PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1990 - JUNE
11 38, Sunday 10 June 1990
My journal entries become scarcer and scarcer. It is now almost a month since the last entry. My exams have been and gone, my birthday has passed by, Barbara’s exams are over, the purchase of 31 Tidy Street is almost complete after many shenanigans, I have spent a wretched week in Rome with a cold virus effectively attenuating my strength and will, and Caroline has moved out of Aldershot Road. So where to begin recording some of these events?
Well, its now 6.00pm, so I didn’t get to write much this morning either. Let’s see if I can do some writing now. On the radio plays Falla’s ballet - ‘El Amor Brujo’. I’ve never heard of it, but it has the deep emotional ring of Spanish singing which I so love.
Perhaps I should say a little about Rome, whilst it is still relatively fresh in my mind. I have long wanted to visit Rome, since Dominique talked so fondly of it. Others too have said Rome is a city that is hard to leave. I had not realised, however, that it is also hard to get to know. Because of the flexibility I have at work to travel where I want, I finally managed to swing myself a trip. Rome, as it happens, was the very last Western European capital city for me to visit. I have been to every single other capital from Rekjavik to Istanbul, from Helsinki to Lisbon. In general though, I say to myself, I am reserving Italy for travel in my later years. It is a country full of riches and treasures of all sorts, but one needs time and patience to appreciate them.
Unfortunately, the moment I arrived, a full cold virus took hold of my body, and as I write now, a week later, it has still not relinquished control. Having the cold restricted my movements, my energy, my enjoyment of those places in Rome I did get to see, and reduced any desire for making contact or for real exploration. I was reduced to a mechanical tourist, running on the low-calorific fuel of need, the need to do because I was there.
Barbara had an interesting take on this need. She reminded me that many years ago in Salisbury I had boasted of having developed beyond the stage of needing to visit a site, such as the cathedral in Salisbury, simply because it was there. It is true that, in Rome, I was prepared to not visit any monumentation (as in documentation); also I kept on recalling the time in Lima when I had to rest for one whole month to rid my liver of the hepatitis that had taken lodgings there. It was a time when I learnt to be patient, and when I accepted the inevitable restrictions of an illness. I remembered, too, about Didier’s patience in waiting for me to get better so that we could travel together. But in Rome, I wasn’t really ill enough not to do anything, and it was only the peculiar characteristics of the city (the poor bus network, the physical dimensions of particular attractions such as the Vatican and the Roman Forum) that trapped me into walking further than I meant to, and consequently tiring my body beyond any enjoyment or appreciation of the attractions.
Of course, this was not a proper holiday, since of six days I was due to work four of them. Had I been fitter, I would probably have tried to organise more than 5-6 interviews, but I just couldn’t be bothered. As it turned out, one just can’t manage more than 2-3 interviews a day in Rome - the ones I had exhausted me.
So, I arrived on Sunday afternoon. My hotel, being some way from the tourist attractions, I chose a tour that took in only some parts of the city nearby: I was in no hurry to see the Coliseum or the Forum, even though the bus from the airport had passed them and whetted my appetite. I chose first to visit a nearby cemetery - Cimeterio Verano. Although not in the tourist guides, it was shown clearly on my city map as taking up an area several kilometres square. And what a treasure house of old tombs and mausoleums it turned out to be. Perhaps if I had visited the rest of Rome first I would have enjoyed the silence and emptiness even more than I did that Sunday evening. It certainly compared with one of the most beautiful cemeteries I have ever visited - a cross between that extraordinary cemetery in Rio’s Botofogo region, and Père Lachaise in Paris. If those places are first division then Highgate doesn’t even feature in the fourth division I’m afraid. One of the purest pleasures about cemeteries is that they are peaceful, quiet, forgotten places where nature is reclaiming its own, despite the best efforts of man to block the processes; and yet man’s efforts are expensively, emotively and evocatively embedded in the tomb designs and inscriptions. Highgate, like a bad comedy, has all its treasures pushed to the front, and charged for.
