PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1989 - JUNE
Friday 2 June
A couple of weeks ago, Joe Sinclair rang, out of the blue. He said he had just returned from New York, and he had some packages from Gail to give me. I went straight round with Adam; his house is only five minutes walk, and it wasn’t quite yet Adam’s bed-time. Having ended up in New York after a world-wide trip, and having some spare time, he rang Frederic not knowing of his death. Gail invited him round, twice I think, and seems to have told him much more about Frederic’s death than she’s told anyone else I know. I gleaned two new bits of information. Firstly, for a year prior to his death, Frederic was full of anger, towards friends and strangers alike. Gail had finally found it too much, and had already left him, or was about to do so. Secondly, he committed suicide in a hotel room, having constructed some sort of altar to himself: a tent-like structure surrounded with objects that meant a lot to him.
Among the papers in the package from Gail were a variety of letters: my own to Frederic through my twenties (though not my letters from childhood, which in a way would be more interesting); copies of his letters to me (all of which I’ve got); some of Dolly’s letters to him (which I haven’t read yet); and a number of papers concerning his birth, immigration, schooling. Among this latter group there is nothing really that interests except his application to emigrate to the United States: first made before he married Mum, and before I was conceived, which begs a number of questions about my past. After meeting Mum did Frederic decide not to emigrate and change his mind again after a couple of years? The papers show him writing to the authorities again in 1955, asking what had become of his application. Or did he always intend to go, and hoped to take my Mum with him? Did she then refuse when it came to the crunch, because she had got fed up with him, or because she was scared to go?
I have written to Gail again, thanking her for the packages and her earlier letter: ‘Dear Gail, Many thanks for your letter. I had intended to reply earlier but exams crept up on me so quickly and for the last four weeks I have been revising solidly. Such a strange thing to do, to go back to college after all this time. It is fifteen years since I did an exam, since I had to revise. It was an unpleasant experience. Firstly, there was the sheer volume of studying which had to be conducted on top of my real work. Secondly, once in the exams, I also had to face the reality of my own handwriting and my inability to construct phrases and sentences without crossings-out. I am word-processor addicted.
Now I have come, with Adam, to our small cottage by the sea to relax for a few days. Adam’s mother, Barbara, has stayed in London to catch up on her work and needs, having administered to mine for a while as my exams were approaching. Just before I left, Joe Sinclair rang me up. He lives just round the corner, so I was able to go straight round and collect the packages you had asked him to deliver. I brought them up with me to Aldeburgh and have just finished going through the individual items, except that I’ve left Dolly’s letters to read another time.
I didn’t even know Joe knew Frederic, but he reminded me that he had been part of the group of German refugees to which both Frederic and my stepfather Sasha belonged. Joe explained a little more about what actually happened, I hope you don’t mind. He told me about Frederic’s anger and about the way he decided to die, which helps me feel I know, perhaps, a bit more about his sad death.
Thank you so much for bothering to send some of Frederic’s papers and letters to me, even though I hadn’t replied to your letter. You judged me correctly, in the sense that I do give enormous value to them. I have always thought of Frederic rather fondly, and never mentally cut myself off from him. I would ask Roxanne and George Marlow for news now and then, but it never seemed worthwhile to write him again after that visit to Block Island. I knew I had erred in his eyes, and in consequence he wiped me out of his mind, but I was still a little shocked to read his will, and see how explicitly he wrote me out of his life. I suppose it was necessary jargon (given his feelings towards me) - I’ve not seen a will before - but it touched the cord he meant it to. I never really understood what he expected of me; perhaps you can tell me now.
I notice from the papers that Frederic had already applied to emigrate to the United States before I was conceived and before he married my mother. There is so much about Frederic and his family that I do not know, and yet the essence of me, has come from his genes and his early influence. I bear no relation at all to Barbara’s relations, in either looks or personality. It was also instructive to see how my own letters to Frederic chart a rather extravagant search for identity during my twenties.
As you know I received nothing, not a photo nor drawing, nor even my own letters, after Frederic’s mother died; nor did I receive anything after the death of Vera, though I had grown quite close to her since my first visit to New York. I am thus particularly grateful that you have taken the trouble to give me these papers. The only connection I have to a rather strange and distant heritage.
Among the copies of his letters to me were no surprises since I have them all, and since I had recently reread them. Handling some of the other items made me sad not to have known him for longer and a bit better, his birth certificate, in particular, and his exam papers. And thank you for the cuff-link of Igee: at least I have one momento of my grandparents now. Largely, I am not a sentimental person, but Frederic’s death has touched me into feeling a huge ancestral void.
My mother was very upset after hearing from you about Frederic. I do not know much about those early days of my life, and I certainly have no memories. Perhaps, among his papers there are some clues as to his life and times as a young man; they would also interest me.
