PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1989 - AUGUST
Tuesday 1 August
Two main news items that interest me today. They are the front and back leads of most newspapers. The second, England’s shocking failure against Australia in the fourth cricket test needs no comment. At one point in their second innings yesterday they were 59 for 6. The individual players are outclassed, the captaincy is outclassed, the team is outclassed. Like British football, our cricket is in the doldrums.
The headline today is the claim by the terrorist group Organisation of the Oppressed of the World that it has killed a US officer. On Monday, it threatened to kill him if the Israeli-kidnapped Shia clergyman Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid was not freed. He was not. Despite, the fact that there are considerable doubts over the terrorist claim that Higgins was hanged yesterday - the video it released could have been shot months ago, it might not even show Higgins - all the media and political reactions worldwide have been in response to the claim as if it were true. As always, I find, diplomacy and foreign policy are built upon a foundation of hypocrisy - perhaps more so than any other governmental department. Governments say one thing and do another. The media should try and explain this more often.
Julian HAS asked me to best man. It clearly wasn’t an easy decision. He says he didn’t just choose me out of duty. Well, he might. I am pleased to be asked. I have probably been a more useful adviser to him than other people. I campaigned (within the family!) strongly against him taking lithium to control his apparent manic depression. I pushed hard for him to leave stage-managing and to join Dad’s firm. I gave him the opportunity to save money by living at a very cheap rent in my house - although this latter worked in my favour too. My own gratification is seeing him relatively stable and happy.
In some ways, I think I am wise. I may lack compassion, even for myself, but I do see things clearly. And, practically, I think friends benefit from me, as is clear by the favours to Andraz, the blossoming of Judy’s relationship with Rob in my house, the marriage of Barbara and Stewart (from Mori) all those years ago, the meeting of Liz and Kenny, the loaning of money to Martin (and his accommodation problems I helped) and to Vonny, and so on. But, on the negative side, I can feel resentment if some benefit I’ve enabled isn’t recognised.
I do fear that as Adam grows up I will want him to recognise how much a product of his parents he is. Will I be able to control myself against demanding reward from my own son for work put in. How horrible to have a father demanding debts to be repaid. No child ever asked to arrive, and yet once arrived they get very different amounts of help from their parents. Talking to Caroline the other day I remembered how little my parents gave me in my teens. They never pushed me to do anything cultural or sporting. The only significant extra-school activity I had was chess, and they refused to pay my subscription to the town chess club! Considering the money they spent on Julian’s and Melanie’s private education they could have paid for me to do something, pushed me into something. Instead I was just fobbed off onto the church.
Trouble at college: Having completely floundered in my search for a project, I opted to try and take over one, left by another student, concerning the palaeoecology of Java. I went to see Peter Andrews who fuelled my interest to the point of more or less deciding to take it on. However, it now appears that some key figures collected by a previous PhD student (who died half way through his thesis) have gone missing. Peter can’t find them in his offices and the student who left swears she never took them away, and that they are not among her papers at home. The project is a non-starter without those figures.
I meant to use this summer to get moving on the project, so much work is required and there is so little free time during term. I have serious doubts as to whether I should continue: palaeoecology is so far away from any of the interests that led me into the course.
Friday 4 August
Adam is two today, but, because he and I are here in Aldeburgh, and Barbara is in London, we will celebrate fully on Sunday. I have bought him some new toys to open here: a tool box containing a plastic tool set and a box containing a selection of stickle bricks. On Sunday, he will open lots more - Duplo, a toy record player, some rubber dinosaurs, several books, and other people’s presents as well. Judy and Rob will bring their children for tea. Grandma Barbara will bring a cake. Perhaps we will sing Happy Birthday Adam.
I don’t know what happened to the terrible twos. Adam was really difficult for a couple of months a while back, but now he is as good as gold, a real treasure. Occasionally, he gets upset over a trifle but it is so easy to divert his attention that he forgets all about the trifle in an instant. We’ve been here two days - we drove up Wednesday night and it’s Friday evening now - and I haven’t used a cross word once. He is utterly adorable. Both affectionate and independent, not being either to any extreme. Sometimes he wants to be picked up, but I really can’t see it as spoiling him, since he is so happy playing alone much of the time, and if I am busy in the garden or the house, he will play around me, causing virtually no trouble. I would say that our policy of letting him move everywhere, touch everything when he was younger, has paid off, because his curiosity about the plugs, wires, cupboards, vegetables, fire, records has abated. In the garden, he doesn’t tread on the plants or break them with his hands. If today and yesterday is anything to go by, his childhood is one of glorious happiness.
