PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1990 - FEBRUARY
Saturday 3 February [Lone hand-written entry in an otherwise blank journal]
Since New Year’s Eve I have made but one entry into my life journal - that was on the word processor. My life has been too dull, too inconsequential, too busy with trivia to find any satisfaction in writing down events, thoughts. Partly this may have come about because over the Christmas holidays I took the trouble to print out the previous 3-4 months of diary entries - the first journal written entirely on the processor. Having printed it out, I’ve also been rereading and editing it. I’ve only got half way through, even so I realise how uninteresting so much of the matter really is - the details and trivia of my daily life are not worth the value of the laser printer print-out. What the narratives lack is description - description of people, places, things, rooms, faces, events. Such writing takes more thought, more work. Experience shows that if I set my standards too high vis-a-vis quality of input then my readiness to write declines, and diary volume with it.
A bunch of early daffodils sit in the green vase on the round table in this large room. Act 2 of ‘Peter Grimes’ plays on the stereo. Outside, the rain comes down in buckets. Today must be one of the worst days weather-wise I can remember in Aldeburgh. After a day of grumpiness yesterday Adam behaves like an angel today.
I am still weak and debilitated, two weeks since the onset of a cold. I haven’t shaken it off. In this these two weeks I have done virtually no work. I feel I’m getting so far behind.
As we have no pansies this winter our blue garden has almost failed us. As I recall, on our last visit, there were no blue flowers at all, but this weekend two irises have bloomed. We thought they were duds since they have never flowered. Now, just as we needed them most, they’ve emerged to maintain the continuity of blue blooms. The tall ceanothus, which is aiming to be larger than the front door it stands next to, has been blown half down. I have wired it back to the vertical but there has been root damage. It would be a shame to lose such a fine bush, I was hoping to turn it into a hedge 2ft wide and deep and 8ft high.
Aldeburgh, Aldeburgh, Aldeburgh. I am perhaps feeling somewhat nostalgic at the moment. We have had two firm offers for this house, one at £44,000 and one at £43,000. A Mr Vincent offered £43,000 during the week and is coming again today to see the cottage. Tuohy may persuade him up above £45,000, if he does then I shall probably accept. It would be far more convenient for both B and I to sell this house later in the spring (when my management report commitment is over and when B has a better chance to look at houses during the Easter vacation). I do not think house prices will rise this year, so that this flurry of interest may not be repeated, and were we to wait six months, we could legitimately put the price up £2,000 on the basis of interest potentially accrued on £40,000. If we net close at £45,000 and B can get a £25,000 mortgage, she ought to be able to find herself something very suitable for £70,000.
It is 12:30. I have put Adam to rest before lunch since we want to go out at about 2:15 to allow our prospective buyers to have a good look round without us.
Losing this house is far more disadvantageous to me than to B. I like being here more than she does (I think) and there are no changes in my arrangement that make it more difficult for me to come here. Only for B is the travelling more complex. So why do I not ask B to stay in her rented flat and suggest we keep this cottage? Well, there are some good arguments, I think, for action as opposed to inaction.
However much I have enjoyed this house, it is not an ideal weekend place, there is little room for storage (bicycles for instance), the aspect is almost as closed as my house in London, the garden is tiny and Aldeburgh is Aldeburgh, We have no friends here. A network of friends would mitigate very much against selling, but there is not one friend here. A proper weekend cottage would have more land, and a view. This cottage has a basic purpose, somewhere to come with Adam. It has served that purpose. He is old enough now to travel, to sleep in a bed, to stay in a bed and breakfast. We can start exploring together.
On the financial side, we will be better off in the long run to upgrade this house to a more expensive one. By getting a mortgage going, B can benefit from the tax advantages or from the social security rent arrangements.
South Africa: De Klerk, in a historic speech yesterday, said that Nelson Mandela would be freed, the ANC would be legitimised, press restrictions would be lifted, and death penalties suspended. ‘President closes chapter on 30 years of tyranny’ is the headline in the Independent. The announcements have shocked the world into praise, nobody expected the new leader of the ruling National Party to go so far. Left-wing politicians here and there have been predictably ungenerous and reiterated that South Africa still has a long way to go before apartheid is dismantled; others, Tutu, for example, have expressed their delight and surprise at how far-reaching the reforms are. Conservatives, such as Thatcher, have of course welcomed the changes wholeheartedly. Indeed, Thatcher has claimed that by holding out unilaterally against sanctions the UK has been instrumental in bringing about such change. It seems more likely that the new leader has reassessed the damage being caused by sanctions and highly negative world public opinion engendered by the apartheid politics. Someone on the radio suggested that South Africa has not been immune to the winds of liberalism and tolerance gusting through the world. However, as with Gorbachev de Klerk may find he has bitten off more than he can chew. Rather than attenuating antagonism by ‘people forces’ such moves only tends to fuel the fire that stokes their passions. South Africa still has a very right wing and well provisioned military/police, but if the ANC and Mandela can unleash the force of the black power, we might see escalation and blacks voting for the government before the end of the century.
