PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1988 - OCTOBER
Monday 3 October
Back from New York, thankfully. I tried to come home a day early on Friday night but there were no seats. I was consigned to trudging the streets all day Saturday, which I did not much enjoy. However, I did manage two worthwhile experiences. The first was a visit to the Whitney Museum. I probably wouldn’t have entered just to see original Warhols or Hoppers, but the Mapplethorpe retrospective was worth $5. Many of his photographic images were already familiar (either from magazines or from an exhibition in London). He has a fine sense of balance, symmetry and aesthetics, almost neurotically ordered, and creates images which are overtly sexual or dripping in sexual suggestion, usually homosexual eroticism. The penis, leather, flowers occur regularly through his work, often in black and white. I hadn’t realised before that he plays a lot with frame shapes and colours. He does it well, but this work seems almost childish next to his darkly adult images.
Later in the day, with barely enough time before leaving for the airport, I installed myself in a cinema to see a film I had never heard of - ‘The Thin Blue Line’. It was extraordinary. For the first half, I didn’t even realise the film was based on true events, and I didn’t know till afterwards that all the characters in the film (except for the crime reconstruction) were the actual people involved. The 90 minute film was made from of a series of interviews - interviewees talking to camera - about the murder of a policeman in Dallas county, interspersed with intense imagery, focussing rapidly on objects of evidence (for example a discarded milkshake, the rear light of a car, popcorn) all richly coloured and filling the screen. It reminded me of photorealism applied to film. ‘The New York Times’ said the director had created a work of pulp fiction. It was like a ‘whodunnit’ comic, where you read interviews with several people and all the clues are there, leaving it for the reader to work out the identity of the murderer. This ‘pulp fiction’ style brought into remarkable and vivid focus a possible miscarriage of justice: the wrong man has been in prison for eleven years and is likely to stay there for life. The premise of the film is that the local police and district attorney were so concerned about nailing a culprit for the police murder that they were utterly blinkered to the truth. The real murderer - according to the film - has been in and out of prison since that time (he was only 16 then), and is now on death row for further crimes. Not only was this film fascinating entertainment, but it left me feeling completely outraged. On leaving the cinema I wanted to ask the ushers, the other audience members, people in the street, if it were all really true that this man was still in prison.
So many hamburgers!
Each evening, I watched the Olympics on NBC. How infuriating American television is! On several occasions, I swear, there would be no more than three minutes of genuine programme with five minutes of advertisements either side. And the quality of these advertisements is vulgar. In UK, ads can actually be a pleasure to watch on occasions. And worse. The NBC coverage was so extremely partisan that the only way I could discover about events not including US athletes, or the fate of British participants, was by reading ‘The New York Times’ the next morning.
The Olympics are now over. They are being heralded as the greatest ever - with a $360m profit. The Russians, having missed the last Olympics in Los Angeles, have re-affirmed their complete mastery over the rest of the world. They won 55 gold medals. Even the East Germans, in second place, with 37, beat the US with 36. Perhaps most surprising is South Korea’s achievement, not only in staging the games but in beating West Germany to fourth place with 12 gold medals.
I feel obliged to say something about the conference in New York, but what? Downstream integration by oil-producing nations. Once upon a time there were seven sisters, the big multinational oil companies that controlled the world markets. They were fully integrated from oil production to gasoline sales. Then, unfortunately, the Arab countries got the bright idea of nationalising all the foreign interests, which left a huge slice of the world’s oil output in the hands of the Arab governments, and split asunder the vertical integration the world had experienced for so long. Then, the Arabs had an even brighter idea, and formed a cartel to push up international oil prices, once in 1973 - the first oil shock - and again, even more damagingly, in 1978/79 I think - affectionately! called the second oil shock. This cartel, Opec, made pots of money for its members and for other oil producers not members. It also had the long term result of nudging the world’s energy consumers to diversify energy sources (away from oil) and suppliers of oil (away from Opec). For the last couple of years Opec’s influence has declined dramatically and looks set to continue to do so. The wiser oil producers have been looking into the future and seeing better prospects through long-term ties with oil consumers. With an oversupply of oil, the producers are now more worried about landing volume than price. They can no longer control price but they can control volume by setting up deals. And it is these deals that formed the substance of the conference. What deals exist, what deals there might be, whether the deals are good or bad for the industry, whether all consumers should fix them etc. I was not disappointed, and gathered plenty of information. I met Bob di Nardo who writes for ‘Oilgram’, and who knew me. The most useful speakers were those who worked, or had worked, in the companies involved in such deals. Several analysts gave their considered theoretical views - largely that such deals were unlikely to be of much use, or go very far.
