PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1988 - SEPTEMBER
Saturday 3 September
September has come and there is still no sign of summer. Windy days follow overcast days which follow rainy days which follow windy days. When the sun does emerge, it arrives slowly and stays just long enough for us to realise how pleasant it would be if it were to stay for a day or two. This week, this last ten days, it has been the wind especially that has hindered any pleasure on the beach. When the sun shined for a few hours, I would have liked to have gone swimming with Adam, but the wind was too bitter for him. I did swim, with Adam walking on the pebbles, but twice he has marched straight toward me, and I had to rush out of the water to save him from Canute’s fate. Shame because I can’t get a decent swim.
Issue 272 of the European Energy Report is on the presses today. Twenty pages of scintillating information about the industry. Yet again, my front page story is about the expanding use of gas - this time in the Netherlands. It is a while since a story in EER ran simultaneously with one on the BBC’s World News - there was not much political news in the energy sector through the summer. Famine in Sudan, and floods in Bangladesh, fill the news. Massive aid operations are under way.
Wednesday 16 September, Antibes
I am taking part in a navigation class by the side of water. I am sitting on a dining chair which is floating in the water but very close to the edge. One of the class, Rosa, jumps in, and starts splashing around; my chair floats away from the bank, and I ask Rosa to push me back. Instead, she topples the chair into the water and I go flying. Two books, one of them my journal, sink in the water. I am distraught to lose my journal, and from the bank peer into the water to see if I can see the books. At first I can’t, but then I do, and manage to retrieve them all. They are soaking, and I am too scared to look inside my journal for fear of finding all the writing smudged and ruined.
It’s not often my journal enters a dream.
Adam distant, Barbara distant, EER distant, Aldershot Road distant, Aldeburgh distant. A week of real holiday, as if my life wasn’t one long holiday. The week before last was quite a holiday too, but then I had Adam and some work to do. Here in Antibes, time trickles away, like so many hours lapping on a beach (what sort of metaphor is that). Close is Martin, close is windsurfing, close is backgammon, cards and Scrabble. Close is cheese and pastries. Close is lying on the beach, watching near naked women.
Martin arrives on Sunday evening from Paris, not long after I’ve returned from the airport. On Monday morning, we drive up to Bar sur Loup to Martin’s father’s house. I am surprised how near it is, and how densely populated the area is. From here to there, we saw virtually no countryside. It is certainly rural, but a dense rural, with endless villas. But the house is lovely, with large grounds, several terraces that must have been vineyards once upon a time. Indeed, several vines grow on the house and on pergolas. Martin says his father, Mike, has recently taken on gardening; the grounds show some loving care and attention. The house itself is covered in creepers of one sort or another. Inside, I find the complete antithesis of Dad’s precious flat: old weavings on the wall, books and maps everywhere, scruffy decoration in need of a coat of paint. And, whereas Dad’s flat doesn’t allow junk of any kind, there’s barely place for a box of tools, Mike’s house has utility rooms and outdoor huts where all manner of devices and utensils can be found, including a table-tennis table. But, there don’t seem to be any bicycles. At Dad’s flat, for me, a bicycle would be essential, but up at Bar sur Loup with so many hills, the Goldsmiths can be forgiven.
An English couple have moved to live in the house recently, teachers at Sophia-Antipolis where there is an English school/college. Sophia-Antipolis is a new town outside Antibes, a complex of industrial, commercial and cultural activities built with due regard for the natural features of the area - or so the guide book says. The couple have been teaching at foreign schools for 12 years, in places as far afield as Mexico, Lima and somewhere in Africa. Susan was pleasant and welcoming, and considerably relaxed since she’d been in the house under two weeks, but there was something odd about her, and I wondered whether she and her partner might be dope smokers. (She changed her clothes three times while we were there.)
I don’t have much of interest to record. My battle with the windsurf is not as fierce as it might have been in earlier days, a younger age. I persevere less, and give up easier. My body is more set in its ways, I cannot command the muscles to coordinate in new ways, to forego instinctive responses. The wind hasn’t been very helpful, either too slight and gusty, or too strong. I have made one trip out, around, and back without falling in and getting wet, and will have another chance tomorrow, Thursday.
