PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1989 - NOVEMBER
2 November 1989
I finally get round to writing to Harvey, though I’ve no idea whether he’s still at the same address in Lane Cove, whether he’s still with June or what. As I sit here writing, I listen to Brahms 2 on the radio. Rolf brings me a side plate of mushrooms cooked in herbs and pieces of red pepper. Also a half glass of red wine.
This has been an odd week to follow on from my depressed weekend. The best analogy I can make is that of making an urban car journey and having the luck of green lights all the way. On Monday, in a stormy meeting with my boss Dennis, his assistant Philip and the administrator Anna, my requests for having an extra person in the New Year and for moving offices were granted. Having manoeuvred for both developments since late summer, and having apparently got absolutely nowhere, it was rather shocking to find myself actually swinging the meeting round. Basically, my boss Dennis was happy to approve changes for my newsletters in 1990 but without committing resources to them. Having uncovered - from the administrator Anna - that approval for an extra person working for me had not been granted, for example, I had to push for this: how else, I argued, could I make the changes to improve the newsletters. I was quite adamant, and repeated several times that I was more than happy to fold ECE and subsume it into EER. At which point, Anna intervened and got Dennis to agree to a new person working with Kenny and I, and for us to move into a bigger room. I really cannot see how they could wriggle out of hiring a person for me now.
Then, I got a call from another energy magazine that wants me to write a 1,500 word piece on the environment and energy. After which a phone call came through from FT Management Reports confirming that they do want me to put together a report on East Europe energy. Thirdly, I got a call from National Freight, who handle the insurance for Excel Logistics who run Woolworths transport. A short conversation with the man on the phone led us to a compromise - down from the £450 I had claimed, to £200. Well £200 seems a reasonable sort of compensation for the lorry driver’s rudeness and a couple of hours it took to write the letter. [Earlier in the year, a freak accident had seen me thrown of my bicycle on the Kilburn High Road. I was passing a parked lorry with its back open, when a large rubber loop or line flying out caught the handlebars on my bike and dragged it to the ground. I was shaken but unhurt. When I approached the driver who had let the rubber loop fly, he denied any responsibility. I was furious and he was rude, so I determined to seek compensation. I claimed £450 as the cost of a new suit, ripped in the accident.]
Fourthly, I talked to the garage that screwed up the brakes on my car, and it offered to repay my money. There isn’t much else that could have gone right this week.
Another scandal surrounding Cecil Parkinson sent the media into a spin today; he’s accused of insider dealing on shares, but has categorically denied it - of course.
Wednesday 8 November
Not yet 7.30am, and I sit here in my cosy little study. Yesterday Geoffrey Pope came to speak at College. He is one of the scientists who have resisted the Out of Africa hypothesis, and he continues to argue for a regional continuity model of human evolution. Thus, he was very much in the enemy camp at UC. His talk was colourful and professional, if sometimes straying too far towards a cartoon strip. He delved into science only a couple of times; his points in favour of regional continuity were so specific and isolated, he didn’t manage to make much of a case. The evidence against regional continuity is broader and much weightier than the case for it. Still, he cannot be discounted since he is one of the few westerners to be working in China and thus able to monitor at first hand the finds and developments there.
Leslie tells me she is organising a conference next year in memory of the paleoanthropologist John Napier who died two years ago. He studied at University College and was quite a big name in the human evolution world, having specialised in hands and feet. The conference will aim to bring his contemporaries and those influenced by him together, and examine his legacy. It will be held in December in association with the Primate Society and the Leakey Foundation. Hopefully, I will be able to attend some of the talks, and they will be a useful refresher for me at the end of 1990. Leslie’s book is still being finalised - the artist, she says, is dragging her feet.
This morning I will talk with Robin Dunbar about my project for the Masters. I have been struggling away at the idea of analysing paternal investment in primates without apparently getting anywhere; but this morning, as I tried to sort out what to talk to Robin about, my ideas crystallised rapidly. I think it might have helped being in the company of academics yesterday and being struck, once again, how theories can be developed a long way on very little data. All the Paternal Investment (PI) information I have found seems so bitty and diverse. My idea is simple: I want to construct a PI index for different primate species using the available data, and compare this index with several variables. In order to give the study an extra dimension I will construct several indices based on different premises: the main index, for example, will draw on all PI info, but another one might exclude info from captive populations, yet another might look at PI in an age-related wat. Whether such an index will show anything useful remains to be seen, I’m hoping Robin will advise me.
I have moved into my new office space. I am very happy to be out of the little cubby-hole that had possessed Kenny and I for a year. Not only is there more space, more air, more light, but I am near my beloved computers. Furthermore, there is activity around us, people coming and going to use the printer. Kenny has gone to Scotland for a week, on what he calls the first part of his honeymoon - his mother-in-law’s fiftieth birthday. I hope there’s more to their marriage than that.
Adam’s letter has just arrived. This one contains little drawing; he seems to be getting bored with the idea of writing to Daddy. I went to Brighton on Sunday to see him and Barbara. Barbara has to hand in one of the most important pieces of work on Friday - a 3,000 word essay. A phone call from her indicated some panic. On Sunday, therefore, I persuaded her to start writing, to get on with it. The start is always so difficult. By the end of the day she had written nearly 1,500 words. I’m sure this course will be brilliant for her; give her a new sense of confidence and self-esteem. Not that it won’t be hard; I’m sure it will. Adam and I went to Marine Parade to watch the arrival of the old cars, for Sunday was the London to Brighton vintage car rally. We mingled among thousands and thousands of spectators lining the final run to the finish. The two race sponsors RAC and Kenco coffee had plastered the area with their advertising, and huge inflatables of - what else - an RAC van and a Kenco coffee jar. At the finish, the drivers of each car were interviewed, and the conversations relayed over a loudspeaker system along the parade. There was such a variety of old vehicles from crude three wheelers to exquisite Mercedes. All the cars had one thing in common, they were scrupulously clean and polished. Adam loved it. He kept wanting to drive his own antique pushchair, but there were so many people milling around that he kept knocking into them, and I was forced to fail his driving test. In the early evening, we went out looking for a firework display, but found none. Instead, the good sky soaked us with an unexpected downpour. The main displays must have taken place on the Saturday. What a swizz. Next year we should try and make an effort to go to Lewes, because, I think, they have a splendid firework do there.
On Monday morning, I spent half an hour with Adam at his nursery. He does play rough and tumble with the bigger boys, but neither a follower nor yet a leader.
A package of Frederic’s things arrives from Gail via George Marlow. There are the board games, chess and backgammon, that Gail had mentioned in her previous letter, but far from being special, as she suggested, they are very ordinary - the backgammon board is cardboard. Otherwise there are three packages. One package is a collection of scraps of paper, some with rough drafts of letters, others with drawings little more than doodles. This is Love Phantasy, a game of sexual fantasy for adults developed by Fred and Gail Goldsmith. Well, they must have had fun developing it. Did they ever play it with friends? It seemed rather poor for there were no hard details, no typed up clear version of the rules. Either they never got as far as sending a sales pitch to a company or they didn’t keep a copy of the final goods. The contents of the second package made me laugh out loud. It contained a neat file of correspondence between Fred and a hospital where he underwent some intensive care. After insurance payouts, there was still some $1,000 to pay, a sum that Fred disputed. His letters to the hospital ran to six or seven pages at times, whereas the return letters demanding payment were brief and terse in almost every case. How neatly all these letters were placed in a file. Fred’s letters are full of the same kind of sharp arrogance and righteousness that characterises some of my own correspondence - with Britannia Airways, Woolworths and Halfords this year. However, what is strange is that a) the letters should be filed so neatly; b) that Fred should have kept them since 1975; c) that Gail should think it worthwhile to send them to me. The third package contains a copy of a neatly typed up film screenplay. I have not yet read it.