The news today tells me that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission has recommended that Kuwait be obliged to sell over half its 21% stake in BP, and that this recommendation has been endorsed by Hugo Young, Minister for Trade and Industry. The news pleases me because it is exactly as I predicted in a conversation to a young and very bullish analyst at the conference. He talked so knowledgeably of oil industry affairs with so many facts at his fingertips, but he thought the Commission would accept Kuwait’s pledge not to use more than 14.9% of its stake.
Saturday 8 October 1988
While I was away in New York, Adam suffered a setback. He lost a tooth. All the trouble he goes through to get his teeth, and now he’s lost one before he’s barely had a chance to use it. He was walking around with a plastic saxophone in his mouth, and fell over. The toy must have levered out the tooth, for the root came as well. What a massive hurt for the boy, it must have blown a few of his neural circuits. Since then, he has seemed changed, much more needy of being picked up and cuddled, more liable to groan at the slightest fault in his actions or manoeuvres. B also reports that he is more likely to fall down and hurt himself.
At 3 or 4 in the morning of last Wednesday, he woke up screaming, and, apart from a short interlude when in bed with us (he actually slept in my arms for a while, a lovely feeling), he screamed through until his breakfast at 6:30 or so. His breath is a bit sweet and acidic which made me wonder if he had an infection in the gum. B had worried about the possibility of infection (remembering she was given anti-biotics after removal of her wisdom tooth) and taken Adam to the dentist on Monday. He had declared Adam fit, though, and reassured B that the loss of a milk tooth should have no effect on development of his adult teeth later.
This seems a good moment for confession. Before Adam was born B and I reached a compromise over Adam’s feeding. She agreed to give him fish and I agreed not to give him meat, and the deal was to last until Adam could decide for himself or ask for things. I am thankful for small mercies. She takes great care over his food and worries about what it will taste like far more than I do, yet without fish or meat protein I think his diet world would be soft. There are other proteins, lentils, milk, nuts, yet I am not convinced that they really would be sufficient for a growing body and boy. Moreover, it would be considerably more difficult to maintain a good protein diet without fish and meat.
Since before Adam’s first birthday, I have been giving him tidbits of different sorts of meat, chicken, liver, ham, veal. I know this is an enormous breach of confidence, and I would rather be run over by a steamroller than have B know. I certainly do not do it out of any disrespect for B, rather out of concern for Adam. My belief (as opposed to B’s) is that vegetarianism is a practice that does not aid health (may even abet it) but does restrict potential pleasure from food. B’s main reason for not eating meat and fish is a moral/philosophical one, concerned with the well-being of other creatures in the world. I believe she has got this concern completely out of proportion, and that it has become a quasi-religious issue for her life. I do not want Adam to have this belief system inculcated into him, and neither do I want him to find himself at the age of choice with him or his body not liking or wanting meat.
B thinks Adam has begun to talk - ‘bye bye’ and ‘thank you’ sometimes, she thinks he said ‘boy’ on seeing a dog. He certainly appears interested in the names of objects. He points incessantly, waiting for one of us to name what he’s pointing at - book, table, cup, shoe, foot.
