PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1988 - FEBRUARY
Monday 1 February
Dearest Adam, you hardly remember Aldeburgh. It must have been some five weeks since last you were there, and five weeks in a life not yet six months old is a very long time, a very long time indeed. You looked around in the rooms with great interest. You did not sleep so well, but that could be due to the novelty of the new old cot and mattress. It could also have been because of your ongoing nappy rash. Or, as we were to discover on Friday, your very first tooth - at the centre of your lower gum. With this one nascent tooth you think you have a new power and you bite everything, toilet rolls, blankets, bottle teats, fingers. All of life is an experiment. I am happy to see you so alert, and interested in all things. This weekend, in particular, you really began to be interested in what we were doing. You watched us decorating, for example, remaining calm and content, but, if we both went out of sight, you started to shout or bawl.
Your mother and I worked hard, and laughed a lot. It is only a small room, our front room, but it has taken a lot of time to refurbish. I had very little experience of wallpapering (none in fact) and so it took me a while to fully paper the room’s walls, to ready them for painting. That was Thursday. On Saturday we painted - the walls in seafoam and the woodwork in pompadour. It all looked a bit pastelly, and the pompadour was a bit too blue for the room. We had chosen it to meet the strength of the colour in the golden yellow carpet - but we’ve not laid that yet. We’ve also chosen a yellow/grey Morris wallpaper design, which we’ve used for the ceiling! - it goes with the fireplace in the room (yellow and grey facing tiles) as well as the wall and frame colours. I had no idea it would so difficult to paper the ceiling - never imagined the wallpaper falling down all over the place - forgot about gravity.
In the quiet evenings, I listen to Chopin and Berlioz. Your mother’s old gramophone has taken up residence there, and I am transferring a collection of classical records with their original magazines as published in the 60s. I can listen to the music, and read about the composer and the work. For example, I never realised that Berlioz had fallen in love with an Irish actress long before he met her personally, and that his ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ is little more than an autobiography of this relationship passing through the stages of courtship, marriage and divorce. I never knew he was a self-publicist, that he was criticised for producing programmes designed to be interesting and a crowd-draw in themselves. He never really found a successful relationship, it seems, yet in the latter part of his life he was destined to travel endlessly to perform as a conductor to earn enough to pay for his wife, mistress and child.
BBC2 ran a fictionalised film of Stanley Spencer’s life last night. It drew my attention to two aspects of his life. One was not mentioned overtly but was apparent in the way the film was made: Spencer’s distortions of the human figure may have originated in his own physical littleness; his figures often seem grotesquely enlarged, as if seen through some odd lens or other. The other aspect was more explicit and I saw a link with Berlioz’s life: despite the influence of a good woman (his wife) Spencer fell prey to a bad woman, one who promised him all manner of sexual delights but never delivered. In this film, Spencer was shown to be utterly ingenuous, to be driven to financial ruin by this woman, and to spiritual torment. Quite simply he became obsessed with sex - as shown in his paintings - because he was not getting any.
Suddenly, it is the end of January. Why do I always find time so frightening - or rather the passage of it? Frightened to see the weeks and months slip by without my achieving more. I was happy to write off the first six months of your life - allowing for time spent helping you and B, and time spent in settling into the new job. But over the next year, the term of my new contract, I expect to achieve more. Apart from work, apart from Aldeburgh, I need to produce something else. I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again.
One evening last week, I visited Rosy and Andrew. They have yet to meet you. You have yet to meet them. They are the only friends I have with grown-up children. Well, they weren’t grown-up when I first knew them, but Tammy has just reached the age of majority 18. She can vote. More evidence of Time’s steadfast work. What to say about them? Rosy becomes still more determined to know herself and searches frantically for clues - charlatans with simple messages are easiest to believe in. She seems to give no thought to Andrew, barely considers him in calculations about herself. We each talk about what we most want in life. Andy seems to suggest that harmony would be bliss, peace and contentment all. Quite clearly, he struggles past every hurdle Rosy puts in their path, hoping beyond hope that there won’t be any more.
Tracye - the production assistant who has worked for me these five months - has left to go to Africa. Today, I take her for lunch to say thank you in a small way. Despite a pre-disposition to drink, men and hangovers, she has worked well and hard for me. Making an extra effort in fine tuning tables, typing up indexes, and addressing mailing shots. Her main boyfriend, Gary, appears to have been about as much of a shit as you can get, yet something in Tracye looks for that. She is pragmatic. She likes men, but knows she cannot attract them through her looks. There is something of the raunchy barmaid in her. At lunch, John joins us, he has been Tracye’s closest buddy here (apart from Tanya with whom she lives); we joke all through lunch about how many condoms she should take to Africa. Well, Tracye, be careful out there, with the black men, and the wild animals.
Thursday 4 February
Six months old - half a year. Five per cent of your childhood. Not far off one per cent of your life. Mum reports that you scream a lot at night now - is this your tooth speaking, or is life beginning to get to you. Tomorrow we will spend the afternoon together, and have a talk.
I am not happy with myself. This week is very lazy. I do almost nothing. In the production week, I work quite hard, and I feel justified in being lazy for short periods, TV watching; but, in my off-week, I feel I should be distinctly more productive. I had a mind to do a detailed survey on refineries, this being one of the only areas not covered by other newsletters in this group. So far, all I have done is call a few PR people for some capacities. I should be identifying the refinery manager, and interviewing him, digging better. If not, then I should be using this time to do other things - my rats, my novel, some other project. Until I get into something engaging, I will continue to moan and groan at myself.
On Wednesdays, I continue my navigation class. I am quite fast at the chartwork, though I tend to make silly errors which should be resolvable through checking or by a more structured approach. The calculation of tides etc is easy for me too. I fall down when I need to memorise light signals, buoy marks, rules and regulations. On the one hand, I feel it is all a waste of time, as I can hardly see myself ever navigating for real. On the other hand, it is a useful diversion, and exercises the grey cells in a different direction for a change. Perhaps one day, who knows, I can teach you navigation.
I cycle into work when the sun shines. Everything is right about cycling, everything wrong about the underground. At this time of year, the wind can be spiteful, blowing against me whatever direction I choose to take. Also, riding down the Edgware Road, I fly straight into the jaws of the golden giant, he is so low in the sky, I am blinded. I squint to see my way, with so many hazards, I must be triply careful. The part of the route I love best is when I pull out of Hyde Park Corner roundabout and sail down Constitution Hill, first I have Green Park on my left and then St James’s Park on my right. I can usually slip into the very top gear, and fly along without effort. The return trip is more uphill, but I ride through Hyde Park instead of on Park Lane itself, and that’s a pleasure too.
When Philip came for dinner the other day we talked about cameras. He said he had bought a new lens for his South America trip, and it turned out to be identical to mine. But, he said, he’d bought it partly because of the macro feature, so he could take close-up photos of plants. Now, it so happens that for some years I have been wanting to take close-ups, but I have always found the macro feature of the lens useless. I was never able to focus on an object closer than the normally-set lens. Phil showed me how the macro feature only worked very, very close. I had never tried to do that, to focus so close. And sure enough, if you place the lens just inches away from the object instead of feet, it focuses. Well, well, well.
I talk to Dad, he’s in a chirpy mood. He confesses that the greenhouse effect is worrying him. Michele invites us all round to dinner in two weeks time.
Monday 8 February
Dear Angel Heart, you are growing up so fast. Your eyes are so alert and even penetrating. Your body is fit and your mind alert, now your character will start building, bit-by-bit, bit-by-bit. Already your will is a match for our own. You are six months old. What did you do at six months? You crawled forwards for the very first time, and by the weekend you had perfected the skill, and were propelling yourself in minutes from one side of the room to the other. As parents, we may be pleased at your precocity, but as caretakers, we are horrified to realise that we cannot leave you alone for a minute. You may thrust your beautiful blond hair into the fire, crack your single tooth on the hearth, or rip a cord out of an electric socket and bring the radio down on your head. Oh dear!
This weekend in Aldeburgh Daddy laid the big yellow carpet in the front room - it was clean and uncluttered. You crawled around it with such joy. When you are a man, sometimes think of yourself as a six month baby swimming and crawling across a great golden carpet, and laughing and laughing in pure joy. As it happens, Daddy made a bit of a balls up over the carpet. He is not so clever at cutting and fitting, but my problems were compounded by a warp in the carpet itself. Dad’s old friend Jo Sinclair had given it to me many years ago, and it’s been stuck in my loft all this time. I really needed to use it, to make the bother of having storied it, worthwhile.
