PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1989 - JANUARY
4 January 1989
I am hitchhiking somewhere far away to see a train? a train driver? I feel it is a journey of ten or twelve hours. I am hitching on the side of the road with traffic speeding past when suddenly a very large truck, or even a train, pulls up sharply and obviously for me. I jump on the back and give a thumbs up to the driver so he can see it in his wing mirror. The next I know I am on the top of an immense, powerful, large, sleek engine pulling a long train. There are two men in the engine cabin. They are going to where I want to go. But the train is in a long, spacious tunnel, as though the whole journey is to be in the tunnel. For a moment the train jerks, and I nearly slide off. I realise how precarious my position is, for the train is travelling very fast. I can communicate easily with the drivers. One is tall muscular and youngish, the other smaller. The smaller one wants to play a kind of scrabble. He has a game set which consists of a large number of wooden arms radiating in irregular forms from a wooden structure, like a child’s building set. The arms can be extended out. On this structure scrabble letters are used to form words. But just as he is about to extend some arms out to me on the roof of the engine, the train begins to slow and comes to a halt. From somewhere further down the track a loudspeaker blares out instructions to the drivers. They get down from the train walk back along the track to fix something. They take care to listen to the instructions. I hear that there are faults all along the track, and that the journey might take much longer than I expected. Whilst the train is at a halt, I wander back up the track because the tunnel seems to have a raised glass roof, and I’d like to take a look. But, as I’m nearing it, I notice the train starts to move off very slowly, and I rush back for fear of being left behind.
Much of the holiday I used to redecorate the lounge. It looks brighter and prettier now with some lilac added to the white and apricot white. Despite the variety of ornaments, the room looks and feels good. Adam is much better. He was a joy with me, again showing signs of intelligence and alertness. His lethargy for several days over Christmas was so worrying. He will now climb up onto the piano stool himself, and sit for ten or fifteen minutes ‘playing’. He appears to get real joy from it. But at what point does he need tuition? He will need advice on how to make music from all these notes. Neither B nor I can give that to him.
Sunday 7 January
Adam is sunshine again. He can do no wrong. He smiles all day long, he will play whatever game I suggest, he eats and sleeps well, he moans and whinges rarely. He is pure delight. There were times over the last couple of months when it seemed he would never recover his joy and independence and ability to learn and progress. Tomorrow will go and see Judy and Rob.
Sunday 15 January
It is a chronic complaint of mine that I do not find enough will to write more often in this journal - I am forever castigating myself at the start of an entry. I do believe, though, that in the long run this will prove to have been a particularly severe drought. The question is the following: are my journals dying? Have they always been an elaborate mechanism for therapy? In order to pour out my distressed soul on a regular basis, have I filled out some 30 books with a pretension of comments? As I grow more fulfilled, more normal, more enwebbed by routines, does the diary diminish in relevance? I think the diary is a reflection of the distance between my super-conscious self and life around me. If life sweeps me along more, do I write less? So many people live in a swirl leaving little time to touch base with self. Marriage often leaves little space for the individual. How many individuals spend as much time alone, thoughtfully, as I? The diary reflects this. Yet, I do not believe my journal would fade, even if I were living a life richer in people or events, for I am in the habit: it gives me clear pleasure and satisfaction to describe and record my life, all the better if that life is full and coloured.
I go round in circles thinking about this. What I really believe is that I will write a journal till the day I die, and that as well as reflecting my daily pre-occupations it will reflect longer and deeper changes in my life, one that will be recognisable only from the distance of time. I can but guess at them. The diaries in these days, I will see - in the future - as more fallow than others simply because so much time is consumed being a parent.
The most extraordinary story from Armenia. Several days ago the main item on the television news programmes here in the UK, and presumably everywhere else, described how six people had been discovered alive in a basement, 35 days after the earthquake. The item included a film of a very ill-looking man lying in hospital, and a short description of how they had survived on stocks of tins in the basement. The following day, Tass reported that it could not confirm the previous day’s story, five of the survivors had not been traced. And yesterday, the real story emerged: the family of the man in hospital had invented the story in order to get him hospitalised. He had been rescued after five days, was seriously ill but couldn’t get a hospital place.
How vulnerable the world’s press is! A similar mistake occurred over the reported death of Tancredo Neves. The BBC World Service, among other major news reporting agencies, took the notice of Tancredo’s death from a radio bulletin, if I remember right, but the radio reporter had picked up the story from a hospital warder who had got it wrong. Perhaps part of the problem is that the mass media channels have to create a coherent solid picture for their customers, even if such solidity doesn’t exist. TV news requires pictures and commentary, and suddenly a huge item is created out of one person’s small small story - a hospital warder in Tancredo’s case, and a desperate but rather innocent family in the Armenian case. The nature of TV requires a certain treatment, nothing can be small or slight.
An invitation to dinner - such a rare event! Philip always goes to such trouble. An aperitif in aperitif glasses, Jerusalem artichoke soup with cream, Muscadet wine, a main meal of beautifully-cooked vegetables with chicken breasts in puff pastry, cheese and biscuits, raspberry chantilly, coffee, a selection of whiskeys in whisky glasses. The other guests: Phil’s old school friend Hilary who works at the Office of Environmental Health; Geoffrey, a retired headmaster, soft, erudite, pleasant; and a couple, the husband runs a large industrial products company, and his wife teaches with Phil at Westminster. About half the evening, we talked about Phil’s cooking, the food, or the objects around the lounge. For about a quarter of the evening, the two older men swapped historical notes or notes on some subject they knew more than the rest of us. The rest of the time there was some lively debate about opera and plays. Altogether most enjoyable.
