Diary: December 2019


This month’s diary includes… Daniel Craig doing a witty take on Poirot, the countdown to Christmas, a holiday in Tenerife. And, er, UK voters have their say…

Sunday 1, Winchester Sue said that she had the same dress as Shirley on Strictly, and it was from Zara.

Monday 2, London This month’s photo of the CoLPAI building site outside our front door.

Then: Jane tells me that Liverpool have been drawn against Everton in the FA Cup and that Hugh Grant is canvassing with Chuka Umanna in the upcoming General Election for our constituency. Here’s what John Crace, Guardian political sketch writer, had to say.

Wednesday 4, London I am reading an article in the Guardian Weekly magazine about the massive rise in the home delivery of all retail purchases. It included the following: “For thousands of years, human progress was indexed to the ease and speed of our mobility: our capacity to walk on two legs, and then to ride on animals, sail on boats, chug across the land and fly through the air, all to procure for ourselves the food and materials we wanted. In barely two decades, that model has been turned inside out. Progress today consists of having our food and materials wing their way to each of us individually; it is indexed to our immobility.”

Thursday 5, London To the Barbican with Headway, at the invitation of the Creative Learning team, to see an RSC performance of ‘As You Like It’. The characters of Rosalind and the fool, Touchstone, were the best. 

All the way through I imagined Lisa and Rachael playing Rosalind and her mate Celia, with a bit of funny disguise business with Lisa’s wheelchair, plus Lisa occasionally jumping up to dance.

Later: Back to Headway for Open Studio. I bought Errol’s ceramic of ‘The Thinker’ as one of Jane’s Christmas presents. 

Monday 9, London To Barbican Cinema 3 to see the film ‘Knives Out’, a whodunnit straight out of Agatha Christie in a roundabout, self-mocking way.

Daniel Craig is very funny as the Poirot character.

Wednesday 11, London Two days of hope remain. Nice 2-0 Champions League win for Liverpool last night against Salzburg. Finished top of the group.

Later: Went to a Christmas tea party in the Crypt at St Bartholomew’s church. I’d never had a proper look around it before. The Damian Hirst statue is impressive and quite thought-provoking.

Thursday 12, Hackney Did a pilot workshop this afternoon at Headway for the ‘Poundland Portraits’ idea. It went really well with some fabulous results. 

Michelle and Connie got straight into the process. The other Headway staff were a bit slower, so later Michelle suggested for future workshops a 5-minute speedy “warm-up” task that familiarises the process quickly. 

After that, participants can begin exploring the possibilities. This is good advice, so I will build that in for the next workshops.

Friday 13, London I asked Tony B yesterday at Headway if he was fearing a “Kinnock Moment”. He answered that it was more of a “Michael Foot Moment”. 

At 4 o’clock this morning, it looks like he was right. Here’s what LabourList had to say.

Later: A spooky coincidence. Just as I was working through the idea of a Picasso wax-monoprint workshop with a copy of Chris’s drawing of Picasso (he gave his permission unflinchingly)…

… Michelle sent me some photos of the Mona Lisa workshop I did at Headway yesterday.

Then: Kate posted some good news…

Saturday 14, London J was very disturbed yesterday about the result of the election, so we shut down the newsfeeds and found other things to do. 

I finished watching Series 2 of ‘The End of the F***ing World’, which was superb. I was skeptical that Series 1 could be advanced, but I was wrong. 

Both series are individual masterpieces and a remarkable portrait of alienated Millennials in Britain.

Today I am sneaking a peep at the media coverage of the election and got this from Prospect… https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/politics/six-reasons-why-the-left-need-not-despair-labour-conservative-election… and this from the Morning Star…https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/e/making-sense-shattering-defeat

Later: To Milton Court, home to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, for free lunch and a performance of ‘You, Me, the World & Culture Mile’

…a community theatre project by the ‘take stock exchange’ storytelling outfit

Storytellers Olly and Nick have been hanging around the neighbourhood for the past few months, chatting to local people. 

They turned these conversations into a performance in which they alternately outlined scenes they witnessed, with descriptions and dialogue as told to them by the locals. Brian featured prominently.

A violinist provided music to go with each ‘act’ of the ‘play’. It was an enjoyable way to see your own community as others see it, with characters who are your friends and neighbours. It made for an excellent show and I will be following Olly & Nick’s work from now on.

Sunday 15, Didcot

D’s deafness is nearing chronic. It seemed like such a scary proposition that I started trying to lip-read a man on another table who was enjoying a Christmas lunch with his family. 

He noticed me staring and returned the gaze with menace. Note: Check lessons online. It might turn out to be fun.

Tuesday 17, Gatwick Airport I did a couple of processed sketches on my phone from the Strictly Come Dancing final on TV:  Taylor Swift and Oti Mabuse.

Taylor Swift
Oti

Earlier: A waxy monoprint of a Vincent van Gogh self portrait.

Wednesday 18, Los Cristianos, Tenerife I have appointed myself ‘Writer in Residence’ of the Paloma Beach Apartments for our 3-week stay. 

We spent the evening in the Pool Bar watching Oxford United vs Manchester City in the Carabao Cup. Last night Liverpool lost to Aston Villa 5-0, but at least my December City Matters column has appeared online.

Thursday 19, Los Cristianos, Tenerife Although I have given myself the job of Writer in Residence at the Paloma Beach Apartments, I have also included in that title the permission to roam at leisure. 

Up by the Chinese supermarket near the Cultural Centre that sells every kind of rubbish imaginable, there is a costume celebration in progress. It is all about a sea goddess called Mazu. 

Wiki says: “She is the deified form of the purported historical Lin Mo or Lin Moniang, a Fujianese shamaness whose life span is traditionally dated from 960 to 987.”

A goddess at 27?
That’s good going

Here are some more pictures from today: 

This is one of the walls at Paloma Beach Apartments. It is made from volcanic stones, all mortared together. 

The tiny holes were formed when the rock was still lava (nb. molten rock is called magma when it is underground; once it has erupted to the surface it becomes lava). 

Volcanic gases trapped in the magma escape when it reaches the surface, leaving behind these sponge-looking holes. The lava then cools quickly, hardens and forms this abrasive cindery igneous rock, which probably has a fascinating name. I think it might be Scoria. 

Pumice is similar but has much smaller holes and a finer texture. If the holes later fill in with assorted mineralogical crap they become “amygdales” and the resultant rock described as “amygdaloidal”.

Root work

This is an interesting tree root I spotted over the road from the Paloma Beach Apartments. Note the attractively positioned black irrigation hoses at the back.

Squat’s happening?

And here is the nearby row of newly-built commercial properties that failed to attract tenants and were duly occupied by hippy squatters. 

I noticed this year (I’ve been watching for several years) that some of the occupants had erected fences at the entrance to their adopted homes.

Lastly, we passed this highly convincing model of a matador-cum-waiter tempting us with tortilla and papas arrugadas.

Friday 20, Santa Cruz, Tenerife The definition of ‘roaming’ I put into my job description yesterday has sent us north for a two-day visit to the island’s capital city. 

We find it rammed with people enjoying the last working day before Christmas. Office workers are out in silly hats getting proper drunk and flirty in the busy bars. 

A Christmas market has been plonked in a big space near the marina. Families wander, children play and good cheer is all around. The headline would probably be, “Santa in Santa”, or something just as lame. 

It made me quite sad that only a week ago our country voted to detach itself from all this. I will try not to detach myself. 

Here are some photos:

The picture top left is what our friend Andy dubbed the “Mother Ship”, a huge department store, El Corte Inglés, that greets anyone arriving in Santa Cruz by bus. 

The picture bottom left is my ‘Chorizo Inferno’ cooking at our tapas-bar table.

Earlier today we went to see a pop-up Leonardo exhibition, which put some context to the artist, rightly adding inventor, philosopher, engineer and scientist to his CV.

Saturday 21, San Cristobál de la Laguna, Tenerife We have stretched the ‘roaming’ brief further and got a tram from Santa Cruz uphill to Tenerife’s ancient capital and UNESCO heritage city, San Cristobál de la Laguna (aka, La Laguna). 

