Diary: August 2019

This month’s diary includes Shakespeare, fashion, cinema, a day out in Broadstairs and a landmark birthday party

Thursday 1, London
To the Barbican last night for a live transmission from Stratford of ‘Measure For Measure’, directed by Greg Doran.


It was a very enjoyable production with the story streamlined and the comedy punched up to Carry On proportions. J and I both agreed that we will go to a real stage performance early in January next year.
At Headway, Margi tells me she is off home to Fiji soon for three weeks of eating mangoes and fish on the beach. It is the first time for her seven-year-old son, who likes to swim.

Monday 5, London
There was a young woman at the Pharmacy counter in Boots New Change this morning who was waiting for her prescription of antibiotics. When the pharmacist handed her the medication, the woman asked if the pharmacist could suggest any off-the-shelf product that might work faster on her condition than the antibiotics she had been prescribed by the doctor. The customer was concerned because antibiotics work best on the compound/cumulative effect and will not typically kick in until 3 days after the first dose. She wanted a faster-acting remedy because, she told the pharmacist, she had an interview at 3pm that day.


At the Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A for J’s birthday, it is plain to see that Quant’s success in the fashion industry was very dependent on a thriving British textiles industry and the vast array of cloths and patterns it was able to produce at that time.

The Tattersall Check Dress, made from fabric originally used for horse blankets.

In the beginning, the young working woman was the inspiration for the Quant outfits, but later they seemed more suited to the exhibitionist or the fashion victim.


Whichever you were, it helped to be skinny. There aren’t many pictures of curvy, plus-size women in this gear.
Later still:
To Barbican Cinema 3 for the Leonard Cohen movie, ‘Marianne and Leonard’.


My ignorance about Cohen extends to not knowing:

  1. How big-venue successful he was. I thought he was a cult fringe songwriter, and…
  2. What a truly self-obsessed tosser he was. Irredeemably so. He spent about seven years in a Buddhist monastery on the top of a hill, and even that couldn’t stop him being a total arsehole.

Also, he was off his head on drugs most of the time, which sort of negates any claims about his so-called genius. 

There were moments of humour, mainly from old workmates. One guitarist recalls the time Cohen suggested the band play a “mental asylum”. The guitarist reflected, “That went down like a fart in a diver’s helmet”, to which I laughed out loud. 

But that came out of an awful lot of nonsense. Towards the end, when Len was in his Buddhist mode, some stupid interviewer asks him to define love and he came out with the most tedious two minutes of non-stop gibberish I have ever heard, some bollocks about the “content” of one individual occupying the content of another, and vice versa. The failure of one person’s content to meet the volume of the other person’s content would inevitably result in disharmony. But if the volumes of the two contents matched, bliss would follow. So glad I found that out.

Tuesday 6, 3.35am, London
Just read a review of the haunting near-future TV series ‘Years and Years’ in an old (July 22) issue of the Morning Star. It was a nice summary of both the story (written by Russell T Davies) and my own take on it, so I am shamelessly stealing the review for this diary… just because I am in a blue funk of pessimism about my country’s future.

We had a glimpse of the road ahead last night when at the cinema bar in the Barbican I complained that the price on the wall-mounted illuminated sign for a glass of prosecco was £6, yet when I came to pay I was told it was £6.50. The bar tender seemed unconcerned when I said that £6 was the advertised price. He seemed to think I was making an unnecessary fuss and was quite rude and defensive about it. I saw it as a reflection of a future in which each member of society makes up the rules according to what they feel like. It is quite a horrible prospect if you dwell on the idea for too long. 
I was surprised to learn that Jane had not heard of the Green New Deal. I was even more surprised, or maybe scandalised is a better word, when the 243 to Waterloo came to a halt one stop short of its final stop because the driver needed to “even out the service”. Go figure!
Later still:
A homeless person has pitched an orange tent on a patch of grass at the front of Basingstoke railway station while a man sat beside me on the bench (dressed in walking gear and drinking a Pret coffee) is speaking in tongues, loudly. Or it could have been some other kind of strange utterance. Or just a load of rubbish.

Wednesday 7, London
A British Gas inspector called this morning to read our meter, which is tricky because our meter is located in an inaccessible corner of a kitchen cupboard. He managed by taking a photo, with outstretched arm, from his mobile phone, and when I told him that another inspector had called recently to check one of the pipes, he told me that when meter inspectors call, their task is to read the meter only, unless British Gas have marked the account with a special note requesting the meter inspector to check if the meter has been tampered with (he showed me this on his handheld device), ie that this customer is suspected of fiddling the meter so as to pay less. He told me that only British Gas does this. Other suppliers, he said, are “more laid back”.

Friday 9, London
We have just started watching the TV miniseries ‘Chernobyl’, so I was pleased to run into this piece in The Ecologist.

Saturday 10, London

My autumn forecast is rapid deadlock, an uproar of scatological cartooning, another Tory rebellion and finally the nastiest, dirtiest general election for a hundred years.

Neal Ascherson, London Review of Books

Monday 12, London
To the cinema to see the Gurinda Chada film ‘Blinded by the Light’ and my comment on Facebook.

Tuesday 13, London
I admire the persistence and tenacity if the Hong Kong protesters. If Democracy survives the near future, starts again to become a participation activity rather than a spectator sport, and Britain avoids becoming a mere client state of America (CSA), we might one day thank them dearly for their efforts.
On a coach trip to Broadstairs on the Kent coast. It is folk week and J described it as “Midsomer sur Mer”.

There are folk-fest Morris dancing types here in Broadstairs who have blacked-up faces. Spotting an actual black person is a lot more difficult.
Tracy Coates (1960-1995) loved the sea and Morelli’s ice cream, it says here on a wooden bench.


There are folk dancers in costumes made from green rags EVERYWHERE.
I think they might have renamed the Isle of Dogs as the ‘Greenwich Peninsula’. Wasn’t it renamed Mudchute at some time in the recent past?

Wednesday 14, London
There is a piece in the Guardian about Britain’s crumbling infrastructure and how it came about by a mixture of neglect and deliberate abandonment. Public social hubs such as libraries, pubs, churches and youth clubs have been hollowed into virtual nonexistence as people have retreated into their homes to embrace solitary activities often based on technology. The story lists some of the consequences of this, which include old people dying at home alone, their bodies not discovered for days or weeks. It brought to mind a story Jane’s mum once told us about a woman who dropped dead on the bus. “At least she didn’t die alone,” Margaret observed.
My renal consultant and I shared a fret today about Brexit. Her chief concern was that the nhs in “Boris Johnson’s Britain” will become prey to American business predators; mine was whether I would still be able to get the prescription drugs that save me from an early grave.

Sunday 18, London
The Observer has some strong words about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s suggestion of a time-limited Unity Government to allow a General Election.
Another article points to rising severe poverty among the elderly.
‘As the public sphere becomes ever more emaciated by cuts, corporations step in.’
Article in Guardian Weekly magazine marking the 20th anniversary of Naomi Klein’s book ‘No Logo’.

Monday 19, London
The best one-liner jokes from the Edinburgh Festival are out. They are:

1. I keep randomly shouting out “Broccoli” and “Cauliflower”. I think I might have Florets. – Olaf Falafel
2. Someone stole my antidepressants. Whoever they are, I hope they’re happy. – Richard Stott
3. What’s driving Brexit? From here it looks like it’s probably the Duke of Edinburgh. – Milton Jones
4. A cowboy asked me if I could help him round up 18 cows. I said, “Yes, of course. That’s 20 cows.” – Jake Lambert
5. A thesaurus is great. There’s no other word for it. – Ross Smith
6. Sleep is my favourite thing in the world. It’s the reason I get up in the morning. – Ross Smith
7. I accidentally booked myself on to an escapology course; I’m really struggling to get out of it. – Adele Cliff
8. After learning six hours of basic semaphore, I was flagging. – Richard Pulsford
9. To be or not to be a horse rider, that is Equestrian. – Mark Simmons
10. I’ve got an Eton-themed advent calendar, where all the doors are opened for me by my dad’s contacts. – Ivo Graham
To the cheap-day cinema to see Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’. It was slow in places and I found myself yawning. Maybe I’ve got used to being woken up every so often by moments of superdry humour I call The Seemingly Inconsequential Accident in which you trip up but then start laughing at yourself hysterically. “Shit, I just shot Marvin in the face” springs to mind from ‘Pulp Fiction’. The two characters, played by DiCaprio and Pitt, both had convincing storylines: Di Caprio’s is about a one-time bigshot TV cowboy coming to terms with his status as a has-been; Pitt’s is about an actor who wasn’t that good so became a stunt double to DiCaprio, so never got the chance to be the real star. He ends up being the hero of this movie, though. These stories are obviously a reflection on success and failure, but because they are rooted in Hollywood they somehow come across as being “only for the camera”. When they brush with ‘reality’ they are quite poignant. I wonder if Tarantino is secretly talking about himself here – never quite sure whether that was meant to be funny or serious.

Friday 23, London
Headline in the Hackney Citizen: “Another single mum given days to choose between Stoke-on-Trent or homelessness”.
A thought. Is the rise of the bad people (Trump, Salvini, Johnson, Bolsonaro) the last nail in the coffin of the old order? Is it the ultimate act of self hatred by an electorate that is desperate for change but doesn’t know how to welcome it. Boris Johnson became Prime Minister of Britain on 92,000 of those desperate, self-hating votes. And the rest of the Conservative Party did nothing to stop it.

Sunday 25, London
Some photos my sister Izzy took yesterday at my 60th birthday ‘exhibition’.

At the pub in the evening M secretly outed Y as the Golden Lane resident who had slept with David Bowie.

Monday 26, London
There is an ad on the TV for women who enjoy wearing ‘noir’ underwear who suffer from bladder incontinence. The catchline is, “I’m not going to let a little wee stop me being me.”

Thursday 29, London
There was a funny euphemism on the radio comedy Double Science last night. One of the male teachers, Colin Jackson (“No Relation”), was trying to tell one of the other teachers, a woman, that he needed to go for a poo. He said, “The mole is at the counter”.
The Guardian editorial on the Prime Minister gagging Parliament until after the Brexit deadline of 31 October is sobering and will be worth checking back to in years to come. British voters, which include British elected politicians are now faced with a choice between parliamentary democracy or a soft ‘elective’ dictatorship. We shall see.

Saturday 31, London
As an add-on to Jane’s birthday, we are at the Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition at the V&A. Like Mary Quant, Dior seemed to have unlimited access to fine fabric, but unlike Quant he used miles and miles of it for each costume. Pleats are common in his designs and pleats almost double the amount of material required to cover the same area. There are no sparse designs here. Opulence and volume rule. His own designs are standout classics and it is a study to walk the exhibition and mentally separate the works of the maestro himself from those of his successors as Creative Director at the House of Dior. Other than Dior, Jane’s favourite designer was Marc Bohan and mine was the current incumbent, Maria Grazia Chiuro, the first female head of the House. We both gave John Galliano the thumbs down, rating it too MBT (Mediterranean Bad Taste). I made a sweeping statement when Jane asked me if I was disappointed that men seemed not to have equivalents to fashion gods such as Dior. I replied that someone like Dylan Jones might argue against that, and that women’s clothes are more artistically expressive because “women’s clothes are expressive of women, whereas men’s clothes are expressive of power”.

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