Monday 13 November
On Thursday night I went to Niema’s for an hour. Rosy had asked me since it was her birthday. Just the old favourites - Niema and Tim of course (still struggling to get a vast some of money for their restricted rent flat), Rosy and Andrew, myself, then Raoul turned up as I was leaving, and Richard was still expected. Rosy seems to get more neurotic, it is difficult even to tease her these days as she jumps down your throat and wants to know why you said what you said and what you meant. She’s starting to pick up on a world full of signals that she has never before noticed. I don’t know if she can take it. Niema, in purple as ever, looked well and barely a day older than she has ever looked to me. She showed off the cover and photos to be used in her soon-to-be-published book on travels in Tibet. They look good. The Dalai Lama is, apparently, going to write a forward to her travel stories. That would certainly give the book credibility. Whilst I was there, Niema’s mother rang from Canada. She was obliged to talk to her for twenty minutes or so. Her face, during the conversation, showed emotions I’d not seen before: fear, resentment I think, annoyance, compassion,and confusion. Confusion over how much she owes to her mother, who is now very old and demanding of time and attention. She wants Niema near her in Canada. Rosy talked hopefully about a TV production idea, and an interview with a BBC children’s TV executive. Andy and Tim hardly spoke.
The drive to Aldeburgh was difficult later that night, for I was rather tired. We didn’t make it until well after midnight. Friday morning I delivered JBW to the garage. After the chaos at the Halfords shop in Brighton, and continuing problems with the brakes, I felt I needed to let this garage do the job for me. The mechanics didn’t let me down. They replaced the exhaust, they replaced the master cylinder, they fixed a tail light that wasn’t working, and they charged me £67 only. I gave them £75 and they didn’t know what I was playing at, so I felt silly for giving them such a tip. (Halfords had charged me £55 for replacing my handbrake cable and not fixing my brakes.)
A & B & I strode down to the High Street for some provisions before breakfasting. Adam’s conversation has expanded considerably, he can now say whole sentences and repeat strings of eight or ten words, I would say. He has marvellous use of pronouns and is comfortable with ‘my’ and ‘we’ already. Let me see if I can’t write down some of the things he says. If I say ‘I can see birds in the sky’ Adam will say ‘I can see birds in the sky too.’ Sitting on the beach watching the bulldozer I say ‘Let’s move on.’ Adam says ‘Adam having a look at bulldozer first.’ Cradling him to my chest and rhythmically moving him and me from side to side and saying in time ‘tic toc tic toc Adam’s a clock’ Adam smiles, almost laughing, and says ‘Adam’s not a clock, Adam’s not a clock.’ We are in the bath, having quite a good time, though Adam is somewhat scared of having his hair washed - he has a bit of a trauma about getting water in his eyes. This is one area I have signally failed to catch his development at the right time. Any way, we are in the bath and I am telling him that we must wash his hair. He is almost crying, showing real fear in his face, but, as with so many other things, he is beginning to learn the power of language. He says: ‘Wash hair in a minute, wash hair in a minute.’ And when that doesn’t work, because I explain that a minute is soon over, he says ‘Adam washed hair yesterday, Adam washed hair yesterday.’ He says it in such an appealing way I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
When we are out walking now we play I spy. I spy with my little eye a white gate, a red car, a yellow poster, a bird in the tree, something red (his socks), something green and for sitting on (the park bench), a picture of two children in a red triangle, a woman in a brown coat, a gorse bush, two white stones on your left, the tennis courts on your right, and so on. The game has multifold advantages. It keeps him interested in walking as opposed to noticing that he might be tired and prefer to be picked up; it hones his observational skills in many ways - from near to far, from small to big, of objects both clearly recognisable and more hazy, of colours and shapes; it can be used to reinforce the learning of what is left and right. As he gets older, so the clues can be made more difficult. It’s a brilliant game and can be played when travelling anywhere.
The first Aldeburgh poetry festival was being held this weekend. As is my wont I found myself at the opening event, drawn there more by James Fenton’s readings as advertised (he was the only poet I’d heard of) than the fact of the opening. The format of the opening was a bit flat and when it came to it, Ronald Blythe, East Anglia’s man of letters, having given an interesting and informative speech, didn’t quite know how to mark the actual opening. Blythe, as far as I can make out, wrote one best selling work some decades ago, a kind of portrait of an East Anglian town using real people and a real town but changing all the names; and he’s written some important forewords to Jane Austen novels. He spoke about many of Aldeburgh’s poetry connections, with Ben Britten encouraging many of them through his collaborations on musical ventures. Blythe talked of Ben in every other breath as though he were his closest friend, indeed he might have been, but he also seemed to know a lot of other famous literary figures of the middle 20th century. Hardy apparently came much to Aldeburgh; and he seems to have had a strong connection with some relation of Crabbe, Aldeburgh’s very own under-rated poet. His central point, however, was that East Anglia’s rather sparse and desolate coast was a breeding ground for both writers and musicians, and that this had to have come about because artists needed to put something of their own imaginations into the empty landscapes.
James Fenton was altogether a very different fish. Dressed rather sloppily - a suit but no tie for example - his gangly physique was exacerbated by a vivid performance style. Using a hand with a raised thumb, he seemed to want to press each and every word down into his audience’s consciousness; every word was issued with a thumbprint into the air. The extent of his meanings were largely indecipherable - but surely the very density of poetry means it can’t be best understood when read out loud - but his rhyme and wordplay were at times quite delicious - funny, provocative and clever.
Otherwise the weekend was uneventful. All three of us went for a walk along the Sailors Path - it was such a beautiful day on Saturday. We made it the 3-4 miles to the Snape pub, and lunched on their famous quiches. The simplest sandwich keeps Adam quiet for ages; with the addition of a few sips of Guinness he was quite content. We had to hitch back to JBW, which I’d parked at the start of the path, a bit beyond the golf club.
A beautiful full moon lit up the night coast, the tides were high and low, the air cool and hinting of winter.
Sunday 19 November
There appears to be no stopping the unfolding of extraordinary events on the other side of the iron curtain. Poland and Hungary are already being embraced by the West, having overhauled their political systems in the space of a very short period; they are being garlanded with loans and aid and pretty speeches from capitalist world leaders. Now East Germany has joined the throng. Almost overnight the leader fell, the government fell, and the Berlin Wall was, metaphorically speaking, knocked down. The rush of events in Berlin were so fabulous, that almost every serious mainline radio and TV news programme decamped to that divided city. Freeing the border and allowing unfettered movement from east to west and back again, allowed literally millions of people to explore what they had only ever seen on television, allowed them to visit relatives and friends. Every interview on the subject included questions about the re-unification of Germany, even though the possibility must be many years down the road. More than Poland and more than Hungary, East Germany’s status is that most likely to affect the emotions of those in the West. That terrible war left not only a divided nation but a divided city as a loud vivid actual symbol of the resulting cold war. The possibility of greater integration between East and West again exists most seriously through the border of the Germanys: they speak the same language; until just a few decades ago shared the same culture; they are the same people. And the fate of the Germanys in the short or the long term has deep psychological relevance to all in the West and all in the East. The changed profile of the East Bloc countries sets up an entirely new ball game in the sphere of international politics and commerce.
It is not only East Germany, but now Bulgaria. One day last week Zhikov went, the next day a few of his cronies, the next day there were hundreds of thousands of people crowding into the streets round the cathedral. Grand change in Sofia has taken a week. Czechoslovakia will be next; then, finally, perhaps not for a while yet, but soon, Romania.
Meanwhile, President Mitterand has called together his fellow EC leaders for an informal summit in Paris. They met last night to discuss a joint response to the events in the East. However, a clear division of policy has emerged, as two groups see the events in the East as encouraging their own strategies: the French and the Germans see them as a spur to proceeding with economic and commercial union of the EC at an even faster pace than they were already proposing; Thatcher sees the East Bloc events as a good reason for slowing down the union in order to better understand how the new Europe will look once the new democracies are up and running. The UK has a real chance of being left out in the cold.
