Tuesday 1 March

In a couple of hours, I should be seated in the front row of the upper circle of the Coliseum watching ENO’s new production of ‘Billy Budd’. I bought the tickets ages ago before the production run began, but the reviews have been very good. I’ve familiarised myself somewhat with the story and the music.

Early this morning, you and I were up, trying to keep quiet so Mummy could get an extra hour’s sleep. Waking at six every morning doesn’t exactly help your mother’s beauty sleep. By seven the morning’s chill light had arrived. Here was my chance to show you the snow. B says you have seen it already, but not properly. I wanted to show it you properly. Slowly, slowly I dressed you. Hippo jumper, hippo trousers, hat, shoes, gloves. Then I dressed me - several jumpers. Trying to get you into the sling when we both had so many clothes on might not have been that difficult so long as I could let you scream for a few minutes. But this was not possible, so we exited without you properly done up. Oh ignoble pair. I dressed in rainbow colours, baggy trousers, baggy cardigans, you pressed to my front crying away as I pressed you tighter in a desperate attempt to fasten the buckle in the small of my back. I was just looking round to see who might be at hand, so to speak, to help, when a voice behind offered that very rare commodity. It was someone who seemed to know who I was, roughly any way, and I supposed she lived further along the terrace. What must she think of me as a father, wondering along the bitterly cold street without you properly fastened, with you hatless (your helmet - grandmother-knitted - had fallen to the ground) and without mittens, for they too were not on properly.

We walked through snow. I pointed out to you everything white: white hedges, white trees, white roads, white roofs, white walls etc. But I wondered why I was doing this. Is it worth while, making the effort, taking the time to stimulate you? Should I read books to you, when all you want to do is eat them?

Why should I wonder these things? What is my aim? To make you more intelligent? Is intelligence a desirable possession? And if it is, does this sort of advanced stimulation help? You will learn what snow is, you will learn to read, you will learn to walk, all without any help from me. What good then promoting your knowledge of these facts and skills earlier?

I’m getting a new computer. FTBI will pay £500 of the price. PKL pays under £100, he hopes. My six month contract ran out yesterday. I have not yet had sight of my new one - I hope there really is one. So many bills to pay.

Sarah is in hospital having a cyst taken out of her knee. J says she’s fine but that the operation was more serious than he had thought. Those two continue to prevaricate over having children.

Dear son, will your Daddy ever become a yachtsman. Clearly he has pretensions. He goes to navigation classes. He’s never missed a class yet. He does his homework, or some of it. For his latest show of enthusiasm, he went to a lecture by Yachtsman of the Year, John Hadfield at Aldeburgh Cinema. I think I expected a film and a dry yachting talk, full of technical detail, and serious tales of high seas. The first 30 minutes, I was subjected to a moving account of how the wonderful Rotary organisation is taking on the responsibility of providing enough polio vaccine to inoculate all the babies in the world. Together, the national organisations must raise millions of pounds, the Saxmundham branch just £3,000 - and by my calculations they’ve arrived. We were told they’d collected £2,000 so far, plus two hundred heads at £3 a time, and a raffle (a sail with John was one of the prizes) that raised a further £350. The film about polio, fronted by David Frost who manages to make every word, every phrase, he utters sound like the prelude to a sick joke, ran for 20 minutes. Hadfield’s two films ran for no more than five minutes together. Finally, Hadfield spoke standing next to his trophy Yachtsman of the Year (won by other notables such as Chay Bly, Ted Heath and son on). He told us about his hole-in-the-heart operation, aged 19, and his consequent need to look life in the eye, and a non-stop series of self-effacing stories about his inept yachting ability, interspersed occasionally with a suitable charity or religious moral. He made himself out to be a real bumbling clot - an Albert Herring. I found it difficult to gauge whether he really was an innocent at large or whether he was a skilled yachting man with a committed purpose in life. I suspect the former. He’s been dressed and bathed, cleaned and tidied, polished and rubbed by all the different people he’s shaken hands with. I enjoyed his talk. I expect it’s been fine tuned too by various worthwhile organisations. I did not, however, learn much about yachting, or the High Seas.

I prevaricate endlessly over starting to write at home - though I have an idea for a novel twist to the novel. Susan lets fall her baby from the table. He is knocked stone dead. In a blind panic, she rushes the lifeless body to a dump somewhere and leaves him. She tells her husband, the narrator, the child has been abducted (as per ‘A Child in Time’ by McEwan) only the child is not dead (as per ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’).

Adam, we spent lots of the weekend together. You slept at Aldershot Road Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights. Sunday night, it dawned on me that the way to persuade you to go to sleep through the night was to not feed you when you woke but to comfort you. Well, Sunday you were still in a good mood, and you slept through until 3am. I then didn’t feed you, but walked you up and down for twenty minutes and hoodwinked you into sleeping again. You slept for another 90 minutes, and I shouted Eureka. This is the method. But the next night you were already getting fussy and we managed only until 3:40 and we had a real fight, you and I, at about 1 - you were screaming like mad.

Saturday night B & I went to see a remake of 1940s ‘Big Clock’. It was taught. The plot excited my interest, but the denouement in the last two minutes struck me as pathetic, made the whole into a farce. Another unmemorable thriller. Really we must stop seeing these vacuous films.

12 March, Antibes

I have escaped from Britain, just within a year of my return from Brazil. Did a year ever go by without me making a trip overseas? But then I never had a child before. So, I am here in Antibes, at Dad’s flat, again. And again I am alone. This is a strange and unnatural thing your Dad does, Adam, he likes being on his own. He goes away on his own. I don’t know anyone else who does that. I travelled around the world largely on my own (though I enjoyed having company better). I spent countless weekends hitchhiking around England alone. I went to Corsica alone for two months; and I’ve been here before several times alone too. I had planned to go skiing with Martin, but we couldn’t fix a date, or find a package, so he went off at the invitation of his French girlfriend. I, meanwhile, formulated a plan to come to Antibes. Firstly, for a meditative rest - I know I relax well here, strip off cares, eat well, exercise, swim, generally de-tense - but also to nip up to a ski field or two in Dad’s car.

I sit on the terrace. A strong sun warms me through my clothes. The nights are cold. The temperature drops to 5-6 degrees rising to 15-16 degrees in the day. The beaches are deserted. I have seen no person swimming, though I fully intend to go in the water a bit later on. Already this morning I have walked to market and bought vegetables for a ratatouille. I always eat the same foods when I am here, bread and cheese, bread and pate, and lots of ratatouille. The beach and seafront areas are quiet, but even by 10:00am the Antibes streets were filled with busy shoppers. As I make my way through the familiar streets, I am filled with mixed feelings: a sense of peace from the Mediterranean atmosphere and clime; a sense of nostalgia brought on by memories of Brazil; a sense of profound sadness that my relationship with B and our parenthood of you is far from perfect, or even as I would like; and, a confused feeling that is both joy and despair, intermingled, arising out of my aloneness/loneliness.

13 March

Sunday. It is Mother’s Day. I am neither with my own mother, nor with your mother. I felt so guilty about this before leaving that I bought your Mum a huge bunch of flowers, sent her a card from you (thank you Mummy for being my Mummy), and also sent you a couple of new books to give to Mummy so that she could read them to you. Well, she has bought me presents in the past, bought me books because she wants to read them. And to my own mother, I sent a card. Also, I’ve made up a framed picture of you, a profile which makes you look like an angel. I wonder if it is Mother’s Day in France.

Sunday morning. Cloudy sky, the sun breaks through only occasionally. Yesterday, I had sun all day long, a handful of people sunbathed on the beach. I did not swim. Firstly, because the water was so cold, but secondly, and more importantly, the water sported a great mass of jellyfish. It is the swimming that transforms me from a dying creature, to a living one. I do not yet feel a new man, as I should after a couple of days here.

