PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1990 - DECEMBER
2 December, Brighton
A quiet weekend. I don’t have much to do, not even an interesting book to read, so I do most of the looking after Adam, who is still a bit ill from his cold, and do most of the washing up, although B still does the cooking. On the contrary, B has lots to do - all her term essays must be in Friday week, which is less than two weeks away, and she is committed to being in London next weekend because we have to go to Dad’s and Michele’s annual dinner. With Adam ill these last few days, she has neither been able to take him to the nursery or go to her lectures. He’s better now, and hopefully will be able to go to nursery tomorrow.
My niece Rebecca Louise Lyons was born about 4am on Friday morning (30 November). I took Mum over to Queen Charlotte’s hospital in Chiswick on Friday night; she could barely contain her excitement at the thought of grandchild number two, and even better that she’s a girl. Sarah looked in good health and very relaxed when we arrived. Julian, too, was quietly content, relaxed and very calm. I took Rebecca in my arms; as always with a new born child one is astounded how small they are. The little creature kept her eyes closed most of the time; her squashed little nose was covered in milk spots. A lovely mouth with full lips, the top one boasting an arch already. Sarah’s bed was surrounded with gifts; an enormous fruit hamper from IMI, a huge bouquet of flowers from Dad, and chocolates from all and sundry. One of Julian’s IMI customers had sent a huge pink balloon with a teddy inside - quite the tweeest item in the maternity ward.
Adam has been demonstrating his intelligence again despite his cold. We were going through the flash cards but this time, instead of asking him for a word, I asked for an answer about the word: for TRAIN, I would ask where we would go on this - to the nursery; for CAT, I might ask him what would chase this - a dog, and so on. When I asked what one would do with MONEY, he said ‘play with it’. I said that money was usually used for buying something but he insisted that we had played with money earlier in the day; indeed we had - in the amusement arcade on the pier, I had used 10p pieces to try and knock other coins off the shelves, and when I succeeded Adam would pick up the winnings where they fell out. When I read a book about Noah’s spaceship (which we’ve only read three times over the last month), he remembered details about the story I would not have thought possible. He recalled which animal said what, some of the dialogue, and even the word ‘extraordinary’ about which I gave him no clue. He even volunteered that the animal says the word ‘extraordinary’ twice. Extraordinary.
17 27, Saturday 8 December 1990
The last busy week of the year just passed by. Of my two newsletters - ‘European Energy Report’ and ‘EC Energy Monthly’ - I am certainly more involved in the latter. During the week in which we produce ECE I tend to be flat out trying to accumulate information, like a real journalist. Inevitably, people are hard to track down and, inevitably, when I do finally reach them I find the story I am working on is either more involved than I first thought or leads on to yet another story. Of this month’s issue of 16 pages, only three and half were written outside the office; I wrote six, there were one and half pages of graphs and tables, and Kenny put together the other five pages. For the first time, I ran a small editorial. In the past I have slipped editorial comments into stories (but usually no longer than a sentence and at most I must have done this three times). Therefore, to write three paragraphs of editorial and highlight it in a box, might be considered a new departure. Here is that first editorial: ‘THE TIME IS RIPE - EC Energy Monthly believes it is now time for the Member States to look very carefully at the possibility of giving energy a higher status within the Community and in so doing grant the Commission increased powers to formulate a cohesive approach to the future of Europe’s energy industries. The benefits of an internal energy market have already been accepted by the European Council, but realising those benefits in one of the most strategic and sensitive areas is proving burdensomely difficult for DGXVII. Moreover, increasingly, energy policy looks weak next to the competition and environment authorities of the Commission. Therefore, rather than allowing national energy sector interests to wither under the battering of these environment and competition activities, it is time Member States gave more thought to transferring some of the key responsibilities to Brussels: it is time to consider how supply security can be tackled at the core, rather than in 12 distant centres.’
During the week, I finally got round to talking to John McLachlan about my Brussels trip. However, I signally failed to make an impression against his fixed ideas: ‘I’m not having any staff off-site.’ No explanation for such a rule, no justification, simply a fixed idea. We talked for over an hour, but he hadn’t read my memorandums, had no idea of my intended set up. He doesn’t listen well, preferring to do most of the talking himself, and he tends to go off at tangents. In the end, I allowed him to leave with the idea that I had not been given enough attention, that my quiet operation had never really received its due in terms of marketing effort or editorial praise, and that that, at least, was part of my problem. In truth it is. If I were more involved in projects in London, I might not feel the need to decamp. Quite transparently, John tried, on the day after our meeting, to get me more involved. He asked me to look at a draft for a new newsletter that was due to be launched on the Friday. With Dennis away on holiday, John was not sure that it was good enough. Alan Archer, who is the main internal editor concerned, was not very happy with it either. I reinforced both their opinions and, consequently, John pulled it. Dennis is unlikely to give me any gold stars for that piece of advice to John, but now he, Dennis, has failed me over this Brussels business, I must look elsewhere for my laurels.
Meanwhile, Fiona Harney tells me there is a small apartment available in her block in Brussels - only BFr16,000 a month.
16 48, Sunday 9 December 1990
Barbara has been quite ill. Some flu virus hit her hard last week, and an infection has taken hold in her sinuses. She’s been in bed all weekend and barely feels any better this afternoon. Friday is the end of term and the deadline for three essays, none of which she has finished. Moreover, fearful winter weather conditions have caused havoc across the country, not least on the railway line to Brighton, so that it seems foolish for B and A to try and get back to Brighton, at least while B is in her condition. This week Adam’s nursery has both a day trip to a wild life park and a party; I would keep him here in London otherwise. I could take Adam with me to the office tomorrow morning and pick up a modem, and then do most of my work for EER at home.
A and I went out this morning to meet Raoul and his three chicks in Holland Park. Holland Park has the virtue of being about half way for both of us, for having a variety of things to look at, and for having a coffee bar which opens early in the morning and serves cappuccino. There a was thin layer of snow across the cars, pavements and roads but, following a slight thaw, it had frozen hard creating somewhat treacherous walking and driving conditions. Getting out of his father’s volvo, Jack immediately wanted to make snowballs, but of course he couldn’t, the layer of snow across the grass was but a layer of white, crinkly ice. Still the sky was blue and most of the paths were dry so we had quite a nice time, walking through the woods and looking at the birds and squirrels. The children get on well together; Raoul and I have conversations whereby I say two words, a child interrupts (usually Jack), we respond to the child, Raoul says two words and so on.
The rest of this day, I’ve spent cooking a delicious (if I say so myself) vegetable lasagna for lunch and playing with or teaching Adam. B is reading him a few stories at the moment. I imagine I’ll watch television tonight. There is the last episode of the superb comedy about the Conservative party - ‘House of Cards’ with Ian Richardson and Susan Harker - and there’s half a 40s movie to finish watching.
On Sunday, we went to Lauderdale House again in Highgate. I much prefer the events there than at the Tricycle. The children all sit together on a carpet with adults at the side and back; the shows are usually one-man affairs and much more personal than the stage performances at the Tricycle. Last time we went, it was ‘Sing Along With Mr Boom’, Adam remembers it well; this time we had Simon the magician. Simon had a good patter for grown-ups too, and made me laugh. We’ve seen four shows together now. I’ve just asked him which one he liked best, he was reluctant to answer so I asked him which one he would like to see again. He said Simon the magician, so I asked whether he didn’t really like Mr Boom and so he replied ‘I liked all of them really.’
I made bread on Friday night but forgot to take it out of the oven, until well past midnight (I had been detained by watching the television: the UK’s first interactive chess match - viewers played Grandmaster Jon Speelman by phoning in their moves). Two times out of three when I make bread in the evening I forget to take it out of the oven. Anyway, I made fresh on Saturday which meant Adam could watch me. He’s such a sharp devil - he remembered all the ingredients and prompted me as to what I should put in next. I had not planned to put any nuts in, for example, but he suggested that I did, so I picked out a packet from the shelf and poured in some of its contents: ‘They’re not nuts,’ he said, ‘they’re sunflower seeds.’
On Saturday night, Adam and I went to Grandad Sasha’s for Auntie Michele’s annual bash; with her flu, B had the perfect excuse to opt out. As per usual, A and I arrived first, so we had about half an hour to chat with Dad and Michele alone. Dad said he’d looked into the details surrounding his Brussels flat but that the lease was not due for renewal until September, and even then the guy could apply for a year’s extension at the old rent. Julian, Sarah and Rebecca duly arrived, allowing Grandad to see his first blood grandchild. Although a bit reluctant at first to cradle the fragile creature, he did so with glee later on. Michele is definitely not a baby person but she does her best to buy useful and attractive clothes for Adam and her other directly-related nephews and nieces. She’s always done well by Adam. Even later, Melanie finally decided to show up. She was the last to arrive and the first to leave - another party.
23 13, Tuesday 11 December 1990
This is a late time to be writing journal entries. I’ve been at home all day but I can’t say I’ve been very productive. The house is quiet, nobody here, no phone calls - Kenny phones once about a French story. I rewrite my energy policy story for ‘European Energy Report’ and for ‘Energy Economist’. I compose yet another memorandum about my Brussels trip - this one to John McLachlan. I doubt whether it will do any good.
Mum rings with disturbing news. Melanie has apparently been deeply upset by things Dad said at the dinner last Saturday and has reported to Mum that he was really cruel and made her cry. Apparently he is going to the Bull’s for dinner (Mel’s husband Julian Bull is, apparently, suing for divorce rather than waiting for the two-year separation divorce). Well Mum likes these stories from Melanie because it gives her a chance to rant and rave about how horrible Dad is. I don’t know why she bothers to ring me because she knows I’ll defend him. There is a real rough justice in me being the one to defend Sasha. He took me on as his own child and gave me as much love and care as he was capable of. The truth is I am on nobody’s side. In fact Dad was in a gentle mood all night, and on his best behaviour. That Melanie went home in tears, according to Mum, tells me about Melanie, but Mum only chooses to see the evil in Dad.
I read an atrocious review of Durrell’s ‘Caesar’s Vast Ghost’ in the Guardian. The reviewer decided that it was a good time, after his death, to say exactly what he had always felt about him: that he was no good, that he wrote a load of rubbish and that he was vastly over-rated. Hum hum. We need a more introspective age to return before his qualities can be appreciated. I am rereading ‘Justine’ in honour of the man. Yes, sometimes he does write flowing prose that seems to mean very little, but so what, he painted pictures with his words, vibrant canvases about life, detailing the exotic and pathetic pathways of men and women, providing extraordinary, surreal and banal insights into thought and being. To damn him in a twopenny review of his last and grand work about the place he most adored, tells me that the reviewer has not long emerged from his mother’s precious womb or the Kensington dinner party set. And to quote one sentence simply to make fun of Durrell’s language out of context smacks of darkest amateurism both in the reviewer and the editor that allowed such a piece to appear on his page.
Christmas draws near. My programme of events is so full, I can barely squeeze in a trip to Harrods to buy presents. In fact I am dreading the two weeks of nothing to do. The time period - without newsletter deadlines - is not long enough to do any new thing seriously and not short enough to ignore. No doubt television will claim me. I am going so far down the tube . . .
I am drawn to a West End theatre in the Strand to see a play - ‘Hidden Laughter’ - by Simon Gray. It seems to have superb reviews - I pass by the billboards everyday - but the main reason I plump for a ticket is not Felicity Kendal, who I do not like, nor is it Peter Barkworth, who does nothing for me either, rather it is the name of Susannah Harker. It is she who played the appealing journalist in ‘House of Cards’ and she who played the hero’s girlfriend in the series called ‘Chancer’ earlier in the year. Unfortunately, I must have made a major error, because she was nowhere to be seen; indeed on leaving the theatre neither was her name. Either, she WAS in it until last week, but then over the weekend they changed all the signs, or I am going potty. The main reason for mentioning this non-event, though, was my extreme disappointment at the quality of the writing. I did not expect to enjoy most of the performances knowing the cast, but I did expect to get something from the play, given the giant reviews. I cannot help thinking - and I had plenty of time to think during the play - that I could write better plays. How does stuff like this get so far?
16 11, Sunday 16 December 1990
Three lovely days in Brighton - all three of us in our brightest of moods, laughing and playing lots. I don’t believe there can be any greater happiness within a family - contentment yes - but not happiness. How strange to find myself writing these words. I did not sit down thinking I would write these thoughts, I did not have any thoughts queuing up to be set down, rather I just felt it was time I ought to record some events. I would add, quickly for fear some unknown observer might misunderstand me, that I am a long way from being happy - the serious lack of any social life and the growing problem with my professional life together seriously inhibit any real and restful happiness. No, I talk only about the joy of the family. B is much better after a serious bout of sinusitis, while Adam is sparkling again after a horrible cold. As for me, perhaps I am calmer now without the pressure of the masters course bearing down on top of my normal work, or perhaps three months of regular yoga is beginning to work its subtle magic. Perhaps, and I am keenest on this explanation, Barbara is more secure and more relaxed and therefore critical asides find less of a sounding board and do not escalate beyond some unknown trigger point which leads to a row. Whichever, we don’t seem to have had a row in well over three months.
Yesterday, all three of us trotted off through town to do some shopping. All we ended up buying, though, were some presents for Adam from the Early Learning Centre: a helicopter and a fire engine full of bits and pieces and model people with limbs that move; they both belong to the Playmobil group, another of the mainstream children’s sets like Brio trains, Lego, Popoids, Sticklebricks etc. We stopped for tea in a North Laine cafe and laughed most of the time we were there about something or other.
In the evening we marched off to Brighton University’s Gardner Centre to see a pantomime - ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Adam has been to several shows already at the Tricycle Theatre and has never shown any difficulty in sitting through a performance. The show proved a real winner - it was over two hours long with an interval, but Adam never showed any signs of boredom or irritability. There were only six or seven performers, the set was more inventive than truly professional; music was provided by a single person at the side with a synthesiser and keyboard (I think) but yet the show was magic. The writer already has a good reputation: he brought in all the highlights of the Alice story with songs and dance routines, and linked up the set pieces with short dialogue or action. The auditorium was packed with families - young and old alike - and the performers had no trouble in getting a response from the children. There were songs and cheering and booing and ‘wake up Mr Dormouse’ and great loud shouts of ‘No’ orchestrated by Alice whenever the Queen of Hearts wanted to cut off somebody’s head, and children were twice asked to go onto the stage - once to run in the caucus race and once to build sandcastles for the mock turtle. Superb fun and not a racist or sexist or adult joke to be seen or heard - pure magic. Adam was thrilled by the show.
Then this morning, we drove over to Arundel (where incidentally Adam had been during the week on a nursery outing) to have a look at the castle. I had been there when a teenager but had no memory of it, B had never been there. As we travelled west, the castle first appeared at a distance through a forest and then magnificently dominating the landscape. We parked and strolled through the village to the cathedral and then across Arundel park to circumnavigate the castle. The slimy soil and steep gradient in parts meant we struggled in parts - I fell once while holding Adam but he was braced by my arm and I was more shocked than he hurt. Adam walked almost all the way, and kept up with us marvellously, never lagging, never moaning, always interested in his surroundings. We finished our walk with, of course, tea and cakes, in the Tudor Rose. Adam played inventively with straws while B and I skimmed the Sunday Times. However, I found nothing much of interest to read. The book section, which used to be truly original (in the form of a separate tabloid section), is now buried within the general tabloid Review.
17 48, Friday 21 December 1990
I travelled down to Brighton last night. Most of the week I was finding and buying Christmas presents - it’s that time of year. I have slipped into the office most days but there was little for me to do. I’ve shopped at Selfridges (a £40 pair of cashmere socks for Dad), John Lewis, book stores and Argos. Mum is to get a toaster and Faber book of letters; Julian a water filter and Penelope Leach baby book; Mel, who has gone off skiing for Christmas, was given some sweets, a book called ‘Success’ and money for her ski-suit. Presents for Barbara include a new vacuum cleaner, a book about fruits, a pair of scissors, a knife, a teapot, socks, salt, a torch - all very practical things.
On Tuesday night we had our office party at a wine bar in Covent Garden, some doors away from Tower House. This was a convivial affair with plenty of free drink and food, the music was not too loud and the people not striving for anything in particular. I spent most of the evening with Sara Knight, my German correspondent, but I also managed to converse with a few other souls - the Thameside printer, Richard Lapper, Chris Cragg, David Tudball, and an outside editor, whose name I forget, but who reminded me of Jane Lapotaire. In Aldershot Road, on Wednesday night, I congregated with Melinda and Rolf for a seasonal drink, the Belgians Anna and Geoffrey from next door joined us.
In the world, things are really stirring but we - the media’s audience - only receive scraps of information about what’s bubbling under the surface. Intense diplomacy is under way over the Middle East situation. From the middle of January, the US has a United Nations mandate to attack Iraq. There have been talks about talks and talk of talks, but so far nothing has emerged. Western leaders continue to reiterate that nothing less than complete withdrawal by Iraq from Kuwait will do. Other citizens are urging negotiations and would sanction some compromise with Saddam Hussein.
As far as the information that we have today, and it is extremely bitty, I would guess that war will ensue in January. The situation is somewhat complicated by developments in the Soviet Union. The full support of the Soviets within the United Nations has allowed the US to move this far against Iraq, but now, with the resignation of the foreign minister Shevardnadze, the Soviet position looks increasingly unstable. Shevardnadze fears a dictatorship is coming but remains loyal to Gorbachev. Gorbachev continues to try and maintain the progress of reforms against mounting opposition. The loss of Shevardnadze, one of Perestroika’s architects, is a great blow to him and throws doubt on the future of the Soviet Union.
9 13, Sunday 23 December 1990
I sit here at my blank screen wondering what on earth to write. I fidget at my beard, or the hairs sticking out of my nose. For months now, I have become obsessed with the hairs on my face and am forever isolating a bunch that seem longer than the rest; then, wherever I am or whatever I’m doing, I must find a pair of scissors and cut them. Right now, I have a hair sticking out of my left nostril, one I can grip with my fingers. If I can actually hold a nostril hair, then its long enough to cut off. This is obsessive behaviour, and I dislike it intensely, but perhaps its better than scratching my head. I do still scratch the psoriasis on my head, but not as much as at other times in my life. The patches around my ear are still the worst.
Outside the day promises sun and blue sky. There have been more presents to buy, extra ones for Mum, Michele, Sarah. B needed to get some for her parents - we will go to see Rosemary and Les on Boxing Day. What a terrible surfeit of family meetings. I have nothing else to focus my attention and so stray from reading the paper, to watching the television, to playing with Adam, to going out to the shops, to drinking tea, to reading the paper; much like any male at home on a weekend.
In the last fortnight or so, I’ve seen a couple of documentaries which left impressions. One was about the Murdoch empire and the other about Madonna. The main thesis of the programme about Murdoch was that his empire cannot be far from collapse. Murdoch has used Australia’s liberal financial regulations to revalue his assets to higher and higher levels in order to borrow larger and larger amounts. The Madonna programme made me think. What seems to make her rather special is that through her songs, shows and videos she has been making very serious attempts at breaking down sexual and religious barriers. The clips from her shows illustrated the daring nature of her material, some of it stronger that can be found on the fringe theatre these days; while an interview, intercut with the clips, allowed one to realise how carefully and consciously she sets up the images and controversies around her.
Talking with some of the women at work the other day, I expounded my view that Madonna was quite extraordinary, consciously brining big ideas to a big audience, but my colleagues preferred to believe she was an anti-feminist and was creating scandalous shows simply to make money. Madonna might use stereotype imagery of females and may make a lot of money, but these are not the same things at all. She uses the imagery to change people’s attitude to it - the sexuality of her dress or actions may, at first sight, look familiar, but they are addressed to herself not to man, they are taken to extremes to show men (and women) how perverse, ridiculous, or manipulative they are, for example. And as for the riches, well she must already be one of the world’s richest independent women, and making shows truly scandalous is far more problematic and risky than not doing so. Moreover, the power over people’s actions and thoughts is a more addictive tonic than money. The day after the programme, my own view was reinforced on reading Christopher Dunkley in the ‘Financial Times’, who likened Madonna to Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce.