Caroline goes to an audition for a job she does not want, and yet when she isn’t picked for the last three she comes home all miserable and with a headache. Rolf brings home his New Zealand doctor again last night, but she is gone before I get sight of her. He has gone off to East Grinstead, because he can’t think of anything else to do. He will cook for us this evening.
A & B have just gone back to Brighton. They came up to London on Friday. I babysat while Mum and B went off for a drink. My mother needed consoling for her dog Rosie had to be put down that afternoon. The poor whippet had been poorly for ages. On Saturday, I went round with Adam to see her. Melanie was there with her dog George. Adam, having been so unafraid of animals when he was smaller, is now terrified of dogs, especially since being rolled over by a large mongrel on Aldeburgh beach a few weeks ago.
24 November. Brighton
The air has turned cold, almost bitter during the last few days. At five this morning my car was well frosted up, so temperatures must have fallen to below zero during the night. But the sky is an hallucinogenic blue, with the sun cutting and pasting sharp shadow patterns everywhere. After taking Adam into the nursery, I went to have my haircut (after two years of Aldeburgh barbers it is such a treat to have a good cut) and then wandered around through the streets at the back of the Pavilion. Usually, I find it quite hard to discover photographs, even more so when I have black and white film in the camera - it is more difficult to get inspiration from just shapes and contrasts than from unusual colours schemes or the extra-reality of an image that needs colour for effect. But, this morning, with the sun low in the sky and streaming down alleyways, and through chimney stacks, I found myself more photographically inspired than for some time. However, as I shot and stuffed my images away into the camera’s film, I was also aware of how someone might critique my art: ‘Rather desolate photography,’ they would say, ‘people only stray into the picture as extras, for some light relief from the stark house facades or intricate urban landscapes. Yes, he has a sense of shape and uses depth to contrast patterns in an interesting and surprising way (a sense of the surreal is never far away) but the spirit in his art is a mathematical, logical one, born of calculation and intellect rather than one connected directly to his emotions or feelings. As such he shoots from the head not from the heart.’
B works hard upstairs on her essay. Every spare moment of her life is now devoted to the course. I dropped down a little last night after several weeks of feeling quite well about everything. In fact, since my stormy meeting with the bosses and the knowledge that my requests were going to be met, I have felt much more cheerful. Since then, of course, both my main requirements have been acted upon. Kenny and I are installed in a new office, and I have the access that I wanted to the IBM; secondly a series of temps have been brought in to see us. We lost the first two fairly rapido, but the third one - Tracye, whom we met yesterday - should be starting on Monday, she seems quite suitable. So all that has gone well.
Just this last week I have been reminded, by an article in ‘The Guardian’ by Berger on the life of Jackson Pollock and his artist wife of fifteen years, of a past relationship. Berger described how their art thrived on the competition between them, they painted for each other. And they painted complementarily, he open wild pictures, she using the same themes or pigments trying to contain ideas and visions. This reminded me of my relationship with Mu, for we had the same mechanism going as far as our writing of poetry and letters was concerned. Regardless of sense, of grammar, of spelling, of relevance, of accessibility by others, we wrote in order to please the other. Our poetry was dynamic, never stopping, sometimes never even written down for there was not time, and sometimes it sprawled across notebooks. The inspiration came from the magnetic potential that existed in the gap between us - the sort of potential that drives monorail trains. Our writing was a monorail train, driven backwards and forwards between our souls, interpreted as ever by the mechanisms of our minds which did their best in imposing into words, the depths of human feelings.
The other night I read a few of my Sparky stories to Rolf and Caroline. They enjoyed them, laughed, talked about publishing them. And me too, I laughed at them. They always surprise me. And so, as I do every so often, I get to thinking again about writing creatively; and I yearn..
Paul K Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG