PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1990 - MAY
17 19, Tuesday 1 May 1990
Bright sunshine and high temperatures. I sit cross-legged in my hammock on the terrace roof, with my portable Toshiba on my lap. No, I am not exactly comfortable, but then you can’t have everything.
To continue the report on Peak Districting with Adam. I feel I must try and set down in as much detail as possible this first holiday with my son, although I couldn’t for the life of me tell you why.
Adam and I travelled in the Warren’s new car: a Maestro. We were both somewhat squashed into the middle space between Sophie’s and James’s car seats. Not once did Judy offer to let me sit in the front, nor for Sophie to sit in the middle (her car seat was easily removable). We drove first to Alport. Without too many directions, we strode off down a grassy path along the river bank. Sophie and Adam raced off into the distance, happily keeping each other occupied. James, still a little insecure, stayed on Dad’s shoulders until a little later. After a mile or so we reached an old stone bridge over the river. Looking down into the water from it, one could see quite clearly a dozen trout of all sizes. We all gazed somewhat mesmerised while the fish seemed not at all shy. As we stood there, enjoying the marvellous warm and sunny clime, Rob began suggesting we could walk back along the other side of the river. And then, all of a sudden, I remembered I’d been here before. I thought it was with Raoul, but it in fact it was with Barbara. We had tried to take the path on the other bank only to be apprehended by a gamekeeper with a very large gun under his arm. He informed us that the land was private, owned by Chatsworth or the Prince of Wales or someone, and we were to get off immediately.
Instead we tried another route up the hillside, but having got to the top we realised there were no interesting options from there so we had to come back down again. Our trout were still merrily floating in the water stream. On the way up, Adam and Sophie had raced up the hill right out sight. Judy and Rob were completely unconcerned, whereas I had to chase after them till they were in view at least. It makes me so happy to see Adam play contentedly with other children. On the way back, James had plucked up more courage, so that Adam and he played more boyish games, such as attempting to knock the dry stone walls down with their sticks. Adam seemed able to integrate, to play equally well with either Sophie or James. He also began to relate, after a while, to Judy, wanting to hold her hand for example.
It really is a lovely, calm, untaxing walk, so I am not surprised I found myself there for a second time in my life. From the Lathkill valley we drove the short distance to the Rowsely flour mill, which is powered, as in the old days, by water. I’d been here also with Barbara, but the enterprise had expanded with craft workshops, retail shops and a cafe. Since it was lunchtime we piled into the restaurant, ordering nut casseroles, cottage pies and pizza slices. All came with generous helpings of salad. Us three adults tried our best to keep the three children from making too great a mess. Sophie is a truly bad eater, perhaps like Melanie. James, like Adam, is a glutton. In so many aspects, though, he appears to be as advanced as Adam: he speaks well, he walks very well (coming down stairs for instance better than Adam can), he seems to eat as well, he is even as tall as Adam; he certainly needs less attention and less cuddling, and yet he’s six months younger. I wonder whether it is quite normal for second children to be ahead of an older sibling. (I say this because Raoul’s second child also seems quite advanced.) Of course such a relationship might depend critically on the age difference, and it might also have costs at a later stage in development: it might be quite normal for younger brothers to be more advanced at one point in their development but slip back at another. Who knows? who does know?
We didn’t spend much time looking round the flour mill, though I bought a couple of bags of Cauldwell wholewheat flour for my bread making. Judy delayed fifteen minutes with Sophie looking at the glass-blowing workshop while the rest of us waited in the car park. At one point, Adam took James’s hand and led him off towards the double danger of the riverbank and clumps of nettles, but how sweet to see two children holding hands like that.
From the Rowsley watermill, we drove to Riber castle. James fell asleep so he missed much of the wildlife park as one of us wheeled his saggy frame around in the pushchair. Adam became a little fractious in the afternoon, so much excitement, so many things to see and do, so much going on. I begin to wonder whether his afternoon nap hasn’t become a habit with as many negatives and pluses. The pluses were always that we felt it was good for him to sleep since he is such an energetic child, and it also gave us free time during the day. Many a mother has expressed envy at Adam’s afternoon repose. Now, though, without his nap he can become quite difficult and contentious in the afternoons, and it is not always possible or desirable to let him have a nap. At the nursery, the children only get an hour, but I’ve never fully discovered how this works: does Adam sleep and is he then woken up, or does he just rest, or what. We know that if we wake him from a nap before he’s ready he can be crabby for up to two hours afterwards; crabby and very needy.
Until now I have been more than ready to give Adam as many cuddles as he wants, but I have started to become less so. I am far from sure this is the right policy. When he is tired or in a funny mood he can ask for cuddles every five minutes. I need a cuddle, he says with absolute conviction, like a starving man might ask a baker for a current bun. Sometimes, I can divert his attention for a while, but sometimes I can’t and he starts to cry quite seriously, or cause a fuss, or cling horribly round my leg. I worry that by making a fuss about his request for cuddles I am imprinting a pattern into him, which can then contribute much more strongly to a real habit than if I just gave into the demands. Does he only ask for cuddles when he does need them. I must not forget that he will never be as secure with me, because I am not there half the time. I come and go so much; it is only right that he demand more proofs off me when he is with me. Furthermore, he has only just started the nursery again after a 3-4 week break. We know of old that he is more difficult when starting a nursery period: he does love it, but punishes us a little for leaving him there all day long. Plus, we are staying in a completely new place, a bed and breakfast, new beds with new people around us, with new pictures on the wall and new carpets. All this must be unsettling for Adam. As I sit here analysing all this, I regret taking a harder stance on the cuddle issue.
Riber castle dominates the skyline above Matlock. Built by the Smedley who constructed the Matlock spa buildings, it is an ostentatious mock-medieval monstrosity and now stands a ruin. In 1962, a group of zoologists bought the land and building and created a commercial fauna park. Although, apparently, famous for the breeding of lynxes, the park appears rather tatty, like the castle. The lynxes sit in relatively tiny plots of land; pythons all curled up in glass cages are permanently asleep or taking ten years to die; life-size models of dinosaurs and mammoths lie scattered around the park, broken and awkward; a hut with the inviting name of NEWS written on has nothing inside but advertising brochures; another hut, further away and less noticeable, has posters displaying dates of new arrivals, animal births, feeding times. Only after seeing these noticeboards did I realise that people actually spend time looking after this place, and that somebody must care about the animals, and about making a relationship between the animals and the public.
I talk briefly to a workman. I ask how many people does it take to run the park. He says six, which doesn’t seem many until I realise he has misunderstood, for he follows on by saying - but there’s only me today. That’s not true for there is a girl and a chef working in the cafe, another girl mans the shop, an old man sells us tickets at £3.50 to get in. No sign at all of any professionals.
Afterwards, the next day, I try to encourage Adam to remember what animals he saw at the castle. Without prompting, he won’t remember any; with some prompting and repetition he can recall tortoises, terrapins, rabbits, the big goat, the horns of which he was justly afraid, and the vulture.
In these few days away I begin to realise that my habit of always trying to get him to remember what we did yesterday, this morning, at Grandma Barbara’s etc, and for ever quizzing him, especially in front of other people when I want him to tell them where he’s been or what he’s been doing may, in fact, be counter-productive. It is as though I am trying to make him perform. Thus, although I think he seems to be less able to remember things now than four or five months ago, he may just be more reluctant to demonstrate his memory on call. I thought about this following an incident which occurred after we returned to London. I had bought a lavishly illustrated hardback version of Edward Lear poetry to read to Adam. The main poem was ‘The owl and the pussycat’. As soon as I started reading, he said - like the owl we saw yesterday. When I asked him about the owl’s colour, he remembered perfectly that it was white.
During the afternoon, the temperature had cooled somewhat with the arrival of a biting wind. Adam and I were asked to stay for supper, but I was rather looking forward to another quiet evening by Adam’s bedside reading books, so we went back to Matlock Bath. Both being somewhat grubby we took a bath together. Poor Adam had scratches all over both knees and up his arms. I had him kept in shorts, perhaps somewhat un-wisely, because the weather had been so pleasant, and because it is so much easier for him to go the toilet. After our bath, we went out for our evening picnic along the river. This time, and for the first time this holiday, I took the pushchair. I calculated that Adam must have been very tired, and I wanted to walk right round to the other end of the town. Sitting on a bench by the river we just caught the last rays of the evening sun creeping over the top of the Matlock High Tor. Yesterday was our picnic in the rain, this was our picnic in the sun. As we ate, we talked about the day and where we’d been and what we’d done. As usual we shared the goodies: a pork pie, a tomato, a pear, a natural yoghurt, an orange juice carton. I try to teach Adam not to take the last of the orange juice without asking first if I want some. He is intrigued when I go down to the river to wash the spoon and knife.
