PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1989 - MARCH
Immersed in the molecular clock, the molecular evolutionary clock. I had planned to write my genetics essay this weekend, but didn’t feel up to it on Friday night. My grasp of genetics is so weak. Sometimes Fred races through the lectures so fast the entire class loses him. Out of lecture, Fred Brett moves heavily and speaks slowly, but in lecture it seems as though he has been wound up by a clockwork key. He is perhaps the least good teacher on the course, the person most of place, the person most seemingly bogged down in the mire of being a lecturer. When he talked about the baboon studies of his PhD, he came alive. He says as much himself, and reflects nostalgically on those days. And yet I do like him, he takes nothing too seriously, and he manages to empathise with us, through making himself seem vulnerable or stupid. I went to talk to him on Friday about my project. But I might just as well not have bothered. It is too easy to stray into other conversations with Fred. How many tutorials have been half over before we the topic under review is even mentioned.
Monday 6 March
Every year I’m sure I feel that spring has come early. But this year we have had such a mild winter that it must be true. In my yard garden, I have daffodils and grape hyacinth blooming, the mahonia is still flowering, and the quince and berberis have begun to colour. In the parks I see immense arrays of crocuses and daffodils.
I took Adam to Hyde Park on Sunday. I hadn’t meant to, but the museums, our real destination, don’t open very early on Sunday. Indeed the V&A, Geological Museum and the Natural History Museum do not open until the afternoon. Fortunately, the Science Museum promised to open at 11, so Adam and I went to the park to kill an hour. We were standing by the lake looking at the ducks and pigeons when I turned round to see a small commotion. A man was stretching out as far as he could into the water, being held by a second person, in order to retrieve a pushchair that had fallen in. Whose pushchair? Adam’s pushchair! I had left it so close to the water that the wind had rolled it in.
Dear Raoul had advised me to take Adam to the Science Museum and he was not wrong. Downstairs in the children’s area there are displays with buttons that I half remember from my own childhood. Well, I remember pressing buttons there, but not what the displays were about, and a certain excitement about it all. We went to the ‘launch pad’ first, with dozens of displays allowing participation by children: two-way mirrors, mini-mills for grain, water-flows with blocks to form dams, giant concave dishes that act to transmit whispers across the room, building materials of various kinds. This sort of adventure is so important. If dull old buttons caused such excitement in me, this kind of thing must be seeding the future growth of our scientists more effectively than anything else I can think of. These playgrounds of science should exist in every town in the country if the status of science and technology is to be re-established. (But, of course, I realise this is only a playground of physical sciences, of material technology, so much science these days is biological.)
On Saturday, early evening, we go to Mum’s for high tea. She has cooked a delicious broccoli quiche, there is tomato soup and apricot cake as well, all her no 1 favourites. Well, all the foods she cooks are my favourite.
Saturday 11 March
Even though I have three engagements this weekend, I am still sorry not to be in Aldeburgh.
Adam is utterly adorable. I do not have sufficient adjectives to describe how lovely he is. Once again, I find myself crying now as I think about him. He can be at the side of the room when I catch his eye, he is doing nothing naughty but maybe he is leaving the room, or trying to get at one of my books, or is discovering something new, then he will cringe his head a bit as if retreating, or trying to hide in a symbolic way, and burst out laughing as I point to him and say ‘what are you doing?’ in a comic inquisitional way. I might repeat it several times and we both giggle away.
And B, too, is suddenly more joyful again. She will remember much pain through our Aldeburgh days, but I will remember many good times, as well, much laughter.
Perhaps I am in a good mood because I have heard my staff status is going ahead at a salary of £25,750, which is £750 more a year than our original conversation. Perhaps also I am in a good mood because I have a month or more of super-busy times ahead. I have booked a week’s holiday in Antibes (I shall ski if there’s snow, learn French, and revise for my exams ), a five-day trip to Sweden (including a short stay with Benzi), and before both those is a long weekend in Aldeburgh with visitors. It will be extremely difficult to cram in some work (issues of EER and ECE ) but I shall manage somehow, by bringing deadlines forward probably. Furthermore, I have two essays to write for college.
