PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1988 - JUNE
Adam’s 10th monthday. I don’t remember noticing before how fast and abundantly plants grow in spring. I barely have to blink and we are transformed from the end of April to the beginning of June. Everywhere I look, flourishing dense growths of green take over. Light roomy country lanes are overgrown with expanding hedges and hedgerows leaving just space for a car to pass; gardens, but recently bare of life, are strangled by tall and bushy weeds; parks are amazing feasts of greens and coloured plants. Lilac and hawthorn dominate at present, with clematis and roses coming into their own, blooming in glory. Our front garden here in Aldeburgh continues to be ablaze with blue. The geraniums I bought in a jumble sale just a few weeks ago are blooming, as are the ceanothus, clematis and catmint. In the back garden, my lettuces sprout in rows. I am less confident about the spinach and spring onion.
Schemes and dreams go round in my head. Schemes to sell property and buy other property; dreams to write books. I cannot be far from taking some sort of step in some sort of direction. The status quo gets harder and harder to bear, I must do something. It is nearly a year since I bought this house in Aldeburgh, a year since Adam was born. I must get more things moving - such a chronic cry of mine.
Schemes and dreams have dominated the world of super power politics this last week as yet another summit takes place, this time in Moscow. With so many correspondents in Russia there has been a flood of stories about the country and people. Reagan and Gorbachev did not come to any spectacular agreements, yet they talk optimistically of achievements, and achievements to come. Reagan was kept happy with meeting foreign dissidents and visiting churches, and Gorbachev was kept happy by having the world see the human side of Russia.
I suppose most people with a tinge of interest in politics would give a little toe to be a fly on the wall of the room in which the two great men negotiate. What is said in front of the cameras and to the media is surely so different from goes on behind the screens.
I carry Adam in the pushchair across the pebbles to sit just behind the tide and watch me swim. He sits patiently looking out to sea, like King Canute. Adam will grow up, I hope, with a love of the sea. This is no manipulation towards the romantic, rather to practical benefit. The air at land’s edge is always cleaner, healthier. If a deep impetus drives him as an adult to find the sea regularly it must be good for his health. The water is close to its warmest of the year, and it is no problem to swim properly (rather than dive in and then out barely stopping to catch breath). I wave at Adam from the sea. He smiles back.
He learns to kiss. When I hold him in my arms, I can kiss him gently on the cheek. He used to turn away, now he positively enjoys it. He will then turn his cheek for another kiss, or kiss me on the cheek, or come straight at my lips with his lips wide open. The sweetie. He still captures hearts in the street. Just now in the queue for the bread shop there were several children waiting with their parents, but Adam won attention for his smiles. Somebody said, what a happy child.
‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’. Much recommended by assorted friends this film nevertheless left me unsatisfied. The first half more or less lived up to expectations with sensitive camera work, development of characters.
Here were are in Aldeburgh. B goes back to London this afternoon. I shall stay here with Adam for the week. Until now, I’ve only ever spent a couple of days alone with him - this will be five days. I know the week will disappear in a cloud of tiredness but I plan to get lots done. In the evenings, I want to get on with Belinda, and during the day I want to get to some furniture auctions. Besides that, I must do some work on the house. Adam’s room and the stairwell need decorating, and the bathroom will also need attention.
Where did last week go? Monday, the bank holiday, I must have frittered away as we came back from Aldeburgh early in the morning. Oh yes, I remember, I was sick in the night vomiting something horrible, so that the following day I sat in front of the telly. I watched, for example, a three hour C4 thriller with Jonathan Pryce as a scheming murderer. Good fun. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday in the office I worked hard putting together EER 265. Despite my earlier proof readings, errors creep in here and there and everywhere: a series of zeroes in one place and a table labelled incorrectly with GWh instead of TWh. I do detest myself for not spotting these errors. It must undermine readers’ confidence in the accuracy of the contents. If I hadn’t lost Nicky for two days and myself for one day of this week (bank holiday) I may have done better, been more thorough.
My sweet Portuguese correspondent rings to say she is leaving Portugal. Her husband must move to Kenya. He’s a computer boffin, and has been hired to wire up the ministry of finance. Nevertheless, with a bit of encouragement, she turns in a super page one story.
Tuesday evening I manage to spew forth a couple of hundred boring words for the novel (Belinda). I need to involve Dennis in a drug company scam, but could I find a thing in any of my ‘New Scientist’ cuttings or a book in the library or in a bookshop about the pharmaceutical industry? No, I couldn’t. I’m stuck at a point where I desperately need action. And I can’t find any. The whole story is nothing but people talking so far.