I meet no one, talk to no one - except Colin. I rang him last evening, but our conversations have no sense. He says Hilde is very well which is good news. I tell him I am trying to write my novel. He says: ‘I thought you’d given that up.’ I should, I should, I cry. But how can I? What will replace it? I know there is no ultimate point to it all, and yet I cannot just relax - work in the day and do nothing at the weekend. There is a deep-rooted need in me. Not strong enough to keep me at it non-stop, but rooted firmly enough to hinder my pulling up anchor, so to speak, on the need. A long time ago I did choose to make writing my hobby. I knew I would never get bored with it, because it would always remain out of my reach.

Oh yes, I have hobbies - gardening, photography, yachting, walking, opera, theatre, film and so on - but I can’t talk knowledgeably about any one of them. I will not commit. Is it Jesus’s fault? Or is it the fault of Frederic? Was I committed to him too much? All the men I know of my age or thereabouts are committed to their profession. Me, I don’t know. I still think there’s thirty years of working life. That’s a long time. I think I want to do something different, something with more depth. But I am no nearer personal fulfilment than I was at 20 or 30. This is the sad truth. But, at least out of the last cycle, the last seven or eight years, I have pulled something from life’s hat. You dear boy, and some vague material security. And there is nothing in life more valid, my son, than a son. But it is not all, no not all.

Tomorrow I intend to drive into the mountains north of Nice for a day or two of skiing. There is a resort called Isola 2000 which has plenty of snow, I hear. I just fear it will be too expensive - £10 for lift charges, £10 for ski hire, £20 for bed and breakfast. And, I need to buy glasses and perhaps a jacket. I bought about £300 worth of dollars, yet I don’t think it is going to be sufficient, even for two days of skiing. Oh la la. How expensive. Still, I will go. I would stay in Antibes if I could have met some people, or even found some boating possibilities. Alas, in all the time I have come to Antibes I have never met anyone.

I have brought with me to read: Shakespeare’s ‘Pericles’ (Luke produces/directs a version in Deal this summer), a small collection of Crabbe’s poems, ‘The Sacred Beetle’, a collection of scientific essays, a print-out of my novel, and a few cuttings from the ‘New Scientist’. I planned to work on the novel. I was going to return to ‘The Rat’ but on reading pages from ‘the novel’ - written in Rio I believe - I didn’t think they were that bad, and so persuaded myself I should develop what I’d done so far.


My face and hands are red like a beetroot. I’ve been in the ski fields all day beneath a cloudless sky. As it happens I needed neither ski jacket (my red jacket over one jumper was sufficient) nor gloves, so I wasn’t out of pocket. It was so warm. I did however take the precaution of buying a pair of sunglasses. I once had sunburnt retinas, and that, my son, is the pits, sandpaper at the back of the eye sockets. It’s three years since the last time I was skiing. And this time, like last time, I shall only skied for two days. There is the joy of the skiing itself. I mean the racing down the mountainside, the snow-ride with wind chapping the ears and gusting against the face, the joy of speed, un-mechanical speed, and speed far away from machines, and speed far away from other people too (much of the day I skied out of sight of others). Then there is the joy of skill, of negotiating through the maze of terrain, the bumps and hillocks, ruts and rocks, of manoeuvring the body with style and precision down the mountainside. I must say I don’t have much of this joy. I am always aware of how ugly my style is, and how poorly I keep my skis together. (In squash too, I know I am awkward, lacking any form of teaching.) But, as I jump and jolt, swish and swoosh my way down, I do at least try to improve my performance.

It must be said that much of skiing lies in the enjoyment of breathing in the surroundings. Mighty mountains, but a tiny proportion of the ranges visible have been tamed to this ski thing, this leisure activity, the most part lies all around covered in falls of snow untouched by human kind. Time spent on the chair or ski lift allows one to contemplate these surroundings. And, indeed, one can stop for a minute to breathe in the scenery, or for longer - skis off and planted upwards in the snow, sticks too, boots loosened - in meditation of nature.

And yet I did not fully enjoy the picture - it seemed so dead, so lifeless, not a trace of green anywhere, just snow and grey-brown patches where trees still held their winter apparel or brown-grey patches where the rock face showed. Even close to, the trees looked dead. Lower down, near the ugly village of Auron (another blot on the landscape - it is so clearly a collection of modern package tour chalets), some grassy patches are visible, an old dying yellow of a colour.

