Friday 9 December

Aldeburgh, a drizzly if not very cold Friday in December. We went to one of Flick’s auctions, but it turned out to be a real waste of time - not a single item that interested me. Saxmundham was of interest, all the shopkeepers and many of the shoppers were dressed in Victorian clothes, or pretend Victorian clothes.

Much decoration, and festivity was in progress. Two school teachers had brought their classes out in the street to sing and play their instruments. It seemed natural enough that they should be fancy dress, but why were half the audience in old-fashioned clothes? Ah! tis Saxmundham’s Victorian day. More than any other establishment, the banks seemed to have immersed themselves in the play acting. In the Midland Bank I found myself staring down the cleavage of a teller in a laced frock; a gent in an old frock coat stood by a table full of snacks. At the barber in Leiston, I discovered that Leiston, too, had had a day of dressing up, last Friday, though its theme was Christmas crackers. The barber was one of the many organisers, and his shopfront was full of photos of people in fancy dress. A costumer from Beccles came to Leiston in September, and 60-80 people hired costumes for the event. One other town, Halesworth, has a theme day, the barber said, based on shopkeepers dressing themselves and their shops up - Leiston’s though has only been going three years. There is a definite carnival aspect in all this, the need to dress up, the thrill of organising a one-off event, the willingness to invest time and money.

Armenia has suffered one of the worst natural disasters in modern history. 100,000 are feared dead, while two million may be homeless in the darkest and coldest period of the year. This is a tragedy on an unprecedented scale. Chernobyl pales into a cup of spilt milk by comparison. Gorbachev cuts short his foreign tour (Cuba and UK) to return to Russia. Already questions are being asked: why was there no adequate warning (Russians pioneered seismographic studies) and why were so many buildings poorly built.

On the scale of things, Europe has had an easy time of late, such a natural disaster is almost unthinkable in Western Europe. And yet, just 40 years ago, there was a disaster still greater - the war. Perhaps because Europe is such a ‘safe’ land, competition for its ownership will always be fierce. Such is the law of the universe.

Gorbachev was visiting the UN in New York when news of the quake reached him. He had already made an important speech to the General Assembly. He told the world the USSR would be making major cuts in its army, its land defence vehicles, and its armed forces in several East European countries. The Russian chief seems to be making the pace yet again. Every time the West comes up with a criticism or counter to Russian detente moves, Gorbachev goes one step further. Heseltine writing in ‘The Times’ (echoing several other commentators) says the reductions are significant but leave NATO with far fewer tanks and men, thus relative numbers remain imbalanced. Still, the withdrawal of troops from E. Europe is an act hard to diminish. Heseltine also cautions his readers not to take Gorbachev’s offers on two other matters seriously: third world debt and the environment. Without too much evidence, he says, Moscow’s record on both is so poor anyway that to make improvements is hardly something to applaud.

But on disarmament Gorbachev continues to score propaganda coups, and in doing so he must be winning the hearts of many a left-winger. Yet, where does Russia’s Perestroika and Glasnost leave us in the West. There is no doubt in my mind that the peace of 40 years, NATO, the EEC, Britain’s special relationship with the US, have all been boosted by the idea of a common enemy. Detente, a breaking down of the barriers, an integration, politically and economically, between East and West will, in the future, mean a Perestroika of alliances, and a consequent heightening of tension in less controlled and disciplined centres of power. My son will see war in Europe as a consequence of Gorbachev.

Saturday 10 December

At work, my proposal for a supplement has been acted upon quicker than I imagined. I have won an increase in my budget, and more of Kenneth Maxwell’s time. This latter benefit was uppermost in my mind - I need an assistant in my office all the time. I don’t like sharing him. Two Fridays ago, I went looking for Dennis to find out what had happened to my proposal, and found Philip. Philip was miffed that I hadn’t come to him with my idea. I feigned an abject apology (I didn’t actually know Philip was in charge of these things) and he immediately organised a meeting with marketing. Before I could blink an eyelid, and before I could have second thoughts, I was facing approval. I had stressed the importance of my having more of Kenneth’s time, but I had always thought this would be the hardest concession to win. Somehow, I’ve convinced everyone, and my supplement will start in January.

At college, a satisfactory week passes, largely because I get one essay written (I shall have to write another this week). I was hoping for more social contact with other students, or even the lecturers, but this did not transpire. Each day (of a week off from work), I went swimming in the Student’s Union pool. The chlorine did my eyes in, and I found it hard to read for hours after.