I have coaxed Adam to love the sea. Today, he was positively crying to go back in. Last time we came to Aldeburgh we went in three times, the first time was a real trauma, then it got easier and easier. Today, the best fun we had was in the sea. I held him to me across the chest, like a baby monkey holds onto its adult, and I stood in the water just beyond where the waves break, so that most of the time Adam’s feet were trailing in the water about hip height. But every time a big wave rolled in, the water would rise up over our chests. This became such a game that we giggled extravagantly at every wave, and when there was a really big one, I would jump a little to avoid complete submersion and Adam would scream hysterically with delight. I judge that even in this warm weather, Adam shouldn’t stay wet too long so I always wrap him in a big towel after 15-20 minutes. He likes that too, sitting on the stones wrapped in the big towel. Today, I left him there to return to the water to have a proper swim myself. I take 24 photographs of him at two years old. Some on the swing, some lying on the grass, and two or three of both of us in the garden in front of the santolina’s yellow flowers.
The yellow flowers on the santolina at the back of the garden have lasted a long time, and with the monbretia now in flower, there’s a colourful orange and yellow combination down the garden through the kitchen window. In the front garden, there are still nine varieties of plants with blue flowers in bloom. It has seemed to me that for most of the spring and summer we have managed to have eight or nine plants in flower at any one time. At present there is a pansy, the buddleia, which has grown like Jack’s beanstalk to cover our large window, a variety of sea holly (we have three, all of which give exquisite flowers), hebe, lavender, vinca, and some others whose names I can’t recall. I trim the laurel hedge.
The end of my third day here with Adam. We will head back to London after breakfast tomorrow. A highlight for Adam has been watching the digger at the end of the road where fervent activity is destroying old road and creating a new roundabout; another has been watching the lifeboat be launched. Although the launch of the lifeboat into the sea (for training, or publicity) took no more than a minute, the event pulled an enormous crowd of children with parents. We were all lined up at a safe distance from the long sleepers (the boat nearly came off last time), and there was activity from both a motorised inflatable life raft at sea and a bulldozer on the beach (moving the sleepers around). With everything in place, the bulldozer out of sight, the life raft landed, a team of brightly-coloured men climbed aboard. There was a slight pause before the boat was unlatched, so to speak, from its position at the top of the ramp, and before it sped down the sleepers to crash into the sea and to motor away.
I have put a sign up in the window: For Sale - two bedrooms, sunny garden, please knock or call 01 328 7566 or contact Tuohy or Heritage. £52,000. I should have done this before. I should never have left the estate agents to pussy foot us around at £56,000 and £55,000. There is very little evidence to show anybody at all has been to see the house. I notice Tuohy is advertising No 9 Leiston Road in the local press at £59,000. It is no bigger than this house, I think. He must be on a higher commission. It stands to reason that the more commission he expects to get, the more he can spend on advertising. Thus beating him down to 1.5% may have served against our better interests. Interestingly, the same day I put up the notice, two ladies came to look round. I think the elder was the mother, she lives in No 43, and her daughter wants to move from Watford. They seemed keen as I showed them around, and even volunteered that they had the cash.
Project off, project on. On Friday, I ring Peter Andrews as arranged. With the project in doubt all week, I have been depressed and anxious wandering what else I could do with my life. It would not be too difficult to jack in the MSc if I could think of something better to do. I can’t. I’ve been in the job of editor of EER for two years - that’s the longest I’ve been in any job before.
I have felt easier since talking to Peter. At first he told me he had not found the all-important figures. I was about to say goodbye and thanks for the effort, when all of a sudden he found them on his desk! Very strange. He is now away for a month but tells me to arm myself with some information and to talk to Chris Stringer and Michael Day - both important names in the human evolution world.
The weather continues glorious. The Aldeburgh beach has been quite crowded at times, but how I love to be away from the city. The walk through the back lanes to the High Street is never crowded, there is no doubt we are in the country, the overgrown hedgerows, the incessant bird song. The quiet. We have been on no long walks, this time, I haven’t considered myself strong enough.
Saturday 12 August
The heatwave gave out mid-week and a good dose of rain came down. Now the air is cooler, breezes refresh us.
Barbara and Adam have been down to Salisbury for a few days, I expect them back this afternoon. Time is not long before Adam must leave his current nursery, and start at Brighton. B too starts at the Polytechnic in only two months, or less. The Aldeburgh hasn’t sold - not so much as an offer - so B will have to find a place to rent in Brighton.
England’s cricket tumbles. Having saved an innings defeat by the skin of their teeth in the last test (the one that lost England the ashes) they are now about 140 for 5 (effectively 6 since Botham can’t bat) in reply to Australia’s 602 for 6 declared. Pathetic. The team and the team’s management are a complete mess. Coming off the field yesterday, the English cricketers were full of smiles, they looked happy; the Aussie batsmen who had demolished the Brits were unsmiling, uncompromising. I don’t think we take the tests seriously any more.
My afternoon tea session last Sunday with Judy, Rob, Sophie and Jamie, and my Mum, proved infinitely more chaotic than Sophie’s tea party for her second birthday in spring. How do people manage with two or three children. It must be like that, chaotic from dawn to dusk. Adam didn’t behave very well. He slept a bit in the car coming back from Aldeburgh, but not at all after lunch. He got very excited when opening his presents, barely stopping at one before demanding to open another. Then, during the afternoon, with the visitors and more presents, he really let go showing off and behaving quite manic. All the children stuffed themselves with cake - a real birthday cake made by Mum - and chocolate biscuits. Adam couldn’t believe his luck never having eaten so many sweet things before in such an unrestrained fashion. I had invited Raoul and Caroline too, but they had a prior engagement. Quite how I’d have coped with more people/children I don’t know. At least it was some sort of celebration for Adam’s second birthday; hopefully, by his third he’ll have more friends - though 4 August is a always going to fall in the middle of the holidays.
Over the weekend I try to do some background reading for the project, but I cannot settle. My heart is not in it. I do see light down the dark tunnel, I can begin to see the work that needs to be done. Yet, it seems a very dead project to me. It will be an exercise only for me, not driven by interest. This afternoon, I read over my original notes, the ones meant to help me focus on choosing a project. The notes are not as daft as I thought they were. I don’t know why I didn’t persevere a bit more in pursuing the ideas. The notes seem to suggest a project along the lines of doing a review of paternal care among primate populations. How do males pass on their behavioural patterns, and do those behavioural patterns affect their ‘fitness’? I must talk to Robin in Liverpool or wherever he lives, but I feel I have gone too far with Peter Andrews, and it might be impolite to pull out now. Furthermore, Andrews’ project is solid, there is data and there is expertise available to guide me. Robin might not be able to give me much help, such a review might flounder without focus. I go to the cemetery to consider my future.
Thursday 17 August, Aldeburgh
I have escaped the city again, with my son. These long weekends starting on Wednesday night are my summer holiday, I suppose, though I’ve forgotten what a real holiday is. I’m not sure I’ve ever taken a proper two week holiday anywhere, now I come to think of it. There have been week-long and ten day holidays, I think - Ireland and Antibes - but almost all of my journeys of recent times have been tacked onto business trips.
An interesting concert relays live from the Proms through my radio. Bartok music for strings, percussion and celesta. Harrison Birtwhistle’s ‘Endless Parade’ (playing now) and ‘Firebird’ after the break.
This morning we went to an open air concert in the Adair Lodge Gardens. The players were the brass section of Swedish Gothenburg City Orchestra which is performing this evening at the Maltings. Despite horrendous problems with the wind blowing down the stands and sweeping music off into the clouds they played beautifully with an entertaining selection of songs, one of which was so familiar I thought it came from Chico Buarque’s opera ‘O Malandro’ but it can’t have been, can it?
Adam and I sat down just before the start at 1 and stayed until its end, an hour or so later. The last ten minutes I was walking around with, but for 45 minutes I managed to stay put, with Adam, sitting on the grass. Keeping him from talking loudly was the most tricky thing; movement-wise, he was restless but on the spot. The only time he tried to wander off, I tempted him back with some crab apples - we were sat under a crab apple tree.
We will have to decide whether to take him to J’s wedding. If he were a more difficult, less charming child, the decision would be easy. But the family would all like him to be there, and he should be in the photos. Besides, he’s likely to really enjoy it. As best man, I won’t be able to manage him at all, which will leave the responsibility entirely with B. Mum won’t want to be bothered much either. We will need to know that we can put him to bed somewhere.
The project again: I took the primate idea one stage further, and talked to Nilofer about it. She showed me a recent paper, slightly relevant, and in it I found a reference to a book called ‘Primate Paternalism’. I located it at the Science Reference Reading room. It is a collection of papers edited by a man called Taub. The subject does seem to be of interest, but not studied that much. I am encouraged enough to ring Robin Dunbar at home. We talk for an hour. He can see three areas of possible data collection: marmoset observations at the zoo; human questionnaires; or utilisation of the ethnographic atlas. It is far from clear whether I really can make a project of it, and I must be very sure before I discard Peter Andrews. I shall have to squeeze some time next week.
Another day here in Aldeburgh. Mornings and evenings have been quite glorious, the afternoons somewhat blustery. Aldeburgh is very busy, so many children, hundreds of people on the beach, hundreds sailing on the river, hundreds mulling along the coast road. Having Aldeburgh busy, jolly does not suit my disposition in the way the town in winter does. In winter, I feel in sympathy with the melancholy aspect of the place, the rough sea, the biting wind, the empty lonely seafront. With so many people around I get lonely, I get jealous of the group activities of other families, of the conversations in the bread shop, of the fun in swimming around together in the sea. Once, I even shivered with desire for a lovely girl that was sunbathing nearby.
Adam is having a lovely time. The day is more or less completely given over to him, in the sense that I try and make it as interesting or challenging for him as possible. The night we arrived I set the alarm for 2:30! Adam was sleeping soundly so I had no fear to leave him for half an hour. My aim: to watch the total eclipse of the moon on Aldeburgh beach. How perfect a night for such an experience, a cloudless, star-full expanse of sky, the round moon, brilliant shining without expectation of any sabotage, the giant shadow about to diminish its reflecting power, its position of unrivalled empress in the empire that is night. The shadow bites into the silver disc, and creeps imperceptibly across it. There is no one else on the beach or anywhere else. An occasional car flashes along the street, its driver racing home after some extended visit or pub party. I position myself using the beach shelter hut to screen me from the harsh lights of one fishing hut and from the orange sodium glow of the street lamps. I want as pure a view of the sky as possible. I am a little chilly and the movement of the shadow is slow, so I nip back home to check on Adam, and to make a cup of tea. Back on the beach, I stroll around crunching the pebbles underfoot, glancing up every few seconds to check on the progress of the eclipse. The shadow is not wiping out the image of the moon just attenuating it, so that only a pale, seemingly translucent, disc is left. As the eclipse nears its fullness, so the pale orange, salmon colour of the moon becomes apparent. There is too much sunlight refracted by the earth’s atmosphere to leave it without any illumination. Near the full eclipse, I hear other voices and pebble crunchers. At least a few others do have the same sense of excitement and exhilaration about the wonders of the universe.
In my spare moments I read ‘Spycatcher’ - which I’ve picked up again in my study having left it unfinished months ago. It does give an extraordinary account of life on the technical side of the secret service.
For days now every lead in the media has been about the expected announcement in Poland of a new non-Communist government. Lech Walesa has declined to head the new government. Perhaps in 10 or 20 years we will be embracing Poland back into the European arena. In my mind, it is hidden behind an impenetrable wall, along with other East Bloc states, that blocks communications and puts it out of bounds. I have been to almost every West European state (Denmark will be the last to fall later this year probably) and feel that it is a complete achievement in itself. Poland is no further away than Spain, and probably no less interesting, but it doesn’t figure in my travel ambitions. Maybe my son will not think of Poland in a different context from Austria when he thinks of travelling. Who knows, in 20 years there be yet more independent states, with Lithuania and Latvia and Estonia breaking free and restoring their own traditions and cultures. Turkey today, Poland tomorrow, Latvia the day after tomorrow.
Adam and I continue to have a lovely time in Aldeburgh. I have bought a seat for the back of a bicycle. I brought my bicycle from London and fitted the child seat. It’s the cheapest version, but the one I’ve seen most often around here. It has no safety straps or any restraining mechanism, and I am a little wary at first. Yet Adam sits in it very well indeed. He holds on well to the arm rests, and thoroughly enjoys himself. We have now gone on tracks and across bumpy fields without the slightest problem. What would be the purpose of a harness? If I should crash or fall off? But I wonder if he would be better strapped in or not. No crash on a bicycle is so sudden, so head on that I or Adam would fly forward; least ways I can’t remember in 30 years of bicycling this ever happening to me. More likely is the possibility that the bike falls to the side, in which case, if Adam is strapped in, he can’t actually do much to save himself; if not strapped in he might fly out and land instinctively better.
On Friday evening after Adam’s supper, we bicycle down to the fairground that has been installed at the south end of the town just beyond the hotel. I suppose the fair is here because of the Aldeburgh carnival. As we strolled hand in hand around the grounds, Adam looked flabbergasted, the bright coloured lights, the movements and noises all amazed him. I have mixed feelings about the fair. On the one hand, I am pleased to excite Adam, give him new experiences, but a fair is such a tacky part of life. Perhaps all fairs are tacky, but this one seems worse than usual, maybe by comparison to the rest of Aldeburgh. The characters operating the children’s roundabouts looks positively Dickensian, Fagin-like. The round stalls where darts or hoops are thrown offer the most ‘orrible teddy bears of luminescent yellow or shocking pink.
I am in a place a sort of giant dwelling half-built into the land. I am at one of the outer edges. Our society is being attacked, I go a little way forward up the grassy hill to see if I can see our attackers. There are horses and wagons lining the ridge, much nearer than I expected. I go back. I don’t feel part of any group. There is no one I know. I make my way through the dwelling, looking for safety. When I get to the other side, I see some girls. One of them says my pants are wet from when I went to the toilet, and she laughs cruelly. I ignore her and make my way back through the dwelling. I meet some men on horseback but I cannot distinguish whether they are friend or foe. They pretend to be friends but then shoot to kill. I avoid the shots, and roll behind some cover before running up a very steep hill, too steep for horses, and make my escape. I find a secret corridor full of wood panelling lit by electric bulbs. I navigate a mysterious and difficult door to find myself in a delightful panelled room with six or eight sides. At first I think there is no one there, and that I’ll be able to hide for the duration of the battle. But then I see shirts hanging and hear the sounds of someone in a bathroom. Shortly, I am surrounded by three or four young me who claim to be artists. This room is ‘above’ Menton [in southeast France by the Italian border]. The artists hope to survive under the new regime by dint of their skills. I explain I am a painter and show them how well I can paint in the style of some old master.
Today I go with Julian and Sarah to the church where they will marry and then to Sarah’s parents for lunch to check out the land for the wedding party.
I write a proposal to Dennis Kiley my boss with regard to the future of ‘EC Energy Monthly’ and ‘European Energy Report’. I had already prepared one memo for a meeting to discuss and agree budgets and personnel for next year, but Dennis didn’t turn up and his deputy, Philip, acted like a two year old with a new toy - tossing my memo up and down, and then obliging me to write a more specific one. Within a day or two of delivering the new one, I got a call from Dennis himself who seemed pleased with my ideas, and agreed in principal. I feel Dennis appreciates that I am clear sighted, that I don’t mess around or waste time, and he is thus willing to back me without fuss - presumably until I make a mistake. But what does Philip do? I think he is there as a buffer to Dennis against those editors with more time-wasting techniques. He seems to have no power at all, no ability whatsoever to make decisions or decide on the best course of action. I really can’t understand his presence. Before he got booted up to the deputy position and when he was still an editor, his newsletter was one of the least good in the whole stable.
Barbara is now spending every working day in Brighton trying to find a flat to rent. Adam’s new nursery starts mid-September. So far she has had little success - children are a general handicap, there are constraints on where she can live, and how much she can pay.
Paul K Lyons
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