Wednesday 7 February
This cold has got out of hand. I am still a wreck more than two weeks after the first symptoms came on. I went to see Dr Braunold yesterday, she gave me a prescription for antibiotics (Septrin Forte, the same as the last time I went to her for antibiotics) and another for a cream to put on the itchy bits of my scalp that I think might be ringworm. I explained my half-baked idea about having ringworm in the scalp (the evidence from my earlier diaries that I had ringworm once, that there are bits of my scalp that are much itchier than others, and the fact that for a long time there was a raised ring present on my scalp that itched more than other parts.) and asked if I could get it tested. Instead she gave me some cream (Canestan) and said that it would do no harm but if ringworm was present it should get rid of it. Rubbing cream onto the scalp is somewhat difficult, hair tends to get in the way.
As I have done no work at all now for two weeks, I feel I am getting far behind with both my projects: primates and the E. Europe report. Tonight is the first time I have felt in command of sufficient wit to write even some dull diary entries, and I won’t be at it for long.
After the doctor’s visit yesterday morning, I spent the day at home, doing very little. In the afternoon, I watched an old Bogart movie Key Largo (with Lauren Bacall and Edward G). A rather splendid, moody film which has the feel of a stage play; on the way to being a work by Tennessee Williams. Robinson the bad, Bacall the good, Bogart the undecided.
On Monday night, we went to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane to see Miss Saigon. I was lucky to get tickets when I did before Christmas because they are selling out months in advance now. I took Julian, Sarah, Mum and Rolf (since Barbara couldn’t arrange going). Very operatic, extravagant, super music, excellent singing, a decent plot, a spicy engaging performance from Jonathan Pryce, a little bit of scrappy staging but otherwise exciting special effects.
The USSR continues to dominate the news. Now Gorby has persuaded his party to relinquish absolute control over the government. Russia will move into a multi-party situation. The demise of communism has been so fast, so shocking, that it is difficult to fully appreciate the news. Certainly, there will be commercial benefits for the West, but the political realignments which will take place will create an uneasy time of transition and, ultimately, lead to trouble of one kind or another. It has been to the West’s advantage to have the super power Communist Russia helping maintain a world peace. The world has been a simple place. No longer. Recession, depression, decadence in the richer countries, envy and ethnic discontent in the poorer nations of Europe will lead to a nasty mixture in the melting pot. What to do, when to act, where to go? Important perhaps to be regularly serviced, so that when the time comes to get out of Europe, or to radically change lifestyle for one reason or another, one’s being is not too calcified with routines, places, people that change becomes impossible.
In the meantime, I worry about making best use of my capital resources (i.e. making more money and paying less tax) and what the hell I’m going to do next. Crossroads are approaching: do I make a jump into business, or make another vain attempt at the writer’s romantic dream.
I am still not well, weak and tired. I come home early and watch Little Vera, a Soviet movie about the prison of adolescence in a society destitute of culture.
Adam phones to tell me he is having fish for supper. I tell him I am going to have some liver later on. He says ‘Are you not going to have it straight away?’ wonderful the way he learns common responses to common statements, so that the word ‘later’ triggers the ‘not straight away’ response. Barbara has angered me yet again. Firstly, I really feel she ought to have come to Aldeburgh. She knew I was not so well, urged me not have Adam all week, said if I really wanted her to come to Alde she would; but she didn’t insist on coming in order that I wouldn’t tire myself out. Anyway Adam and I get back at one on Sunday. She has bought some daffodils and a takeaway pizza for lunch. I am tired and weakened from the journey and a few difficult days with Adam. We talk a little and then I ask her whether or not she has sorted the social security payments out. She says no but offers no explanation at all. Yet, the previous Friday she seemed so shocked to have forgotten (it is already some weeks I’ve been pushing her to clear it up). So here we get into another argument. She says she can do it at any time, in the next two or three weeks. But I am thinking she has just had a whole week free of having Adam, and she still hasn’t managed to do something I’ve asked. This task isn’t even something for me (although there have been many such things that I’ve had to ask her to do a dozen times over) but these are matters for her to feel better. She seems to resent so much having to take money from me, so why the hell does she not do everything to maximise her income. And besides (the more I think about it the madder I get), surely she ought to do it, simply because I’ve asked her. She gets much benefit from my counsel (as I do from hers) so if I ask her to something now and then, which maybe a waste of time, or silly, it shouldn’t matter. I really feel she ought to do something just because I’ve asked her, let alone because it’s for her own good. If she doesn’t want to, doesn’t see the need for it or whatever, then she should discuss it to a point of getting agreement one way or the other.
She has rung each day this week to find out how I am and to let me talk to Adam; there’s a strong feeling that she is ringing out of duty; she can’t manage to dispel it. And absolutely nothing gets said between us on the phone unless I create conversation, she just leaves blank space; it’s a terrible habit she’s got into. If I’m not jolly and encouraging and lively on the phone then there’s just deadness. Anyway, I remembered that I had been meaning to remind her to talk with social security about getting a mortgage, and asking them how much they might pay. She objected to this and I had to explain yet again that Brighton council do allow people to set mortgages with the payments to be paid from housing benefit. Then, given the leftover antagonism from Sunday (for Christ sake I’m doing all this so she can have some sort of financial independence in the future - some thanks I get for any of my efforts) I added that I didn’t want to have to tell her again.
Two minutes later the telephone rings. She tells me she waited two hours for me on Sunday (I was only one hour later than the time I said I might arrive at), that she bought me flowers (daffodils - actually I bought her some daffodils the previous weekend), and that she cooked me lunch (a takeaway pizza and frozen peas). Actually, that does seem to sum up the extent of her possible generosity. I have been disillusioned. I always thought she was capable of rather more giving than that. A bunch of daffodils, an hour’s wait and a takeaway pizza is the limit of her generosity; and god help me if I should actually ask for anything; a bit of help with my washing; that she sweep up after Adam’s meals; no God help me. Because then, so simply, I am sucked into trying to make comparisons about the extent of my giving and hers; and then I am truly trapped; truly the evil one for ever mentioning it, ever expecting even a tiny bit of domestic help in recompense for my financial and practical help.
I ring back two minutes later just to tell her I don’t want to see them this weekend. She puts the phone down on me again.
Sunday 19 February
Barbara resolved our last little dispute. We didn’t speak again on the telephone, although she did ring for me to talk to Adam on Thursday. I was quite resigned to not seeing Adam at the weekend, especially as I had been with him for a whole week previously. I was only just beginning to feel better, so I spent the Saturday pottering around the house doing some odd jobs. I also began work on my East European profiles. Late on Saturday afternoon though Barbara and Adam arrive. She is sweet and humble, says she was worried about me missing Adam; and, besides, he was in such a good move, so lovable, that she wanted me to see him. I was pleased to see him. Before long she tells me she has been to social security and sorted out the payments and so on. I try a touch of positive reinforcement and tell her what a good girl she is. She bites my head of. I recount my conversation with Rolf in which he told me how he always resented his parents doing things for him, and how although he should have been grateful, he just couldn’t be. Indeed, I do remember similar feelings with my parents. And Rolf’s explanation of why B might behave in the way she does is similar to that offered by my mother i.e. that B resents having to live off my money and my all. B says she didn’t have those sorts of feelings towards her parents, rather she sees me a strict schoolmaster. Then in the evening we have a long conversation about money. I try and explain over and over again, that my money is hers, that Adam and she are part of me, part of my family, that I am overjoyed to have people close to me who can profit from me. If I bring up money in arguments (and I do sometimes) it is always in response to some perceived pettiness on B’s behalf, or something like the recent argument over social security. And, as I write this here, I realise that I don’t even bring it up out of a need to have her recognise my contribution, rather it is because I hope to provoke her into an attitude more fit for her situation, i.e. that she should do more to help herself. And that, as I am her key adviser, that if I ask her repeatedly to do something, it is in her best interests to do that thing or else argue against it.
And so I will leave this topic now for a while. A and B have been here this weekend and we have managed a couple of days without a problem. I do sense that B is more grounded these days, more centred, and am tempted to lay the cause of easier relations on her well-being. I joked that it was my lucky month to have her with me on the one day of the month when she is normal (neither manic nor depressed). However, I do know for sure, that when I am unwell, I am less tolerant, and perhaps expect more; so we sail closer to the edge of fire and bitterness.
I have been in some turmoil over whether to go to Antibes for a week next Thursday. I did arrange with Dad to borrow the flat, and I have been looking forward to my days of skiing and driving through the mountains and my walks to the mountains. I had even worked out a long walking trip I could take. I now doubt I can go. The odds are weighing too heavily against taking a week out from all my commitments. I could have squeezed the trip in had I not been ill and brainless for three weeks. I am still not sure that I can’t go. I did have plans for taking Caroline with me, but I hesitated long and hard over that decision too. I did finally come down in favour of not asking her (why? you ask: fear of Barbara finding out, fear of Caroline becoming too involved, fear of being too restricted by her presence, and fear of being unable to answer the question - why should I take her?. But why have I come down on the side of not going altogether?
Ah dear diary, how I love to write down all the details of my mental machinations; this is the stuff of real self-indulgence; this is the stuff that makes an editor’s life easy. Any red pencil that were to find itself in the presence of my diaries would find whole tomes vulnerable to its lead; were the balloon of my writings to be red pencilled, so to speak, in a first phase that covered all this vulnerable self-justifying then the result would be similar to that of a balloon I saw dipped in freezing nitrogen: the air quickly liquifies leaving a minuscule shrunken condom of a thing.
But I shan’t let that stop me. Why? because I yet need to be sure my decision is the right one: I’ve been debating with myself all week. Pros for going: 1) Skiing (I may not get any in this winter otherwise); 2) Time to contemplate the next theoretical considerations of my primates project; 3) A full break from work and time to reflect, a rest. Cons against going: 1) Time pressure on my East Europe management report will build up; 2) I’ll miss college lectures, having already missed several because of being ill; 3) I really need to spend time in Brighton looking at houses; 4) Mike Westbrook is playing that week; 5) I could swing a couple of days in Aldeburgh with Caroline (which seems a good compromise between taking her to Antibes and not taking her). 6) The reasons for going are not very substantial - I only ever ski for a couple of days, there may not even be any snow; I can contemplate my primates here; I’m not sure I need a break having not worked while I was ill, and the Christmas break seems just round the corner.
Firm offer for Aldeburgh: Last Wednesday, Valentine’s Day as it happens (I send two and get two), I ring Tuohy about the house to see if he has heard anything from Mr Vincent, the solicitor. He hasn’t. It is more than ten days since Tuohy told him we had a higher offer and that our bottom line was £46,000. He said at the time he would come back in a few days. He didn’t. I agree with Tuohy that we shouldn’t chase him. I put the receiver down and within minutes I get a call from Mr Vincent. He doesn’t let on that Tuohy has talked to him about price. He asks about £44,000, and then about £45,000; but I stick to our line that £46,000 is the lowest we will go, and finally he says he thinks we will be able to agree to that level, he just has to talk to his wife. Fifteen minutes later he calls back and makes me a firm offer at £46,000 - I have Tuohy’s confirmation on my wall. That very morning I had talked to Barbara about the price and we had agreed that it might be better to sell at £44,000 (the offer we have heard from Heritage Estates) than wait around much longer - in three months time £45,000 (our previous bottom line) would be worth less than £44,000 today given interest rates and we’re unlikely to get more bold on the price as time goes on. So, so I feel quite good about getting a firm offer at £46,000. Moreover, the very next day, mortgage rates move up a notch, and all the papers are talking about a further slump in house prices; goodie, goodie, goodie. This weekend we have looked at house details in Brighton, and it seems that we ought to be able to buy a reasonable three bedroomed property for £45,000 plus a mortgage of £25,000-30,000; we now know, thanks to B’s visit to social security, that she can get mortgage payments from DHSS, so the whole deal is looking really quite promising. We just have to get moving on the purchase front.
Meanwhile back at Sumatra Road, things have moved to a head this weekend. A telephone conversation and a meeting between B and Singh has resulted in an offer of £5,000 now for B to move out. This is double his original offer, and we still have to get it in writing. I do not think I have the nerve to try and hold onto the flat now; Singh has been quite intimidating about B not living there anymore, suggesting that her flat might be broken into, that squatters might move etc; its all bluff, but I am a little afraid of his heavy handed tactics. The flat itself is in a bit of state, and I don’t think I want the hassle of having to refurbish it and then maintain it. If B were absolutely secure in her tenancy, then it really might be worth holding onto it, but as it seems that the landlord might have a case against her if it were known she actually owned another property then it’s probably too risky.
All these wheelings and dealings.
Julian and Sarah pop round for a few minutes this afternoon before A and B leave for Brighton. Julian is beginning to think they are infertile because Sarah hasn’t managed to get pregnant again straight away. I’m sure the body has good defence systems. If the first baby Sarah made didn’t work out for one reason or another, then the body is taking its time about letting the next egg fertilise and embed in order for all her working parts to get fully in shape again. Julian plays golf and cricket (in the nets) this weekend and watches England trounce Wales in the rugby (what an historic victory), Sarah watches television, I think.
I watch television when they’ve all gone: a Barbara Stanwyck movie - Sorry, Wrong Number (which just happens to be the last line of the movie, when Stanwyck has been murdered). Rather a smashing movie, scary. The screenplay originated as a radio play; most of the dialogue takes place on the telephone as an invalid Stanwyck tries to find out what has happened to her missing husband by telephoning from her bed. Burt Lancaster plays an innocent husband who turns evil, murderous even. Directed tautly by Anatole Litvak, whom I’ve never heard of.
Paul K Lyons
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