From the top section, all age and ancient crawling ivies, I descended to what turned out to be the more central and formal section. Whereas I had seen no one in the higher reaches, down below on the straight gravel paths, a few darkly-dressed women with daughters were carrying flowers or pails of water. From the entrance, the path followed a rectangular route, perhaps 150 by 50 metres. Inside the rectangle, almost all the gravestones were adorned with cut flowers; I could not understand why those graves in particular would be so adorned. Three quarters of the rectangle, on the outside of the path were lined with large and expensive tombs, many of them having full-size statues of people or angels situated on a ridge running behind the tombs, some of them framed with brick or concrete. On the side that faced the higher, older and more mysterious section, the effect of these figures was to provide rather exquisite pictures, with the human forms acting as foreground below and in front of the higher wooded section. Unfortunately the sun was already too low and at a wrong angle to light up the superb photographs which I could see in my mind’s eye.
9 43, Monday 11 June 1990
I spent the first night in the Globus Hotel, but on Monday morning I moved across town to the Ponto Sisto. Ellen booked this hotel for me, she, and I too, felt the Globus was too far away from the old town and the street traterias that abound there. My ex-Italy correspondent, Ellen, actually moved to London on the Sunday that I arrived. Although I called her from the airport, the timing was against our meeting. Nevertheless, she had done a lot to help set up my meetings. I was definitely happier at the Ponto Sisto, even though the breakfast was lousy (coffee left on the tables in thermos flasks), even though my room was not cleaned properly, and even though there was no television. The first night was a stinker. I was given a room facing the road, and when my cold was not keeping me awake, the street noise was. For the rest of my stay though I won a larger room with a window facing onto the hotel’s courtyard dominated by a massive bougainvillaea in flower. In a minute or two’s walk from the Ponto Sisto, I could be in the lively Campo di Fiori with its morning market and its many cafes and restaurants, or in the Piazza Farnese with the imposing Palacio Farnese, now the French embassy. This square has two fountains based on enormous old stone bath tubs. I spent several hours sitting on the rim of one or other of them watching people pass by.
Monday was the only full free day I had out of the six: Saturday I was due to leave by midday and on Tuesday I had arranged one interview in the afternoon. Unfortunately, my cold had really taken hold by Monday, I did nothing to help recover by traipsing the streets all day long. I must have visited the Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, Piazza Venezia and so on. I should probably have done much less. Certainly, the Forum tired me out terribly, and I didn’t even know what I was looking at properly. I think I missed out all the Palatine, not even realising its extent or importance. It wasn’t until Tuesday, that I bought a proper guide book.
In retrospect I realise that Rome is one place where background reading is essential. The mixture of cultures represented among the wealth of ruins is so rich and extensive that in order to fully appreciate what one is seeing, one must research. Since most of my much-reduced mental energy was focussed on just getting around Rome there was little left to deconstruct the complexities of ancient history.
What shall I say: yes the Coliseum is an extraordinary construction; so much of it still in tact and giving a unique insight into the magnificence of events taking place over 2000 years ago. One can see the lions, or the gladiators, or the chariots, racing and pacing the round arena; one can see the hustle and bustle of rich people in some of the galleries and poor people in others; one can see the multitude of personnel working below the arena, looking after the animals, opening doors, serving foods, the soldiers keeping order, the caged animals and the caged slaves. It did not of course suffer from the present day Roman authorities having decided that the giant circular construction should be a perfect traffic roundabout.
The Roman Forum is no less fascinating. Indeed with time and a good guide book I’m sure I could have imbibed much more of early Roman civilisation. I recalled the ancient Roman town site I found in Jordan. Have you seen, have you seen, have you seen this old old city, have you seen this old old city. I sang to myself as I roamed, totally alone, around the ruins. I could see the marks of chariot wheels in the flagstones of the paved roads still extant; walls of buildings, baths and arenas were all clearly visible. The site was not as important as the Roman Forum with its churches, temples, senate buildings, arches and emperors’ residences, but the experience of Jerash was much better, for having ‘discovered’ it myself, the surprise of it, of having it all to myself, of walking through it without any signs of modern life crowding in on me from all sides. I visited the Pantheon that day too. This is a rather strange bleak building. The sun shone strongly through the roof hole creating a large oval spotlight angling across the spherical space to light up the floor. I sat down quietly in this largely dark space for a few minutes, but the building was closed at two and some rather aggressive keepers came marching through and sweeping me out. Again, I must say it is an impressive piece of architecture, even had it been built today.
