JOURNAL - 1994 - FEBRUARY
10 12 Sunday 13 February 1994, London
Colds have wiped both B and I out for the last week, but I had to soldier on with production and writing for ECI-E 13. And then, when I’d finished that on Wednesday, I had to finish off Thermie for Brian and Simon. Only on Friday, could I finally relax a little, by which time the worst of the cold was over, but it has decided to hang around in my sinuses and make any attempt at catching up on non-work things almost impossible. For two days, I have immersed myself in a Forsyth thriller and the first episodes of ‘Heimat 2’, which I taped on to video a year ago. Even now I am still blocked up and quite weak; writing is an effort.
Caroline Gooch has moved into our front room today. She is 21 or 22 and doing an MSc at University College. She’s a very determined young lady, and has quite a CV to her name already: Red Cross, Duke of Edinburgh stuff. We are letting the room (plus kitchen) for £150 a month plus a certain amount of Adam-care. The idea is that five or six times a month, when I’m in Brussels, Caroline will be responsible for picking Adam up from school, so that Barbara will have more freedom to take days off when she likes, and to have her parents visit. All round it should save us a lot of hassle; we should be able to get out in the evenings a little more often.
I listen to the news of the world every day, but not much of it sinks in. Nato has agreed to air strikes to protect Sarajevo, after a mortar attack killed 50 or more civilians; there’s been lots of discussion about it. The Serbs have agreed to the Nato terms; but then the Serbs have been extremely adroit and doing just enough to avoid Western wrath, while at the same time, persistently proceeding with their aims.
Thursday 24 February 1994, Brussels
Dear Adam, more than six years have passed since I last wrote my diary in the form of letters to you. Then I did it because your arrival on this earth was such a momentous event for our lives, my life, that it seemed right to talk to you in that way. I am far less sure as to why I am doing it again now. The idea came to me a few days ago, and then again as I sat down to write for the first time in 10 days. I was going to start by writing about how nice it was to return to an old friend (I do treat my journal as a friend - not in a conscious way, but in a more subtle way that is difficult to describe - I do actually miss my diary if I don’t record my life and times regularly enough, like at the moment). But, as I was saying, when I started to write I remembered again the idea of letters to you.
One reason for doing this might be that we have become close. You have become so grown-up in your thoughts and ways of behaving. Another reason is that the next six months are likely to be a difficult time. The most obvious part of this is that we will change houses, we hope, and that will involve a lot of tense conversations, and ultimately a lot of work. But once it is over, once we have moved and settled down, then life should be fresher with more things happening around us.
The time is also difficult because of my business. It is always hard to start a new business and the hardness will go on for several years. If the business fails, which is quite possible, then I do not know what will happen. I just do not know. But it would certainly cause traumas.
And then there’s another reason why I am writing my diary to you. You have, very suddenly, become a writer yourself. And you could, if you wanted start writing a diary yourself. All the hard work you’ve put into practising your handwriting has paid off and you can write long stories which anyone can read. Your spelling needs to get better, but I’m sure you’ll be spelling as well as me before your 10 - better, because I’ll make sure that you can spell all the words that even at nearly 42 I still make mistakes with.
Several weeks ago, you astounded your teacher Mr Page by writing a three page story, which you called ‘The Rusty Key’. Mr Page corrected it once, you wrote it out again; and then I corrected it again, and you wrote it out for a third time. Our corrections were for spelling and grammar, the story and all the words in it were all yours. This was no flash in the pan. The next week you wrote another story; and then, over half-time and somewhat pressured by me, you wrote a third full story based on a title give you by Mr Page - ‘Spaceship to Timaru’. I’m sure that if you ever get round to reading this, you will be able to find copies of ‘The Rusty Key’ and ‘Spaceship to Timaru’ among my things somewhere. These stories show a wonderful imagination, an extremely mature use of language, and a basic understanding of the elements needed in a good story. I’m really proud of you for these stories. I must be very careful not to push you too much on your writing and composition - so long as you like writing and like having written things, your school life will be a pleasure and not a chore.
Today, will be the first day that Caroline picks you up from school. I had a talk with you last night and asked you to make sure that you behave yourself with her and that you don’t mess around on the streets. When you get home, I’ve told you, you must look after yourself. I’ve given you responsibility to get yourself a drink and to turn on the TV sometimes. I’m sure you’ll get on fine with Caroline. And B said she’d try and get home early today, as it is your first day with Caroline.
My trip to Brussels was uneventful. The aeroplane was delayed by about half an hour. When I arrived at the airport, I decided not to have a cup of tea or breakfast and to wait for the breakfast they give you on the plane. But then, when they announced a delay, I thought I might as well have a cup and a doughnut. I was only half way through the tea and the doughnut when they called us to get on the plane, so I had to wolf down my breakfast, so it was an extrafast! Then, of course, I didn’t want the food on the plane.
We’ve been working together on our story ‘Trapped’. It’s about 20 pages long by now, and I hope to finish it by this weekend. I think that once Nick and Ally have escaped from the cave the story shouldn’t go on too long - after all, the most exciting part, the climax, will be over. I think they’ll tell everything to their Dad who will tell it all to the police. The police will find the car radios that very day and then lay in wait for the robbers. We can’t write about that as it happens because the story is being told by Ally, and the police wouldn’t let her be there. But they could come afterwards and tell her what happened. I think the robbers will spot the police and not get caught. At least until Nick and Ally hear their voices in a pub!
If I’ve finished it, I’ll read you the last chapters when I come home. Then we must decide what to do with it. If it’s good enough, we could send it to Tony in Germany because he said was interested in creating some drawings for a children’s book. But I’d have to be convinced the story was strong enough before asking Tony to do something like that.
Don’t ask me to explain what is happening in former Yugoslavia. The Serbs have been persuaded to halt the siege of Sarajevo (which is the capital of Bosnia) by a Nato air strike threat. The Russians are supervising some of the Serbian withdrawal, but they say they will not sanction further such Nato threats against the Serbs in other parts of Bosnia. I think the Serbs have played a clever game against the West, winning their ground little by little, just avoiding retaliatory measures. The Nato threat was only provoked by a single mortar into Sarajevo that killed too many people in one go - and that was almost certainly a mistake. The mistake somehow shows how carefully the Serbs have played their cards so far.
During the last two weeks, while coming out of the last intensive work period and the ghastly cold, I have been engrossed in a long German film by Edgar Reitz. The second ‘Heimat’ was shown by the BBC sometime last year in 15 two-hour episodes and I recorded most of them. By yesterday I’d watched 10 - 20 hours of television. I think the film is a masterpiece of sustained film-making, like the first ‘Heimat’, which I saw in the cinema over a weekend in Brazil. Whereas the first ‘Heimat’ dealt with characters in the thirties, the second one focuses on the sixties. Why a masterpiece? The stories are told with a splendid naturalism; the characters are individuals with a life of their own, they have complex personalities (explored through an episode devoted to each one) and they behave in very real ways, doing very ordinary things. Secondly, the characters are identifiable from my own life; the story is about a decade earlier than my own life, and the group of characters are all far more self-assured than I, or any in my group. They are more successful, more committed, more grounded in reality than I ever was. Nevertheless, the types are there, the same types of characters that I came across; and we see them develop, from their arrival in Munich, through all the life-enhancing and life-attenuating circumstances that happen to us all. Thirdly, I love the interweaving of people’s stories; I always have since I first read Durrell’s ‘Alexandria Quartet’. Fourthly, the cinematography is quite exceptional. Just as Reitz manages to make his actors give us fresh characters as real as though we could touch them, so his cameramen find the most beautiful images and representations of life in the sixties - and it all works on the small screen. Connected to that is the use of black and white film interspersed with coloured sequences, and the use of tinting, which all works so well. And there is a tremendous generosity with time, we are allowed to savour the architecture, the landscapes, people’s faces photographed across the shoulders of another character, the interiors of people’s rooms; etc. Then, I must also mention the music. Because so many of the characters are musicians we get a lot of music, and a lot of sixties type compositions. The confidence and generosity are there again: we are given time to listen to the music to absorb it. I cannot praise it too highly. Some might find it boring, but ‘Heimat’ has entranced me as though I too were living with these people. Unfortunately, I now have a problem. I have watched episode 1-10, and I find that I failed to record episodes 11 and 12, and I am very reluctant to go on to 13, 14, 15 . . . I think I’ll probably stop and wait until the BBC shows them again..
Paul K Lyons
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