October 1990

Saturday October 13, Paris

          How matter-of-fact a diarist can be about the most extraordinary events. Pepys goes to Charing Cross and sees Major-General Harrison, who had been convicted of regicide, hanged, drawn and quartered.* Momentous enough. But that he, at sixteen, should have also witnessed the execution of Charles I, for which the Major was being punished, impresses me greatly. For when I stop to think about it, and to see in my mind’s eye the Strand at Charing Cross with its station forecourt, its hurrying commuters, its taxis, telephone boxes and zebra crossings, it’s extraordinary to think that there, severed heads and hacked-out hearts, like those of the Major-General, were held up to be greeted by cheers from massed crowds of onlookers. Incredible too that Pepys, a witness to these gruesome events, should toss off his testimony in a few light-hearted, if not ironic lines: ‘Maj.-Gen Harrison […] looking as cheerfully as any man could do in that condition…’ It’s at such points that one realises the enormous differences between Pepys’ world and ours. And yet, worse acts of barbarity are being committed in any number of trouble-spots around the world at this very moment. No doubt we’re just as blasé about the atrocities alluded to on the TV news as he and his contemporaries were about seeing a man, possibly unjustly accused, disembowelled before their very eyes.

*Diary of Samuel Pepys, Oct 13, 1660

Sunday October 14, Paris

          After lunch, I went to the Eiffel Tower to see the runners finish the half marathon. When I got to Bir-Hakeim, the leaders were running up towards the finish. Most were lean and short. Fifteen minutes later the morphology of the runners changed; they were tall, muscular and imposing. I began to look for Bill because he’d told me he expected to do the race in 1 hour 25 minutes. I also had the camera at the ready. I was looking right into the sun and the smoke from sizzling merguez sausages was wafting across the road. As the pack became denser, it was difficult to concentrate on all the faces. At this point, the runners were of more ordinary build, and there were more and more women amongst the men. A few handicapped runners went speeding past in their light wheelchairs, biceps pumping for all they were worth.

          An hour and three-quarters from the start, I decided I’d probably missed Bill when he went past, so made my way to our rendezvous point under the south-east pillar of the Tower. I waited and waited and watched some of the 25,000 runners emerging from the refreshment tent, but Bill was not amongst them. So, I read The Listener for an hour, then gave up. Walking back to Bir-Hakeim métro, I watched the stragglers coming in, some hobbling, some walking. Not long after I got home, Bill came back. I must’ve missed him by minutes, not only in the home straight but also under the Tower. He said the race was very badly organized, that the course had often been too narrow and that a lot of runners had taken short cuts through the Bois de Boulogne.

Sunday October 28, Paris

          It rained all day. We all stayed in and while the children played or watched cartoons on television Carole upholstered her divan and I tiled the loo floor. I am more and more aware of the difference between this flat and the old one. We have a better flat from nearly all points of view. I also realise that being here is a logical consequence of my considerably increased earnings power over the last couple of years. My desires too are in accordance with my increased affluence – although there are a lot of debts to pay off and money is very tight at the moment. I’m already thinking about the next flat – which will be bigger – and about changing the car for a newer one (it has to go in for repairs tomorrow.) Meanwhile most of my intellectual pursuits and aspirations have been traded for these acquisitions. The only thing I have left is the diary and I am clinging to it like a raft in a storm. 

Monday October 29, Paris

            Apprehensive about teaching at the institute this morning after last week’s disappointing attendance. But lo and behold I had a record turnout in both classes and had the other teachers awestruck. In the café at the break, a joke-a-minute session, with Stanley and I making our new American colleague, Flora, laugh. She is intrigued by the British with whom she seems to have had very little contact. When she asks me if I have a literary background, quick as a flash, Stanley chips in with, “No, it’s just the way he walks.” Just when you think that at last he’s making normal conversation, asking if we’d heard about the conference this weekend on schizophrenia, he’s telling us he has “half a mind to go.” 

          I did a good class at the bank too so morale rocketed. On the way back, I had my photograph taken in a booth at the métro station. Despite being caught off guard every time the camera flashed, I’m quite pleased with the result. It’s the maturity I see in my face that pleases me most. I took one of the new photos and put it side by side on my desk with a mug shot taken shortly after I came to Paris. Carole says I look like a boy in it. I reject this [I was 28 at the time] but she is right. My face has fleshed out, my mouth and my jaw have become more reliable, my smile and my general appearance more serene.

          I watched and recorded ‘The Rock and Roll Years: 1974’. With a few exceptions, the music of the early seventies was dreadful. In fact, everything about the early seventies now appears dreadful: the loons, the sideburns – but above all the naivety of the idealism. 

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