Long past my bedtime considering I must get up at 5 to see to Adam. I could cope with 6, but 5 really is too early, it leaves me desperate to go back to sleep. I must have tried three or four times to put Adam in his cot. Each time he cried a bit then settled down for five minutes before screaming his head off. It wasn’t until he’d had a good scoff of breakfast that he really went off. But, I had been trying to delay breakfast so that he would be less needy on our travel to Wickham Market, for the auctions. I planned to leave about 8:30, the auction starting at 10:00, but it surprised me how much preparation there was to get done. As it is, I forgot a change of clothes in case he was sick, and I forgot anything at all to wipe and clean him with. Fortunately, the good lord spared me both these possible tragedies. Still, I had to make his lunch, find a container to put it in, take extra provisions, carrots, apricots, bananas, to keep him happy later, and of course a drink. Nappies I did remember.
We left about 8:45 by which time Adam had had a 45 minute sleep, and I had managed to write a few words - but not eaten breakfast.
There was a mass of junk and junk furniture to be sold. At first not one lot appealed to me. We walked around looking at the caged rabbits and goats, peering closely at the dirty loud cows and generally admiring all the country folk that had come to buy or sell. It surprised us to see so many babies, several about Adam’s age, some being held, others in pushchairs. None of them smile like Adam does though.
I was afraid of Adam becoming restless or his good humour turning sour - but it’s all a matter of timing, knowing how long to leave him in the pushchair, when to change him, when to carry him.
All the junk was so higgledy piggledy I couldn’t be sure where one lot started or another ended. In one area, a number of chairs and sofas had been so pressed together that it provided an effective playpen to contain Adam. A huge mirror helped keep him amused. He burst out smiling every time he saw himself. When I looked at him through the mirror reflection, perhaps making faces, I noticed he was looking at my face directly, not at the reflection. When I turned my face to him directly he returned to look at me in the mirror.
All the book lots unfortunately went for too much, and I had no idea of their worth. I did buy a pair of study chairs for £10 in one of which I now sit. They are both sturdy and comfortable, and I was in great need of them, either for here or for London or one for each. We hung around for another couple of hours taking tea, going for a walk, but none of the next lots proved cheap enough to be interesting. There were a few more items I would have liked but we’d have had to stay through until five or six. Finally, then, I decided we should come home. A long tiring day for little reward. But, it is such a pleasure to go out with Adam. He enjoys himself so much, avidly gobbling up all the sights and smiling at everyone he sees. Strangers cannot resist his smile and always smile back.
We play lots of games like that, if I may digress for a moment. When I hold him in an arm so that he looks over a shoulder, he might flick his head suddenly to the other side. I then do the same quick as a flash. He catches the game and we do this a few times until he stops right in front of my nose staring straight at me, as if to say are you mad or am I. He loves to go to the beach and sit on the pebbles. As soon as I put him down, a broad grin spreads across his face. If I lie on my back and hold him up by my outstretched hands he laughs, and if I blow into his tummy he giggles with delight.
Yesterday, I worked hard on the house. First thing we went to Leiston to buy some odds and ends from the builder, and a few provisions. I have made a cover for the gas meter. My carpentry skills are so poor that I must have put three bits of wood together in every conceivable way before actually hitting on the right combination. Consequently, I have a blister on the palm of my right hand from screwing and unscrewing so often. Adam slept a lot during the day, which allowed me the time to make so many mistakes. But, for the last part, I put him in the pushchair to watch me. He likes to watch his daddy at work.
In the morning breaks, with Adam napping, I’ve been trying to get on with Belinda. I don’t manage to write much, but trying in the evenings is hopeless. I am staggeringly tired. Last night, I fell asleep within minutes of lying down on the floor to listen to a radio play. And, if I try and write my journal I stop after every few words and stare into space, half asleep. If Adam only sleeps from 7 to 5 that’s only two hours more than I need, and by the time I’ve cleaned up and eaten a meal myself, there’s barely time nor will to do anything of an evening. How B copes, how all mothers cope with this full time is beyond me. Well it isn’t beyond me really. If I had Adam full time I would cope, but I’d have to strengthen up a bit, become fitter, need less sleep.
Today we will go to another auction, not so far away and unlikely to be as long. I have great hopes of being able to find a piece or two of furniture for this house.