Have I mentioned how he loves Rough Riders? Much the easiest way of carrying him is on my shoulders. I clasp his legs around my neck, then, for Rough Riders, I start tossing my shoulders from side to side and front to back, quickly and slowly. He adjusts amazingly well, his back arching whichever way is necessary, like a cowboy breaking in a bronco.
He has not yet reached a constructive stage with his building toys, but still wallows in destruction. If we build up a block of bricks, he knocks them down, if we join up a few sticks of lego he pulls them apart. He loves to pull books down from shelves and empty out things from cupboards.
Adam’s first spontaneous scribble ever [scribble]
I have filled out an application form for the biological anthropology course at University College with some angst over the question about my academic interests and reasons for applying. I think it highly unlikely that I will do it. The tutor has already said, by phone, I would not have enough biology, and now I discover the weekly seminar is on Tuesdays from 4-6 - exactly the time B is travelling from work to class, and the only afternoon of the week that my mother works (so she wouldn’t be able look after Adam)! I have asked the tutor to recommend a some path of study to lead to the masters. I wait to here. In the meantime, I study ‘Primate Social Systems’ by Robin Dunbar.
The Labour Party conference re-elects Kinnock and Hattersley with an overwhelming majority, but, as if to say to them ‘don’t let it go to your heads’, union leaders immediately stabbed Kinnock in the back over party issues - particularly I think the nuclear policy, because, like the Democrats, the Labour Party is in complete disarray over defence. With the union block votes hindering any significant transition by Labour, it doesn’t stand a chance. It may yet have to unite with the SDP and the Democrats, as Owen has suggested. I did not sanction this third Tory term, and I don’t think a fourth would be good for the country’s future.
I am looking out of the window with Adam and see a huge sun, like in a picture book, and a huge moon with its topography visible. I notice the sun is being partially eclipsed by the moon, and point this out to Adam. Then, suddenly, I notice it is a picture I am looking at, and not the real sky. I say something like ‘it’s just a picture’, and Adam says the same words at exactly the same time. I marvel because he has never spoken before. He goes on to talk like an adult, to chatter away.
Thursday 13 October
I found this picture of me aged 21. How shocking. [Passport size photo in which I have long, thick hair curling down onto my shoulders. Not a trace of hair, though, on my face.] Can I see a resemblance with Adam, maybe just the baby face.
I shall work at home today. Trip into Argus Petroleum to see Vic Peeke for lunch, and look after Adam later this afternoon.
My heart flutters for I must go to an interview at University College on Monday concerning the biological anthropology masters degree. I am afraid, because I cannot fully comprehend the amount of work I will have to do. The course will last two years, and take up more or less all my spare time and more. But yet it has no real relevance to my future. It is just a dream. I seem to be a master at fulfilling my dreams. I can identify several: going round the world; working in the theatre (especially with the Phantom Captain); becoming a journalist; working in Brazil; having a cottage in Aldeburgh. And now: studying evolution.
I fill the working week with writing up the refining material. Today, I must start preparing a piece for ‘Energy Economist’, for Chris. I am being delayed because I haven’t received a refining report, as expected, from the European Commission.
I rang Edna in Rio to set up Raoul with a stopover. He travels to Buenos Aires for a conference (he may even call M), and will spend 24 hours in Rio on the return. She sounds well, is back working for CVRD, and doing sculpture in her spare time. What more is there she can tell me? Her husband was re-elected president of the Architect’s Association. I feel strange about setting up this connection for Raoul. He has so many friends and contacts around London, and the world, and yet he has never set me up like this, even though I have so few friends and contacts. It always seems wrong that the flow is this way. I am jealous of his trip. Memories of Rio are so sharp and pleasurable. I must send a picture of Adam to Edna.
Melanie comes round for lunch on Tuesday. She twiddles her thumbs - no job, no husband and almost no flat. She brings the news that she has sold her Adelaide Road flat and has two possible jobs, one in Milton Keynes, the other in Teddington. Both sound interesting and lucrative.
I listen to the live programme ‘Any Questions’ on Friday night. It is celebrating its 40th year, and has an invited audience of many past panel members. But, on the panel this night is Kenneth Clark, Bryan Gould, Baroness Seer and Bernard Levin. The evening didn’t click. I suppose they chose the highest politician from each party and the most respected journalist they could get, and all of them were far from amusing, in a natural sense, or even very clever. The questions were clever, but then the audience was rather distinguished and not easily swayed by political hype, nor was it prepared to burst into spontaneous applause.
In Chile, the people have voted against Pinochet. This is a historic vote against the long-standing dictator. All his cabinet have resigned, but he clings to power. People were celebrating on the streets, no doubt far more than the on the Christmas Eve I was there, when the curfew was lifted for the first time in three years since Allende had been killed.
Such a busy week ahead - social arrangements most nights (after weeks without any), plus I have to deliver a freelance piece to Chris Cragg, my $1,500 work to Andrew Hilton, and produce my newsletter. On top of that I’ve got my biological anthropology interview, and another interview with the bosses. I plan to go to Aldeburgh Thursday night. Loony.
I study ‘Primate Social Systems’. Barely a page goes by without my finding something to question. I think there are so many holes and false assumptions in these studies. Dunbar does his best to quantify social systems, impose some mathematics on the various strategies, describe why primates eat in certain ways. Evolution and/or natural selection are constantly referred to as an active, deliberate strategy: a monkey does this because etc. But, of course, it’s not true, evolution is about what is left, what is surviving. There is nothing deliberate about a monkey’s choice of mate. He has an inherent attraction for one mating strategy because that strategy has served his forefathers sufficiently well. But, there is no doubt, I am fired with intellectual interest about these matters.
DIARY 38: October 1988-April 1989
22 October 1988, Aldeburgh
Such a lovely autumn day. The sun shine and the lack of wind brings people out in droves as though it were spring. I wondered, though, if there had been a storm in the night, for early this morning on the beach I saw an old fisherman trying to disentangle the sleepers and ropes, the ones used to slide the fishing boats across the pebbles and down into the sea. But I can’t believe there was a storm in the night for yesterday the air was so still, there was no wind, no wind at all. I walked the sailor’s path to Snape for the first time. It leaves the main Saxmundham Road, a mile or so away from here, past the golf course, and heads for Snape in a straight line (the road, by contrast, goes along the other two sides of the triangle). Much of the pathway is grassy which gives the walk a special feel, almost magical; it travels through woods, carrot fields, marshes, over streams and irrigation canals, through open fields and forests.
On the way I think about the biological anthropology course. There are so many complications and I have so many conflicting thoughts about signing up. I went for an interview with the tutors on Monday and was very nervous. I suppose I feared some quizzing of my knowledge, instead they were only interested in my motivation. By the end of 20 minutes, they were positively assuring me I would have no problem with the course content, rather my problems would be to do with time. It does look as though time will be a major hurdle (one that I shall have to leap over every day, including my newsletter press days). I shall be running back and forth between Gower St (University College) and Southampton St (FTBI) more than once on some days. I had not realised how much time would be required of me, even doing the course part-time: two lecture series of two lectures a week with a tutorial for each one, and two seminars of about two hours each. If most of this were concentrated on Friday morning then I could avoid most trouble, but they’re not. If they were scattered through the mornings generally, I could avoid some trouble. As it is, I have a bad spread: a clash with Barbara’s Tuesday evening class, and another with my Thursday afternoon deadlines every fortnight.
I do have a strong impulse to do this Masters degree but I think it is the wrong sort of impulse, one based on a romantic idea of the subject, given me, perhaps, by Stephen Jay Gould’s writing, and one that will not be sustained by the study. I confess I was disappointed in the interview to meet the lecturers. They lacked enthusiasm for their work (it seemed to me) and were bound up in the mechanics of teaching. Sociobiology, one of the topics that most interests me, has been dropped. I thought I would be able to choose subjects, but there is no choice. So, I will have to do genetics this year (I had been thinking to do it in the second year). I also learn that there are only two other MSc students - both studying full-time. I wonder how good a course it is, how good the lecturers are. One of my interviewers, Robin Dunbar, turns out to be the author of ‘Primate Social Systems’ which I have been struggling through in readiness for the interview. Unfortunately, I didn’t think much of the book.
Oh dear. There is a lot of information telling me that my impulse is wrong, should be restrained, and I was on the point of rejecting it (the impulse) when I discovered that the University College creche may well have space for Adam, for two full days. This would be a bonus, leaving me able to go to work every day - at present, I can’t because I look after Adam one day a week (to give B an extra day free). Yet the creche could complicate my life, for it closes at 5:30, a time that is before my Tuesday seminar ends, and too close to my deadlines on Thursday.
The impulse does remain, and appears to be over-riding practical and time problems. How did I prop up this impulse on the Sailor’s Path?
1) The course might be dull, and the work academic, but if I am going to delve into the area more seriously I need to structure my studying, I need solid background. If it proves too solid and weighty, then I’ll just have to shed the load, discard the baggage, and continue as a reader of popular science books. As I said in my interview, though, it is the only area that excites me academically.
2) By studying this science I might fall into other sorts of work. I might see opportunities through my journalistic experience, alternatively opportunities might find me.
3) A negative prop. I have absolutely no idea how else to fill up my spare time. Also, later in my life I might not have such work-time flexibility. This seems a good way of making the most of the flexibility.
4) How about this for a prop - it weighed quite heavily in my decision: the need to get some rigour back into my thinking. It may be too late. I think it will do my brain cells good to have to study and report on that study. Journalism is so shallow, and so specific, so linear. I can get by without holding too much information in my head or doing too much thinking.
Sunday 30 October
Days of pure autumn. The first real frosts spread across the country, the weathermen talk of fog, and the sky radiates a sharp sparkling blue. The low sun sneaks in unexpectedly through windows, highlighting corners and forgotten pictures. The central heating struggles on, to keep the encroaching cold at bay. In a day or two it will be November. Another year nearly gone, count them by birthdays or count them by the calendar, they all give the same message. This is time. There is no more time than time. I am in such a hurry. There is no time to go back and do things again. For personal fulfilment, one must harness time, as though it were a wild horse, not let it gallop from the manger to the fall, but steer it here and there. I must be able to say I’ve been there, I’ve done that.
As my life goes on, so my broad and changing interests develop I will never be a master in any one thing. I will never make my mark on the world. I will never be able to stand up and see my place carved in the plastic of the day. I will never be able to smile and say ‘I’ve made it’. All I will be able to say to myself, in private, in quiet, is that I have tried to explain and experience whatever interests were landed in me.
I have found that time goes slower when I am not working in a regular job, it goes slower when I can mark it with constantly changing activity. When travelling, for example, time becomes like a super-saturated solution. So much can be done in a single day, so many people met, so many places visited, so many thoughts thought. Routine kills time yet without routine we’d be overloaded.
Relationships are another marker of time. In my memory, I think of the period when I had many lovers, perhaps several at a time, but none lasting longer than a few months. That period seems to have lasted a long time, while these years with B only but a short time. Yet the reality is far different: three promiscuous years, and seven rather monogamous years (sandwiched around two years in Brazil). Other friends, too, can mark time. But the older one gets, new experiences are less, and, therefore, imprint less on one’s memory.
I think that writing a journal plays a part in harnessing the wild stallion (of time). The very act of documenting one’s life requires thought and reflection which helps to keep a perspective on one’s progress through life. And then of course the record, the document is there for later personal perusal, which can be life taking the journey over again.
Well, I’ve done it now, signed on for a two year Masters degree in biological anthropology. Even in my off (non-production) week at work, I found myself exhausted from racing between University College and Covent Garden. This coming week will be hell, my problems compounded by the onset of a cold. How I’ll keep it up for two years I’ve no idea.
My fate (in signing up for the course) was sealed when A & B and I visited the college creche on Tuesday. Denise (the girl in charge) offered us Monday, Tuesday and Thursday (I had expected much less availability). We took Monday and Tuesday. The place is so nice. I warm up inside when I think of Adam going there. There is a room for under twos, and a room for over twos, another room of cots and a bathroom. The staff are actively involved with the children, inputting positively, intelligently. Adam was as happy as a sandboy there, but on being introduced to the under twos room, he charged around to the surprise of the other quiet and docile babies. I’m sure he’ll love it. And, I’m also sure this is better for him than a childminder or nanny. If all goes well this term, both for him and me, perhaps we’ll up his time to three days. It seems cheap at £13-14 a day yet the cost adds up to a third of what I give B a month. I begin to worry about putting Adam’s name down for a school.
But I digress from the MSc in Biological Anthropology. My timetable is such that I should attend the college every day. This is a lot of running around. On Tuesdays (during an EER production week) I will have to travel into work at 8 or so, be at college by 11, return to the office at 2, then go back to the college either for the seminar at 4 or to pick Adam up at 5:30. I have two lecture series - evolution and primate social behaviour - each with two lectures and a tutorial, plus a genetics tutorial and two seminars. There is also a considerable amount of reading to be done in the library.
I discover that Robin Dunbar is not only the author of the book I bought ‘Primate Social Systems’ (which forms the basis for his course) but that he actually studied under John Crook author of ‘The Evolution of Human Consciousness’, the book that first inspired me to become interested in evolution! Among my ‘New Scientist’ cuttings I also find several articles by Dunbar.
The lectures are full of young undergraduates, scruffily clad and grossly arrogant (well!). Already I find myself not as far out of sync as I thought I might be, and that my reading has been quite varied. So far I’ve found the lectures stimulating - I don’t cut out in my mind as often as I might in a similar lecture on energy politics. Moreover, I want to input ideas and thoughts into this discipline, in a way I never want to with energy.
Raoul returns from South America. He has not made contact with Mayco. In Rio, he missed Edna but she arranged for him to stay somewhere else.
Friday, I take Adam to see Judy, Sophie and James (B is working an extra day to catch up her hours). Judy has settled into being a mum. She has some freelance editing work but isn’t keen, and thinks about what sort of other job she might do. James sits in a cradle in the bay window happy to be alive, undemanding, content. I sit on the sofa and read a Posy Simmonds story to Sophie. She was given it as a present for her third birthday last Sunday, already she seems to know it by heart, she knows what each picture caption says. Adam rushes around emptying all of Sophie’s toy trays, he covers the carpet in building bricks of one sort or another. Lunch is a haphazard affair. Sophie starts with a yoghurt, Adam eats pieces of bread that I have brought. Sophie likes humus on slices of bread; I shoved cottage cheese into Adam’s mouth. After lunch, Sophie falls asleep in her pushchair, James goes to bed. I talk to Judy about primate social systems. She never realised, she says, that men and women might differ over ways to bring up children.
A word about work: I have been assigned a new Editorial Production Assistant (EPA) to take Tracye’s place when she leaves. Administration Manager, Anna, was highly pleased to tell me that she had found me a permanent trained, non-smoking EPA - what I had been asking for. Well I had been asking for Tracye’s replacement to be permanent, not necessarily trained. But beggars must not be choosers (I certainly wasn’t given any choice). My new EPA is a shy young man called Kenneth Maxwell. He will sit in my office, which is a plus. More than ever now, with my MSc, I need an understanding and helpful EPA.
Margie has written me a profile of Hungarian energy, but it is full of gaps - no primary energy production or consumption figures; no tally of refineries - in the way one has come to expect of material about the East Bloc. Margie is such a darling of the Comecon embassies, she must write all the right things.
I read a book ‘Understanding Human Evolution’ by Frank E Poirier to try and catch up on the paleoanthropology in the evolution lectures I’ve missed. There is a lot of geology and anatomy to learn.
Paul K Lyons
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