Leslie takes us through the debate over Neanderthals. I had no idea they were not descended from Homo sapiens sapiens, that they were a side branch that expanded in Europe and became extinct about the same time modern man established itself in Europe. It seems man’s descendants radiated out of Africa several times, and died out several times before making it as anatomically-modern humans.

For Dunbar, I wrote 2,000 words about the use of infants in male-male encounters. It seems that a subordinate male can raise his standing by grabbing an infant to ‘present’ in a possibly aggressive encounter. In most cases, the use of an infant inhibits the dominant from attacking. I wrote an essay on why this should be so. Not only did my own ideas differ from those in the literature, but both Crook (him of Bristol whose meditation week in Wales I attended) and Dunbar have contributed to the discussion on the topic, and I have disagreed with both. Hee hee. Will I be shot down?


The Lessing/Glass opera plays on the radio. As I turned it on, I was reminded of Britten’s ‘Paul Bunyan’. The use of choruses and crude music backing gives a feel of Ancient Greece rather than of the future.

Martin has left for Paris, Caroline is not yet back from her tour in Germany. I use her room to store paraphernalia from the lounge, so I can paint it over the next few days. The damage to the window side walls and ceiling is a nuisance, but is completely my own fault for not mending the roof earlier. Some strange and naive intelligence in my mind just expected the problem to go away, instead it has slowly got worse, and attacked the plaster surface. The whole window area is a complete mess. I need new curtain rails and brackets too.

Over the next few days I must write my fossil essay, and do the rest of the Christmas shopping. Next week I have the UK energy profile to write. The work load is mounting up and may leade me panicking a bit.

Nilofer and Kathy present their thesis proposals to the biological round table. Kathy will study the paleoanthropology of Java during the Homo erectus period, largely through existing data from a single source. Nilofer will study orangutans, gorillas and chimps at London Zoo; she will look to classify their behaviour with a view to learning something about why orangutans are not very social. Our last classes of the year are tomorrow. I wonder if I will go to the anthropology party and feel silly.

A nasty train crash at Clapham Junction diverts attention from Armenia. We see pictures of the wreckage and the rescue operation. About 30 people were killed. In my mind I try and multiply this disaster by 1,000 and more to scale up to Armenia, and I cannot.

Yasser Arafat speaks at the UN meeting hastily relocated in Geneva after he was refused a visa to enter the US. He renounces terrorism in all its forms. The other day he said he accepted two states: a Palestinian state and a Jewish state (Israel). What sort of pills is he on?

Full and unconditional support for my supplement is through. Just like that. I must pat myself on my back. I did something right. The proposal was green lighted in record time. Now all I have to do is produce the goods, and see it sell like hot cakes.

It’s clearly a moment for briefs, news briefs.

B & A & I went to Brighton last Sunday. We went to see Annabel basically, but also to look at house in Lewes. Unfortunately, it rained something rotten, so we weren’t able to stroll around town. But how nice to see Annabel again after all this time. It seems like just the other day that she became pregnant. Kate is now six years old! I take her to the sweet shop and she cannot choose, she looks around again and again, but lacks decision. She has £1 to spend and cannot decide. I prompt her, and she agrees without any trouble. I buy some boxes of chocolate for Annabel. Kate didn’t have sweets until she was three. Now she is only allowed them on Sundays.

We spent a relaxed few hours with Annabel, talking about children and courses. She is doing a degree in psychology. She served spinach pie for lunch. We spent a few minutes on the beach. So long since I was in Brighton. The seabed slopes more slowly in Brighton than in Aldeburgh, so the waves roll in over a long distance.

Briefly we dropped in at the university to see Claudio - my young friend, the chemistry graduate from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, who won a grant to do a PhD at Sussex. I had offered him the use of Aldershot Road when he first arrived in September, but he declined. He really is a chirpy fellow. I hope he makes good friends.

The journey back through London was hell. I said traffic had increased enormously in recent years, but B said tube traffic was accelerating even faster. I said, oh no, car traffic surely is increasing most because so many people now own cars, and there’s more money to get about and do things. Within a day or two, I saw some figures in a newspaper. It seems tube traffic has been increasing at about 10% a year for several years, so B was dead right. Rush hour car traffic, by contrast, has been fairly static.

Wednesday 28 December

I have come to Aldeburgh alone. The main thing I have to do is my essay for Leslie - ‘Evaluate the hypothesis that modern humans evolved in Africa and spread from there throughout the world.’

A blue sky and sunshine. I am tempted to go out somewhere for the day, maybe to Southwold for to take photos, but I resist. I must get on with the essay.