Back at the bedroom, I read Adam one story. He chooses the new garage book which, of all his books, is the least story-like. It is another in the series along with the one about an airport and the one about a harbour. He has really taken to the concept of these books, perhaps because I do not ready them like a story, rather I discuss each picture with him: each picture is a snapshot of the same scene at different times in a day. In the garage one, for example, the first picture shows the garage closed early in the morning. A man stands next to his broken down car. The next picture shows the mechanics pushing the car into the workshop, the owner opening up his car showroom, and a lady opening up the kiosk. The next picture shows the mechanics at work on the car, another vehicle pulling up for petrol, another one in the car wash, a car transporter arriving with a new car, and some children pumping up the tyres on their bicycles at the air pump; and so on through the day. The pictures are full of detail so there is always something to discuss.
After the story, Adam falls asleep quicker than I can put my lips to his and give him a kiss of devotion.
I do not have much energy left for reading, in fact I fall asleep before long. Later, I prop open my eyes to watch a TV serial I’ve been following. In the middle of darkness, Adam wakes up, shaking his arms around and crying out loud. I pull him into my bed and for a while we sleep together very badly. Somewhere around dawn, I tell him to go back to his bed, he does so, meekly and quietly. At 7.30 pm he is still sound asleep.
21 01, Wednesday 2 May 1990
Our second bed and breakfast breakfast together is less tense than the first. This time I take precautions to protect the lounge cushion upon which Adam sits from the possibility of egg rain. I cut up his bacon, sausage and fried egg, but this morning he is not quite so enamoured of the BIG breakfast and would prefer to leave the sausage and five-times fried bacon. The temptation of toast, a bit of Daddy’s, however tempts him to struggle on.
We pack our bags, one for the day’s trips and the rest to put in the boot of the car. We pay our respects and leave landlady Barbara and her two dogs. Our plan is simple, to take the cable car to Abraham’s Heights, to look around the old lead mine entertainments then meet up with the Warrens around 11pm to visit Awkright mills. They will then head off to some country mansion which Judy wants to see, while we will head back down the M1. Our plan goes awry, however, when we discover that the cable car doesn’t open until 10am. Having been looking up at the cable car now for days, and having talked about it with Adam on several occasions, I promised him yet again that we would go up; only we’d have to come back later to do so.
We drove off to try and catch Judy and Rob before they finished their packing and moved out of the cottage: their term ended at 10am on the Saturday morning. We caught them still getting ready. Judy wanted to tidy up more, so Rob took us on a splendid walk, one rich in evidence of local archaeology, largely Cromford’s canal system. I was constantly watching for Adam, trying to avoid him stepping too close to the canal’s edge; Rob, however, was far more blase about James. Firstly, he would say, its unlikely that a child would fall in and, secondly, it wouldn’t be such a tragedy if he did; one of us would fish him out in no time. James is very sure on his feet, while Adam is forever falling over. To be sure, I don’t think Adam would fall in, he does have a good sense of height, of danger and of edges; but if he did trip near the edge and bundled into the canal, yes it would be a bit of a tragedy, and not at all a pleasant experience.
At one point we follow the canal quite high over a river, an aqueduct no less, and a little further on we pass an old disused pump house. Later, we go to look around Awkright’s mill which is just a few miles away. The canals were built to support the mill operations, both to provide water for the wheels and to aid transportation. Awkright was a dab hand apparently at getting things done. Today the canals lie fallow, and are kept from clogging up and in reasonable condition for tourists by caring societies and local interest. I’m glad of it, the walk was fine and interesting.
On our way back to the cottage, which sits behind Smedley’s cotton weaving operation, to collect Judy, we stop at the factory shop. I buy two jumpers - one green and one red - made of a fine dense weave which gives them a very smooth feel; I’ve never had any quite like them. I keep the children occupied in one corner of the shop while Rob looks around. The three of them are making a great big soup, they must put in lots of different vegetables, taste it often, keep stirring. Sophie, of course, is most inventive in this game, but Adam too is imaginative, ready to follow a suggestion or come up with a new idea. As I keep control of the game, directing operations so to speak, all three of them are in raptures over the imaginary soup.
19 18, Thursday 3 May 1990
We spend an hour or two at Awkright’s mill. There is not that much to see, some disused factory buildings, some waterworks, remains of some foundations. We drink coffee and eat cakes in the cafe, and I buy a book of Peak District photographs in the gift shop. We walk along another of the canals to find a spot to lunch - Judy has brought along cheese rolls and a Bakewell tart (familiar items). Unfortunately, the fine weather, the pleasant situation, the picnic, are marred by Sophie demanding an ice cream, and having a tantrum!
The cable car turned out to be the holiday’s highlight for Adam. It’s a real mini compared to those one finds in ski fields but it affords excellent views over Matlock Bath and the ravine over which it’s built. First, we fly over a railway track, then a river, then a road, all parallel to each other. I pointed out the hills, the houses, Riber castle, the cars, the trains, and anything else I could think off. The trip takes but a few minutes. At the top Adam wanted to go straight back on, he wasn’t interested in anything else, just the cable car. When we did go down, we saw a cable car coming up full of nothing but cakes, no people just cakes! The cable car fee included entry to a number of entertainments (?) based largely on the old lead mine workings. We start with a short audio visual display in a small cabin, and are then led down in a group to visit some very unstartling and dull caves - not a stalagmite in sight. The guide does his best to make the trip exciting. I impress on Adam how we’ve just been flying in the sky and now we’re inside the earth. He is not as overwhelmed by caves as he was by the cable car. He does well throughout the tour though, behaving himself and walking most of the way. I have to carry him up the last steps but that is not a problem. After we come out, though, he starts to get fractious, he is tired and unwilling to walk down the hill. From the shop we borrow some Detol and Savlon for Adam has grazes on his knees, and his urine dribbled down over a fresh wound when he peed in the bushes. We stop off at the restaurant for a sandwich and drink. For one minute, I lose sight of Adam in the shop/restaurant and cannot find him anywhere. I am in panic just for that minute - awful.
The drive home takes two and half hours. Adam sleeps almost all the way. I listen to the radio and moan internally about the bad motorway habits of most drivers.
23 02, Tuesday 8 May 1990
Two Sundays ago, a period of time almost beyond memory, Adam I drove down to Westminster Pier ready to meet Barbara at 10.20am in time to catch the first boat at 10.30am to Kew Gardens. Unfortunately, we miss it because it leaves early. We stand in a queue for 40 minutes before embarking upstream and against the tide. It takes more than half an hour to get near Victoria and well over two hours to reach Kew. Neither of us had expected such a long journey and for all the pleasures of boating on the river this one turned into a trial. The sun beat down on our heads, which was certainly better than rain but, in consequence, the boats were crowded and not at all comfortable. Adam behaved like a treasure considering; considering he was cooped up for so long. I let him run around below deck in order to keep him out of the sun, he’d have got sunstroke had we stayed put in our seats. By the time we got to Kew, we were all tired and depressed, needing just food and drink. Unfortunately, a crowd of persons not much less than nine-tenths of China, were justifying their Sunday through a walk in Kew. We rejected the first tea shop since the queue stretched back down to Westminster Pier, and dragged our feet on, picking our way through the masses to find the main teashop. There, Adam and I waited patiently (well Adam was asleep) for about half an hour while B queued for some over-priced sandwiches. Following that delightful lunch in the Kew canteen, we strolled for a few minutes before making our way back to the tube stations (aborting our boat returns fearing another two hour journey). I waved goodbye to my family at Victoria while myself waiting to get off at Westminster to retrieve JBW. Having wasted two-thirds of the day, I thought I could at least get some work done, and drove on to Covent Garden. But the best laid plans of mice and lice . . . the office door was bolted fast and would not admit my pass card (the administrator had blocked all pass cards on the Friday since one card had been stolen - thanks for telling me.) What a day.
The wretched Management Report on East European energy was the reason for my attempting to work on Sunday. Since having it returned by the editor, I have had three tasks: one is rewriting chunks of three chapters to include a bunch of new information that arrived late on my desk; the second is to incorporate the changes and comments suggested by the reader, Jonathan Stern; and the third is to correct all the errors as marked by the editor Vivien Korn. Really quite a time consuming job. I think I really underestimated the amount of work I would have to do pulling the whole report together. Every spare minute for the last ten days has been spent on it. However, I have been away. I spent two rather fruitless days in Brussels and two rather sad days in Aldeburgh. I was in Brussels last Thursday and Friday for a Commission energy conference. Here are some notes I wrote up in the airport waiting for my flight back to Docklands.
Sweltering in the Brussels airport waiting for my evening flight back to Docklands. Something of heatwave has struck northern Europe in the last week; weathermen were talking of record temperatures for May, and it is only the beginning of the month. The heat certainly made sitting in the un-airconditioned conference room fairly unbearable. Mind you, I’m sure that if the weather had been cold, the hotel heating system would have been switched on full creating the same effect.
I came here to Brussels with some anticipation: the conference, organised by the Commission’s DGXVII (energy directorate-general), is so exactly what my own new newsletter ‘EC Energy Monthly’ is about. I think I must have imagined myself a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that was going to fit neatly into a much bigger puzzle with many of the pieces already in place. In fact, I felt much less involved, much less connected to the proceedings than I did when I came to an electricity industry conference for the day some weeks ago. Initially, this conference was set up to be a listening post, DGXVII said it wanted to listen to the views of European and international experts as to the future of European energy policy. DGXVII must come up with new policy objectives some time this year, but there is so much uncertainty as to how to proceed - especially with environmental goal posts far from fixed - that they have a tough job. However, it seems that somewhere along the way, Energy Commissioner Cardoso e Cunha hijacked the conference. He turned it into a glitzy affair, aiming to raise the level of political communication between industry and Brussels, and trying to persuade energy firms that it is worth their while not only to lobby their national governments but to talk directly to the Commission. Cardoso e Cunha had already told me this in January that he wants to bring a European dimension to the energy sector; to do so he needs industry to think pan-Europe as well as nationally.
After two days of listening to the conference I do not feel very much wiser. If I were preparing the energy policy, I might think I had wasted my time spending so much time at the debates. There was very little of substance said. The most prominent subject was certainly the environmental dimension, less so the internal energy market proposals. Perhaps the speakers were told to avoid the subject as the conference was about the next big topic - policy objectives. Nuclear reps presented the case for nuclear: reminding conference how much nuclear there already is and that given CO2 worries we certainly cannot afford to let nuclear energy go. Coal guys barely recognised the CO2 polluting nature of their fuel, but reminded conference how important it was as an indigenous fuel and how important it would continue to be. At the end of the day, there was a little tiff between the representative of the Latin American Energy Association concerning coal subsidies in Europe (giving an unfair advantage against Colombian or Venezuelan coal) and a British miners’ trade union official who reminded the South Americans that fair competition depends on fair ground rules (the UK having invested far more money than the South Americans in creating safe working conditions). There was quite a lot of talk about the need for expensive and long-term investment in getting gas production facilities on line. It was imperative, gas industry executives said, to do nothing that might hinder this process, especially as gas demand was growing substantially and was certainly the fuel of the future. There were few worries about security of supply in the gas industry. And so it went on.
For me one of the most interesting discussions was over how one might control carbon dioxide emissions. There was debate over the relative difficulty and practicality over fiscal market orientated measures or regulatory restrictions - command and control. Some speakers, and they tended to be the politicians or bureaucrats, said regulation was the way forward; the industrialists advised it would have to be through price. Well of course, and let my voice be heard here for it certainly won’t be heard anywhere else, there is no question that all available instruments will be necessary, and Denmark’s recent Energy 2000 plan shows this. However, it also seems perfectly apparent to me that the incentive for energy efficiency, for better technology, for a change in behaviour in domestic and industrial energy use, must come from higher prices.
I arrived back in Aldershot Road around 9pm. Adam had fallen asleep on the bed unable to stay awake until my return. B cooked a meal and we talked about the prospective purchase of the Tidy Street house). We had agreed not to nit-pick over the survey (for by accepting the £80,000 offer, Mrs Park had come down a long way) but I had written a letter for B which I though might get us another £500-£1,000 off. It hadn’t worked. The estate agent, bless his greedy little pockets, had convinced Mrs Park to accept our offer but in doing so he must have pledged she wouldn’t have to drop her price any further. He seemed very afraid of even approaching her about our letter. We talked about that, and about things that needed to be done in Aldeburgh.
At 5.30 or so on the Saturday morning we set off for Aldeburgh. This was to be our very last weekend at 15 Leiston Road. Completion takes place on May 11.
7 16, Wednesday 9 May 1990
Although the really fine and sunny weather enhanced the sadness of our last weekend in Aldeburgh, it didn’t enhance it much (be thankful for small mercies) since we have been so used to cold weather, and wind and even rain does not put us off the place. In the early history of my visits to Aldeburgh, I always went in winter and I expected bitter winds. We could take some comfort from the number of people crowding into the village for the bank holiday weekend, but then again the crowds did not seem as bad as other bank holidays.
On arrival on Saturday morning, I insisted we go straight down to the beach for a swim. Any later in the day and the Aldeburgh-Thorpeness walkers would make a skinny dip more tricky. Even so, at not long after 7am, we were disturbed by a man and two dogs who stopped to tell us he was keen on swimming ‘like that’, and that there was a nature beach in Sizewell. Despite the record hot temperatures of the past few days, the water retained, of course, its iciness. After a few shakes and experimental dips, I managed a full swim, the first of the year in the sea, I think.
We did all the usual things; I bought rolls for breakfast (we took all our meals in the garden since the weather was so fine); we drove to Leiston to deposit Adam’s cot at a charity shop, to shop at Solar, to look in the junk shop and potter around (I bought a few potting trays for cuttings); we strolled around Aldeburgh High Street in the afternoon, commenting on any changes and the number of people, and debating how early we could go to Craggs for tea. B actually went home to sleep for a few hours in the afternoon, while Adam and I rested on the beach, calm and quiet just like the sea water a few feet from our feet. Adam happily played with stones while I closed my eyes and encouraged sad feelings.
All weekend I was breaking into a sort of dirge: no more Aldeburgh, no more bread rolls, no more tea at Craggs, no more blue garden, no more walks by the sea, no more trips to Leiston, no more Leiston Abbey, no more fish and chips, no more jumble sales, no more trips to Southwold, no more walks along the railway track, no more Snape Maltings, no more early morning swimming. I would just say whatever came to my head, trying to exorcise the sad feelings that must surely come with this end. But I don’t think I have felt sufficiently sad, perhaps I have not fully comprehended that there will be no more weekends in the country.
On my long Sunday morning walk along the Sea Wall I did manage a tear or two for a few seconds, but rather than attempting to bring up the good memories of Aldeburgh I was, rather, trying to think about my future. This is such a tricky item that a whole host of simpler thoughts were for ever crowding in on me, largely concerning the day-to-day running of affairs at work, and I failed to get very far at all - indeed the walk is a circular one. So much bird song. Frogs and snails on the path in my way. So beautiful walking solitarily along the wall sweeping round the bends of the estuary following its rhymes and reasons.
Otherwise, Sunday was given over to packing up and cleaning the house. As we had taken a good deal of the furniture and household clutter on our last visit, this process only took a little over half the day. I had to pile the sofa bed, the small round table, and the chairs onto the roofrack, then stuff a few boxes and plastic bags into the boot. I really am not sure we would have managed had Julian not taken a few items for us after his visit in March, and had we not finally decided to leave the big bed behind (because it wouldn’t get through the stairwell). Barbara cleaned up superficially around the house, but I stopped her from cutting the grass - that seemed such a waste of time. I filled a dozen or so small pots with earth and planted cuttings from all our favourite plants. Adam played happily in the garden much of the weekend. As I was potting, I said the earth wasn’t very good. He asked why, I said because it was full of stones. An hour later, when he had the trowel to play with, he came up to me in all seriousness to tell me that the earth wasn’t very good because it was full of stones.
10 09, Sunday 13 May 1990
I have my college exams in a few days time but it is only this weekend that I’ve had a chance to look at my notes and start revising. Unlike last year when the problem was over having too many notes to revise from (particularly Human Evolution) this year I have so few. I have only attended two lecture courses - Simon Strickland’s ‘Man and Food’ in the autumn term and Kathy Homewood’s ‘Man and Animals’ in the winter term. I found Simon’s course neither very interesting nor very well taught so that my notes are poor and deficient. Kathy asked us to choose a number of topics for revision (out of which she will have devised the exam questions) so that I have been able to eliminate about a half of the course (a good chunk of which I’d missed anyway.) But, last year, I revised solidly for a month, now I have but a week. To add to my worries there is also a practical examination which covers all the course’s topics (including those from last year). Even with a full and recent knowledge of the courses, the examination can be rather tricky - I have not glanced at two-thirds of the subjects covered by the topics since my exams a year ago. As for my project, alas, alas. Since Christmas (nearly five months ago) I have had one spurt of activity when I was obliged to give a presentation of my progress so far. After the exams I must get down to it in earnest.
In a couple of hours we will go over to Mum’s for lunch. Mary and Roger are coming up from Salisbury. Adam has been behaving himself so far this weekend with very little crying. We’ve had some friction this morning since I wanted him to ask for things by saying ‘please’. He stubbornly refused ever to mention the word, even preferring to forego a cuddle rather than say the word. It didn’t last long, though, we just needed a break, and he’s happily saying ‘please’ now. I trust he’ll behave himself well at Mum’s; one thing’s for sure, he’ll get good food.
I must report a major upset to the situation of my house in Aldershot Road. I must also report a major upset to our purchasing of the Tidy Street house in Brighton. I must also report that we have completed on the Aldeburgh house.
Friday afternoon, on my return home, I found a good portion of the back wall on my house had been knocked down by builders. Suddenly, I am able to see almost all the back of the house of St Julian’s Road (and presumably they can see me); the privacy of my home, in a stroke, has been shattered. There has never been full privacy since those in No 11 Aldershot Road have side windows that can see into my side windows and down into my courtyard, but only the very top row of flats on the houses opposite could see into my bedroom, or my study or Caroline’s room, now all the flats (barring the ground floor) can see in. When the builders told me the wall was coming down a further two feet, I riled. My neighbour, David, told me he had already talked to the architects and had been round to visit the site, so I went to tell him about the two feet. However, he was preparing to leave for the US on Saturday morning so didn’t have time to waste on telephone calls.
I talked to the Brent planning people, my father’s solicitor, Norman Beckman, and the architect. The authorities and Norman tell me that I have absolutely no rights over that wall; they could knock it down entirely and leave a blank space. Opposite my house, the plan is to just leave a wall three foot something high, behind which will be parking spaces. Certainly, the architect seemed concerned, especially about my security worries, and promised to talk to his client. I suggested a trellis, restoring the old height, might help both with the privacy and security aspects. The poor old ivy doesn’t stand a chance. Although it will survive, at least half of it is being shorn with the wall. The architect said the ivy was a nuisance because it had got into all the brickwork - I’m not surprised. Apparently I have no rights over this ivy either (should I want any) as it is not growing on my wall. It does seem somewhat absurd that the law should protect citizens from the construction of obstructing elevations but not from removal of cover - even where this might have existed for so long that it is a major feature of the space, as in this case.
The problems on Tidy Street have come unexpectedly from the mortgage company’s valuation. The Halifax-commissioned estate surveyor has valued the property at only £70,000 (£75,000 if all the necessary work is done) and has suggested that the damp is more extensive than we thought, that there might be dry rot, and that one of the iron supports to the extension might be rotten through. Just the day before this report came through we had decided to accept the £80,000 figure following Mrs Park’s refusal to drop even £1,000. Now we are in a fuzz. We must get the dry rot checked for our own piece of mind; the Halifax have said they want a structural engineer’s report on the extension (more expense) and the surveyor has recommended that the Halifax bind Barbara to doing extensive repairs against the damp etc.
In the week I meet Raoul for an Indian meal in Shepherd’s Bush. He will go to France for two weeks in July, there is a possibility I could join his family for a few days at their friends’ farmhouse near Poitiers. He slowly gets more involved in his new job. Starting in October he takes over a Professorship at Charing Cross hospital. The section he will head has been so badly run for years, that the outgoing boss is scared of what Raoul will find when he takes over, and in the meantime he is trying to create staff hierarchies which will protect his colleagues when Raoul moves in. I do envy him his . . . his power I suppose . . . No I think it is more the challenge of maximising the efficiency of staff and resources. I would dearly love the challenge of a job where I spent my time using brain power instead of proof reading or writing banal surveys. This crisis will be upon me in the very near future, so soon as the MSc exams and project are out of my way.
Paul K Lyons
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