Diary: May 2019

This month’s diary includes… visits to Wales and Scotland, Royal Academy Nudes and Cliff Richard lookalikes

Wednesday 1, London
At the Guardian Archive today, Box 22 of the Don McPhee photographs I am cataloguing opened with five sets of negatives labelled ‘Gay Weekend/Manchester’.

Thursday 2, Somewhere North Of Rugby
The speaking toilet on the Virgin train to Bangor tells me that, although she soldiers on being a bog with relative ease, it could be worse. “I used to be a public toilet,” she chirps.

Friday 3, Penllech Farm, Bryncroes, Llŷn Peninsula, Wales
Jane has borrowed a pair of my longjohns. She thinks there might be something wrong with us townies because none of the natives seems to feel the cold. 

Saturday 4, Wales
The garden at Penllech Farm has walls with small cavities cut into the stone. These, I’m told, are “goose holes”, a safe haven from predatory foxes. Hard to believe a wily fox would not identify it as a place to trap unsuspecting bird.

Sunday, Gwynned, Wales
Some pictures from today while out driving around.

We stopped at a seafood shop for our evening meal
criccieth shoreline
We stopped for an drink and an ice-cream in Criccieth

Monday 6, Gwynned, Wales
A trip to Plas yn Rhiw, the National Trust house and gardens formerly owned by “three unmarried sisters”, the Keatings. The woods rang out to the noisy cackle of crows or rooks.

The view from the garden at Plas yn Rhiw

Tuesday , Gwynned, Wales
The way K&K talk about T’s hopeless situation shacked up in a filthy HMO (House of Multiple Occupancy) in Litherland with no sense of a future, it is like hearing about a new species of human, Homo Alienus. 

Screenshot from the Guardian

Wednesday 8, London
There have been some feisty words in the Morning Star (a socialist newspaper) over the past few days about “internationalism” and how its definition has been hijacked by the neoliberals.

Saturday 11, London
To ‘Avalanche – A Love Story’, starring Maxine Peake, at the Barbican last night. When the burden of obsession gets to a critical mass, your whole world caves in. Mike Leigh got out of a taxi as we arrived.

Maxine Peake still with paint effect

Tuesday 14, London
Naively, I had always thought of academics as Enlightenment types, and I’m sure that can be true. But not always, and maybe even not very often. This came to me as my brain was being examined by a Trinidadian researcher at the National Hospital in Queen Square.

Doing my bit for nuero research

Wednesday 15, London
On a volunteer shift at the Guardian Archive today, I logged Don McPhee photo envelopes from Box 22 with the titles ‘Single Parent, Salford’ and ‘Oasis, Lapland’.
A thought: Does Art always follow the money?

Thursday 16, Glasgow
We are here visiting K&P and celebrating I’s birthday, which was in March. I is staying with K&P out in the West End, while we preferred to be more central in order to see Glasgow in the raw. We have a big serviced apartment in the Merchant Quarter. Off to The Pot Still for a quickie before supper at Gamba with K,P and I.

Friday 17, Glasgow
This morning we visited Project Ability on Trongate next door to TJ Hughes and were greeted kindly by director Elisabeth Gibson. She gave us a tour of the studio/workshop space (huge and very light) and we met a few artists, including stroke survivor John McNaught. He used to be a painter/decorator.
We hooked up with K,P and I in a hire car and drove out to Scotland Street School (I cheekily asked an actor playing fierce Victorian school teacher with leather strap whether she had ever appeared in Taggart), and House For An Art Lover for lunch. In the evening on the bus up to K&P’s place in Hyndland we saw a fight at a bus stop and lots of red sandstone buildings. Glasgow is a lot like Liverpool, especially in the centre around George Square. My disabled person’s Freedom pass does not work on Glasgow buses. It’s another country up here.

Cilla Black (bottom right) grew up on Scotland Road in Liverpool, so claimed an affinity with Scotland Street School, for some reason. Her views on children crossing roads safely are not recorded.

Saturday 18, Glasgow
In the Guardian today, Marina Hyde describes Boris Johnson as a “Frankenstein assemblage of all the rejected personality disorders of the minor Greek gods”.
A man in the bar of the Ubiquitous Chip told us he had the four of us marked out as “theatre types”, then went on, with little prompting, to rattle quickly from Brexit to Me Too. He could possibly have been drunk.

Monday 20, passing through Lancaster railway station
There is a Short Cuts article in the London Review of Books, Volume 41, Number 9, about Brexit, in which the author, Tom Crewe, concludes: “But it’s also possible to see the vote to Leave in another way: as a moment when reality triumphed over storytelling. The referendum was an opportunity for a section of the population to signal that they didn’t believe in the existence of the country they were told they lived in – a land of high employment and opportunity, a prosperous and just nation at ease with itself – and that the gap between everyday life and everyday rhetoric had become too great. That disillusion is now, happily, general. Brexit, whatever the dangers, is forcing Britain to get to know itself better. Not all countries are given that opportunity.”

This chimes with the happiness I felt seeing David and Tim, father and son, deep in earnest Brexit conversation alongside the sandwiches and cake during Mike’s 70th birthday party in November last year.

Mechanico-sketch done on train, stolen from the background of a photo from Spain by Therése.


And here’s another one I did earlier of Christ at the Renaissance Nudes exhibition at the Royal Academy.

nude sketch-billy-mann

This one is called ‘Another Bloody Nude’. Another Theft from the RA exhibition is the alternative title.


Wednesday 22, London
Some of the Don McPhee pictures from the late 1990s (Box 22) I catalogued at the Guardian Archive today were titled: ‘Euro launched in Rotherham’, ‘Peat bogs in Yorkshire’, ‘Euthanasia conference in Telford’ and ‘Cliff Richard lookalikes’.

Thursday 23, London

‘By the time she was prepared to speak the language of compromise her capacity to deliver it had shrivelled to nothing.’

Guardian editorial on Theresa May’s failure at Brexit

The William Eggleston picture I was supposed to talk about at Tate Modern today had been replaced, so I had to wing it. I survived with my dignity intact.


Friday 24 , London

‘These elections are not for a government. They are an answer to a stupid question, asked incessantly by Nigel Farage: do you approve of how the big parties have handled Brexit? It would take a strong stomach for anyone to go to the polling station and put a cross against that.’

Simon Jenkins on the Euro elections, the Guardian

Saturday 25, Brighton
For some reason I’m prompted to recall the names of two former local councillors, Jason Kitkat and Nimrod Ping.

Monday 27, London
An email to Connie, who works in the Submit to Love art studio at Headway East London. She asked me if I had any input on a group painting on the theme of ‘God Is…’ that’s in progress at the moment.

Hi Connie
Just had a look at that picture and if you can flog an image of a woman with a massive set of male genitals up her long, floaty skirt as ‘God Is…’ you are a bloody genius.

Don’t look up that woman’s skirt

I just found this sketch hiding in my Autodesk (a phone app) gallery.


Tuesday 28, London


To the Barbican cinema to see the Elton John biopic Rocketman. It’s a bit corny in places, and it’s always squirmy when actors sitting at the kitchen table suddenly break into song. Many of the songs carried a poignant narrative thread. ‘Tiny Dancer’ was a standout for me. It made me like the Bernie Taupin character even more, as I never knew it was inspired by a fling he was having at the time with a beach beauty, or so the film tells us.

Wednesday 29, London
My latest City Matters column. I was disappointed to not be on a page with the puzzles, but happy to see Chris’s ‘Venus’ picture used so big.


Friday 31, Brighton
A thought: I can find something to like in most things.

● Read my June Diary

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