It is noticeably colder up here but the city feels warm with the Christmas spirit. And like Santa Cruz, cars are scarce (though more in Laguna than in Cruz). Trams and buses are the thing. 

The Laguna streets are packed with what we suspect are mainly local people.

It is a big university city and a major cultural hub. The vibe reminds me of Bologna in Italy.

Nevertheless, the silly season is here…

…and the Christmas spirit is in full swing. 

A corner of the market has been given over entirely to stalls promoting charitable causes: Parkinson’s, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, abandoned dogs, etc.

The Laguna festivities included an orchestra, who were playing film music when we arrived, finishing with the theme from ‘La La Land’ and a big round of applause.

And more photos from a memorable day in a city we can’t wait to revisit.

Our visit included a courtyard gallery inside an ancient church (St Augustine, I think. Same as the town in northern Florida?) at which an art exhibition was opening. 

We were offered wine, declined, but accepted the use of 3d glasses to view the art (something to do with the “geometry of colour”, blah). 

The original of this church was badly damaged by fire in 1964 and parts if its charred remains could be glimpsed through a peeping slot in the garden. 

We also visited a big room containing ancient scientific apparatus. Jane remarked sarcastically that I had died and gone to heaven surrounded by dusty old Bunsen Burners and test tubes. 

We also popped into the History & Ethnography museum and just strolled the Laguna streets with popped eyes and dropped jaws.

Later: Liverpool won the Fifa Club World Cup, beating Flamengo 1-0 in extra time.

Jane wanted to know who the hell Flamengo were and what kind of tin-pot tournament the Club World Cup was.

I accused her of being a tin-pot imperialist, which didn’t go down well.

Sunday 22, Santa Cruz, Tenerife Today’s newspapers in the hotel lobby.

The word market has been given a bad name in recent years by cowboy capitalists, rogue bankers and cunning currency speculators.

But the street market is fabulous feature of cities past and present and a reassuringly global tradition, at least in my limited travel experience.

This Sunday-morning variant in Santa Cruz carries all the hallmarks of the type, which Jane and I decided to categorise as Junk + Flea. 

The junk is more or less universal; the flea varies from country to country, but similarities nevertheless persist. 

In Catholic countries, the flea always has a stock of religious tat, and among the universal junk is normally a healthy spread of old discarded mobile phones, which I always thought would make a fascinating art installation. There are also lots of cut-price bras, knickers and mobile phone cases.

The junk produce also puts me in mind of a museum waiting to happen: The Museum of Shite, in which the junk from street markets worldwide is collected, displayed and renewed over the years, with detailed descriptions and explanations of the stuff world populations have decided to throw away.

I sneakily bought a stupid Christmas present for Jane. It could be the start of a collection of artefacts and images depicting women doing things with animals. I’m not sure she’ll see the funny side.

Our Lady of the Turkey

And other pictures from today:

Then a return to the “Mother Ship”, El Corte Inglés, at the bus station for the inevitable reminder of what shopping involves.

Monday 23, Los Cristianos, Tenerife My wife Jane went off on a walk up a big hill (that “on a walk up a big hill” sounds like a comedy euphemism), so roaming took me into town along the seafront. 

On the way is a small Swedish church, Iglesia Sueca, with its door always open. It turns out to be not some heavy Lutheran conversion chamber but a welcoming and relaxing place to sit quietly with a drink and a pastry. 

Its origins apparently date back to the 1950s as a warm-weather rehabilitation sanctuary for disabled people. Now it is owned and run by the Church of Sweden.

I stayed there reading and listening to Bob Dylan’s ‘Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid’ until an text message arrived saying Jane had come down from on high and that Lisa wanted to meet us for lunch. We went to Bahia Verde for salads and rosé.

Tuesday 24, Los Cristianos On the beach that gives Paloma Beach Apartments its name, the bar that was there last year no longer exists and local chat says there has been some kind of regulatory clampdown and the sunset beach bar was among the casualties. 

The bar may have gone but assorted travellers and campers have taken root.

