21 58 Sunday 12 February 1995, Brighton

One day of rain, one of sunshine. One day of laziness, one full of maintenance chores. I have been giving a lot of thought to the damp problems in this house. During the heavy rain of the last few weeks, the damp has worsened and begun to stain the wallpaper in the cupboard in Adam’s room, and in the lounge, and in the basement hall area. There has always been damp in this house, but its source/s has/have never been obvious, and, until now, the damp has never been so bad that we’ve needed to attend to it. I have spent time in the attic and on the roof, trying to work out the route of the water, and I keep changing my mind as to what is going on. When the rain was heavy yesterday, I could see water dribbling down the brick work in the attic and then I was sure that the flashing between our tile roof and the taller wall of the four-storey house next door was at fault. But on a closer examination of the flashing from the inside I couldn’t see any faults. I have talked with Alan, who owns the top flat next door, because he has a very serious damp problem inside his house. He thinks the prime cause is the poor rendering on the wall face. It was repainted five years ago with a silicon sealant, but he thinks that has now broken down and is causing his damp. I could not, however, believe that water could be entering in the brick work higher up and then dripping down out of the bricks below our flashing. But, on reflection, I am beginning to think that might be the cause. Because the wall has such a huge surface area, it does collect a lot of water when the rain is hard and persistent and the water just streams down onto our roof. This weekend, we have also ascertained what might be the causes of three other damp patches.

I had planned this weekend to start on both the roofing repair job (I thought I would try and seal the flashing a bit better) and redecorating the house front. But, when it came down to it, I ducked out of both jobs: I couldn’t get on to the roof safely and neither could I get up high enough to clean the front of the house properly. I have the double ladder, B’s Dad gave me, but to get up to the gutter, one needs a ladder that braces itself over the gutter. Plus, it was cold and the rain was pouring down. I’ve decided to get a builder/roofer to give me an estimate on some of the work that needs doing.

It was interesting to note how my general confidence level is rather low. For over two years I have been wholly dedicated to EC Inform, with very little social or outside contact, and my confidence has crumbled slowly, without me being aware of it a lot of the time. I have written at length about my depression over the last couple of years but much of the time, it is not evident in my daily life. But, when I come to tackle a job which I am not used to, which I haven’t done before, or for a long time, I notice that my relationship with the world is a very unsure one. One needs confidence to undertake a job such as repainting the barge board and guttering at the top of the house, confidence that if a problem comes up it can be solved. Without confidence, I just see the problems and tell myself I cannot do the task. I could, for example, have bought a much larger ladder, with a brace to rest on the roof above the gutter, and the cost, maybe 50 or 80 pounds would be far less than hiring a builder.

By contrast with Saturday, today was sunny and I did a lot of housework. I cleaned up the yard, including a sackful of catshit, and spread algae-killer over the tiles and concrete to get rid of the green staining. I also poured algae killer over the flat roof gravel and I realised this should be done on a regular basis. I am sure the build-up of algae underneath the top layer of gravel, and the subsequent formation of mosses, acts as a kind of sponge which holds on to rainwater far longer than normal; and the presence of water accelerates the breakdown of the felt. Removing the algae regularly probably adds several years of life to felt roof but no roofer will ever tell you to de-algae your felt roof regularly.

I sanded and primed lots of cracked bits of exterior paintwork, in the front and back, largely to make the house look a little more respectable; I also painted the doorsteps, front and back, which have lain unprotected from the weather all the years we’ve been here. Only now that we must leave, am I doing these little jobs.

11 09 Monday 20 February 1995, Brighton

I am not much in the day-to-day these days. Sometimes I am in Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Crossing’ in the wild west of Mexico riding with Billy and Boyd as they search for horses stolen from their father before he was killed. Other times I am in Calcutta, gossiping with the members of the four families whose history makes up Vikram Seth’s ‘The Suitable Boy’. Otherwise, I am in my own stories: for the last three days, I’ve been sitting at the desk of Tina, secretary to Kenneth R Sherriden, as the day’s events role by. Before that I was re-writing a story called ‘The Friendship’ which dates back to my Corsica days. I have had almost no contact with the outside world. I listen to the radio or watch television in the gaps. I do wonder about myself. I wonder how easily I could become a true hermit. I do not think I am far off.

Half term this week. I am in Brighton with Adam because several builders are coming tomorrow to give me quotes on paintwork and roofwork. I am not very productive here. I thought I would get on with the EC Inform-Energy index, but it is marginally slower to do on the Tosh than on the Mac, so I persuaded myself to do it back in London. That leaves me no business work to do for two days.

I have set up a holiday timetable for Adam. I am making an extra effort with his teaching because I am very concerned about his schooling. His form teacher, Miss Oliver, continues to act as the Head, while Miss Goddard remains ill. This means that Adam’s class is being taken by a supply teacher without any commitment or involvement, and one who is unable to supply any consistency. In consequence, we have seen the discipline in his class fall, and his behaviour slip. There is no longer any zeal for learning, as there was in Andy Page’s class, and there are definite impulses towards unruly and unproductive behaviour. But his home lessons are working quite well. There is a routine, and he knows what lesson is coming when, so he no longer complains and settles down quite well to do the work. However, I will not be able to keep up this level of attention as Adam grows older, nor will I have the knowledge to keep his learning well directed. I am pinning my hopes on moving him to a better school this summer, but the decisions, on where to move and what sort of place to buy, remain as elusive as ever.

Since last summer, when B and I gave up the idea of living together, the driving scenario has been for me to buy a house nearish to Wisley and a school for Adam, and to move there as soon as possible. B will continue living in London until her job is mostly at Wisley, and she will then buy or rent a house/flat round-the-corner from me.

As ever, there are too many choices, we are too privileged, and we have too much money. Most people make forced decisions; if not they have burning ambitions, priorities which pilot them forwards. They don’t plot and plan for every eventuality and never make a decision because there is no plot or plan that can take account of every eventuality.

‘Dealer’s Choice’ by Patrick Marber at the Cottesloe Theatre. He who? A well known comedian trying out his hand on a first stage play. I saw it last Friday. It was a good play, classically constructed, with six males characters, all connected with a restaurant and all due to play in a poker game later in the evening. The first half sets up the characters in the restaurant, and the second half provides the various climaxes or anti-climaxes for each character through the course of the poker game. It was very funny in parts, although, on reflection, most of the gags depended on one comic character, nick-named Mugsy. The actor who played Harry Naylor in ‘Between the Lines’ was in the play, but he had no funny lines and was grossly under-used.

Raoul just rang, said we should go to the theatre on Thursday. But I can’t find anything to go and see. Apart from the spate of violent plays, London Theatre remains hooked on revivals.

I have tried to switch to ‘Brookside’ but, after giving it a few weeks, I’ve decided to stay with ‘Eastenders’: the script is better, the acting is better, the moral issues are more finely tuned. This morning I watched the first ever episode - an odd experience seeing the characters I know and love, Sharon, Michele, Ian, all teenagers still at school - all three of them have been through a life-time of relationships in the last seven years that I’ve been watching. I don’t think I had realised that ‘Eastenders’ was only three years old when I came back from Brazil and started watching it. So, in fact, I’ve been watching it for three-quarters of its life - and 20% of my life!

March 1995

Paul K Lyons


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