DIARY 40: September-December 1989

22 September 1989

I have bought a new journal but I have yet to tamper with it, spoil the blank virgin pages with vulgar thoughts and second hand ideas. For some time I have been considering the possibility of writing my journal notes straight on to screen, and this is what I am now doing. It is quite apparent that I write better on screen than in the notebooks. In an ideal world, this discipline of writing long hand should be maintained. On screen, no matter if one chooses the wrong word, it can just be changed in a jiffy; if you miss a word, one doesn’t need any awkward editing marks, just move the cursor back and press the insert button; if one spells a word wrongly, no ghastly crossings out or recourse to snopake, just retype the right spelling over the wrong one. Typing on screen all the time is likely to to turn the writing mind lazy, and discipline for correct choice first time will, inevitably, deteriorate. Another disadvantage is that I will only be able to write where there is a screen, here, at work, or at Barbara’s (if I get the Kaypro set up there). No more writing on holidays, no more writing in cafes or while sitting on museum sofas, no more diary writing in Aldeburgh. On screen, I’m sure I will write more and more often. Whether that is a blessing or a disadvantage is tough to say, and whether or not the actual words that get written end up being better or worse, or just different, again I don’t know. It may be that I’m far more likely to waffle across pages and pages of screen (just as I’m doing now), whereas, when I have to laboriously record everything in long hand, I am more likely to skip the waffle.

In the space of just five days the following happened: Julian, my only brother, got married; Raoul, one of my closest friends, had his third baby - Matilda; and my assistant at work, Kenny, got married to Liz, my ex-lodger, only telling me and others at the very last minute.

But first to Julian’s wedding. Before my visit to Bulgaria, most of the arrangements had already been sorted. I had been with Sarah and Julian to lunch at the Wood’s. First we had to sit through a service at the church, in order to talk to the rector about the wedding, unfortunately, he didn’t show, so all we achieved was a chat to the organist. At Sarah’s house, we went through the reception arrangements. I had a number of questions which Ida, Mrs Wood, said she would check with the caterer. Julian had organised the hired cars for the Wood family. On Friday night I drove over to Ealing. His friends Simon and Fran were there too, and we all went out for a pizza. I had finalised my speech during the day, so Saturday morning, all I had to do was fetch the bouquets and buttonholes from a shop in Hampstead high street, deliver them to Mum, and make my way over to Julian’s. Julian was busy packing his bag, but as cool as anything, as though he were off for a weekend to Broadstairs. We drank coffee, ate sandwiches, discussed a few more details, dressed in our formal Churchill suits (Julian’s differing from mine only in the silk paisley waistcoat someone had made for him), and then we departed, in two cars, for Marlow. Julian, thoughtfully, had booked a bridal suite in their hotel there, for one night, after which they were going to drive to Paris, stay for a few days, and then drive on to the Alps region.

We left Julian’s car at the Marlow hotel. I wanted to lunch in Marlow, but Julian preferred to get nearer the church at Chorleywood before relaxing into a drink and a bite. The barman, at the pub we chose, said the food had finished (it was just on 2.30pm), so I started playing up a bit, which embarrassed Julian. We did finally get some sandwiches - probably the most expensive I’ve ever bought. For a few minutes I disappeared outside to read through my speech once more, convention demanding that the groom be in ignorance of his best man’s remarks. With still an hour to go we drove down to the church, but no one was yet there. We drove along a dirt track, for Julian to have a pee. The track gave onto the side of the church and its manor house. The buildings really looked stunningly beautiful with virginia creeper over the walls, and a few golden-coloured cows grazing in the foreground. I shouted for Julian not to dribble on his hired suit! We then drove around for a few minutes before finally settling on a parking place. Julian strolled up to the church, but I was already beginning to panic. There seemed so many things for me to remember: the ring, the buttonholes to give to the ushers, my top hat and gloves, the copies of a map showing the way from the church to the house, and so on.