15 59, Tuesday 12 June 1990
On the Tuesday morning I visited the Vatican. I suppose I can’t have felt that ill. I had thought to travel out of Rome on Friday afternoon returning on Saturday which would have meant not seeing the Vatican. How could I go to Rome and not visit the Vatican. Actually, all there is to visit is St Peters and the Vatican museums. I knew about St Peters but not about the museums. I suppose I had heard of the Sistine Chapel but I cannot have known what or where it was.
St Peters and the Vatican lie just across the Tiber, not far from the central areas of Rome. Yet it is surprisingly difficult to get there, at least from where I was. As so often happened during my stay, I ended up walking miles through having taken the wrong bus or got off the right bus too early. The Vatican museums contain what must be the longest corridors I can remember anywhere, and the walk to the Sistine chapel from the entrance has to be all of a 600-700 metres. There’s a pretty amazing collection of stuff, I must confess. Lots of statues, busts, pictures, tapestries. I can’t pretend to know the first thing about any of it really. I very much liked the room full of animal sculptures, and I tried to appreciate the statues of Roman gods. The museums are swarming, really swarming with tourists in tour-guided groups. I arrived early so as to avoid the worst crowds, but I still had to race through the corridor kilometres to try and reach the Sistine chapel before the multitudes. It was worth seeing. I sat on one of the side benches, my neck straining to examine Michelangelo’s wondrous paintings. My Michelin guide described the meanings of the various pictures. In other rooms I found Raphael and Carvaggio hanging, distraught at Michelangelo’s dominance. Even my Michelin guide seems to have been entirely taken in by the name: a Michelangelo work automatically gets three stars; if he approved a work or took inspiration from it then it gets two stars, if he looked at, or was ever in the same room as, it then it gets one star. No, I jest, what would I have done without Michelin’s star system, how would I ever have been able to decide what bits of the museums to bother with?
After writing one or two postcards in the Vatican sub post-office (all these postcards arrived long before those sent through the Italian system) I caught an expensive five minute bus ride through the manicured lawns and grounds of the Vatican itself to St Peters. Here is a church and a half. I mean it is so big that you could fit St Paul’s into several times over, I guess. It is an extraordinary and overwhelming church. It is perhaps more extraordinary for being the working place of real people and real lives. Out of the museum windows one can see a carpark with a hundred or so cars, and there is the evidence of clericals wondering to and from and through the church and grounds. There is no evidence, though, that anybody within these walls sees anything at all anachronistic about having such wealth bound up in treasures when more than half the catholic world is in poor and hungry plight. It’s a busy little business here, wielding infinitely more power than anyone starting from scratch could ever conceive or invent in an imagined world.
At lunchtime on the Tuesday I meet Isla Swan. Isla is an old friend of Raoul’s but in fact knows many people from his group. I may even have met her at one of Raoul’s Earls Court parties - her face was familiar (she said the same of mine) and I suspect we may have had a long conversation at such a party. About eight years ago she moved to Rome and subsequently married her long-standing boyfriend. She works at teaching English to exclusive clients and designs clothes whenever she can get a commission. Although showing traces of age in her face, she is still an attractive, physical woman. We met three times in all; I was grateful for the easy company. The first time we just ate a snack lunch, and the second time we went window-shopping through fashionable streets in the Spanish steps area (there I finally found a shirt for Rolf - but on my return I found he had bought himself eight shirts during the week). Isla introduced me to the English book shop and the ceramics workshop of de Simone (where I bought some pieces for B, Mum and Melanie). On the third occasion, Isla came to my hotel, and we went to a small exhibition of Malinese figures from the 3rd to the 10th century. We also entered a couple of churches to examine the Carvaggios on display. As a painter, he has only recently come into fashion I suspect. Isla tells me that one church had hidden its Carvaggios in the basement for centuries since he was considered to be a painter too raw for Catholic tastes. I suspect he is a little over-rated now. He certainly paints people with less than idyllic traits, and he uses light in a strong and confident fashion, but several times I noticed that limbs of peripheral figures in his paintings were rather badly formed.
