Friday 6 August 1993, London

My holidays are over and I must now buckle down to making some decisions for the future. On Tuesday, Adam and I returned from a holiday in the Black Forest, on Wednesday it was Adam’s birthday and B’s parents came visiting, and Thursday and Friday have passed in a haze of indecision. Tomorrow morning we go to Brighton for the weekend.

Saturday 7 August 1993, Brighton

Evening. Mum has come down to visit us here in Brighton and she and Barbara have gone to the Theatre Royale to see ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ presented by the D’Oyly Carte Opera company. I spent a chunk of this morning and most of this evening working on the outside paintwork of the wooden panels of the study extension. B paid a professional to paint them a little less than two years ago, but the paint is flaking off all over and exposing the vulnerable wood underneath. I have been meaning to scrape, prime and paint the wooden panelled walls for some while, but it does take me time to build up the momentum. The first stage in the process was retrieving an old and rusty roof rack (which I haven’t used for years) from the hut in Aldershot Road and fixing it to the Escort. Those tinny roof racks which only cost around a tenner sure do rust easy. I reckon I might just have caught this one in time, in another day or week the screw controls would not have given in to the dual persuasion of oil and hand twisting! The next step was to fix the long ladder to the roof rack and make a decision as to its safety on the journey to Brighton i.e. whether the roof rack could take the stress of a heavy ladder combined with the movement of the car. Then, having made the effort to get the ladder to Brighton, starting on the work was easy. After one day, I’ve finished scraping, sanding, washing and priming, which leaves the undercoat and gloss coat to do.

Otherwise, the morning was spent walking down town with Adam and Mum, first to the library, then to the beach (where Adam and I swam) and then back for lunch.

Wednesday 11 August 1993, London

I am wrestling with large problems at the moment without any success. I have no desire whatsoever to even try and write them down, yet they are taking up so much of my time and will have such consequences in my life that I really must set something down on paper.

As soon as the July issue of ‘EC Inform-Energy’ was dispatched to the printer, I wrote out a list of things to do this summer. Things to do regarding EC Inform, things to do on the houses in Brighton and London and more general things. Well, my two holidays are over (I will try and record the days spent in Germany at a later date), and I am very close to being back on the four week cycle for the newsletter. I have made some headway on practical tasks but none at all on deciding what to do about moving house.

I have owned this house in Aldershot Road for over ten years. It is time to move out of the city. Why? First and perhaps foremost is that Adam needs a better geographic base. I do not want him growing up in Kilburn, nor do I want him going to school around here for much longer. Secondly, I now have the freedom to move my business wherever I choose; while at the FT I would not have considered commuting from outside of London. Thirdly, I have been growing increasingly discontent with living in London - for the last five years, I have spent nearly every other weekend outside of the city. But this discontent is the hardest part of my reasoning to explain and thus is likely to be the most flawed. I may live in London, but I feel it is a social desert for me. I may go out to the theatre quite a lot, but I rarely do anything else, and I never, but never, make any new friends. I think I am ready for the more ordinary contact that I might find with neighbours and locals in a new place (in a way that I would never have contemplated when younger). I may have enjoyed the peripatetic life in the past but I am beginning to find it wearisome; and also, again, I believe Adam needs a period of permanency to make friends. Fourthly, I do have spare capital at the moment (which I have been saving for the business but not yet used) which would give me flexibility when purchasing a new house. Fifthly, I think I am desperate for a change - my life has been too stable in the last few years.

I have had my house valued at about £110,000, which doesn’t seem much to me.

So, supposing the decision to move has been made, when should I move? I would like Adam to be in a good school by the time he starts his third full year, i.e. September 1994 - in a year’s time. As far as my business is concerned, I believe I could move at any time after the end of the year so long as my next address was reasonably permanent (say three years). I could get phone and mail diverted and keep the Kilburn PO Box for a while. It all involves money but not that much. The main point is that it could be managed without damage to sales. The best times to move would be either at the turn of the year, or during the next summer.

I have not mentioned Barbara, yet of course her future is as much bound up with these questions as my own because of Adam. And the real complications set in when we try and consider how we can both be near our son. Huge questions are still open and these make decisions for the future that much more difficult. Firstly, should we really live separately or should we set up shop in the same house but with distinct households. If we are to live apart, with whom should Adam live? If with me, then how do we look after him when I am in Brussels? If with B then how is he to be picked up from school every day?

Supposing we solve those problems by B living either with me, or very near me, we then have the problem of where to live in order that she can commute to a place of work. B says that although she has a full time job at the RHS from January and is prepared to commute, she would, inevitably, look for a position nearer wherever I was living. B has done her absolute best to be as open and generous as possible in all these discussions, but the chief problems remain - A) she doesn’t yet have a settled job around which I could begin to decide where to live; and B) my own indecision over where I want to be and best idea for our joint living logistics.

Earlier in the week, I thought Oxford might be a good place to move to. It has a large enough infrastructure, is far enough away from London and has plenty of job opportunities for B. Armed with the new valuation on my house, I went with Adam for the afternoon to look in estate agents windows. Well, the fact is I can’t get any more for my money round Oxford than I can in London really. I might be able to get four bedrooms and a large garden but any house is likely to be smaller than this one.

Bearing in mind that B may well end up working at the RHS next year, I’ve been thinking about Haslemere today - it is on the way down to the south coast and has a direct 45 minute link with Victoria. Petersfield, which I was looking at the other day, is the next main stop on the line to Portsmouth. I might go there in the morning, on my way down to Brighton and see what I could get for the money.

Saturday 14 August 1993, Brighton

Well, I toyed so long and hard with the problems of where and when to move that I finally succumbed to a cold this week. It was somewhat ironic, therefore, that yesterday, the day I went down with the cold, was the first really nice sunny day for swimming we’ve had all summer (at least when I’ve been in Brighton). I don’t feel too bad with the cold this morning and hope to get on today with a mixture of writing and exterior decorating.

Adam and I came down to Brighton early on Thursday morning by way of Haslemere and Midhurst. There was the most ferocious storm as we drove down but by the time we arrived to look around Haslemere, the rain had abated. Theoretically, looking at the map, I had thought Haslemere might be a good place for a base because it’s on a direct train line to London and not too far from either Gatwick or the south coast. It turned out to be moderately interesting, sited among hills with various sized properties and large gardens and some views. However, as a place it looked like it did not have much cohesion or pride and felt like part of London’s urban sprawl; unlike Midhurst for example which has a very definite country town feel.

The whole purpose of these house-hunting expeditions is to try and instil some reality into my thinking about moving. For the first time, for example, I have begun to think about what I will miss when I move from Kilburn: Saturday mornings at Lauderdale House, evenings at the theatre (I no longer go to the opera, ballet or concerts regularly), Sunday mornings with Raoul, quick visits to Mum. Not much else really. I don’t do much else.

Adam has only just finished his diary for the holiday in Germany, and I’ve had to badger him quite a lot to get on with it. In fact, we both find it a bit of pain - I must ensure that, in future, he does it at the time, otherwise he’s going to build up a resistance to the idea of diaries altogether.

Overall, we had a fine time. Peter and Tony picked us up from Zurich airport and drove us the hour and half to their rather splendid house in the village of Wolpadingen. Wolpadingen, which is in the region of Dachsberg, quite high up in the middle of the Black Forest, consists of about two dozen houses and a hotel spread out around fields. Apart from the hotel, Peter and Tony’s house, a solid square building, is the only house in the village that departs from the general Black Forest model of a more angular and wooden construction with space for animals in the winter and storage space in the attic for hay and wood. It used to be the school but has been converted (by Tony, I think) into spacious living quarters and a gallery. Half the area of the ground floor is taken up by the gallery where Tony has many of his pictures currently stacked, there is also a bathroom and a guest room. The cellar, which has natural light spilling in through soil level windows on one side, is Tony’s studio - it’s full of his paintings and paints. On the first floor there is a kitchen, living room, dining room, guest room and bathroom. And there is also a huge attic, which used to be the school gymnasium I’m told, where Peter and Tony have a lifetime of books and junk stored. They have half an acre of land or so around the house but they don’t profit from it, preferring to let neighbours graze their cows.

The move back to England, to the house they have already bought in Misterton, will be a trauma. Peter will need to get rid of a huge volume of possessions not least books inherited from her mother or else pay for them to be stored somewhere (but stored until when? and for what?). And for Tony, the trauma will be leaving such a large studio and gallery, and leaving behind an audience that has begun to respect his painting. He can now sell a few paintings each year for £5,000 a piece he says. And, later this year, he will hold an exhibition in Bernau, one of the main centres in the region, which should result in further sales.

The exhibition promises to be rather intriguing. For the last five years or so Tony has been painting portraits of people living in and around Bernau. Before moving to Wolpadingen, they lived in Bernau, and Peter used to come to Bernau as a child and is well known thereabouts. Many of the portraits are of local characters, some have died, and all of them will be recognisable by friends and families alike. Yet the portraits rarely flatter and often show a hint of madness perhaps or, worse, dullness. Tony tells me he feels a little indebted to the people of the region, having taken a lot during his time there and given back little. I think the exhibition will repay his debt and more. What artist would so devote himself to the people of a small relatively obscure region. Many people may hate the exhibition, others will find it amusing. If Tony hasn’t already made his mark, then this exhibition will. When we talk about the move to Misterton, he worries about where to put all his paintings and I suggest it will be a pity to take all these Bernau pictures to London - he ought to try and find a home for them here in the region.

I quite like Tony’s paintings. The one I liked best was of a red fox, which Tony said he’d painted when he was angry about something - to get it off his chest. All the portraits are similar in form and style, painted from photographs - large, very colourful, and very easy to look at. I think there is a superficial similarity with Otto Dix and this might explain why Tony has made some headway in selling them in Germany, but I doubt he’ll get £5,000 for them in the UK.

With only one bus a day into and out of Wolpadingen (and the bus out left at five to seven) we relied on being taken places. We countered this each day by going for longer and longer walks from the house.

Sunday 15 August 1993, Brighton

There were a number of highlights to the holiday. The walks through the forest were excellent. We didn’t have much choice on routes but it didn’t matter we just took paths where we could and walked round in smaller or bigger circles. Most of the forest is the same, made up of tall pine trees planted close together, the ground matted with pine needles or moss. One sees trees cut down and piles of logs everywhere - Tony said that the region has been infested by a beetle which is killing large numbers of the trees and the only way they can deal with it is by cutting down every infected tree - and that has led to an oversupply of wood. During our forest walks, I tell stories about the Mossheads and Stickwigs. Having invented the forest creatures, it wasn’t too difficult to make up different tales about them, as I did in Portugal with the Sand Trinkles. Now Adam is older, though, he tends to hijack my stories. In an instant he has made friends with a Stickwig and knows all about him. This is OK too because then he can join in the story-telling with a little bit of prompting.

The first day we walked up and down the small hills surrounding Wolpadingen, from the top of which there are stunning views across to Switzerland and deeper into Germany. On the second and third days we strayed further from the house and down to the river valley. And on the Saturday we ventured, armed with a good walking map, a full day walk from St Blasien along the river, past Albsee and up to a spa town with expensive clinics, the name of which I’ve forgotten. We stopped for a picnic at a view point above the valley with a very steep drop below us. Adam insisted on eating his sandwiches on the rock, from which we could see farmhouses, people and cars far below. Adam is a real trooper and never complained once on these walks, to the contrary the longer the walk the better.

One morning, Peter and Tony took as to Bernau where we spent an hour or two looking round a fascinating museum which is no more nor less than a typical Black Forest peasant house (Peter insists that ‘peasant’ is the right word for the Black Forest small holder even though in English it has the wrong connotation). The house has been left more or less exactly as it was when left to the local authority a few years back, and the extraordinary thing is that the old woman who lived there had hardly moved into the 20th century so the house demonstrated how the peasants had lived in this region for a very long time. The main aspect of these houses is that they had to give room to livestock in winter as well as humans. The actual living quarters are just a few rooms - a parlour, a kitchen, a bedroom - all with a tiled corner giving onto the huge oven which sits in between them. Within the walls of the house can also be found a well, with gutters, to lead water near the kitchen and to the animals, a smoking level above the kitchen, where meats were hung, a number of different woodcraft workshops - the museum has places where all the following were made once upon a time: wooden spoons of all sizes, barrels and tubs, cartwheels, plates, brushes, shingles (for house rooves and walls), and baskets - all of which required different skills and tools. An earthen ramp leads up to large doors at the top storey level (two stories above the living quarters - the houses are usually on a hillside so that the lower front side has the windows and the back has ramp leading up to the top of the house); this enables carts to bring hay and wood up to the attic to be stored for the winter.

Another day, we went with Peter and Tony to the very touristy Schlusee, and we ended up at a small beach on the lake where they rent paddle boats. A and I took one out for half an hour, we ate a small picnic, went for a stroll along the lake shore and came home. All very pleasant.

I also organised that A and I should spend 24 hours in Zurich, a city I’d never visited. So, on Monday morning, Tony drove us to a small town over the border and we caught a train to Zurich. By Midday, we’d booked into our hotel (£40 and one of the cheapest) which was but ten minutes from the railway station. The afternoon heat was stifling and, after a German sausage lunch by the lake, we were forced back to the hotel for a siesta. I actually fell asleep for a while as Adam played quietly by my side. Afterwards, we took a tram along the lake side to one of the swimming pools - this turned out to be a real treat. A large wooden construction built out over the lake offered changing rooms, sunbathing decks and two shallow pools, within the area of the building, for young ones to bathe - the lake itself is the main swimming arena. The pool and sun decks were crowded, and it wasn’t easy to watch our bags, to let Adam swim in one part and to allow myself a swim in the lake as well. But we managed, and it was magnificent swimming - how I love swimming in natural surroundings, and fresh water lakes are always a treat.

Even though it was late, we also managed to take a railway trip to the scenic point above Zurich. The train takes about half an hour and there’s a ten minute walk. A cafe and restaurant sits atop the hill, and there’s also a 100ft triangular viewing tower which takes a bit of climbing - but what a view from the top, a full 360 degrees panorama including the whole of Zurich and much of the lake. By the time we’d had a take-away snack in the street, it was nearly 10pm, so we both went to bed, tired to bits.

I had hoped to find out a bit more about my childhood from Peter as she was around so much at the time, and, on her recent visit to England, told me that she had given me a key to her flat because I was unhappy at home. In the event, I got very little extra information out of her. She said my mother tried her best but that I could never do anything right, and that she always criticised me. I reminded her too much of my father Frederic, Peter says, and this was difficult for her. Peter also says that it was my mother who wanted Frederic to leave, and not the other way round, as my mother says. But she can shed no light on when and how the relationship with Sasha started, whether before Frederic went or after, for example.

Back to London tonight. I do not look forward to the future. I can see nothing but banal logistical complications if I choose now to move out of London, and B buys her own flat somewhere nearby

Monday 16 August 1993, London

It is nearly time for Adam’s supper. B is at work today and I have begun again to wrestle with the problems of EC Inform’s marketing. In the middle of the afternoon, I took A off to Queen’s Park to watch the daily clown/magic show at the bandstand. On fine days, like today, it attracts a large crowd of mothers and children. I sit in the shade and read the last chapters of ‘Helliconia Winter’.

What worries me though is that I am nearly through the summer and I am no nearer making a decision on what to do and where to go. And yet I know that I must make a decision soon for Adam’s sake. Neither am I nearer any clear direction for EC Inform - all I feel is a huge sense of apathy and more than at any time in the recent past, the future appears lacklustre and irrelevant. I do actually sense the first hints of a real depression approaching. And here’s witness to it - tears form in my eyes as I sit here, for no apparent reason.

I take Adam to collect his birthday present from Sasha. We stay but a few minutes, Dad is more interested in the racing than in us - he barely listens to what I say. Following a conversation with me, he has bought Adam a Walkman but Adam already has one.

The media is currently obsessed with the air lift operations ferrying ailing Bosnians from Sarajevo to hospitals in this country. Every which way you turn someone is trying to exploit ordinary people’s humanitarian feelings for the sick and wounded. I think less of John Major (if that is at all possible) for trying to make publicity out of the situation, and less of all the papers who don’t have the imagination to find something more interesting and relevant to write about while the politicians are on holiday.

September 1993

Paul K Lyons


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INTRO to diaries