PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1984 - MARCH
Monday 5 March
I've been here in this house a year. I feel like I'm never going to be alive again. Each day, I slip further into the well of comfort.
Give us a war And we will march again For life Instead of Instead of Instead of
Bernard Levin in 'The Times' writes on the ability of rats to evolve defenses against superpoison. This reminds me of my own novel project about rats and the underground, but a great dullness envelopes me, and I can't even summon up the small amount of will and habit that used to produce occasional short stories.
A slim slimy brown turd sticks to the near vertical white ceramic of the toilet bowl apparently unwilling to slip or slide down into the water. It is the shape of a caterpillar I saw earlier this morning eating a hebe leaf.
We went to Lyme Regis. I've long wanted to go there, imagining that it was some Bath-like place on the south coast - Georgian terraces overlooking the sea with cliffs nearby. Instead it's an over-rated over-sold curly steep high street with a couple of tea shops and small fishing harbour, notorious for no other reason than it's called The Cobb. Up at four in the morning, to drive half way across England for this. Pretension at its geographical worst.
Tuesday 6 March
It was an uneventful weekend really. No magic. No discoveries. Trapped into movement for fulfilment. There was Bridport with its junk/antique market trailing through the village streets. I bought some book-ends carved out of yellow marble to resemble sleeping Mexicans, and two green glass candle holders. After the disappointment of Lyme Regis we raced back to Bridport to a stamp and postcard fair. But there is no joy in collecting postcards by buying them from dealers. Each of them had dozens and dozens of catalogues - birds, humour, boats, Tuck, etc. Where's the fun in that. The pleasure is in the discovery of gems amidst the dross of an auction lot. After Bridport we raced on to Weymouth which turned out to be most interesting, with narrow set shopping streets, a wide bay front and a charming marina in the estuary of the outflowing Wey. Dusk was blinding us as we strolled and the shops - even the teahouses - were closing on us. Against Barbara's wishes I raced on to Swanage anxious to organise things so that the morning of the morrow would be entirely car-free.
Wednesday 7 March
I write only four pages of 'The Rats', two on the birth of a rat and two on the fantastic disappearance of Jesse Barton. But I am at a loss to write properly about Jesse Barton because I need to know how men dressed, what they talked about, who the political leader was, and where the mining took place. It will help if I go to the library and use the newspapers of the day. I did not mean this to be an historical novel, but it needs some authenticity.
I miss my politics class this week choosing to drink with my work team, John and Andy and Jenny. We're a pretty down and out bunch for one reason or another, and it showed as we skulked over our glasses in the dive of a wine bar.
Saturday 10 March
A pungent odour developed upstairs during the week. I was nose-keen everywhere trying to trace it. For days, I thought it was the drains and bleached them to high heaven, but the smell persisted. This morning we discovered the source - a dead rat curled up by the base of the hot water tank, hidden by the bright red lagging. It was foul. The rat catcher came and placed more poison but would not promise the problem was over. It happens all the time, he said, that rats die beneath the floorboards, but the smell doesn't last that long.
I mentioned to John at work that I was thinking of going on one of a sewer walk and he said ' Oh no you're writing one of them Victorian gothic novels where everybody gets chased through the sewers.' Perhaps I should be looking at Sherlock Holmes.
Why do people cross their legs when sitting down? Is it to do with breathing?
The Gulf War stinks. The Iranis are using teenagers to fight their war, and the Iraquis, when they capture them, force them to converse with Western journalists. The Iraquis are using chemical agents to resist the strong Irani incursions. When the Iranis bring home their wounded with chemical wounds, the Swedish International Peace and Goodwill and Neutral States and Altruistic Red Cross look-alikes carry them off to Swedish laboratories for extensive tests and photographs for the Western press to know.
Wednesday 14 March
We talked about Africa last night at Caleb's politics class. He brought along a huge schoolroom map dating from the days before the Commonwealth had completely disintegrated. There was Tanganyika and Rhodesia proudly displaying their pink British colours. He brought the map to show us how artificial and preposterous the boundaries were/are. He went on to provoke us by showing how the British government had imposed constitutions on states it was withdrawing from when Britain itself had no constitution. Nevertheless, following the independence of Ghana there was a first ever all-Africa congress at which was passed a resolution recognising the boundaries extant at the time (1950s) on the basis that it would be plainly impractical to change them. Surely, the future will see a growth of independence movements and a mushrooming of smaller states.
Judy mentions that Cowper Powys wrote about Dorset - a book called 'Weymouth Sands'. In the week, I see John Sessions - new wave comic extraordinaire - and notice that he did a PHd on Cowper Powys. At Camden Library, I find two copies his books on the shelves. Reading the back of one of them, I notice a reference to the stones of Chesil Beach. Only 10 days ago I was on Chesil Beach early in the morning. Bel, in remembrance of our laying together, took a pebble not even knowing then that it was was called Chesil.
Budget day came and went and Lawson's sitting cocky cos the press called him imaginative. He even reduced duty on wine, but put VAT on takeaways.
Doesn't time fly when you're having fun. It's almost 1pm and the continental brokers will be back from lunch so I should return to the phone. Jenny had dinner with HH. He offered her a job in Houston which she didn't accept. He also told her he was also looking for somebody in Brazil. Pow. Well, she said Paul was looking for a job there. But she wouldn't tell me what he said then!
Monday 19 March 1984
As I shuffle newspapers around this morning so a magazine slips to the floor from one of the Sundays. A wave of pleasure washed over me for a fraction of a second. As it subsided I recalled the sensation, coming from adolescence or earlier, when the 'Beano' would slip so cleanly, so freshly from within the 'Daily Mail'.
I wrote some pages of 'The Rats' yesterday. I was the rat - youthful and arrogant and the words flowed. But how much use will they be? Colin Wilson was on 'Start the Week' spouting off a dozen theories to the sentence. I do believe he talks a lot of rubbish. He abounds in popular ideas that are simplifications. Still, they're fun and he talks convincingly, using examples as arrows to pierce your shield of cynicism. But I mention him only because he mentioned how rats turn criminal in conditions of overcrowding.
I visit R on Sunday. Marsha is there in bed with some public school wally who only knows how to puff smoke and hold a glass. R's house becomes chaotic as he revels in bachelorhood. He reminds me so much of myself in Fordwych Road: people everywhere (loving the guests, but moaning at their excesses), friends made in the street, different women between the sheets. We swap tales of sexual delights - though his are current and mine are drawn from the past. I recalled a night with M (which I'd dreamt of last week) when we made love covered in blood, partly from her period and partly from a nose bleed I had.
I go to Amsterdam next week.
'Mireille' by Gounod awaits me at the library.
Wednesday then! I woke about 7:00, half an hour before my alarm but didn't get up until 7:30. I made tea and then read 'Weymouth Sands'. About 20 minutes in the lounge with the Portuguese tapes and doing yoga. I stopped the yoga for about 10 days while I had a cold and the ligaments at the back of my knee and my spine have stiffened up again.
I am not anxious to go to work, and think to take the morning off. I am seeing Sasha at 12:30 and I'll only have to cycle back from Green Park to Baker Street. I ring the office hoping not to get Jim but sure enough he answers. I tell him a bare-faced lie, the gas men are traipsing through my house. For the rest of the morning, I spray my garden with pesticide and take Colin to libraries to find a workshop manual on Audis in order that he can tamper with my car's timing. We first try Kilburn library. It is closed on Wednesday. Next we try the Camden library in Cottsleigh Road. What library? It has had its innards pulled out and is being completely refurbished. I cycled to Gloucester Place, stopping briefly at the Marylebone Library to discover a good music library, but no workshop manuals. Sasha told me about his trip to Antigua and Jamaica and about his planned trip to India. He has been fired with enthusiasm by watching 'Jewel in the Crown'. Spontaneously he offered me the flat in Antibes and I am now thinking about asking Barbara to come for a week. Driving through Provence would be more fun with somebody. Then I did finally go to the office for a few hours.
Back to Wednesday. I have no idea how I occupied three hours in the office. Just before 6:30 I cycled off to the Coliseum to meet Luke. I felt slightly niggled that he was late leaving me to Q for the £6 standby tickets - the same happened last time. Britten's 'Gloriana' was not very good and the theatre was very warm and very crowded. The production was dull, and rather lifeless, the set lacked imagination and inspiration. Only the star cast and the superb singing (with the exception of Mountjoy) redeemed the evening. In the intervals, before and after the music, we talked of women - as usual. I try to persuade Luke for the nth time to come to Amsterdam - but he will not.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days, all the days of my life.
Last night I taped the last two acts of Gounod's 'Mireille' which Mike had introduced me to in Paris. It starts so light and Provencal and finishes so tragically. At the same time, I watched 'World in Action' and 'Heart of the Dragon'. An interview with Sarah Tisdall on the former was unexpectedly compelling. Tisdall was jailed for six months a few days ago for leaking documents to 'The Guardian'. To a man, the papers have editorialised against such a heavy sentence. She herself is rather plain with a quirky nervous voice and lisp, and smiling lips. Her eyes roll around revealing an odd intensity. She spoke clearly and precisely about her belief that the minister, whose documents she had leaked, was acting in a way to avoid proper parliamentary debate. The documents concerned the arrival of US-made cruise missiles.
I send cards to Ann, Angela; and, from Amsterdam, to Annie and Bel.
A very uninspired time here in Amsterdam. Lara, a friend of Cynth's, was full of bubbles. In a conversation about pop stars she told us that when she was a teenager she used to stand in her garden waiting for the wind to blow from the south of England in order to imagine that maybe one molecule, just one molecule of air was coming from the presence of John Lennon. Later, Tish and Cynth and I walked the puddle-filled streets of tourist-town in search or a nasi goreng. Tish led the way, Cynth followed wobbling along the cobbles on her high heels trying to avoid splashing her dark tights or pale fifties dress.
I sit having coffee in Amstel station preparing to dine with Jim Brittijn of Fluidiks - do I dare imagine that I'm looking forward to some intelligent conversation after a night with the girls.
Bel brings me a translation of the French version of the Provencal poem Mireille.
The weather has turned cold on us again. The very thought of the bitter wind outside gives my chest a thrill of pain.
Judy and Rob came over this afternoon to see whether they might want to rent my upstairs room.
Paul K Lyons
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