PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1983 - MARCH
Tuesday 1 March
Well I've got behind with this record. I'm in a new house. I'm in a new job. Everything has changed. And yet has it? I seem to have slipped so easily from European Chemical News to Platts and even easier from 21 Iverson Road to 13 Aldershot Road. Life has become a bundle of practical considerations. I slip easily into buying things for the house - tools, shelves, furniture. With all this I should be content, the busyness is a useful cover, but how much of it is novelty and how soon will it wear off?
Allison is here at present, and Harold says bitterly: 'you let my wife stay, perhaps you'll let my mother stay'. Bitterly because I won't let him stay here. His mother Pearl is flying back from New York to South Africa through London. Once upon a time, I would have been happy to get to know Pearl but I feel so far away from Harold now it seems an irrelevant gesture. There is a strong weight of opinion among some friends that I am to wrong to reject him so, but I am sure now, even if I wasn't before, that this is right. A brief meeting with him yesterday only confirmed my feelings. The Mastery has caught him like a religion, and I really worry about the whole Mastery/Est thing. It's one thing to take part, it's another to want to be one of the propagators.
Today elections take place in West Germany. My memory is too poor to be a journalist. I am trying to recall what led to the need for an election. I believe there was a major scandal involving high-level politicians and a large construction company and this led to Schmidt's downfall. His second in command, Kohl, then took power and dissolved Parliament as soon as possible by calling a vote of confidence in himself and ordering his party to vote against him. During the last few years, an ecology party, called the Greens, have gained a considerable following especially among young professional moderates, and they could get enough seats to hold the balance of power in favour of the Christian Democrats. But if so, they are likely to require a commitment to cut back nuclear missiles on West German soil.
Nobody else wanted to go so I was cajoled into representing Platts at the Society of Chemical Industry centenary award. Sir William Duncan was being awarded a medal for his services to the industry. It was a formal affair, evening dress required, held in one of the banqueting rooms of the Cafe Royal. I felt out of place, not recognising any faces, not having worked in the industry for 37 years. Once cocktails were over, though, we went to eat and the journalists were seated together on one table. Hilfra and Tony were there, as was Roland Gribben from the 'Daily Telegraph'. A guy dressed in uniform with red and gold braid cried out the names of the speakers, and when dinner was ready, he cried out again: 'My lords, ladies and gentleman'. I thought how can I ever be part of all this - it means nothing to me, nothing at all. Talking with Bel afterwards, I said I thought that when I'm in my fifties, maybe I'll be more in tune with such celebrations. All those people actually enjoyed being dressed up, but to me it just seems too transparent to believe in.
Tuesday 8 March
Kohl won an overall majority - not quite 48.8% - but the Greens got some seats too.
The Casualty Union is made up of members who pretend to be injured so that firemen and nurses can practice their skills at mock accidents.
Peter Savage began panicking when smoke filled his office last Friday evening. He and Jennie searched every nook and cranny for cigarette ends, smouldering wastepaper bins or fusing electric/electronic circuits. Then the fire bell went and dozens of bodies were clutching bags and papers and telling each other it was a real one. What a time for that to happen, 4:30 on Friday afternoon. The fire bell made such a din nobody wanted to ignore it. Within 10 minutes everyone was on the pavements and the first fire engines had arrived. Six came in all, taking up most of Dover Street. The smoke was pouring out of a store cupboard to which the porter had a key. Half a dozen firemen with gas masks and helmets tested the hoses to see if water issued forth, and then braved the burning bush. Minutes later there was more smoke exhaling from the purring fire engines' exhausts than from anywhere else. Lots of firemen were trying to look busy. The porter, without whom I would not be bothering to write this piece, is a funny old man. He looks a size too small and has a child's face in an old man's guise. He spoke with a high voice to tell any one who asked that he was only a temporary and didn't know where the main fuses were. The electrician couldn't stop the fire bell, and as the hoards were streaming back into the building they were muttering 'when are they going to stop that goddam bell'. The porter fluttered nervously: what stories he would have to tell his friends; how important did he feel when opening the store room doors; how manly with those butch firemen hovering on either side of him. The electrician decided he couldn't fix the red box and needed to go to the basement to turn the fuse off. He asked the porter to hold the fire alarm button in, to stop it temporarily. He complied but found it hard to keep the strong spring pressed in, so the bell rang once or twice as he struggled with it. Under the porter's small desk, not three feet from where he stood, the telephone rang. I answered it, glancing at the porter. He looked very anxious. I said 'reception', and the caller immediately said 'wrong number' and put the phone down. A few minutes later the phone rang again. I could see panic no the porter's face. I offered to press the bell stop, so he could answer the phone. He accepted. I heard his squeaky voice soften as he cupped the receiver to his mouth, and there was a trace of annoyance in his tone as he said: 'We've had a fire, I'll call you back.'
Coming back to this house I just fill it with thoughts. Thoughts that, given half a chance, I'll chuck on the floor and hoover up rather than write them down; but confessor and soul mate you don't allow me compromise. Will I ever hate you? I feel my spirit returning to me. I feel it on my bicycle - a new one with yellow spots. On the record player, 'A Question of Balance' plays - is this me spinning around so many times, wearing nothing on my feet, and calling myself 'The Melancholy Man'.
Sunday 17 August
A film about Frances Farmer has made me think. It's the story of a young spirited actress who finds stardom too young. Once she has reached the top, all the forces, the great forces of this world - the wealthy, the powerful, the media and her mother - conspire to keep her an actress. But she thinks too much, is conscious of so much poverty around, and cannot cope with her fame. She turns to the communists only to find that she's used by them too. From there it's downwards - in and out of mental institutions. She can't pretend that everything's hunky dory and goes about railing against injustice and hypocrisy. Eventually, she's given a lobotomy and rejoins society as a society lady. The surgeon, in demonstrating the lobotomy technique, says: 'It sure gets 'em home.'
Wednesday 23 March, Milan
La Scala sleeps amidst the traffic noises, through the window on my left. Italy is out there. It's such an unknown I don't even know how to say 'good morning' or 'please'. Of all Italian places, Milan is the one I have known, as it happens. I have memories of sleeping in a garage in the suburbs on a sultry summer night (probably with Phil Needham) and of gallery walks at the Duomo. I did not remember the magnificent cathedral with its fine carved detail, brimming with concrete and brass, spires multiplying to heaven as though there were a hall of mirrors among them. What conception! The galleries are fine too with their high glass-tiled roofs meeting in lofty domes. At one in the morning, the last cafes are closing, adolescent couples arise from embraces on the steps of the Duomo, and slope off homewards. The cleaning beatles are busy, buzzing and brushing in electric circles along the marbled floors of the galleries.
I did not think to bring my camera. Everywhere I see pictures.
Emerging from the giant impersonal Montedison building after talking about acetone for one hour, I imagine the whole of Milan flooded in the product.
Everything in this hotel - from the writing desks to the porters' grimaces and from the lighting to the breakfasts - is begging to be called first class, but it's all second rate. With the window and shutters open onto La Scala square, I hear the excitement of the crowds waiting for the doors of the opera house to open. I hear taxis braking, scooters accelerating, exhausts coughing. It could be a soundtrack, except there's no radio in the room. I debate the joys of opera. Were tickets available I would go. This would save me from an evening with Diane from advertising who had never been on a tram before today. I rang Joan in the office, who managed to find Peter Blanchard's number in Brighton. I then rang Peter who gave me Flavia's number here in Milan. Then I rang it, but the person who answered had never heard of Flavia.
Furnishing the house progresses slowly but surely. I advertise this week in the Ham & High: 'Charms of Kilburn: part share terraced house with yard.' I found it very difficult to put the right slant into the ad because I don't want somebody too conventional, and yet neither do I want to cope with someone too offbeat.
Always persisting the feeling that this isn't actually it, my life hasn't really begun.
I have become a machine game player. Any chance at the office and I play Space Invaders on the Apple.
What discounts me from the society around me, is my inability to role play. So much of conversation surrounds the ladder of refinement, one man telling his fellow man that he is less animal than him. How can we make headway in the world - reach a position of experience, knowledge, responsibility - without playing roles. One must evolve a set of preferences, a framework of values through careful thought and analysis of experience and stick closely to that.
27 March 1983, Aldeburgh
I brought a packet of ravioli back from an Italian supermarket. What an idiot I am, I don't know how to cook them. The 'a fueco' on the packet sounds like in the oven, but I'm used to cooking pasta in boiling water. The ravioli are not dried hard but not soft either. I started cooking them in water, now they're in the oven and some of them will soon be in water again.
How bitter the wind, the air in Aldeburgh. How refreshing, how invigorating, how chilling. The sea grey, forbidding, sweeping up to the shore, drowning memories of London. Delicious baps here, hot with melted butter. Melting pleasures as desires mount. The touch of bodies, clothes are peeled. Soft parts to parts, getting wetter, waves of flesh on flesh, moistening in folds. Before breakfast, after breakfast, and breakfast once again. The gas fire feeding warmth, bodies giving warmth, fighting out the bitter world.
Lying in the bath, I think of the many years ahead of me, thirty to forty, forty to fifty, fifty to sixty. Thirty years even before retirement. Why do I hurry so, why am I so impatient. Why do I let the propaganda of the city sink into my psyche. What will I do with all those years?
Tuesday 29 March
A desire to see old friends and new. I make a rash of phone calls only to find no one at home. I learn Luke has an eye problem and is convalescing with his parents. Judy is engaged. Dillys booked some tickets for me for the star-studded 'Heartbreak House'. And Annabel rang. She, Kate and Julek have been on an extended tour of relations in Africa. Only three people answered my advertisement, two of them came to visit. Liz was attractive, a PR person with Victor Gollancz. I liked the way she behaved, a touch over-confident perhaps, a touch of aggression, or even bitterness in her eyes, and a solid hard mouth. She was neat, thoughtful, not desperate. By contrast Pauline was far too eager.
Here I sit at home on a Wednesday evening seemingly withdrawing more and more from society, little gumption to get out and about or do those things I have a mind to do. I sit here talking to a friend about the price of knickers. Cotton knickers are over a pound each in M&S, but down the market you can get them for 40p each, or three for a pound. 1) What does that tell you about markets? 2) What does that tell you about knickers?
With Julian and my mother to the Royal Festival Hall to see Julian's girlfriend Georgina perform with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. I got there just on time stopping only to buy sausage and chips at the embankment. The first piece, Mendelssohn's Symphony 4, was cheery and popular, but my head would not sit still. It was bursting with nothing in particular - vast thoughts about life, about the tickle on my elbow, or the heat in my feat. I liked the bouncy goblin pianist, who put force into his playing of Saint-Saens Piano Concerto 2 but the second half Richard Strauss was too complicated for me and I wanted to be free to scratch and scream.
Paul K Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG