JOURNAL - 1994 - SEPTEMBER
Monday 12 September 1994, London
A head weary day - one of those days when a light ache hangs over the brain, and I have no will or strength to do anything in particular; I alternate between reading for a while, pacing the house, listening to the radio, and sleeping. I sometimes wonder whether such blankets of heaviness are connected with the change of season. I have three layers of clothes on, but refuse to put the central heating on yet. Nevertheless, I have now managed to sit down at the computer screen. I must write something about Frederic. Here is a letter I sent to Gail, his widow:
‘Dear Gail, As I pin several of your letters together, I am astonished to see that it is five years since you first sent me a few of Fred’s papers, including some letters. Of course, I do know it is five years since his death because Adam was around two at the time, and he is now seven. But seeing your letter dated July 1989 next to one dated July 1994, made me realise, how unconscious I have been of time with respect to my dialogue with you.
After six months of increasingly pressured work, I finally finished my book about two weeks ago (I say book, but it is an A4-sized Management Report on European Union energy policies - 100,000 words and costing £265). Since then I have had a chance to examine in some detail the collection of items you kindly sent me during the summer; and I took the opportunity to look again at the earlier papers as well. I was much touched, for example, by rereading the notes you wrote for the rabbi.
The papers have sparked all sorts of thoughts and memories and I would like to share some of these with you. I do have a slight concern that you might prefer not to rake over such matters but, on balance, I decided to be a little more personal than hitherto.
All the photographs are interesting for one reason or another but my favourite is one which I already have a copy of and which is framed and on the wall in my office: the photo of Fred and my mother (Barbara L) sitting in deckchairs on Brighton pier. For more than ten years, I have been a regular visitor to Brighton and I have myself taken many photographs on and of the pier. Most recently, Adam and his mother (Barbara C) were living in Brighton, while Barbara studied at the college there.
But the photograph is an astonishing one for it was taken during the weekend in which I was conceived. I had long known that my mother was pregnant before she married, but it was only a year or two ago that she told me the full story: that she had met Fred only a few days prior to the weekend trip to Brighton! My mother’s pregnancy must have come as a huge shock to both of them and I can only guess at the anguish it must have caused them for different reasons - for Fred, not least that he was expecting to move to the US.
Then there is the beautiful portrait of Fred looking like a girl which tells a different story. Again, I only know sketchy details: Barbara L says that Dolly wanted a daughter and dressed Fred up as a girl. But whether this was over an extended period of time and how old he was, and whether it had any effect on Fred, I have no idea. The photograph though is rather haunting and one can imagine such maternal behaviour having a disturbing effect on a young child. I wonder if Fred had any memory of his pre-adolescent childhood.
My friends are astonished by the fact that I have no memory of my childhood at all. Barbara C, for example, can remember trivial details back to when she is four. Apart from one or two frozen pictures, I have no memories. My mother has always told me that there were no noticeable differences in my behaviour after Fred left but I am sure that his departure must have had a very profound impact on me. Everything I have read about child psychology, all that I have heard from or about people in similar circumstances, leads me to believe that the loss of a parent in childhood must leave deep scars. And of course my own experience now with Adam leads to me see that by three and four years old, very strong relationships have been built up with parents. I have no idea what kind of father Fred was in my first years, but my mother always said he was very charming. I found him charming when I met him, and you also say how charming and attentive he could be. Seeing my own behaviour towards Adam, it seems to me highly unlikely that Fred did not establish a strong link with me at an early age. But, as I say, I have no memory at all of such things. Given the time and the money, I might one day seek some help in exploring these things.
I am not in any way seeking to allocate blame or off load responsibility - in my twenties I did a bit of group therapy where the fashion was to scream all kinds of abuse towards parents, but I could never be carried along by it. I was always aware that our parents are as much the product of their parents as we are of ours. And by the time I reached my thirties, I was certainly clear in my own mind that, whatever the fault of my own parents and their parents, the only solutions open to an individual lay in the individual himself.
It was of enormous importance for me to meet Fred when I did, because I spent the best part of my twenties in the most excruciating turmoil. Some of it was fun, some of it experimental, some of it an enormous waste of time, but it was not until my early thirties, that I began to realise properly that the turmoil in my head was not of my own making and that, therefore, I could not correct it and might as well stop trying. I realised not only that I was probably scarred by losing a trusted, loved parent at such a young age, but that I had a brain structured by one set of genes and straightjacketed by the behaviour of a third parent with completely opposite ways of living and behaving. Thus, I likened what was going on in my head to the convergence of two rivers. Meeting Fred, and seeing how similar my own mental activity to his was, amazed me. I do not recall now whether or not I made this apparent to you both at the time or in subsequent letters. But I give you this as just one example, of how vital it was for me to have contact with Fred.
The photographs of Igee’s family in Vienna and the information that Igee’s siblings all ended up in Israel are fascinating; they open the door ever so slightly on to a vast history of people far away in time, in culture, in geography and yet with the same origins just two generations away.
And then following through Igee’s story to Berlin, and to London and eventually to the US and to Vera. What I know about Igee comes from Vera’s autobiography (which I must reread) but the old name-change papers, and the various official documents, and the correspondence over Igee’s departure from Berlin all make for fascinating reading. I was astonished to realise that he didn’t die until I was in my teens, and yet I knew nothing about him, I hardly even knew he existed. When I thought about this, I realised that, of course, there was no reason I would know: my grandmother Dolly, of course, was not going to talk about him, and the Lyons family, which had moved to the suburbs and now had two young children (Julian and Melanie), was far removed from any connection with the Goldsmiths. I think I did correspond with Fred but only rarely and in brief but I don’t think he ever mentioned Igee.
It is always embarrassing to read one’s own letters (of which there were copies among the papers) from the past, and I noted, in particular, how most of my letters to Fred during the 1970s were written on pink paper - and the colour of the paper was not the only pretension! What I find odd, in a charming sort of way, is Fred’s response to these flowery letters. I loved this which I found in one of his replies: ‘One of our problems is that I have always been able to deduce poetry from facts, never facts from poetry.’ Which brings me on, without further ado, to Fred’s writing. It seems that Fred himself was not averse to prose with an impenetrable or poetical edge.
But what strikes me forcibly is that when I was in my mid-late twenties (when I was writing those letters, and when I came to visit you), I still thought of myself as a child; the world was a playground, nothing at all was serious. I had, for example, the opportunity to marry a beautiful and rather well connected Argentinian woman. But I could not even contemplate such a thing, let alone go through with it; I was so far away from adulthood, and things serious. And yet, I see Fred, my father, at the same age, marrying, having a child, and getting published two adventure novels, with more than a little aplomb. (I started writing in my mid-twenties, and I know how hard it is to construct, to write, to finish, and then to sell a full novel.) I know Fred had Vera’s help on one of them (and her name must have helped make the connection with the publisher) but nevertheless I see it as a huge achievement, one I certainly have not been able to match, much as I would wish to.
I read ‘Murder in Mayfair’ in the British Library many years ago - and more recently I picked up a copy in a jumble (or garage) sale. But I had not seen a copy of ‘The Smugglers’ until I received it from you. I read it during the summer, and much enjoyed it. I wonder what Fred thought about these two books in his later life. Some of the scenes and dialogue are quite hackneyed by today’s standards, but I imagine in the 1950s they were considered modern.
Both these books must have been written when I was a small child - I don’t know how Fred found the time, energy or discipline, because I found life exhausting when Adam was the same kind of age, and I was ten years older than Fred was, and I had financial stability.
‘The Fairest One Of All’ is a very different work. I had never heard about this manuscript at all (but I suppose there is no reason why I should have done). I have only read a small part but, despite the criticisms from the publishers, it seems to me an impressive achievement and does show off far more literary skills than either of the two published novels and more than I was aware of. It seems, though, that Fred was unable to marry the narrative drive with a literary form. This I suppose takes perseverance, and, from what you say, he never quite had the obsessive discipline that becoming a major writer requires. The last sentence of the second criticism: ‘He could do something big’ must have echoed away at him for a long time.
I have to admit I was also impressed by his various curriculum vitae; Barbara L has always downplayed Fred’s various accomplishments, and I had not realised how much Fred had actually done in the film industry. I’m sure he was a master at extending his CVs to a maximum, but, nevertheless, he seems to have been deeply involved in different aspects of the industry at different times. It must have been an exciting time. [. . .]
I feel I have rambled on too long now, and I should draw to a close. I am very happy to have the books, photos, and manuscripts. They do, in fact, help fill the void of my past and give some concrete form to what went before me. Dolly, Igee, Vera, Mike, and, of course, Fred may all have been flawed individuals in their own way, just as we all are, but they were possessed of rich characters and led interesting and, at times, exciting lives. On the one hand they throw into depressing relief the narrowness of my own life; but, on the other hand, I feel a part of them, a part of their life, a part of their lives, rubs ever so slightly off on to me and occasionally gives an extra firmness, an extra spring to my stride. [. . .] Gail, do keep in touch, Lots of love’
10 53 Saturday 17 September 1994, London
No post this morning. The 3,000 mailing for the book went out a week ago, I have had two orders - one from Japan and one from Switzerland - both of them subscribers. There have also been three enquiries for copies of the newsletters, and two telephone enquiries - from the RIIA and Friends of the Earth - for free copies. It has been hell seeing such a minimal response. As 8:30am approaches in the morning, my mind is thinking about the post non-stop; if I am taking Adam to school, then I know that the post will be on the mat by the time I return and I am thinking about it all the way back. If I go out of the house for half an hour, I think about the fax machine, and hope that there will be something waiting for me when I return. Even as I sit at my desk my mind keeps hoping that I’ll hear the characteristic click of the fax machine. It has gone a couple of times this week and I tease myself to see how long I can wait before stretching over to take a peek at the emerging paper. Things are so bad in the deep recesses of my brain, that the other night when B woke me early in the morning, I clearly remembered my dream in which the fax machine had just begun to click. The horrible, horrible facts are that to make my target of 100 sales on the book (and I have not targeted any sales for the newsletter) I need to get one order every single working day between now and Christmas - that would be about 70 and then I could get the rest next year, more leisurely.
I still have not seen the book; I should get my 150 copies on Monday. Jack Da Costa, of Da Costa Print, promised to ring me yesterday and confirm this, but he didn’t.
We seem to have run into a major problem with Alliance & Leicester Estate Agents in Brighton. Our contact there, Peter Gladwell, refuses to answer our calls. We agreed to reduce our price by £2,000 - the buyer wanted £6,000 off - and we haven’t heard from him since. I sent a telefax during the week saying we were withdrawing our £2,000 reduction and asking for confirmation that our house was back on the market. Still we have not heard from him.
Adam continues to grow up into the most beautiful and delightful boy. He has charm, intelligence, good looks; he is sporty and competitive, but not too much; he is generous and funny; he is never bored at home and responds as well to being given things to do as to finding things to do on his own. This morning he is finishing off his summer project. The end product will be quite an achievement. Although he found it quite hard work and sometimes would have preferred to do something else, he is very happy with the outcome. The same is true for his holiday diary, which we only finished the other day. Actually doing it was a difficult discipline but he keeps saying to himself how nice it will be to have when it is finished, and it is, he loves having his holiday diaries. This last one was special, for being the first that he wrote himself, and for containing photographs that he took with his new camera.
I had wanted Adam to learn to ride a bike this summer, but when it came to buying him a new bike I couldn’t decide what size or type to buy; and also it has been a problem that there is nowhere for him to ride it properly. I let him ride the old bike on the pavement and told him that if he could ride it to the bottom of the road without falling off I would buy him a new one. One day he was out playing with a boy, whose Dad works at the furniture shop on the corner. Adam borrowed his bike and practised for ages; by the end of the afternoon I could see him riding it properly, so I bought him a new bike round the corner a few days later. A smart sparkly red affair with short handlebars and mountain bike tyres - £75 no less - but there is nothing cheaper in Toy-R-Us or John Lewis. I am ever so proud watching him ride round the park, enjoying his new found skill.
He has also learnt to tie his shoelaces. After games, when he had to ask a friend to do his shoelaces, one of the schoolteachers told him to learn by the next day. I asked him if it was embarrassing to ask a friend to tie his laces but he said no. That evening, B spent an hour teaching him how to do it, and by the time he went to bed he could do a one-loop knot. But, of his own accord, he practised in the morning and proudly came to show us his two-loop knots.
Ads is now in the Juniors at Emmanuel School with a Miss Oliver as teacher. On Mondays, his class goes to a proper playing field for games; on Wednesdays it goes to Swiss Cottage swimming pool for swimming lessons; and on Friday they go there again for a gym lesson. Ads has also started recorder lessons.
During the week, I went to the first PTA meeting of the new school year. There was quite a crowd but it was far less interesting than the governors meeting last term. There was a bit of a scuffle over the re-election of John Innis as the PTA secretary. The teachers were at the meeting in force and made a half-hearted attempt to block John Innis. Mr Taylor wanted the parents to be given a clearer chance to put forward nominations and vote for a different candidate. Miss Goddard argued forcibly that John puts a lot of time and effort into the job and that it would be hard to find anyone else. Miss Oliver and Mr Page chirped in supporting Mr Taylor but without much success. It held up the meeting for half an hour and many of the new parents must have been somewhat bemused by the tussle. To my mind, the younger teachers recognise that the PTA is a closed shop and they would like to see it opened out. But this entails organisation and, unfortunately, John is not a good organiser, he is good doer. I wondered whether to open up the debate and suggest that the PTA make a more determined effort to involve other parents but the school is small, and Miss Goddard is already over-worked; having a good relationship with John is very important. On the whole, the current PTA does very well in terms of making money; it is another question as to how important it is, for the PTA to act as a social network for parents and not just as a money-making machine. I decided it would not be worth while to provoke a deeper debate; any change would inevitably involve endless committee discussions and I doubt there is a sufficient number of interested parents to keep the momentum going.
I put myself down for the committee which will organise the 150 year celebrations. This little school does not have much going for it but the fact that it is 150 years old next year is worth celebrating. I thought it might be interesting to find some old photographs and set up a small exhibition - then and now, or something similar. Otherwise, we voted through the payment of some PTA money for new books and for a portable tool chest.
Now that the book is out of the way, I am slowly returning to a more normal and banal existence - reading, yoga, keeping my bedroom tidy, cooking supper in the evening, writing my journal. I have nearly finished Stephen Pinker’s book ‘The Language Instinct’. This is quite a remarkable book for being so readable and accessible, almost overwhelmed with anecdotes and examples. His main thesis is that there must be a genetic component underlying human language capability. He argues persuasively from every corner of relevant science, not just linguistics, and slowly builds up a mountain of evidence. However, it is not an academic book and no matter how much information you bring to an argument the information needs to be scientifically sound. I get the impression that a lot of the book’s evidence is based on one interpretation of current knowledge and that too often that interpretation is insubstantial, or, indeed, anecdotal. The book is more like a magazine or newspaper which tries to persuade a maximum number of unscientific people to believe in his thesis by appealing to them through as many different channels of persuasion as he can muster. I have yet to read the final chapter and remain somewhat agnostic. Certainly, he has persuaded me, I think, that there may well be more to language than education, but what is that ‘more’ - a language gene?
18 14 Sunday 25 September 1994, London
Afflicted by an ‘orrible cold. This was a quick-kill virus - sore throat one morning, sneezing all the next day, and total wipe-out on the third day. I took the sickly green gunge - glug glug - Night Nurse for two nights in a row and was thus able to get a good night’s sleep. Today, although I’m stuffed up a bit, I’ve felt OK, and I should be able to work properly tomorrow. A had the cold during the week and stopped off school for a couple of days, and B had a light version too. Consequently, we haven’t done very much this weekend. I had planned to go to the Peak District with Adam for three days but the sore throat came just in time to stop me from making a booking at Castleton Youth Hostel (which I would have had to pay for). We will try to do some walking next weekend instead - I have a pile of maps and Peak District books stacked up on the table waiting, waiting.
Two weeks have now passed since the first mailing for the book went out, and I must admit to being hugely disappointed. Two orders came in by fax within three days and seemed to promise for a good response. But then everything went almost dead. The National Grid rang to say they would be ordering two copies, and I got a fax from Slovenia ordering the newsletter and two copies, but I don’t think they are going to pay. There has been no full-price order at all. Just to make a reasonable return on my time, I need to sell 100 full-priced copies. In total I am only going to distribute some 20,000 brochures, so I need five full-priced orders or ten half-priced orders for every 1,000 brochures. There were 3,000 in the first mailing and it looks so far like four half-priced orders, not 30. And even more depressing, is that no single subscriber has bought a copy from the advert on the back page of the newsletter offering it for half price. I truly expected a few forms to be faxed in within a week of the newsletter going out, but not one has come. It is as though I have given it my best shot, and missed the target completely.
Between Wednesday and Friday, I sent out over a hundred press releases to UK and European journals and energy correspondents. Some UK mags will certainly have received the information on Friday, but did I get a single call or request for a review copy? No. Nil. Zero. Ziltch. This is all terrible depressing.
Now that the book is out of the way, I have used free time to sort through my ancient writings and journals and index them properly. I am astonished to see how little I have written since Adam’s birth. I suppose there was the MSc and then the Management Reports; but essentially I put a lot of energy into my FT job and into Adam and there wasn’t much left. I have reread The Novel, of which there are 50 pages set in the early 1980s. The manuscript stops at the crucial point of the one-year old child’s disappearance. I never managed to find a convincing way of continuing the plot. The text, though, does not read too badly. I don’t think it is possible to write a novel now set ten years ago. I would have to try and lift it into the 90s in some way, but I know so little about this decade, I am so far away from the lives of others.
Monday 26 September
I watched half an hour of the old ITV series ‘The World at War’, now being shown on BBC2. The episode covered the winter of 1940 and the bombing of London. 20,000 people died in the bombing raids, and 100,000 people or more were made homeless. Fires raged and destruction was everywhere, people slept in bomb shelters and in the underground and persevered in appalling conditions. The programme used a montage of amazing film clips taken at the time, and brought home so strongly, how far removed our generation is from such carnage; how peaceful and prosperous our times are.
Paul K Lyons
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