Wednesday 16 April 1997

The brilliant weather continues. So brilliant in fact that there has been no rain for weeks and all the garden plants are desperate for a good soaking. Only the dandelions with their long tap roots are enjoying themselves. Nevertheless, since I last made notes here, there has been some evolution. A lovely blue-flowered clematis I planted last year at the side of the house has bloomed profusely and the montana by the kitchen window is about to flower. The one down the side of the garage, however, has no buds on, but is still growing well. The daffodils are coming to an end and the blue and white bells will soon be dying back as well. The brilliant white flowers of the amelenchias lasted little more than a week or two and now the colour of the leaf growth is taking over. The silver birches are in leaf too, but the oak is still as bare as in winter.

In the vegetable plot, the first row of lettuce, spinach and brussels sprout seedlings are showing through and I have planted a further row of lettuce and half a row each of onions and beetroot, just to see how they do. The first leaves of the early potatoes are showing through also. I have planted a further row of lettuce, some carrots; I have also planted up some of the strawberry seedlings, sweetcorn, cucumber and pumpkin seeds. In the front garden, I have created a small bed and planted it with mixed cottage garden seeds from a packet given away free by a magazine.

Without further delay, I must mention the death of my father, or rather my step-father, Sasha. Julian called on the 27th or 28th of March, from Devon where he had gone for a week’s holiday over Easter, to tell me that Sasha had been hospitalised in Zimbabwe. He only found because had rung Sasha to tell him that business at IMI was picking up, but it was Michele who spoke to him, and explained that Sasha had been in hospital for some days. He had an infection, possibly TB, and might have suffered a slight stroke. He was not thought to be in danger, and nor was he in intensive care. Then, a few days later, on Easter Monday, 31 March, Julian rang again, this time to tell me Sasha had died in the night. I think Michele might have tried to ring me directly, but, by the time I found the receiver (hidden by Adam), it had stopped ringing. I had a long talk to Julian, and advised that he should he definitely go out to Zimbabwe, at least to find out what had happened and to help Michele.

Later in the day, I rang Michele in Zimbabwe to tell her how sorry I was. She gave me more details about how he had died. It seems that he had been on oxygen for several days, and this must have caused a huge strain on his heart, which eventually gave way, at about 3am on Easter Monday morning. He had suffered from an infection as well as a small stroke. Apparently, he was due to have a heart bypass operation on his return to the UK, something he had put off for years. Michele had been pressing him for ages to have the operation, and he was, increasingly, unwell; although we (I mean myself, Julian and Melanie) were kept from really knowing how unwell he was. But he resisted so strongly any visits to the doctor or any medication, he probably thought he would live to his 90s like his Mummi, regardless of how much he smoked or drank. Another, perhaps more probable, explanation is that he just didn’t want to get old and infirm, and preferred to enjoy himself and go out quickly, just as he did.

I also spoke to Melanie later the same day and again to Julian and Mum. Julian and Melanie both decided to fly out to Zimbabwe overnight on Monday. They were put up by Bob White’s son - Bob being Dad’s racing friend and the owner of the stables where he must have bought some of his nags. I spoke to Julian a couple of times while he was out there. It rained incessantly. There were lots of visits and dinners, people Sasha had been friendly with. Sasha’s body was laid out in a funeral parlour. The cremation took place on 3 April but under instructions from Michele, who was trying to carry out Sasha’s verbal instructions, no one was present. They had a drink at the appointed hour instead. They all came back on Saturday, rather tired and emotionally drained.

On Sunday evening, I drove up to London to see Michele, because I felt I should. I talked with her for about two hours. She was well composed but avoided any conversation that might have strayed into emotional areas. We talked of Julian and Melanie quite a bit. We talked a little about her plans - a trip to see her mother the following weekend and then perhaps some trips abroad to see friends later in the year. I argued that it would be a good idea to have some kind of event to mark Sasha’s passing but she was still unsure at that stage and she reiterated that Sasha did not want any kind of service.

I had planned to visit Julian directly after Michele but there was a match at Wembley and I thought the traffic would be difficult so I visited Mum for a while. She was OK. She has not been too affected by Sasha’s death but there is a financial issue troubling her. For this twenty years - for it is nearly exactly 20 years since Sasha left Mum to live with Michele, twenty years to the week since I returned from my world trip - she has received maintenance from Sasha. Enough to live on, and, with extra income from her work and a lodger, it has been sufficient even to remain comfortable. Now, with his death, that income disappears for ever. But there is, apparently, a life insurance premium which was part of the divorce settlement.

Saturday 19 April 1997

Rain. Not much, but some, enough to wet the soil.

Last evening spent on the telephone. Unusual for me. First, Colin rang just before supper, and we talked for a while and then I rang him back after we’d eaten. He told me he had got married in February! Then I rang David because I owed him a call. He told me distressing news about 13 Aldershot Road. The new owners have spent £4,000 putting in double glazing; they’ve chopped down the apple tree and all the plants, and even killed David’s clematis which must have had a stem running along the wall. Horrible, horrible people. They must have expunged every last bit of character out of that house.

David himself is in good cheer. His cyber friend Annie is staying with him for a month or two. When he told me he had fallen in love in cyberspace with a woman somewhere in the US, I really never thought it would transpire into anything. But I was wrong and this is already her second trip across the pond. They may come and visit me here, but I doubt it. They made an appearance together on a cable TV programme talking about their cyber affair, but I think they did so more because the producer was a friend of David’s than for any other reason. Talking about it, I recalled a time, many moons ago, when Mu and I had sat in a theatre at the Fool’s Festival in Amsterdam and the stage was free for improvised performances from people in the audience, and we discussed the possibility of making love there on stage. It does seem bizarre today, but then, in the context of the liberated 70s and the Amsterdam festival, it wasn’t so far fetched. I talked a bit about Sasha and Julian (as David and Julian got on quite well when he lived in Aldershot Road).

Later in the evening, I had a long conversation with Julian about Sasha, about the business and about Michele. He rang to tell me that, after I had left the wake on Thursday, David Messiahs gave a brief speech. Julian said he felt somebody ought to say something but that he himself didn’t feel up to it, so he asked David. I think it was quite fitting in some ways that I had gone, I was never really Sasha’s son, either in blood or spirit.

I’ve been thinking quite venally recently, especially as it seems that Sasha may not have left me a single penny. (In a letter, I’ve just written to Gail, I recall the 100,000 to 1 odds Sasha gave me on me getting a first class honours, and my bet of one penny, and his failure to honour the bet; and the fact that I travelled round the world and started my own business without any help from him.) I’ve been thinking that I never got a penny or bean when my grandfather died; I never got a penny or a bean from my grandmother Dolly when she died; because Mike took everything. Mary got some things. And I never got a penny, not a bean when Vera Caspary died; I wrote to the people who had looked after her in request of a book; and I got, as reply, a book club edition which had no significance whatsoever. I never got a penny, not a bean when my father died; although Gail has sent me a few of his papers. I never got a penny, not a bean when my uncle Mike died. And now it looks as though I won’t get a penny, not a bean from Sasha. I find it astonishing that I’ve done so badly out of all this, over all the years. Barbara was crying yesterday, for me, because she found it all so unfair. I can’t shed a tear over it, but then I can’t shed a tear over Sasha either.

But back to my conversation with Julian. First let me just mention the wake. Michele arranged for it to start at her house, at 7pm, where we drank some champagne; and then at 8:30pm or so we walked over to the Italian restaurant. There were about 40 people, among the ones I knew were: the Luxembourgs, the Messiahs, the Beckmans, the Patts, the Bartletts, the Marlows. There were quite a number from the office and several racing buddies whom I didn’t know. I talked to everyone I knew a little; to the Luxembourgs about their daughter Susannah, who treated Adam when he was a baby; to George Marlow about Gail in New York; to the Bartletts about living in the country. I hardly know David Messiahs, Dad’s accountant, nor Ian Patt, his insurance adviser. I had a truly horrible evening. I had spent the afternoon walking around London, to very little avail (I couldn’t even find any books to buy) and ended up with a headache at Michele’s, and it was very hot, and stuffy and smoky and noisy. Barbara also came, which was odd, in a way, because neither Sarah (who is still ill from morning sickness) nor Melanie’s boyfriend was there. Barbara did, though, have to leave early in order to get back in time to relieve Abby at 11:15.

At dinner, I sat next to Norman Beckman. This was certainly the best place for me. We talked for most of the evening, generally at first about the business and Sasha. I had always lumped him in with David and Ian but it seems he did not socialise with Sasha at all, and their relationship was purely a business one.

May 1997

Paul K Lyons


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