communicated. A sustained piece of writing, as in a novel or work of non-fiction, is a different story. Even my thesis at college, if I ever get round to choosing one, will not be equivalent as it will write itself around the work and research.
Wisteria is blooming everywhere. I don’t remember being here in wisteria season before. In the garden below this flat, I see birds of paradise flowering also. The clouds have shut out the sun, so we (I and many others) spend more time inside. I have not swum today, I felt too cold in my bones perhaps. I did attempt to read on the beach but the wind was unpleasant. I made one expedition, to see the archaeological museum which I have so often passed and never entered. I still haven’t. It was closed for some unexplained reason.
I saw Caroline on Saturday. Although she tried to hide it, she was in something of a state. She has come on holiday with her (dance company) boss and wife. They have given her an all inclusive package for £150 - the trip down, her own studio beneath theirs, all meals etc. I suppose they’ve done it for the best, to avoid Caroline forever nit-picking and refusing to eat properly when she’s out with them, but she can’t help but feel beholden to them. She is in a state because they have gone off without her, and she is missing out on one of their trips. Most of the time she sits in her room waiting for them to come and announce what they are doing. I know that sort of waiting, it is horrible. She is like a child who wants everything her parents have got and more. I am a diversion to prove her independence from them, but she cannot win, for they will punish her for having got away for half a day.
I harbour vague thoughts of an affair with Caroline. It would be stupid, of course, since she lives in my house, the complications I can do without. But, I am not a monk, and she is an attractive, available women, one who is around me all the time, and one who flaunts herself physically. Although I have been clear about not making any sort of an advance in London, I was far less sure in my mind - in advance of the visit - about the situation here in Antibes. When I saw her, however, she was pallid, insecure, unattractive. A bubbling, lively Caroline might have tempted me; but I cannot - in all honesty - justify deceiving B in such a way. I continue to tell myself that I will have affairs some day, but at the moment I may be too afraid of hurting B, of disrupting our parental care of A etc. This all sounds terribly rational, I know, cold-hearted even. I cannot really deny it, but am just truthfully recording thoughts I have had.
Martin visited Friday with a college friend who had arrived that afternoon. He tried to behave like a grown-up with me but like a student with his friend. He got confused sometimes.
I have read four or five chapters now of Dawkins’ ‘Extended Phenotype’. I think he has got some fundamentals wrong. He goes to great lengths to justify his purpose in developing the theory of the selfish gene and the extended phenotype but says it is not a theory that is testable, more a way of looking at natural selection. There are too many problems, too many difficulties with his approach for it to be right. He seems to be patching up a leaking vessel in so many places that it seems barely seaworthy. One of the greatest problems for me is his way of dispensing with group selection. I don’t see how group selection can be treated so offhandedly. Scientists are looking for driving forces in evolution, mechanisms. But all is apparent in the term ‘natural selection’. What survives, survives. However successful a particular gene, a particular individual, there may be pressures at the group level - a group may chose to move its territory to where there are more predators and heh presto! Dunbar teaches us about these group dynamics in primates, but fails to acknowledge that however selfishly individuals behave, the group can have its own characteristics - which are either successful or not.
I call Barbara and Adam. Adam is busy suppering and doesn’t want to speak to me. Barbara has been jumbling with her parents, and has been taking tea with my Mum.
Because I didn’t swim this morning, I took a run this afternoon. I ran across the Cap, along the spine of the peninsula, past Jardin Thuret and some of the grander residences. I saw some people carrying branches of mimosa, but couldn’t see any trees. Surely it is late for mimosa. Such smells, the pine wood, the wisteria, the sweet smell of hedgerows in bloom, the spray of the sea on my return along the coast road, and seaweed thrown up by the spray. Everywhere so green, so fertile. A few trees, especially along avenues, have been shorn, are naked with a handful of stumpy branches. They will leaf quickly in clump-like bushes at the end of each stump. Such a French habit. Not in England do council foresters clip trees so aggressively.
I decide to go skiing tomorrow, even though storms are forecast. Perhaps, I’ll be alone at Isola. I pick a tourist trip to do on the way back. If I decide to ski a second day, I will see if I can stay at Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage. I discovered the forgotten village and its tiny restaurant last year.
Monday 10 April
‘I shall argue that a belief in the power of species selection to shape simple major trends is not the same as a belief in its power to put together complex adaptations such as eyes and brains.’ Dawkins 1982 p106. I have you now Dawkins. First of all how can you be so fatuous as to describe major trends as ‘simple’. Secondly, I am glad to see you give some power to group selection, or species selection, thank you; and, thirdly, you have inspired me to understand exactly how species or group selection can indeed have the power to shape complex adaptations such as eyes or brains.
One of the most difficult concepts to accept in the evolution of these complex characteristics is that they were beneficial at every minute stage of development, that they conferred advantage even when no more than a minute change perhaps even without phenotypic effect was apparent. In defence of Darwin and evolution, biologists have detailed how in fact this could be; even a microscopic sensitivity to light, for example, could have confirmed an advantage that then accumulated and became an eye.
But how much more likely is the following scenario. An organism mutates in a way that has no phenotypic advantage - a further mutation adds a slight sensitivity to light which is actually harmful, however not so harmful that the organism dies, but neither is it necessarily beneficial. In fact the mutated organism might be dying out when yet a further mutation adds to the previous ones, or else the organism finds itself in a new environment where light sensitivity suddenly does confer an advantage. Thus group selection has undoubtedly played a major part, as has gene selection. This is the whole problem with Dawkins’ gene ideas. Trying to isolate genetic effects is irrelevant to the survival of an organism. A gene for large tails can get nowhere in life without the gene for bone and muscle formation or whatever. What if they are in opposition? I am a layman in all this but there is something rotten in the state of Dawkins. I will continue to flush it out.
A grey windy windy day. Here in Antibes I cannot tell what the weather is like at Isola 2000, but I will go tomorrow. Every day I have been sleeping in the afternoon. I do not understand why. I go to bed before eleven, and get up no earlier than eight. It is true I am sleeping badly at night - that I cannot understand either - waking every hour, tossing and turning. By contrast I sleep so well in Aldeburgh. Am I missing vitamins, cereals? is my liver having trouble coping with all the olive oil, or is it that I revert to laziness when nothing has to be done, when no urgency punctuates the day? Or, maybe, I am just in need of a damn good rest.
For lunch: quiche bought in the market, mushrooms cooked in lemon and olive oil, lettuce, tomato, pepper, parsley salad, a vinaigrette dressing that almost needs spooning on, fresh tomme and gorgonzola cheeses, strawberries and Jockey. Shostakovitch Piano Concerto 1, but the tape or player dies on me half way through.
Outside more grey, more rain. Monday it really blew, with the biggest waves I’ve seen since, even splashing across onto the pavement, where sea and road are closest. Again, instead of swimming I chose to run. This time I ran up to the lighthouse, nearly killed me all those steps, the hill. Returning, I managed to run most of the way. Whereas my will is strong on the first leg, in which I have a fixed goal, a challenge, on the return it is weak, and physical discomfort wins the day.
On Tuesday I went skiing, and sightseeing. But, as with the rest of this holiday, nothing went quite as well as a year ago, when I had such a superb trip of two days to the ski fields. I set off just after six, in darkness, and was well north of Nice before it was fully light. First stop at St Sauveur-sur-Tinee, a small unspectacular crossroads village, where I took a qeak coffee in a bar where the landlord had already stoked up a brazier-oven. Two young men were drinking coffee also, one liked to laugh and looked to any one else for support, for the laugh to grow, to exaggerate. I saw the landlord, what should I call him?, measure out the coffee into the expresso filter, it seemed a poor man’s portion. I thought about this man’s life for a moment, serving the villagers and passers by, the conversations, the news. He didn’t seem like a man with a family, he was old and crooked in a physical sense. Both the decor of the bar and its wares were unpretentious, basic; the only colour I could see was in the different flavoured syrups, yet the bottles looked as though they could have been a decade or two old. Oddly, this character came into a view in a different way, from the back, so to speak. As ever in search of photographs to help add meaning to my travels, I wandered a bit through the back streets. In particular, I climbed some shallow steps leading to a painted open doorway (a photo!). Turning left, I passed a window at ground level, lit from within. It led into a storeroom brimming with caskets, tins, bottles, jars, things. I could not peer far into the storeroom, but there the crooked landlord stood. Writing this vague description now I realise the image of the stooped man down below in his crowded storeroom was utterly Dickensian.
I did also stop in Isola as I did last year, but only because I was early. Antibes to the skifield at Isola 2000 is only about 70 miles, two hours. The 15km from Isola to Isola 2000, though, are a bitch, harpoon bends all the way. Dad’s BMW powerful was suffering from being automatic and rather underpowered - a mechanical fault, or not firing on one cylinder, or some such failing.
At 8:00am the Isola 2000 complex was still deserted. The two shops tightly locked, the corridors dingy, empty, only a bar serving coffee to ski instructors and lift operators showed any signs of life. In their midst I was a stranger. Who was I? a punter? but where were my ski jacket and trousers, my boots, my glasses. I bought a coffee, simply because I needed a toilet: I couldn’t find a public one the whole length of the complex. At nine I hired boots, skis, poles. A fraught business. There is always the feeling that one is being rented the poorest skis and oldest boots. I made a fuss about the boots and got a better pair, but they hurt me all day, I don’t know why - wrong socks, wrong size, wrong feet? That cost £9. I bought a pass for the lifts £11, and, for a further £1.50, I paid for insurance. I have not bought insurance before, and indeed I don’t think I’ve come even close to a serious accident, but I was feeling vulnerable and unlucky, so I treated myself.
As it happens, I fell over only twice all day. Though this was not something to be proud of, for I usually only fall over when attempting a run beyond my capability or when I’m trying to improve my skiing - that I didn’t fall over was, therefore, little to do with my ability. I did not experiment much largely because of the weather. Snowing, cold, windy, cloudy. Had I got wet from falling over, I would not have been able to ski for as long as I did. Also, without good light (i.e. sunlight) one cannot discern the terrain very well; bumps, texture, slopes are all illuminated by shadow as much as light. Still I was very happy to be back on skis, and flying down white mountainsides. As with the driving, more often than not I had the highways and byways to myself. Much of the pleasure of skiing for me is attenuated by crowds, whether for lifts or on the slopes.
From the heights of the chair lifts I looked down below at other skiers. I watched how well they kept their skis together and parallel, and how they glided from side to side with the minimal of movements. I envy this level of skill (but not the skill of the pole-less mono-skiers). Skiing requires a harmony of body and environment. Skis are a very efficient way of travelling on snow - downhill skiing is a rather artificial development, but the principle hasn’t changed much. Much as I enjoy the exhilaration of the sport, I am intensely aware of my disharmony of movement, the wayward uncontrolled action of my legs, and torso in response to the downhill movements (I mention this every time I go skiing). My left leg, knee, foot etc are especially weak, and are often fund buffeting around, jagged out of place by the impact with ground. Skiing with a mono ski, however, seems to me an antithesis of what the sport is about. All flexibility is sacrificed for the challenge, it is virtually impossible to move uphill if necessary, or even sideways on the flat. One ties one’s feet together for no explicable purpose, like trying to shoot a bow and arrow with both hands tied together. Perhaps, there is a sense in which the skiing becomes more economical, more efficient, because the feet are forced to ski parallel, but I doubt it.
I gave up skiing about three in the afternoon. Theoretically I could have gone on for another hour or so but the weather insisted on worsening, and without a doubt I was getting quite tired. I decided not to stay in the mountains for the night, largely due to the weather, which meant I had to do my sightseeing that afternoon. I had planned to visit two sights, each given three stars by the Michelin guide - the Vesubie Gorge and the Madonna of Utelle. I saw nothing special in the first, and never reached the second, to cut a long windy story short.
On the way back along the Tinée valley, itself quite splendid and scoring two points, I made an error of judgement and took a diversion to see one of the perched hill villages, Rimplas. I say an error of judgement because I had limited time/light, limited energy, and an ongoing concern about putting the car under too much strain. As it happened, I climbed and climbed the hairpin road to within 2km of the village (not undiscouraged, I might add, by many an advertisement) only to discover the road had been closed for building works. How horribly frustrating. I drove back to the main road which follows the Tinée valley. Some stretches of the river are being spoilt by hydro works.
By the time I arrived in Nice, shops had begun to close and bars to fill. I parked the BMW, and strolled a little through the quartier of expensive boutiques. Here the sun had been filling the air with warmth, I must have missed a beach day, and a languid stupor, of summer days, hung heavily in the narrow streets.