The UK’s worst aeroplane tragedy filled the newspapers a week ago, Wednesday 21st December, and has done so all over Christmas. No other news item came close to displacing it. Two hundred and fifty eight people were aboard the Pan Am Boeing Jumbo which fell out of the sky suddenly from 30,000 ft. Another dozen or so were killed on the ground as the plane’s remains devastated houses and cars. Just today there has been an official announcement that clear evidence of sabotage has been found. The grim search for bodies and aeroplane parts goes on, while the village of Lockerbie must begin to clear itself up.

A storage tanker broke loose from its mooring in the North Sea over Christmas, and drifted in high winds towards Norway, only just missing some oil platforms. This seemed a fairly minor energy story to me at first, except that oil production from three wells, including Fuller, is pumped into this tanker for trans-shipment on, and that production from these three wells is about 10% of North Sea output. No storage tanker, no oil production.

The week before Christmas, I was down with the flu, and for the entire week I had but one social engagement - on Friday night with family because I had organised a trip to the theatre to see Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Henceforward’. Julian, Sarah, Mel, B, Mum and Me. Christmas Day itself was as usual a splurge of presents and good food, all tempered by Adam’s ill health and my own lack of spirit.

Mum buys me a red jumper and a bowl for Christmas. Mel buys me a blue shirt, Julian a green sweater. B buys me pots and pens and knives. I give Julian pictures of Rio, Mum a scarf and half some opera cassettes, and everybody gets a framed picture of Adam from me. I give Mel a book on interior design. I also give some table presents (as usual). This year they are pencils with animal figures stuck to one end. They are quite kitsch. I combine them with some animal masks. They cause fun for a few minutes but whether it is ten pounds of fun I cannot be sure.

I listen to Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor before going to bed.

Friday 30 December

I have never really given much thought to flint before. I know its distinctive appearance, and that it’s a source of spark, and is found as a facing material on houses and churches. Today, I discover it was an important material in the Neolithic age and that it was mined in East Anglia some 4,000 years ago. Indeed, Grime’s Grave is dubbed the oldest industrial site in Europe. The flint deposits in the area were mined for several hundred years in the Stone Age, but there is little evidence of continuous flint activity until the mine was reactivated in the 17th and 18th centuries - to supply the army with gunflints - when the Suffolk town of Brandon became the country’s flint capital. A 1930s photograph, in a Norfolk Museum fact sheet, shows ‘Pony’ Ashley, the last flint miner active in the Brandon region. He carries a pick axe, not dissimilar from the picks used by the Neolithic miners at Grime’s Grave. It’s an Anglo Saxon name, I think, with Grime coming from Grim or Odin. From the air, photos show a field with dozens of lumps and hollows, the hollows being where the dug out shafts were filled with the chalk diggings: flint is found loose in soils all over, but it is also found layered in chalk deposits. Stone Age man discovered that the flint in the so-called floorstone layer, some 30-35 ft below the surface, was superior for making axes and flake-tools. Axes appear to have been particularly important at the time, as man was beginning to cultivate land and needed equipment to clear trees and undergrowth, I suppose. The archaeologists think the stones were half made at this industrial site, but then finished off by the customer. Some 500 shafts were sunk, and galleries constructed between them, in Neolithic times. It seems, from the the skills involved, that miners must have been craftsmen, keeping several families busy, maybe, for a century or two.

One of the most interesting finds at the mine was an elaborate arrangement of chalk boulders topped by a sitting figure of pregnant woman (just 4 ft high), almost Buddha like. A phallus and several other chalk balls were found next to it. Miners having wasted a lot of time on sinking a pit and finding no floorstone flint - so the theory goes - built this offering in the hope of better luck next time. Knapping is the word used to describe the craft of making gunflints and flint building material from blocks of flint.

At Norwich Castle Museum I find reproductions of Kabwe, Swanscombe, Steinheim skulls in a small display about the evolution of man. It is reasonably correct though I am in doubt about putting Kabwe among the Neanderthals. The museum is a real treasure, well laid out with depth and considerable variation. There is a beautiful collection of teapots and Lowestoft pottery, there are displays of local birds and mammals in well constructed/painted cabinets, and some fauna from other parts. There is an art gallery based on paintings of the Norwich School - John Crome among others - which was rather over-shadowed by Constable and Turner. Though, interestingly, I could see shades of both great painters in some of the canvasses. Often the interest of a painting is for the detail of the clothing or buildings. The scenes of boats, either on the Broads or at sea, often show the most feeling and colour. Mill scenes inevitably remind me of George Elliot.


Paul K Lyons


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