At work, I completed my last Memorandum of the year. There have been a few recently: one on a new environment newsletter, one on forging new links with the newspaper through a publicity-for-expertise exchange, one on the marketing of the ‘East Europe Supplement’ to ‘European Energy Report’ subscribers, and, indeed, one on Brussels. I have not had a single reply, of any sort, to any of them.
A and B and me will go out now before the weather gets too harsh. I am pleased, for Annabel just rang and so we shall meet up with her family since Julek and Kate have come back for Christmas from Brunei. Fred and Adam together are worse than Morecambe and Wise: Fred is three heads taller but just three months older.
12 05, Friday 28 December 1990, The office
The mindlessness of Christmas is over - I don’t think I had one single real conversation over the entire holiday. Much of the timing of our movements were dictated by TV programmes. For example, we left Brighton on Sunday night at 10pm, after the finish of a Ngaio Marsh mystery. The drive back to London was relatively easy with traffic generally light; we must have arrived a little after 11.30pm. The car was packed, from top to bottom, with goodies; it was a little worrying, therefore, to hear a nasty grinding noise coming from the front of the engine. This noise has been getting worse and worse. The trouble is, that since selling the Aldeburgh house, I no longer have access to my trusty service garage there. I so distrust the garages in Kilburn (or London generally) that I am thinking of going to Aldeburgh for a weekend just to have JB (orange Marina car) serviced and MOTed.
On opening the front door to 13 Aldershot Road, we were greeted with the sound of dripping water. An immediate worry was displaced by the realisation that it was probably the outside overflow from the upstairs toilet. This hope, if you like, was dashed however on entry to the parlour. The ceiling was sagging badly and the carpet was completely and utterly sodden; water continued to pour down from the ceiling. Rushing upstairs I found the kitchen sink full of water, and the floor drenched. I tightened both hot and cold taps before pulling the plug out. This meant that since the sink was full to brimming, i.e. above the tap outlets, I never discovered how fast the water had been dripping. I knew Melinda had gone away sometime on Friday night or Saturday morning so the water must have been running for 36-48 hours. The sink drawer was full of water as were the cabinets underneath. As soon as I had stopped the flow and wiped up the excess, B and I were down on our knees in the parlour mopping up the water from the carpet. B was using two cloths and wringing them into a bowl, while I was using three towels, laying them on the carpet, treading on them and then spin drying them. Both methods worked, and after an hour or more we had mopped up three or four washing-up bowlfulls. Other damage seemed limited - a pair of shoes was sodden, the Christmas cards on the window-sill had been splashed, one of Adam’s books was wet, the mattress on his bed was damp. B wanted to go on mopping up all night long, but I was sure that if I left the heating on overnight it would dry out on its own. She also suggested I drill holes in the ceiling to let out any water that might still be sitting there. Well, I did try, but no more water came down. However, by standing on the table (to effect the drilling) I could see how serious the bulge in the ceiling really was. I then felt it necessary to take down the ceiling plaster before going to bed in case it crashed down on its own in the night. I covered the floor with bits of plaster and dirt, wet plaster and dirt, before retiring to sleep in the lounge - Adam having been put to bed in my bedroom.
In the morning, I took more of the ceiling down and tidied up the mess. Miraculously, the carpet is virtually unstained. A subsequent conversation with the insurance company confirmed that the carpet was not covered and that, although I would have to pay a £50 excess, it would probably pay for the rest of the damage. What a pain. I shall have an ugly hole in my ceiling for weeks now, and I will have the bother of organising builders’ estimates and of getting the work done.
Christmas Eve, Monday, disappeared in a tide of present wrapping and tidying up. Adam and I went for a walk in the cemetery. I taught him how to find out how many bodies were under any given gravestone (by counting the names etched on the stone), and we did races to benches. I told him a Henry (name of talking/flying bicycle) story. In the morning, he had watched a Fireman Sam story on the TV, so when I asked him what Henry story he wanted he said Henry and the Fire Engine. This was a very suitable subject since we had bought him a fire engine for Christmas. I made up a story about Robert wanting a fire engine for Christmas but not having told either Father Christmas or his parents. It was raining on Christmas Eve so he couldn’t go outside or ride on Henry. Nevertheless, he went to talk to Henry, and confided in him how much he really wanted a fire engine. Needless to say he gets one for Christmas, and the story helped to raise his excitement and consequently his pleasure at getting a fire engine the following day.
In the evening we went to Julian’s house, Mum came too. We drank champagne (left over from J’s wedding) and ate smoked salmon sandwiches. Adam remains fascinated by baby Rebecca and watches avidly whenever Sarah is breast-feeding or tucking her into the carry-cot. On Christmas night, Adam slept on the floor in our bedroom, wrapped up in his duvet, and we returned to our bed. Every now and then, through the night, he woke me, either with a bout of sleep-crying or the obsessive sound of finger sucking. Then at six or some unearthly hour, B and A were up and wanting to open to presents. B is no better than A in this respect. I grunted and groaned and told them to leave me alone until 8.30. I like playing the cool, reluctant, and playfully grumpy Dad. We all had seven or eight to presents to open, so the process took ages. B’s main present was a new vacuum cleaner. She bought me some books of old photographs, one Atget and one Thomson; a cast iron Punch door stop; a new jumper and a plain chocolate orange.
Having opened all those presents, we went to Mum’s house to open a mass more. Mum bought me an Arts and Craft vase, some socks and a toaster; Julian bought me a new telephone; Melanie (absent - on a Club Med ski holiday) bought me a new white jumper. Adam got cars, a game called Hungry Hippos, a jumper and so on. Adam and I went for a walk in Golders Hill park, despite the inclement weather. As usual, we had a look at the flamingos, deer, goats, peacocks and wallabies. Adam remembered the name of the peacocks but not the flamingoes. Crab mousse, asparagus soup, turkey and orange chantilly for lunch. All delicious - Mum continues to cook superbly. Yarn joined us. Lunch was followed by tea and several games of Hungry Hippos. At around six, we came back to Aldershot Road before going on to see Grandad Sasha. We had been summoned for a visit because Michele’s mother and brother with four children were visiting. I had a chat with Dad about FTBI and Brussels. Altogether we stayed less than two hours, and arrived home in time to watch ‘Jean de Florette’.
On Boxing Day, we left about 10am to drive to B’s parents. The roads were relatively quiet and we made the journey quickly. Adam encountered yet more presents as well as nuts and sweets and other excitements. Whereas Julian and Mum both have large Christmas trees, the Collecotts had a small pot one, just like ours (the one which we bought and used in Brighton and then brought up to London). After lunch, I took Adam for a walk in the park. As with Christmas Day, the weather was wet and windy and we did not stay out for long. After the walk it was already time for tea and before we knew it, B and I were driving back to London. We arrived at the National Theatre before 5pm and were lucky enough to sell our spare tickets immediately. So, for a couple of hours, we wondered around the Royal Festival Hall’s exhibitions and book shop, strolled along the Thames, returned to the RFH for a drink and, finally, met up with Julian and Mum at the theatre.
‘Wind in the Willows’ adapted by Alan Bennett for the stage with Michael Bryant, Griff Rhys Jones, Terence Rigby among others. The audience was thrilled with the sets, although the performance plus adaptation never quite made it to five stars for me; I never felt any magic. I think it should have been more of a musical than it was. There was music and one or two songs but the dialogue dominated. Still, the family enjoyed it, and that was the main purpose of the outing.
Later, 13 Aldershot Road
A week or so before Christmas I attended a conference organised by University College’s Department of Biological Anthropology - Primates in Evolution/John Napier Symposium. John Napier died recently, in 1989 I think. He had a formative role in the development of human evolution studies and the linkage with primate behaviour; he also studied and/or taught at University College. Leslie Alleio, the inspirational human evolution lecturer who taught my course, organised the conference along with Michael Day. It was held over two days in a seminar room at the Geological Museum. Several names, very well known to us from both Leslie’s and Robin Dunbar’s courses, gave papers. I missed about half of each day - largely those papers devoted to anatomy - but attended the sessions of most interest to me. There was a good buzz around the conference with a goodly number of young students mixing with the older professionals.
In the opening session, I heard Alison Richard talk about the Madagascar lemurs, Peter Andrews drone on about the evolution of forest habitats (had I done my Masters with him as I was going to at one point, he would no doubt have used material from my project in this talk), and Robin Dunbar give a typical talk full of hypothesis and lacking in substantive evidence. He tried to reproduce the behavioural ecology of extinct papionines. When I came back, at the end of the afternoon, I heard a more intriguing talk by Bon Martin. He talked at some length about the New World Monkeys - the tamarinds and marmosets - and discussed their evolutionary biology, focussing particularly on Callimico goeldi which has an intermediate biology. In fact, Martin creates a new evolutionary tree for these primates, and he offers substantial evidence to support his case. In so doing, he dispenses with the Leutenegger argument that twinning comes about due to the biological restraints of smaller size, suggesting instead that the move to twinning was simply the result of needing higher reproductive rates. One of his most interesting hypotheses was that reduced size was a derived - and not a primitive - character in the New World Monkeys.
On the following day, I attended the session on Taxonomy and Evolution. Colin Groves spoke about the need to split Orangutans into three, not two, species; Ian Tattersall gave a sideways kick at the human evolution establishment by suggesting that more hominoid species should be recognised; and Bernard Wood suggested something similar for the Australopithecines. In fact, the message of the conference was summed up by one remark I overhead on leaving the seminar room: ‘Well after years of lumping, its back to splitting.’
Finally, the LSB Leakey Memorial Lecture was given by Alan Walker. He went further back still in Homo’s past and gave out details about his Proconsul studies. Following in the footsteps of Louis Leakey, Walker and his colleagues have considerably expanded the number of Proconsul finds, firstly by re-examining a number of museum fossils which had been wrongly assigned to pigs or goats, secondly by re-examining the original site, and thirdly by looking for more sites in the vicinity having once worked out the peculiar geological explanation for the excellent state of the Proconsul fossils. Hardly recognisable by his appearance, manner or voice as an academic, he gave the most stimulating talk, and the one most full of new information.
Nilofer, Hilde and the other postgrad girls were there throughout, either manning the Primate Eye stall or selling ‘Save the Lemur’ t-shirts. Apart from Fred, I barely talked to anyone from the staff.
New Books bought for me, or by me in my search for presents for others: Bruce Chatwin - ‘In Patagonia’; Bryan Appleyard - ‘The Pleasures of Peace’; W.G. Hoskins - ‘The Making of the English Landscape’; ‘The work of Atget: Old France’; Salman Rushdie - ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’;
Lawrence Durrell - ‘Monsieur’ (I’ve just bought this today, a hard back version because I want to the have the Provence Quintette in hardback.); ‘John Thomson: Life and Photographs’; ‘The Beautiful Rio De Janeiro’.
Christmas is a time for movies on TV, and this year is no exception: ‘Jean de Florette’ and ‘Manon des Sources’ - superb performances, direction carefully crafted with love and confidence, a satisfying story. The moment, right near the end of the second film, when Soubeyran (Yves Montand) learns about the letter from Florette which he never got and in which the girl of his dreams promises to marry him and in which she confides that she is pregnant, is a truly exciting film moment. It cannot be compared, though, with Bertolucci’s ‘1900’, which also comes in two parts, because it does not attempt to put the tale in any historic, economic or political context. It is a simple tale about simple folk - just beautifully executed and based on an excellent plot.
There have been the usual crop of mysteries. Yesterday, I listened to a Hercules Poirot which I thought I knew, yet the revelation at the end that the policeman dunnit (as in the Mousetrap) took me completely by surprise. A Ruth Rendell had me believing in Wexford’s false trail. Late at night, there have bee a series of Hitchcocks, none too so familiar. I watched ‘Suspicion’, a couple of nights ago, and had no idea how it was going to end; but surely I had seen it before. Just before Christmas, there was the end of ‘Twin Peaks’, the end of ‘House of Cards’ and the last ‘Capital City’ episode. ‘Twin Peaks’ was quite amazing, since the all plot-lines, that had been set up through the previous episodes, were used to leave as many cliff-hanging situations as could be crammed into 50 minutes. ‘House of Cards’ failed to deliver. After an excellent first episode, the other three slacked off until the last which made one wish to have watched the first episode again instead. It was untenable to have a future Prime Minister murder two people and get away with it, whereas so much of the earlier material seemed plausible enough for the audience to suspend disbelief and enjoy. ‘Capital City’ finished on a true upbeat with the marriage of Michele and Deckland. That was a smashing programme, the characters were so fresh and alive; and the companionship of their working lives such a romance.
War in the Middle East approaches - the 15 January deadline is but two weeks away, and Saddam shows no signs of backing down, the Americans no sign of retreat. The British lack volunteers and will have to call up medical personnel.
19 08, Sunday 30 December 1990, London
Yesterday afternoon we went over for tea at Mum’s, her brother David and family were making one of their very rare visits - they flew off to Florida this morning for a two week holiday. Mum was on a high with such a large collection of family - Julian, Sarah and Rebecca were there too. Adam played well with David and Louise’s children, Clare and Damien. Clare kept picking Adam up and giving him bear hugs. David has changed his tune: now, he tries to travel overseas as much as possible, but when younger he wouldn’t set foot out of the country. I suppose it was a useful and practical dislike when he and his family were younger and had little money.
I am reading Roy Jenkins diary of the period when he was President of the European Commission. Not only does it give me an added insight into the workings of the Commission at the highest level but it is a document of considerable importance - not so many diaries are published by such senior politicians. It has been likened to the diary of Anthony Crosland which, I remember, finding fascinating. Jenkins is not fascinating. Despite going to some lengths to tell us how much material he has cut from the five years of diary entries, and how difficult it was to make these cuts, the diary is still weighed down by an extraordinary obsession with time-keeping, the length of meetings and speeches, and the weather. It reads like my teenager diary - whereas I catalogued TV programmes, whether an evening was good or not, which teacher had been horrid or helpful, and what the food was like, he catalogues visits, whether a meeting was good or not, whether other diplomats or politicians had been helpful or a hindrance, and what the food was like. There are occasional descriptions of places, and pithy character sketches, and occasionally he goes into some detail about the issues.
New Year’s Eve, 12 02, Monday 31 December 1990, London
This will be the second New Year’s Eve in a row that I intend to spend alone. It has become a tradition with B and I not to spend it together. This started during our early years together because I always wanted to go off to parties on my own; sometimes B stayed alone, but now she tends to go to Salisbury each year, and through doing so keeps in touch with her friends there. I could have chosen to go to with her, but I think it right that I should be alone, and I shall now attempt to explain such a misanthropic idea.
One of the most serious omissions in my life is that of a decent social life. Since my return from Brazil, nearly four years ago, I have barely made any new friends (outside of this house) and certainly none that I’ve socialised with on a regular basis. Adam and I once joined up with Marko and his son Max, but only the once. And just recently, I spent two evenings with the girl Jenny Kent, but I no longer see her. So, it would be exquisitely true to say that I have made no new friends since Brazil; and since I see none of the people I met in Brazil and barely keep in touch with them, I must go even further back to find the beginning of a lasting relationship.
This is a chronic crisis in my life; I neither make new friends EVER, nor do I actually meet and talk with strangers on anything but the most intermittent basis. Traditionally, I think of New Year’s Eve as a time to be spent with one’s close friends - friends as opposed to family. I don’t necessarily think this should exclude family, but since one has celebrated Christmas on a number of occasions with a variety of different parts of one’s family, New Year’s Eve is the time for gathering close friends around. I do not have any, therefore it would be a dishonest act to celebrate. B’s trip to Salisbury is distinctly right - collected there are the group of people whom she regards as her best friends. She looks forward to being there and seeing them again.
So the truth is depressing - apart from B and A, with whom I have already celebrated Christmas three or fourfold - there is no one in my life that is important enough for me to want to be with them, or for them to want to be with me. Therefore, to spend New Year’s Eve alone is an honest behaviour. If it makes me depressed, then it should; I am clearly leading my life in a way that excludes people; and until I suffer properly for that, I am unlikely to do anything about it. Such is my lament for the eve of 1991.
I have spent this afternoon, spellchecking my diary entries for the year and putting them together in one file for each month. Altogether, there are over 150 pages. I do not read them properly, and although spelling errors should be largely absent, other errors of grammar and sense will no doubt be prevalent. However, I see that the idea of moving to Brussels was already in my mind one year ago. I have re-examined the issues once again, and once again I cannot deny that Brussels is my best alternative at this point in time. In every way, Brussels has to be my choice. Why am I prevaricating so much? Is it simply because I cannot face the bother of finding a flat? Perhaps it is. Perhaps I fear that things could never go as well as they did in Rio.
I will go to Brussels next week for three days. Priority one is to get a flat. Other problems will have to be dealt with as they emerge. If I consider my Brussels venture as a pure indulgence, which will cost me, let’s say for a year, £3,000 in flight costs, and £5,000 in rent costs (some of which I should be able to make up in Aldershot Road) then I can happily fail miserably. Such costs could come out of my present income, as if I had eaten out a lot, taken some expensive holidays and bought an expensive car. Let me indulge myself for one year. The challenges will do me good - perk me up. If I lose out, then I will be more content to stop trying to claw forwards.
Review of 1990 - a fair old year. I came back from Brazil in Spring 1987. That year I was happy to have any work at all. It started with freelance day work at FTBI and progressed in the autumn to a full-time contract. The challenge of ‘European Energy Report’ sustained me through 1988. In 1987 and through 1988, we had the challenge of Adam and the Aldeburgh house. B’s difficulties compounded the challenge. I had always calculated that until Adam was two, much of my life would be devoted to B and A. In retrospect, I could say that 1987 and 1988 were rather un-productive years, but necessarily so. In 1989, I set up the new newsletter ‘EC Energy Monthly’, and with it got a full-time assistant. At the same time, I began the Masters course and the heavy lecture work-load. Adam also was going to the nursery two-three days a week. B had begun a polytechnic course, and we carried on moving to Aldeburgh every fortnight. So 1989 was a considerable advance on 1988.
By the same token, 1990 was certainly an advance on 1988. B was installed in Brighton, and getting used to her degree course. We sold Aldeburgh and bought the Tidy Street house. That involved a lot of work but was worthwhile. I wrote a management report which has brought me both financial rewards and more attention. I also completed and wrote up my project for the Masters course. Both books are over 100 pages long and covered in purple binders. Life in Aldershot Road with Caroline and Rolf was as much as I wanted. The fraternity was absolutely the best (from my point of view) that it has ever been. At work, I won a further addition of staff, which made my life considerably easier. I started yet another newsletter (if only a supplement). I won a startling victory at the office through a sustained defence of my second assistant, which led to the prosecution of the administrator and the sacking of the deputy managing editor.
It is probably true to say that I have slipped further away than ever before from any spiritual, poetical, creative me that used to exist. My work - with the concentration on East Europe, the EC and environment affairs - has been so intriguing and involving that I have been more content with the content of my work than ever before; I have, however, for the first time, become discontent at having to do any work at this level. I feel I should be doing my boss’s job.
Adam has come along a treat. He is a beautiful child, with a charming spirit and an abundance of fun and joy in him. I think he is extremely clever, although, I’m happy to say, it is a general intelligence rather than any specific ability. He has a good memory and is already behaving in a conscious and calculating manner - mostly to the good. I must admit to being unbelievably in love with the little critter: nothing has changed, I still cry if I look him in the eyes in silence for too long, or watch him while he sleeping.
Although I moan and groan a lot at myself, on balance I believe I am still well in the black with the bank of life. One would have to go a long way down hill to get in the red with a son as golden as Adam and a friend as loving as Barbara.
Paul K Lyons
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