My body has caught a cold, which is a pain because it stops me swimming as much as I would like. The last day with the windsurf, Thursday, I felt I was beginning to understand its movements, and I was able to manipulate the board. I fell in a lot, but then I always try to manoeuvre rather than travel. Like so many things in life, the windsurf requires confidence of action: the sail is not master but servant and must be moved and used with decision and firmness.
Here in Antibes, lust always rears its ugly head. During these brief visits, I love to feast my eyes, I love to walk along the shoreline searching for the most alluring bodies. If I’m not walking, then I like to sunbathe in one spot where I have a view of some good-looking girls. With Martin, I joked a lot about the girls, constantly intending to make some advances, but we never did, and justified our inaction in all sorts of ways. Essentially, I suppose, we are not needy enough, we are not driven enough, although I suspect Martin has more need that converts to action than I. Yesterday, with Martin gone to Paris, I returned to the beach where we had been windsurfing. I chose a spot near two good-looking girls. One of them was dark, sultry and un-smiling, but began to attract my attention. She was small, with gorgeous proportions - long shapely legs, wide hips and large, very firm breasts. Bit by bit I began to trying to catch her eye in order to smile. She looked over towards me only occasionally and very briefly, but she knew I was looking at her. Women have a variety of ways and means to avoid being stared at on the beach - from staring sternly back, to moving away. At the very least they can position themselves away from the voyeur, rather than towards him. I got the sense with this girl, that she was doing the opposite, opening herself towards me, teasing perhaps. For example, she stood up once, directly facing me, in all her topless beauty, and looked over the top of me, i.e. not challenging my unashamed enjoyment of her, her breasts, her waist, her hips, her legs, her crotch. It was very exciting. At the time, her girlfriend was still lying next to her, but shortly after she left. Odile - for that was her name - lay back down on the towel, on her side, facing me exactly. Again I could stare at her without shame or guilt, even when she used her free hand to brush away some sand from her breast, in a way that let me sense it. A tingle rang through my body. And then she lifted one leg slightly so that I could see the shape of her sex, and twanged the elastic edge of her bathing suit! Really, this was all too much, I am a mere man. The tale has a rather pathetic end - of course. Knowing, I would barely be able to live with myself if I didn’t make an approach, I became increasingly anxious as clouds scudded across the sky threatening to block out the sun. Finally, I went over to talk to her, hence knowing her name. But, alas, she spoke not a word of English. I tried gallantly in French, but only for a few minutes before I became so frustrated by an inability of make conversation, and so insecure, that I withdrew, and, by the time I had returned to my towel, she had reversed her sunbathing position, keeping her back directly towards me.
To add to my woes, there is so much sex on television here, or so it seems. Every time I switch on there is a woman undressing - or indeed a man - ‘American Gigolo’ was showing a couple of days ago. Suggestion, sex and nudity are more obvious in advertisements than they are in the UK. Yesterday, I watched a French version of ‘Blind Date’. Three men and women are asked a multitude of questions about their sexual behaviour, thoughts and responses.
A hurricane sweeps across the Caribbean causing havoc in Jamaica, north Mexico and parts of Texas. Somebody somewhere will link all the tragedies this summer to global warming, I’m sure.
The Olympics have begun in Seoul. The World Service newspaper round-up says the press has given South Korea a thumbs up - the opening ceremony was magnificent. I saw snatches on television. At the moment when the Olympic flame lit the cauldron five jets swooped low over the stadium leaving five smoke rings in the Olympic colours. On Thursday, just hours before the opening ceremony, the Olympic Committee announced their choice of Littlehammer for the Winter Olympics in 1996. Martin keeps shouting ‘damn it’ all day, and ‘my goodness’, for he thought Sofia had a very good chance of winning it. Sofia had come second in the bidding for the 1994 Winter Olympics, when Martin was working for the Bulgarian selection committee. (He explains that the Winter Olympics cycle is being switched into the interim period between the main Olympics, hence the gap of only two years between 1992 and 1994.)
Tuesday 22 September, London
A chill in the air, the smell of autumn, leaves begin to fill the gutter. Where to from here? I badly need a new passion, a new direction, a new project. I am open to offers. The winter approaches. I have five mornings before work, five long evenings after work, and a weekend every week to fill. I feel a terrible stagnation like I’m wearing like an overcoat. Most people fall into work projects, love affairs, social groups; it always seems I have to work so hard to achieve any sense of satisfaction with my doings. When I relax, I just drift into stagnation.
I remain impressed at myself for the Brazil adventure, which restored my self confidence, but has apparently done nothing to prepare me for other risky ventures in the work field. If it were not for Adam I might be closer to a real depression. He gives me such joy, very often I am overwhelmed with emotion just thinking about him. I breathe an enormous sigh of relief just because he exists, as though I would barely be able to cope with the vacuum of life if he were not here. I’m sure I’ve said this before and I’m sure I’ll say it again.
Caroline has gone on a tour to the US and will not return until early November when she leaves again for Germany until Christmas. Martin has returned to live in Aldershot Road. He has taken Caroline’s room while she is away. I imagine he will look for accommodation after Christmas with other LSE students. He has gone to Northern Ireland for an interview with DuPont for a job he doesn’t want.
Sunday, Aldeburgh is quite a common dateline in this book. Sometimes it is the only chance I get to write a few words - Saturdays we’re usually busy in the world, at a jumble sale or a supermarket in Leiston. Highly vital business. A damp weekend this one, though this morning it might stay fine long enough for us to take a walk.
I had thought I might settle into my depression next week, it being my first non-production week in London for some time (my hectic summer of short trips being over). But, as it happens, I will travel to New York for a few days.
Already, since my return from Antibes, two ideas - not new ones - have been spinning around in my head. The first thought is to write a book on the lives of ordinary people. This idea off as ‘One hundred old men met on the Kilburn High Road’, but, in my latest thinking, I am considering advertising as a way of finding people. The main rationale for the book would be to demonstrate both the vulnerability of human life and the force of adaptability. I would want the lives of people to show how changeable circumstances are, how little romance there is in the long term, and yet how fulfilling and rewarding survival becomes. I would want to glorify the details of life. I would want to remind young men and women of today’s material age, how different things were, and in consequence how different they can be again. I would want to remind my generation of the reality of war, not as an isolated event but as one that just impacted on the current of people’s lives. I consider the following ad for ‘The Daily Telegraph’ personal column: ‘Born 1900-1920? Writer seeks to collect biographical detail (anonymously if requested) either through Q and A correspondence or interview. Only those willing to be absolutely straightforward requested to reply. One or two page biography please to Box . . .’
The second idea is to study - to do a part-time masters degree, following Martin’s example. I don’t know why I’ve never seriously thought of doing a part-time degree before. I’ve done night classes all these years without realising there were more serious alternatives. I spent a couple of nights at the library looking through all the prospectuses, and find one interesting course, at University College: a masters in biological anthropology which can be taken part-time over two years. It sounds pretty close to what I want to do, and has got me all excited, so that I want to amass all the information instantly, and make a decision a few seconds beyond instantly. On Friday morning, I went to University College with adrenalin racing in my blood stream. Even though it is nearly the end of September, I find, it is still possible to get on courses. For a Masters, Martin says it is just a question of convincing the tutors. The main reception sends me to the anthropology house, further down Gower St and opposite Dillons. I wait half an hour in the secretary’s room only to be told that the person I need to see won’t be back until later. Eventually, I discover there are places available, but my lack of biology will be a real problem. He is, however, prepared to give me an interview.
In the meantime I must travel again. This time to New York. I began some preparatory work for a story about oil-producing nations investing in downstream businesses, and discovered from Shell that a conference on this very same topic was about to be held. Dennis Kiley said I could go (FTBI would pay) which was the first hurdle. The other hurdle was how to make the trip worthwhile. I rang Andrew Hilton (he who paid me £500 for an IEA report) and he said his firm could find $1,500 for a report on the subject. There would have been no point in going just for EER, but for some pocket money, well! I won’t get a chance to stay very long unfortunately, maybe a day of sightseeing. Seems like depression will have to wait a further fortnight.
Sleeping patterns are interrupted nightly due to the Olympics. Staying up late these days is beyond me, and, in any case, there the exciting events don’t happen at the beginning of the Seoul day, 11:30pm London time. Instead, I wake up in the middle of the night, at random times, and switch on the TV (there is one here in this bedroom) and I have one in my bedroom at Aldershot Road. Over the last couple of nights I have caught athletics, swimming, rowing, boxing and horse riding. I also switch on the TV in the mornings before I’ve barely opened my eyes. The Brits are not doing well. No Sebastian Coe; Steve Cram has failed to qualify for the final, Tom Keene has been disqualified for barging; and Peter Elliot has only scraped through by the skin of his teeth.
There is a thrill to watching the Olympics, especially live. The thrill of excellence, the thrill of personal triumph and despair, the thrill of seeing the limits of human performance. The commentaries are an inevitable mix of information and banal supposition about the athletes’ feelings. Most spectacular of all, I think, are the gymnastic events, dominated by the Russians. The gymnasts appear as supermen and women with such strength in their arms and legs that they can perform in ways almost beyond imagination. I have not yet seen a medal’s table but I read that the US is doing badly and Americans are turning over to other channels. NBC, which has an exclusive contract for television coverage, is losing advertisers fast. There must have been high expectations after the (East Bloc-less) Los Angeles games.
I hear from Mum that Melanie’s fortunes continue downhill. Julian Lyons, meanwhile, is about to move to Ealing. Each time the interest rate goes up he gets an electric shock: his mortgage is so high every half a percentage point climb in the rate adds another zero to his monthly payments!
I must briefly comment on Thatcher’s recent outbursts against a unified Europe, as everything she does and says in her speeches in Belgium and Luxembourg delineates the extent to which she is prepared to see UK enter into the Europe project. Her pragmatic approach falls far short of the ideals of many within the Community who see a constant and continuous progression towards a single state.
30 September, New York
Dateline: New York. As most of my other trips this year, this one is short, and rather dull. I haven’t been to New York for three and a half years. Last time, I came I had much to do, people to see, a computer to buy, a bank account to open. Vera was still alive. This time I have come for a conference but have absolutely nothing else to do. I wander the streets and scour the bookshops. Occasionally, I think how strange it is that my father lives here in the city and yet I know no one. I want to arrive at his studio, and declare that I, too, have a son. But then I consciously remember the time he expelled me from his house, and drove me to the hotel on Block Island. It seems so hard to imagine me acting like my father with Adam - leaving him behind in the first place when he is but a few years old, and then throwing him out of my house when he is an adult. And yet I cannot tell fortunes. I must hope I have a saner, more pragmatic, approach to life. There is no doubt in my mind that, already at the age of 14 months, Adam has taken a premier place in my life and times. B and Adam together are more than half my being. This may not be very sensible - may indeed lead to disaster. We can but do our best - whatever that is.
So I sit here in the Hotel Roosevelt, this Friday morning, the last day in September. I mention the date because it is the last day on which standby tickets can used London to New York, New York to London. If I want to go tomorrow night (1 October) it will cost me more than £100 extra. I have two return tickets, to use depending on which day I go back. I would have gone back Saturday had I found a place to stay, but, as I haven’t, I will try in an hour or so to get a standby place today. My one hope of contact in this Big Apple was a friend of Roxanne, but he was so busy (leaving for Europe the next day) he could barely talk to me on the phone. I long to find myself in the position of being so busy that I don’t have time to talk to someone on the phone or meet them for a drink. I just don’t know how people can be so busy. My life, even with Adam, is so full of gaps you could sell my diary for new! I am desperate enough even to check out the New York McGraw-Hill building, but the two people I know well enough - Charlie Thurston and Matha Palubniak - do not work there any more. The conference, at least, does provide me with much of what I need, and I should be able to justify the trip on a purely financial reward basis.
Tall buildings with points are in fashion. How do they clean all that glass? How will they demolish such tall buildings? People talk much more here than in London, especially on the streets. Dark men inhabit dark corners in dark times, you can see them slowly unravelling themselves in the early morning. Such an extravagance of people to be seen on the subway.
Paul K Lyons
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