I promised to send Isla a copy of ‘Monsieur’ in order to introduce her to the Durrell’s Avignon quintet; she in turn said that next time she gave a party at her parents’ home in Woking she would invite Adam and me down. She has such a large family she’ll never want for friends and contacts. As she said to me, she’d give a party every day of her life if she had the space and the money. Oh to be that gregarious.
My business trip started with a visit to the environment ministry in Piazza Venezia. This ministry is but four years old. I had an appointment with a contact of Ellen’s but when I arrived he was unable or unwilling to speak English. He did not figure on us having a mutual language in Portuguese and was thus somewhat befuddled since he had no inkling of knowledge that was suitable for me. Fortunately for him his minister called him in and, on his return, and for the next fifteen or so minutes, he was taken up with the urgent task of trying to locate a typewriter or printer ribbon by making pressing telephone calls. At the end of that farce, he finally shifted around on his seat, leaned forward, opened up his eyes and indicated that he was more than ready to answer my queries. So I started again, trying to phrase my questions in as simple a manner as possible, but still he was flummuxed, and he re-awakened again to the fact that he was flummuxed. Then he had a brilliant idea, call in someone who knows something. Brilliant. In comes a more congenial pipe-smoking chap; he agrees to talk with me, but not until after a meeting which is about to start. Can I come back in 90 minutes. Of course, of course; no matter that I’ve already traipsed the entire length of the Vatican today, as well as half way there and half way back; for the next 90 minutes I continue my traipsing up and down the Rome hills; all the while wondering if I’ll ever survive this pig of a cold.
Most of my interviews have been organised through ENI, the state holding oil company. One woman - Paula Rosselli - organised them, and also accompanied me to the meetings. On both Wednesday and Friday, I make the trip out to the EUR suburb and the dominant ENI building. I have interviews with SNAM the gas company, Agip the oil and gas production arm, and Agip Petroli the refining concern. All of them go reasonably well, although language/cultural difficulties and political sensibilities work against me getting the depth of detail I would like. The interview with two SNAM people, for example, provides far less detail than the annual report does. Ellen Lask will do half this profile, I am only in Italy to write the oil and gas sections.
One lunchtime I meet my new Italy correspondent, Marian Bennet or Bywater. She is the wife of New Zealand’s ambassador to Italy, Spain and Portugal. His concerns, she tells me, are mostly lamb and butter, although there are occasional lighter tasks such as meeting yachting crews. I do not like Marian much, she is ambitious, professional and rather lacking in any warmth. She is somewhat self-conscious about her status as an ambassador’s wife, such that the status is important to her. She says that for a year or two, she advanced from stringing to be a Hong Kong diplomat, but then gave up a diplomatic career because her prospective husband ‘offered her a better life’ and clearly one family can’t represent two countries. We know many of the same journalists, since for years she has worked as a stringer for the McGraw-Hill newsletters (as I did). She promises to be a very adequate replacement for Ellen.
Finally, I should mention Alma Davanzo. Alma started work for ‘European Chemical News’ as an Italian stringer a little before I left. I don’t know why, but I had the impression that I knew her better than I did - I had thought, perhaps, she wrote for my ‘International Petrochemical Report’, but she didn’t. When Ellen told me she was leaving Rome, we discussed possible replacements. I mentioned Alma’s name and Ellen told me she was still in Rome. I tracked her down to Reuters but she said she had no spare time. That was the end of the conversation.
After calling her, though, she telephoned London to offer the name of a colleague who was interested in the work. When she found out I was still in Rome, she rang my hotel, only to discover it was the Ponte Sisto which she passed every day on her journey to work. Alma, then, offered to come to the hotel after work on Friday. Since I had been too weak to bother with any other contacts, apart from Isla, I was glad of the company. Also, the coincidences seemed too important to ignore. I confess I did have a rather different image of Alma than the reality. I thought of someone small, rather quiet and understated, but attractive in a simple way. The real Alma turned out to be a rather dour, tall, thin, spinsterish woman with slightly hunched shoulders and spectacles. She took me over the bridge into the Trastavere quarters where she lived. I drank a beer (she did not have to order her campari and soda as the waiter knew her too well) and gossiped about ‘European Chemical News’ and the Italian business world. I found her easy to talk to and distinctly more intelligent than her polite and subservient way of conversing would necessarily indicate. She then invited me to a Sicilian restaurant where we ate ravioli and seafood.
Isla had recommended I visit the Etruscan museum. My one attempt to do this earlier in the week had failed miserably - a long walk through the Borghese villa parks had resulted in me arriving just a few minutes before closing. I thought to try again on the Saturday morning if only I could find out how to get there. It seemed I would need to take three buses. Alma rescued me. She said she hadn’t been to the museum in ten years and would be pleased to drive me there.
We know about the Etruscans because they packed away treasures into tombs like the Egyptians. They lived in central Italy for centuries before Christ. If the pictures on their pots and their sculptures are anything to go by, they lived an idyllic existence. They seemed to have little need of gods or weapons, instead their people were always smiling, wore fine jewellery and lived in houses with exquisite ornaments. They traded Greek pots for bronze apparently, and sold their jewellery far and wide. They seem to have played a central role in linking up the cultures of Athens and Rome.
On the aeroplane flying into Gatwick, I fell victim to the most terrifying pains across my eye; the combination of a cold and the fast increasing air pressure caused one particular blood vessel to pulsate so strongly and with such pain that I thought it was going to explode. I was writhing around in my seat, swinging my head back and forth with each pulse, yet no one came or did anything. I tried to summon an hostess but it took me ages to concentrate sufficiently to catch an eye. When one did come, she only brought boiled sweets and a glass of water, and told me not to worry. I had already been trying to unblock my nasal passages throughout the descent by blowing into my closed nostrils, and by swallowing. In fact, it was only when I blew my nose that the searing pain diminished; the hostess should have advised me to do that rather than eat sweets. A and B were at Gatwick to meet me. We travelled together to Kilburn.
I should record that Caroline has now moved out of Aldershot Road. Next to Andy Komocki she was my most-long-serving lodger.
16 36, Wednesday 13 June 1990
I am at home again today. So far this week I have only been to the office for half a day. It is not as if I am skiving as I really don’t feel very well yet; I have an awful cough and besides I’m afraid of the tiredness syndrome. I feel I have a lot to do, and I need to rush around a bit. In this state I get nothing done. Today, for example, all I have done is write up the previous day’s journal notes. I talked on the telephone to Barbara and Norman Beckman about Tidy Street, and after lunch I slept. I’ve just had a bath and done a very weak yoga. Now I sit here writing and watching the World Cup Uruguay-Spain game, the last of the first round. Uruguay are playing excellent football, some of the best I’ve seen (I’ve watched bits of England, Ireland, Argentina, Cameroons, Scotland, Costa Rica, Sweden, South Korea, USA, Italy, Czechoslovakia and West Germany).
It’s all very well nearing completion on Tidy Street but there are a mass of things that need to be done on my own house here in Aldershot Road. But, before I decide to do them, I must be sure I want to stay here for the next 2-3 years. To be sure of that I need to know what I want to be doing job-wise for the next few years, and to know that I need to know what I want to be doing in the longer term. In other words, the time of decision, which I have been predicting would happen this summer, is happening. The only complication to studying the matter fully is that I should be working full-time on my thesis. I am already way behind schedule, having spent but a few days on it since the beginning of the year.
I did begin to look at my future during some idle hours in the Ponte Sisto Hotel. I imagined what I could end up as in my old age - an energy consultant, owning a newsletter business, an editor, or a novelist/non-fiction author. None of them are really mutually exclusive but for the sake of thinking about my future I need to treat them separately. These are the only realistic scenarios; I have not yet looked, although I intend to, into less realistic ones. I gave each profession a score out of ten in four categories - satisfaction, money, variety, status - and weighted the categories according to their importance. Finally, I adjusted the sum of the weighted figures according to a risk factor. This was a very crude analysis which resulted in editor or consultant as the most suitable career path to follow. However, I think I set the risk factors too high for the author and newsletter careers - this is an important exercise and I must give it more time.
There have been more and more shenanigans over Tidy Street. When I think of the ease with which I purchased both this house in Aldershot Road and the one in Aldeburgh, it seems absurd that there have been so many complications over the Brighton one. How many surveys have we had? Nigel Enever, the Halifax, the structural engineer Bennet, Andrew Taylor, the damp and rot specialists Pass, and Nigel Enever again with a timber specialist. Andrew Taylor really let us down, its report was the weakest: when we had especially asked for an accurate valuation, they just returned us the exact price at which we were purchasing the house.
Twice during these negotiations I have made the same mistake, and this must throw a questionmark over my ability to conduct such business. I twice agreed a new price for the house with Paul Bonnet having just gathered details about a latest report on the telephone, i.e. without waiting to see the written details. I did so once before seeing the written report from the Halifax surveyor - that was the agreement to go ahead at £80,000 - and once when Andrew Taylor told me it had valued the house at £80,000. Had I waited to see the written report, I would have been that much more worried about the dry rot. Because I had made such a hash of the negotiations, ultimately I could not face calling Paul Bonnet again. As a last resort I rang Enever, really only to see if we could get our money back, but he said he would go back to the house and look for the rot. He went back with a timber specialist and concluded that there was only wet rot in the house, but he readjusted his valuation by suggesting we might need to spend £7,000-8,000 to get the house up to the £80,000 price level. On the basis of this report, Barbara went back yet again to Bonnet and gazundered poor Mrs Park. We said we would not buy for a penny more than £77,000, and we would prefer that she did not go ahead with the £700 worth of works she is having done to cure the rot and the woodworm in the attic. Bonnet and Mrs Park reacted swiftly and said they were pulling out (this all while I was in Rome), and B cool as a cucumber said she was calling her solicitor. However, they didn’t pull out, and not much later in the day he returned to say Mrs Park would accept £78,400, with the £700 of work going ahead.
Now, we may well have major difficulties selling the house due to the dark basement, the rot, and the extension problems, but at least we have managed a reasonable deal in the final play. We think the house hasn’t got dry rot, and we’ve got it for £2,500 less than we thought we were going to pay. With B’s £30,000 mortgage, her £5,000 from Singh, the £46,500 from Aldeburgh (minus the various bills), she should still have a good sum left over for furniture and repairs. We will probably complete early in July.
In the world, the ex-Communist states continue to dominate the headlines; democracy unfolds along a rough and ready path. In Moscow, self-determination of the republics grows daily more probable. How complicated Europe will then be; not only will we have to cope with the East Europe states on the same basis as the West European nations but we’ll have Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia etc and all those new languages to add to those in common usage around the tourist and business trails of Europe.
About Barbara. Her exams turned out somewhat more difficult than she imagined, and it didn’t help much having to worry about all the developments on Tidy Street at the same time. Beforehand, however, we calculated that since she had done so well on her term work she would only need 20-25% in her exams to get through into the next year.
Over the last 2-3 months our relationship has been restored to its pre-Adam joys. We laugh and joke all the time. B is relaxed and confident in my loving and caring, and no longer falls easily into a depressed and defensive mood with me: my characteristic needling and bickering slide off her in good humour these days. She herself recognises this change and has even noticed some aspects of her physical condition that have returned, finally, to their pre-Adam state. Certainly, I recognise the lively laughing good-natured woman with whom I decided to bind up the rest of my life.
I talk to Adam in quiet moments and tell him how wonderful that he has the same good nature as his mother. To have a good and happy nature is a wondrous thing in life, and I am blessed to have two people in my life with such a character. At times the three of us are blissfully happy together in our own little world. One moment might be when I am sitting on the sofa, B and A are playing around me. B says lets give Daddy lots and lots of kisses, and they both creep up on me from either side and shower my cheeks with kisses. Or another moment, when Adam shows off a new word skill perfectly and both he and I receive a kiss from Barbara, and then Adam and I leave the study discussing how wonderful it is to get such a kiss from Mummy. Or other moments when a cuddle between all three of us goes on and on because Adam will let neither of us go.
19 30, Wednesday 20 June 1990
A bad week. I can’t remember quite such a bad week. Rolf has gone away to Cornwall for a week with Cathy and there is, as yet, no sign of anyone filling Caroline’s room. Two adverts in the ‘Ham and High’ have brought but two telephone calls. Today’s ad in ‘Loot’ has served better. Of about five women who phoned, two are actually coming round. There is a very interesting difference between ‘Loot’ and the ‘Ham and High’. Every single one of the callers from ‘Loot’ has been willing and wanting to talk, whereas the ‘Ham and High’ respondents are more matter of fact and tend to ask one or two peripheral questions before arranging a visit. I expect a woman called Susie in a moment, tomorrow one called Tanya. Neither sound right, unfortunately. The house is so empty without Rolf and Caroline. No one rings either, and I am still recovering from that last cold, so I have no drive to do anything. I just mooch around the house, reading and watching television. At the office, I can’t even get on with my work very efficiently; I find myself submerged in papers and cannot make sense out of the disparate sources of information. There it is, the depression looming up at me whenever the pace slows for a day or two. I am in trouble over my future, and until I sort out something, such concerns will discolour my daily life.
I have finally finished Marquez’s ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’. It is a remarkable endorsement of romance and the power of love. Such sustained narrative about such a small subject; such marvellous powers of description; yet I prefer Amado for he has a greater sense of the absurdity of real life and he has more complex things to say about people. I have given the novel to B to read because the ending is so reminiscent of a scene from our own love affair. The hero wants to know why his liner cannot go on sailing ‘forever’ backwards and forwards up and down the river with just he and his love aboard. When I was leaving for Brazil, Barbara wanted to know why our last breakfast couldn’t go on forever. I have told her not to peep, to persevere with the book, for the ending will surely delight her.
I have also recently finished an unusual novel by Peter Ackroyd entitled ‘Hawksmoor’. In theory, this is just the sort of book I would find an exciting adventure: Ackroyd has juxtaposed two stories - one in the 17th century and one in the present - with converging plots. The hero of the earlier story is Christopher Wren’s chief builder, while that of the modern plot is a detective called Hawksmoor. The two persons are clearly meant to be alter-egos, the black soul of the former corrupting that of the latter. There is a parallelism between murders in the past and murders in the present. The author uses lots of, no doubt, authentic details regarding the six or seven churches Hawksmoor built in London, and writes his 17th century story in prose of the day, which at times is difficult to follow. The novel certainly has a gothic tone, and it is cleverly constructed, but it just didn’t quite click for me. The language took too long to interpret properly, while the plots seemed too distant for much of the novel. I didn’t really understand the ending or what exactly Ackroyd was aiming for. Still, I admired the technique and the experimental nature of the novel. Wish, of course, I could do something like that.
11 23, Sunday 24 June 1990
Adam and Barbara have gone off for the morning to see B’s friend Alistair. I didn’t particularly want Adam to disappear for the morning to Wapping but I gave him the choice: to go with Mummy to visit Alistair or stay here with Daddy. He hardly hesitated in his choice to go with Mummy.
He is showing such maturity of thought already. Yesterday morning we met up with Raoul and children. At one point we passed some lavender beds and I picked off a bit so we could all smell. Adam then said, ‘I like rosemary too; but I don’t like black pepper.’ The other day, B reports, she was sitting on a bus with Adam when a very old crippled man entered the bus. Adam pointed to him and said, in a very loud voice, ‘is he dead.’
We have exchanged contracts on the Tidy Street house and should be completing a week on Monday. We will probably move on the Tuesday or Wednesday of that week. B’s parents will go to Brighton and look after Adam while B comes here to Kilburn on the Tuesday evening. We will fill a hired van with all her bits and pieces from this house and trip down to Brighton in the evening, unloading before we sleep. Then, on the morrow, we will move the furniture and boxes from Washington St, and I will drive the van back in the afternoon of the Wednesday. On the Saturday we will fly to Paris, all three of us for a short break.
I try and progress a bit with my project. I retrieve all the papers out and read through them a little but I am so distant from the subjects, my mind cannot get to grips with any of it very easily. My mind is a bag of cotton wool soaked in muddy water.
I watch the football at every available opportunity. Yesterday, I was pleased to see Cameroon beat Columbia in the first of the games in the knock-out rounds. This afternoon Brazil and Argentina play, I don’t see how I can avoid watching that match, and then this evening West Germany (the favourites) play Holland (the European champions), how can I avoid watching that also. I am in a very lethargic phase, I feel depression taking over all the time. The fact that I mention the lacklustre state of my emotions at every journal entry is only further evidence of same.
Both Susie and Tanya came round as arranged. I had fairly long chats with the both of them. Susie works as a personal assistant for an advertising agency; she has just returned to London from Sydney, and within a few days found herself a good job. She says she works quite long hours, she doesn’t have people round much, and stays in a couple of nights a week, and she was concerned about having a reasonably clean bathroom. Furthermore, she didn’t seem very desperate to move and was prepared to wait for nearly a week before ringing me again. Tanya, by contrast, proved to be quite unstable and needy. She has just bust up with her boyfriend and is consequently living at home with her mother and boyfriend. She has some money of her own since Daddy died, but doesn’t really know what to do with it. She’s studying a business course, but is also looking for a job among the ads that promise great rewards - telesales and all that. Whereas Susie is in her late twenties, Tanya is under 24 and shows it. She was very keen on the house, and cornered me into saying what I felt about her. I was rather blunt, and she went away sad even though I hadn’t ruled her out as our choice.
There was a point in my interview with Susie when I was sure I would not choose her, but our conversation carried on spontaneously, and by the end I was perhaps less sure. I already sense that she will bring no sparkle into the house, in the way that Caroline surely did.
I had hoped that someone more interesting might show up through my ads on Friday but no caller even sounded suitable enough for me to invite them round. So I am left with Susie or no one. If Rolf deigns to return sometime today I’ll discuss the situation with him but I think, as I write, I am resolving to invite Susie. She may not stay very long, and she won’t bring any complications.
I have bought a new video recorder. I sold the old Amstrad for £135. It was three years old and I’d bought it for £320. It has thus cost me about £60 a year, which is £1 a week - good value. If I had held onto it for much longer it might not have been worth anything. I now have a brand new Panasonic video worth £380. This one has a picture as good as the original, has all sorts of features including long play, indexing of new recordings, a programmable remote control unit and a bar code unit. I can programme the video to record a BBC film by simply stroking the bar-coder corner of the remote control unit across the bar code for that film in the ‘Radio Times’. Super technology. There is an awful lot of new technology which I think is crap, but every now and then new things grab my attention - this portable computer (Tosh) was one example, a video with proper indexing facility was another (the bar coding was an unexpected plus).
I await the day that I can store all my music on a hard disk - thus if I want to play a piece of music I would retrieve it in exactly the same way I do a file on this computer. I could store the music pieces in a number of different sub-directories and I would be able to call up menus with a couple of key strokes. I would be able to fill up such a hard disk by programming radio recordings, just as I now do on the video, or else I would be able to buy floppy disks full of music (all of Beethoven or the Beatles) for example, at the same sort of cost as buying a software programme. The same unit will also record and playback television programmes.
Sunday progresses - it is past midday, the phone never rings.
Paul K Lyons
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