And so tomorrow, I will to to another resort, Isola 2000. I had chosen Auron over Isola because I knew Isola was just a ski resort and I thought Auron was also a village. Isola is higher and more extensive. But I shall only go for one more day.

It seems that here in the village of St Etienne you eat where you sleep, though I didn’t know this in the morning when I declined the offer of supper. Around half past seven, I strolled around the deserted village. All the restaurants that promise trout on a Fr55 menu are closed. Two bars remain open. I can see no one eating in the one so but four men at a table with a tablecloth in the other. But when I go in, I find the four men are playing cards, so I order a beer. I then have the idea to drive up into the mountains to the next village which I’ve seen signposted - St Delmas Le Selvage, and which a tourist leaflet mentioned as a typical village. I look on the map only to find that St Delmas is about a quarter the size of St Etienne - fat chance of a restaurant there. Why don’t I just eat at my hotel? I don’t trust the cooking, I imagine it will be similar to the atrocious decoration in my room, and I feel that since I didn’t order in morning it would be wrong to now ask.

Despite the zero chance of an eating place at St Delmas, I decide to go. Driving along the dark, windy road I felt I was intruding. Who drives this route at night, at 8pm? No one. I saw not one car, the five miles there and back. The feeling of trespass heightened as I entered the tiny village itself, all shutters closed, all doors locked, but a handful of street lights which barely managed to show in the potent darkness. I park the car as silently as possible, but imagine a thousand eyes peering out through the cracks in shutters to see what thing had arrived at such an hour. Here was a village in another world from Auron, tiny alleyways, no colour, crumbling bricks, planks of wood and multifarious bits and pieces in most yards - no new building at all. Pigs snorted out from inside one of the most central buildings. In the whole village, I saw two windows alight, and moved around to get a better view within. I was sure it was a restaurant, and determined to seek a dinner. I entered the side door to find myself in a small dining room where just two couples were nibbling at the remains of their meal. A small old woman stood by my side with an enquiring, mystified look on her face. She didn’t understand when I said: ‘Avez-vous de comer?’ (Only now do I realise that I used the Portuguese word ‘comer’ - even if I used a French accent!). Fortunately, one of the women at the tables spoke fluent English, and before I knew it I was being subjected to an interrogation by the old woman, translated by the other woman. Where was I from? Where was I staying? Why wasn’t I eating in my hotel? The upshot was, though, that she didn’t have the resources to feed me, whether it be the time (she laid great stress on the lateness of the hour - 8:30pm) or lack of food, or the lack of energy, or indeed the lack of psychological readiness to deal with such an astonishing event. I backed out of the room, and out of the hotel apologising and saying that it didn’t really matter. Clearly, up there in the hills, the mountains, there is no need for restaurants outside of hotels and ski-runs.


Dearest Adam, I have never been so long away from thee. Will you remember my face? How are you behaving with your mother? Are you in Aldeburgh walking down to the village for provisions, walking by the sea and throwing pebbles. We will not long have that house.

The budget. Lawson has cut basic rate tax by 2%to 25% (I calculate that it should add £40 a month to my pay packet - not to be sniffed at). Moreover, he has radically reformed the entire tax structure. All tax over 40% has been abolished. Unprecedented interruptions hold up Lawson’s speech to the Commons. Labour MPs are truly angry that no money has been given to the NHS, and they are powerless, so they behave like schoolchildren. Kinnock is head prefect. A country that has, for the lifetime of most of its population, been considered a caring one, through its social institutions, is being transformed fast into one based on the principles of capitalism. And Labour MPs say the rich are now getting richer and the poor poorer. However, they have used the cliche for so long, who cares.

Personally, I am strongly against such a radical switch to more right wing policies, and capitalist structures. The poll tax, too, when and if it arrives will also favour the rich. The rates and income tax are the basic two ways in which government have taken from the rich and given to the poor in the best Robin Hood tradition - and it is now about to abolish the one and reduce the other. In less than ten years of Thatcher, we have already felt the dramatic change in our way of life: ‘money matters’ has become the new catchphrase. I have had my time of leisure, of liberal activity, perhaps I too should concentrate on making money - while the climate is favourable. If the wind blows go yachting; if it snows go skiing; if the sun comes out go sunbathing.

