PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1990 - JULY
19 01, Monday 16 July 1990
Such a long time since I last wrote a few diary words. 24 June seems to be the last entry. Since then B has been installed in Tidy Street and my little family has been to Paris for a short holiday. It is that holiday which is most on my mind and so I shall endeavour to record a few details for the prosperity of, of no one in particular. I have also a few things to say about my gorgeous son Adam; perhaps that is where I will start.
On Saturday afternoon, I put Adam to bed for a nap since he had been behaving quite abominably in the morning. Once in the bed I had the bright idea of putting a pair of socks over his hands to try and stop him sucking his fingers. Having slept several days in the same bed as he, I had been subjected to the noise and emotion of hearing him suck violently on his fingers many times during the night. Since he was one year old, I have been flogging a dead horse in trying to get him to stop sucking his fingers. When he was about one year, B and I could have done it in a matter of weeks, but B would not trust that it was the right thing to do. It is also possible that I did not have sufficient conviction either. Two years later, he is still sucking away. He was not at all troubled by the socks during that nap. In the evening, I did the same thing. I explained to him very carefully what I was doing and advised him that should he take them off, he would get serious punishment. By the time I went to bed, he had shown no signs of distress; in the middle of the night however, the socks were off and I gently put them back on. He seemed to help me, in his sleepy state, by raising his other arm. When he came into our bedroom in the morning the socks were off. When I asked him why, he said he needed to take them off to go to the toilet.
I do not know in detail why I am so against this sucking action. I feel that it is a hang over from breast feeding, and I cannot see any purpose for it at the age of three. I think it has simply become a very bad habit, which will lead, later on, to other bad habits - cigarette smoking, perhaps, or bad breathing - or simply to the increased risk of picking up infections.
Unfortunately, last night did not go so well. B reports that Adam kept taking off the socks, and that she was up all night long putting them back. In the morning, Adam asked if he was going to have the socks on at the nursery. On talking it over with B, it transpires that Adam took them off in front of her just before bed, and she did not punish him strongly or quickly. I had promised him sharp quick punishment if he were to take them off, but B just gave him a talking to. I have now suggested she leave it for me when he comes here this weekend.
This ties in with another issue. It has become clear to me how important first reactions by us to new actions by Adam, whether they be movements, facial expressions, words, or whatever. Thus, when a new situation arises in which he does something mildly annoying say, he scrutinises my face for the response. If I make the mistake of allowing even the slightest twitch of a smile to arise, more often than not he can manage to turn it into a full blown laugh on that first occasion - and for ever more he will repeat the same action, no matter that I get cross. When being dressed, for example, he almost always plays up; he thinks it is a really funny game, to crawl across to the other side of the bed or to twist his body around so that it is impossible to put on his shorts. Clearly, this might have been very funny once or twice at a certain critical point, but, since B or I imprinted that funny reaction on him, he goes on and on thinking it funny however many times we are seriously fed-up with that particular behaviour.
I planned this holiday in France with the precision of an army general. For Adam and I there were four distinct parts to the week: the weekend with Barbara, a night with Colin and Hilde, three nights at the farm near Poitiers, and a night with Roxanne Goldsmith. Although this involved a lot of moving about, everything went more or less according to plan. Adam’s flexibility and adaptability meant that he took the strain of so much moving around as well as an adult would have done.
9 50, Tuesday 17 July 1990
The cheapest flights I could find to Paris were £70 each for B and I and £59 for Adam with Danair. I was expecting scruffy and crowded planes, and scruffy inadequate service, but the reverse was true; my image of charter flight companies is somewhat out of date. On the way out, B and A travelled from Brighton, while I travelled from London, meeting up at about quarter to six. Adam was well behaved and quietly excited. It was, however, a very overcast morning and before we had risen a few metres into the sky all Adam could see out of the window was thick cloud. He reacted sharply to being surrounded by cloud, and burst out crying in a most distressed manner. I don’t want to be in the clouds, he kept saying. It was all we could do to calm him. Above the clouds with a view of the blue sky, he was fine, but coming down towards Charles de Gaulle, he again felt distress because of the clouds. On the way back we had perfect weather and could see land all the way. Adam appeared to understand what was happening very well. As we were rising, I explained that things got smaller because we were going further up and getting further away: trees and houses and fields and cars all begin to look like toys because we are so far away. On the way down, he volunteered that everything was getting bigger because we were going down. As we left France, I explained that we were now flying across the sea, the same sea as at Brighton. He seemed very impressed by the look of the sea, and said excitedly that we were going to land in the sea. I laughed at that, and so he went on saying it: ‘we’re going to land in the sea, we’re going to land in the sea.’ Because my initial reaction was a laugh, he expected a laugh every time. After a while I tried to explain that we wouldn’t be landing in the sea, but he didn’t take any notice, he just continued to enjoy the humour associated with this invention that we we’re going to land in the sea.
At Charles de Gaulle we lost Adam’s pushchair. It was the only item we hadn’t taken hand luggage (we were not allowed to) and thus was the only item we were waiting for on the conveyor belts. It never came. We waited half an hour, and I roamed around the baggage handling area for ages before accidentally finding it on a half-hidden trolley.
Hotel Lepic was located on one of the streets that wind up to Montmartre. It was friendly and clean, and we had our own bathroom. The window gave out onto the main street, with a tiny balcony just large enough for Adam to stand on. He loved that, looking out at all the activity: the shops opening, the people coming and going and, best of all, an accordion player, opposite the window, who played for ages.