Gail, I do hope all the best for you. Do write again, if you feel like it. I would value your own feelings about Frederic, at his best, and what happened at the end. Once again, thank you for thinking of me.’
I really ought to do something about saving my letters in a methodical way. Every now and then one gets into the diary, on even rarer occasions one that someone has sent me gets rewritten in - actually I can’t remember the last time I did such a thing. I probably have most of my letters written while I was in Brazil, because they’re on disc. But I really ought to print them out, it would be a safer way of archiving them, I think.
I have applied to the ‘New Scientist’ for a job as News Editor. I think I have applied out of devilment more than anything else, for were they to offer me the job, at say £25,000, I doubt whether I would take it. My current job is so cushy, and I do really enjoy the energy sector, with all its political import, and monitoring the increasing role of environmental policies; I can’t imagine losing the freedom I currently have. Whenever I get bored, in this job, I travel; or start a new newsletter. I am so much my own master; I don’t think I would like being dragged back into the grind of a weekly magazine.
Also today I have made tentative moves towards a project for my MSc. I talked to Leslie, the human evolution tutor, and asked whether it might be possible to take over Cathy’s project about the paleoecology of Java during the time of Homo erectus. Now that Cathy has left, has thrown in the towel, the project is open. The original data was collected by a PHd student, who then died. The study has a jinxed history. In its favour is the fact that the supervisor would be Peter Andrews at the Natural History museum. Andrews is world famous in the field, and exceedingly well published. Among the many papers I had to read for Leslie’s course, his were among the most clearly written and intelligent.
Wednesday 7 June 1989
I take Adam into the nursey or pick him up several times this week - B’s one exam comes next week so she needs maximum amount of time to prepare. I realise this morning as I carry Adam through the basement play area and up the stairs to the babies’ creche that I have never had my eyes really open in the nursery; I am always preoccupied with the business of delivering Adam. He must be carried down the outside stairs, through the kitchen, then up the inside stairs to the creche. It is easiest to leave the pushchair outside and near the main house door. On the way through the kitchen, Adam’s lunch must be placed in the fridge; once upstairs, the carrier bag with a change of clothes or nappies must be put on the right peg. The pushchair must be retrieved from outside, folded and put in the area allocated for pushchairs. By now, Adam is well used to the nursery, and is utterly nonchalant about either or B leaving. He seems to love it there and needs no reassurance from us. I usually stay for a minute or two watching him, but then leave. Throughout this period, 5-10 minutes at most, I don’t actually reflect on anything, I don’t look around as a writer, I don’t take notes; I am just Adam’s father breezing in and out of the place. I must try and open my eyes more.
This week is the first for ages in which I have had nothing pressing to do; I don’t even have a country profile to write at work. In fact, I am finding myself at a loose end. I need to be busy; if I am not I waste so much time. I need targets and focal points to aim at.
The most urgent assignment at present is to decide on a thesis for my Masters course. This is proving difficult. There is such a wide range of subject matter, so many different areas, and very few, if any, entry points. My problem is that I need a project with some meaning to it (other than just practice at research) since I’m doing this course only for pleasure. To get bogged down in a project that I find no sense in, will inevitably prove unsatisfactory considering the amount of time that will go into it. I had a longish talk with Robin. He is the only person to have suggested anything at all. At first, he thought I might like to massage behavioural data on macaques or some other old world monkey and do the sort of analysis he has done on baboons. But I can’t get very excited about monkeys. I said if I were to do anything on his side, it would have to be human sociobiology. So, he had this brainwave to use the bible and/or other religious texts as a source of sociobiological information. Similarly, he sees a good project in ransacking folk songs for basic biological information. I think he envisages doing counts of mentions of cuckoldry and concerns over the qualities of a mate. In a sense, this verges towards one of my one ideas which was to look at history from the point of view of wars and conquests, and trying to find patterns in the social structure of defeated nations - particularly in terms of the male/female roles.
I spent an hour in the UCL folklore library, looking through books of myths and songs and legends. I really couldn’t see any light, couldn’t find a starting point for such a project. The idea is too vague and the area of literature to vast. I tried to think a bit more about my battle of the sexes idea - how males and females follow different strategies - but again I had no idea at all of where to begin. I might spend the entire summer bogged down in hundreds of texts and not get anywhere.
Earlier I had the idea of a doing a project with Fred on natural selection and cigarette smoking - this is another of my pet ideas, that children of smokers might be more immune to lung cancer than children of non-smokers. But where to begin? And then this morningm I thought perhaps I ought to be doing a project with John Landers about the role of energy supply in population growth. I can’t talk to him about it, though, because he’s away.
So, it looks as though I’ll be left with Peter Andrews project. He is clearly a first class scientist, but he may be rather dull and uninspired when it comes to day-to-day communication. A project under Robin by comparison is unlikely to be dull.
Thursday 8 June 1989
There are not many landmarks in my life but today is one. It is ten years to the day that I met Barbara. I plan to celebrate a little bit with her tonight, maybe a meal before we head off for Aldeburgh. She is aware that this year marks ten years, but I don’t think she has any idea of the actual date. I have discovered it by reference to my diaries.
My demise could have caused another landmark today. Bicycling along The Strand just half an hour ago, nearly at my destination, I felt the saddle wobble beneath me. My brain latched on to the only experience of a wobbly saddle stored in its memory banks: wobbly saddle means a loose nut. As the saddle tilted backwards, so I nudged it forward. It moved far more easily than I expected, and then, suddenly, when I sat on it again, it wobbled backwards even further. I suppose my brain was beginning to register that this was more than just a loose screw. Instinctively, I lifted my weight from the saddle to my legs, and when I looked round I saw the saddle bumping along the road behind me. Strangest feeling. Of course, I stopped and got off the bicycle, but just trying to park the bike for a minute (in order to retrieve the saddle) was a complicated procedure for I usually handle the bike by holding onto the saddle. Looking at the saddle and the bike, it was clear that the shaft (connecting saddle to the frame) had completely sheared, just below where the saddle is normally attached.
Momentous world events occur. Following two weeks of student protests in China, the hard line government sent troops in with guns. The number of dead is variously reported from a few score to a few thousand. The protests started during the visit by Gorbachev. With worldwide media attention focussed on China, the government decided to allow the protests to continue, but they grew and spread. Unarmed troops were deployed. They managed to bring some calm and to bring a saneness back to the Peking streets, but the protests continued and began to grow again. Now that the troops have been ordered to kill, the whole of China appears to be reacting. Chaos is growing everywhere, foreigners are leaving in their hundreds, and many expect civil war. There is some evidence of troops fighting against each other, but most appear to be loyal to the hardliners. It is people power which will defeat the troops not the ability of the moderate Zhao Ziyang to command military support against the mainstream leaders. Reports from dozens of cities show people are rising against the government’s killings.
With political chaos in Peking, the authorities appear unable to control the media, and swarms of reporters are having a field day. They just have to look out of their window and describe what they see. There is so much happening and so little information. Many of the news broadcasts rely on interviews with people in the street. Comments on the future of China by a twenty year old student pushing his bicycle are given the weight of an interview with a minister of the interior; there are no official sources and few experts. Some of the more interesting information is coming from American spy satelites which can show troop movements.
The death of the Ayatollah on Sunday (hundreds of thousands of Iranians weeping, passionately dismayed, fighting each other to get nearer the coffin) got pushed into third place in the news by the Polish elections. Although the government remains in power, as per the accord with Solidarity reached before the elections, Jaruzelski now admits that if and when free elections are held in 1993 (not a government obligation but a clear possibility), the Communist Party might well lose office altogether. Such a situation was barely imaginable a year or two ago, before Gorbachevian reforms really began to have an impact across the East Bloc.
‘Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge’. I have exchanged a boxed ‘Porgy and Bess’ set for three Britten tapes and one Mozart. One of the tapes is of Benjamin Luxor singing Britten folk tunes. Some are composed from Blake poems and a couple are the same as those treated by Westbrook on his album ‘Blake’. I have to confess I like the jazz treatment so much better. I doubt my own reasons for liking classical music. Perhaps a devotion to jazz would be more honest. But as I write this I am enjoying the ‘Variations’.
Barbara has her one exam this week. I have Adam. He is still recovering from his accident at the weekend, or should I say my accident. I already knew Adam was not very composed, losing his balance, falling over more often. I believe this comes when he is teething. I should have taken more care of him. Having lifted him to the top of the concrete steps by the beach, I took my eye off him for a second. In that second, he had managed to tumble over the top step, and was rolling down all the steps. I caught him in the crook of my foot, and gabbed him up and to me instantly. All round his eye and cheek he was bleeding. It was a most bloody fall.
Friday 16 June
The exam results have come through. I have 35-40%, i.e. a fail. Nilofer has 95%.
I have stopped for a few minutes in St James’s Park. The Regimental Band are playing on the bandstand. Only yesterday, I was remembering doing the very same thing one year or two year’s ago. Then, at that time, I left my briefcase attached to the bicycle and my bicycle some ways from me. The police came after me anxious to ensure it wasn’t a bicycle bomb. I see there is a policeman here again today.
These days are so warm, like mid-summer, and so dry. The park here is crowded with tourists and people like me stopping for a while to enjoy the music, the park atmosphere, the sun. I have taken off my shoes and socks, and would dance this waltz were I not too old and self-conscious. A small muscular becapped man strolls around the bandstand demanding money from those innocent enough to take a moment’s rest in the green striped deckchairs. A gentle breeze blows through my toes. Many people march through the park’s walkways because the tube is on strike again.
During the day I finalise my arrangements for Brussels. Every one of the bureaucrats I’ve approached in DGXVII (energy) has fitted me into their diary. The Commissioner would probably have seen me too, but he’s not in Brussels this time. By contrast, officials in the environment DGXI (which doesn’t know the good work I’m doing!) are reticent about seeing me - which is a mistake because so often environmental policy is in conflict with energy policy.
Adam and I have a lovely boat trip on the Thames. We catch the first boat of the day up river to the Thames Barrier.
Sunday 25 June
The heatwave continues. Cloudless blue skies. Warm languid evenings. Hot dusty days, watering-can days. Half the year nearly over. Adam is almost two.
Adam has been with B’s parents since Thursday, for B and I went up to Aldeburgh together without him. It wasn’t absolutely necessary, but I’d bought two tickets for a film premiere at the quaint old cinema, one with a visit by some of the stars promised. It seemed a good excuse to make a trip without Adam. Hopefully, I will see him today - I haven’t seen him since Tuesday morning. Well, in the future, if B ever gets to Brighton. I imagine I shall go fortnights without seeing him. My evenings will get very empty without any need to look after Adam, he has been my main social partner for two years.
The film we saw was another adaptation of an Elizabeth Bowen novel - ‘The Heat of the Day’. Dame Peggy Ashcroft has a cameo role, and it was she who graced the cinema with her presence. Though, seeing her there seated in front of us, we imagined her to have had a bigger role in the film. The main actors, Michael York, Patricia Hodge and Michael Gambon were not present. The little cinema was the fullest I’ve ever seen it, nine-tenths of the audience, however, were grey and white-haired old women. Calling the event a ‘world premiere’ was a little grand if understandable. In fact, the film has been made for the BBC, and is quite clearly a TV movie, many close-ups and small sets. It was well-made (screenplay by Harold Pinter).
Early on Saturday morning, we walked along the railway track, and across the fields to the beach halfway between Aldeburgh and Thorpeness. With little wind, the air was warm already so we went for a swim. The cold water took just a few minutes to get used to, after which time, it was most enjoyable. We lazed a bit in the sun drying off. We walk to Aldeburgh, buy a paper, and have breakfast of tea and scones sitting in the garden of Cragg’s tea house. It was a lovely walk and resurrected memories of more romantic times in our relationship.
There has been very little interest in the A house. Nick Tuohy has shown one person round, perhaps two, that’s all. I wondered if we should a) reduce the price, and b) give it to another estate agent (Heritage Estates which already has the details) which might revitalise the advertising and selling effort. And why reduce the price? Tuohy tells us he has sold one of the properties in the terrace. Advertised at £61,000, it went for below £55,000.
Most of last week I gave over to European Community energy affairs. I fixed up two days of appointments with key people in the Commission’s energy DG. I also planned to sort out affairs with my stringers, Brooks and Lucy. But Lucy was hiding, and Brooks was as vague as ever. My interviews revealed a picture of intense developments in the energy sector. Within a few weeks, the Commission will have finalised five or six key documents: reports on the state of play in the sector, proposals, and draft legislation. My meetings also convinced me of how central energy issues might become in EC affairs generally over the next few years. The young Portuguese Commissioner appears determined to push through internal energy market proposals, while the environment (especially the greenhouse effect) will add a further and complex dimension to policy. But how far will Member States allow their energy policies to be determined by Brussels - energy is such a fundamental aspect of sovereignty.
I barely noticed Brussels. I was there for 48 hours, and worked solidly, racing from one appointment to the next, about a dozen in all. The evening of my arrival I walked down to the centre from my hotel in Rue de Ponte de Namur - the Chambord, my usual place - to find a beer. Descending a flight of steps by the fine art museum, I saw the most glorious night view of the city, a quiet soft profile of roofs and church spires unbroken by any monstrosities, and running the breath of the horizon a red/pink band beautifully defined and clear, as though painted with a roller across the otherwise dark panorama.
The great market square was decked out with platform, loudspeakers, cinema screens - all for a music festival. I went there both nights and found thousands of people milling around.
Journeying through Docklands Airport is a calm, unharassed affair with little waiting, queueing or walking. By contrast my return trip through Heathrow was delays, queues and lots of walking. There aren’t quite enough planes to or from Docklands to meet fairly time-sensitive short journey requirements to Brussels.
Paul K Lyons
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