It gives me great pleasure to pick a fresh lettuce from our vegetable patch in the back garden whenever I want a salad. They are young yet, but still need thinning so I feel no remorse as I pluck the young, tender, lively leaves from the ground. The spinach is not growing well, but I hold out hope for the spring onions and broccoli.
Oh daily life is so fine and simple here. People have time to stop and talk about the day’s events; younger people help out the old in their gardens. The milkman passes by at the crack of day. The postman strolls from house to house, leaning his bicycle up against the fence. The egg lady drives by in her spanking new combie. The fish and chip man parks his old van outside the Railway Pub on Wednesday evenings. Birds of all feathers sing away in their hunt for worms, to and fro from their nests in the eaves of older roofs. Schoolchildren with satchels can be seen waiting at the bus stop. Many a young woman cycles by on her way to work, some even have cheap mopeds. Other girls, dressed in tight skirts or trousers and high heels, walk. Many a truck - milk lorries, cleaning firm vans, builders’ vans or delivery vehicles - roar down the road. After 9, mothers with children emerge, to slowly converge on the High Street, to do their shopping, and to meet other mothers perhaps. Round here, working class life predominates, but down on the seafront and along the High Street it’s more middle class, with tourists, weekenders and retired sophisticates.
As we sat on the beach the sky began to spit rain. I thought it might stop so sheltered for a few minutes under each awning on the journey back. But by the cinema it was raining cats and dogs. We sheltered inside, next to the tourist information desk. Adam loved every minute, always enjoying new places and faces. When I put him down on the floor, he raced out through the door and across the sheltered part of the pavement. Acting the cool father, I did nothing at first, sure he would stop before the wet pavement. But then his determination, speed and agility all signalled he wouldn’t have time to stop, and I had an instant vision of a very wet, very dirty Adam - not to mention the danger of the road just beyond. So, at the last second, I jumped up to race after him. Sure enough, though, he pulled up, just at the edge of the dry area, with a neat twirl to bring him round facing inside and sitting up.
In the gallery, upstairs at the cinema, we found a series of water colours and some crude sculptures, naked girls (which did not portray the beauty of women but the obsession of an old sculptor). Adam stared at the faces and, after a few seconds, smiled. I don’t think he could distinguish it from a live person. His visual sense must yet be very limited. I notice, for example, he can’t recognise me by seeing just a part of my face, or parts, yet he surely recognises the whole. As we grow we absorb millions and millions of pieces of information which serve as background - so that when adult we can recognise faces from just eyes or mouths, people from sounds of their voices a long way off, words from syllables, objects from slight touch, or indeed from noises. Our brains expect almost everything in the world to be identifiable, thus it interprets information however much or little there is to give an answer to what we are hearing, touching, seeing, smelling. A baby of ten months has a tiny fraction of this information and thus needs much larger chunks to identify an object or person.
I just watched Adam play with a book. I think he recognises books as complete objects in themselves. It was the Reader’s Digest ‘Illustrated Guide to the Garden’. He had flicked over one cover, and was fanning the page corners with one hand. At first he couldn’t turn them over, but after a while he succeeded with a clump of them, and then another clump, until he had turned the entire book over. With the back cover came a distinct feeling of satisfaction, as he smoothed his palm across the closed book.
Raoul sends a laconic message saying he’s coming this morning. Shame about the rain. Shall we go to Snape, or the Martello Tower, to row a boat in Thorpeness, or to the museum in Leiston? Adam sleeps. I am endeavouring to ease him out of the habit of waking at five in the morning and causing a rumpus. I have decided to give him neither milk nor food until as near 7 as I can manage. This morning we made it to 6:45. When he really gets desperately hungry, he goes senseless with rage.
My week with Adam is all but over. I expect B to arrive any moment from London. I had hoped to write more in here, but I’ve not done bad. I’ve written a page of the novel each day, in the mornings, and spent the rest of the time doing things around the house. I would have had more time for the journal if Raoul and Jack hadn’t come on Thursday, and if I had felt better (a cold has weakened me).
Going to the Aldeburgh Festival Box Office each morning at 10 to inquire about a ticket return for ‘Paul Bunyan’ has paid off. This morning they had one, just one. So I shall go to the ball after all. It is the perfect finale to a splendid week. This means I will also get to see the concert hall at Snape at last. Another Britten opera. Hoorah. Happy Day.
Adam sleeps. He has been such a joy this week. He was on almost his best behaviour for Raoul and Jack (except that he did throw his dinner on the floor before his second spoonful). They arrived early, about ten, while we were down the High Street. R moaned about how long it took him to get here, but he’d gone the wrong way on the M25, and he’d stopped for a snack. Jack and Adam played together a bit before we all strode off to the sea. Two fathers, two buggies with children. Even in London, you don’t see such a sight very often. I felt good, clean, healthy and sane. We took the buggies onto the beach, the tide was out. Rain came down and the wind blew in our faces. Raoul looked suitably rugged, the grey hairs on his head really taking over now. Jack loved it, running about, up and down the pebbles, and along the water’s edge. There was nobody else at all. The entire coast and North Sea belonged to us.
R is now fully employed by the National Health Service rather than the Ludwig Institute.
We came back for lunch. Later, in the afternoon, the weather still overcast, we drove to Thorpeness and hired a boat. Risky business, with two babies. On a sunny weekend day, this artificial lake is crowded with day trippers, but now it was deserted. While one adult rowed the other had to hold the two children. Jack had a disturbing habit of just jumping in (well he did it once) while Adam was the world’s worst wriggler. Onshore, Jack did slip and wet his trousers for the second time. For tea we tucked into fish and chips. They left about 8.
I learn these houses were built in the 1860s, and this terrace of seven was sold in the 1890s for £750, a little over £100 each. The chap at number 25, who is only a year or two off retiring, was born in the Cottage Hospital, and has lived there all his life.
R is undoubtedly one of my closest friends. I enjoyed the day together - two dads pushing their kids round the village.
I did quite a lot during the week. I disciplined myself to write about Belinda every day and have now arrived at the climax when Belinda disappears. I tied up the rose tree, fixed a trellis for the clematis, cut the lawns, planted more seeds, made a box cover for the gas meter, prepared and primed Adam’s room, sanded and cleaned the coffee table.
The Snape Maltings concert hall surprised me by its elegance and smart appearance. Unusually, the entrance hall is spacious, the length of the theatre rather than its width. There are restaurants and galleries and a bookshop within the concert hall building. Inside, one sits on banks of wicker work chairs. The sound is excellent. The restaurant, at the back of the building above the artists’ rooms, has a glorious view out across the Alde and the marshes, a view without interruption of buildings or man-made objects. Quite special.
A strange piece, ‘Paul Bunyan’. Reviewers said they could discern the early Britten tendencies that led to his later operas, but my musical ear is not so hot. Nor was I on best form this evening, feeling somewhat irritable and tired. I enjoyed the jazzy blues bits, and all the first half, but the story and the style and the music began to wear a bit thin in the second half. I am very happy, though, to have been there on the opening night of the festival.
We returned to Kilburn Sunday afternoon, and dropped in on Mum to give her three small mahonia plants I’d bought in the Saxmundham auction. In the evening B and I watched a video fetched from the rental place by Martin and Caroline. Meryl Streep played a murder suspect in a rather ordinary thriller. Caroline found it thrilling, having to hide behind the sofa at times.
Only three days spent in the office this week. Well, Mondays I look after Adam, and Friday here I am in Aldeburgh. Actually, it was only two days, for I worked at home on Wednesday too, but on Wednesday I really worked, writing some 5,000 words of the Finland profile. Thursday, I organised the graphs and tables to go with it, and began in earnest to arrange interviews for my trip to Ireland. I will hire a car at Dublin, gather information for a profile, then drive up to Belfast for a day of interviews there. I’ve planned to tour around Northern Ireland during the weekend, hopefully the car hire will stretch to the weekend; but the lure of a party at Maggie’s on Saturday may persuade me to come back then rather than on Sunday.
I invested another £10 in a second advert to sell the Morris Ital, this time in the Brent Recorder. It must come out on Wednesday, so by Thursday evening I’d resigned myself to making further advertising. But, then the phone rang and an old pensioner quizzed me about it, he didn’t seem to want to know much and rang off. Twenty minutes later he called again, said he’d seen the car and wanted to buy it for £375. I’d advertised it at £450, and a card in the car window offered it for sale at £550. I was taken aback but said he could have it for £400. Five minutes the man and his wife hobbled round to see me, the man as lanky as a rake with half his teeth missing and the other half black, his wife overweight and crippled by arthritis in her legs (and in her throat, she told me straight away). I took them for a short drive, explained about the choke, and the crunching of second gear, but they bought it any way. They left me a £100 deposit, and said they would come Monday morning with the rest.
Saturday morning early
Last Saturday we went to Tring. We were all in a good mood, we left early and the weather was fine. B earmarked a rocking chair and two colourful chairs while I had my eye on a wardrobe and chest of drawers for the front bedroom. I have been after a wardrobe for that room ever since Andy moved out. I found one I liked and it went cheap. I bought the two items for £15, then went in search of someone to transport them to Kilburn for me. Alas, it seemed it would cost £30, so I set about tying the whole lot to my car. This entailed buying rope and a screwdriver. It took an hour altogether, to stack and unstack (at Aldershot Road). I felt quite proud of my work, and the saving of £20. I managed the two large items (for I bought two small coffee tables as well) by placing the wardrobe down flat on the rack, and removing one of its doors so that the chest of drawers would fit inside.
The auction prices seemed lower than earlier in the year; there were also less people despite the weather being fine. On cold miserable days last winter you could barely move for the crowds. Now, I wonder whether this phenomena (and me not being able to sell my car initially) are symptoms of the credit boom: interest rates have been very low for several months and maybe people are buying new things instead of old ones.
After the auctions at Wickham Market, Beccles and Saxmundham, I have to say that the Tring auction is the best. I have bought so many items there over the years without which both my houses would be bare.
Vonny: Monday evening I go to see Vonny and Steve. They have moved into a new flat. It is light and airy. Vonny has turned the second bedroom into a studio and filled it with kilns. She makes classically shaped urns and jars. She gives me a bowl and saucer for Adam - not made by her but decorated with silver and pink transfers she created. It celebrates his birth day. We talk about babies and education for a while, then spend a large part of the evening discussing the labels of Guinness’s new alcohol-free beer.
Halfway through a pasta dinner, a box of beer bottles arrived for Steve. The label on each bottle, he assured us, cost £2,000. Guinness, anxious not to miss out on the Christmas (sic) trade, have a tight schedule for launching the new alcohol-free product: Steve had nine days to design labels for which they didn’t even have a name. Well, they had two names: Smithwicks and MacDady or something similar, trade names bought up with small breweries, one in France. Most of the labels had a traditional solid bitter sort of image, though one or two had a light blue colour which is becoming associated with AFB - alcohol-free beer. Obviously Guinness knows what is is doing, but I would have thought a brand new image would work better than an obfuscating of visuals with real beer: very few people are going to try and fool themselves or friends. It seems to me far more likely that people are going to want to talk about their healthy and sensible switch to alcohol free. Why not create a whole new image, bright, sparkling, healthy, break open a major new market. I mentioned this to Vonny and she said ‘Oh like Clearhead’. Brilliant. Yes, call a beer Clearhead or Drivesafe or Spritely! Steve handles the bottles with utmost caution and respect. I could imagine he was holding a Ming vase. He goes to bed before I’ve left claiming he has to rise early to deliver his Ming vases to the client.
Adam is but a few days away from 11 months, and but a month away from his first birthday. He has become a little charmer. He is full of good nature and humour. He loves other people and other children. Walking the streets, pushing him in the chair is such a pleasure for he so often smiles at strangers who are drawn to smile in return. Playing on the grass by the yacht pond in Aldeburgh he rushes up to other children and babies, eager to play, eager to communicate. Most of the daylong he is happy and contented, though it isn’t difficult to get out of synch with him, to forget a nappy change, or delay a meal, and then he can become whiny. I begin to really play with him. He does not yet build but likes knocking bricks down, and happily transfers bricks from hand to hand. He walks half a dozen paces a bit unsteadily, a bit shakily, but he spends most of his time on his feet now. No progress in his speech, but a growing range of sounds and murmurings.
Martin arrived first thing Saturday morning. He has been hitching around England, and to Edinburgh, and sleeping rough, just as I used to do. He helped me paint Adam’s room. It is all white, but for the three water pipes round half the room which are now red, green and yellow, and the window which is blue. I don’t know what to do about the ceiling, because B never got round to choosing a wallpaper after admitting she disliked the one I had thought would suit.
On Sunday, we went to Walberswick. It’s a pretty artist’s village, separated from Southwold by a narrow river outlet. An oarsmen ferries people across. We head back to London Sunday teatime.
The poor Labour Party. Neil Kinnock’s attempts to loosen party policy from the noose of unilateralism has brought a ton of bricks on his head. Conservatives and left-wing socialists alike have derided him for it. He must defend himself from the challenge of Benn and Heffer who are vying for party control. Scargill enters the fray on the side of Benn, and calls Hattersley a filofax yuppie. A Labour Party of schoolboys, with Tory schoolmasters.
Paul K Lyons
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