PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1984 - DECEMBER
DIARY 26: December 1984 - February 1985
A red pen to counteract a dark month. Cold creeps into the cracks of the house, permeates through the dry cracked skin of my body to chill the bones. I can hear them jangle. But not much. I have clothes and central heating and an anti-freeze aura. But worse than the jangle of bones is at hand - the jingle of Christmas. The people are possessed. Such panic in the streets, panic to spend pounds. Religious fervour successfully transformed to commercial enriching riots. My mother has already decided what we should all consume on C-day. Help. I fear I will not escape.
So here I am once again in a new book. The last one took for ever. As the year draws to a close, it feels like a dull one, the dullest one for a long time. I think the last diary mirrors that well - I even left off writing in it early to start this one. I hope it will mark my climb out of contentment.
The 'New World Symphony' live from Manchester. In the interval, Michael Horden read an extract from Prescott's 'History of the Conquest of Mexico'. Unfortunately I fell asleep
While eating my dinner (spinach, bacon, egg, cheesetoast) I listened to Muriel Turner stand up for the trade unions. She is an ASTMS official, and, as it happens, I saw and heard her last night at the BBC studios during a recording of the 'You, the Jury' programme. Yes, I've signed up for another series.
Tomorrow I go to Brussels and will dine with Anke. I haven't seen her for a year. Today, I rang Claudia who I haven't seen for three years. She tells me she is back at college studying psychology and that Marielle is expecting her second child. When I speak to Colin he invites me to a party on the 22nd, and requests another Beryl Cook calendar for Hilde. I try to contact Peter Gall about my future, but he does not reply immediately.
Friday 7 December
I spent last evening listening to a live transmission of the BBC Symphony Orchestra playing Mahler's 9th. It was a tranquil scene. The candles were lit giving the lounge a warm glow. I was seated comfortably and quietly. As most of Mahler's work it is highly emotional, replete with angst. Much of the work was very foreign too, complex and beyond my ability to absorb it. However, as a whole, the piece stands as a powerful statement of a mature unhappy man. Many times the music shifts towards a filigree happiness but soon dissolves into tortuous whining and soul-ful yearning. It seems, in this last work, that he was was incapable of sustaining any pleasurable experience, the expression of mental anguish forever taking over. The last movement is less discordant than the others, being one long melancholic wail and ending in a fading whimper not a bang. I did not know that Mahler was largely ignored for 50 years and only emerged as a popular composer after 1960, Britten, Shostakovitch and Schopenhauer having acknowledged him as an important influence. 'Encyclopaedia Britannica' tells me that his importance rests partly on the expressionism in his music. He wrote almost exclusively autobiographical, and spent much time conducting in opera houses, but never wrote an opera.
Saturday 8 December
I was in torment all day yesterday, but could not isolate a cause. The work I did was no worse than any other Friday. I told Margaret it was like when one gets to the snap-point in an affair and one knows, really knows, that one doesn't want to continue. Margaret didn't hear correctly, and asked me 'Who?'. David replied Petra (short for PetrochemicalScan), and Margaret wanted to know who Petra was. David said she only did it once a week! But here was the truth: I was totally bored with it.
And the idea of Mexico City got more distant during the course of the day. I talked to Martha at World News HQ and what she said depressed me enormously. There is already a stringer there who jealously guards his patch writing for all the main McGraw-Hill magazines, but Martha wants more output. There'll be no office, no contacts, no patch, but possibly a $200 a month retainer to start with, yet a telephone will cost that. Meanwhile, Jim is willing to put my salary up if I stay here.
I must mention Anke. Our telephone conversations of lat have been stiff and I was expecting less of a meeting. But we travelled the same track as we did in Berlin, there was the same spark. Indeed we spent a most lovely evening together. It was late when Anke invited me to see her paintings, perhaps she could bring them to our meeting in the morning, or should I come for breakfast? I did not make an invitation, it felt crass, we had a drink too many and it was very late. And she comes to London next w/e. She has such spirit, such intelligence.