That’s it, my week’s holiday over. The last day at Dad’s flat is always one of cleaning - cleaning the car, cleaning the floors, washing bed linen and towels, polishing the glass tables. The weather remains inclement, unrepentant to the end of my stay. Have I unwound a bit? I was not conscious of being tense or wound up before I came. Hard then to see a point in this holiday. Should holidays have a point?
I finish the 1987 Booker Prize winner ‘MoonTiger’ by Penelope Lively. I am not very impressed. Lively writes a kind of mosaic history of a woman, Claudia, lying in hospital waiting to die. She is a successful woman, published many books etc. Her consort Jason is also successful in television. The two of them are forever writing an article for ‘The Statesman’ or ‘The Times’ in a rather annoyingly casual way. Claudia writes about her past in Egypt as a war correspondent, and a brief affair with a soldier who subsequently dies proves to be the core of her life, underlying her later success. She never marries, though has a child with Jason. There is an affectation in her style which is highlighted every time she uses the word ‘frisson’. It is so annoying. And there is a sense that she is trying to be too clever. At the end, I feel as though I know about bits about her, but I don’t really have a sense of a deep many-layered life. The ending - a sustained piece about what a soldier feels when in the middle of war -is not very satisfactory, is not a suitable way of tying up her strata, however important the soldier was in her life. I wonder why it won the Booker. Some of her writing is fine, especially when delving inside Claudia’s mind, but I never gasped at the beauty of the writing (like I do say with Durrell or Golding) nor did I find she had anything to say to me. Her best bits are clearly those coming from personal experience (when young) and her worst emerge when her own personal experience is limited. This is off-putting for a reader.
Wednesday evening I have dinner with Caroline and her patrons, Alex and Christina. Having heard so much about them - at least 25% of Caroline’s conversation (and 33% of her world) is these two people - I was interested to meet them. I liked them. He, perhaps, in his mid-50s, reminds me of Jo Sinclair, clean shaven, mischievous face on a short bouncy body. A face that smiles easily, a body that twists in your direction easily. He is East German, she Australian. They’ve been married for donkey’s years and talk about Antibes as though they’ve been coming for ever. He is the creator, she the administrator, the accountant.
Most of the evening I gossip with Alex, Christina joins in occasionally, Caroline hardly at all. We tell tales of cars, money, claims against big companies, we talk of France and Hampstead and Germans and end the evening debating the relevance of nuclear deterrent. I eat a lovely pistou potage and a mediocre daube and an awful tarte tatin. Caroline struggles with her scampi, she expected pub grub but got the prawns in their shells. I liked Alex and Christina for always seeming to get to know the people around them, the waiters, the shopkeepers, the concierge. They liked to talk about them, in the same way I like to talk about genes and evolution. The conversation rarely strayed into the personal, and so I got no sense of the relationship between the three, although once, in metaphor, I likened Caroline to a nuclear deterrent, Alex responded by suggesting she were more his secret weapon. I wonder how good a dancer Caroline is, and whether she could really do better things. Very hard to tell. Interestingly, we all four had headaches today. Must be the air pressure.
15 April, Aldeburgh
Such a glorious day, a cloudless blue sky, just the sort of day to be expected in Antibes. But, whilst I was there, in the south of France, I barely saw the sun. The last two days it rained non-stop. I arrived home at Aldershot Road about 9:30 Thursday evening, my loved ones were there, both sleeping. B on the sofa, A in his cot. A had been up until nine waiting for my return but B had given up on me finally and they had both shut their eyes in tiredness.
Nothing much has happened in my absence. Brent has sent a rate bill for £1,081. On the invoice the council lists its services to me: only two are relevant - rubbish removal and street maintenance. Quite honestly it would be far cheaper to pay for private contractors to take my rubbish away. I have a chat with my neighbours, David and Caroline, about how poor a council Brent is, and how corrupt. Even Conservative councils that long for smaller rates manage to provide better services.