Maundy Thursday 23 March, Aldeburgh
It gratifies me to hear on the radio that so many roads out of London are blocked with Easter traffic. I sweated a bit to be able to leave on Wednesday night. Both newsletters, EER and ECE, had to be produced, and there were two essays outstanding for college. Furthermore, Kenny was obliged to attend a training course all day Tuesday and Thursday (although I objected to this training course coinciding with my production days, it did give me a perfect excuse for bringing forward the production, and skipping off on Wednesday!).
We have not been here for almost four weeks, I have missed the air, the sea, the slower pace. But it would not be true to say that I haven’t enjoyed the challenge of the last couple of weeks. Strange to think that evenings and weekends all I’ve done is read and write college essays, a funny way to enjoy myself.
The college course has really whizzed by quickly. In the last few weeks, I have written three essays, one each for each of the lecture course. For Fred’s genetics course I wrote about the molecular clock, for John Landers, I wrote an essay concerning the causes of long-term changes in mortality. For Leslie’s advanced evolution course, I wrote on how teeth can be used to help understanding of growth and development in humans, apes and fossil hominids. Finally, Leslie returned my first term essay on the ‘Out of the Africa’ hypothesis. She gave me an A, and Nilofer reported that Leslie had praised my writing How nice to hear that; and yet writing has been my profession for eight years, so if I can’t write an essay for college better than other students then I might as well throw myself off the nearest edifice.
Term has now ended. The new one will begin towards the end of April, just a month before the exams. My timetable until then will be somewhat tight.
I see a documentary on TV about the Tasaday tribe in the Philippines. Such extraordinary goings on. When first discovered 20-25 years ago the tribe was hailed as a miracle for it seemed its inhabitants were of the stone age, untouched by the agricultural revolution, untouched by industrialisation. These people still used stone tools, and lived by hunting and gathering. Anthropologists, journalists and film crews descended on them, as did government officials, I suppose, and their way of life was no more. A few years later the Tasaday were uncovered as a hoax. How could they have lived for so long within three hours of agricultural tribes and never have come across them? and do those stone age tools they are using look like fakes? So, it was claimed that a local farmer dressed them up. In the years that followed quite a number of people seemed to conclude that Tasaday were a hoax; then a body of opinion began to form that believed the tribe was genuine. Documentary makers a plenty were taking both sides, presumably led by specialists in the field with an axe to grind! This particular documentary took no view at all, it just pointed out that previous documentary makers had gone to the Philippines to find a story, and they’d got the story they wanted. The Tasaday said whatever anyone wanted to hear.
It seemed to me there was overwhelming evidence for their genuineness, not least in their unique language, but also in their behaviour patterns which seemed to internally consistent. And the actual evidence against them is so flimsy. I think the mistake was to imagine they were genuine stone age peoples because they used stone axes. The jungle is rich in resources, a small tribe need not cultivate, may have reinvented the strapping technique to fix stone to wood. They could have become isolated a few generations ago, beyond memory, from a larger more advanced tribe and just lost the learning because it was not necessary. The whole story goes to prove that the media is just a hoax.
Nothing particularly good about it. The wind has blown hard all day. Walking along the sea wall this afternoon I was either battling to make progress against it or resisting the pressure from behind to run with it. A fine walk though. Estuary waters choppy, little waves crashing all along the muddy banks. Choppy grey sea, choppy grey sky, black and white clouds filling and unfilling, blocking and unblocking the low sun. Dried grasses flying this way and that, bending, bending to the air gusts. No chance for thinking, too much of mind keeping feet on windy bumpy narrow track, keeping balance. The sea wall bends through an arc, a near circle, so I had the wind coming at me in every direction.
Now for some scandal. Should the film about the Profumo affair have been made? They that argue against it say John Profumo has suffered enough why should his name be dragged through the mud again. I see no logic to that argument. Profumo himself is not so relevant to this story. The film sets out to show how people at all different levels of society can get caught in situations beyond their control. Christine Keeler, Simon Ward, John Profumo were all vulnerable people whose vulnerability got spotlighted by an avaricious media. It’s based on Keeler’s version of events, her book, and sets out to right a wrong, as such it is both justified and a good story. Simon Ward was a hypocritically prosecuted, by a paranoid government, for pimping. If he pimped then he pimped for highly-placed Tories. But pimping is not the right word, he was a man with that sort of personality, he lived that sort of life but he didn’t do it for the money. As such the allegations against him were ridiculous. The government got away with the charade of a trial and destroyed Ward’s life - that is a lesson justifiably repeated in these Tory times.
Just a few feet away from a jet engine, the North Sea below, the taste of British Airways marmalade in my mouth. On the way to Stockholm, just crossing the coast of Northern Holland.
The Swedish foreign ministry has organised me half a dozen interviews. It is an easy schedule over three days, and I should have Friday and Saturday free for exploring. I doubt I shall much enjoy it, but how can I justify taking a trip to Sweden without making best use of the weekend. A taxi to Heathrow cost me £20. The driver raced along the M4. Every time I blinked the meter notched up another 20p. I had planned to catch the No 16 bus to Hyde Park Corner and then the Piccadilly Line. London Regional Transport informed me last night there was a bus at 6:05am. No sign of it. And all the people at the stop jumped on a No 8, which didn’t exactly leave me confident that a No 16 was on its way.
A busy weekend in Aldeburgh just passed with all my family bar Sasha visiting. Mum, Julian and Sarah came up on Saturday; Melanie and Julian on Sunday. Julian and Sarah stayed Saturday night; Mum stayed Saturday and Sunday nights. I’d wanted to host such a family gathering at Aldeburgh for ages but the opportunity hadn’t really arisen and, of course, the house wasn’t ready until Christmas or so. This Easter break was the perfect time, and it was Julian’s 30th birthday.
B & I argued a bit before they all arrived, and my slack monitoring of Adam meant he fell down and scraped his face, and I got a bit cross with Julian Bull for trying to pay for lunch at the Butley Oysterage, but all in all, I think, the weekend passed off very well. Julian and Sarah said they much enjoyed themselves, and Mum too had a good time. B was probably under stress, and I was in overdrive, not really conscious of the relaxed feelings I usually have when I’m here.
The watch on a fellow passenger’s wrist just beeped the hour. I have never understood this need for such a repetitious confirmation of time passing. The passenger is asleep, why should he need to know it is 11:00. I even dispute the need to wear a watch. I am not independent of time, but neither have I worn a watch for many years. My greatest need for time is to know when I need to settle in front of the TV for a programme. I need to time eggs and bread making, for the launderette (to get back before the dryer has finished); occasionally I need it for appointments, for getting to lectures at college. But all this need of time can be satisfied through clocks at homes (I have three in total - one on the video, one on my bedside radio, and one on a calculator), at the office, public clocks and, on occasions, asking people!
Wednesday 29 March, Stockholm
I can’t remember being in a hotel quite as seedy as this before. I don’t mean cheap, for I’ve been in cheaper places which are worse and better than this; no, I mean seedy. I booked it on the telephone from London having been given the name by the Swedish tourist office. I booked a room with a shower, and I have a shower - crammed into a plastic cupboard with a toilet, so the floor is always wet when you want to take a pee, half undressed, wearing only socks. The whole unit creaks as you shift your centre of gravity from one foot to another. The toilet seat remains wet for hours after the shower has been used. The soap container is empty; the tiny sink drains slower than if it had a plug in. There is absolutely no place to hang a towel and keep it dry, so it goes on the floor outside the door. The rest of the room rises to no better a standard. Two items vie for the top accolade (of five dirty blobs): the room’s single adornment, a picture, and a dirty stained valve radio. In the hope that the artist will never read these pages, I will attempt to argue that the picture deserves the award (only one of which can be given in each city).
On the back of the frame, which is no more than four bits of wood tacked end to end, I find the inscription EVA - 74. Thus, the painting is not only real but old! Eva measures about a foot wide, and three feet high. The artist has used very crude brush strokes, perhaps in great haste. Although a nude, Eva displays neither sexuality nor sensuality, rather the opposite, a touch of Neanderthal perhaps. Her small head and short forehead protrude forward on a long neck, as though trying to duck inside the frame. Eva’s muscles are disproportionately allocated - biceps in her forearms, stomach in a state of extension, thighs apparently encasing her legs like a plastic cast would, indents where her knees should protrude, clubs for hands. Now to add a touch of colour to this description. Eva has one entirely blue breast, the one that manages to be in profile, even though the view is frontal, and one in two-tone green with a brown smudge for a nipple. On her body, the artist has used black slits for her eyes, black round bits for her navel (and a second navel a bit higher up), and a black triangle for the pubic hair. One arm is green, the other brown; one leg green, the other yellow - need I go on. Around her, the artist has used a few black strokes to indicate shade, I suppose, on both sides. At the bottom, and highlighted by several dribbles of brown paint, I find the name Eliner Rigna. Well done Eliner, the five dirty blobs are yours. The radio has retired from the contest - after all it’s only competing attribute is that it doesn’t work.
In the hotel lounge this evening, a large Swede insisted on shouting his mind. I spent a few minutes there trying to make a telephone call. Obnoxious is the word that comes to mind. Although drunk and rather pitiful, I suppose, he sat watching the TV and shouted every time he felt like it. Several other people were watching the TV or reading and said nothing. One large wall in the lounge has been sculpted in paint. I cannot say painted, because the paint is thinker than plaster. Perhaps Eliner did it. The colours stink, they are as thick and vulgar as the texture. Eva is just a watercolour wash on canvas but the lounge has been sculpted with a trowel and oils or acrylics. Ugh.
The wall has not been sculpted in oils, I have been fooled, by the low light, by the sharp horrid colours, and by the glaze on the finish. It is not just one wall either, the scene of an indian tribal village swims around the room. A bright red and yellow sky floats above a dense network of spindly jungle trees. Here and there, matchstick people make their way to or from a straw hut. The rough plaster walls have been painted over without any regard for the bumps.
Today I have three interviews, the most taxing of schedules: yesterday was just one, Tuesday two, and Friday will be just one.
In ‘European Energy Report’, I introduced my recent UK profile by saying the electricity industry was undergoing the most radical restructuring of any Western power sector - or words to that effect. Perhaps it is true at the administrative level, but Sweden’s electricity industry is undergoing an even more profound change. The people voted, as far back as 1980, to phase out nuclear power. More recently they have opted to phase it out by 2010, with the first two plants (of 12) to be shut down in 1995-1996. Half of Swedish electricity is produced by nuclear generation. The country has no domestic resources but for hydro which supplies most of the other half of the power. More hydro potential exists - four virgin rivers in the north - but a law forbids their use. Furthermore, as if to make power industry officials’ life not only complex but impossible, the government has decided on strict emission standards - not least that CO2 emissions must not increase.
To an outsider, these factors conspiring together, look like a menu for economic disaster. Possible ways forward include buying gas from Russia and Norway and building gas-fired power plants, experimenting with Venezuela’s orimulsion and liquefaction and gasification techniques. So far everyone I have interviewed has stressed the need to inform consumers about future choices and about how much electricity will cost in the future, perhaps double that of today.
Sweden is paving the way. Politicians elsewhere are very interested to see how Sweden copes. Environmental concerns have gone beyond green party politics, they are now the mainstay of energy policy. Is this tenable? How serious will the consequences be for manufacturing industry? will energy-intensive industries decline dramatically? It is a bold and risky experiment. A rich country’s fancy - somebody said.
I buy ‘The Times’ as I feel so out of touch with the news. It leads on an item about traffic jams. A report by the CBI claims to identify £15bn lost through traffic jams. At last, at last somebody has noticed the traffic situation in and around London (I can’t say for other areas) is so abominable. I’m surprised more objections haven’t been forthcoming. Under-secretary of state for transport, Peter Bottomley, said the country was going to experience the biggest boom in public transport since the opening of the railways. Here is yet another example of the Tory MPs talking hogwash. Where is this boom going to come from? Nobody uses buses because they are too slow; the roads are clogged up; and the train service is frequently over-crowded, expensive, running late, and unsafe!
In the space of less than half an hour I sign up TWO new correspondents. A Swedish woman by name of Suzanne Kolare was recommended to me by the managing director of Swede Gas. Her English is not perfect, but she does know a lot about energy in Sweden. I will give her English a trial, if it is not good enough then I’ll have to stick with Ellen for a while (but, since being here I’ve not had good reports of her).
Not only does the Swedish Foreign Ministry organise trips for foreign journalists, it also runs a large press room with a free telephone and fax service, and a regular supply of newspapers and coffee. If the ministry installed a word processor or two, then it would be perfect. The lady, Asa, who organised my trip, sits in an office overseeing all the foreign press activity. I went there this afternoon for one of my interviews. Afterwards, I explained my need for a good correspondent, and Asa said Jack would be my man but for the fact that he was moving to the Netherlands. Nevertheless, when he arrived, Asa introduced me to him, and, as it happens, he already knew of me. David Brown had shown him my letter, and suggested he might like to contact me. (I had written to David in Holland after seeing a piece he wrote on energy in the FT. He had just moved down from Sweden.)
So, by chance, I met Jack. As with Suzanne, it is too early to tell whether or not he will work out, but he could prove a very useful stringer. We sat talking for a few hours, he knows several of my other correspondents (which must give him confidence in me). This made me feel good, for I believe I’m setting up a higher calibre network than I inherited, one that is interlinked.
Jack tells me about the Olof Palme affair. The police are holding a suspect called Pettersson, a crazy drunk gambler. They believe they have a strong case against him. Jack believes the Swedish security service killed Palme, believing the nation’s security was seriously at risk (Palme was becoming increasingly compromised with the Russians and had replaced his defence team with yes men). I think it highly likely this is true. The murder was too clean, too precise. The drunk was gambling that evening, why should he think of anything else but gambling. And how would he have been able to bother with all the minutiae of hiding his tracks so that a crack detective force couldn’t identify him.
Why do I always overestimate the time I want to stay away? I could quite happily go back to London this afternoon, instead I have to stay another two days. The weather has turned sour, so I won’t take the longer boat trip I had planned on, I shall just to Vaxholm, maybe this evening or early tomorrow morning, and then to see Benzi in Taby. I’m not quite sure why I’m bothering.
To add to my irritation I bought a novel at Heathrow which has proved almost as crummy as this hotel room. Actually worse, because the writer pretends to be so good, while there is nothing pretentious about this room. I did find it difficult to choose a book, none of the bestsellers appealed to me, they were either too fat, about the wrong sort of adventure, too thin as in the case of some modern literature etc. I ended up with this book, ‘Deadlock’ by Colin Forbes. Perhaps it looked the closest to a Frederick Forsyth or Leon Uris, and it did proudly state it was ‘the latest bestselling thriller’ from Forbes. But he is such a poor writer, I can’t understand how it’s on the bestselling shelves. The characters are wooden. There is a good girl and a bad girl; they are identical as far as I can tell, and all the characters talk in exactly the same way. Oh it is so irritating, I have thrown it down in exasperation several times, only to return to it when in need of a few minutes rest and relaxation. But now I’ve had enough. I can’t remember giving up on a book because it was so badly written, which shows how rarely I allow myself to buy a book without good - to my mind - credentials.
My last interview this morning was with the Department of Energy and Environment. The tall, thin civil servant kept referring me to a recent draft of the IEA’s report on Sweden. He didn’t seem to understand that I wanted the information from his department, not the IEA. I let slip the word ‘crisis’ in connection with Swedish energy policy, and he nearly bit my head off. There is no crisis. No, of course not.
Coming to the end of a tiring day. It is far more tiring being a tourist than being a journalist. At 10pm I’m ready to doss, yet I didn’t get up until 8:30.
What is the purpose of wandering around endlessly, just looking. I make purpose by searching for photographs. With slide film in the camera I impose a fairly rigorous quality control over which pictures I take, thus if I do take some there is an achievement. I also make purpose by trying to capture some part of life, of the day, some part of my experience, my thoughts, some part of what I see, in words, on this paper. But truth will out, and so much of tourism can be defined as dross. Already, I have found it more interesting to write about the seediness of this hotel than the beauty of Stockholm. I have taken one or two photographs around the city, but they were hard won, i.e. I walked a lot to get them.
In any case, my words, my pictures are what? No more (and no less) than self-imposed purpose. I think I need another level to add to the voyeur’s tools of photo and words, a more specialist knowledge of something, domestic architecture, or church architecture, or cemeteries. In ten years time when I come to re-read this self-indulgent hog-wash what will I be doing? Reminding myself of a boring trip to Stockholm? Or will I have recorded it in such a way as to add colour, add texture which was never really there? Certainly, one of the great attributes of a diary is that it can put one in touch with past emotional experiences. Memories are often overworked, but reading again about an episode can bring one that much nearer to the reality, for the document was written at a much closer time, when the mental state reflected the feelings.
But will I be interested in reading about Stockholm in 1999?
I have bought a new diary. In some countries, bound books of paper are hard to find, in others it is easier. Sweden belongs in the latter category. The one I’m using now is the best Brussels could do for me (if I remember right) but Sweden’s done me proud. A smart grey book of good quality plain paper. It has the right dimensions, but is a little fat and may take a while to finish. In the meantime, I’m racing to finish this one, with the smell of the new one in my nostrils, so to speak.
Stockholm has a complex lay out, built across so many islands. I would describe the city as beautiful but it’s not as beautiful as others built around water: the landscape is flat, so one doesn’t see/feel the water much of the time; and because it’s cold and windy much of the year, there is not as much outdoor exploitation of the water shores as there might be in a warmer clime. However, to be in Stockholm is to be in a capital city of Europe (unlike in Helsinki or Reykjavik). History and culture stretch beyond a single high street or square, and large ornate churches are scattered citywide. Having a royal family helps, for their possessions are preserved and shown off for Swedes and tourists alike. I have not seen it, but brochures assure me I could see a changing of the guard if I so desired.
The old city of Gamla stan rests on a small island across the water from the central station and all that messy infrastructure. I looked around it once, in the evening, but everything was closed. Indeed, the streets feel deserted by 9pm, apart from a few hotspots. A lot of punks, or the latterday equivalent, assemble around the main subway station at night, as though they were in a village and grouping round the green.
I have found some cafes and restaurants that are lively at night and full of bright attractive people, but it is a mistake to spend time in them for every one, repeat every one, within is having a super time, and I am always the only person alone.
A lot of odd things go on in Sweden, apart form energy policy. For some reason, huge tasty meals (main meal, salad, drink and bread) can be bought at lunchtime for £3-4, much better value in fact than can be had in most places in London, yet in the evening the same kind of meal is impossible to find, and most menus have no single dish for under a tenner. I bought a single beer in one of these restaurants/bars, it cost me over £3.
The subway system. Another anomaly. The fare system depends on zones and times of travelling, but it’s hard to find out how it works. I eventually discover that travelling between 6 and 9 in the morning and 3 and 6 in the afternoon costs twice as much as travelling at any other time. Then there is an impenetrable system of zones, so that several tickets are needed for each zone travelled. I’ve never needed less than two tickets. These tickets can be bought in strips of 15, which works out fairly cheap if the zones don’t swallow up too many. But, the real anomaly is that one strip of tickets will not allow you to travel both in and out of the ‘rushing hours’. The ‘rushing hour’ tickets, which are twice as expensive, come on a different strip. For some unknown reason, you can’t use just double the number of tickets on the cheap strip!
Like most else in Sweden that I’ve experienced, the subway system runs efficiently. Waiting on a platform of an outlying station, I checked the timetable for the next train. It arrived punctually, ‘horario brittanico’ as the Brazilians would say.
Paul K Lyons
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