JOURNAL - 1989 - MAY

Tuesday 2 May

A mega-headache has put me out of action today. Neither paracetamol nor aspirin has banished it, so I expect it’ll return shortly. I wonder if I’m suffering from caffeine withdrawal symptoms. B and I have given up tea and coffee for a week, though we’re only on our first day. I didn’t feel too well yesterday either. We drove back from Aldeburgh in the morning, in order to miss the traffic, and the rest of the day my head felt heavy. All I did was watch television and sleep. And now another day is slipping away. I really don’t have the time to miss even a day from my revision schedule.

Mum has gone up North for a fortnight. Melanie has been on holiday to Florida, Julian suffers while his house is rebuilt. My exams start around 23 May.

The three days in Aldeburgh were lovely, excellent weather as usual, and the joy of Adam on good form. I call him a little joybox now, or, when he is a pest, a little pestbox.

A professional, pretty girl comes from Heritage Estates. She suggests our Aldeburgh house is worth £56,000. Nick Tuohy also comes, he is more informal but his thinking is similar. In the same terrace, he has three other properties for sale, at £58,000, which is somewhat worrying. Our only hope of raising about £55,000 and selling reasonably quickly is that the house is somewhat different, the Morris wallpaper ceilings, the blue garden, the child’s room.

4 May

A beautiful dream about ‘riding the rivers’. I am in a room, the ground floor of a large open plan house. I look around, it is bare of many decorations, then see a little baby girl, very shy. I play with her for a few minutes. Behind a curtain, a group of people are stirring, perhaps because I am playing with the girl. The household is now full of Muslims and I am with one or two others, we are waiting for something, communication or dinner. I mention to the guy who seems to have brought us here that my shoes have gone missing. He says he will ask the Muslims for them (I do seem to have flip flops as well). Then we are outside, and a rumour flashes through the people that there is a gang of muggers, robbers, stealing everybody’s money. I think they are dressed in uniforms which makes the situation more scary. An intelligent individual suddenly tells them the police are on their way and everyone starts running. I run like wild to the tube station. Someone tries to detain me but I shout that the police are coming and he runs too.

At the tube station, I have the sense of flying myself around corners and down stairs and to the front of queues. At the entrance to the platform, there is a small electronic metal gate that only opens for a few seconds at a time, allowing only a few people to get through. Once on the platform I seem to be waiting to go the wrong way, but I am bundled onto a section of the platform that then turns through 180 degrees. Although I am now pointing in the right direction I have no idea of how to get home (or wherever I’m going). I ask one or two people but nobody knows. A train arrives. It is little more than an open truck. We all stand together, I close to the cabin-type front. Because it’s on rails, the truck actually goes in reverse. I feel very unsafe and wonder why people don’t fall off it when it brakes hard.

I have a sense that I am going to find it difficult to get back. Until then I had assumed there must be a way of getting from one transport line to another and thus eventually to my destination. This does not seem to be the case. One of the other passengers suggests I ask the drivers. I ask one who falls out laughing, and into the river. I wearily ask again where I can get off so as to catch a bus or train home. The feeling now is of a rural area, and I suggest it doesn’t matter if I can’t get back the same day. I am quite prepared to stay overnight somewhere. Still I get no answer. Now the vehicle is skimming smoothly down a wide, dry, river bed, the setting sun is glowing the landscapes orange. I see exquisite animals scurrying out of our way and into the dry grasses and shrubs. I am riding the rivers.

12 May

Barely ten days to go to my two exams. More or less every spare minute now is used to revise. I am cramming information in. By tomorrow, I should have worked my way through all the notes once. It has taken three weeks. I have one week to learn it all. Nilofer is way ahead of me, she will pass with flying colours, she can trot out the theories and the people behind them in any of the subjects. I know very little. I take risks with the quantity of info I’m learning. Fifty per cent is the pass mark. Each exam is worth just twelve and a half per cent of the total. All this sweat and worry and panic. Fred gives me back my essay on the molecular clock, B plus. Altogether, I’ve earned two As, one A minus, and two B pluses. Reasonable, I suppose, it’s just a shame I can’t be judged on those instead of on the capability of my memory. At my age, I probably ought to be doing better things with my time.

Just grabbing a few minutes to write here before we head up for Aldeburgh.

I put Aldeburgh on the market with Tuohy. He is so funny. He sends me his written details of the house, and uses just two descriptive words in the whole presentation - ‘attractive’ two times, and each time for features (the lounge fireplace and the tiles in the kitchen) neither B nor I would consider so. He hasn’t mentioned anything about it being newly decorated, or having a new roof etc. I don’t hold out much hope of a quick sale since there are three other houses on the terrace for sale. Perhaps I should have gone for Heritage Estates as B suggested.

I slip into the office for a few hours at a time just to keep the newsletter ticking over.

In the world, the US prepares to invade Panama, and the UK to throw a spanner into the EEC works. Nato is in trouble from German national politics.

Mum comes back from holiday up North, Melanie from Florida. She will now move into her new flat.

Manu and Anna from Berlin came to stay last weekend. Nice to see them again after all this time. Manu approaches a work crisis, Anna still teaches yoga. Silvio and Rogerio come from Brazil tomorrow. They will stay a few days. Elaine writes to say she may come to London to study.

27 May 1989

The weather during most of May has been dry and hot. Only now has the temperature dropped and winds come. Here in Aldeburgh the sea is wild, waves crash down on the streets, foam rushes up to our feet.

Monday 29 May 1989

It is a bank holiday today. I am back in London after four days in Aldeburgh. I feel somewhat empty for having done nothing at all for those days, except walk down to the town and sea and walk back again. What glorious weather we’ve had during May. We are told it is the driest, sunniest spell in May this century. Weeks of blue skies. For several days, I was revising in the hammock on the sunroof at Aldershot Road.

I expected to feel a stronger sense of relief and release once my two exams were over, but this did not materialise. The second exam finished lunchtime Tuesday, I was then at the office for a day and a half, quite busy, before driving up to Aldeburgh, with Adam, on Wednesday night. The few spare hours I had in my house were taken up with cleaning and tidying.

The first exam, last Monday (from 10 to 1), was on human evolution and primate social behaviour. The amount of material we had studied during the year for this exam far exceeded that for the other. The human evolution course seemed to cover two or three times as much material as any of the other courses. I was so nervous beforehand (though having to take Adam into nursery meant I was occupied a bit). I met up with Nilofer in our study room before walking over to the examination hall. My hands were sweating, so that once in my seat and given the signal to start I couldn’t write a thing for minutes.

I must say, this was not a pleasant experience. Having identified the position of my desk from the noticeboard outside the hall, I snaked my way through others already in place. Sitting down at the desk, I realised that the paper was already visible, I dared not look at it. I averted my eyes. Only when we were told to start did I glance at it. Yes, there was an Out of Africa question (which I had expected), but I was disturbed by the lack of any other question in that section that I could answer clearly. In the other section I saw a question on the reasons why primates live in groups, and another on monogamy, so I knew I was reasonably safe there. I looked around at the hundred or so other students, mostly sitting a psychology exam. They all seemed to be writing away, and the writing of those nearby seemed so legible.

Oh Dear. I must start, and I do so with the Out of Africa story. I spend a few moments trying to decide how to approach it, but there is no time for thought. I just begin to write, and what I write is so poorly composed, so badly expressed. I am forever making crossings out and wishing I had organised the material in a different way. I am barely half way through my hurried and untidy attempt to answer the question when I realise that my time is already up: there is just 45 minutes for each question. I keep on writing, I have to, until well past the hour. This leaves me barely half an hour for the other questions. I am writing so poorly, no one will ever read my writing. I am probably leaving out key words and mis-spelling others. I know for a fact that I miss out a mass of information, I just lack the time for retrieval. This is such an absurd way to test people. For me, it is even worse. I am editor, for god’s sake. My life’s work is making written material readable and legible and presenting it in an attractive, intelligent and digestible form. In these exams, I am forced to create utter chaos with words, chaos in the structure, chaos in the presentation, and chaos in the ideas. It is painful. Moreover, for the last six years I have done most of my writing on a word processor, I do not need to spell a word right first time, I do not need to express the word order in a sentence right the first time; I am addicted to word processing; I no longer write, I word process.

In order to cram in a few extra facts and figures for my genetics and demography exam, I got up at five on Tuesday morning. Specifically, I wanted to go through the population genetics one last time. I figured that it would be easiest (and less time consuming) to get good marks on these, vaguely mathematical questions. In the paper on Tuesday, there were at least eight (out of twelve) questions for which I had revised directly, and the wordings were exactly as expected. It was, in other words, a perfect paper. And yet I still made an absolute mess of it. The writing looked a mess, read a mess and by golly was a mess. I doubt I can have failed, but it made me so unhappy to have written so badly, to have missed out so much relevant stuff.

From the brief comments Nilofer made after, she seemed to have as much difficulty as I, but everything is so subjective about exams. Nilofer - who’s doing the course in one year - had the third paper on Wednesday and the practical on Friday (both of which I’ll take next year).

Me and a few tens of thousands of other university students are not even sure we’ll get our exam papers marked. The university teachers’ union has been in dispute with the colleges for months now, and pay talks have broken down yet again. They are refusing to mark exam papers until certain conditions are met. Certainly, government seems to be treating the whole education system rather poorly.

Adam has grown up so much in the last few weeks. He has an immense range of facial expressions, and a vast vocabulary, much of which he can now use in two word combinations, perhaps even three. One of his favourite words - juice - he says with such precision, it makes us laugh with joy. He begins to truly assert himself and test how far he can take certain games. Barbara reports that he has bitten her several times in a row and cowered each time in anticipation of the bite back, almost ready to enjoy the pain to be inflicted. I find him ready to be disobedient several times in a row, willing me to punish and discipline him.

He will play alone in his room for long periods, and several times during the day. He remains self-assured on the stairs at Aldeburgh, climbing up and down them so well and so often that we are not always on hand to watch him. More than anything, Adam adores being outside. He sits up in his pushchair watching the world go by with avid attention. He points to dogs, cats, trees, churches, and often bends his head round the side of the pushchair to continue watching some children we may have passed or some other interesting sight. He always wants to get out of the pushchair, and will happily walk long distances, rather than get back in.

In the playground area I let him wonder wherever he wants. He usually gravitates towards other children. If they are older, he watches them for ages, but sometimes if there is just one he draws near and moves into a game with him or her. Oddly though, at the boating pond yesterday, he sat on the bench next to me watching all the other children running and playing with their boats. He did not want to put his own boat (a splendid red and yellow affair) into the water, preferring to sit and watch. He seems to have a lot of character: a touch of shyness, plenty of adventure, and masses of fun and laughter in him. Driving back to London I was trying to think how I might possibly want him different, but he seems so perfect, so adorable. Do all parents think this about their children? I must be just another besotted father.

All sorts of verbal concepts come into his sphere now - he is nearly 22 months. He uses the possessive a lot, Daddy’s car, Daddy’s chair, Daddy’s book etc, Adam’s chair, Adam’s bowl, Adam’s potty, Mummy’s shirt, Mummy’s plate, Mummy’s cup. He is on the verge of understanding colour. More often than not he will pick out the red, the yellow, the blue; I think green is still hard.

I have taught him to shower, so he no longer cries when the water flows over his face. He grins and bears it largely, sometimes, soap from shampoo goes in his eyes and he cries a bit, but I can easily divert him by giving him the shower head to hold and asking him to shower my head or hand, or his feet, or some such diversion. He will sit and read a book if asked, and will also sit quietly to listen to the toddler’s radio programme. At night, he remains a wonder boy, sleeping well, and going to bed without the slightest hint of a fuss, whether he is in Aldeburgh, B’s flat, his travel cot here, or my bed, or my mother’s bed at her house.

Sometimes, we sit together and say the alphabet. This has become a special game between us. He sits on my lap facing me. We look each other in the eyes. I say let’s say the alphabet, and a smiling glint comes across his face. A, I say, and there is a long pause; he looks slyly at me, testing, watching, waiting; I say nothing and finally he says very softly A. Then on we go through the letters of the alphabet, he can say most of them very well. If I say it loudly, he does too, if I whisper the letter, he whispers it too. When we get to the end, to Z, and we always do, for I never let him not finish, I give him a big kiss and we’re both really happy. B says the days of the week with Adam, and we both do the numbers.

June 1989

Paul K Lyons


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