2 August 1986

I am back in Rio - this land of hedonism. The sun shines brilliantly - the Copacabana sports its bodies, athletic and lazy, as ever. I stroll along the water line breathing in the air. Life in England by comparison is so claustrophobic, dark and dusty.

3 August 1986

I had intended to write a journal in London and bought a book for the purpose. I think I wrote one line, after that I made no attempt whatsoever. And now, back in Rio, I realise how healthy it was: for a whole month I wrote absolutely nothing (barring a short letter to newspapers and one to the builders). In London my mind was not sharp - I must have stopped thinking and disciplining myself. I filled up all the spaces and barely had time for reflection. There was also very little to stimulate me. It would be true to say nothing inspired me to write. I could let the month disappear, but, as this had not been my intention, I will now try and capture some moments of the holiday - this will be best done through people. Overall, though, it was a good holiday reinforcing most of my friendships. My regrets are a) that I did not pick up any substantial new business and b) that I didn’t meet any new people - all friends selfishly keeping me to themselves.

Julian collected me at the airport - the flights were astonishingly punctual. I had managed to waltz through customs without anyone taking the slightest notice of my flowers. I was fairly certain they could be taken away from me; and, later, others confirmed that my fears were founded. It was about mid-day when we arrived at Aldershot Road. My first thought was to go straight round to Mum’s but Julian persuaded me to wait until the evening when the family would be assembled and all would be able to enjoy the surprise. So I idled the afternoon away with my house, climbing up into its dark empty brain to retrieve a few possessions. Barbara rang to delight me and confirmed she would be at Mum’s that evening. Each time I thought of the surprise to come [my mother’s birthday], a smile would break out on my face. In the evening, we were deliberately late to make sure everyone would be there. I was sure Mum would have guessed because Julian, in his inimitable way, had nearly let the cat out of the bag. At least he had confessed an error. Apparently, a week or so previously, he had told Mum about a telephone conversation with me. Mum had asked why I had rung. Julian had said to fix a dentist’s appointment. Whoops. He covered it up well, though, by saying I wanted it for September. Still, I thought Mum would suspect.

Then, when the telephone rang that evening to summon Julian to the gathering, Julian said sharply WE’RE coming. I thought it was Mum on the other end, but it was Melanie. At 22 Hodford Road, Mel answered the door - everybody but Mum (and Yarn) knew I was coming. Mum was out in the garden with her guests. I hid my face with the Bird- of- Paradise flowers and arrived right at the table. I could see Mum’s eyes flashing from this moving figure with flowers to Julian ready to complain at his lateness. Already half tippled she did not register who or what the moving flowers could be. Her reaction was smashing, several shrieks and jumps in the air - the whole world laughing, Yarn unbelieving, I grinning till it hurt. Welcomes all round. Mum completely glazed, dazed flummoxed. My doubts as to the validity of the surprise were in vain. Thereafter, the evening proceeded with pleasure and joy for all (though Yarn kept repeating - marvellous, marvellous - making me think he was thinking how lucky Barbie was, as none of his own children would do that).

Barbara was looking lovely in a new outfit, also full of smiles, enjoying the surprise every bit as much as Mum and I. It was lovely to see Mum again though she seems to get rounder and rounder. She had prepared a delicious buffet. After that she came round for tea at the weekend and I met her in Hampstead for lunch on Tuesday. I think she is happy working at the ‘Ham & High’, although she is worked hard she is part of a team and respected as such. The management take an interest in her and reward her with praise. For a young woman, I can imagine it would be a deadly dull job with no future and no perks, but for Mum it is a lifeline, to be doing a job in which she is wanted and useful, especially after the years working in a shop where she was constantly battling with the managers. I do hope the job lasts. Both her men friends, Yarn and Bob, are oddballs demanding more than they give. Yarn had a heartache which sent Mum scurrying to the hotel (I suppose I mean ‘hospital’ not ‘hotel’, but Yarn does go there a lot). At the weekends, Mum still gets depressed without much to do. Perhaps now she may take courage and join a group or two.

On Wednesday, she took Barbara and I to see ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at Regent’s Park - it was a warm pleasant evening and the production was warm, pleasant and engaging. Mum must have been feeling flush and in need of culture because she had bought in advance three pairs of expensive tickets for Regent’s Park and five for the Proms, which I reckon is over £100. She does get much pleasure from ‘going out’.

I saw her several more times. At Melanie’s birthday barbecue, for breakfast one morning, and for tea one afternoon with Barbara, the day we had been to Tring. She was sitting at home with six freshly bought Danish pastries and no one to eat them: when we rang, she was sad so we marched over to her for tea instead of making it at Barbara’s. One day, also, Mum and I went to B’s for tea. She too had over-bought on the pastries. I do believe Barbara likes my Mum even more than I do. But I worry about her, I cannot see how she can live for very long - giving no regard to her weight, smoking, and regular drinking. I suppose she is not badly off, she has money, a job, three grown-up children, a house, and a dog, a garden. Her life could be fuller but it could be a lot more empty too. On the Thursday she came with me to the airport, we sat in the smoky crowded airport bar, Barbara and Julian were there too.

I was surprised by how fully and busy Julian’s social life has become - so full and busy we only spent one evening together. As a birthday present he had bought me two tickets for Britten’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’. It seemed churlish to take anyone else so he profited from his own present. I feel a responsibility yet to turn him on to Britten. The music and singing were glorious, yet now I can not remember one of the singers nor the producer. In any case the production was rather iffy, there was no core rationale behind the scaffolding which doubled and trebled for walkways, lares and fairy dens, and the oddly-shaped metal sheets with holes in them hung from the ceilings and moved backwards and forward across the stage to denote different parts of the forest (by the different formations of treetops) - just did not work.

[There was a] new girl in his life - Sarah. When I arrived the affair had only just begun and Julian was still on tenterhooks, whilst I was there it progressed through the involved stage and J was spending about three nights a week with her. He talked about her in such glowing terms that by the end of my stay I was predicting a spring marriage. I met her briefly - a tall, blonde attractive nurse, still young, only 21.

I met three of his friends several times. F, the model, who reminded me of Jenny - the terribly-easy-to-be-with-type. C, the teacher, also easy to be with for he does all the talking, how can he find so much to say. Of the three, S, though is much the most entertaining and intelligent. He has a wit one can be jealous of. (It was S who was having an affair with the girl, T, I met at Nice airport some time ago, and who consequently - in view of his friendship with J - gave me reason not to pursue a date with the woman.)

The only other times I was in company with Julian was during two dinners with Dad and one with Mum. The evenings with Dad, he played his role well talking about work and people in an ‘in’ sort of way and dutifully engaging Michele in conversation when no one else would. Dad is certainly proud of how well his son is doing and has promised to put him on the board of directors later this year - also a sporty car is on the cards. At Mum’s he is dutiful and attentive. He takes the dogs for the walk and cleans up the dinner things, but he doesn’t arrive at her house without a bag full of dirty washing! I always feel Mum is more willing to be exploited by Julian because she has a greater emotional hold over him - I used to get stick for eating up the leftovers in the fridge when I came round. It really didn’t make any difference to me, I just liked to come round for a reason and do something (grab a bite to eat) than do nothing in particular. But for many years now I have avoided any real emotional entanglement and I suppose that gives me less right to exploit.

5 August 1986

On the surface, I am healthy and even interested to be back in Rio, but I had not been here but a few hours when a melancholy burden attached itself to me as though I had never been away. This does not seem to me to be a simple case of melancholy blues but a deeper, more profound business altogether. Am I just lazy and unwilling to begin work again? So slowly do I sort my papers, ever reluctant to actually begin doing something. There is also the oppression of fighting the competition - ‘Nucleonics Week’ has gone to Robert Townley, while I see from ‘Oilgram’ that Hank has gone to town on his oil reporting. Already I am stuck into my routines - the same ones. There is a vague air of freshness in my head but melancholy looms over it.

Back to London

It is true I had been upset by Barbara’s unwillingness to take a small holiday with me, but I bore no resentment. I thought perhaps she might really have had a boyfriend or decided definitely not to see me. I was thus delighted when she rang on Thursday and said she would be going in the evening to Mum’s. That first evening I did not stay with her but I felt the warmth and affection had not gone (did I ever seriously doubt they could have?). The following evening (my second) I found myself alone. I resisted the temptation to call her, neither Raoul nor Judy were available, so I stayed in and watched television. Julian was out jaunting with Sarah. As the evening wore on, I slowly became iller and iller. It was that awful pain that comes from food poisoning. Once, about midnight, I vomited it all up, but the pain continued to return, and then I had to shit. All night long, I was in and out of the toilet in a terrible state. Perhaps I shat 20 times. Usually this sort of poisoning produces a cycle of pain - vomit - calm - growing pain - vomit - etc. But this time (and I’ve never had this before) it was pain- shit - calm - growing pain - shit etc.

In retrospect, I realise that the milk of magnesia I took to settle my stomach probably contributed in a large part to the acute diarrhoea as I already had lose bowels and the milk is a laxative. Incidentally, Mum reckons her father’s death was partly attributable to milk of magnesia. He suffered from chronic indigestion so took the remedy every day of his life. In the end he died of kidney or liver failure and Mum reckons the milk of magnesia clogged the organ up. But this is away from my topic. Barbara had boasted in her sweet way that she gets up at 5 every morning. So, as soon as 5am came round, I called to ask if I could go over to see her. Of course. Of course. I staggered across Kilburn to the West Hampstead address I know so well. For several hours, I was still in horrible pain, somehow Barbara managed to pour sympathy into the bottomless well of my need and also to administer the right drug - Kaolin and Morphine mixture. What adorable sweetness that woman is. I tried to encourage her to talk about her relationships, but she wished to be secretive. I later confirmed this was intended both to intrigue me and also to hide her disappointment that she had not managed to find another boyfriend - partly because she knows I want her to experience other relationships and she is embarrassed to confess she hasn’t yet.

I was weak all day - sleeping mostly. In the evening, I trekked across to the Lyric Hammersmith theatre with Barbara’s support to see a programme of Elliot’s poetry read by famous names. There was a narrator, much the most interesting part, and three readers. I only remember one of them, Edward Fox. Indeed, it was he who managed to give some life to the complex meanings; the other two read as though they weren’t sure of the meaning. Elliot’s poetry is hard enough to read, but to listen to is a trial when the body is craving sleep and the mind simple dreams. We left at the interval.

On the Sunday morning, before Barbara rushed off to her bird watching course, we became intimate, [and] if I had had any doubts that Barbara sill loved, still adored me they were dispelled. Yet she retained a certain reticence to do some travelling with me. I tried hard to persuade her to come to the Peak District. Commitments at work made it impossible for her to take a week off, but, also, she didn’t want to - she was determined to keep the distance she had established during my absence. I, the cad I am, continued to tempt her.

The following Sunday we drove down to Salisbury. It was not a terribly successful day. It started well, for we chanced on an early car boot sale and bought some silver spoons and a crateful of unspoilt records. We arrived just in time to see Mary and Roger and the ever-so-tall Daniel on their way out. We arranged to come back later. But our hours driving around the countryside found us neither a pleasant walk nor a passable country inn to lunch at. Later, Mary and I talked about family while Barbara went to visit one of her friends nearby.

Tuesday afternoon

‘The Rite of Spring’ on cassette - I am easier writing up the pathetic details of my life than starting to work. The sun streams across my desk. Maria has cooked food and now finishes the cleaning. Where is my enthusiasm? Such freedom never did man possess. Why did I have to go to Corsica to write, what is wrong with here and now. I am this empty head, looking for straw to fill it. My head itches constantly - I have more spots on my chest than ever before.

Seagulls squawking. I don’t remember them. Where have they come from? reminding me of the white cliffs of Dover.

We took another day trip the following Saturday. I really had looked forward to visiting the Tring auctions. I’m not quite sure why, perhaps in the expectation of buying a mystery box of books or objects or finding a useful article of furniture - or perhaps just to relive the happy days of my first year in Aldershot Road and the buying sprees with Barbara. Not only has the extent of the auction expanded to over 1,000 lots, stretching across more of the cattle pens than I remember, but there were also many more people - and many city folk, not just locals and dealers. Time has spread the word, I thought, though Barbara suggested it might just be a function of the summer. So, we stayed for very few lots and drove blindly into the countryside, just looking and experiencing the roadside. I am so in love with the British countryside, it is ordered, so tame, so full of interest, so aesthetic, so pleasant to be part of. Brazilian wayside is so rough, so scruffy, so unkempt, so uncared for, un-beautiful, unpleasing to the eye, and always the same. The most pleasant part of the day was lying in a field wallowing in the wind of silence and the silence of the wind. Barbara walked while I lay, smells of grass and farm around.

The two day trips were then like an overture for our weekend away in the Peak District. This was what I most wanted to do on my holiday - how could she refuse me. I hired a car, borrowed books from the library, sorted out my ordnance survey maps of the district, and Barbara squeezed the Monday off work for a holiday. We left at 6:00am on Saturday by 9:00am we were in Ashbourne, in the heart of Derbyshire, talking to estate agents, and taking tea with cakes. Much of the area we travelled round was tamer than I remember - but not much developed, lots of wide open spaces, unmodernised villages of grey stone, promising hardship in the winter. We drove through Brassington where a small house for sale attracted us.


Why do I put this here? I have just found it in the fridge hoping to kill off the weevils that had begun to eat it. This is my favourite postcard of all time. It sums up in one picture my dream (which has nothing particularly to do with sailing). I have often wanted to send it to Barbara but knew that I could not, for it would not be fair. I also stick it down here because now I don’t think I will find anyone to send it to. The weevils are eating it - they know!

Three nights in a row I go to sleep before 10pm - no one to talk to, nothing inspires me to do. The nervous tick has returned to my eyelid, it was completely absent in London.

Later we saw the house was going for only £22,000. From Brassington on through the lovely Matlock Bath to Matlock itself. The rest of the morning spent inside estate agents looking for bargains. Many of the cheapest places were at Wirksworth. We had bypassed that town for I felt it was a dingy industrial suburb of Derby. But for the lack of a key we would have gone back to Brassington, as it is we didn’t look at any houses instead we drove on in search of walks and spectacles, and a little later somewhere to B&B before Buxton.

There seemed few B&Bs so we took the first with space. It was a rickety house, newly possessed, we supposed, by the young couple - the floors weren’t quite even nor solid, doors didn’t quite close, shapes were never square or rectangle, although they looked as though they should have been. But we were grateful for the rest house after our busy day. I forget the name of the village but it was typical of the area with a verdant green triangle lined by grey gritstone houses. There is a feeling of spaciousness about the villages but also lifelessness, not sleepiness, not death, just lifelessness. We bathed and then caressed a bit before heading off to Buxton.

Buxton is built of the same grey brick, altogether a busier more prosperous place - it would certainly have to be, to host an opera festival - the very one to which we were headed. ‘King Arthur’ by Purcell. It lies between 1,000 and 1,500 ft above sea level in a basin protected by hills of grit and limestone rising to 1,800ft, from whence flows the river on the southeast. The mineral waters are tasteless and odourless and have long since enjoyed a considerable reputation. The waters were known and used by the Romans. At the close of the 18th century, the Duke of Devonshire spent large sums of money on improvements to the town. There are annual theatre and drama festivals, and a municipal orchestra is maintained - E.B.1953

Henry Purcell, English composer born in 1659 in Westminster, died 1695 in Westminster. In 1690, he wrote the music to Betterton’s ‘Dioclesian’. He was associated with Dryden in ‘Tyrannic Love’ (1687), ‘Amphitryan’ (1690) and ‘King Arthur’ (1691), in all of which the music consists of separate numbers which form no integral part of the drama - also E.B. 1953

Well I can say it was over-long, tedious and poorly produced - though the singing and music appeared to my uncritical ears first rate. The producers had certainly tried hard, tried hard to please everybody - the opera lover, the theatre lover, old fogies and young children. The surest way of pleasing all in a stuffy crowded theatre is to keep your show short - though I suppose they might then have laid themselves open to the charge of not giving value for money - at £5 a turn for a hard gallery seat with no back, I felt they were pushing it a bit.

Infinitely more pleasurable were both a good night’s sleep and the early walk that took us across dewy fields, creeping through ancient farms and picking our way along the stony path of a narrow dale. How welcoming the huge English breakfast after a brisk two hour walk. Back into Buxton for Barbara who wanted to visit the book fayre. I have never seen such a concentration of desirable books, comics, postcards. The antiquarian booksellers had come from all over the country, many of them displaying fantastic books on natural history or local history.

7 August

It is only the ‘The Count of Monte Christo’ that keeps me happy. Unhappily, I lost Bel’s old and beloved copy on the journey - perhaps PROVIDENCE will yet restore it to me. In the meantime the trusty Cultura Inglesa library supplies me with a copy - I can barely put it down - and when I do the depressions take me over.

The Sunday was more relaxed. We tried for one of our famous picnics in the solitude of a distant field - however a plague of wood ants and mosquitoes made life difficult. We escaped to the tidiness of Chatsworth and ate our repast sat on a comfortable garden bench in the middle of a village green. Bel’s desire was of course to visit the gardens. We walked from the village across the land - all around the green land looked as carefully manicured as a lawn, certainly the grass was of luxurious quality not to be found naturally. The landscape dotted with old oaks and chestnuts displays the hand of man - no less an artist than Capability Brown. On reaching the brow of a hill the magnificence of Chatsworth itself suddenly reappears, the tranquil river with arched bridges in the foreground, and part of the garden stretching up the hill behind the enormous building. The tranquillity of the scene, however, fades on approach as the area bustles with the activity of a thousand tourists and their cars and coaches.

10 August

The Count is finished. He has reeked his vengeance on all who did him wrong. I would have had him allow his enemies a little more time to contemplate who he was and all he had manipulated as the Count of Monte Christo. I felt it a little unjust that Mercedes should be condemned to a lonely old age, surely the Count could have taken her into his household, or made her young again - married her and continued to keep Haydee as his daughter. But I certainly have to admire Dumas for constructing such a labyrinth of a plot and pulling it all off without over-stretching the credence of his readers.

It is Sunday. The weight is on my back. Elaine has just left. Her strokes and caresses this morning were not easy to accept. Why should I want to reject them? She treats me well.

But I must finish London

From Chatsworth we drove around the district some more in search of a pleasant village to stay at. At Youlegreave we found an inn - although reasonable and adequate, the bedroom was full of notices, and the evening meal in the common saloon was as common as frozen food warmed up in a microwave. The spot, though, had its charms. We made a circular tour before dinner around the village, through well-cared for fields and down to the gentle flowing river. There, along the path, we found a summer house, the glass all clean as a whistle, and inside we could see clean crockery, a kettle, packets of tea. Between it and the river an area of dense rushes had been cleared. I walked through and across a log that had been thrown across the river to the field on the opposite bank, above which a beautiful old house stood with a splendid view over the river, fields and forest. As I crossed the log, a man suddenly asked me if I needed help. Clearly, he was suggesting we were trespassing. He marched us across the field to a public footpath which was not nearly so beautiful for we could no longer see the river. As we walked across the field, he told us he was the fish keeper for the Duke of Devonshire (he who owns Chatsworth), guarding against many poachers, and he was the tenant of that marvellous house (which I felt sure a city person must have owned). Apparently, for I did not know, we were following a black-denoted footpath on the ordnance survey map, and only red ones are public rights of way. But really, how often does the Duke of Devonshire walk along his footpath??

We cuddled up in bed early evening to watch a play by Robert Holman and then to sleep for tiredness had o’ertaken us.

On Monday, we drove back through Brassington to examine the cottage for sale there, and then onto Wirksworth - the cheapness of the houses there, I felt, made it worth a visit. And it proved a splendid surprise - a touch of icing to our weekend cake. I suppose I liked it so much partly because I was expecting so little. Both of us fell in love with it. The town has alleyways, and squares, three-storey cottages, a sense of pride and history, and yet appears to be forgotten, at least until recently. There is barely an ugly feature. An old load mining town I think, it was highly depressed in the 70s but in 1980 it was chosen for a rejuvenation scheme and today looks a treat. It boasts a gallery, a splendid wholefood restaurant, a lovely little bookshop, superb bread and cake shops, and cottages for sale at £15,000. We wanted to buy one up instantly and live there forever.

Before heading back to London we drove around the outskirts to see what there might be in the country but saw nothing special. The one cottage in Wirksworth we did go and see was constructed on three floors with two rooms on each floor - there were four bedrooms on the upper two floors with glorious views across the town and valley, and on the ground floor one room that could serve for a lounge and another for a kitchen. No bathroom - nor very much light. A good deal of money would need to be spent but still, £15,000. We arrived back in London in good time for our respective evening appointments.

The last few days of my holiday I saw much of Barbara, largely because there was much to talk over with regard to her going back to college. Everything moved so fast. One evening in the middle of the month, we had been talking. She mentioned that she was depressed but didn’t know why. I had taken little notice - but this particular evening we talked about it. I think I had suspected the depression was due to me, but it transpired that its cause lay more in her work. She hardly knew herself, but, in fact, she had become disenchanted with her job and could see no way forward. When she told me she had already taken most of her year’s holiday in odd days and half days. I sat up, something was clearly wrong. The more she talked, the more clear it became that her depression was quite serious and several months old. Her idea for the future was to go to college to take a degree in librarianship. With a degree, a new world would open up, for, as she describes it, she cannot progress without one. She could never, for example, become the Librarian at her organisation without a degree, however many years she worked there - yet even today she is often the one organising what her boss should do.

So, I kicked some dust. Being only July, it seemed to me important that she try and get in this year. At first she fought against the idea because she couldn’t imagine leaving her library in its current state, but I suggested it wouldn’t be any better in a year’s time, and her wellbeing was more important. We both sparked into action. Libraries, prospectuses, forms, telephone calls, grants, the works - the more she did, the more she realised she did really want to do it this year. By the time I had left, she had all her applications in (three colleges, I think, and a grant form). That evening I had suddenly become terribly worried about her. I could see her getting caught in an awful downward spiral of self-respect, when it becomes impossible to pull oneself up. But what strength to be able to listen so - judge and take advice on the merit of it. I am far too timid ever to listen to someone else’s advice - let alone act upon it.

Barbara came to the airport with me and stayed after Julian and Mum left - I felt very close to her - not least because she had allowed me to help her so.

I saw this happy couple at the beginning and end of my holiday, both times for dinner. The first evening I was still recovering from the food poisoning and found it hard to make conversation. The second evening much of the conversation revolved around his business or his relations with the Bulls which have turned sour recently (thanks to one of his son-in-law’s brothers that runs a travel agency). In fact, there was little to talk to me about. He mentioned for the umpteenth time that he couldn’t do business with Brazil because the domestic market was so uncertain. He and Julian must both continue to be preoccupied with the business for Dad has had to mortgage himself up to the hilt again in order to keep the company afloat - the departure of his two senior execs must have really hurt him. He has also cancelled his round-the-world trip this year - a luxury he has allowed himself for many years now. I detected less confidence in him too, a reduced cockiness. Julian said that some days in the office he is impossible - fortunately he was in his charming mood when I saw him.

Two rare insights into Michele. One evening she became completely drunk, and Julian’s friend Fran had to support her home. She becomes intolerably dull when drunk. Someone also told me that she jokes constantly with Dad about when he will be leaving her to find the next Mrs Lyons - bitter humour underscored by a terrible sense of insecurity. For all that, she is always polite and sweet to me, without raising the slightest objection when I want to borrow her car if she’s away.

Well, they drive around in a brand new car, don’t think twice about spending pots on double glazing or gaining a barbecue on Mel’s birthday. They have started a business - telemarketing - with money borrowed from banks and uncles and with the flat as security. They are full of dreams and give no credence to those who say they will have to work hard, hard, hard. Perhaps with some luck they will make good - Melanie has some shrewdness and a few years experience in the awful business - but I wonder really if they have half the experience necessary to manage. They did both seem well and care-less. Julian has several brothers - but they all seem to dislike the travel agent one who is fighting with Dad.

Of my friends, I saw Raoul the most. He came round with Jack, the first Saturday when I was ill. He brought the baby’s tea and filled its gawking mouth full of good things. As is the way of nature, Jack had a crap and I witnessed the doctor change his son’s nappy - I wonder how often a week he does that. Jack is a cutie, very attentive and well-behaved, perhaps they all are at that age. I am so unused to babies, I don’t actually know how to behave in front of them. Little passed between us on this meeting, but over the month I slowly picked up a picture of his life.

With Raoul I went to the Bush to discover the playwright Robert Holmes. A trilogy of shorts about key moments between people - all of them had a connection with war (even though Holmes is young). I have to admit I was impressed by the quiet and subtle nature of the writing, some would make a connection with H. E. Bates I suspect. Later, Luke confirmed that he is very up-and-coming, and has written a TV play about a young boy who commits suicide in the grounds of a large estate - what are the historical connections between the boy’s family and the mysterious old codger living on the estate?

The only time I saw Caroline, she herself invited me to 468 King’s Road. Two other couples (one with a kid in tow - lots of talk about children) had been invited: Ellen, Caroline’s best lady at her wedding, with boyfriend Jim, and Tim, a friend of R’s, with girlfriend. I liked Ellen, she seemed all warmth and generosity of spirit. Jim is kind of fascinating. He works as a stuntman, and is clearly very good at it, as he never seems to want for work. More than just risking his own neck, he organises and plans whole sequences - production of stunt shots - so that directors can hand the whole scene over to him. He can earn a phenomenal amount for one stunt for a commercial. It staggered me. But he also has an astonishing obsession with military history, particularly about flying. I think he wanted to be in the RAF but wasn’t good enough. I wonder if becoming a stuntman (he started in a circus) had anything to do with proving himself good enough, fit enough for the likes of the RAF. I liked him a lot, found him intelligent and not given to puff talk. Tim is an actor, has been everywhere, met everyone, seen everything - but is currently working on a building site. Tim and Jim had a dozen friends in common, and a score of experiences also in common having worked on the same film sets and with the same people. But I had no time for Tim, he talked without pause and would even butt his way into other people’s conversations - Oh India, you were talking about, I worked in the north there for two weeks - those Hindus etc etc. His woman, an artist, altogether more subtle was clearly accustomed to putting up with him. But, at least, he did have a lot to talk about, to say, which is often more forgivable than having nothing to say. I tried to imagine Barbara there at the dinner table - it scared me so.

One evening crawling around the pubs of Notting Hill, R tells me that there is a fresh wind of change at his work. His financial sponsors The Ludwig Institute have said they will not replace scientists currently working for him - are they pulling the carpet out from under his feet? has it to do with his work? The Ludwig Institute finances? a change of philosophy? R does not know or speculate, he admits no disappointment at all, admits no defeat, only talks about the opportunity to gather more finance from other sources, because Ludwig would not let him use other sources as well as his. So R is now going to ditch Ludwig altogether? Very hard to get through to the nub of what is going on in his head.

I saw them both twice. On the Sunday, Rosy competed in the ‘Time Out’ Street Entertainers competition as a magician. I arrived in time to see most of her show. She still doesn’t have presence or stage charisma, and her persona comes across, I think, as forced and learnt rather than natural and in tune with the world around her. When the unexpected happens it takes her a while to adjust, a spectator can see the effort - in the same way that I am not a natural journalist she is not a natural performer. Yet, yet her show was a vast improvement on the early days, including decent magic, and it was presented with keenness, energy and good will. It showed that she had worked hard. Indeed ‘Time Out’ made her the winner of the magicians section, much to the chagrin of all the other magicians who, according to Rosy, won’t talk to her. Rosy thinks it is a sexist bias, and that may be true, but I think it is more connected with her unconventional approach and the scruffiness, scrappiness, untidyness, lack of professionalism - whatever - in her trick-making. Still, all congratulations. Rosy was well chuffed. Andrew too was happy that the work had paid off. While she went home to re-prepare her tricks for a final of finals in the evening (which she fluffed), Andrew, R and I thrashed it out on a squash court. Only A beat me, I beat R, and R beat A.

Andrew appears well, his scheme in Earls Court or thereabouts is bearing fruit. I think more as an organising landlord of car parking space and workshops then his own shop (if he has one) but at last he feels on top - earning good money and all legal. Jason (like Mary’s Daniel) has sprouted. I didn’t recognise him.

On Monday, I went for dinner at the Gibb’s house. Nothing changes. As usual it was chaos, with dogs, visitors and children all over the place. Perhaps 14 of us squeezed around the dinner table. The next morning Tammy (who has a soft spot for me - perhaps only because she invented my nickname ‘Shakespeare’) was due to leave with Susie - old time member of the group - and a third person for India. For India, for chris-sake. And mid-week, Andrew was due to leave for France with Jason on a bicycling trip. So Andrew was on super best behaviour, while Rosy kept up a brave face. Later I found her crying on Tammy’s bed, and Tammy not knowing how to handle her. Rosy was going to be left on her own without children or husband for weeks. But both these children will be gone from the nest permanently before long. How will Rosy cope.

All the world’s a couple now. If and when I return it will not be the same, friends with children do not go gadding about as much as friends without. Raoul may still have the odd night free, but Judy and Rob are playing the game properly, terribly seriously. Their baby Sophie, born about the same time as Jack, is also pretty and attractive, her face already has character and interest, is more engaging than Jack’s. I don’t know anything about babies but both Jack and Sophie were at an age where everybody wants them to crawl and say da-da. Judy and Rob are fairly stable. I saw them twice together - there’s always an upbeat about conversation with Judy, while a laugh, a simple one, is easier with Rob. His earthy humour balances Judy’s literary pretensions quite well, in teh same way his job/work as a civil engineer balances her more intellectually-aspiring work. Then I saw Judy alone for a rushed lunch a day or two before I left, but there was little time for any intimate conversation about the state of life etc.

Well, here’s one friend who I could see alone. For the first time ever we took a trip together. Now, I don’t know whether I am more amenable company these days, or Luke is more relaxed, or whether, for the first time, circumstances conspired to allow this to happen. We met for a pubby lunch - as has been the case with most of my friends, I have had little to tell, most of it having been said in my letters. Luke, on the other hand, always has tales about his relationship, or with his work. He did not look so well. If the psoriasis on my head worries me I should but think of Luke and his shingles. He gets it in the eyes, and it is so painful he has to sit quietly in a darkened room to alleviate the discomfort. He told me all was well with his life as an independent producer. Only now, he said, were things a little slack, after six months of activity, and he was hoping for something to fill the gap (in fact he found it easily - Monday’s ‘Guardian’ offered an administrative post for a Brecht Festival in Harlow, and the next Monday he was in Harlow.)

One interesting project will rely on monies from Scandinavian Airways - it has publicity money to burn apparently. Thanks to Norwegian Airways, he brought the Norwegian State Theatre to London to perform ‘Hedda Gabbler’ - in Norwegian. He is also hoping to set up an EEC theatre group with bases in all the exciting places he has always wanted to live.

On Monday, we drove down to Deal together. We left early early to avoid the worst of the traffic, consequently arriving not long after 9:00. I was keen to go to look at a cottage. Strange as it may seem, I don’t think I had ever been there. I’ve travelled all along the coast, West from Dover and East from Ramsgate. Deal is where Peter and Tony owned a cottage, and other people have promoted its attractions. Luke, although not disinterested in property, was also keen to check out the theatre as the venue for a summer season of plays by he and Paul Dart.

We were lucky enough with the weather to spend some time on the deserted pebble beach. It’s only a five minute walk from Lynn’s flat at which Luke feels quite at home. The flat is in the upper part of a mansion-sized house, boasts two floors and some odd shapes. The decoration is a mess, but Lynn seems not to mind. Not only did we doze on the beach, we walked the town’s sites, examined some weird and wonderful properties, and did indeed check out the theatre. It does not quite escape from the church hall atmosphere inside but is beautifully upkept with ample bar and food areas, and even a little gallery. It charmed both of us. As Luke had endeavoured to instil in me, Deal resembles Aldeburgh with its steeply inclined pebble beach, its grassy banks, and a moot hall. It was a fine day.

I called Angela about a week after I was back. Coincidentally a few hours earlier she had heard I was back from Ann Thomson. Yes, who is Ann Thomson I wanted to know. Later this Ann Thomson rang me herself and introduced herself as a friend of my cousin Martin - she has been to Bulgaria and continues to keep in regular touch by phone. Several times she called to invite me over but I was unenthusiastic, let us say, to counterbalance her enthusiasm for Martin etc. Ann is an old friend of Angela’s and became involved in the Goldsmith story when Angela sought her help (she’s a solicitor) on the passport business with Michael. On the telephone she speaks with an astonishing staccato style - crisp clear voice etching the silences when she doesn’t speak. Her conversation is dry like ice.

Angela was in good spirits after her extended holiday in Portugal and Morocco. She described affectionately the two men there, her ex-husband Kenneth and Mike [my uncle]. Mike for ever shooting off somewhere or attempting to engage visitors in polemical conversations; the highly intelligent and logical Kenneth now wrapped up with trying to sell computers to the government or something. They live side by side, Mike renting a part of Kenneth’s house as I understand it. Angela told me that Mike has broken off with his brother (and my estranged father) Frederic because of the fight between Frederic and me.

Back in London, Angela has found some unpaid work so will at least be busy. Mary came up from Salisbury one day - escape from the provinces - to meet Angela; so we spent several hours in her garden, a lovely English summer’s day, talking family and things. I felt I’d seen Angela plenty but she called me to another meeting, tempting me with a young American girlfriend of hers who she wanted me to meet. I had arranged an evening at the theatre to see a Jewish play ‘Dybbuk’ which had had rave reviews, but agreed to go beforehand. Unfortunately, I disliked the girl on sight. She seemed to me all that is worst about US Jewishness, over-exuberant, talking rubbish, overfull - I’ve forgotten her now thankfully. I rushed away from the meeting as quickly as possible. The play, too, was fairly poor. A one man creation (plus actress). He has been performing the same piece for years - I suppose there are similarities with Berkoff - but the piece itself lacked any real significance, it was just a vehicle for him to live out, on stage, Jewish rituals and to show off acting talent.

M&R have had a hard time in the last six months. M lost her mother, while R’s father died a little after. M herself has had health problems. They are, as ever, fed up with the shop. D has grown taller than his foster father and is no longer so precocious in school. Angela encouraged M to talk about what might happen when the child wants to know its own parents. M said she had a letter for him, to be given when he reached 18 years, I think that’s what she said. Angela said one thing she had always found useful was to show a child a picture of its real parents, and even though the authorities are reluctant to provide them, she should insist. M acts like a schoolgirl playing truant when she comes to London, having escaped from her family responsibilities.

Andraz is mad and gets no saner with age. He has finally forgotten that basketcase of nervousness called G. but has a similar obsession. I would have hoped he’d have found a calmer emotional life now that the two major areas of his life have become more secure: he has a permanent home, the flat is light and spacey and quite adequate, and he has regular work and a reliable income. I received the first inkling of the latest madness in a long letter from Colin earlier in the year. He told me Andraz had chased two Hungarian girls to Paris and fallen in love with one of them, X. He then told me himself that he went to Hungary for a second time in a year to marry X. He never liked the other one, Y, but, by and by, found himself falling for her. One night, when sleeping in a bed, all three, he held hands with Y, and X promptly tore up an important document Andraz needed for the marriage. Anyways, it took too long to get the document replaced so he returned to the UK to discover he didn’t need the document after all. Now he talks regularly to Y on the telephone and is jealous as hell because she has a new boyfriend. But he is still planning to marry X. As usual, he is making himself ill with the problems. But he has to do it - without these complications, his active brain would really go mad.

C has finally come to terms with his parents. In his words, he has ‘forgiven’ them. I’ve noticed that in recent years he has stayed with his parents for longer and longer periods. So that this time round he was with them five or six nights. He and H came to visit one afternoon. I haven’t often seen them together. It occurs to me that, like Barbara, he could make a fresh start and go to university, he has A-levels. All he has to do is go to the library and read through a few prospecti until one sparks some interest in him. Colin’s all consuming passion remains music - he astonishes me by saying he has thousands and thousands of pounds worth of electronic equipment now. He must invest all his spare cash on it. Such an all-consuming hobby would do me good.

I feel ever so close to A & J, perhaps because I like them enormously, yet I haven’t seen them in two years or even been to the house in which they’ve been living for years. A and I send each other the odd card but little else passes between us. I’d written saying I was returning and they rang one day to invite me to a party to celebrate J’s birthday. I was delighted to have the excuse to go down to Brighton. It was the same day I went to Tring with B, so I drove a lot. It was such a pleasure to see them again. I was famous among the party guests already as A had spread the word about a friend from Brazil coming. A is now pregnant again. What a trial to go through. Their daughter is a lively sprite, full of charm and movement and energy. The gathering of friends seemed a softer, less ambitious group than I had imagined they were friends with. J, in particular, stands out a mile as a man of a different quality to the rest. But I found J softer, less ambitious, not as high-powered as before. His boat project has vanished, and, in its stead, they’ve set up a Brighton Gallery of Fine Art - the name is fantastic, sounds so traditional and well-established - in an arch space rented from the Council. From the photos it looks like J has done a super professional job on his old boat workshop. It looks the biz.

Meanwhile A continues her rent-a-bike business employing a manager and making profit. I suggested in winter they try setting up a bike messenger service because the London company seems to be doing well, or so I’ve heard - in a small central area, its faster and cheaper than a motorbike cervice. A is also working at American Express - secretarial or something. Between them they claim to be very poor, though, and their house is full of lodgers.

The Pig and Fig [an illustration - not mine - of a standing pig wearing a figleaf]. Now this may be a fine name but nobody is going to realise that its short for pigment and figment, and besides a fig leaf is not a fig.

And while I was filling up my days with visits to and from old friends what happened in the world outside of my head, my house, my city? The headlines most days were connected with South Africa. Geoffrey Howe was snubbed by white and black leaders in SA and made a fairly abortive trip to neighbouring state. Then an African country or two pulled out of the Commonwealth in protest against Britain’s reluctance to impose sanctions. Thatcher’s line has always been that sanctions won’t do any good. Reagan is much of the same mind. It is hard to know how much is prevarication and protection of economic interests, preservation of stability, and how much a serious view they sanctions wouldn’t work. ‘The Economist’ advises flooding the world markets with gold and diamonds then SA wouldn’t be able to import anything any way. The consensus seems to be that full sanctions would bring the greatest hardship to the blacks themselves, thus hastening the revolution, and probably a bloody one. That might be in the interests of a lot of states but not the UK or the US. However, public and world opinion is a powerful lobby and clearly can bend policy. At the start of the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, more and more countries pulled out in order to put pressure on Maggie. Many newspapers pointed out that most of these countries were not exactly saintly in terms of human rights. Clearly, the act of withdrawing had little to do with any real desire to put pressure on Maggie to impose sanctions but was more to do with signalling to other nations. India held back for days declining to declare whether it would demand the withdrawal of its athletes - was it waiting to see how many significant nations would withdraw or to see if Maggie might bend its way? At the final count, there weren’t many countries left at the Games, especially when you realise that the total included the separate entities of Isle of Man, Jersey, Wales etc. That popular fellow Robert Maxwell invested a few million to keep the games in the black at one point, before the trouble, with a bit of luck he’ll lose it all, even though he’s promised to sue both the British government and the Commonwealth states that withdrew. Good luck!

There was a rapist caught, and a few policemen killed in Northern Ireland. There was a wedding, royal and fun, far less solemn that Charlie and Diana, Sarah and Andrew winning everyone over. England drew a test match with NZ, first one they haven’t lost in years. Hooray.

Now, in mid-August, I stretch my memory back to London again.

At the McGraw-Hill offices, I barely recognise anyone. Jim N has become Jim T’s faithful first commando, while in the ranks there’s only one person I know personally, Marita. I’ve never quite understood Marita, it’s as though there is a vital life force missing. Maybe blame it on her Dutchness. Jim N is more relaxed and secure in his role, earning lots of money and approval. Jim T, like the proverbial snail, gets things done at a slow and measured pace. Several projects have finally seen the light, though none have brought a gold star. The latest mag, ‘Petrochemical Alert’, is selling like hot cakes. I never thought that such chemical info would be much in demand. The Alert allows customers to pick products and gives them an attractive package price as well. We lunch one day Jim and I. I learn nothing startling. We smooth the creases on our business arrangement. He tells me what possibilities there might exist for me back in Europe soon. None, very exciting. I do learn that World News is still not keeping pace with development. Peter Gall is capable but not imaginative or forward-looking. Trotter is manoeuvring away from the system - even to the extent of employing Savage full time. Savage loves the petchem market. Why has he never taken the road to trading or consultancy?

I met with Jenny, now at Reuters, a couple of times. McGraw-Hill sources were reluctant to comment on her well-being. I was most concerned to find out what had become of her pregnancy. The last I knew she was determined to keep the child even though its father was not the man she was living with. Even Trotter knew it was an Oilgram guy in New York. In her good-humoured and well-meaning way, she juggled quite a few men around. I suppose she must be considered a good catch - beautiful, intelligent, sociable, un-neurotic, good family. Jenny has the ability to make men feel good. She listens attentively and intelligently, she smiles and giggles lots, and likes being admired. Her baby, perhaps fortunately, miscarried. She tells me (or was it Annabel?) that one in three conceptions miscarry. That seems an astonishingly high figure. Any way it leaves her free to pursue her career. Reuters is sending her to Japan to report on oil from there. She will now marry Robert - the Mitsui chemical trader she met when I sent her in my place to a Brussels EPL! - who will follow her out to Japan as soon as Mitsui transfer him. Jenny introduced me to her superiors who may help me get a job when I return and, on a separate occasion, to two correspondents. One of them, Oliver Waite, had been in Rio for three years, and he was crying with saudades enough just to want to talk about the place; the other is a guy who is coming out in September to Sao Paolo. There is a good friendship between us, since our one-night fling, and since she realised she could trust I wouldn’t spread gossip. Not that I’m convinced she doesn’t like to be gossiped about. She talks about using her first leave from Japan to come to Brazil for a holiday. Jesus, here on the beaches she would be adored - how rare it is to see such a tall, natural blonde beauty in Rio.

At last the list of people I met up with in London draws to a close. It just remains to report on various work contacts. I met with one of the editors of ‘Flight’ at Quadrant House. It was a fairly positive connection, and he said he had liked my Lider article. The best possibilities will be with features, although I hope they’ll start trusting me enough to take news as well. To date, writing for ‘Flight’ has not been particularly profitable: I first wrote to them in January and to date I’ve received just £80. I was only paid £30 for my article on Votext, which took a lot of time and phone calls; and then I was paid nothing for several articles I’d sent on good faith). I went to see ‘Nuclear Engineering’ (who by contrast have been treating me very well). There, I was received like a star, and we discussed the possibility of doing a Brazil profile. I nipped upstairs to see the ECN gang [I used to work for ECN], and recognised only two people - the editor Lynn, more relaxed and professional, and Nat who has returned after having a second child.

At the FT business newsletters, I chatted for ages to James Ball and a bit to the editor of the ‘Energy Economist’ and ‘International Trade Finance’. At ‘The Economist’, I met Tim Hindle who seemed very encouraging, and I renewed my connection with Matt Ridley. He liked my Petrobras story and we talked about the whole field of science journalism. He promised to bear me in mind should he hear of any work going. He tells me ‘Science 86’ has been shut down and ‘Scientific American’ bought by a German company (strangely ‘The Economist’ wanted to buy it), and that the newspaper ‘The Independent’ has stolen some people from the ‘New Scientist’.

I met David Singleton for lunch, a journalist in the World Service Science Unit. He spends much time explaining the set up, and how to go about selling some radio work to them (but the pay is a lousy £30). What a rabbit warren is the World Service’s Bush House! And I also make contact with Peter Street, the husband of a Royal Ballet dancer I befriended. He works at the Corporate Intelligence Unit creating reports about building equipment - the unit was a significant part of the Economist Intelligence Unit, until a management buyout. His work is not dissimilar to what I used to do at MORI, in fact. A pleasant guy, quite dedicated, I feel, to his wife, who must be a clever dancer. He’s helping her make videos for instruction in schools now that she’s left the Royal Ballet after 12 years.

17 August

Two weeks back in Rio - time to start a new journal, but there promises to be little change. I take more comfort from the television now that I’ve bought a colour model - luckily just before the black market got shot down - it was wonderfully cheap.

Catesby comes round for lunch - he tells me the cost of telephones on the black market has risen to something silly. The official Telerj price is about $1,000 but they’ve been selling for up to $10,000. I think the government’s shut that down too.

Neco, Olena, Marcello and Fatima take me to a party out Barra way. We don’t leave until 1:00am - my body revolts with tiredness. The party is held in a rich house without much character - lots and lots of boys and girls, loud music, Cz30 to get in and a paying bar. I should have forced myself to chat one of the young girls up - after all that is why I was there. But it was more like a public disco or night club - not my scene at all. Earlier in the evening, O+N had carried me off to explore the back of Humaito. Rio is so extraordinary, it is full of nooks and crannies and steep curly streets that wind up the mountainside for rich people to build their dream-like fortresses. Astonishing how many places there are, surrounded by high walls and gardens of exotic plants.


DIARY 32: August-December 1986

Sunday 23 August 1986

It has been autumn and spring in the same breath. Winter, as defined by the period of time that trees remain bare of leaves, does not exist. The leaves of the sombra trees here along Avenida Portugal first turn tough, leathery and cracked, then a brilliant orange, then an iridescent crimson before falling to the ground. Even as they fall, new growth is maturing, so by the time all the old foliage has gone, the new is in place. Further confusing for the ‘temperate man’ is that each tree possesses its own rhythm. The grand sombra, which reaches up to my fourth floor windows, partially stealing the view, is only now approaching autumn, while many of the other trees along the avenue are already well into their spring.

Here I am then, in a new book. I have chosen another of these sturdy green-backed solid volumes, more out of respect for the individual binding than for either its size or colour. Hardbacked books with lined paper are common here, while hardbacked books with plain paper are scarcer than rare. At least with this volume I know the paper is good quality, doesn’t absorb ink too alarmingly; furthermore I am spared a margin.

And will this volume be as pedestrian as the previous one of this type? I look back and find I did not even finish it, the writing fades out around carnival time. Interesting to note that I began it after my return from UK as I am now doing with this new one.

Two Saturdays ago Barbara rang early morning to say the more she thought about going to university, the more she realised that she really wanted a baby. Going to college will take three years, by which time it will be almost too difficult/dangerous to have a child, and even so it would be silly to study for three years then have a child. So, she had been thinking it would be better to have a child now and study later. Suddenly, I switched from the promoter of the idea [that we have a baby together] to the opposer. I think I am wholly for the idea, but must look at the difficulties and hardships it will involve. I have to be sure Barbara is not taking this path as an escape from the immediate decision of taking a college course starting this year. She, too, has thought about this, but thinks not.

Having been taken somewhat by surprise, I suggest we think harder and write down all that occurs to us. A few days later, Barbara rings again. She cannot think of anything against the idea of her having a child alone - well those she does think of are very out-weighed by the pluses. I have sent her a list of problems, I say, though my gut feeling is that this is a right thing to do. A very right thing to do. Of course, I am aware that one or both of us may not even be fertile. And, even if there exists a joint fertility, could Barbara conceive during a brief visit here or I there. These major considerations are easily forgotten when opening a whole school of thoughts and dreams.


Writing these words this morning I became increasingly agitated, wanting to phone Barbara, yet Elaine’s presence here made it impossible. When, finally, she left, I phoned Barbara immediately. Not only has she now been offered a place at North London Poly this year, but her grant application has succeeded, and so quickly. She is full of beans. She has thought about it carefully and decided not to go to college this year. Her reasons are not convincing until she comes to the last, she is still determined to try for a child. If that is the case then, I say, you must fly out here as soon as possible. This will mean she has to carefully monitor her periods, and she’ll need to steal some holiday time from next year. It will take some planning and then a basket of good luck. At least one thing has been achieved - Barbara is active and alive again, her depression has lifted.

Here in my new book, me changes not at all. I sit here on Sunday afternoon spending the entire day alone. The sun streaming in through the window glass warms the cool air. I think often about a girl I met Friday late, on the rocks in front of the building. Perhaps it was the light skin and freckles that attracted me, or the toes in the water, or the book in her hand. We talked for half an hour maybe, she made conversation easy, displayed an intelligence, and smiled with interest. She said she lived nearby but I didn’t ask exactly where, and now I have to hope that she comes by again. I gave her my apartment number, but she may forget me as easily as she met me.

I begin to worry about Elaine. Her health is poor at present, she coughs and feels weak. I do not help much. I think I should break with her - as much for her sake. Several times she has said that’s what she wants. I should help. I will get lonely again - but this time move on.

It was such a busy week for work. I filed two stories to ‘The Economist’ (both used but both abused with awful errors), a 2,000 word piece to ‘Energy Economist’, a radio tape interview with Bob Boddey to ‘Farmer’s World’. Stories to ‘Gas World’ and NEI. A positive letter from ‘Paper’ and ‘Flight’ (plus the issue with my Lider article in - my first published photo) and all my regular McGraw work too.

Monday 24 August

I have become concerned about my relationship with Elaine, and have asked for it to finish. I treat her less well each time I see her, less touching, less talking, for example, and I dislike my own behaviour. I finally begin to see, also, that I am not having a good effect on her well-being. We have not been able to strike a happy medium - seeing each other occasionally - neither do we do much constructively together. If I am to be lonely and needy then I must pass through that phase. And Elaine must reconstruct her friendships and rely on me less, if at all. I told her these things, and feel as though I’ve kicked her in the teeth. Immediately, I felt sad and lonely (despite the long telephone conversation with Barbara). There seems such a huge silent empty space around me all the time, and now that I’ve pushed Elaine away again, the telephone will never ring at the weekends or in the evenings. Perhaps I will begin to write again.

A few days ago, I lay on my bed - sometimes it is all I want to do - and I was shocked to realise that my life was so free of problems. Here is the basic rule of my lethargy, there is nothing turning the wheels in my hand, no current of turmoil, no solution to find, nothing to resolve. I am in a paradise and cannot remember it when there are so many hours to fill alone.


Having enjoyed such good health for so long now, I am suddenly struck down with a gripe. A sore throat grew on me during the night giving me the strangest dreams. Now my nose is running and I feel week. I must not swim, which is a shame, not only because the water is so lovely at present, but because Monica had begun to join me for my swims.

31 August 1986

The final day of August. A Sunday, after early rain, it is grey and cool, the best weather to stay in and spend time writing. I have been lazy. The flu bug, which caught me on Wednesday, rendered me incapable for two days and then weak and lazy for another two days. I therefore endeavour to catch up on recording events, thoughts, dreams in these insatiable pages, for no other reason than habit. My mind is clear this morning - let me see what I shall add to this chronicle.

When I am strong and courageous it is easy to record my weaknesses, however, when lonely and insecure as I am at present, it becomes more complex to document my behaviour - that behaviour which belittles me, which embarrasses me. If the behaviour were a new departure, an interesting phenomena, let me say, then I would hesitate less, but when it becomes so repetitious that I cannot fail to recognise the terrible weakness of habit, the lack of spirit, then I balk. The more so for I have not failed to write about this area of myself on several occasions and there can be no question that this kind of regurgitation borders on self pity. Perhaps I do not attempt this documentation, as a way of freeing myself from the weakness. However, it has not yet worked. More likely is that there is an element of confession which helps relieve the self-guilt - no, not guilt but disappointment.

In this case, at this moment in time, I am also influenced by the reading of Anthony Trollope. I have never read Trollope before, but the choice at the British library here is running thin, and I felt I needed a solid but engaging author. I chose the title, the ‘Eustace Diamonds’, as it promised an element of mystery - and I like a mystery. It transpires, however, that Trollope allows his reader no mystery at all, giving, as he does, the goings-on in each character’s head most of the time. It is these goings-on, which Trollope expounds on in their most tautological and complex and verbose fullness, that has clearly inspired me to do likewise about my own head. Although I seriously doubt that anyone should ever have sufficient interest or patience to rummage through my diaries, I do, nevertheless, beg forgiveness for delving into these rather murky waters. More of Trollope later, and how he manages to write over 700 pages about a diamond necklace.

For Wednesday and Thursday, I was more or less out of the world, able but to read and drag myself to the cinema. On Friday, there existed a certain amount of work necessary to be done, which I did. Friday afternoon I was hoping that I might see Monica. Ah, Monica, who was so casually mentioned a page or three back is named again. And so here I confess that the object of my pre-occupation for these days has been this one Monica. She was first met the past Friday: having seen a girl reading on the rocks below, I rushed down for my daily swim. She began conversation easily and I, seeing her light skin with freckles speckled on a pretty face, kept it going as well as I could. Yet I discovered little - only that she has German parents, has studied psychology for five years, and lives here in Urca. So we met again on Tuesday - I was swimming and she appeared. (From her apartment, she said, you can see the water in front of this building but not the rocks or shore - so I imagine she must have seen me and hurried along). We swam for a while, climbed on a boat and talked. In fact, she looked quite ravishing in a sky blue swimsuit and darker blue plastic shoes (to protect feet from the rocks).

There was an incident, which is incidental to the story, yet worth the telling. Whilst we sat on the boat, two black kids made off with some of Monica’s things. There was nothing valuable, a towel and her clothes. I swam back as fast as I could, never quite certain whether it was worth this dramatic action. I rushed upstairs, fetched a towel for Monica, and the keys to my moto. I told Monica to go up to my apartment, and explain to Maria why I was late for lunch (I had only intended to be out for a 10 minute swim). I hoped Monica would then stay. I raced round to the Urca beach, to where I could see that the kids had gone - idiots - and just caught them crawling under the turnstile of a bus leaving. I snatched the towel away, and kicked the child, and rushed back to my heroine with the treasure. Again, I asked Monica to come up, as I had done the first time we met, and she refused. I had, however, found where she lived this time round.

So there I was, hoping against hope, that she would come on Friday afternoon. And here begins the sorry tale, for every few minutes I would go to the window, glance down at the rocks, and seeing no lady reading a book, peer into the distance from where I knew she would walk if coming in this direction. And now, Sunday afternoon, I am still taking every opportunity to look out the window. And then there is the sad matter of the card I wrote, a simple message asking to see her if she was free this weekend. Ah but what trouble to choose a card from my collection, and how to phrase the few words, and then when to deliver it. Perhaps I thought, she might come before lunch, so should I deliver it at 1:00; I went out on the motorbike at 2:00, the letter was in my pocket but I could not bring myself to post it. I worried, for example, what the porter might think, what the parents would make of it. The last thing I contemplated doing, however, was actually presenting at her home.

Monica had told me that her name could be mistaken with that of a Scot, as it was a Mc or Mac something, but I did not catch it fully. However, armed with that piece of info and the street she lived in, I scoured the telephone book - for I would gladly have rung - but to no avail.

I went out twice more I think with the intention of delivering my simple letter. I arrived in front of the building. Had there been a porter visible I would have given the wretched thing over, but there was no person around - nor was there a letter box, just an all-glass entrance cabin so that my poor envelope would have looked so exposed, so vulnerable lying on the mat there. I hung around for as long as I dared, a few seconds, and marched off. Oh brave young man. Back to the excuses, the self-justifications. Of course, it was only a week since I had met her, there was plenty of time, I’m sure she’s away, perhaps she’s had a cold like me, I’ll send her a note next week etc. etc.

Al this fantasising is easy to explain - my loneliness (I have not been out with friends once this week), and my lack of occupation generally and specifically this week because of the illness. But I have allowed similar intrigues in my head many times. The same happened with Cecilia for ages, until the weekend when we hardly so much as spoke, with the Gabriellas in Bahia, and so on. My mind is so inactive, it has nothing to get its teeth into apart from the ‘Gazeta Mercantil’ stories.

So my dear dear diary that has been my number one pre-occupation during the last few days.

I have spoken to Elaine - she is recovered, her electricity pulses again and she seems fine. I am sure she will be fine without me. Only I will suffer unless I can find another confidante soon.

Catesby calls, he is off for a long travel to Bolivia and Peru. I shall remain here in Brazil for my two years or more without ever touching another South American country.

I must confess that although I have followed the news of a disaster in the Cameroons, it has not taken up as much of my brain power as Monica. A gas cloud escaped from a muddy lake in a volcanic crater and immediately killed 1,500 people. This is not a very common occurrence, scientists seem to think it has happened only once before - a few years back in a similar lake nearby. The poisonous gas was heavier than air and sank across the village and fields, not only killing the 1,500 but injuring thousands more, killing countless livestock, and polluting nearby water supplies. The favourite theory seems to be that a recent earthquake may have jarred a deposit of gas which had built up slowly over the years under the mud - it all suddenly slipped through and escaped into the air. But how unknown is this world. How easily nature still deals with us, we are victims anytime mother nature gets her wrath up, be it a big wind, a big wave, a volcano or earthquake, a drought, even a puff of gas can extinguish us.

I have also filled the long empty spaces in my days by reading. I read two more Dumas stories - ‘The Black Tulip’ and ‘The Regent’s Daughter’, the former had a terribly happy ending which gave me to expect the same in the second. Thus, imagine my disappointment when the hero had himself executed leaving the heroine to return, broken, to the convent. Then I polished off an Agatha Christie - ‘The Hollow’ - in almost one sitting. I got the who and the how and some key details all right. Then I finished off Keri Hulme’s ‘The Bone People’. So much of this book is Hulme’s autobiography and self-indulgence, much lifted from diaries I shouldn’t wonder, much displaying of her peculiar interests and knowledge of fish and plants and jade. Yet the book works as the chronicle of how three very different people actually surmount their personal problems, or at least survive through them and come together. What redeems Hulme’s poetry is that she can write about her other characters very maturely. What defeats the book ultimately is that we don’t learn anything about why Keri Hulme is as she is. We have an unending description of what she is today and an expose of herself, but no real digging into her past - for us to learn why Keri Hulme was so much of a loner.

And then Mr Trollope began his tale. It looked an insignificant little book, but it turns out to have over 700 pages. Much of it is written about Lady Eustace - who Trollope tells us at the beginning will not be his heroine, but then no one is, so he might just as well have told us that she would be his anti-heroine. Of course, we all love the patient, kind, sweet, loyal Lucy, but she has no money. Her betrothed, Frank, spends almost every day of six months visiting the evil Lizzie (Lady Eustace) but not Lucy. Ah, but Trollope knows how to spin a tale - and spin it out long. Now that I have become so involved with the characters and several marriages have been left on the boil so to speak, I am anxious to discover the outcomes.

September 1986

Paul K Lyons


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