‘Horizon’ presents a film about the greenhouse effect. TV is so effective for artistic material, for fiction, for plays, for instruction of ideas, philosophies, moral dilemmas, but I find it generally hopeless for documentary. Ideas are glossed over too fast, supported by quick takes of film, and a few words from a professor. Such was the case with this programme. Trying to make predictions about future weather conditions in consequence of the greenhouse effect, I discovered, is very complex, almost impossible. There is some consensus that things are warming up, but no one is sure.
Armies of scientists worldwide appear to be investigating this phenomenon, but so much of the research seems wasteful, ill thought out, irrelevant. The plain fact is that any change in weather conditions will occur slowly by the scale of men’s lives. And, as changes occur, so man will deal with them in a piecemeal way. A prediction of X is not going to lead to humanity doing Y. Far from it. What will be will be. Plants and animals will evolve and change as best suits them in the changing environment. If man tries to stand still against the tide of evolutionary change from whatever cause, he is being as foolish as King Canute.
I read a trilogy of novels from New York by a young writer called Paul Auster. The work is that of a young writer experimenting with narrative loops, there is some of Kafka, some of Poe, some even of Lawrence Durrell. In the end I found it all rather meaningless. Doubtless, Auster has a motive for what he writes, and he does does manage to write in a compulsive way sometimes.
B has sent me a lovely card with the caption ‘Rough Riders’. I give her one for Valentine’s Day with the caption ‘Swing High, Swing Low’. I have crept up to the study this Sunday morning to catch up the six days since last I wrote . . .
. . . No such luck. Something stopped me. Most likely, you my son, you have whined a lot over the weekend. Only on Sunday did we discover that a second tooth was showing through. Dear little tooth, keeping us awake at night, causing you such stress.
Monday 15 February
Today is carnival in Brazil. I ring Elaine and I ring Mike Kepp. I was fortunate to experience two carnivals, seeing them in a way only a handful of people ever see them, from the track and behind the scenes. I cannot resent not being able to see one again - I’ve had my share of that particular cake, as creamy and gorgeous as it was. And there is no point in feeling nostalgic for Brazil’s sun and beaches, for at this time of the year it is so hot and humid. And the bay was at its dirtiest at this time of year, so filthy sometimes, I would not swim. Elaine tells me it is raining torrents every night. 210 people have been killed by floods in Petropolis. I talk to Mike, just to find out how things are going, also to get information on LPG which he gives me gracefully, and I tuck into a short story for IGR. Sometimes, I think to ring Rosa - oh I do think of her young body and her young soul sometimes - but I desist, knowing it best to let those embers die. Yet, I am not so thoughtful about writing - I still like to read and receive letters.
But just now I am not nostalgic for Brazil, rather for people in my past. Last night, I happened to delve into a box of old letters. I must have brought it down from the loft some weeks back, and it was still lying in the middle of the floor. People, mostly girlfriends, come alive. Passions remembered, magical dreamland passions - extraordinary expression in the relationship with Marielle, the beauty and art of such women as Ann, Jan, Roser. In particular letters from R touched me deeply, brought tears to my eyes. So beautifully she wrote me from Spain, so simply expressing her love. This expression took me by surprise. I don’t really remember R’s love for me. I must have taken her so for granted. I do remember those awful times for me in Leyton, and her generosity when I gave nothing in return. It saddens me that I cannot remember her physically - all I have is the simple nude self-portrait that sits on my study mantelpiece.
Most of all, I was moved by a letter from my estranged father, Frederic. Almost all of Frederic’s letters were familiar to me, except the very early ones, and one in particular from 1966. In this long letter, Frederic attempts to give me some guidance on life but spends most of the time justifying his failure in two careers, that of writing and that of being in the film industry. At the end of the letter, he offers his services as long-distance counsellor claiming that he was ‘damn good at life (except a career)’. He suggests I may like to put the letter aside for a while and re-read it later. I was only 14. He was not that much older than I am now. I can see traits in the letters not dissimilar from my own, a need to avoid cliche in writing style, and in lifestyle.
I was also surprised to find extended dialogues with Mireille in Geneva, Ann in Chicago, Lynn in NZ, all nearly forgotten. They are powerful feelings these memories bring. In one moment, I feel a cad for having encouraged the love of women without any real motive. It was always just a game to be played. In another moment, I feel so terribly sad that all that fun and excitement is no more, that all the romance and passion is no more. And then, some moments later, I feel content that at least I have had those experiences in my past, that they are stored up, so to speak, and will count towards some kind of richness factor by which I do, and shall, judge myself.
Those thoughts led me on to think of Barbara and you, and I know I have done the right thing. I must develop and change and mature. B and you are part of my future, a complex, deeper, richer future.
Tuesday 16 February
Dear Adam, You can tell this is my off week, I get time to write every day. Your mother reports you have a cold, and enormous trouble sleeping at night. She gave you a touch of Calpol last night, your first analgesic medicine. I hope it doesn’t trigger off a lifetime’s need for such things. We parents worry about such stupid things.
I gave myself a treat last night, Adam, though I suppose it could be considered a trial - five hours of ‘Parsifal’. Your mother says I don’t like Wagner. That may or may not be true, and I may well have not gone to this production had it not been for the surtitles. Believe it or not my son, there is a debate over surtitles, should they or should they not be used. How anybody not already intimate with Wagner’s opera or speaking fluent German could get anything like the full sense of the story without surtitles is beyond me. I suppose (I suppose a lot don’t I son) the Royal Opera has judged that words in Wagner are important, and for that reason have sullied the music and singing with the vulgar sur-appendage of words.
I am uneducated about Wagner and thought this a fine opportunity to commence my learning. Due to its excessive length, the season was limited to a handful of performances, the only one I had a hope of attending was the last, last night. Only terribly expensive seats were available at first - I mean £30-40. But when I went on the day I got a standing ticket for £5, which got me a £60 seat as it happens.
It is easier to talk about my going to see ‘Parsifal’ than about the opera itself. It is a majestic work, and it was staged majestically, though I felt there was a certain scrappiness about both costume and set.
There is very little action, most it being related rather than enacted, instead there are a series of tableaux around which a complex allegorical tale is spun. Unfortunately, no clear cut interpretation of the story exists. I spent my intervals avidly devouring the expensive programme for some clues. Somebody called deathhead wrote about how there was no one view, that Wagner himself deliberately disguised his messages in the complex labyrinth of his plots. I had to read deathhead several times over to find clues and mis-leading clues. It seems there might be an industry in profound exegesis of Wagner, just as there is of the bible.
The opera moves very slowly. Poor old Kudy is everybody’s victim - she gets a magnificent second act, but boring first and third acts, in which she has to be present lying or standing. I woke up in this second act to find Wagner saying terrible things about man’s addiction to pleasure with women. The music often reminded me of an over-written film score, at times it reached glory at others banality. Wagner was no ordinary man. He had much to say about life, about religion, about love, but he must also have had deep personal conflicts within him. In this opera, as in others I’m sure, it is difficult to separate the two - in other words to read what he has to say to us on one level and to interpret what he is getting out of his system in another.
Wednesday 17 February
On the way to work, I nip in to see you. Give you a book, feed you your breakfast, and generally feast off your smiles and good humour. You seem to have got over the worst of your second tooth. Outside we have brilliant sun, cloudless skies, and a chill air. The frost has kept away; plants and trees are fooled into believing spring has come. Crocuses have been out for ages, now daffodils are flowering, and today I saw several prunus already blossoming.
Monday 22 February
Oh dear, I discovered that I ran the same story in two different issues of EER. I am so embarrassed. Being a one man operation, the newsletter is that much more vulnerable to such mistakes. This week is my busy week, my ON week. My work schedule runs like a cycle. It begins to grind slowly into gear on Monday. On Tuesday I move up a notch to a cruise. On Wednesday, I begin to race a bit; then on Thursday I sprint and run out of stamina at the same time. The worst of it is that I am doing no research myself. I am simply fulfilling the function of an editor. This week I have to mould a profile of Greece into shape. Nothing much is happening on the home front. I went to a conference organised by a stockbroking firm. The last speaker was Cecil Parkinson [Secretary of State for Energy] who confessed that he had accepted the invitation because his daughter worked for the organising firm. This is the first time I’ve seen him for real - Michael Spicer has stood in for him at other meetings. I felt Parkinson’s familiarity with the subject was superficial - his speech was prepared by someone close, with personal anecdotes inserted.
I speak to my correspondents. I talk to Sharon in Lisbon about holidays, we flirt a bit; I talk to Sara in Cologne about Rosa and Adam; I natter to Jane in Madrid about illness; David in Rome promises me a handful of smaller stories this week; Michael in Paris prevaricates about anything that involves more than looking in newspapers.