We showered and rested, and bought bread, cheese and fruit for lunch down by the Seine. We watched bateaux mouche while munching baguette. We visited the dark and gloomy Notre Dame (ten days later Adam can still recall the name of the church we saw near the river Seine although he needs some prompting to tell you what the name means in English). We also walked around the Museum D’Orsay without actually going into the galleries. It’s enough just to enjoy the view from the entrance hall. Adam liked the sculpted rhino outside best.
Around six, we met up with Colin at our hotel. After some indecision we decided to trek across town yet again to the Pompidou centre region for supper at a vegetarian restaurant. It proved to be a longish walk and fairly ordinary veggie fare, still we had a good meal and a natter. In restaurants or cafes, Adam often asks to ‘look around’ when he’s finished and I usually let him. There was a sofa near the entrance in this place, so I told him to go and lie down there (it was getting very late) but he found the sofa more interesting as a performing space, and, whereas at the table nobody paid him the slightest interest, on the sofa everybody watched him. He was full of giggles and smiles. Somehow he got the idea that there was a whale downstairs (I think because I told him to hold onto the rail if he should go down the steps) and he kept coming over to me to talk about the whale downstairs.
Sunday we largely devoted to Adam. Our first venture was to the Jardin d'Acclimatation - a garden full of roundabouts and animals and playgrounds. We had intended to take the toy train from Porte Maillot to the park but it didn’t start up until 1, so we had a slightly longer walk. Adam loved it, of course. At fairs and such places, I usually restrict his entertainments by letting him go on only one roundabout. (When shopping, I never let him sit on the shaking bears or rockets.) Fairs can provide new experiences, and are valuable for physical experiences, for example, or for having an early taste of driving or acceleration etc. In one place, Adam was somewhat afraid of a high rope bridge, part of a bigger adventure structure. B’s instincts are against letting him do it, mine are to encourage him. In case, he should slip we walked on either side underneath. It was an exciting venture for him, he managed with flying colours. I am always impressed, not by his courage or his daring, but rather by his advanced sense of what is dangerous and what are the limits to his abilities.
We watched some brown bears for a while, the young ones were cute and cuddly. Adam was fascinated by the sight of three or four pigs being showered with a strong jet hose. B and I were somewhat shocked to see a six or seven year-old being sat on a mini-motorbike and sent off round a curly bumpy track: the bikes have just two wheels, appear to go quite fast and look pretty dangerous.
We picnicked on a park bench before trekking across town to La Villette - the science park. I came here on my last trip to Paris but didn’t see anything. By chance we arrived in good time for Adam to visit the Inventorium for 3-6 year olds (there is also one for 6-12 year olds - we’ll come back for that). For FFr15 Adam gets an hour and half playing in a scientific nursery. One of us has to stay with him, but the place is so exciting it is a real pleasure to introduce Adam to the various toys. There is a building site with a working crane, the girder infrastructure for a block of flats and hundreds of rubber bricks. The children have to wear helmets. To play with the waterfall, or the water canals, the children must put on rubber aprons. There are video screens with interactive teaching games, experiences of weather, pulleys, levers, pumps. There is a flat surface under which nine televisions combine to tell a story or documentary about something; and so on.
To start with, I left B and A there while I bought myself a ticket for the museum which is truly impressive. If ever a government seriously wanted to get its people interested again in industry, in engineering, in science, in research, this is the way to do it. The two top floors of this giant building are given over to an amazing array of exhibitions illustrating every aspect of science through posters, video screens, exhibits, film shows, things to touch and do as well as to watch and see. There were masses of different activities, some quite time consuming and engaging. Really, an extraordinary museum. Outside a huge silver dome looks like a stray planet landed for a moment. In fact it is a movie cinema showing 180 degree films. The shows were booked up for some time in advance so we didn’t go in, but I promised myself a visit the next time I’m in Paris, perhaps I’ll know French better by then. I went back to look after Adam, while B visited the museum on my ticket.
B thought Adam might like the Jardin des Plantes but this turned out to be a disappointment. We searched high and low (literally) for the dinosaur slide mentioned in our guide book, and expected a large and lively playground. When we did finally find it, there was only the dinosaur slide and nothing else; and it wasn’t a touch on the rope bridge Adam had crossed the previous day in the other park. We walked a little around, bought B’s parents some chocolates, and returned to Hotel Lepic to pack. After that we walked up to Montmartre to look at the painters and the tourists and the Sacre Coeur. I used the painted views of Paris to test Adam’s knowledge of the Notre Dame and Eiffel Tower. The portrait artists really hustle, and the silhouette makers are halfway to having cut a paper silhouette before you even finish passing them by; they thrust the half-finished silhouette and the scissors still cutting up to your eyes to tempt you with the likeness. Good work to do if you’re at the painters’ academy. Good, fast, paid practice. I imagine only a few real artists get the nerve up to hustle like that though.
We separate at Gare du Nord, B to take the RER to Charles de Gaulle, Adam and I to take the RER from Chatelet to Colin’s suburban station. After a short wait, Colin and Hilde come to meet us. Their flat is quiet, well decorated and organised. They prepare a tea and some cakes - Adam gets a big one and his heart is won. We talk a bit before taking a stroll up the hill to the local fort. In its own way, an adjacent post office tower (a giant white and red structure with all manner of aerials and dishes attached) is far more impressive.
After a healthy meal of crudites and veggie stew on millet Adam goes to sleep without a murmur. Colin and Hilde show me their computer. Colin has a bank of instruments and equipment connected to a computer terminal; he must use it for dubbing and composing. Hilde uses the computer for games - perhaps Colin does too. They select a few for me to try. They are so much fun and pull me so easily into their cunningly set traps. One game, which I love, has 240 levels. It’s just as well I don’t have it. It would be infinitely easier to play a level than write a diary entry for example.
In the morning, A and I leave fairly early, we must go to Gare d’Austerlitz to catch a train to Poitiers, or Chatelleraut if we can. We arrive at 9.15. We are booked on the 10.00 to Poitiers. Information tells me that this train does not stop at Chatelleraut but one at 9.23 does. I don’t have to worry about my reservation since it won’t be needed on that particular train. Since I must telephone the farm to advise when I am arriving, I calculate whether I can actually make the 9.23 or not. First Adam wants a wee, then I can’t find a payphone, they are all cardphones. When I do find one, it is up a great flight of stairs, and I really don’t want to take Adam, pushchair and bag. I leave the latter two at the bottom of the stairs, and take Adam to the top. I leave Adam at the top of the stairs where he can see the bag, and tell him to watch them carefully; from the phone booth I can see Adam. Rapidly, I phone Sarah and tell her my time of arrival at Chatelleraut, and then race, race and race for platform three. We make it with two minutes to spare. And what do we find on the train, but half a carriage devoted to a playground. Adam and I alike are overjoyed at this discovery.
21 30, Wednesday 18 July 1990
Suddenly I have two visitors arriving. Lia, Elaine’s sister, who I saw in Paris a year back, is coming this evening. She set up some complicated arrangement whereby a friend of her mother has brought some money for her from Fortaleza but the friend was leaving London before Lia could get here, so I had to make a few telephone calls, track the friend down and go to her hotel to take possession of the $800. I don’t quite understand it all, but no doubt Lia will enlighten me when she gets here. Then, today, I get another surprise call from Maja. She is in Luxembourg and intends to come here tomorrow afternoon. She thinks she can come for a day - what, come all the way here for a day? Well I am delighted, it’s just a shame I’ve given the spare room to Lia. Why do visitors always, but always come on top of each other.
But I must get on with my holiday round up. This happens every time I go away now. Recording the trip takes days and days and the duty of it hangs over me like guilt. If I had a more active and stimulating life generally, I wouldn’t have to worry about recording the trips so much. As it is, they are beacons of vague pattern on an otherwise colourless and contourless plain. Weep, weep, old man for your time is not yet up.
Raoul, Caroline and Sophie arrived at the Chatelleraut train station just a few minutes after Adam and I. On the way back to the farm (I don’t know what else to call it), we stopped at a country town with a market in progress. Caroline enjoyed the market, while Raoul and I took the two children to the playground and onto a roundabout. It was the only sight and smell I was to get of French country market life. Sophie had a very bad fall off a see-saw: a bigger boy jerked his end of the see-saw sharply in the air so that Sophie did a somersault through the air and landed on her head. Raoul warned me that I might find Sarah, the farm owner, somewhat overbearing, but this wasn’t true at all. I found her really pleasant and attractive. We arrived Tuesday lunchtime and stayed until Friday lunchtime, so three days in all. Both Adam and I really enjoyed ourselves, but I’m not convinced anybody else was really having a holiday.
The main house consisted of a kitchen with a bedroom on each side of it. Above the kitchen, a huge attic floor with a double mattress was our bedroom. On the left side, a couple of barns were sort of attached to the house, one of them having been turned for use as bathroom, toilet and utility room, the other not yet having been converted for anything. Opposite, on the other side of the farmyard was another barn called the cottage with two rooms. Raoul’s nanny Caroline and Sophie and Jack slept there. Outside the main gate and away from the road there were more barns and outhouses. Behind the main house was a fenced garden with fruit trees and a very rough, scrubby, lawn.
The farm is owned by Sarah. She used to buy and do up houses in England, and is now trying the same thing in France. She has owned this place for three years, owns two others nearby which she is trying to sell. Sarah’s husband John is a dentist, and is due to arrive the day we leave, so I won’t meet him. Sarah is an old friend of Caroline’s, indeed according to Raoul she adores Caroline. John and Sarah were at the Coombes’ wedding, though I don’t remember them. At the time they were in the process of splitting up; they are, however, now trying hard to stay together - Sarah’s French venture is part of the plan to patch up their marriage, I am told.
With Sarah was James, her eight year old son, who was both calm and friendly, and Simon, a ten year old boy, the son of a friend. With Raoul and Caroline, Sophie, Jack, Matilda there was Carol, the Coombes’ first nanny, and before that Sarah’s nanny for James.
Adam blended in immediately, loving the space and the excitement of so many people; just being with other children makes Adam so happy and he adores Jack and Sophie. The day of our arrival, Tuesday, turned out to be the most organised. Soon after a snack lunch Raoul, myself and all the children, except baby Matilda, drove off some distance to a river bathing place. To our left, the river stretched upstream towards a bridge, to the right a long shallow weir separated the river out, one channel disappearing down a wooded glen, the other continuing on towards a picturesque house in the distance. The older boys had been there before (indeed James knew it well, having by now spent several holidays at the farm) and jumped straight in, Adam and I took a little longer, Jack still longer (and he needed a dunking before fully accepting the water). Raoul needed a lilo for support, he can’t swim so well. I was really surprised at Adam’s willingness to stay in and enjoy the river, despite the cold water and very stony bottom. I loved it, I have always treasured chances to swim in natural places, whether the sea, rivers or lakes; it is one of the greatest pleasures of life. Unfortunately, we didn’t go there again.
8 57, Friday 20 July 1990
An ‘EC Energy Monthly’ week this one - the busiest of the month. At the start of the week, as usual, it looks like being a poor issue but, as the number of conversations I have with people in Brussels grows, so do the number of interesting stories. Whereas we thought we might have trouble filling 12 pages, we ended up with too much for 16.
Lia arrived late on Wednesday night. She will stay until early Monday morning, and then fly back to Brazil via New York in August. Elaine rings briefly from Fortaleza to check she has arrived safely. At 22 she is still very young and light. My portuguese is terrible these days.
Maja rings to say she cannot make it after all, well I never really expected her. She says that the children’s puppet workshop festival in Luxembourg, in which she is taking part, is just so chaotic, and the adults needed so much attention that she can’t get away - next time.
And so back to the holiday in France. On the evening of my first night there, Caroline cooked a tasty salmon meal. We all sat around gossiping until tiredness took us over. Sarah’s a good story-teller, she had us all in fits over a wine-testing tour she undertook recently with a friend.
Early the next morning, Adam and I wake up quietly and easily in unison; the intense squawking of many birds echoing and amplified through the rafters of the barn brings us to consciousness. We turn our heads and look at each other, a smile on our lips and love in our eyes.
I know that Jack and Sophie will soon be up and making a noise, nevertheless I feel it is our responsibility not to add to the early morning chaos in order that the adults still sleeping get disturbed as little as possible. I therefore wash and dress Adam, and lead him outside the farm gates to sit on the grass in the early morning sun. I tell him to wait while I fetch us milk, tea, an early morning biscuit, and our picture diary. I make sure that several times during the day, Adam and I have quiet times together. This is one of them, another one would be in the attic bedroom after lunch, and another one before bed. In these times we draw the picture diary, or read a book, or talk about the things we have done during the day. After this pre-breakfast, Adam and I usually went for a walk along the many lanes leading away from the farm.
Often during the three days at the farm, I found it second nature to entertain and interact with the children, whether it was the young ones or the older boys. On the walk that Jack came with Adam and me, I used the tool of imaginary red stars. Each time Adam or Jack could find something special I would give them a red star. Jack already had a quite a complex notion of what ‘something special’ could mean, whereas Adam didn’t really have a clue. I knew Adam wouldn’t be at all competitive with regard to the number of red stars he accumulated, so I could give Jack as many as I liked knowing he would enjoy winning; on the other hand, I thought the game useful for Adam to help him learn about the concept of special. I also thought both boys would benefit from a game which involved them looking actively at their surroundings. Jack gained his points largely from finding hedgerow flowers; I pointed out smaller things in general, little insects or snails. When I asked them to listen to the distant church bells, Jack, quite rightly, said that’s special and won another red star.
There were some real moments of magic on this walk. One was when, both of them having armed themselves with sticks, a phrase - ‘knock all the dangers down’ - seemed to rise up out of the conversation between them; it came complete with tune. From then on, the two marched down the overgrown pathway knocking the brambles with their sticks and singing the mantra ‘knock all the dangers down’.
When we were buried deep in the forest, I said we should all scream as loud as we could. I explained that the forest was a very good place for screaming and shouting loud, as opposed to houses and gardens where one should not make a lot of noise. The screaming developed into animal noises, so that anybody too near might have heard the horrendous sound of three boys making pig oinks, cow moos, horse neighs, all in the loudest possible voices.
On another walk, Sophie came with us. This time we did not walk very far; instead we sat down on a grassy patch of path out of sight of the farm and I told the three of them a story about two sheep and a fox. They were riveted for the length of the story. I adored having them so attentive and involved. I think I gave about three public (by which I mean Adam and others) story-telling sessions. For Adam alone, I made up a series of stories, starting at the beginning of the holiday, about a bicycle called Henry and a boy called Robert. After the initial story where Henry and Robert meet, I gave Adam the choice of what he wanted the story to be about; this helped me concentrate on an idea. On one occasion, he wanted a story about Henry and a tractor, and on another about Henry and a van. I got somewhat stuck on the latter, and whenever I stopped telling the story, because I couldn’t think how to continue, Adam got upset - Daddy, you’re not talking, you’re not talking.
Jack, too, was oddly demanding about my stories. He listened to one of the Henry tales in which I mentioned some background from an earlier story. On several occasions afterwards, he kept asking if I would tell that particular story.
The second day at the farm was rather unfocussed. There was nobody really planning activities and I, as a stranger to the house and without means of transport, was not really in the position to organise. In the afternoon, the group again went swimming, but I chose not to join them for various reasons: I had thought I might join Sarah on her work rounds; I didn’t really want Adam to catch too much sun; and I considered it better to let the Coombes be a family unit for an afternoon. Instead, I took Adam for a long walk through the forest, along the river and up the steep hillside to the beautiful village of Angles sur Anglin, which is actually less than half a mile from the farm.
