Monday 3 August, Aldeburgh

England did not do badly in the fourth test after all. The match turned out to be a real thriller and had it not been for the Atherton’s laziness and inability to take risks England may have won. Athey has now been dropped from the final test. This Thursday I will probably go to the opening day at the Oval with a group from the FT.

B & I have spent the weekend here and will stay until Tuesday. A five day stretch in our cottage. B has painted the front door, a bold, but not garish, green called Veronica. Green because three of the four front doors on either side of us are green (with window frames white) and I like to blend in rather than stand out. Also, Veronica has quite a lot of blue in it (so much so that at night under the light of the sodium street lamp it looks entirely blue) because we plan to cram the tiny front garden with plants with blue flowers. I have fitted a new window (made at the Aldringham joinery workshop) into the back kitchen frame. The old one had badly rotted. To do this I needed both plane and chisel, two tools I haven’t used since woodwork classes at Broxbourne. I wondered whether, in fact, I would have attempted to plane and chisel the casement into shape had I not had woodwork classes at school. The entire job was difficult for not having a workbench with a clamp. I managed to screw both fittings on this simplest of casements in the wrong places.

We have begun to dig peat into the garden, and to buy seeds for autumn sowing of veggies - though without any great hopes. I take up layers of carpet and lino in the front room in order to try and make a decision about the floor - the surveyor recommended we build a concrete floor since the lack of ventilation underneath the planks could lead them to rot.

On Friday we drove early to Beccles to check out a weekly furniture auction, but it was very crowded, and nothing really stood out for us. Boxes of cheap junk went for £1 but the moment anything valuable was under the hammer the price rose. Two not very good and small maple picture frames went for £24. At Tring the other week I declined to go above £20 for two better frames with interesting prints in them.

Today we shall drive to Wickham Market to have a look at an auction place there, and then on to the Nottcutts garden centre which is the other side of Woodbridge - such excitement.

On Tuesday, Mr Pink from the Council is coming to visit. We will try to convince him to give us an improvement grant for the roof works and, possibly, the downstairs floor. But we have to go about this gingerly, as the council does not give grants for second homes. Somehow, we are going to have to convince him that B will be living here. Once the roof is done there is little to stop us decorating the two upstairs rooms.


DIARY 36: August 1987-April 1988

Tuesday 4 August 1987

Dear Adam, you are born. You are nine hours old. You came out at 7:30am, a little blue, and very bloody. Although you went straight to B’s breast, but you weren’t interested in sucking. Your eyes were already open. They seemed a dark midnight blue, and you looked around completely amazed by the experience of seeing. Dear Adam, you are born. Your father is tired, and finds it difficult to concentrate on writing, but there is so much to tell you.

5 August 1987

Dear Adam, you are now about 28 hours old. I have just come back from the hospital. I went with your mother down from her ward to the 4th floor where they have put you in the baby special care unit. You are in the cool nursery, and since late yesterday afternoon they have been feeding you a special mixture through your tiny nose because you were too sleepy to take it from your mother. Such a trauma already for such a young body. I will explain in a minute, but first I want to reassure you that your mother is fine. She walks a bit funny and very slowly, but she is lively and full of smiles. I don’t think she has stopped smiling since were you born, except after they took you away to the special care unit when her anxiety coupled with tiredness caused her to weep for a while.

After the delivery (be patient I’ll tell you all about that in a minute) B was wheeled into the maternity ward on a bed, I carried her bags, and then left about 9am. I came back at just after 2 - the normal visiting hours - to find you having your first bath. I chatted to the nurse, you didn’t cry much, and I was proud of you. Now, though, I know better, you should have been bawling away. The nurse dried you off, put some lotion on your bum and some talc, and then wrapped you up in blankets. I wheeled you back to the ward room, and B’s parents had joined her. Les and Rosemary left before long, and I stayed with B until about 4. You stayed sleepy throughout, and when I asked B if you’d been fed, she said no midwife had come to tell her what to do. Your mother had asked for the midwife several times, and I asked a couple of times too, once as I was leaving. Finally, your mother got out of bed, took you, and went marching down the corridor to tell someone you wouldn’t wake up. One sister understood her appeal, the urgency of it, and hurried to find some doctors. Those doctors found your sugar level had dropped sharply (well not dropped because we don’t know what level it ever was). And there, dear son, lies the truth. You should never have been bathed until your sugar count had been taken with a blood test. If they had found it was low, they should have made sure you got regular feeds during the day. Instead you just lost heat, and used up what little energy you had. Since they took you away, B has been better looked after, though there is still no bell by her bed. She goes to see you every couple of hours and is putting you to her breast regularly. Hopefully, this afternoon you will start to feed properly.

As a break from these clinical details would you like to know something about this world you’ve been born into. In my garden, the hydrangea’s blooms continue, as do the lilies and yellow roses that have bloomed all summer. The jackmanii prepares for its second show with a dozen new buds. The fuchsia, Melanie gave me for my birthday, and the Michaelmas daisy Mum gave me, are both still flowering too. The honeysuckle plant grown from a cutting from your mother’s garden is rampant, and the clematis montana climbs all over the wooden struts I’ve placed between the wall and the house to form a pergola. The parsley is forming seeds now, and the apples are maturing on the family apple tree. In the wider world, the season of currants is upon us, blackcurrants and redcurrants.

Yesterday, you were born into a day of inclement weather, strong sharp rainfalls interspersed with bright sunny periods. I promise you that when you get out and about, once you are strong and bright and ready to travel from that factory of flesh and bones, you will like the outside world, the weather, the skies, the earth.

It seemed so wrong yesterday when the nurse put you in a cot with a heater about 7-8ft away from your mother’s bed. You were only an hour old, and you and B were on separate sides of the room. And now it seems so wrong that the nurses in the special care unit see you more than your mother. It’s such a funny business trying to get you to suck properly. We tickle your chin so that you open your jaw and if for that reason or any other - a yawn perhaps - you open up your mouth wide, B plunges her nipple in. It’s for your own good, of course, but the deception has started.

Your father slept well last night so I’ll be able to give you an account of all theses momentous events. Everybody has sent their congratulations to your mother and me, but nobody has bothered to congratulate you for spending nine months couped up in that warm dark cell and surviving. Everyone who has seen you says you are beautiful, but people say that to all babies, so I wouldn’t guarantee you’re going to be handsome at all, then again you might be. I don’t think it matters terribly, it certainly shouldn’t because looks are out of everybody’s control to a large extent whereas character formation is a long and complex process.

Well, I have to tell you that you are not perfect. The paediatrician said you were a bit cartilaginous, and that your hips had not set properly, perhaps because you’ve been born a bit early, but hopefully that’ll sort itself out.

Ah, Adam, your mother is a special creature. At 7:30pm on Monday evening she was walking on a Suffolk beach by the sea, breathing pure clean air, and watching the sun fall in the sky behind a group of coloured clouds. At 7:30am, 12 hours later, you were lying on her chest looking around and into our smiling eyes. B had not felt well much at all during Monday. She had gone for an early morning walk to buy a paper and phone her parents (the telephone near our cottage was out of order), then we had driven to Wickham Market to investigate the regular Monday auctions there. There was nothing interesting for us but I had never seen such a local broad-ranging auction - B had at Wisbech where she studied for a year - there were chickens, rabbits, cattle, piles of produce, 20 cabbages, four tubs of blackcurrants, several clumps of spring onions, etc. cut flowers, pot plants, and a line of old furniture and odd bits of equipment. From there we drove on to Woodbridge. We walked around the town, did some shopping before driving to Nottcutts Garden Centre. We bought lots of peat and horse manure and a healthy looking clematis to trail up the back of the extension. At home, B cooked lunch while I made a mess of removing the giant peat bales from the boot of the car. A chap named Graham Smith from over the road who was watching my antics offered to lend me a trolley. I went around to the back of his house where he showed me his packed greenhouses of fuchsias.

I dug the afternoon long, preparing the earth, laying down peat etc. B and I planted the clematis, changing its position, silly of us we had planted it on the north wall. I worked like a dog before going down to the beach by bicycle to swim and do a few exercises. When I got back your mother was painting the front door, its second coat of veronica green. I bathed, and we then drove to Thorpeness. On the way, I drove along an un-made up road to show B some lovely gardens but the movement of the car made her so uncomfortable I turned back almost immediately. Perhaps it was these bumps that decided you to make an entrance into the world. I think, however, you had been planning to exit all day. B complained every now and then of pains which were probably the first labour pains. We tended to laugh and joke about it all. At Thorpeness, we walked along the pebbles, arm in arm, enjoying the land and seascapes. Then we walked back to the car through the fields behind the grassy dunes. We passed a hoard of adolescent children on a school camping trip, and it reminded me of the camps I went on with the church youth group. B said the colour in the sky was pink, I maintained it was orange - this all the more funny because we had argued long and hard earlier in the day over the colour of the upstairs lounge. I had said it was yellow, but B called the colour cream.