My dear son, at last you have begun to talk. B rang during the week to tell me you had repeated several times the all important word of Dada, Dada. And now, just a day or two later, you are saying Dadi. You don’t actually say it to me or even to Mama, nor even when I’m in the room. To tell the truth, you say the word completely indiscriminately, but the books do say it is the first stage.
Sunday night, you will soon be asleep. You’ve been such a charmer all weekend, galloping around the lounge, from one side of the gold carpet to the other. Such things you discover. The gas meter: I’m afraid you’ll slip and smash one of your two teeth. The hoover: how you like that little orange button, and to chew the cable. The sofa: good for climbing up and supporting you while you stand. You stand for quite a while now, sometimes your knees give way, and you crumple to the floor, but you don’t hurt yourself. Shoes hold a fascination for you, and more than many things you love to put them in your mouth. Plugs too. So far you have kept away from the fire - we haven’t bought a fire guard yet - but you do love to crumple up any paper, whether in a book or a newspaper, and then put the crumpled paper in your mouth.
I’ve put you in the pushchair to see if you’ll fall asleep without the aid of a bottle in your mouth or a rocking motion. We must be careful not to impose habits on you. Of course, if every night you go to sleep whilst drinking milk, then when the day arrives that you should sleep without bottle - you won’t. I feel you have reached a new stage of learning and I’m not sure how best to encourage you. You roam around the rooms exploring everything with your hands. I feel it is good thing to touch and play with plugs and cables and skirting boards and books and fruits and anything else you find or we put in your way. You won’t yet learn what they are for but you will learn motor skills and develop tactile sensations. I don’t have much success with books, the pictures barely interest you. Walks you do like. I try and point objects out to you, stressing and repeating the key words - a blue car, blue car; a black door, black door; and so on. Both in the sling and in the push chair you behave oh so well. In fact, you behave well all the time. These days you only cry if you get very hungry, very tired, very uncomfortable or if in pain from an accident.
It still shocks me to remember that you are my son. A strange possessive adjective. You are you, you cannot belong to anybody, yet you do. You belong mostly to B, you are her son. You are our son, and you are my son. So hard to take it all in.
A momentous week for energy - though not necessarily for European Energy Report. Indeed the Report was so full of boring figures - company results, energy balance results, imports, exports oh all so boring - that it’s a wonder anybody will read it. I was hard pressed to find a lead story and, in the end, I used a Spanish story not dissimilar to one used by International Gas Report, a full seven days previously. A big week for energy because government published its white paper on the privatisation of the electricity industry. Andy Holmes, editor of Power Europe, sat brooding over the White Paper on Friday, groaning at a government that could contemplate such a grand action - the world’s biggest ever privatisation - with a White Paper only 16 pages long.
This Sunday’s ‘Sunday Times’ carried an interesting story on the battle between Cecil Parkinson to get his White Paper plan accepted and Lord Marshall, chairman of the CEGB. Marshall has fought long and hard to retain the identity of the CEGB in particular, the relationship between the generation and transmission grid. He feels it is the responsibility of the generating company to ‘keep the lights burning’. But this responsibility has been transferred to the electricity boards - or rather will be. The article examined how Parkinson outmanoeuvred Marshall from the beginning while keeping Thatcher happy too. Parkinson even employed private consultants to work on the counter-attack of Marshall. Parkinson wooed other electricity chiefs, and even kept moles in the Marshall camp. Every time Marshall took an MP out for an expensive lunch, Parkinson’s people wooed them back afterwards. The article explained how both Parkinson and Marshall were favourites of Thatcher but whereas Marshall had access to Downing Street, Parkinson had access to Chequers. Near the end he used this to persuade Thatcher one weekend (while Dennis was at a rugby match) to the merits of his plan. The article even told how the FT’s Max Wilkinson got a scoop on the details two whole weeks before the White Paper’s publication (which I cribbed for EER, and which proved accurate) - at a party at No 10!
The cold weather, the cold winds and the cold snows have arrived here in Aldeburgh, sweeping down from the North. Through the window I can see a snowstorm blowing almost horizontal. I would like to go out with the camera, but it looks too cold and wet. The journey back this afternoon might be treacherous.
I’ve spent most of this weekend putting up shelves in our lounge. You, my dear Adam, love this room, love crawling across the gold carpet. B has painted the Lloyds Loom chair, and worked in the garden. I thought to go to the dump this morning, but I fear it is too bitter. We listen to ‘Billy Budd’ all weekend in readiness for our visit to the Coliseum on Tuesday night.
Paul K Lyons
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