In the evening I cooked for the assembled company. Unfortunately, I was only able to get to a local village supermarket where the vegetables were old and of poor quality, so neither the ratatouille nor the tomato salad reached my own high standards, despite three hours of cooking. The local sausages were tasty but needed a lot of cooking, and ended up only half the size at purchase. Thankfully the potatoes had good flavour. Although I made enough ratatouille for several days, it all got eaten up; I had to rescue a bowlful for Adam in the morning. Two other Brits from the vicinity joined us - Nigel and his brother whose name I now forget. Six months ago Nigel packed up his architect’s job and life in England and bought a ramshackle old watermill with barns and a sizeable chunk of land, including an overgrown river island. Raoul and I visited the place on the following evening. The two men have worked obsessively hard since the beginning of the year to restore and modernise one of the buildings. It was to be ready shortly for the arrival of his first paying holidaymakers. He intends to turn his attention next to the mill house and then to the other barns, and consequently live off the income from renting the units. It is a very picturesque location by the river, and with the chateaux some way up the hillside. Nigel does have a flooding problem, however. The river breaks its banks periodically, and can rise above the ground floor level of the buildings. Not long after moving in (he lives in a small habitable cottage on the site), they had a foot of water in their bedrooms. He plans to furnish all the properties in such a way as to minimise any inconvenience of flooding; but the silt left behind after a river flow will always be a pain to clean away.
Many times through my life I have met people like Nigel who, in the moment that I see them, have found fulfilment in possessing a property of character in a beautiful location and who then spend their time restoring it or enhancing it. There will always be a suspicion that this sort of life is idyllic. I would say, however, that one must try not to pre-empt the joys of living. The idyll of this existence depends on several things, sufficient funds, a maturity of development (usually meaning age, I would have thought) so that settlement won’t bring hankering for other things, and a rich network of friends.
At the farm, I found most of my time was spent playing with the children. I set up treasure hunts for the older boys who then did the same for the children; the only problem was that I was then expected to do the treasure hunts with the young ones. Throughout the three days, I barely got a minute to myself. I didn’t mind since I so enjoyed the positive interaction with the children, but in my talks with Raoul it became apparent that he and Caroline somehow expected to have time to themselves, like it was their right.
On the Thursday afternoon, Adam and I joined the Coombes to spend an afternoon by a small lake. Because the sun was so hot I obliged Adam to stay in the shade much more than he wanted to; all the Coombes were in the sun most of the time. There was a playground here, and quite a few other people, unlike the river where we had been on Tuesday. By Thursday, some tension had built up among the group. This was mostly because Sarah had delayed on some work she had to do at one of her properties. Arriving with her husband John on Friday was a prospective buyer, and she desperately needed to clear the scrub and brambles from the yard and garden of the property. The problem was that she didn’t have the right equipment, nor did she know how to use equipment she borrowed. There was much discussion of arrangements over how best to get the work done, Raoul and I were both prepared to help. Raoul did help a little, but then found himself moaning to me about it. Having accepted her generosity - accommodation for six of them for two weeks - he doesn’t see any debt involved since Sarah’s need to have company and the Coombes’ fulfilment of that need is balance enough. In the end the logistics of me helping out are too difficult, and so I escape the strimming toil. I am only with this group for three days but, by the end, Sarah is not afraid of criticising the Coombes, and Raoul has no compunction about tearing into Sarah. But really, there is no balance at all: Raoul’s children are such a handful that the Coombes should be profoundly grateful for the invitation and accommodation and certainly not looking for compensation when they take Sarah’s boy out to the lake, or example.
Raoul and Jack drove Adam and I to Poitiers to catch our train on Friday. We took the drive very slowly stopping several times, notably in St Severin where a beautiful old Romanesque church dominates the town centre. Inside there were the most extraordinary decorations; the huge columns that lined the aisle were each marbled in different patterns: no two were alike. I’ve never seen such a thing.
The train to Paris was horrendous. It was full all the way so Adam had to sit on my lap. He wouldn’t sit still, so we were constantly shifting our laps around. Also, we were hot and tired and I didn’t have the energy to tell stories or do lessons for very long. This was such a contrast to the journey out. And once in Paris, we had a trek across the city by RER finally arriving at Roxanne’s flat at about 8.30. Both of us were tired, dirty, hungry and thirsty. Fortunately, Roxanne was on her way out with a group of guests which meant we didn’t have to be polite for more than a few minutes. I didn’t find much to eat in the kitchen, just enough for Adam. Once he was in bed, I slipped out onto Avenue des Ternes to buy a couple of things. After that, I more or less fell asleep. We had just about the worse night I can remember since Adam was a baby. There was only a single bed, so I decided Adam should sleep on the floor on the duvet. After an hour or two, though, we woke up because he kept on thrashing around and crawling all around the floor. I tried settling him several times, then gave up and put him back in the bed, leaving me to sleep on the floor. He became even more restless and broke out crying several times. I think it might have been a touch of sunburn.
Saturday was Bastille day. On going out early for morning breakfast, we had the unexpected pleasure of discovering hoards of tanks and army vehicles. Crowds of people, even that early, were beginning to congregate around the Arc de Triumphe and along the Champs Elysee. We wondered around looking at the people and all the strange equipment. Later we came back and positioned ourself on the Champs Elysee itself, with masses of people, to watch the parade. It was somewhat disappointing - the tanks and lorries and guns all looked rather old-fashioned and irrelevant, and there were no troops or personnel or even any modern rockets. Still, Adam loved it all.
Adam won the hearts of all the people staying in Roxanne’s flat, they all said how charming and flexible he was. He slept quite a long time in the afternoon, which gave me a chance to rest a bit and talk to Roxanne. She will go back to Washington in September. This presumably means the marriage with Mike is over yet again. A message arrived while I was there that he had been assigned to Monrovia in Liberia - hardly the place for a not-very-well retired reporter. He is obviously addicted to the thrill of being present while nations tear themselves to pieces for one reason or another. Roxanne tells me she thinks that whereas all Mike’s other women have been his daughters, she has been a mother substitute. She talks in this intimate way about her relationship with Mike very quickly and easily, whether it’s just with me or the whole world I don’t know. I find it somewhat disarming I suppose. Andrew is now at boarding school in Geneva which he will finish next year. Quite what will happen to the flat and the house in Bar sur Loup I don’t know.
Our trip back to London and Brighton is uneventful. B met us at Gatwick which was a pleasant surprise.
Radio Four’s ‘Today’ programme rang this morning. I wonder where they got my name from. They wanted someone to talk about the stoppage in USSR oil supplies to East Bloc countries. Because I’ve been so tied up with ‘EC Energy Monthly’ this week I haven’t even had time to read the press cuttings properly. In any case, I would never consider myself knowledgeable enough to go on air to talk about such things. I’d probably turn to stone in front of the microphone. I recommended to the producer that he get in touch with Jonathan Sterne at Chatham House or Marko Bojcun.
The Friday before I left for France, Kenny had left a photocopy of an FT job opening on my desk: Brussels correspondent taking the lead on agriculture, environment and transport. Energy is done quite competently at present by Lucy Kellaway, so if I was to be considered for the job my expertise in that field would not help much. I had to write the application in a hurry: the closing date was just a few days later. i.e. while I was in France. So far I have heard nothing other than an acknowledgement of my application. I have since talked to Richard Lapper who, unusually, has just been offered a job on the paper after years of freelance for FTBI. He gave me a few tips on what to say in interviews but one of them - emphasising flexibility - may be tricky for me, because I don’t really want to work at Southwark Bridge at all, even when and if I were to come back from Brussels, I’m not at all convinced I would want to work on the paper. I suppose it has been talking to Kenny and Miriam about the job that has concentrated my mind to think more seriously about actually getting an interview. If I were to go to Brussels, and I’m far from sure that it would be the right move, then I should go soon: the timing is right while Barbara is in Brighton and living so close to the station and Gatwick airport. Going to Brussels now would also mean that I was there for the final run into the single market and the exciting period of environmental adjustment to the greenhouse effect.
Thatcher has lost another of her ministers. Nicholas Ridley, never a favourite of the public, went one step too far. During an interview with the ‘Spectator’ he made a thoughtless comment about the character of the Germans, and in so doing revealed a very real split in the government over attitudes to the European Community and a combined powerful Germany. Within days he was obliged to resign. Media hoo-ha over the lack of government consensus on the German question was further fuelled by the leak of a memorandum detailing a cabinet discussion on German failings. Chancellor Kohl who, over the last week, has presided over a mightily historic meeting at which the future unification of the two Germanys later this year was sealed, is riding such a high, one that will carry him as Chancellor well beyond the future all-Germany elections, that he could well afford a throwaway comment about Ridley being a bit silly. The fact is that Germany is at the centre of the world at the moment, and the UK is rather insignificant, carrying weight neither in her traditional Commonwealth grouping nor in her future grouping of the Community; instead she still basks in the fading glory of a perceived, as opposed to actual, power. She should realise that modern communications, intelligence and philosophy have all changed the ground rules: however clearcut the lesson of history - i.e. that the UK’s geographical isolation from Europe makes it special and needy of independence - the lesson no longer applies. We should throw all our eggs into the EC basket and be done with the pretence that we are above it all.
Did I mention that we all went to Langham’s for Mum’s birthday on 3 July. What a waste of money that was. The bill came to nigh on £200 and for what? B’s meal was worse than one she had the next day at Friends in Brighton for £3.
I should perhaps have mentioned the move into Tidy Street. Everything went very smoothly as I remember. After Langham’s, B and I drove down to Brighton in the hired van and unloaded the few big things that had been stored here. At 7 in the morning we were doing our first load from Washington St. At 8 Claudio arrived to help us move the washing machine. During the morning we did several more loads; B’s Mum helping largely at Washington St., her Dad helping to load and unload. Adam just watching and wanting to come each time to Tidy St rather than stay at Washington St. Once all B’s belongings were moved we went to Friends for lunch and I then drove back to London arriving late afternoon.
B’s is completely thrilled with the house. She has had to contend with some hefty building work going on next door. In order to render and paint the neighbouring four-storey structure they have put up scaffolding all over B’s house. Our solicitor prepared a legal document whereby she gave them permission to do this but still she didn’t expect there to be quite as much hassle as there has been.
I have had satisfaction from the people who punctured my tyre [after Kenwood parking incident]. I probably mentioned that I got a grovelling apology on the telephone from the house owner, and an invitation to use his drive any time. Following a specific request for money, he has also paid me £25.
This morning I have also negotiated £250 from the developers working behind my house. I had asked for £500, but Mr Finkelstein, one of the owners of the development at the back, who has set himself up us Mr Clean Developer, argued about the figure, and we agreed a sum of £250, plus the builders help in taking the old hut away and installing a new one and rebuilding the small flowerbed wall.