At work I filter the mail and approve Kenny’s toils. Nothing much has changed, which is unusual as so often when I go away I find something’s missing from my office or else there has been a re-alignment of editors. I talk to Philip Marvin, my superior, about Kenny. He has been assessed as introverted and a bad dresser by the training officer who led him and two other trainee journalists on a three day course. The assessment is a rather negative one, yet Philip offers me no special advice - maybe he should learn from what I have to tell him about Kenny. The assessor said that Kenny’s dress would show any improvement in attitude. But such an assessment is rather superficial and tends to underestimate the depth of personality adherence to image. Kenny needs to feel his worth, gain in responsibility, and as he does he will be more able to shed the need of an image. I do whittle away at his dress and timekeeping laziness. Yesterday, I told him the story of how, in New Zealand, when I’d just been offered a job by Sandoz, the sales director took me to a place to buy two suits; and then, a bit later, I told him he could take a work trip to Luxembourg but would have to smarten himself up.
We got to a jumble sale in Thorpeness, it is the first time we have gone there for a jumble. I am in the grand hall just a few seconds before I feel a dark dislike for the people running the sale. They are pretentious, like Thorpeness, they are well-dressed and bejewelled, as though trying to ensure they stay well above the riff-raff that might descend on the cheap goodies. They charge too much and are over-zealous in their salesmanship. The goods are of little interest either. In Leiston, the jumble is always poor. The people there try hard, but they are of a different social class, I suppose, from Aldeburgh which has the best jumbles by far. Unlike in Thorpeness, I realise, the sellers and buyers in Aldeburgh are confident in their status not to worry about jumble-stigma.
I finish Dawkins’ book but remain unimpressed by his theory of extended phenotypes. He is too easily caught up in his own thought experiments, metaphor, and becomes entangled in the anthropomorphism of imposing purpose on organisms or genes. At least, though, the book does delve into the real biochemical world of genes, whereas his earlier work ‘The Selfish Gene’ managed to hijack the gene and harness it to his theories discussed at a biological level. The first two-thirds of ‘The Extended Phenotype’ are taken up with replying to criticism of the selfish gene approach, and laying groundwork for the extended context, the last third explains the core of his argument. In the final chapter he tries to rediscover the organism and imagine, from an extended phenotype point of view, how the organisms of today could have evolved from far simpler cellular structures.
Britain has witnessed yet another mass tragedy. After the Herald of Free Enterprise, after King’s Cross, after Lockerbie, after Hillsborough? As the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was beginning last Saturday, a surge of fans at the Lepping Road end of the Sheffield stadium, Hillsborough, pressed down on others standing in the terraces. The crowd density and the cage-like barriers between the terrace and the field meant that the sudden packing of people together but without any release; the crashing weight of thousands of people pressed down on those below, killing 94 children, adolescents and adults. The immediate cause seems to have been the decision to open an outside gate - the police say the wall was in danger of collapse and people were in danger of being crushed - which let a flow of fans in without being ticket checked.
Politicians and football officials have been at pains to stress that this tragedy has nothing to do with football violence - the international football authority UEFA has just given its permission for England’s clubs to play in European competitions again. But, I think, it is no coincidence that the fan violence at Heysel, in Belgium, and this tragedy should have been inflicted on one club, Liverpool. The writer Jeremy Seabrook of ‘The Guardian’ thinks similarly, and expresses himself better than I: ‘That Liverpool should have been connected twice with such unbearable events is perhaps not entirely by chance. For the great maritime city, with its decayed function rooted in an archaic Imperial and industrial past, sport now has to bear a freight of symbolism that it can scarcely contain. The energies of partisan, mainly working-class male crowds remain, as they always have been, the object of great anxiety and suspicion to their betters. These energies are perceived as perhaps the last vestiges of the turbulence of the mob - unruly, defiant and unpredictable - in a society where all other public passions have been tamed.’
To the Department of Energy this morning. I wonder if the officials there will be as unresponsive as the CBI. The CBI man interviewed pleaded ignorance on the grounds that his energy committee was completely taken up with electricity privatisation. Kenny and I are a bit pressed this week with ‘EC Energy Monthly’ as well as EER and nothing ready, not the profile for EER, not the report for ECE nor any features. Still, I find that without having to rush off to college every five minutes any more there’s plenty of time to be an editor.
Frittered last evening away, most of it in front of the TV. Here’s what I watched. I entered the lounge between 6 and 6:30 flicked across the channels alighting on a quiz programme for a few minutes. The quiz master’s progress through the quiz seemed obviously calculated, a formula for when to stop and start, when to ask questions about the contestants private lives. He showed up the skill of those who do it in such a way that the viewer doesn’t notice the technique. This one seemed so horribly false, that he couldn’t possibly be enjoying himself. I suppose new ones have to start somewhere. TV cannot rely on Bruce Forsyth and Bob Monkhouse for ever. I pottered in the lounge, then in the study for a while, then found myself turning the TV on again about 7:40. I caught Eastenders. Donna has died. Thank heaven. She was such a pain in the people’s lives, and to watch. Dot is distraught of course, as is Cathy. A major piece of information hits me, which I must have missed earlier. Donna was Cathy’s child, who was then fostered out, since she was so young at the time. So Donna’s death gives Cathy a chance to go on acting as though she’s in a psychological nuclear war. Like Donna she is very tiring to watch.
I did plan to return to my study, but a programme about smacking of children came on. ‘Split Screen’ allows two people with opposing views to make a 15 minute programme presenting their views. Penelope Leach, she of the bible of baby’s health and care, proposes to ban smacking in the home. The opposer argued that parents should be free to handle their children as they see fit, and implied that the 1986 law banning corporal punishment in schools was wrong. I certainly agree with these points of view. Her presentation was based more on practical evidence and psychological reasoning. Leach’s arguments, though, were based on emotive pictures and emotional arguments drawn from a small minority of cases where children do suffer from parental harassment. There is though, I think, an important distinction to be made about punishment at different ages, and neither presenter pointed this out. It may well be that corporal punishment in secondary schools has been practised simply without reason, but for younger children and babies, smacking is imperative, for the child’s own good. A short sharp smack when a child tries to play with a plug, or climbs out of its cot, can save it much trouble later. There is no way that an 18 month old baby can understand argumentation; though it might understand ‘no’, it doesn’t understand the consequences of not complying.
Time to make supper before settling down to another programme in Channel 4’s gene series - ‘The Life Revolution’. I thought this was off target with a concentration on immunology and the fights against AIDS and cancer using monoclonal antibodies. At 9:30, I began to flick backwards and forwards to BBC1 where an interesting play had begun. This I watched through to 10:50. A modern day Good Samaritan - a security salesman - saves a dying man in the street but his life turns into a nightmare when the police start accusing of attacking the man not saving him. A metaphor really about modern life, hypnotic performances from the salesman and policeman.
Finally, ‘Film 89’ came on, so why not watch it. Our Barry told me enough about three films to convince not to see them. Bed 11:20.
Sunday 23 April
Back from a weary day in Brighton, so much driving around, and so much traffic coming back through London. B is pleased, though, that we have managed to isolate the bits of Brighton where it would be sensible for her to live - bearing in mind travel to the Polytechnic, shops, schools, desirability of the neighbourhood etc. We visited Annabel for a couple of hours, she and her lodger Clare helped us establish the nature of different areas. I estimate we might be able to afford up to £80-85,000 by selling Aldeburgh for £55,000, and borrowing the rest. Annabel has been to Brunei for four weeks, with Kate and Fred, to see Julek. She says it is a hole, and rather dreads going there for three months in the summer. Julek’s contract runs for another two or two and half years, after which time they will have to think of where to go - New Zealand maybe.
When I arrive back, I discover Rosy has rung. She tells me her friend Judy in Brighton is selling a property in one of the very roads we’ve been looking at. The flat does not sound very large, but is special in that it opens on some grounds which are supposed to be a paradise for children. She wants £72,000 for it. The most horrible thing, though - looking for a house to buy.
I am very conscious of having written little about Adam of late. His progress, growth, development are in areas which are not easy to pinpoint, to see or describe. Most slip by un-noticed, but not all. He can say dozens of words, now, many of which he repeats over and over again. New words come all the time. The faintest sound of an aeroplane and he starts screaming with pleasure . . . ‘aerobin, aerobin’. Even if he sees the shape of a cross on a piece of paper, or on a calculator button, he says ‘aerobin’. ‘Ball’ is another word of pleasure, and just yesterday he seemed to learn the concept of ‘black’, and saying it, though he is far from a real understanding of colour. He seems a bit behind with his talking skills, many children at 21 months are joining up words, but in other ways I think he is quite smart. He is also remarkably good natured. At night he is a dream. He goes to bed without a murmur, sleeps through the night, and rarely makes any noise until somebody comes for him in the morning. He may well have been playing happily in his cot for half an hour. He invents games, will hide himself behind a door, or hide something he is holding behind his back. He loves reading, going through books with one of us pointing out everything he knows.
B seems so much better in herself, less depressed, less emotional. She feels almost back to normal. If true, then it will have taken her body and mind two and a half years to adjust to being a mother, and her new situation. I wonder if it has helped her psychologically that the house in Adeburgh is now hers, that I have signed over the papers to her.
I met up with a few old friends last week. On Monday I finally got round to calling Phil. He, David and I then went out for a drink in their local boozer, though we might as well have stayed in his flat. Most of the talk resolved around their recent purchase of a crumbling farmhouse in the middle of Italy. They flew down at Easter with the specific purpose of buying. An agency had set them up with some prospective purchases, and, having seen them, they chose and bought one. I find it hard to believe they have paid so much, £25,000, for a shell of a place which hasn’t been lived in for 20 years, and doesn’t even have a road at present. I don’t think either Phil or David have any experience of ‘doing up’ properties - their flat is the first they’ve owned, so they are really jumping in at the deep end. The shell has no windows, no roof, no water, no electricity, no sewage. Once the sale of the house and its land has gone through, they will then spend the same sort of money on having it done up. A local borough surveyor, who showed them the properties, will organise the refurbishment, taking much of the toil out of the conversion. It is my instinct to think they are probably being ripped off. How much is the owner of the property actually going to get? But, as I tried to imagine how else Phil and David could manage to find such a place, negotiate its purchase, then organise all the different labour skills to get the place habitable, I realised the flow of capital would not be much different. Without actually living there, speaking Italian reasonably fluently, understanding the modes of business etc, it is impossible not to pay a little over the odds whatever one does.
At Raoul’s party to celebrate 40 years on earth, I meet up with most members of the old clan - even Vonny is there with her husband. She looks radiant at 6-7 months pregnant, her tummy roundly showing her prospective motherhood. She sits on the sofa, with husband Stephen, right by her, all evening. She only moves to leave, he too. He looks very dapper, very well groomed. They’re on the right path now towards middle class harmony, you could never have guessed he was a rock musician, she a struggling artist. A good job at Sainsburys and a bun in the oven can straighten up even the most wayward of us.
Raoul’s sister Annie seems more relaxed and conventional these days - I haven’t seen her in so long. She has a regular teaching post at Birkbeck College (next to where I study) which allows her to give a wide range of lectures. I talked at some length to R’s mother about the responsibilities of parenthood, and to his father about tiring trips to China. Niema told me her book has been accepted for publication; Tim that he had sat on a Venezuelan beach for days or weeks with a big bag of coke. They now think to move to Canada to live permanently while Tim investigates VSO. Niema’s daughter, Roneet, finally finds a buyer for her flat and business, and is readying herself for emigration to San Francisco where her partner is already restoring a house. He, Peter, has given up life as a solicitor to become a West Coast bum.
Raoul, himself, gets respectably drunk. He has applied for a professorship, and his wife is pregnant again.
B buys me a bunch of orange lilies, they are so enormous that displaying them is a problem. I had to snip six inches off the stems, still they tower out of my largest vase, and wide across the bay window in the lounge
I have begun my exam revision schedule, but doubt whether any of the information I am cramming into the brain box is being retained. I don’t think about it enough. I meet briefly with Nilofer who is shocked that I have begun revising already. She thinks it will be difficult to fail. I explain that she is enmeshed in these subjects, lives through them, thinks about them all the time and therefore the information is constantly reinforced, reprocessed. With me, the same is far from true. The moment I leave a lecture or a book, my mind goes somewhere else, to Adam, my work, houses, the news. If Nilofer and I were snatched up today and forced to take the exams, she would certainly pass and I would certainly fail.
The oddest thing - I have not had a friend ask to stay in my house for years as far as I can remember - not even Colin. Suddenly three want to come in the space of a week. Manu and Anna will come next weekend, Silvio and Rogerio the weekend after, but I will have to put off Lia, Elaine’s sister.
Paul K Lyons
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