The temporary/permanent status of these residents is hazy, but the beach itself remains stony, craggy delightfully relaxing and idyllically landscapey.

Later: We didn’t see many whales on our sunset whale-watching trip, but it was a lovely afternoon on a catamaran swigging cava and eating pinxtos.

The best quote of the day came from our companion Al, who said, “I think I might have seen a whale.”

One of the whale-watching party, Courtney from Glasgow, had a mishap when she fished into her bag for something and her credit card flew out on the wind and overboard.

We learned later from her mother that it was her boyfriend’s card (he is back in Glasgow).

Courtney did not seem very worried and even managed to sneak up to the bridge of the boat to sit with the Captain, Indigo, or Inigo.

A whale of a time

Even later, after dinner, a happy day took an ugly turn when we found a woman sitting on the stairs of the Paloma Beach Apartments who had been beaten by ‘her man’. 

She had a damaged arm but asked us not to contact police or ambulance.

Jane managed to speak with her and eventually to walk her back to her nearby hotel room, but this dark cloud hung over us way past midnight.

The battered and very distressed woman’s name was Caroline.

Wednesday 25, Los Cristianos, Tenerife There was a pacific hush today all over the neighbourhood and at Paloma Beach Apartments, where I have installed myself as writer-in-residence.

That was never going to stop the wheels of commerce from turning, and unlike most stores Super Dino was open for business.  

Close inspection found one unlucky assistant cleaning up after a smashed bottle of red wine. 

The flip-flops abandoned in haste by last night’s evil woman beater had not moved – one on the apartment-block staircase, the other on the street outside next to a small car. 

I flirted with the idea of pairing them in the spot we had discovered the abused woman, with a sign reading, “Here lies the DNA of the man who battered Caroline”. 

Some of the squatters in the sea-front retail development had embraced the festive spirit, but otherwise the morning felt quite sleepy.

After Christmas lunch (prawn cocktail, scallops, turkey, salad and papas arrugadas with mojos) we watched the ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ special, then ‘Call The Midwife’ and later a big factual feature on BBC2 about Dolly Parton. 

The emphasis of the Dolly show was not just her ruthless self-promotion but that her songs are all an exercise in storytelling. 

They are built and plotted like any other work of fiction, albeit based in reality. Her success rests in her determination to tell her own story in her own way.

Thursday 26, Los Cristianos, Tenerife The geology and scenery of Tenerife is endlessly fascinating. Get past the obvious fact that most of the island is a volcano, Mount Teide, and there are geological curiosities everywhere.

In the north, the mineralogical complexity of the volcanic soils are a fertility boost for wine-making, especially in the Orotova Valley. 

The Cañadas are a Moonscape. I’m told they filmed scenes from Star Wars up there. It is a remarkable place to just sit and wonder about nature, the environment and the universe.

These are just a few snaps from around the Paloma Beach Apartments. On Christmas Eve, during our whale-watching trip, we saw some more spectacular features when the boat stopped in a bay near La Caleta.

Some Dutch fella called Gino, who is very into this stuff, has a website called the Travelling Geologist. So if you are itching to find out more, let Gino be your guide. His essay about Tenerife geology is a compelling read.

Friday 27, Los Gigantes, Tenerife The bus station in Los Cristianos is not very inspiring. Nowhere near as evocative as the one in Hania on the Mediterranean island of Crete, though I’m told that even that revered hub of human to-ing and fro-ing has recently been blanded out with a modern makeover.

Nevertheless, this was the starting point for another mission to ‘roam’ from the environs of Paloma Beach Apartments, in this case up the western coast to Los Gigantes for a further dose of geology and scenery.

Gigantes is famous for its dramatic, precipitous cliffs that plunge into the ocean. It is a small, pitching seaside/hillside town that has a faintly British vibe (to me).

That’s not because of the vast number of British tourists on show. The Gigantes vibe is more to do with ice-ceams, a kiss-me-quick naughtiness and winding streets to stroll, people watching and looking into shop windows.

As we left the bus station earlier at Cristianos aboard the 473, we sensed that we too were living both on the edge and in a Carry On movie.