18 39, Monday 23 July 1990
I spent most of this last weekend painting the window frames at the back of the house. A tedious job but one that needed doing in order to protect the wooden frames. I didn’t paint all the frames just the bits that needed protection, where the paint had peeled off. Still it was a long job, for eight sets of windows and two doors needed to be scraped, sanded, washed, primed, undercoated and glossed. Most of the time I was looking after Adam as well. When I was up the long ladder, working on the upper story windows, I tried to keep him inside entertaining himself, but while on the short ladder he would keep himself busy around me and ask a non-stop flow of questions. He loves being outside with me, and helping me to work. This morning, I had to take everything out of the shed in preparation for its imminent destruction by the builders; Adam loved to help by moving small things to the side of the house. ‘We’re working aren’t we Daddy?.’ So far the workmen haven’t done anything at all. I told them I would be in all day tomorrow and the new shed is due to be delivered then.
I had a big fight with B at the weekend, our first for a long time. I had asked for her help at the weekend with cleaning the kitchen and scraping the windows but she set about it with such little heart, and as though it were duty she didn’t want to be doing, that I was soon infuriated . . .
8 30, Tuesday 24 July 1990
I am working at home today in order to be able to let the builders in. I have to write up my notes from the Italy trip, and I’ve a few other bits and pieces to write. This week’s issue of ‘European Energy Report’ will be weak: both Sara Knight and the Bonds are on holiday, and there’s very little material coming in from elsewhere. Fortunately, this government’s electricity privatisation programme has created yet more news for us to feature. Now John Wakeham has confirmed that the government is considering selling PowerGen direct to a private firm. What a cop out!
On Saturday, I listened to most of the ‘Today’ item about blockages in oil supply from the USSR to some of the Eastern Europe countries, and sure enough there was Marko’s voice ringing out in two 3.5 second bites. It was a fairly poor and disjointed report, I thought, but then whenever you know something about a subject it always seems that way. At the time, I felt Marko hadn’t repaid me for the recommendation by describing himself as from ‘European Energy Report’, but, in fact, Kenny told me later that he had heard him introduced distinctly as correspondent for the Financial Times ‘European Energy Report’.
Meanwhile, I have been summoned to see Dennis Kiley. His secretary, Rosemary, came into my office yesterday afternoon and stood next to my desk and said ‘10.15am Tuesday?’ as if I would know all about it. On questioning her about the summons she clammed up and went coy. I can only assume word has filtered through about my job application. I re-arranged the meeting to Wednesday. I must now, however, be prepared to talk to him about what I want for the future. I had planned to broach him during the summer about my Brussels plan, now I’m being pushed into talking about it before I’ve fully organised my thoughts on the matter.
Last night Mum took Julian, Sarah and I to the Hampstead Theatre to see a play called ‘Sugar Hill Blues’. Afterwards, I had a chance to explain to them my Brussels plan. The objections were quite slight and not at all ones I hadn’t thought about: the travelling, of course, being away from Adam, an inability to come and go spontaneously. Within less than half an hour they were all agreeing that it sounded quite feasible. I wonder if I am overestimating my own ability to put up with the travel tedium. It has been interesting to watch this Brussels idea sit around in my mind for ages, occasionally be talked about and assessed. As with the Rio move, all it has taken is an unexpected spark to set me off - the spark itself may come to nothing - with the Rio move it turned out there was virtually no work for me out of Jeff Ryser’s Sao Paulo office, and now with Brussels this FT correspondent job is almost certain to fall by the wayside - but the mental preparation is there, readying me for action any way. The question arises, of course, about what do I do if I fail to get the FT job and Dennis refuses to entertain my idea of taking ‘EC Energy Monthly’ to Brussels? I’m stuck.
Some stranger from the JGC corporation is taking me to lunch today to talk about East Europe. I don’t know why, I have no more knowledge than is in my Management Report.
17 34, Sunday 29 July 1990
A tiring weekend, looking after Adam and also trying to get my yard into some sort of order, following the disorder of destroying the old shed and coal bunkers. Slowly I create a new order in the yard. I will be pleased to have had the work done, and to have had so much help with getting rid of the mountain of rubbish - but I am not terribly pleased to have had to do the work at all: I could happily have gone on living with the old shed and the old messy yard order. Adam is great in the yard, he plays merrily and amuses himself within whatever confines I set on his play, whether spatial or concerning the things he can touch and use. And when it comes to helping, he is tireless. He loved moving all the paint pots out of the old shed, and, later, moving them all back into the new shed. The builders have not put the new shed up very well; they didn’t raise the floor off the ground high enough or use firm enough bricks for support; they failed to put batons over the felt edges; and they didn’t put in the window glass. But, I suppose, I can’t complain considering the state of the old shed.
My meeting with Kiley. Unfortunately this had nothing whatsoever to do with Brussels and my job application to the FT, I should be so lucky. In fact, I didn’t even get an interview. No, the meeting was the culmination of some particularly dark and slimy work by the administrator, Anna Duhig-Reader. A plan to sack my production assistant, Miriam, had been conceived, incubated and hatched behind my back. Even now, after the war has been waged and won, at least partially, I still don’t understand the full reasoning behind Anna’s initiative. I don’t think I want to go into the full details of the sordid affair but since it took up so much of my time and energy last week I feel I ought to record an outline of the events.
The main reason given for the proposed sacking of Miriam was a cost cutback on temporary Editorial Production Assistants (EPAs). Since the sale of several newsletters a month or two back, there has been an excess of EPA time, several of the production assistants are sitting around without very much to do - Miriam not being one of them. Anna proposed that by sacking Miriam, and providing me with bits and pieces of service from several other EPAs (up to three different ones was proposed at one point) monies could be saved. Every Tom Dick and Harry in this game was talking about the £30,000 cost over-run on the production assistant budget in the first half of the year.
At first I was bamboozled into believing that one temporary EPA really had to go and that there was a choice between Miriam and another girl Sonia; and for the first part of the battle I was arguing that Miriam should be kept in preference to Sonia. However, it transpired that Sonia worked for David on ‘North Sea Letter’ and Frank on ‘Power in Asia’ both of whom might get upset if obliged to use another EPA.
I did little on the Wednesday afternoon, i.e. after the first meeting, except gather information and tell a few people what was happening. It transpired that quite a few persons in the office knew about this scheme to get rid of Miriam, not least marketing personnel and junior staff in insurance. That made me mad, especially since Anna had point blank denied knowing what the meeting was about (this had fuelled my belief that it might be about the Brussels job). About 5 pm, I joined a few of the people from marketing for a rounders match in Hyde Park against FTBI employees from other buildings. In the taxi to the Park I played the righteous hard-done by editor, a role I fell into better and better as the rest of the week rolled on. At the Park, I launched into Rosemary, Dennis’ secretary, since she had also denied any knowledge of the meeting. She was quite helpful and said I shouldn’t sit back and wait for something to happen in the morning because she believed the decision to continue with the Miriam sacking had been taken after the meeting with me, despite the apparent stay of execution.
I came into the office early on the Thursday morning and wrote a page-long memo to Dennis, copying it to Anna. I listed five cogent reasons why Miriam should not be sacked, at least without a strong rationale, and one that I was still waiting to here. Thursday was a production day for ‘European Energy Report’, I had stories to write and pages to proof read, but, by the time Miriam and Kenny arrived, I had done nothing other than talk to David on the telephone and write the memo. Most of the day was spent fretting and talking to different people around the office. Mid-morning, Philip called me into meeting; he tried a straight repetition of the Dennis line so I asked him if he had seen my memo to Dennis, no he hadn’t. I ranted and raved until he decided that the best thing to do was to call a meeting in the afternoon with Anna. At that meeting, Anna tried to bulldoze her details of new EPA arrangements through, and I just kept stalling and stalling and saying a) the arrangements don’t fit me very well and b) it can’t be the right thing to do to sack Miriam and create chaos where there is none at the moment. The meeting went round and round, and Philip suggested I try and look at the details and come up with a better solution. But I didn’t have the details and Anna wasn’t about to give them to me.
By the end of Thursday I was really tired of it all; this had already risen to be the worst office scandal in some time; hardly a person was aloof from it, with meetings in offices and corridors, and everybody expressing one opinion on the EPA changes or another. I went home thinking that I would be forced to give in on Friday. But the more I thought about the details I had absorbed during the day, the angrier I got again. First of all, I reasoned, both Sonia and Miriam are doing full time jobs so the only extra was elsewhere; secondly, an EPA was about to leave from insurance any way. In the morning, I had it confirmed that Anna was preparing to hire another EPA as soon as Miriam had been sacked. This was intrigue indeed. Anyhow, it gave me the thrust of my second memo. Philip had repeatedly asked me for my solution; well here it was, use the spare EPA capacity to fill the needs in insurance once the EPA leaves.
I also mentioned in this second memo (to Dennis but copied to John McLachlan, Philip and Anna and distributed among other editors) that I thought good temporary EPAs should be put onto six month contracts, rather than be employed on expensive day rates (through the agency run by Anna’s husband, a point I didn’t mention.)
Friday long I stay in the office, barely daring to move in case I was called in for another meeting. Various people came in and out of the office, and to each and every one I presented the facts of my case and I even began suggesting that someone was on a witch hunt for Miriam. Throughout Friday, Anna continued to scheme, astonishingly since she and already admitted that insurance was going to get a new EPA as soon as the old one had gone.
I was not summoned all day long, Miriam and Kenny went out for their long lunches, I sat tight at my desk. Finally at 4pm, Dennis rang through - the siege was over. He thanked me for my memos, said they were very positive and very helpful (indeed, I was surprised that they had been, considering how aggressive and defiant I felt); since he was going away on holiday for two weeks, he said, he had asked Anna not to do anything unless she could come up with a solution to which all agreed. Here was the reprieve I actually hadn’t expected. I went home weary, having saved Miriam’s skin, but still not knowing what was really behind the attack.
I suspect (and hope) that the whole issue will now die down. If insurance employ a new EPA while Dennis is away and then try and sack Miriam again when he comes back I will surely be able to argue that the insurance EPA should be sacked. But who knows. What I do know, however, is that any move on Brussels looks doomed to failure in this atmosphere.
I am somewhat disappointed with Adam’s development at the moment. He seems to have stood still for ages. Puzzles he could do, or at least have a good attempt at, six months ago, are still stumping him; he seems to have a block on his visual perception. He still cannot get his numbers right; he will get 4 and 1 and 0 but he cannot recognise 8 or 6 or 9, and is just as likely to say each of them is 0 as 7. It’s the same with the puzzles: I have taught him endlessly about straight edges not going in the middle of the puzzle, but when he does complete puzzle it is more through trial and error than perceiving how the pictures on the pieces fit together. Something has not yet clicked, but I have no idea when it should click. Some children are said to be able to read by 3; well, they would need this skill to read, so it is possible to have it by 3. Adam’s drawing also leaves much to be desired: he does little else than scribble and has great difficulty in colouring within boundaries. He did, though, send me a beautiful letter recently with coloured paper cut and pasted in a very regular pattern. B insisted he did it all alone; very impressive if true.
Paul K Lyons
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