Quite a few people had already arrived outside the church, and I was suddenly phased, not sure what I should be doing; I felt like I should be making everyone feel welcome at once, but of course I couldn’t. Then some of the ushers wanted to know what to do, what books to give out, who to seat where. Before I knew it, Julian and I were seated in the front pew. By 4pm, one of the ushers still had not arrived, Melanie had not arrived, neither had Sasha. Then the news came that Sarah would be fifteen minutes late. The organist’s poor playing was already beginning to get on my highly strung nerves. Julian remained as calm as an ice-cube, I gave him another polo to banish the last remnants of beer flavour. Behind me sat Mum looking a picture in her new purple outfit. Talking to her was the easiest option. Somehow, David, Melanie and Sasha all arrived just in the nick of time, for Sarah entered only five minutes after the hour. Dad arrived with a face as red as a tomato; his hired car hadn’t arrived as planned, and he’d been obliged to ring the firm and wait for a replacement. He must have been very stressed, thinking he might not make his own son’s wedding on time.

The front area of the church where the four of us stood was a little cramped. Julian squashed me against the organ, so that I wasn’t sure whether I (and Sarah’s dad Ken) should be standing back from the happy couple. Inside the smart Churchill trousers, my legs shook like a vibrator. I don’t know why, unless I was afraid of dropping the ring.

Until the moment of marriage, everything had gone more or less OK, but when Sarah and Julian walked up beyond the Communion rail for their blessing, Ken and I and the 6-year old Clare, bridesmaid, were supposed to fall back and sit down. But we forgot, and I let go of Clare, and off she went, holding a mini-basket of flowers in one hand and Sarah’s bouquet in the other, up the aisle. I knew straight away that I had erred for the organist’s eyes strayed up the aisle with Clare, and showing an emotion betwixt shock and surprise. The vicar too, referred to the strange occurrence of a bridesmaid in the aisle; I couldn’t hear him, but I saw Sarah and Julian look round briefly. This was all my fault, and I cringed where I stood, unsure what to do. I had no idea how long they would remain at the altar, and so waited for a few minutes, hoping they might all come back. But Clare looked increasingly distressed, she put down the basket, and looked round several times. I whispered to Mum behind me: ‘Should I go and get her?’ She nodded rather doubtfully. As I thought about the predicament further, so I realised I needed to act. With exceptional courage and determination (!) I walked up to her, took her hand, and led her gently back to my pew. There, I apologised for leaving her standing for so long, and joked a little bit. When we sang a hymn, I really didn’t know whether she could read, or ought to read, so I didn’t know whether to bend down and let her see my hymn book. Oh I felt so small: if I didn’t bend down I would be considered completely inconsiderate if she could read, and if I did bend down, when it is quite obvious that 6-year olds can’t read such things, then I would seem ridiculous. Thank the lord the hymn was short.

The next mishap followed on rapidly. The vicar led the way back from the altar, passing in front of my pew, Julian and Sarah followed. As he swept past me, so he knocked over a jar of flowers. I managed to pick them up quickly, restoring them to place, so that Julian and Sarah wouldn’t have to walk on the flowers, but I didn’t stop a large pool of water spilling. Sarah - with her long bridal dress - crossed over before the water had spread. But, while the two of them, and the two mothers were busy signing the book, the water spread out across the floor space, leaving no room at all for Sarah’s train to trail without catching a flood. I agonised over the problem: should I send Clare over to raise her train, should I go myself; in the end I just told Sarah to hoist her dress up. To her credit, she did so, so swiftly that I doubt the manoeuvre was noticed.

A few seconds later, Julian and Sarah were stopped in the porch of the church for photographs, and the trail of people behind the halted. When Sarah and Julian were then told to turn left out of the church, they went wrong and walked into the cemetery.

Fortunately, the rain held off, as did the wind, so that the photographs were managed with relative ease. The only difficulty for me was supporting the crass and unstoppable chatter of the photographer. I had imagined the photographs and general social activity outside the church would take much longer than it did, but before very long everyone had left, in a variety of cars (Dad’s hired limousine was considerably grander than the second hired car for the bride’s family - he never could resist showing off).