Sunday 9 December
How exquisite my experiences in the Garden. It is my refuge, my single haven. This afternoon the sky held such promise that I rode up to the Heath and climbed the gate, for the keeper had already locked up. I stood transfixed on the wall at the highest level of the garden and watched the deformed pine lose its colour and transform into a silhouette whilst the brilliant blue sky, laced at first with whisps of white, turned pink and orange and salmon and red in a multitute of layers; and then to a darker combination of rust and burnt sienna, with the blue darkening until it was one with the dark red. Eventually my own stillness was too little expression for the drama unfolding before me and I was given to dance across the lawns. I filled my lungs with oxygen and danced a eulogy to the magnificence of life.
'Into the Labrynth' by Peter Maxwell Davies plays on the tape.
In an unbroken four hours this morning I made corrections to the typscript of my Corsican journal. It is now ready to be read by a second party. I think to send it to Colin. Of course it is as dull as dishwater, but I need somebody to tell this to me. it turned out to be a dull one to type up because the real stuff went into the stories - 'The Brittle Rhapsody', 'Don Juan', 'The Night-Mare', and so on. But I believe it to be fairly lucid. I'm hoping it will be interesting as a window into a stranger's mind. But why do I want to make a public spectacle out of my inner self? Is this a search for acceptance? Perhaps I just think I'm an interesting person and that people will be interested to read about an unorthodox man.
Twenty per cent of the population of Bhopal in central India have suffered injury from the gas leak on Monday. Over 2,000 people have been killed. One estimate puts the number of blinded at 50,000. This is a tragedy of the worst kind. Some are saying it is the worst industrial accident in history, and the worst man-made disaster since Hiroshima. What is evidentally criminal is the scale of the difference in security standards between Union Carbide's operations in the US and this operation (and presumably others) in India. The Sunday papers carry reports that there have been five gas leaks in six years at the plant. It is most certainly criminal and I think the Indian government had the right idea when they arrested the chairman - Anderson - who had come to supervise the clean-up operation. Put him in prison for a few years and chairmen worldwide will pull their third worlds socks up a bit. 'Pressure from Washington' however served him his freedom within a few hours. Other people, however, are still arrested and we may not hear much about them. It seems that Union Carbide spends much more money on making environmentally secure their domestic plants compared to their third world plants. When its public relations spokesman was asked why a security device in place at a US plant similar to Bhopal was not in place at Bhopal, he replied, because of the difficulty of getting spare parts. I think I heard or read this several times, without criticism. But a moment please. The difficulty of getting spare parts. What does that mean? Nothing. If spare parts are produced for the US plant they can be produceed for any plant and transported there. It's only a question of marginal cost.
The sexual embrace of octopi can take up to 24 hours.
Another suicide case has hit the papers of a sympathetic friend helping an old lady kill herself. EXIT brochures were found in her flat. What sense is there in the hounding of noble, civilised acts such as this. According to the friend the old lady had not been as happy for years as when she agreed to help her. Euthanasia is an essential part of any future civilised world. When so many people live so much of their lives in such misery how is it possible then to condemn euthanasia.
Monday 17 December
I am turning into a cabbage. I must go to Mexico. I mope around endlessly. I wait for the week to start so that I am busy at the office, I wait for the weekend to start so that I don't have any boring work to do. My existence is so astonishingly empty. And what is worse is that I slowly accustomise myself to it. I sit on my kitchen floor doing a few minutes yoga. I think how vacant the space around me and how it is that people who have been married always find someone else to live with very quickly, while me, I've lived alone for seven years. Then I translate my thinking to the life of couples I know, and I try to imagine the reality of someone else being around ALL THE TIME, and find it difficult.
My paranoia works overtime when I come to these 'You, the Jury' sessions. Sitting here with dozens of old fuddies I find it impossible to justify why I am here. But why isn't this the sort of entertainment a young eligible well-off man should choose? Almost every face around me is 60 or 70. I should be out chasing girls, whilst I'm young and fancy free, rather than rolling along to a twittering debate - the arguments of which I could probably read in five minutes in a newspaper article. Maybe politics inerests me more than sex. Yet, just yesterday I was admitting to R that there is no greater pleasure than good sex with a beautiful girl. Really intellectual achievements and understandings pale into insignificance beside the satisfaction of the primaeval hunger for sex.
