PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2003 - OCTOBER
1 October 2003
Days are very long at the moment, even more so without Adam here during the week. I’ve emptied out the trashcan of my life, and there’s almost nothing left. Only a month or so after completing Kip Fenn, I’m already beginning to feel quite vulnerable. Went for a long walk with Raoul yesterday. I think it’s the longest I’ve ever done from this house. It was a great walk full of interest - better than many published circular walks I’ve done. Outward across the heath and woodland to walk round to Elstead village, round the back of Spar, over the old bridge, along the River Wey, to the ponds on Puttenham Heath, up towards the Hog’s Back, and then along the North Downs Way, to rejoin the Wey, and walk along the route through the Moor House gardens, past pillboxes, the everglades of Surrey, and the old grotto cave, to Waverley Abbey ruins, and then to Tilford for lunch at the Barley Mow, then along the Wey again with a quick dip in the river at the rope swing.
Raoul was in good form, relaxed, neither in boasting nor competitive mode. We talked most of the time, but not about anything very consequential. Sophie did well in her GCSEs getting three A stars and the rest all As, and Jack got four As at AS level. He didn’t talk about their lives or their personalities much. He said things were well with Caroline. She’s doing more psychiatric work, and continuing with her career’s advice mini-business as I understand it. Raoul himself has another site visit coming up - these come every five years or so, and dictate how much money and support he’s going to be giving over the coming years. I remember the last one was quite a stressful time for him.
I’ve now got nine airy-fairy ideas for using my time over the next three months until I decide more definitively what to do with my life - aagh! First up is the oldest pending file in my collection: The Rats. I set aside today to read over the old material, and think about whether there’s any way forward. I have to imagine myself as a writer’s agent trying to decide what the writer should spend his time on. Not The Rats. The original idea is far too confused. The execution of the idea as it was (there are about 20,000 words written) is not particularly well done. Already back then I had the ambition to write a novel using ideas of evolution, and there are some notes that calculate how large a group of underground adapted people there could be within a hundred years. But I know a lot more about evolution now, and I’m much more aware of how difficult it would be to employ scientific ideas about evolution in a novel. (Also, by chance, a book I’m reading right now, ‘Darwin’s Cathedral’, would be very relevant. JT has a vision, which is what gives him the strength to continue digging. I see in my notes that I equated JT’s vision and his subsequent religious fervour to ‘a sophisticated survival mechanism’ - this is just what David Sloan Wilson is saying in his book, where he matches up functionalism and group selection to explain religion.) There are so many problems I don’t know where to begin. Firstly, the novel would need to gear-shift from first gear to fifth gear, from focusing on the daily minutia of JT’s life to dealing with what happens to whole generations. For this to be done on a level in which ideas of natural selection could be demonstrated would require turning the novel into - essentially - science fiction. Then there’s the problem of what actually I want to say. Would I want to simply regenerate a mainstream thinking on evolution, or would I want to use the story to propagate my own idea (such an ambition is in my notes) - but what idea or ideas? And then I find myself wondering about computer games like Sim City which surely must be a better medium through which to experiment with rules and procedures on evolution. Any attempt to do this in a novel, would probably look pathetic next to Sim City kind of media, and would probably appear derivative of them. I’m loathe to let my research material on rats and on the building of the underground go to waste (for I will not bother to come back to this subject again). Perhaps I could forget the evolutionary ideas, and just tell a story about JT underground, his relationship with Sally, and somehow inter-relate them with the rats. But now I worry (why wasn’t I before?) about whether or not a member of the Homo sapiens species could survive underground without light for long periods; moreover, despite giving it thought, I couldn’t think of a realistic or meaningful way for JT and the rats to inter-relate. Most damning of all, though, is that I’m just not a good enough writer or thinker to make an idea this complex work. Even thinking about it, I get hopelessly lost. Adios to The Rats.
Let’s hope tomorrow gives me an easier ride.
Friday 3 October 2003
Of my nine writing possibilities, I’ve decided I should pick the most suitable three and then give them a bit more time.
Yesterday I spent time with my three long email dialogues: Louise, Anna and Sue. I’ve given them a simple format (underline for date and title, italics for my letters) and printed them out. Louise is 50 pages long (although if I added in the two dialogues I’ve unintentionally carried out with Louise through her alter-egos it would be longer), Anna 90 pages long, and Sue 180 pages. I tried to examine them to see if it might be possible to make a book out the dialogues. But, even bypassing the problem of getting the three women to agree (and having to re-establish relations), there’s too much of the petty, of the personal, of the dull. However, I am trying something else: to edit down the dialogues, using only my letters, and taking out the petty and the dull and anything too directly personal about my correspondent. This could leave me with a quarter of the length, and it will be different stuff to that in my diary, more concentrated, more witty, and making different connections. Whether any of it might be publishable, now or in the future, I suppose, is really the same question as to whether any of the material in my diaries is publishable. As unknown, the answer is probably no. And yet, some of the writing is sharp and clever, and I would have thought there should be a market for it. But how to find it, how to tap it. (I’ve yet to spend some time thinking about an autobiographical novel, another of my nine topics for consideration.)
Today, I’ve spent thinking about writing comedy for BBC radio or television. On the BBC’s website, there’s a site called the WritersRoom, which is designed to help people wanting to write for the BBC. It has FAQs, script writing programmes, details of information on commissioning requirements and submissions, message and chatboards, and several open competitions. It’s very useful, and useful to know that there’s one central place where scripts can be sent, and where there’s a guarantee there’ll be given a fair reading. Of the open competitions (with a prize, as opposed to just sending in a script idea), there’s one for a half hour two-hander sitcom (radio or TV). I read through all the advice and gave some thought to the idea of writing a comedy. Although I did have one idea for TV, I decided I should stick to radio. I tried writing a bit of dialogue, and then realised I needed to get a couple of characters much clearer in my head before spending more time on it. I’m not ready to give up on giving this a real shot - maybe a week of my time. The deadline is the end of October.
6 October 2003
This morning I went to Guildford with the express intention of visiting the Voluntary Centre, but I ended up coming home without doing so. The first time I went, the lady there - in the very small office - was busy with someone else, so I indicated I would come back. I went to Smith’s and came back 20 minutes later; she was still busy; and I was dying for a pee; and my parking time was running out; and there were roadworks right outside the office creating an immense noise. So I never went back a third time. Then I had someone come to look round the house at 1am. I also had two visits on Saturday.
Of my nine potential writing projects, I had scheduled a closer examination of them all by the end of the weekend. But I’ve only done four, or five if I now include an autobiographical novel. I think the idea of an autobiographical novel using my diaries would be impossible. I could do an actual autobiography (but pretend it was fiction), but even this would surely end up - in reality - a book of diary extracts. I did think about trying to edit down the diaries into a kind of publishable form, but I knew this would be a waste of time for now. If I were ever to make a name for myself with other stuff (say Kip Fenn) - something which I know is so extremely unlikely it makes me laugh when such ideas crop into my head - then, of course, a publisher might be more interested in a series of my diaries. However, I did wonder whether it might be worth trying to make up an autobiographical volume - just one - by picking out the very best extracts from beginning to end. This wouldn’t take that long, and I could change names where necessary.
The poor old Conservative Party. Ian Duncan Smith is struggling. All the headlines this morning, as the Conservative Party Conference starts, are negative, and about him being replaced as leader soon. At this stage in a parliament, the opposition party should be building up momentum and running confident smooth conferences to have any chance of being electable by the next election. But, this is no news to me. I’ve long argued that Major led the Conservative Party into such a big hole, it would take a decade to crawl out of it. It would have been so much better for the Tories if they’d lost that election to Kinnock.
Adam and I talk quite a lot about politics now; he seems interested in his course, and comes to me to test out his youthful ideas. I’m slightly worried that if I don’t deliberately moderate my opinions, I may lead him ashtray, at least in terms of the fairly straightforward ideas he needs to develop and nurture for his A-level course. I’m such a maverick in my thinking, it can’t do Adam much good to waltz off to college rehashing my ideas in an attempt to sound clever!
Last Thursday, I went to see a New Zealand film called ‘Whale Rider’; and on Saturday I went with Adam to see Ridley Scott’s ‘The Matchstick Men’. ‘Whale Rider’ was about efforts within a small community in North Island New Zealand to preserve Maori culture. It was sweet and had one of the most achingly emotional scenes I can remember seeing in a long time. But it was also a fairly small film about the relationships within a family, especially that between a pre-teenage girl and her guardian grandfather. ‘The Matchstick Men’ was a disappointment. I saw through the plot (about confidence tricksters) from the beginning, and there was little else to commend the film’s existence. Nicholas Cage’s neurotic character may have been well-played, but the neurosis had no real connection with the plot (other than that once he stopped being a confidence trickster the neuroses disappeared - dah!). Also, in order to try and keep the audience out of the loop of the final confidence trick, the writer/director take all kinds of liberties with the plot, which end up leaving candyfloss over the viewer’s face. (I don’t know why that metaphor came to mind.) Because Adam liked it, I toned down my criticism, but whereas the Argentinian film ‘Nine Queens’ (also about confidence tricksters) was so brilliant, this film was so poor.
So I’ve been trying to think about what sort of non-fiction book I could conceive of thinking about writing. And, to be honest, I got nowhere. There’s the old idea of interviewing 100 men met on the Kilburn High Road, but if I’d ever been serious about this idea, I’d have at least tried it out - road tested it - and interviewed a few people. My TV drama idea is shot to pieces. I’ve just purchased an excellent book, published by the British Film Institute, ‘British Television Drama - A History’ by Lez Cooke. It takes a chronological approach, one chapter per decade, and covers a lot of ground. I never thought about a history as such, and I still think there’s a need for a kind of compendium of TV drama (even more so as more and more archive material is broadcast) but how could I do that. I mean Lez Cooke is a principal lecturer in media studies at a university, and has researched TV drama in depth. I’ve got no contacts, no knowledge, no experience - nothing. And the same arguments would apply to any kind of information-based non-fiction book I wanted to write.
It’s only 11am, but I’ve already been for my run this morning, and had a shower. Although I dislike the business of running - I have to pant most of the time, and I find it very hard work on my chest - I appreciate that, after having recovered my normal breathing pattern, I’m bright and alert. At present, I am running every single day. I run up Red House Lane, through the Common, as far as far as the fields on, what we call, the Short Circuit, and then I walk along the fields, and then usually run the last bit along the road back to the house. I intend, one day, to run the whole circuit, which is about two miles I think, but the last couple of days I’ve been running a whole field less than last week. I don’t know if it’s the weather (colder and windier), or the related fact that I’m now spending my days in the office with the gas fire on, which I’ve long suspected may alter the air mixture I breathe during the day - and it seems bizarre to have a window open when I’m trying to keep the room warm.
Today I’ve scheduled myself to think about a brand new set of short stories. I sat down in my comfy chair opposite the gas fire with nothing in my head, other than the need to find a theme for a series of stories, as opposed to an individual story (which is not on my agenda). I soon found myself thinking this is silly. I tried to reflect on the many short stories that I’ve read through in my life - Damyon Runyon and O’Henry always come to mind. But at the back of my memory is a vague concept that short stories should be about people involved in the world, not simply about emotional states (like my ‘For Every Reason’), with plenty of practical detail. They should be snapshots of a moment, if you like, which give the reader confidence that the people involved have backgrounds and futures even if they are not recorded in the story. The reader should be just dropping in, to share an extraordinary moment or situation.
I tried to force my brain to create some ideas, and it was like floundering around in a swamp but without the danger of suffocating, like drowning in nothingness with the only possible outcome being the smotheringness of sleep. But I kept my arms outstretched, as it were, to keep myself afloat determined to survey contemporary society in search of something. I alighted for a moment or two on the idea of internet-related stories, but was put off by the fact that I’ve seen both plays and films based on internet dating stories. Then I thought about Big Brother type stories, where individuals get the better of Big Brother whether security cameras or TV programmes. Which led me on to think about TV more generally. And then suddenly out of the swamp I’d pulled a rabbit. TV Stories or TV Times or Telly Tales. I only had to think about this for a few seconds before realising it would be a rich seam to mine.
Which meant I could move on swiftly to Wednesday’s schedule, which is supposed to start with a more serious think about a new novel. So I thought about this on the walk part of my run-a-walk or walk-a-run or walk/run or whatever I call it. And what I thought was this: 1) Kip Fenn 2, which I’ve already mentioned, would be a vague possibility but not for the moment. The time to consider it might be when and if I re-edit/proof-read the manuscript. If I ever found an agent then it might be useful to talk to him/her about the idea also. 2) A 24 hour novel, waking up on a beach, recovering memory slowly over 24 hours etc. This is a very unformed idea, and stems only from a vague desire to write something that is the antithesis of Kip Fenn, i.e. something not stretched over a century but over one day. And then I thought about having two individuals, one brash and confident and the other shy and fearful, starting from nothing. It would be a comment on today’s market-based capitalist society, and how, starting from the same point, Mr Fearless manages to succeed so much better than Mr Fearful. This would of course not be possible over the period of a day, but could be made to work over the period of a year perhaps. But I’m not ready to start work on a major new novel. I think I’d want a clearer idea and urge to emerge in my brain before setting forth.
Which means I can move on to think a bit more about a Pikle website this afternoon.
Meanwhile, though, I want to mention ‘Darwin’s Cathedral’ by David Sloan Wilson. I’ve finished it now, and much impressed I was too. I doubt I can do the book justice if I try and summarise what he’s about: in essence, he tries to draw together an explanation, unifying the social sciences with darwinian theories of evolution, for the emergence and continuing existence of religions in human society. He sees a direct link between early 19th century views of religion as ‘functional’ and his own theory stemming from resurgent ideas on group selection. Just like functionalism was rejected in the social sciences, he says, so group selection was killed off in the biological sciences. But, he says, group selection is back on the agenda, and some aspects of religion are so obvious that scientists have failed to observe and consider them as evidence of group selection. Although Wilson has begun an attempt to collect enough data to use test his theory quantitatively, he’s not there yet. The book uses a detailed qualitative analysis of some religions at certain moments in time, and tries to show how they emerged as successful because they were useful for those involved. For me, the most interesting parts of the book are not where he delves into religious detail, which he must do to give some scientific credence to his theory, but where he talks around the subject more generally.
I want to record a quote from the last chapter, not because it summarises his theory in the book, but because it chimes so well with my own understanding of the subject (not developed from any scientific analysis but from a general knowledge and logical thinking about things). Incidentally, this ‘chiming’ was very similar to one I had many years ago, perhaps 15-20 years ago, when I first read John Crook’s ‘The Evolution of Human Consciousness’. I recall there was a particular passage in there about how individuals should desist from self-analysis and become more involved with the world. This chimed with the hard-won understanding I had arrived at after a decade of wandering the earth - and it was all the more resonant for occurring in a scientific book about consciousness, as opposed to a self-help or pop-psychology book.
Wilson: ‘Those who regard themselves as non-religious often scorn the other-worldliness of religion as a form of mental weakness. How could anyone be so stupid as to believe in all that hocus-pocus in the face of such contrary evidence? This stance can itself be criticised for misconstruing and cheapening a set of issues that deserves our most serious attention as scientists.
In the first place, much religious belief is not detached from reality if the central thesis of this book is correct. Rather, it is intimately connected to reality by motivating behaviours that are adaptive in the real world - an awesome achievement when we appreciate the complexity that is required to become connected in this practical sense. It is true that many religious beliefs are false as literal descriptions of the real world, but this merely forces us to recognise two forms of realism: a factual realism based on literal correspondence and a practical realism based on behavioural adaptedness. An atheist historian who understood the real life of Jesus but whose life was a mess as a result of his beliefs would be factually attached to and practically detached from reality.
In the second place, much religious belief does not represent a form of mental weakness but rather the healthy functioning of the biologically and culturally well-adapted against which all other forms of thought are to be judged. Adaptation is the gold standard against which rationality must be judged, along with all other forms of thought. Evolutionary biologists should be especially quick to grasp this point because they appreciate that the well-adapted mind is ultimately an organ of survival and reproduction. If there is a trade-off between the two forms of realism, such that our beliefs can become more adaptive only by becoming factually less true, then factual realism will be the loser every time (Wilson 1990). To paraphrase evolutionary psychologists, factual realists detached from practical reality were not among our ancestors. It is the person who elevates factual truth above practical truth who must be accused of mental weakness from an evolutionary perspective.
In the third place, disparaging the otherworldly nature of religion presumes that non-religious belief systems are more factually realistic. It is true that non-religious belief systems manage without gods, but they might still distort the facts of the real world as thoroughly as the Four Gospels of the New Testament. We know this is the case for patriotic versions of history, which are as silly and weak-minded for people of other nations as a given religion for people of other faiths. Many intellectual traditions and scientific theories of past decades have a similar silly and purpose-driven quality, once their cloak of factual plausibility has been yanked away by the hand of time. If believing something for its desired consequences is a crime, then let those who are without guilt cast the first stone.’
By coincidence, I read this morning a chapter in a newish book by Mario Vargas Llosa called ‘The Feast of the Goat’ which touches on this very subject. I haven’t read a Vargas Llosa book for some time, and this one is proving more interesting than I first thought. Initially, it seemed similar in style to Carlos Fuentes book, the ‘The Years with Laura Diaz’ which I persevered with for a long time, but eventually gave up on. Fuentes book is full of spurious and confusing detail which doesn’t seem to go anywhere or have any higher purpose. Like the Fuentes book, ‘The Feast of the Goat’ is very short on plot and narrative, and overloaded with, what I can only call, show-off description and detail. However, having borrowed it from the library, I endeavoured to make headway. At first, I had no idea what it was about - the name Trujillo meant nothing to me (such is my ignorance) - and Vargas Llosa uses a confusing style with alternating chapters situated in different times and focused on different people. Also, I couldn’t get the hang of the Spanish names, since he continually changes the way he refers to characters (i.e. using their first name, or their last name, or their nickname), presumably for variety. But I now understand it’s a fictional analysis of Trujillo (the Goat) who ruled the Dominican Republic (which - I didn’t know this either - shares Hispaniola island with Haiti) for 30 years. The ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’ says that the Trujillo regime was ‘one of the longest, cruellest, most absolute dictatorships the world has ever seen’. However, the economy prospered and social change was accelerated. Trujillo was assassinated in 1961 and the event of the assassination forms one narrative strand through the book. Through other strands, we learn much about characters in his administration. One of these is Joaquin Balaguer, Trujillo’s puppet president but a character who goes on to be president in his own right several times after Trujillo’s murder.
In one scene, Trujillo is quizzing Balaguer about various things, not least his troubles with the church. At one point Trujillo asks Balaguer: ‘Do you believe in God?’ Out of context this seems a bit crass, and simplistic, but it’s a complex conversation the two are having (one of the really good things about the book is how well and intelligently Vargas LLosa can pretend to get inside the minds of such big and important people - Vargas Llosa himself, of course, stood for election as president of Peru some time ago). Balaguer replies: ‘At times I doubt, Excellency. But years ago I reached this conclusion: there is no alternative. It is necessary to believe. It is not possible to be an atheist. Not in a world like ours. Not if one has a vocation for public service and engages in politics.’
8 October 2003
It has come to this: the most exciting thing I can write about in my journal today is the identity of someone who came to look at the house today. I’ve failed to make anything of the day at all. The morning drifted by, mostly with my nose in a new crimmy (‘The Black Ice’ by Michael Connelly which I picked up in a jumble sale at the weekend). I’ve also been tinkering with my three email dialogues (Louise, Anna and Sue) to see whether I can make my letters on their own work in some way - as an interesting read. It seems a bit self-indulgent, and I’m sure I’d never be able to justify to a publisher or the correspondents why I’m editing only my side of the conversation. The answer is that my letters are usually (although not exclusively) more interesting and better written, and, as I said before, I’m not interested in the complications of having to discuss or negotiate anything with my three correspondents (or in having to contact them at all). And I’ve continued to tinker with a possible Pikle website, and how it might work with journal entries and stories.
As for my list of nine, I’ve kind of come to the end of it, and I should now make a decision on how I’m going to spend the time between now and Christmas. And so I will. Now. As I write this.
First, I’ll try my hand at the BBC radio sitcom. I’ll give myself two weeks to pull together a reasonable draft for a 30 minute episode. That will leave me with one week of October, and seven further weeks to Christmas (unless I re-decide to go Sri Lanka). During these weeks, I’ll make a stab at short stories for a Telly Tales collection. One a week, should give me eight by the end of the year - if they average 5,000 words each, then I should have a half a book’s worth. At the same time, I’ll continue working on my diaries (possibly in connection with Pikle).
Windy. Leaves strewn across the lawn. Unusually, the oak trees are showing early signs of autumn (but only in patches). I’m sure this is a consequence of the drought in the summer.
I went swimming.
Oh yes, and a couple came round to see the house at 2pm. They were young and attractive; and very personable. He was called Paul, and revealed himself as an entertainer, a comedian and ventriloquist. When I asked if he’d played at the West End Centre (thinking of their comedy nights), he didn’t know it, but volunteered that he’d done the Guildford Civic! He’d also just come back from Iraq where he’d been entertaining the troops. He said the Brits are getting really fed up of the Americans. After he’d gone I did a Google search (Paul, comedian, ventriloquist) and came up with the name Paul Zerdin. He seems pretty famous, especially for being so young. He’s even done a couple of Royal Variety shows. The two of them really liked the house, and dawdled here for ages. But, I don’t think they’ve yet got an offer on their own house.
10 October 2003
I’ve become quite cowardly, afraid of the world. On Monday, when I went to Guildford to visit the Voluntary Help Bureau, I chickened out; and yesterday when I went back to Guildford, more determinedly, leaving my car where I wouldn’t have to return within an hour, I had three missions: to sit in on the Magistrate’s Court (I’ve a vague idea about becoming a magistrate); visiting the Samaritans which is in the vicinity of the courts (I’ve a vague idea about volunteering for them); and visiting the Voluntary Help Bureau. I achieved only one of the three. First I went to the Magistrate’s Court. I found it all a bit confusing, and found myself sitting in one of three courts, which was dealing with cases by video link. These took an age to arrange, and were procedural cases (sentencing can not be done by video link apparently). My presence in the court room was odd - I felt odd, and I was odd. (Later, I went across the road to the Crown Court, and even the Crown Court doesn’t often get members of the general public visiting.) The court’s clerk was running the whole show, switching her television between various video links (which have to be pre-arranged with the prisons) and deciding when to bring the magistrates in. I watched only two video link cases. There were only two solicitors present for both (duty solicitors, I suppose, one of whom was in a wheelchair). There were also several women at the side, who I think were social service liaison officers or something similar. In both cases, the three magistrates did very little. The middle one, the only one who spoke, was a young middle-aged woman, her companions were a young man (who looked like a reformed punk), and an old man. In both cases, one of the solicitors made a recommendation agreed by the other solicitor, the lady magistrate checked very briefly with her companions, and then told the defendant, on the video link, what the next step would be. The magistrates did nothing, they were not required to think, or judge, and they looked quite impotent. Even in her summing up of the agreed procedure, the lady magistrate made a couple of mistakes, and used the wrong name. Once the video link was turned off, she laughed about it with the court clerk! I’m sure the magistrates do have to make decisions, but how much of the time are they simply rubber-stamping what the professionals have already agreed?
Both cases were of interest. The first concerned a young man from Haslemere, I think, who had used violence in several different incidents, not connected with robbery, but simply in fights outside pubs. On the television screen, sitting quietly, sheepishly at a desk, he looked innocent and out of his depth. I wondered if he only resorted to violence when he got drunk. The solicitors agreed that the police had not yet had time to fully investigate the incidents or to prepare charges, and that the case would almost certainly go to the Crown Court, and so a new magistrate’s court hearing was set for six weeks hence.
The second case concerned a gaunt sad woman in her 40s. She looked forlorn too, sitting there in the bare room, at the bare desk (somewhere in Holloway Prison). The charges against her concerned driving without a licence and without insurance, but this was only the tip of the iceberg. The court seemed concerned that she was in prison on remand, but, as I understood it, she had nowhere to go. One of the solicitors explained that there had been attempts to find a hostel place for her, but that she had been rejected on the grounds that she might be a danger to other residents - I think she must have been a drug addict. Further attempts were being made, as the court was sitting, to place her in another hostel; but, although the hostel had promised to make a decision earlier that morning, none had been communicated, and the court staff had been unable to get through to the people concerned. Also, the solicitors said they were ready to proceed to sentencing, but that, as sentencing could not be done by video link, it would have to wait until next week, and the case was referred to the Woking court on Monday. In the meantime, the woman was remanded unless the hostel did offer her a place, in which case she would be released from prison. How sad this woman’s life. I wonder how many times she’s tried to make a fresh start, tried to make her life work out, tried to keep out of trouble?
I wanted to go into another of the magistrate’s courts, but I couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable, and I was never sure when I could or should go in. And so, when I tried the door, and it didn’t seem to open, I automatically assumed it was locked. I also felt conspicuous, in that the court rooms are quite small, and I couldn’t help wondering what the defendant and his/her relatives/friends might think of a stranger/voyeur in court.
I did not feel so uncomfortable in the Crown Court, largely because there are a lot more people involved in a trial case. I took advice on entering the court, and opted for Court 4 where a drugs trial case was under way. As the case hadn’t begun I took tea and a chocolate bar in the Chambers Cafe, and tried to eavesdrop on the conversations of barristers around me. When the case was called, I sat in the public seating area with four other people, three of whom must have been related to one of the three defendants, and one of them must have been in the legal profession. He was dressed as if he were, but he didn’t seem to communicate with any of the people involved with the case. The three defendants in the dock (with two very puny officers sitting with them) looked the part. Indeed, I couldn’t help thinking that casting directors for TV cop shows know their business. The policeman too, one of them nervously fidgeting with a video tape which was to be shown in court, was exceptionally well cast. There must have been at least six lawyers of one sort or another, one prosecuting barrister, and one defence barrister for each of the defendants (each with their wiglets), plus several others - solicitors perhaps - behind them. Then there was the court clerk, and the jury, and the old judge.
It must have taken half an hour before proceedings actually began (the defence counsel wanted to have a look at the video, prosecutors’ evidence, before it was displayed in court), and when it did the prosecuting counsel spent 20 minutes finalising his opening remarks (from which I got a good idea of the case - one of conspiracy). The conspiracy was to import drugs, but the three conspirators had been under intense police surveillance (the video, for example, was of the moment when the drugs were swapped for a large plastic bag of cash - later observed by a traffic policeman on the floor of one of the defendant’s cars and explained away as money from a used car sales business!). Then the prosecuting counsel moved on to read through a long and detailed schedule of events . . . and I left.
How much money will this trial cost. How many good and upstanding people spend their lives serving the bad and downstanding people in our society? And, as usual, I have thoughts about how closed and small a world this is? And however attractive and exciting and stimulating (and rich, in fact, since lawyers earn a lot of money) it might be within the world, from the outside it still looks claustrophobic. There is much to admire, and much to ponder on, and much to laugh about. But why am I here?
Do I really want to spend some of my time (as a magistrate) in this world, so very far away from my own. Similar thoughts beset me when I think of the Samaritans. How could I be a Samaritan, when most of the time I want to tell people to pull up their socks; and listening to streams and streams of self-pity is my idea of hell. Of course, I say to myself, I’d love to help those truly in need, in some crisis or other, but I know (I’m positive) that most of the listening the Samaritans do will be to serial moaners and whingers and self-pitiers. I walked past the Samaritans house twice, and probably would have gone in if it had been more inviting. The front door said ‘volunteers only’, and visitors were directed round to a side door. But I didn’t want to go through the experience of being mistaken for one kind of visitor over another kind of visitor.
And then, when I went to the Voluntary Help Bureau it was closed. On Thursdays it doesn’t open until later. So I managed to muck that up again. I could have gone back again, after my second trial at the courts, but I couldn’t be bothered to trek back.
But the real problem, is that I can’t decide what I would say when I go into the office. It’s as though I’m hoping whoever runs the office will be able to sort out my mind for me. I know the kind of voluntary work on offer from the web-site ‘Do-it’, which I’ve looked at often. When I go into the office, I’m going to be asked what kind of work do I want to do, or for what kind of organisation. And I’ve no idea. And I don’t want something boring; and I don’t want anything that doesn’t make me feel I’m doing something useful; and I don’t want to work with old people, or do fund-raising. And so my mind runs on and on - getting nowhere.
And time runs on - my weeks are completely and utterly free, and I’m doing nothing.
Another agent replies - rejection number two.
I’ve finished Mario Vargas Llosa’s ‘The Feast of the Goat’. It is an impressive novel. I searched out reviews on the internet to give my own thinking about the book some shape. Others also have thought it a clever and complex book but a little over-detailed at times. Mostly what I wanted to find out was how much of the detail about the characters involved and their relationships was fiction, but none of the reviews really tried to tackle the question. However, I did learn that Vargas Llosa did do a lot of research (on the torture methods for example). At the same time, I motored through Connelly’s ‘The Black Ice’, which was a good read; and now again I’m left with my table full of half-read books that never quite entertain me enough to keep me going.
A circular comes in from Luke to inform me that he is appearing live on Sky tonight, on the Richard Littlejohn show, to defend the spending of public money on ‘training burlesque entertainers’! What’s that all about. I do a quick internet search, and find that Luke is helping run a festival of international theatre and dance workshops at the moment. I also notice that Methuen is about to publish a book he’s written called ‘Play Acting’. It’s about training actors, I think.
Incidentally, when I do a Google search for ‘Paul K. Lyons’, one of the early results links me to Luke Dixon (the same result comes number three if I search for Luke Dixon), and links to our joint efforts to write a story for ‘Performance Magazine’ many years ago. Apart from the self-indulgent stuff I wrote with Mu, I’ve only ever collaborated on writing with one other person, and that was Luke on two or three articles for Performance.
I’m thinking about doing an Explore trip to Sri Lanka in December. It will cost £1,200-1,400 in total I expect for 16 days, which isn’t bad value. I’ve asked the company for information on how many singles (m/f) and couples are booked; as I don’t want to be in a group of all couples or all men.
Still it remains very dry - and reasonably mild.
I continue to run every day, although today I may go for a swim instead.
17 October 2003
Friday. Ads has gone off to B’s in Guildford. I’m looking forward to an evening of television. Oddly, I can feel more relaxed about watching telly this evening because I’m going out tomorrow night (to a restaurant dinner bash to celebrate Andrew’s 60th), and because I have actually done something this week. I can’t say I’ve worked that hard, but I have at least done something new, and stuck to my schedule: two weeks to write a half hour radio sitcom specifically for a BBC competition ‘Two-Timing’. The BBC doesn’t seem to hold many writing comps, although - have I said this already - it has centralised it’s submissions procedure, so any potential scripts for radio or TV can be sent in at any time. This comp, though, carries the extra incentives of a £1,000 prize (not in itself much of an incentive for me) and a deadline (I love a deadline). Monday was hard, when I was floating around in a fog, deferring in a thousand ways, but astonishingly, now at the end of the week, I’ve got a script two-thirds written, and I’m hoping to finish it this weekend - or Monday if I don’t work on Sunday. It’s called - and I’m pleased with the name if nothing else - ‘Call Us Cute’. And it’s about a couple who run a freelance call-centre business. It sounds unpromising, but I reckon there’s at least two series of six half hour programmes in it. The catch for the comp is that there must only be two characters, which is quite a challenge plotwise. So, I’ve created four extra characters, as well as Gideon and Avril, who never speak but are integral to the plot. I hope that, in fact, their personalities shine through in a way similar to when you can see the shape of an object on a piece of paper when everything else on the paper but the object is coloured in. I don’t think I’m short on ideas, but if I have a weakness it’s probably in characterisation; I tend to approach the task rather mechanically - I can’t ‘see’ my characters going through the roof or being stupid. What I’ve written is probably a rather light comedy, but I hope it’s a little offbeat and not pandering to stereotypes and stereotypical humour too much.
Ian Duncan Smith. What an asshole. He gave the most appalling speech to the Conservative Party Conference, pandering to the very worst of the Conservative Right, and sounding more Tebbit than Tebbit. It’s his use of language that I find most disturbing. At least under William Hague, the Tories tried to move back towards a more reasonable moderate way of opposition, but IDS has returned to the worst of the hectoring schoolboy language that was evident during Major’s leadership. I remember so well how proud and dignified and intellectual the Labour Party sounded in opposition during the last years of the Major government; IDS sounds like a schoolboy bully who can’t get his own way. And he’s dealing with this latest problem - an accusation that he fiddled his expenses by paying his wife for work she never did - in such an inept way.
We had rain at last, and it got colder, but the sun is shining again today. It’s turning into the most unusual autumn, partly because of the patchy dying and falling of leaves, partly because the leaves are dry (not wet), and partly because there’s so little wind to disturb them once they’ve fallen (thus the leaves bunch up beneath isolated trees, creating a kind of leaf shadow on pavements for example).
Isn’t it fun watching the Conservative Party pull itself to pieces. I’ve never thought much of Ian Duncan Smith, but his response to the current crisis is showing him up as a complete idiot. He’s refusing to see the writing on the wall, even though it’s been graffitied (metaphorically) all over his sitting room wall. So many different signals have been given him by now, and he’s just refusing to acknowledge them. He’s determined to sit it out to see if 25 MPs will call for a leadership election (the newish rules require 25 MPs to ask for such an election before one is triggered). But, understandably, MPs are reluctant to put their disloyalty on record (for various reasons), and it appears to be unclear whether the names of MPs calling for a leadership election would be published or remain secret. I thought a week ago, IDS would go by the end of the week (after hearing a 1922 Committee member go public about a letter he’d sent to IDS asking him to voluntarily put himself forward for an election). And now, even though three major Conservative Party donors have said they will withhold funds unless IDS subjects himself to a vote, he’s still holding out. What an idiot - not only for the party, but also for his own future, and reputation.
I’ve finally signed up to take a holiday - two weeks in Sri Lanka with Explore. I ummed and aarghed for a long time. Originally, I was going to go in November, but the dispute with Barbara over Adam’s place of residence, made it difficult for me to sign up for a holiday which would mean messing Adam round again once the dispute was settled. Now, however, I feel it’s OK. I didn’t want to wait to the New Year, partly because the prices are higher, and partly because I hope something might be moving in my professional life by then, either a job, perhaps, or a new project. Also, truth be told, I’m anxious to get away for a bit - apart from the week in Portugal (which was hard work with Adam), I haven’t had a decent holiday for ages. But Explore again? Yes, well I did consider doing a kind of solo travel, even though I haven’t done one for a very long time. But when I thought about it carefully, I worked out that it would probably take twice as long to see as much of Sri Lanka as in an organised group, and therefore cost the same or even more (if the air fare is £500, then the rest will cost £500 (plus meals) for 16 days, which seems pretty reasonable to me). Also, whereas when I was young and travelled solo I met people all the time, as a middle-aged man, I doubt I’d meet people as well or as easily, and I’d probably spend most of the time sitting alone in tea-houses. It is a real risk with people on the Explore trips - I’d hate to have been on the Africa trip on my own (given who else was on that trip), but then the Egypt trip, which started out badly, turned out to be great fun. I’ve checked with Explore, and the trip I’m booking is two-thirds women mostly travelling on their own! - but the age range is up to late 50s. The best thing about these trips, though, is being able to lie back, so to speak, and have everything arranged. And, if I make no connection with a single person, then I’ve always got my diary.
Last night I watched a film on telly called ‘Heat’ with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. It was long and turgid, and derivative. And although these two famous actors are superstars, I felt they didn’t deserve to be on screen for three hours. They don’t have enough acting range - all their facial expressions are so well known. They’ve become cliches. The plot was over-dependent on shoot-outs, and failed to build tension. I couldn’t help but compare the two actors unfavourably to the actors in the two Chinese films I saw last week.
I wrote too soon. I sent off my booking form on Wednesday, and today I’ve received a call saying that I must pay an extra £150 for the flight, and stay an extra night in Colombo (for about $30) because Explore have used up their flight allocation! Meekly, I accepted the information on the phone and then said I wouldn’t go. But then I got to thinking about the 10 days I waited for booking information, and I got angry, so I ended up writing one of my complaint letters. As I felt there was a slight (very slight) chance that the company might agree to cover the extra costs, and that, therefore, the quicker I sent my complaint the better, I dug out of a cupboard my old fax machine and sent the letter (plus email correspondence) by fax. That nicely took care of my lunchtime.
I hadn’t yet told anybody (except Adam) that I was thinking of going, nor had I allowed myself to start looking forward to it (although I had no reason to doubt that my booking would be valid), so I can’t actually summon up much feeling of disappointment (although, the thought of a tour made up of single women was quite intriguing).
I see I haven’t yet written about Andy’s 60th birthday party last Saturday, held at Blah Blah Blah in Shepherd’s Bush. This was organised by Tammy, which is why, I suppose, it was at a vegetarian restaurant and in Shepherd’s Bush, and not at a curry house near Andy’s home in Teddington! Actually, I had a good time (drinking slightly too much), largely because I chose to sit next to a group of people I didn’t know (i.e. not Tim and Niema, not Raoul and Caroline, not Richard, not Patrick, Andy’s drinking mate). I sat with a group of youngsters who were Tammy’s friends, most of whom seemed to work for the BBC in some guise or other. One was called Sarah, who I could have fancied if her boyfriend hadn’t been draping his arm round her incessantly. And another was Misty, promiscuous Misty, daughter of a Tory MP, who lived for months in the Gibb household when younger. They were young and fun, and we had a lively argument about the invasion of Iraq and the Kelly affair. Come pudding time, I was moved by Tammy to sit next to Susie and allow Andrew to circulate a bit. Jason was bullied into giving a speech, and I foolishly said I would write a few words for him - so I did, on the paper tablecloth.
Fathers - you can’t pick ’em, you can’t buy ’em, you can’t even win them in the lottery. But not everyone is born so lucky . . . and so on. I think I had about 50 seconds. Then Jason, torn tablecloth in hand, started to say a few words using what I’d written, but prefaced with a loud and insistent reference to the fact that I’d written the words - a poem. But, not only did he muck up the intonation, but he didn’t finish what I’d written either. And then, afterwards, it occurred to me that no one would have known that I’d actually cobbled the few words together in 50 seconds. But I had a good dig at Jason later to make up for it. There were a few odd speeches, from Patrick and from the guy who encouraged Andy to go to Papua New Guinea and from Raoul. Susie was as quiet as a mouse all night, and it was evident that every single person there (30-40 people) had known Andy with Rosy; there was no one from Susie’s world, not one person.
Tammy and her man Fraser, and their daughter Louise are doing well. Jason, too, is doing well. His relationship with Cathy I think it is, seems to be progressing. Together, they’ve bought land and olive groves in Italy. Some days later, Andy told me that Cathy is pregnant - so Andy’ll have a second grandchild soon. I think Jason and Cathy, who are currently living in Los Angeles, will be returning to England next year.
‘Call Us Cute’ is finished and in the post. I’m reasonably pleased with it, and the accompanying letter. I doubt it’s good enough to win the BBC ‘Two Timing’ prize - no that’s an understatement. I might hope, somewhere among a few neurones in my brain that it might win, but I know it doesn’t stand a chance. However, it might be good enough to attract some criticism perhaps, and some favourable words from the BBC encouraging me to carry on trying with something else. I’m content that I set myself the challenge - gave myself two weeks - to write a sitcom, and I did so, with a couple of days to spare. As I said in my letter to the BBC, this is the first time in 20 years I’ve tried to write for radio.
Still nothing on Kip Fenn. Every day that goes by is another day when no one, nowhere has access to the full novel. What can I do about that.
26 October 2003
A day out in Bristol yesterday. I’d nagged Adam about going to the National Harmonica League’s annual harmonica festival for ages, and I’d offered to pay, and to take him. So he did convince himself he wanted to go, and to try it out. I was happy to spend a day sightseeing/walking/cycling in Bristol.
We set off at 8am, drove through Farnham and cut across past Fleet to the M4 at Reading. We arrived in Bristol around 10 I suppose. I was very uncertain where to park, since I knew it would be difficult near the venue given it’s location so near the centre and the cathedral. I chanced on a free place without too much hassle, but it did mean a longish walk to the centre. I had my bicycle, so Ads trotted. Ads didn’t want me to stay, so we agreed to meet at 1. I went off to wander around the centre, but first I took a cappuccino in a great cycle cafe (Mud Dock) (cycles hanging from the roof) by the harbour. I’d already established that the famous arts centre, the Arnolfini, was closed for renovations, so there was nothing to see there. I also strolled around the well-known Explore@Bristol science museum buildings and decided I didn’t want to pay £8 for entry. Instead, I cycled up Park Street to the West End, and round Brandon Hill to Clifton Village, where I took in the famous suspension bridge. By this stage, I was already much impressed with the city. Oddly, it reminded me of Brighton, with its hills and rows of coloured terraces standing out along the curvature of hills, and the small arty shops and student atmosphere of Clifton, and with downs nearby also. The centre is reasonably well-planned and attractive, although the West End is very busy with shoppers and cars and traffic wardens.
At 1pm I met Adam at the Folk House. It’s an attractive place, set back from the road and accessed through a narrow alley. There’s a pretty courtyard, a cafe and various rooms and a concert hall. Ads was not in a good mood; he didn’t seem to have profited from the morning at all. I wasn’t sure, but I think he hadn’t even seen (or asked anybody about) the workshop programme. Because he was in a mood, he didn’t want any lunch, nor was he in the slightest bit friendly or acting as though he wanted me to stay (even though there was a good selection of people and families of all ages and combinations). So we agreed to meet at 5 (I double checked myself that that was when the workshops finished), and I left.
For the afternoon I decided to attempt to cycle to Bath along a converted railway line (I’d picked up a good brochure about it from the tourist information office). Stupidly, though, I left the ordnance survey map I’d borrowed from Godalming Library in the car (and even more stupidly, I failed to stop at the car to pick it up when by an amazing coincidence the cycle route took me right by where I’d parked the car). If I’d have had the map (in addition to the brochure), I would have realised that the cycle path takes a tortuous route out of Bristol itself, and that I could have saved myself several miles if I’d opted to make my own way to a point half way along the track. Though it was largely level, and with a tarmac surface all the way, it was a boring path, closed in by hedgerows and barely any views at all. Unfortunately, I became saddle sore quickly - I don’t know why when I’ve ridden the same bike for so long without any problems. I suppose it was just that I haven’t ridden it a long way for a long time. Thus, by the time I’d cycled several miles and only reached a huge Safeways on the outskirts of Bristol, I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of cycling all 15 miles to Bath - so I opted to cycle only as far as Bitton, where the brochure told me I should be able to get a cup of tea. Bitton turned out to be an active little place, with steam trains and enthusiasts, and the old station turned into a shop and tea canteen. Tea and biscuits costs 70p; and the shop was full of Thomas the Tank Engine books. The sun shone, so I sat on the platform rather than in the old Pullman carriage. On the return journey, the sky clouded over, the air got cold, and the wind seemed to be against me - all of which was not so pleasant. The only smile came after I realised that a group of people all with white canes and blocking the path were not blind, but collecting litter.
By the time I got back to the car, I had over an hour left. I sat inside the car warming myself up and listening to Radio Five for a while, and then hit on a plan to go to Chew Magna (a place I used in Kip Fenn, which is just south of Bristol) and then to drive right to the Folk Centre, pick Adam up (so he wouldn’t have to walk across town), and take him to Clifton where we could have tea and I could show him the suspension bridge. I was 10 minutes on my way out of Bristol towards Chew Magna when I suddenly realised that I’d left the bicycle leaning up against the brambles near where the car had been parked. I did a volte face, and then needed to struggle a bit with the city’s one-way system before revisiting my parking spot. The route out of Bristol proved to be traffic-heavy and then, as I neared the turn off for Chew Magna, there were special diversion signs saying that Chew Magna High Street was closed! I chose to ignore the signs and raced through the country lane to the small town. In fact, I was able to negotiate the High Street (because the tarmac laying machines had finished their business for the day) and return to Bristol on a circular route. I didn’t even stop to walk around because, by this time, I was already running late for meeting Adam. But, I got a sense of the lie of the land, which is all I really needed.
The rest of the plan went according to plan. I picked up Adam (who’d had a much better afternoon, not least in a workshop run by Tom Ball, the American whose books did so much to help Adam develop his harmonica playing); he was suitably impressed by the bridge (we walked up to view it from the lawns by the observation tower), and then we took a snack in a Clifton coffee house. By 8:30pm, I had dropped him in Guildford, and by 10pm I was in bed - exhausted.
29 October 2003
I was hiding behind a wall corner in one of the rooms of this house, hiding from Adam. As I heard his footsteps cross the room towards a point from where he would be able to see me, my whole body exploded painfully into a million particles (like one sees in TV graphics sometimes).
I’ve been reading G K Chesterton’s Father Brown stories. I’ve owned an old unattractive hard back compendium for 30 years or more, which is now falling to pieces. I may have dipped into it now and then, but I’ve never read as much of the book as I am now. I really appreciate Chesterton’s masterful character and landscape descriptions, and his ingenious plots. I rescued it from the cupboard because I wanted to read good short stories in preparation for beginning my next project - to write short stories about television. But what I wanted to record was this. At the weekend, I read a story called ‘The Sign of the Broken Sword’, in which Father Brown has this conversation:
‘Where does a wise man hide a pebble?’ And the tall man answered in a low voice: ‘On the beach.’ The small man nodded, and after a short silence said: ‘Where does a wise man hide a leaf?’. And the other answered: ‘In the forest.’
At around 12:20 on Sunday I turned on the radio, to Radio Four. I knew that the programme ‘Quote, Unquote’ had been running for the last few weeks, but I thought it had finished. Ever since Barbara and I went to sit in on a recording of the programme with Nigel Rees, I’ve hated it. I’ve never listened to it again, not once. If I hear the programme music, I make a beeline for the off switch. On this occasion, however, when I turned on the radio to listen - I stress this must have been the first time in years that I’ve actually listened to more than a few seconds - I stayed tuned for a minute or so, I don’t know why. And what I heard was the above quote. It was such a coincidence.
Half a dozen times a week frustration about Kip Fenn surges up within me. This morning it was in response to a radio report of a newspaper article about what a typical house will be like in 2020. Our loos, apparently, will be directly connected to the GP’s surgery and our body waste will be under constant surveillance for health problems. Or something like that. What tosh! Why do writers always exaggerate the future. Kip Fenn is a truly intelligent look forward; and I am so frustrated that still no one anywhere in the world has read it (even Adam has only skimmed it). Today, I am sending off another package to another agent (which will make six outstanding unsolicited submissions, to add to the two rejections I’ve had so far).
With the first hard frosts of the autumn, fall is now well and truly here. The silver birches are pale orange firecrackers, crackling in slow motion, releasing their flecks in slow motion falls, when the wind blows.
Nothing moves, nothing progresses, my life is a stagnant tarn of dark waters. There are no outlets, no potential flows down the hillside towards lighter more airy streams and brooks of potential futures.
I did begin to look into doing voluntary work. I sent off an email about helping out at Farnham Maltings. I heard nothing. I sent a second email. Then I heard something about how somebody should be contacting me. And I’ve still heard nothing. I’ve got other lists which I should look through and act on. But I don’t seem to be acting on them - perhaps the two weeks work on ‘Call Us Cute’ diverted me. And now I’m to try and get stuck in to a new project.
My life remains on hold - virtually a year has gone by since I closed my business. And what? I’ve no prospect of work or money in the near future; and much worse, I’ve no prospect of finding love and/or sex, or expanding my social life one iota.
There are moments when I feel I’m sinking; but most of the time I just flounder through the days, with books, or television, or writing, or talking to Adam; and I don’t seem depressed enough or desperate enough to do anything about my circumstances.
I’ve been proofreading my diaries from 1979 - what a year. Although I’ve always thought I could remember, to one extent or another, all the lovers I’ve ever had, I found one in my diary today called Dany. I have absolutely no memory of her whatsoever, although I recall well enough everyone else around me at the time - Harold, Roser, Mu, Mayco, Mitzi, Dominique. What is absolutely extraordinary about that time is how busy and involved I was, especially with women (I never seemed to have less than two lovers at any one time!) and yet how I am always looking for more, for more lovers, more friends. I am confused, and manic. There is so much poetry and yet most of it is meaningless. Sometimes it has an atmosphere. Here’s the first verse of ‘The Silent Comrade’ which was about Harold.
‘What was prepared to be my silent comrade’s arms
Death of a huntsman, distant wintered there, wooded there
Was still the final pain to come, and come like that
Withered after all. Clumsy friend who knew his part.
Trifling dazzle of the encounter, countered by a passionate embrace
Rewarded in a half moon smile, gracious gesture of the day
And still he dared to dance, to dance in brave detail
With liquid knowledge of the past thrown lightly on the floor
And the pattern of his feet marking out some esoteric trail
Kiss me quickly
Gingerly on your toes’
But what about this first verse of ‘The Birthday’
‘If there is but one thing I might desire today
It is to be in love and have that love fulfilled
It seems nothing else will do
A cumplir mi cumpleanos
27 bitter winters, sweet tasting
Learning not to hope or turn
Burning ants off my back
Atrapando las moscas en los mosques
Slicing and dicing them in green
Flirting spring and the growing beans
SPOT THE COT IN THE HAY’
This poem is such a mixture of a bizarre desperate searching for love, even though I’ve several lovers (at least three) in London (the poem was written during a trip to Spain) and a constant internal turmoil spewed out in nonsense verse.
After such a year, it’s not surprising that I had a breakdown in 1980. It’s such a shame I was never fully conscious of my good fortune to be having such a kaleidoscope of experiences. By the end of the year, I’d run away to Corsica (leaving behind two affairs with the most beautiful women: Dutch Dominique and Italian Emmanuela).
And I’m also proofreading my diary from 1994. This was the period in London when B and I were considering our future and looking to move somewhere outside of London. Even then, my life was relatively busy, but I was far from content. I’d only started up my business a year earlier, and already I was bored of it.
I get a lot of pleasure from reading my diaries. I don’t know how to explain it: they kind of fill me up, remind me that I’m a person with a deep rich past. But, at the same time, they also remind me how impoverished my life has become; they tell me that I should be capable of having a life with more in than I now have. They show me a person I’ve lost; and spur to me find it him again. And yet, unfortunately, they don’t tell me how to do that. They can’t, because I’m a different person now; and an older man. I can’t reproduce the experiences or the relationships; nor would I want to; but I feel sure there must be a way to get somewhere where I am more of whom I was. This now requires not only finding a partner, more of a settled social life, but also an occupation too. It seems to me - and has done for a long time - that these things are now out of reach. Reading my diaries is like a tease: come on boy, you’ve done good before, you can do good again.
Although it feels like a full-stop in my life (I already knew this long before my 50th birthday party), surely it can only be a semi-colon, I just have to find a way of moving the sentence (the life sentence!) on.
I found this in the 1994 diary I’m currently editing - it’s from September that year: ‘Will I, when I’m older, be content that Adam has absorbed so much of my middle-age. I am blinkered by every aspect of him: he controls my social life, where I live, my daily movements; and yet I cannot conceive what else I would do. But that is part of the trap of parenthood. Such a lot of my life’s eggs in one fragile little basket of a whippersnapper.’
Paul K Lyons
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