Needless to say I didn’t eat Monday night. I returned to the hotel and retired early. I dreamt of boar hunting and of a visit from Rosa.

Before eight the next morning I had packed my bag and driven to Isola for breakfast. From Isola to Isola 2000 is about 10 miles along an intensely windy road with more hairpin bends than not! It seemed meet and right to visit Isola 2000, it’s higher and has more km of piste. So I arrived in good time. Hired the biz (does anybody say this anymore) from the first shop I found - though there turned out to be dozens. The first set of skis I was given looked like mountain-climbers boot’s underneath, and the second pair hadn’t been adjusted to fit the stock boots, so I had to find a screwdriver up on the mountainside. At £10 a day, I expect a decent set of equipment. For £20, a day you can hire a car, and the capital investment in that car is 100 times greater than in ski gear, and maintenance is even more expensive relatively speaking.

I got better the second day, invariably choosing intermediate runs rather than beginner’s pistes, and even finding myself on a black run once or twice. I fell over, at most, half a dozen times, and usually when I was trying that bit harder to keep my feet together. I skied almost all the resort, and extensive it is too with a hidden part over a saddle, which probably had the best pistes. At the very bottom, a fast four-chair lift takes one fast to the top again. On parts of the mountainside, it was possible to ski off in any direction at all, so wide and extensive were the skiing areas. One piste I discovered, officially closed, had a race course set up. That was fun, skiing round the red and blue posts, though I could only manage the shallower sections.

I wonder how old you will be when first I take you skiing. I saw plenty of children on the slopes - how old would they be, let’s see, three at the youngest maybe. They tend to stick to the snow plough method, skis pointed out in front like an arrow. The kids look unstable yet never fall - they are so light and supple they just keep going. The youngest didn’t even use sticks. I am not convinced that I should take you skiing, though. For a Londoner there isn’t much point. It’s a great sport for weekends, a week’s skiing is too much, but living in England it’s impractical to be a skier. Better by far to get into yachting. I think it’s altogether a more rewarding, more challenging sport or leisure activity, and just right for weekends too, or longer holidays.

I left Isola 2000 about 4 in the afternoon. The sun had dropped leaving many slopes in the shade, and the cold wind then attacked my hands. Besides, my face was burnt so from sun and wind. Perhaps it was not wise, tired and damaged as I was, to travel a long route home, to take in the perched village of Beuil. I decided on Beuil because the Michelin guide made it sound attractive, and because in that hilly region there wasn’t much choice of routes. As it turned out, Beuil was a disappointment. I didn’t even feel it to be one of the ‘perched villages’ of which there are dozens so attractively scattered around the region. But the road to and from Beuil was splendid.

From St Sauveur I had to climb, climb and climb towards the Col de la Couillole. I saw no other cars again, and wondered whether the road might be closed. I passed Roubion, a real perched village - old, almost decrepit, lacking in any logic of geography today, except that it had good views down across the mountain valleys. In the past, prior to the 19th century, there was the logic of fortifying against German invasions, Moslem pirates and attacks by the mercenaries of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, as the Michelin guide put it. Some, like Eze, on the coast survive on tourism. But the ‘perching’ of Eze and the ‘perching’ of Rubion can’t have been for the same reasons, for how many enemies were going to find themselves so far into the mountains as Roubion one wonders. Interesting, though, that life still does survive in them at all. The strength of the tradition passed down through families must be one reason. Roubion seemed neither fit for agriculture nor husbandry. But beautiful and atmospheric it was. A few miles on I got to the col, and the rapid descent into the Cians valley.

From Beuil down the Cians until it reaches the Vars is less of a valley and more a gorge. And what a splendid gorge it is. The river has cut a deep and narrow winding passage through slate of a gorgeous purple/mauve hue. It must contain iron, though rocks with iron are usually redder. I stopped to weigh a loose rock, and it weighed heavy, so I suppose iron it was. The hue darkened as we (the river and I) descended. Below a certain altitude, the pine trees die out to be replaced by deciduous trees still bearing their autumn coat of dead brown leaves. The combination of purple and brown would stun any interior (or exterior) decorator. But more stunning still were the collection of icicles that clung in groups to the steep rock faces, some over 10ft long. Much of the road itself had been cut from the rock, and it seemed to hang above the crystal clear water flowing below. In some places, the rock had been cut into archways or longer tunnels, in other places there was but an overhang of rock that would have sliced the top half of a double decker bus clean away. Further down, the red rock gave way to limestone layered with slate. This was no less than astonishing, too, and fuelled my desire to know more of geology. The entire mountainside cut through by the Cians was layered (not unlike the rings of a tree trunk), none of the layers being more than a foot or two wide, with the limestone layer generally thicker than the slate (crushed). And still more fascinating to the ignorant traveller was the way massive chunks of mountainside had been upheaved and lain sideways. Looking this gorge up in the Michelin when I got home I found it labelled as a three star attraction - Beuil be damned, the gorge was heaven.

I sit here now with nose, forehead and ears stinging. I am crimson. I am pink. I am beetroot. I am tomato. I am a shrimp - as the Portuguese, no, the Brazilians say. Already this afternoon my face feels better, yesterday night it stung bad, parts of the nose and forehead were actually numb. On the road, I had no creams or oil but as I got in last night, I rubbed olive oil into my skin, and did so again before going to bed. As I wore glasses the whole time, I have two white patches around my eyes. An odd sight.

Such aches and pains, too, I have done little. I took a slow walk through town in the morning, shopping, and a jog across Cap d’Antibes this afternoon, not to let these painful muscles die on me again. Perhaps this evening I will treat myself to a restaurant supper - not yet once having eaten out.

I thought I might think a lot about us - you, Mum and me - but I’ve probably thought all there is to think. We have embarked on a major project, bringing you up. But we are not married nor will we live together. Too many differences exist between us. B must move and find another direction to work in, and we must live more separate lives, coming together often, but not too often, to share times with you and things we love to do together. The hard part will be - is - finding a status quo for our new lives. Both of us have poorly depleted social lives which does not help. I must demand less of B.

Victor Peeke rings. He begins to push me - like Raoul - towards family encounters. I do my best to counter them. His second child - born three months early - is now at home, but hooked up to an alarm. Every time he stops breathing, a bell rings and they have to run to wake him. One day it happened seven times. Think, Adam, what paranoid, hypochondriac parents you have. How would we ever cope with that.

A cold front swept across the south of France yesterday, so fortunately there was little sun to trouble my burning face. Today, though, I looked for sun again, and bathed on the beach for an hour or two. In the water, I actually talked to another person - not for more than a few minutes, but I can at least say I’ve had one conversation these seven days of holiday.

This morning I drove to Cannes without any special purpose. I walked along the seafront from one end to the other, watching beach cafe owners and craftsmen repair or clean or get ready the bars for the coming season. I looked at all the yachts and motor launches, so many of them, and so many of them so expensive. I never cease to wonder where all these people get all this money from. And high streets full of shops selling the most expensive foodstuffs, from specially-prepared pizza pieces or raviolis with artichoke inside- to exquisite chocolates. How much money do these people must spend on their taste buds.

At the far end of the promenade a remarkable old galleon lay moored. It turned out to be little authentic having being reconstructed for a Polanski film ‘Pirates’. One could tell some bits were new and others old. Still, a lot of painstaking work had gone into its making. A charge of Fr30 to enter was steeper than the rigging - so I didn’t.

In Antibes, late in the afternoon, I aportion out my remaining money. A box of chocolates for Michele, cheeses for B, a wooden lorry with bricks for you. I would have liked to buy you half a dozen toys in the lovely shop I found, but most were too old for you.

[Photo - Adam the pierrot at seven months]

Tuesday 22 March

The week away seems to have done me no good. I feel heavy, oppressed and melancholy. Perhaps because I spent the entire weekend being cross with your mother. I see your mother as being in trouble, depression taking her over. She will not fight. This worries me sick. I am impotent. I no longer know what to do, how best to - I hesitate to use the word help but I must - help her any more, for I no longer control my disappointment, my depression, my anger at her own lack of any fight, her own lack of willingness to do anything with patience and endeavour, to avoid the worsening condition. Am I being over-anxious, over dramatic about this? Am I molesting her with language for no good cause, and am I, therefore, to blame? I fear that B now completely disregards me, thinking I am totally exaggerating the situation. She has no

[Photo - A typical pose - seven months]


Dearest tender heart, I think I miss you. When did I see you last? Sunday. Five days ago, and I shan’t see you now until Thursday or maybe Friday. Here in London I must make use of my free time. Monday-Thursday was taken up largely by ‘European Energy Report’ - part panic because I’d been away for a week and part panic because I had to train a new editorial production assistant (EPA). I don’t know why I didn’t bath, I couldn’t do the washing up, my clothes were everywhere. It’s as though I deliberately wreck myself towards the EER deadline. Thursday night, evening, after the climax, I have a bath and tidy everything up, and generally feel much better.

It is nearly the end of March. Spring. In the garden I find daffodils still in bloom, a splash of blue from the grape hyacinth, a dash of blood red chaenomeles, the clematis’s rampant growth spurting out everywhere from what looked like dead wood, and the honeysuckle, gosh I never saw anything grow quite so passionately. I shall do some work out there at the weekend. I have also promised myself to decorate the bathroom - we will see.

I come to the diary this Friday lunchtime believing there is a whole stack of things to record, at least ideas or thoughts - but I have already lost them.

A man was murdered on Willesden Lane just a few yards from Aldershot Road one morning last week. I’d heard and read about it, but wasn’t sure exactly where it occurred. Well, there are now some police signs requesting information, just along the road. The sad, oh so very sad thing is that the murder occurred right in front of one of those free-standing bill-boards, one with a poster inviting owners of knives to give them up. It says something like ‘knives are stupid’. On the other side of the board, facing away from the crime, the poster urges us to be streetwise and fight street crime. The murder, unfortunately, was committed with a knife.

Although I like to think my part of Kilburn is slowly becoming gentrified, I can’t say it is happening very quickly. I’ve been at Aldershot Road now - how long? - five years and nothing much has changed, there are still as many drunk Irishman, black and Chinese, and crowded poor families. One or two shops have changed for the better, but only one or two. Houses get modernised, but with aluminium frames which degrade the overall appearance, in my opinion.

Cultural events of the last few days: Christopher Hampton’s delicious and much-acclaimed production of ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’. The play is set in that period of sexual and other decadences in the 19th century, as so well recorded in the Goncourt journals. The show, draped in creamy and white silks, drew us into people’s sexual games, and taught us how much they think they can control them but how little they really do.

On the television I’ve seen two splendid films. Real treats. Better than the fare on offer in the cinemas. One, a BBC film documented the lives of two identical twins in a black family who take a vow never to speak to any third party - not at school, not at the doctors, not at home, and, finally, not to the police, when they are caught having committed serious arson attacks. It’s a tragic yet astonishing story - how the twins grew up to be adults dissatisfied with their lot, but intensely shy, and the power of their friendship completely overpowering any relationship with the rest of the world. At times I found the film exquisitely moving - the two, rather plain, girls moving in unison, walking with the same rhythm, moving their hands to their mouth with a sandwich at the same time etc. Attempts by do-gooders to make them talk was shown as a battle the girls invariably won on every level. Together, they fall in love with a handsome, charismatic, yet aggressive boy, who slaps them around a bit. They are rejected by this boy in time, and his mates, and the girls turn to writing stories. When the stories and poems are rejected they turn to arson as a way of making themselves visible. They are now in Broadmoor. The film must have been made possible by their brief creative period as writers - they kept journals as well.

I only caught half of the other film - moving story of a priest who runs away with an epileptic boy who has been mistreated. The boy’s disappearance is treated as a kidnapping, and captures the national news. The two live in constant fear of being discovered, but for a few days, a few weeks, they live out a relationship both really need.

April 1988

Paul K Lyons


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