At the house, a receiving line was in operation. Mum had feared this in case she had to face Michele (Sasha having divorced Mum to marry Michele), and wouldn’t be able to contain her ongoing anger and resentment. As it happens, Michele’s fear of Mum is greater than Mum’s anger, so that Michele slipped round the side of the house and avoided the line. The weather remained clement so that champagne and canopies were consumed on the terrace as well as in the lounge. The Wood’s had hired a marquee and all the furniture to go in it. A covered veranda ran across the terrace from the lounge doors to the marquee entrance. Inside, the bright yellow and white stripes gave the area a joyful and spacious feel.

As at the church, I spent odd minutes with Barbara and Adam. Adam looked a real treat, in his new outfit, complete with bowtie. He had been unable to keep his mouth shut in the service, so Barbara felt obliged to leave the church. For the rest of the evening, though, he behaved splendidly. With B turning a blind eye, cousin Mary fed him a non-stop flow of snacks, first of all, and proper food later, a process which undoubtedly aided Adam’s good humour. But he was genuinely excited by the occasion and all the people. I took great pleasure in parading him around a little. Every now and then I would fetch him from B’s table and visit one table or another to show him off to some relation or other.

I think the timing went a little skew. We sat down to eat just after six. Well, six is very early to eat, even if you haven’t had any canopies. The caterer was pressing me for the party to sit down, while I was trying to resist for a bit longer. Dad, though, said people would get too drunk, if they didn’t sit down to eat. I for one couldn’t eat much, though my stomach was knotted with tension. The food was of a high standard, and the service and presentation really quite good.

At the top table I sat next to Mum. Eventually, after the wining and dining, the time came for the speeches. Here too, as in church, the occasion lacked the full benefit of a rich, traditional and cohesive pattern. It had been decided that Sarah’s brother Peter would make the speech usually given by the bride’s father. However, all Peter did was stand up and ask us to toast the bride and groom. Then Julian stood up and listed the people he wanted to thank. Following, on from these two speeches, mine must have sounded calculated and pedantic. There is no doubt I was very nervous, but I still managed to speak loud and clearly, and to improvise just a little. There were a few telegrams, which I read out, one of which contained the phrase ‘murky past’ a useful link to me listing a few of Julian’s exploits as a three year old.

When I said, ‘I’m afraid I must now go into Julian’s murky past,’ I looked over at Sarah and her face dropped. She must have expected me to mention Julian’s past girlfriends, which of course I wasn’t going to do.

MY SPEECH: ‘It gives me enormous pleasure to be here today as my little brother’s best man.

Although I call Julian my LITTLE brother, I’m not quite sure in what sense the little is appropriate anymore. He’s taller than I am, he’s more far more responsible than I am, he beats me at squash, he eats more than I do, he drives a posher car, he even earns more than I do. In fact I’m not even sure I’m older than he is anymore.

Still little bruv he is and little bruv he shall remain, even though his status has now changed altogether from single to the much grander and more mature Married. Married, my little brother married, what a thing. It has been a delight to watch, over the last two or three years, Julian’s relationship with Sarah grow and flourish. I think they make a splendid match and I feel really privileged to see them married here today, in this lovely celebration.

I was living overseas at the time Julian met Sarah, but I do remember that when I returned briefly to London in early July 1986, Julian was looking bright and youthful and couldn’t stop talking about a new girlfriend called Sarah, whom he described as absolutely gorgeous. No to be truthful, I think he was rather shy of calling her a girlfriend at that stage. No doubt I teased him a little, as I’ve always thought Julian rather bashful about girls, but I could see the gleam in his eye. (Ah yes it’s still there today).

Julian had been a good correspondent until then but, thereafter, his letters got rarer as his life got busier. In one letter he did write, he says: ‘I must get round to painting the kitchen and now the cricket season is over there really are no excuses for my delaying it. Except Sarah who takes up most of my free time and drags me round London at high speed.’ It must be said that Julian hasn’t always been the model of virtue and sobriety that we see here today. I think now is a suitable occasion on which to reveal to the world a facet of Julian’s past, which, were I not to reveal now, might stay guiltily hidden for many years to come. I’m sure that on reflection he will thank me for these revelations. Indeed, Sarah might realise how privileged she is to find Julian actually still here.

The Lyons family legends tell of numerous occasions when our young hero, upset by some trifle, completely disappeared, vanished. There was the occasion when playing in the garden he managed to slip out of sight for a few seconds only to be discovered standing on the fifth floor landing of an external fire-escape ladder waving his hands and shouting madly, here I am Mummy. No mean trick for a three year old. And still before he was even four, he managed to unlatch the window of his bedroom, climb out and run off down the street to be brought back by a policeman before anybody knew he had gone. He must have found it fun. For he grew rather fond of such excursions. When a little older he developed the rather exotic habit of running away, often from restaurants, while we were on holiday in strange towns. On these occasions, our Mother, Barbara, in a suitably emotional and maternal way, would fret madly and want to frantically race off looking for him. Our father, Sasha, would, in a suitably disciplined and paternal way, sit calmly and insist we finish our meal, unwilling to bend to Julian’s antics. Although at the time it seemed rather unfortunate when we found him, Julian did eventually calm down.

Well, he had to at his boarding school. I think Julian’s schooling at Berkhamstead acted as a very positive influence, perhaps even turned him into something of a gentleman. In contrast, as I was slowly creeping into adulthood, Julian began to see me as a negative influence. I have one very vivid memory, vivid because no one in my family will let me forget it, of going to fetch Julian one Saturday for a weekend exeat. First of all, where Julian’s school chums were being collected by Daimlers and Mercedes, I arrived in a Mini. But worse, I had hair down to my shoulder, and I walked barefoot. My youthful and arrogant rebelliousness was utterly deflated by my little brother’s embarrassment. I’m completely convinced, he then had to work extra hard and be extra charming to make up for his aberrant brother. And thus, although I give our mother and father the honours for Julian’s intelligence and generous personality, I must take some credit for the charming, hard working and successful man he is today.

Without wanting to delay you much further, I would like to say a very big thank you to Sarah’s parent for all the work they have put into organising this occasion.

Finally, I’m sure everyone here today will join me in wishing the very best of marriage and life, whether in work or play, for Julian and Sarah. Another toast, ladies and gentleman to the bride and groom.’ 24 September

After my speech, I remained hypertense and knotted up for about ten minutes, after which time, it was possible to relax and enjoy myself more. I helped B put Adam to bed, spent some time talking to Mary and Roger, as well as to Dad and Julian, David and Louis, John and June, and other sundry personnel. Because we had left Julian’s car in Marlow I was absolved of the responsibility of covering it with shaving foam or whatever I should have used. Still, I felt I ought to do something. I had brought a box of confetti so I used that to fill up a few pockets of space in their suitcases; they’ll probably not thank me for it. I also used the balloons I’d bought. Damien, the son of David and Louis, Clare’s brother, helped me blow them all up. Then in the few minutes between the taxi arriving and the couple coming downstairs, all togged up in their new clothes, we managed to fill the taxi’s back seat with them. Well, it all adds to the atmosphere of celebration. I was quite pleased to use the confetti and balloons I’d bought, just as I was pleased about the buttonholes. I’d brought six, one for me, one for Julian, one each for the two ushers Christian and Julian Bull, one for Simon who was reading the lesson, and one spare. As it happened Simon didn’t need one for he wasn’t in morning wear, and Sarah’s brother Peter turned up without one, so I gave him one. The other I gave to Dad, who, unexpectedly arrived buttonholeless. These little things that went right made me feel a competent best man.

After Dad’s near coronary for being so late at the church he calmed down, and relaxed into his mellow character reserved for grand occasions. He seemed to enjoy himself. At one point even going over and sitting next to Mum. He put his arm around her, and they had a heart to heart. From Mum I learn this talk resulted in the promise of a new roof. Michele, by contrast, had a lousy time. Having sidled round the house to miss Mum, she found herself seated at a table with John and June. Only on realising who they were did she suddenly feel most uncomfortable and embarrassed. If I’d have been her I’d have stuck it out. Instead, she confided in Melanie who came to me to sort it out. I moved her to the table where Martin and Valerie, Adam and B, Roger and Mary were seated. That was OK.

Mary and Roger were both good fun, easy company and full of jollity, thoroughly enjoying themselves. Mary fell in love with Adam and thoroughly spoilt him. I saw them both again at Mum’s on Sunday. Even B seemed to have a good time. After the meal, a five piece jazz band set up and played until the end. There were not enough young people to make a real party, and everyone but Sarah’s family had gone by 11.30. Still there was some dancing, and I for one enjoyed the jazz very much. All deemed that the do had gone really well.

30 September 1989, Brighton

The only sane way I know of getting to Brighton by car without tears is to travel in the middle of the night. Since I wanted to spend some time with Adam at his new nursery, I came down late on Thursday night, so as to spend be there for Friday. I would have set the alarm for 3.30, but as it was I stayed up so late with Rosie and Andrew, that it made more sense to leave straight away. Even at 1.30 am, it was too early, and I felt traffic was really slowing me down. There are just so many traffic lights between here and there, and a good half of the journey is through urban roadways.

Adam’s nursery in a small outhouse to the side of one of the main Brighton polytechnic buildings has about 10 staff and takes (or will take when term starts next week) some 30 children. It is run on very different lines from the UCL creche. For a start, parents are actively encouraged to stay as long as possible, to join in the activities, to help clear up, to read stories, or whatever. Indeed, parents are supposed to help on a regular basis once a fortnight I think. The creche seems to run on a much less controlled basis than at UCL; on first appearances it could be considered chaotic, yet it is far from that. There is both rigid structure and variability, discipline and flexibility. There is a lot of space, and many different types of activity are available all the time. The children range freely, coming together in different activities whenever they choose. I particularly like the fact that potentially dangerous or adult things are not necessarily packed away and out of sight. There are some shelves, for example, with materials for paper work, pens, scissors etc. which any child could have got hold of. Thus, the children need self-restraint.

After half a morning of free play, all the toys are tidied up and put away, the tables wiped down where the plasticine has been and sand from the floor is swept up. All the children are supposed to help in this process. The children have a chance to go to the toilet, to wash their hands, before sitting down at the tables for a drink and a small biscuit or piece of fruit. On Friday, it was a few raisins and a lump of cheese. The communal aspect of eating together is emphasised. Adam finds great difficult in sitting still, but the discipline of this new aspect to his life should be very good.

On the whole I am very happy with this school, and, as things stand, Adam is now likely to stay at this nursery until he goes to school.

It is now possible to have real and prolonged conversations with Adam. He makes original and unprovoked comments about what is going on around him. He is still sucking his fingers a lot, and wants to be picked up all the time. I don’t think it is very surprising given the number of changes going on in his life. He is living in a new home, but still staying in three other homes from time to time. He has started a new nursery, where he is one of the youngest children, all the staff are new and unknown. His father has become more distant, and now sees him only after four or five or six days have passed (whereas until now, two days was the longest period we didn’t see each other).

I’m sure that after a month or two he will settle down and be less needy. Even now he does still play alone in his room for long periods of time, and go to sleep, whether at night or in the afternoon, without the slightest bit of fuss. He is still far from being properly potty trained, and will wee in his trousers at the nursery or in the push chair on occasions.

I read a few stories before putting him to bed. Then I try to explain he won’t see Daddy until Friday. I tell him I am going to Daddy’s home in London. He wants to know if I am going to Mummy’s home. I say here is Mummy’s home, and Adam’s home. He looks puzzled and seems to be wondering about Mummy’s home in London. I tell him, yes it is very confusing.

This morning, before lunch, we drove down to the beach for a quick swim. The water was lovely and clear, more inviting for a swimmer than Aldeburgh, and warmer. Adam wouldn’t come in, he insisted he wanted to sit on the stones. Just a couple of months ago, he would scream if I left him alone. He has developed more effective and subtle ways to avoid certain consequences. Whereas before he would scream ‘no swim, no swim’, if he didn’t want me to put him in the water, now he offers this very definite alternative: ‘Stay here on stones’, which is clearly more difficult to defy. However, without really planning it, I did get him in the water. He had found a piece of driftwood and thrown it into the sea. As the water was very still, I could show him that the wood was floating and was like a boat, and I suggested he come and reclaim it. He accepted this proposal with alacrity, and found himself stepping into the water quite far to retrieve it. The second time he did this, he actually got a ducking, since he slipped, and his face went nose first into the water. He didn’t cry but hurried out of the water.

During the week, I found myself at the theatre on two successive nights. The first time, on Wednesday, was with Rolf to see Caroline in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. This musical is one of the West End’s biggest successes; sold out every night and for months into the future. Touts outside the theatre sell tickets for five times their value. We had £20 seats, almost the most expensive, and we had to pay for them, even though Caroline provided them (she has to pay full price and is allowed only to give them to close friends and relatives). Rolf was all excited by the event, and he had a page of notes detailing where and when Caroline entered stage, and what she would be wearing. In fact, we didn’t need such notes as we were close enough to pick her out of the six or eight dancers. In any case, Caroline has characteristic movements which made her that much more identifiable.

Unfortunately, I was not familiar with the music, and was little moved by it. Some of the melodies and themes were high class, but much flowed by un-noticed. The lyrics, by somebody Hart, were nothing special, so far as I could tell; but the sets were splendid. One particular sequence is fabulous and is surely one of the most spectacular pieces of theatre I have ever seen. A chorus girl, who has just become a star at the Opera House because the leading lady walked off, is changing in her cabin, when she sees the phantom, shrouded in mist, through a large mirror. Slowly the phantom becomes more clear, and suddenly the mirror opens, and the girl walks through. She is enchanted by the Phantom with whom she has been singing a duet, and who she thinks is her father angel and responsible for her good fortune, so she follows him down through a trap-door in the stage. The entire area fills with mist; in a few seconds they re-appear high up at the back of the stage area, and begin a long descent down a bridge which slopes from one side to the other. As they reach the other side, so the bridge’s slope has switched, and is again pointing downwards; so their journey becomes a zig-zag down towards the stage floor. They transfer into a small rowing boat, (remotely controlled as we established afterwards) which glides forwards, weaving side to side to the front of the stage. As it does so, a hundred candles emerge through the mist, and, a few seconds later, some of them rise even higher and show themselves to be the tops of huge candelabras, the main props for the Phantom’s dungeon home.

Caroline’s parts were all anonymous. During the masquerade ball that opens up the second act, the dancers have their best role, most of the other characters stay back while they fill the stage with activity, weaving around the principles. Caroline brings to her part, strict ballet movements which are a little out of place, even though she’s supposed to be a ballet dancer. Her movements are rigid, formal, and very professional, while several of the other dancers have a sloppier appearance and move less strictly.

The phantom had brilliant presence - strong and charismatic - but on occasions his voice was a little croaky, maybe because he sang so quietly at times. The heroine, Christine, had a beautiful lyrical voice, though she acted a bit sheepishly at time. Overall, the show was genius-level entertainment.

On Thursday, I went with Rosy and Andrew to see ‘The Black Prince’, an adaptation of Iris Murdoch’s novel. With a strong cast and an intriguing plot, the play had had excellent reviews. We got dress circle tickets for the price of seats in the balcony; that, and the show’s closing this Saturday, suggested it might not be that good. Indeed, I judged the play lacking in a decent director. The performances were bold, probably too bold - perhaps a directorial error. The set was mechanical and unfriendly. Furthermore, the director had imposed a lot of humour into the story, often of a farcical kind. Overall, it lacked coherence, and weakened whatever it is that is good about Murdoch’s stories and arguments.

October 1989

Paul K Lyons


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