Anke declined to come to London, preferring a party in Brussels. I write to Mireille, but I have forgotten how to write love letters.
Mrs Thatcher in China signing the accord over Hong Kong. England won a first test match.
My bergenia flowers pink, my mahonia yellow - clever of them to do so as we approach the shortest day. My soul knows the shortest day is near, it cannot emerge from the long shadows cast at year's end by the ill definition of future. Ill definition that is itself well defined.
I decide to go to the theatre Tuesday night. I ask four or five people, they are all engaged, engaged doing what? And when I get to the theatre it is bustling with hundreds of people - none of them alone. I sense the unbreakable resin mould of my loneliness drying fast. With Mexico City in mind, I can cope; if the reality of that crumbles then where am I? A top a mountain in winter with no coat on.
Sunday 23 December
So here I am completely alone in 13 Aldershot Road on a Sunday morning, the Sunday preceding Christmas Day. God rest my merry gentlesoul. Judy and Rob have gone to Brighton from whence they go to Boston from whence they go to Yorkshire to a cottage that their friend Annie has hired. I may join them on this last section.
I take Bel to a recording of 'Any Questions'. Some would-be music hall entertainer, who called himself a presentation editor, spent the time warming us up and then answering questions about the BBC. The panel consisted of Lord Soper, David Steel, David Frost and Enoch Powell. They answered questions on the pill, east-west arms talks, fox hunting, test-tube babies. The latter being the most interesting for the questioner succeeded in catching the entire panel out. She asked if the panel thought it right the Warnock report gave room for cross-breeding of species for research. Powell, Steel and Soper all said the report referred specifically to research with human embryos not cross-breeding. The questioner was allowed to read out a phrase from the report which used the phrase 'trans-species'. The panel, and indeed John Timpson, were speechless. After some hesitation each of them reaffirmed their views that this did not refer to any other animal apart from humans. In other words they fudged it completely.
'Phaedra', last week, was quite grand. Prowse is a grand director. He has a sense of the epic. Unfortunately I was in cheap seats for the first half up in the Bayliss balcony of the beautifully restored Old Vic. Up there the air is thin and the chairs uncomfortable. The characters and relationships are moulded in classic Greek style, rigid, humourless, preprogrammed for tragedy. The hybrid costumes and mannerisms confused for me for a while since they recalled the renaissance period of French drama - Moliere and all that - but of course Prowse deliberately mixed the flavour of playwrite Racine's period with the period of the play. Glenda Jackson showed off the range of her emotions but perhaps a little unconvincingly. Gerard Murphy was brilliant as the husband who, once returned from war, and suspecting foul incestuous behaviour between son and wife calls on the gods for help. The theatrical climax - an exploding thunderstruck stage - is followed by an emotional climax, in which the old faithful manservant describes in graphic detal the death of the son (the king having learned moments before of the son's innocence). Grand passions. Grand theatre.
A-C rings. What a nerve that lady has - it seems as though she wants to snap her fingers and find me there. It's true she mentioned an Open House on Boxing Day some six weeks ago but now she's asking me to lunch, yet it's already midday and she lives the other side of London.
I call Dad. He invites me over. I call Gale and tell him he can take my sister's ticket for the show tonight. He's messing around with a broken down car. Angela is not in again, it looks as though I won't find her this Christmas, and therefore not meet her daughter.
Shall I go back to college and study ethology? Shall I buy a computer and write non-fiction books? Shall I go to Mexico and be unhappy?
Mum tells me that I am one-eight Hungarian. Dolly's father was from Hungary. That will surely please my mad Hungarian friend Andrez.
I am currently reading 'Mind and Nature' by Gregory Bateson which the 'New York Times' quotes as being 'an extraordinary testament . . . by one of the creative investigators of our time'. 'The New Statesman', to come closer to home, says it is 'a powerful and persuasive thesis'. The fundament of his thesis is that mind is made up of units of difference to the extent that he describes ideas as 'news of difference' This concept is not far my own theory about normalisation.
Before the graphic poignancy of it disappears, I need to talk about steaming (Texas?) turds. Last Friday morning a message was waiting for me at the office - 'Ring Ryser'. Ryser was full of Texan drawl and humour. It could only have been 6 or 7 in Sao Paolo but already he was at his desk. He told me Charlie had got a job with 'Nucleonics Week' starting 15 January and was heading back to the States, and, to quote him as well as I can, 'Here it is Paul, I want to put this hot steaming turd in your lap'. He wants me to take over from Charlie, and base myself in Rio!
Saturday 29 December 1984
Here in Helmsley or near Helmsley, round the corner from the famous and beautiful remains of Rievaulx, round the corner from Ampleforth college where Rosina, Colin, or Graeme, or the Rudolf Steiner Patrick, I can't remember, and myself once swam naked only to be asked to be more modest by a Jesuit priest who had also come to swim, and round the corner from Coxwold where Rosina's potter friend put us up for a night or two, and where I first learned of and became inspired by Laurence Sterne. We sit huddled close to a sizzling log fire and not much further from a colour television that runs on a 50p meter, watching the RSC's eight hour version of Nicholas Nickleby. There is not much else to do with night and fog fully descended and rain descending on the icy, frosty surface of this Yorkshire land. Judy and Rob lie entwined, toes wiggling, on the ugly orange sofa, while A-P, baring her feet to the orange flames and smiling at the charming humour of the RSC, lounges on the lounging chair, orange, and matching the sofa. This is an old gatehouse, decorated without taste and lacking all utensils of use.
Monday 31 December
A new day has dawned. The mist has entirely vanished, in its place are rolling hills of green speckled with sheep and mottled with woods. The sky is a brilliant blue, the sun pours onto my face through the window of the bedroom.
I had adventures today behind the backs of my friends. I managed to strip off and swim in Robin Hood's Bay, for example. This was no hardship, the cold air was not so cold and the cold water was not so cold. I didn't stay in long, but afterwards, oh, the exhiliration. Running naked along the beach, along the beach in the middle of the winter. Superb. And then the song and the joy and the melancholy and the being there, alone, communing with the landscape, the seascape, being all part of it.
That was one adventure. Another concerned the mud. At the beach's end a muddy promontory protrudes into the sea making it difficult to cross. Rather than finding a long way round inland, I tried to flit quickly across the mud from grass tuft to grass tuft. I could see my friends in the distance on a ridge, but they couldn't see me - getting muddier and muddier and more and more panicky as the quick mud wanted to claim me.
The third adventure was more to do with the others. The four of us packed into a newly-built sauna complete with shower, sunbed and hot room. It was good. We sweated, cleaned the pores, showered, got hot, showered, got hot. I almost fainted, lay down, got hot, almost fainted again - and, being so very light-headed, and so very wet and naked, I asked A-P if she wanted to make love - but my invitation was scorned. Not surprisingly since her lover was due to arrived later that day!
All day I've been heard to say how glad I'll be when this year ends, I've become boring and staid and need change. Yet, the reality is that for the first time major segments of my life were in order. I was given a job of responsibility with both brass and colleagues whom I liked. I felt good about the people living in my house. In fact since my social breakdown in 1980, every year has got better: there was the year of unemployment, moving into Iverson Road, trying to get work as a journalist; there was the first very difficult year at ECN, when I was sustained largely by ex-work activities and the relationship with A; there was the second year at ECN when my confidence grew and I grew closer to Bel; there was the year I bought the house and moved to McGraw-Hill, and became more devoted to Bel; then there was the second year at McGraw-Hill when, for the first time, work became the single most important aspect of my life. To say I didn't achieve anything is denying myself.
Snowflakes hurry to the ground at angles, keen to turn the floor of the world the same colour as the roof.
This is the Winter Fantastick
Casting great doubt across land and mind
Darkening the edges of reason
And such is the provision of sun
Metered through the veil of misers
Paul K Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG