Thursday 1 August 1991, Brighton

Cloudy weather today. There was some sun yesterday so I was down the beach for an hour reading a new novel - ‘Hopeful Monsters’ by Nicholas Mosley. I have come down to Brighton for a couple of days to work and take it easy. B went to the Proms last night with Mum, so it was useful that I was here to look after Adam. I will train it into the office tomorrow and return in the evening. This weekend Adam is four, he will have a number of parties - one with his friends on Saturday, another with Grandma Barbara on Sunday, and another with the Collecotts on Monday.

Friday 9 August 1991, Brussels

I have talked to one or two people this trip, including the Belgian energy minister Elie Deworme, as well as collected a certain amount of information that I could not otherwise have had, so I must conclude it was worth the journey.

I have still not fully shaken off the after-effects of the cold I had in July, although just a couple of days ago I restarted my daily yoga exercise which, these days, is my basic indicator of a return to health. However, for more than two weeks now I have been waking up every morning at around 5 with the most acute point pain behind my right eye. If I get up, wash, have a cup of tea and walk around a bit or even read, it will go in about half and hour, but if I try to go back to sleep the headache just drills away. I do not know whether it is connected to my sinuses and thereby a consequence of the cold, or whether it is more psychologically based, or whether it has any connection with my having given up coffee.

The problem with writing my diary on three (or even four) different machines, and not in a book, is that I forget what I have already written about. Have I, for example, mentioned my abstention from coffee. After that terrible 24 hours, just about three weeks ago, when I couldn’t even get into the office to finalise the last issue of ‘EC Energy Monthly’, I began to wonder whether the headache wasn’t connected with coffee. So, having gone through what might have been the main symptom of coffee withdrawal, I decided to carry on with not drinking at all. Since then, I have had no tension headaches at all, but these sharp point pains began about a week later. Otherwise, I must say my health has been excellent all year. I am particularly gratified that this latest cold, despite its apparent severity, did not go to my chest. It is nearly two years now since each and every cold turned itself into a chest infection leaving me weak and apathetic for at least a month and usually requiring antibiotics. Having suffered from chest infections for years and years (since my pneumonia) I can only assume that it has been the yoga exercises that has helped my lungs to resist infections!

I am not the only one in good health. One John McCarthy is of sound mind and body having been released by his Lebanese kidnappers after five years of captivity. The media hype about this is truly overwhelming. If the West didn’t make such a fuss about one person’s life, then the value of the hostages to the kidnappers would all but disappear. The United Nations Secretary General is intimately involved with this latest development. McCarthy, who is now in England, is due to give him a letter from the Islamic Jihad on Sunday I think. Moreover, Perez de Cuellar has said that he believes that another hostage - Terry Anderson - will also be released. The media seems to believe that these hostages have been given up freely by the Lebanese terrorists as a sort of good will gesture, and are hoping that the US will persuade the Israelis to give up some of their prisoners/hostages. I cannot believe it. None of the hostage releases have ever been for free; I am sure they have all been the result of tense negotiations and concessions. John McCarthy’s release, for example, makes me think that John Major might be heading for an October election. McCarthy says that Terry Waite is alive and reasonably well.

Following the Gulf war, the defeat of Iraq, the failure of the Arab nations to unite, there is a new atmosphere in the Middle East, one which looks to be leading to a peace conference. Syria and Israel have agreed to get round the table even though there are some sticking points, such as who will represent the Palestinians; and there is new hope that the age-old conflict between the Israelis and the Arabs might settle down a little. It is within this new atmosphere that the Lebanese terrorists must be thinking the time is right to exchange their hostages for what they can get. In the case of the US and the UK, I suspect this is unlikely to be much more than the pressure they can bring to bear on Israel to release captives: people who were taken as hostage in response to the Lebanese kidnappings. With the French, I think, it was different. Mitterand’s government may have given the kidnappers real rewards in exchange for the release of French hostages. I look forward to the books that will be written when all the hostages are free and the real stories can be told. Even the released hostages cannot talk freely since they will have to be thinking of those still in captivity.

I’ve moved on to typing up my second diary - my New Zealand jottings. This is a disappointing book, scrappily written and without much solid information. I move into the flat in Dunedin, for example, but I do not mention who I am living with, what my room is like, what happens in the house. There is no information that I am actually sharing a bedroom with someone called Ross. People’s names are used sporadically without any introduction - I seem, for example, to be meeting Chris down the Cook pub regularly, but I have no idea who he is or why I know him. There are occasional discussions about sex or about wanting to have a girlfriend but no reference at all to the fact that I am still a virgin. There is a reasonable description of how I came to get the job with Sandoz, my training and the elements of the job once I’ve started. The book is littered with poems. There may have been one or two poems in the Asia diary but clearly my writing has moved into a new phase during this period, and I’m composing poems all the time - especially what I call ‘waiting poems’, written while I’m at a surgery waiting for an interview with a doctor. The next diary, the one that starts in Peru (the diary for Panama to Peru having been lost) is full of short sketches, page-long stories. There is, thus, a clear development - my fiction writing started in New Zealand with poetry and moved on swiftly to using poetic ideas in prose form.

‘Hopeful Monsters’ by Nicholas Mosely follows the lives of two people - The English Max and the German Eleanor - from childhood in the aftermath of the First World War to adulthood during the Second World War. Max and Eleanor narrate the flow of their lives as though they are writing to each other, and we follow them through this history of the first half of this century - Max in Communist Cambridge and Russia, Eleanor in Berlin and West Africa, and the two finally coming together in the Spanish Civil War (having met just briefly twice before). Both are scientists and children of scientists, and there is much trying to understand about evolution and physics, and, in some cases, attempts to draw together the two disciplines. The plot and the situations the narrators find themselves in are rather contrived and dramatic but, nevertheless, this gives the author a tale to tell. It is a long book, full of the personal experiencing of events of the day. I find myself making parallels. My relationship with Maja, for example, is one. I was as in love with her as Max is with Eleanor during my travel years - I am keenly aware of this through current endeavours to type up my diaries - even though we had only very short meetings. But, as with Max and Eleanor, the meetings were always magical. Apart from the qualitative differences - neither my confidence nor intellect was half as well developed as that of the book’s heroes - there is also the major difference that Max and Eleanor were serious about life in a way that I, it seems, was not. Another parallel I make is with two other books - there is the ‘Sorrow of Belgium’, which is taking me a long time to plough through, partly because I leave it here in Belgium, and ‘The New Confessions’ by William Boyd which I recently raced through. There is a connection of time because both books span the same period, and both books concentrate much on the perceptions of the growing child from pre-adolescent through to adulthood. Moreover, Boyd uses the fictional autobiographical form in ‘The New Confessions’, the narrator growing up in Berlin as does Eleanor in ‘Hopeful Monsters’. All this makes me want to write a book that barely moves in time or place - like a Eugene O’Neil play!

Wednesday 14 August 1991

A letter from Czechoslovakia awaited me in London on my return from the Brussels/Brighton sojourn - it turned out to be a card from R, strangely calling for some spiritual help: ‘Dear Paul, I often think of you, you were the closest thing to a brother I ever had, you still are. In my mind and in my heart I would love to hear your stories - the strong brown god is clay, my language and my way of life. And I hold on to it against all deceptions and unhappiness. MY two children are wonderful and absorbing but W is dwindling in an uncertain way. I, like always, cry alone. Czechoslovakia is a fairy tale land surrounded by clay lovers. Paul, I don’t want to lose you for life. Please write. Love Roser.’

I replied: ‘Dearest R, I am a small quiet man these years, I do not make new friends but I treasure the memory of old ones. I never did make close friends easily but once made I find a deep well of caring for them. R, it is as if no time had passed, your card finds me loving you like a long gone sister, albeit a younger one! I do not write poetry ever these years but I wrote this, mostly for me, on receiving your card.

“Well here we are on the shores of middle age, the rocky shores. It is here, is it not, that we disrobe of our last dreams, preferring instead the truth of our children. We can see from here how tempestuous she truly is, the sea; we can see there is no easy passage, never was, rather an impossible journey - the calms and the storms, neither everlasting and both for every returning. But in our children - do you see this, for this is crucial - within our children are the new eyes, new ears, new words and new hopes.”

I spend one week a month in Brussels now, I have a small flat there - you could always come visit. My life is work and Adam. I am expecting a crisis next year because I can see no way forward for me. Much love, as ever, Paul’

Middle East hostages and Yugoslavia continue to dominate the daily headlines. The United Nations is now acting as mediator between the two groups - Israel/Western nations and Lebanon/Syria/Iran. Hopes are running high that a deal will be struck to allow for all hostages to be released. There was an interesting complication at the weekend when one of the terrorist groups kidnapped a French aid worker in the Lebanon and threatened to kill him if any more hostages were released. Within 48 hours or so, however, he had been released unharmed, and the US hostage Terry Anderson was also released. Well, this set of events gives the impression of a well-controlled power overseeing the future of all the hostages.

In Yugoslavia, ceasefires and violations carry on as the Serbs seem to get angrier and more violent. The EC begins to talk of bringing in troops. My Yugoslav correspondent tells me that there is madness in Croatia, and that Bosnia will explode soon too.

B and A and I were rather unproductive all last weekend - A and I went to the beach a couple of times on Saturday when the weather was fine, and once to the park where we tried to fly A’s balsa wood glider and play cricket with A’s plastic cricket set (given him by Uncle J) but the wind was too strong for the glider and for the plastic stumps. On Sunday we made a short trip up onto the Downs, to a chalk valley named Devil’s Dyke. We went quite early when it was still misty so there was nobody around as we descended the rather eery grass-covered valley. By the time we had walked back up the hillside, the mist had cleared, and we had a fine view across the plains from the viewpoint at the Devil’s Dyke hotel, from where hang-gliders often launch. B suggested I do some hang-gliding but I told her that I have no physical courage for such pursuits, not for hang gliding, ballooning, parachuting, deep sea diving, mountain climbing. I have deep fears which paralyse my actions - had I wished to overcome them I should have done so at a much earlier age. But, intellectually, I’ve never seen any point in taking such risks against my instincts.

I have little to report about this week in London. At the office, I am busy with ‘EC Energy Monthly’ - most of which I wrote last week in Brussels - and with reviewing the applications that have come in for the job as assistant editor on the new East Europe newsletter (as advertised in Monday’s ‘Guardian’). I must have waded through three or four dozen letters and cvs; at least half of which should never have been sent because they don’t even fit the job description. First out of the postbag on Tuesday were some of the desperados - journalists with 10 or even 20 years experience. Yesterday, came a batch of Russian graduates and youthful applicants who had travelled in East Europe; and today there were a couple of more reasonably-qualified people. Tonight I shall ring two women - Giselle and Lucia - and perhaps interview them early next week. We have also been thinking about the design of the front cover and the inside of the newsletter; and I have begun to look at possible correspondents.

For the record, today, on my bicycle, I came up with an idea for a new Supplement for ‘European Energy Report’ (EER). I have been anxious to find some way of reinforcing EER in order to compensate subscribers for the loss of the East Europe supplement (which is now being hived off to become an expensive newsletter in its own right). My confidence in Henry has also been raised significantly, through the tasks I’ve given him in the last week while Kenny’s been away, so that I’d like to give him some project to look forward to. Heh presto, out of my mind jumps an idea about a Global Warming newsletter. I already have it’s name ‘European Energy Report’s’ ‘Green House supplement’.

Wednesday 21 August 1991, Brighton

Well, the news at 6.00 pm this evening is that the Soviet coup has failed after just two days, and Gorbachev has been returned to power - he hasn’t yet appeared on the scene but the media is confidently expecting him to do so within a few hours. All day there has been turmoil and rumours among the media, as they attempt to follow the fast moving events - it is as though Soviet politics turned, overnight, into a parlour game for Western intellectuals. Perhaps the most interesting element is the way the UK and the US have been going out of their way to praise Boris Yeltsin for his courageous stand against the coup, and have rather obviously downplayed Gorbachev’s role.

I have spent two days in Brighton just now - lazing around on the beach with Adam and effecting some household duties here, mostly wallpapering in readiness for a painting session at the weekend. Adam learns to love the beach. Brighton is neither a very interesting beach nor one particularly suitable for children - it is hard to walk on the pebbles, and the waves are always a little rough for children to do any more than paddle.

Sunday 25 August 1991, Brighton

August bank holiday weekend. More of our summer holiday spent here in Brighton. Well, I figure I might as well be here as anywhere. Adam and I go to the beach once or twice a day, and Adam learns to love the seaside - he plays for ages running in and out of the incoming waves. I swim, watch the people and gaze after Adam. I listened to a rock group playing on the promenade behind the beach, and I read Adam a story about a little boy that wanted to build a house. This morning we went to Worthing but I’m not quite sure why; there is little along the seafront to admire, and huge deposits of seaweed making an impenetrable barrier between the beach and the sea. Yesterday, we spent most of the day painting the lounge; tomorrow we will paint the upstairs hall and bedroom. Such is life. I think little.

Events in the Soviet Union continue to stagger the world; it is difficult to keep pace. Since the coup was crushed and since Gorbachev’s return, there have been at least two suicides among senior figures (the head of the KGB, I think is one) and yesterday the news came through that Gorby was leaving the Communist Party and forming a new government outside the Party. So much is happening, it is very difficult to follow; I cannot trust the media. The British journalists in Moscow are not historians, nor politicians, nor yet great thinkers, and yet, because the events are so distant, they can take on the mantle of all three. They might interpret events in completely the wrong direction (they must rely so heavily on the UK diplomats that they can but reflect the UK interpretation of events) as I think they already have done in some cases, and no one is the wiser. I mean, who got upset about the ‘Today’ programme making the assumption over and over again that Gorbachev was no longer the most powerful man in the Soviet Union? Nobody, some of the commentators speaking to John Humphries tried to explain he was wrong but the message just wasn’t going in. When it comes to such foreign affairs, the presenters interview all concerned with so little real understanding, yet they pretend otherwise and show no humility, intent only on pressing whatever controversial point they’ve been briefed about.

Last night, close to midnight, I went to bring my bicycle in but, to my horror, found it had disappeared from the front of the house. I have left that bicycle outside so often, many times over night; I am confident it won’t be stolen because of the child seat, because of the yellow spots all over, and because it is so old. I went straight across town to the police station to report the theft; as I went, I looked carefully down and along all the streets just in case it had been abandoned somewhere. The police took endless details, as though the taking of details was a symbolic act to make amends for the fact that nothing would ever be done to recover the cycle. I would have gone straight off around town in my car looking for the cycle but for the fact that the car’s battery was being recharged. Early this morning, though, having carried the battery back to the car (it is so easy to move a car battery on my cycle, it just sits in Adam’s seat) and reconnected it, I drove around the local streets. As a last chance, I thought it might be worth checking the train station to see if somebody had dumped it there, but lo and behold, I found it on the way, several streets up towards the station. I am convinced, now, that my hunch was right - what hunch? I had a sneaking suspicion that our wretched neighbour (he who cut the lock on my bicycle late one evening because it was tied to his drainpipe, he who threw rotten bananas into our garden because the children at Adam’s party were making such a noise, and he who threw a rotten tomato into the garden just yesterday because B and a friend were laughing too much, I suppose) contrived this little charade. I am not exactly sure why, maybe he feels that the tone of the street is lowered by the bicycle’s presence, I don’t know. What is my evidence: 1) the time - the theft was perpetrated at around the same time of day that the lock on my bike had been cut months ago; 2) the place - the bike was left just up the road where no one would have ridden it because it’s uphill, and where we were likely to find eventually; 3) process of elimination - no robber would steel the bike because it has no value, looking as it does; and no vandal would take it for a joy ride up the hill, leaving it so close, without harming it. Increasingly, I suspect that he-of-next-door is building up a resentment towards us, one based on a vivid imagination, the feeding off of trivial incidences, and the lack of anything else in his life to focus on. As I feel this could only get worse, I think the right course of action is to do nothing, say nothing until I have concrete information. Then, and only then, it might be worth giving him a forceful warning based on possible police action or similar.

Saturday 31 August 1991, Brighton

A balmy sun-filled day. Against expectations, this summer, at least the latter part of it, has turned out to be quite fine. Over the last month, almost every day I’ve been here in Brighton we’ve been able to go down to the beach. Yesterday, we, all three of us, went off on a day’s exploring in West Sussex; it is a corner of England I have never touched. The main city, Chichester, is a rather small, sedate city, with only its cathedral and its arts centre standing out. The city centre is a haven for shoppers with little of character about the place. We ate a muffin in a tea house before moving on to Bosham, pronounced Buzzam. It lies to one side of the Bosham Channel which itself branches off the Chichester Channel.

We arrived late morning when the tide was out and there was just a trickle of water in the centre with the rest of the Channel mud flats and grassy islands. Moored boats were speckled across the view, mostly lying on their sides waiting for the incoming tide to right them again. Bosham village itself is a delight with a truly historical feel. It has a few shops for tourists but a lovely old church and a watermill right near the water’s edge, while the quay and concrete ramp mark the point of the village most protruding into the sea. There’s a small green which sits between the watermill, quay and churchyard, making a delightful spot to picnic. We stayed several hours and, as we did, the water rose quickly across the shallow flats providing the signal for families to unbundle their dinghies from roof-racks or trailers, or for others to row out to their yachts.

From Bosham we drove around the peninsula enjoying the views and glimpses of well-kept secluded houses. Because of the way the land lies, we were obliged to drive back round Chichester to get to Bognor Regis. To visit Bognor was my main aim of the trip. As a child I had been sent, with Julian I think, to a holiday camp at Bognor. I vaguely remember stories about Julian being very naughty there, but the only fixed memory I have is of winning a competition for finding the most types of seaweed. I was also anxious for Adam to have some fun on a truly sandy beach; at the grand old age of four, his only beach experiences have been of pebbles. Well, by the time we got to Bognor, the sun was high and beating down unbearably on our car, which never seemed to cool; and the tide had risen so that all that was left of Bognor beach was a thin line of pebbles - like Brighton only narrower. Bognor itself was crowded, the streets were narrow and difficult to negotiate, and parking was far from easy. We decided before very long to move on, by car, to Pagham Harbour; but there, again, we found nothing of interest - the walk along the harbour dyke looked rather dull and offered no shade from the strong sun. I began to suspect that all these places are far more interesting and scenic with the tide out; we could, for example, have walked across the sands to Pagham from Bognor at low tide, but no one wants to walk along a thin strip of steep-banked stones so far. By then the day was beginning to slip away from us and we were getting quite disgruntled.

West Wittering promised to lift our spirits. The guide books described it as a peaceful and delightful haven, so I was expecting some place similar to Bosham. Not so, in fact, quite the reverse, it turned out to be a highly popular beach with thousands and thousands of people. A road had recently been built across a private field and a huge area behind the beach had been set aside for parking; minimum facilities had been gerry built - a parking ticket machine on entry, a cafe and shop hut, loos and another hut for a wind-surfing club. We arrived late in the afternoon when many people were already leaving, but still the long sandy beach was well crowded. The tide was retreating fast leaving behind large areas of flat sand and shallow waters with gentle lapping waves. I let Adam loose with his bucket and spade, and he loved it, running backwards and forwards to the sea’s edge filling his bucket with water and wet sand. He loved being able to wade through lots of water yet not have to worry about losing his footing or a big wave knocking him down.

Later, after taking some scrambled egg on toast in a small cafe, we returned to the beach. With the tide right out and a huge expanse of land uncovered, we walked across the sand flats, skipping over the pools and running channels of water. The sun went down to the west, and its reflection glistened off the wet sand. We strolled for ages around in circles, now largely alone, in this vast empty area. The journey home took under an hour, and we were home around nine.

September 1991

Paul K Lyons


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INTRO to diaries