Back at the cottage B prepared salads while I made some cheese and herb pizzas - one of our favourite quickie meals - and cooked a tin of soup with some fresh courgettes.

Thursday 6 August

My dear Adam, I had two of the strangest dreams last night. In the first, I contracted a strange disease. My body was covered in pimples spaced equally apart and in straight lines and rows, each one about an inch apart. I burst in upon a consultant whom I vaguely knew, demanding he see me. A few of the pimples had risen and formed raised walls around a small hollow. One had a cap which I lifted up. In the hollow I saw some insects, like maggots, crawling around the hair in the centre. The doctor diagnosed a disease immediately, and told me I might recover eventually.

In the second dream, I got the idea to interview the Queen and request her cooperation for a desert island discs programme. Much to my amazement she accepted. There were crowds of people interested (including many taxi drivers). I could see myself conducting the interview as if on TV. We were in a large room, and seated quite far apart. The Queen was old and decrepit, and needed the advice and help of a small group of assistants behind her. She only came out with two or three records (one by Grieg), and when I asked her why she had chosen them, she chastised me. The programme, she said, was about her discs not why she was choosing them.

But dear Adam, how have you been today? Well, quite well, better than your father, who has been most depressed, both mentally and physically all day. I must be suffering from the three-day blues. Your Mum, as yet, is clear of such post-natal depression. This morning, your mother didn’t call me at all, and I got increasingly anxious. By 11, I could stand it no more, and raced into the hospital. B was busy being interviewed about parent craft classes. She had been with you between 6:30 and 9. When I arrived it was just time to go down to you again.

A doctor told me you were doing fine, everybody says lots of babies are as sleepy as you. Now your sugar level is staying normal there’s nothing at all to worry about. But when we come to feed you (Daddy cleaned you, and changed your nappy for the first time) you would neither suck from B or take the bottle. It was back to the nose drip. I suppose that’s why I became so depressed. I kept thinking there might be something else wrong you.

I moped around all day, unable to do anything but listen to the Pakistanis amass a great total in the final test match. At 4, I went back at your feeding time. B already had you to breast, but you weren’t interested. We persisted, trying everything to coax your lovely red lips to engage. We were just giving up when, suddenly, as if by magic, your instinct took hold. What a treat to see you treat yourself. You had a good long feast and made your parents so happy. Your mother has moved down to a bed in the special care ward, so she can be with you all the time now. She feels better about that too. Soon, you’ll both be home.

Friday 7 August 1987

Dear Adam, my dear son, you are now 75 hours old. This is the day I would have had you born on, simply because the date is a numerical palindrome - 7/8/87 - but I shall not love you the less for emerging a bit early. I shall love you all the more for having a mind of your own. This morning your mother called, boy is she tired. At 12, at 4, at 8 she woke to feed you. It’s the first time she’d done night duty, so to speak.

Well, I went and I just came back from the hospital. This morning your mother is as fit as a fiddle, all smiles and full of the joys of motherhood. You, young son, are certainly more attentive and interested in your surroundings, you keep your big midnight eyes open for ages taking in light and dark shapes and sizes. I’m hoping you’ll be home soon, perhaps tomorrow or Sunday.

But I want to give you some idea of what’s going on in this world we’ve brought you into. Political tension exists throughout the world, but the most complex and wide-ranging dispute is in the Middle East. Two major Arab states, Iran and Iraq, are at war. For the rest of us, this has been quite fine, both countries spend masses of money on buying arms, and internal Arab disputes reduce the Arab voice in other world affairs, in particular against Israel and for Pakistan. Over the last couple of years, though, threats to oil supply being shipped through the Arabian Gulf have have had a wider impact. Attacks on oil tankers, particularly Kuwaiti vessels, have led Kuwait to look to the US for support. A conflict, an armed conflct between Iran and the US now looks increasingly likely.

Tis an exceedingly primitive world we still live in, Adam. In many states, established society is reasonably harmonious with civilised and sophisticated behaviour not difficult to find. But they are protected pockets in a world where force still rules. Sometimes it is easy to forget, we think we are so clever.

Javed Miandad, one of the best cricketers of all time, is striking his bat towards a score of 300 as I write. The Pakistan total is way over 500, and the team has most certainly won this series of tests, the first time ever against England in England.

In Sri Lanka, the Tamils reluctantly begin to to hand in their arms. Tamil leaders have signed a ceasefire. The Sri Lankan leader, with the prompting of Gandhi, has ceded concessions of some self-government to the darker people.

You, my man, will be barely conscious of politics until the 21st century. With startling changes having taken place in this century it is impossible to imagine how the world will seem in your day.

B says she can’t believe you are her son. Perhaps it is like a fairy tale. You have been born out of such love that perhaps you are a miracle of sorts. She already calls you little Paul, but you are no more a little Paul than a little Barbara.

Adam Lyons Collecott. About your name. I really have no love for the name Lyons - Sasha is not my real father, nor is Lyons his family name. I no longer use Goldsmith, why should I, Goldsmith deserted me. I tell B, I might well change my name to Collecott one day. If I did it now, it might upset Sasha, but one day perhaps. Having Lyons as your middle name seems about the best compromise. If you do not have a second Christian name, I feel you are more likely to hold on to Lyons, and not drop it the way I have dropped Goldsmith.

Today you were dancing with your Dad, dancing with your Dad, dancing with your Dad, dancing with your Dad.

I see I have yet to finish the story of your birth. So, last Monday, when we were still in Aldeburgh, B went up to prepare for bed. A few minutes later she called me - I could here distress in her voice. She said, with tears in her eyes, that she thought her waters had broken. Dear Adam, this was well after 10 at night following an exhausting day, and I gave way to a mild panic. I drove madly to the nearest phone booth to call The Royal Free. I was told we should drive in, but there was no hurry. B packed her things, while I tried hard to concentrate on what had to be done: the fridge cleared and turned off, the tools put away, the gas off, the library books collected, my own clothes collected. We left all the rubbish in the garden, the sack of horse manure on the lawn. I had to close the kitchen window, which I had only just painted - that’ll be well stuck when we get back. Our next door neighbour popped her head out as we were leaving, we told her we were rushing back to the hospital in Lonon.

B’s contractions had already begun, though we had some doubts whether they were actually contractions at the time, and we tried to time them by guessing. We had no clock at Aldeburgh, or in the car, and so between Aldeburgh and Ipswich the panic continued a bit. At one point, it seemed as though B’s contractions were coming every 2-3 minutes which, the books tell us, means birth is pretty imminent. B, however, thought they were only coming every 10 minutes. Part of the confusion, we understood later, came from the pains been erratic, itself a sign that birth is not imminent. The London-side of Ipswich, we stopped to find a phone box. B called the hospital again, and again they said she should make her way into London [rather than go to Colchester hospital, for example]. So, we went on calculating. The empty road meant I could keep up a speed of 60mph allowing me to time B’s contractions accurately - one mile being equivalent to one minute. And thus we established that they were coming every 8-12 minutes, which meant we could relax. A beautiful pink half moon guided us toward London, and before long we were at B’s flat collecting a few belongings, and grabbing a few sandwiches from my house.

We arrived at the hospital about 1:30. There was no need to flash our lights three times at the gate man to enter because there was no gate man nor any barrier. The elevator to the fifth floor. The bell for a midwife. The examination room. A big machine wheeled in, things strapped to B’s chest, and we could hear your heart beat, you sounded just like a train. We could see your heart beat on the screen, and we could see how much and how often your mother was contracting. After an examination, the midwife led us to a delivery room, the delivery room where you were going to be born. She brought us pillows, a rocking chair and even another bed, a normal bed so that B perhaps would sleep a bit. But, there was no sleep to be had. Within a very short time, the contractions were coming every two or three minutes, each one lasting at least a minute, causing your mother a lot of pain.

(I wonder whether you will ever read this - I mean will you still be alive in your mid-late twenties, will you be at all interested, will we be together, or entirely divorced in different parts of the world like Frederic and I, will the diaries still exist, will I want you to see them? Assuming all that, I wonder how much detail will interest you.)

I detect a completely new motive in my diary writing - I am now writing, to some extent, for you to know about your life, and the decisions your parents take concerning your upbringing. Not for you to ever judge us (although I wonder if I will be scared of this) but for you to know and understand. I think I would devour any such details about my childhood if they were available.

Sunday 9 August

Dear Adam, you are 123 hours old. So old, such an old man. In just an hour or two you will be home (one of your three homes).


Clever man, you are now merrily sucking away. Adam’s happy, B’s happy, Paul’s happy. Barbara Collecott and Paul Lyons begat Adam Lyons Collecott.

Yesterday, you and I had a little session together. While your mother went up to have some supper in the hospital, I watched over you. I thought you might cry because in these last few days you have been screaming about three hours after your last feed. When you scream it is most disconcerting. I stroke your head, and sing, or rather, chant: Mummy’s coming back soon and then we’ll all be fine, Mummy’s coming back soon and then we’ll all be fine. . .

But let me finish the account of your birth or we’ll never get on. So, the first phase was exercises and back massage. During the second phase, I read to her, from Damyon Runyon, while she rocked herself gently, and followed the breathing pattern. In the final stage, she stayed rocking ever so gently on the chair while I held her hand, gently carressed her womb, and talked - whispered - her through the contractions.

Ah, my dear son, your mother was so brave, not taking any of those nasty painkillers. Just before seven, the real labour began. It wasn’t until you were slipped up on to your mummy’s breast in your pre-birth bloody state that we knew your were born, that you were Adam, a boy, the first man. Adam, my young man, you are born.

Wednesday 12 August

My dear Adam, you are over eight days old now. Already you have become so human, so alert, so interested. Your eyes stay open for hours on end, and you consume everything around you. You love lying on your back, on my thighs, and staring up at my bearded face. I always hold your gaze, because I’ve read that’s very important. Yesterday, you smiled, you stretched out the corners of your lips in a giant smile, your daddy almost cried with pleasure. Everyone says these smiles are not real smiles, just muscle reflexes, but it was such a perfect smile.

You’ve been home just three days and already you are settling down. You sleep wonderfully well at night - Mum feeds you about midnight and again about 4, without any fuss, and then we get up about 7. You have a restless period mid-afternoon, when you refuse to lie still and want to cuddled or stared at. Invariably, you stop crying when I hold you, and more often than not you look really content. I talk to you lots and sing to you, and now I’ve started practising carrying you in the sling - we’re a little afraid you might fall out the side, so we haven’t gone out yet. Your grandma Barbara held you on Monday, but I could see that you knew it was neither me nor your Mum.

Your mother is as fit as a fiddle, each day that bit calmer and more relaxed, and almost her normal self. The visiting midwife is here now, she takes your mother’s pulse and temperature and blood pressure, and has a look at you young man. You are always sleeping when she comes, and crying when she leaves. She says you are a real boy, tough and strong.


Adam, you have topped 200 hours. For the fourth night in a row you were as good as gold, better. I think you were awake 5-6 hours without a nap, and must have become overtired, for you wouldn’t settle. But when, finally, you did, you slept without murmur barely waking to take your 12pm and 4am feeds, and now you are still sleeping.

Bartok’s Second Piano Concerto plays. It is a miserable day, light rain falls on the washing (your dad is washing clothes every morning now). The overcast sky threatens heavier rain. Your mother is doing her post natal exercises, to get her body back in form and fit.

I must tell you about the stream of visitors we had yesterday. Your mother’s parents came about 3:00 and stayed until 6:00. They relaxed quite well here, drinking tea, eating Marks and Spencer’s all butter cakes. B showed them round the house. Later, after they had gone, B told me that her father had given her a cheque for £1,000 to help with Adam and towards the Aldeburgh house. A gift, her father bestowed as an aid to independence. Then B went to look for the cheque, but I had scrawled up the envelope, with the cheque in it, and thrown it away, thinking it but one of the empty card envelopes! No sooner had they gone, than David popped in again. The day before, he had come with a giant bunch of flowers for B, and he’d stay a good two hours. We swapped stories of New York, and relationships and talked about children. This evening he stayed not long, told me a bit about his book and the research he’s doing.

No sooner had David gone, than Dad and Michele arrived. B had gone to the off-licence to get her Guinness supplies, and to buy a bottle of tonic water (so I would be able to offer Dad a drink). But without ice, a G and T isn’t the same. Any way, I just didn’t feel that Dad would want anything I could offer. I felt much more comfortable with Barbara’s parents here, than I did with Dad. He held Adam and smiled down upon him. He offered us a present - a pushchair - and said he would buy Adam some shares. Michele tried to make conversation but was constantly interrupted by Dad. I swung the talk around to their work - they are off to Finland for a couple of days to sell to the Reader’s Digest there. They only stayed about half an hour. No sooner had they gone, than Julian and Sarah arrived. And you, young Adam, were still wide awake, crying intermittently, possibly from colic, gripe . . . The books say that some foods eaten by the mother can affect her milk, but my theory is more simple: your body is so new, so young, you are getting used to all sorts of different internal feelings.

Monday 17 August

Nearly two weeks old young man. Why do I call you young man all the time? Such a weekend you’ve had of it. No sooner were we happy that the breast feeding was going OK when you went and got a cold. At first you started sneezing, then your nose became a little runny. We began to worry in the middle of Friday night when your runny nose made it difficult for you to feed properly. B called the special care unit at the hospital, but was told to call a doctor. Fortunately, you sneezed, and cleared your airways. In the morning, we called B’s doctor to visit. You see, dear Adam, such a young fellow as you shouldn’t get a cold, viruses are not at all friendly things, and will polish you off if given half a chance.

I was painting the woodwork on the front of the house when the doctor arrived. I thought she was quite attractive. As she entered the hall, B greeted her with the words, ‘Hello, Dr Luxembourg’. When she went upstairs to wash her hands, I asked B what her first name was - Sue. Well, as she examined you, I became increasingly convinced that she was the same Sue Luxembourg that had been my childhood friend - all of 25 years ago. The doctor took your temperature, checked your ears and your throat, and listened to your chest. She seemed extremely conscientious, proceeding by the book, fearful of missing something. At the end of her examinations, she declared your cold was only in the nose and that you would survive. Dear God, Adam, no virus is going to polish you off. Any further problem, she said, and we are to take you to hospital. I am not displeased that an old friend is your doctor, and I’m pleased that she is conscientious. She herself has a boy by a second marriage.

Well, the weekend long we worried over the mildest changes in symptoms. B thought you were listless at one point, I thought you were wheezing, we both thought you weren’t crying enough, each time we wondered whether to take you into the hospital. Sometimes you wouldn’t feed well, then I would cradle you in my arms and walk you up and down until you sneezed. After sneezing, you would feed and suck like a trooper. Until your cold you had got into such a nice pattern - sleeping long and hard during the nights, waking for an hour in the morning and two or three hours in the afternoon. All that’s gone now, and your mother is weary from being anxious all night.

We did little at the weekend bar listening to the radio, cooking and washing. Grandma Barbie invited us over for dinner on Saturday, and I must say after a week of cooking it was nice to be cooked for. Asparagus quiche, spinach, boiled potatoes and tomato salad. She tells us she is worried about not getting a state pension because Sasha never paid her NI stamps, and she is concerned as to whether the Ham & High will allow her to stay on when she reaches 60 according to their books (in fact, she’s already 62 but had lied about her age to get the job).


Dr Luxembourg declared you fit yesterday, and you do seem to be over the worst of the cold. Every day you get stronger, kicking out your legs and punching out your arms. And now you are better you certainly know how and when to cry. They say babies can’t see or focus for a while after they are born, but that is rot. As I lay on my bed yesterday afternoon looking out down the garden, I let myself think back in time. I relaxed my eyes to see nothing. It’s obvious really. Babies can, of course, see, hear, smell, feel but the brain cannot interpret any of the input from those senses, it has nothing to compare the inputs to, and can do nothing with them. Every now and then, all other inputs to the brain will be overshadowed by input from sight, and the patterns of light and dark or basic colour differences will be set down in the memory files. Many will slide out of the memory as meaningless but others - like Mummy’s face and Daddy’s face - will be reinforced and remain. So, of course, babies can see, their eyes function as well as any other organ, it’s just that there is no information already installed in the brain with which to compare this new input.

Adam, you do already seem close, to recognise, and to quieten down considerably in my arms. However, I must say that when you get hungry and start swinging your head round to the side with your mouth wide open, there is little I can do to keep you quiet - it is Mummy you want and need.

Mummy’s feeling fit and well. Daddy’s finishing painting the front windows and must now start on the back of the house.

Yesterday we all had a visitor - June Bibby from Australia, Harvey Shield’s partner. She’s in London because her rich mother has paid for all her children to come for a reunion. I asked her over in the afternoon, but she arrived in time for lunch. Neither B nor I managed to do a thing all afternoon. We just sat and talked. There is a bitter side to her character that makes it difficult to warm to her properly. She talks a lot, is easy to talk to, but doesn’t manage any charm. She reminded me that she and Harvey had met Fred and Gail, and I recalled that it was June who had read all of Vera’s books when a teenager in Canada. Harvey, bizarrely, also knew Eva who had married Uncle Fieja. So few of my friends know any of my family at all, so it is odd that one in particular - one who only became a friend because he answered an advert of mine for a lodger years ago - should know two sides of it.

June and your mother talked about horticulture, we all talked about the differences between Canada and Australia, and about fresh oysters. June told us more about her mother, and how she never accepted Harvey, indeed had not paid his passage to Europe as she had done for a brother’s wife. The only time her mother had been happy was when June had been married for a year, this was before she went off with Harvey. Clearly, June is still upset she cannot win the respect of her mother, but neither can she break with her. Living in Australia, I suspect, is a good way to get away from her.

In fact, a letter arrived from Harvey a few days ago. A long sprawling letter. In it he mentions he and June have tried to have children without success. It might seem terribly ironic to you, my son, that there are so many couples who cannot conceive, and yet your mother and I who are not even living together managed so easily, so very easily.

Adam, did I mention that one your relations, Martin Goldsmith, has arrived to live in London. (An August sun shines into the lounge. Spanish piano music fills the air. I eat a delicious apple crumble.) Martin is the son of your grandfather’s brother. He’s your Daddy’s first cousin, which probably makes him your second cousin. I’m afraid there are many complications in your Daddy’s family - your Mummy’s background is simpler.

Martin came over to see you the other day. He had not even met your mother. He has found a bedsit in Acton. He works at a company that is setting up factories in Bulgaria and Russia. He will buy a bicycle, and perhaps move into a flat with a German girl in Westbourne Park. He also has a girlfriend in Paris. His father complains that he doesn’t bring his girls home for inspection.

Monday 24 August, Aldeburgh

Dear Adam, the days have begun to slip by, one evening into the next. Our conversation is largely based on you, my son. We discuss breast-feeding, when to change your nappies, how to bath you, the importance of little white pimples on your skin, whether marks on your thighs caused by the nappies’ elastic mean you’re getting sore, how best to wash your clothes. Your mother has still not accustomed to life-with-Adam, and being awake half the night long. She is often weary and unable to do more than look after you. Sometimes your Dad gets fed up with doing all the housework, but soon remembers that Mum is really weary. She also has lots of pains - backache, knee ache and soreness.

Just now your Mum sits in the Aldeburgh cinema listening to classical music accompaniments to old old films - one of the Snape proms. I am determined she will not vegetate. You lie upstairs in the carrycot threatening to wake any minute. We had to calculate carefully over which half of the show Mum could go to - seeing as how you are so damned demanding and when you want feeding, you want feeding. Dad will go soon to the second half.

Ha! you had a good scream and a cry earlier today when we gave you your first bath. Mum insisted I sterilise the kitchen washing-up bowl, and then hurried me so when I was cleaning your head for the very first time. Oh she’s such a fusspot, your Mum. The water was too hot to begin with - tested with elbow - and then you were getting too cold. But I know you’re tough, and it’s not as if we are in the middle of winter. So we washed your head and face first, and then we plunged the rest of you in the washing-up bowl. You bawled and bawled, your eyes screwed tight, your face as red as a beetroot. But you’ve got instinct all right, you’ve got instinct. The washing-up bowl is small and round, and even your tiny body won’t fit into it unless you relax your hips and bend your knees. But oh no - you stretched yourself right out so you wouldn’t fit.

Your father’s had a bit of chickenpox, the strangest thing. A few spots on my body, then on Friday a load more. I raced down to the doctor because chickenpox can be bad news for a baby. The doc helped little, said it could be chickenpox, but that you would probably be immune because you are still breast feeding. Over the next few days I did get more spots, over 100, but they never itched terribly, nor did I feel terribly ill, nor did the spots develop water-drop-like blisters and scabs. The spots have nearly gone now, so in conclusion I think they must have been just a mild attack.

Tuesday 25 August

Three weeks old. It pours with rain. In this small garden we have planted a few vegetables, although they are supposedly for autumn sowing I can’t believe we’ll get much of a crop from them - broad beans, broccoli, spring onions, corn salad, two varieties of lettuce and spinach. I suppose it’s just a test run for the spring - the seeds in total cost £2. We have more of the garden to prepare, ready for growing other things; some areas are stony, others need to be cleared of old and straggly plants. Monbretias are in bloom at present - a cascade of sharp orange flowers thrusting out of the dense pack of drooping daffodil-type leaves - and a few of the purple clematis flowers parade still on the back fence. Otherwise the garden lacks colour. Daddy fights off the invaders: enormous brambles shooting across the top of the clematis, branches from an enormous rose climber fall across the vegetable patch, a myriad of ivy shoots climb all the way along the length of the fence.


I tease your mother, pretend to want to take you skiing, swimming, on my bicycle. Here’s one exchange. We were down in the kitchen, and your mother was worrying whether you were all right upstairs. I said you were fine because I’d covered you up with a big plastic sheet. She said that’s good, because she’d left the window wide open. I said, but I’d left the carrycot on the window ledge any way. She said, I wonder what that noise of something falling was. I said, I wonder what I’d trod on outside.


Back in London. The three days in Aldeburgh were not wholly successful: it rained almost non-stop; you were never comfortable, maybe because you were surrounded with strange patterns of light and colour; and because your mother and I argued a lot, wearing each other out. Well, I say argued a lot, I argued with her a lot, she did her best to cope. It didn’t help that she didn’t sleep in a proper bed the first two nights. Mummy’s sleep is much the most important thing. If she’s well then we are well. (I hold you in my arms at this desk as I write.)

On Monday night, we bought a single ticket to the Snape prom for that evening. For the first time, a Snape prom was held away from the Maltings - in the Aldeburgh cinema. Four musicians - two pianists, a clarinetist and a violinist - played several pieces, either on their own or in accompaniment to early silent films. B went to the first half, while I went to the second half. B ran all the way back from the cinema because the interval came earlier than expected and she was afraid I would miss the beginning of the second half.

We listen to the radio a lot. I enjoyed hearing Edna O’Brien on Parkinson’s ‘Desert Island Discs’. Most celebrities have well-developed personas, and when you hear them being interviewed on radio or TV you can imagine they’ve said the same phrases and sentences a score of times before. Edna, though, displayed a freshness of tone, tried to answer Parky’s questions seriously, deeply and interestingly. Her chosen records displayed the same character - nothing frivolous about Edna, indeed nothing very funny or comic either. In the short space of the programme, I got an excellent sense of the serious determined Irish writer - perhaps never truly gifted, but determined and single-minded since childhood about being a ‘writer’.

Another of my favourite programmes is ‘In the Psychiatrist’s Chair’. Anthony Clare manages to escape both psychiatric cliches (which I suspect many of the interviewees are expecting) and the banality of normal interviews. Right at the start, he tends to ask why his subjects have agreed to come into the chair, and this generally reveals something, and/or helps the subjects take the 40 minutes seriously. Boycott, for example, laughed cynically, and said his publicist thought it would be a good idea. Boycott said he’d come on the programme to do a ‘professional job as always’. Boycott impressed me with his unshakeable defence of his character. Clare tried to point out to him that Boycott’s brand of truth-telling honesty was often perceived as rude by the rest of the world, that the standards he set himself were not necessarily very appropriate for others, i.e. less perfect, weaker individuals. And couldn’t Boycott see that his single-minded determination to be a great batsman at the cost of all else in life was extremely rare, perhaps (although he didn’t say it) perverted. But Boycott stuck to his bat - all he ever wanted to do was play cricket, playing cricket came first, before women, before friends, before everything, and what was wrong with that, what was unusual about that? I believed him. Clare did expose, though, that Boycott is somewhat lost without a position in first class cricket, and that he is trying to fill the gap with something like spiritualism or Chinese astrology. For an earthy man like Boycott, this is astonishing in itself - so down to earth as far as batting is concerned, a skill entirely dependant on his own ability to better himself, but life itself, well that must be subject to more uncontrollable forces. Clare revealed this paradox cleverly and with subtlety.

But best of all, we like detective mystery plays, and like to prepare supper or lunch to be ready for when the play starts.

Outside of us - it becomes so difficult to think of anything but you and your mother - there has been the most awful massacre at Hungerford. Last week a man named Michael Ryan went on the rampage and killed 18 strangers, some of them children. He seems to have been a man obsessed with guns, and he belonged to several gun clubs. He is reported to have been quite ordinary. I think there was some sort of siege in a schoolhouse, but he killed himself in the end. What makes a man do things like that?

September 1987

Paul K Lyons


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