Monday 23 January
I have bought a filing cabinet, a white, two-drawer cabinet. It goes a treat in my white and black study. What a relief to be able to file so many papers away in order. I should have had one years ago.
By chance, I watch two rather stunning films about polar expeditions. Not the usual sort of fare for me, but I must have been channel switching. The first documented a careful expedition to exhume two bodies buried in the arctic to discover the cause of failure of a much earlier expedition. The exhumations were carried out with military operation precision. Quite gruesome to see the bodies uncovered from their graves, first by removal of layers of earth and gravel, and secondly by the pouring of endless buckets of hot water. This team had brought an x-ray machine with them to the frozen wastes to help with the autopsy. The first body, the leader of the original team, was x-rayed still with his clothes on. The plate showed the strangest insides - non-human. Only when they removed the man’s clothes did they discover the long vertical scar of a previous autopsy that no one had known about. The team confirmed an existing theory that tinned food had led to lead poisoning. The other film was more remarkable. It was shot during Shackleton’s abortive attempt to sail to the Antarctic, cross it via the South Pole, and be picked up the other side by another vessel. The ship failed to reach the Antarctic, and got stuck in ice. Shackleton’s crew lived on the marooned vessel for months fighting off the expanding ice around them, and playing soccer in their spare time. Finally, the ship broke up, as the ice pushed it upwards. How extraordinary that there should have been an able cameraman, that his camera survived, and that he had sufficient film to record for well over a year. The crew then set off in rowing boats, with all their dogs (the dogs pulling the boats I suppose), and after more months they made land at Elephant Island. Shackleton and a small crew got to the Falkland Islands, and hired a whaler, but it took four attempts to rescue the rest of the crew. Shackleton lost not one man.
More telly. On Saturday night, Julian brings round a video of ‘The Last Emperor’. Mum and B come to watch it too. We all eat pizza and salad. Sumptuous production by Bertolucci that succeeded in drawing us in to the strange life of the last Chinese emperor.
I tape Shosty 5, the last in the series of RPO with Ashkenazy at the helm. Sunday I captured 2, 15 and the concerto for piano, horn and trumpet. More than any other composer, Shostakovitch communicates to me, more ever than Britten.
I pick Adam up from nursery on Tuesdays. Today, I left home at 7:30, arrived office 7:50, left office for college 10:55, left college for office 3:10, left office for nursery 5:05 etc. At the nursery, Angela tells me Adam has bitten again. What can we do, he doesn’t bite me, or B any more. He seems very happy when I arrive, even though it is late. We stroll to Euston Station, and catch the 5:37, it is only a few minutes late leaving. Adam screams a bit, but I don’t know why. I put him back in his chair and strap him in, he objects for a few seconds before sucking his finger and shutting up. We stop at Safeways on the way home. I always look for meats or fishes (sometimes cakes and yoghurts) that are marked down because their sell-by date has almost arrived. Many would regard this as cheapskate behaviour, but I find it saves me making choices. I buy whatever is cheaper (the reductions are large 30-50% often, and the food is never off, just won’t last long) so long as the volume is small. Tonight it was some breaded cod slices (Adam’s had one, and I will have the other); and cauliflower tops were cheap, 35p instead of 90p. I often end up buying things I would never normally buy, trout and salmon from the fish section, chicken cordon bleu or sirloin steaks. I like more expensive foods but I don’t like them enough more to pay the whopping extra. I doubt if I get any greater enjoyment, satisfaction, pleasure out of a sirloin steak than I do from a piece of ox liver. Adam starts to get grumpy as I’m waiting at the till, and remains grumpy until I’ve fed him. He spits out the first mouthful, so I think it might be too hot, but the next one is definitely cool, and he spits that out too. I act cross and lift him straight into the cot. He screams, two minutes later I put him back on the chair, and he eats without a problem. It is possible, he wants to feed himself which he does at B’s. After supper it is bath time, and then we spend a pleasant 30-45 minutes in the lounge as usual. He is always (of late at least) very good humoured in the evening, and we play a lot. He climbs up and down the sofa, and on to the table, he throws himself across me and dives into the cushions. We laugh together over the slightest game - this evening it was just putting hands in front of eyes. He plays the piano for a few minutes, longer if I can persuade him.
My new newsletter ‘EC Energy Monthly’ will be published this week. It will be free with European Energy Report once a month. I hope it will sell separately as well, though marketing has put the price quite high. Even if I reduce EER to 16 pages with the new supplement that will be 28 pages to write and proof read on Thursdays, once a month, - up to now 20 has been more than enough. As yet, we don’t know how to design the inside, we shall have to do it all tomorrow - much to do. Most of the copy has been written by me so far, since I have had nothing from Brussels, from either of my two stringers, Brooks and Lucy.
Last week, I flew to Brussels for a day and a night. I tried to squeeze the trip inbetween my obligation to look after Adam on Tuesday night and my 12:00 lecture on Thursday. So, I left at some unearthly hour on Wednesday morning. The trip out was smooth and went according to plan: airport, hotel and FT office by 10. Tim Dickson, one of the staffers there, couldn’t help me overmuch, and I was with Brooks not long after 11:00. Coming back, I spent seven hours in Brussels airport, being moved from one cancelled plane to another. Only a Dick Francis novel saved me. Finally, I flew into the Docklands airport, which proved more useful than either Heathrow or Gatwick, because I can be home in 45 minutes on the cross London line.
Paul K Lyons
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