Our driver seemed determined to put us through the speediest and jerkiest of journeys. Brake-slamming and lurching manouvres were her speciality.

Lucky nobody was sick on board.

The drama would continue. We arrived just about in one piece and just in time for lunch at Buganvilla Plaza Restaurante. That’s when the real comedy started.

Our food waiter opened the charm offensive by telling us to get our order in quick because he was busy. We complied, but then he told us that some of the tapas we wanted were not available.

The mood took a better turn when another waiter appeared with our drinks (eventually). His English was impeccable, polished even.

That was because he was English, though impeccable English is more often spoken by Dutch people these days.

He was charming, polite and advised us to buy a Spanish SIM card to reduce roaming charges on our phones.

The growing sitcom feeling hit its stride when our food started to arrive (eventually).

There wasn’t enough space on the table, one dish was missing, then the whole order started to appear in duplicate. Two of everything.

The rude waiter had clearly screwed up, maybe because he was so busy, like he told us right from the start.

Or maybe because he was just a useless, self-important poser. 

A heated exchange kicked off between a huddled group of waiters, so maybe the confusion got resolved in some way. 

We just sat quietly at our table, not wishing to offend, talking about Fawlty Towers and what Basil might have said.

The bus journey back to Los Cristianos was slightly less vomity, so we arrived feeling kind of blessed, sat down exhausted in the Marina Bay sunset bar, watched the sun set and laughed about it all.

Saturday 28, Los Cristianos, Tenerife Back to the Swedish Church this morning for a cortado, during which I was able to work out from the church’s ‘Order of Service’ the days of the week in Swedish.

Sunday: Söndag

Monday: Måndag

Tuesday: Tisdag

Wednesday: Onsdag

Thursday: Torsdag

Friday: Fredag

Saturday: Lördag

But I guess I could have looked that up…

On the way into town along the seafront, my wife Jane spotted the abused woman, Caroline, we came across on Christmas Eve, walking hand in hand with her abuser.

She had some medical strapping on her right shoulder, so at least she got that fixed. 

Pity she didn’t ditch her abuser, but I guess this kind of violence is far more common than we like to admit, and the choices available to victims very limited.

And right on cue, I just read this article in the Guardian.

Here’s a selfie sketch I did last night.

Just seen at the bottom of the picture are the toes of my left foot, holding down the page from my notebook as a gust of wind threatened to thwart the photography.

I have posted this on Instagram as ‘A Self Portrait In More Ways Than One’, but I think the standard Insta crop got rid of my toes.

Here are some more pictures from yesterday. The dark one, top right, is someone we spotted on the way home, foraging or crabbing by night in the rock pools. The head torch gave it all a creepy, alien-invasion vibe.

Alien invasion of Tenerife in progress?

Sunday 29, Los Cristianos, Tenerife Another slow day that began with a walk out to the rocky bay to check a few more interesting bits of geology.

Then to the market which, unlike Santa Cruz, is total tat, with knickers on.

There is clearly an emerging trend here in Cristianos for belt buckles and freakishly realistic baby dolls.

There was one stall plugging the fabled ‘Blanket Tours’ of Tenerife. We found out about these some years ago from our friends Eric & Glen. 

Friends forever

What happens is that a salesperson entices unsuspecting tourists with the offer of a free trip to picturesque out-of-the-way destinations throughout the island. 

What then unfolds is that the tourists are taken to blanket and bedding factories where they are offered the factory’s products at discount rates. Lunch and drinks are often thrown in to oil the wheels of the rip-off.

We are told that some tourists find this a low-cost way to explore the island, since buying blankets is not an obligatory part of the deal. Hitch-hikers especially find it an attractive proposition.

The stall-holder/sales rep at the market in Los Cristianos was called Gail, and she wasn’t happy that all I wanted from her was a leaflet.

Later:

Monday 30, Los Cristianos, Tenerife One of the big questions for UK holidaymakers and travellers must be whether data charges will go through the roof once we have left the EU.

At the moment, there is an agreement among EU countries that members can “roam for free”.

What that means exactly I’m not sure, but I guess it means that phone networks in EU member countries allow each other to carry their contract’s data allowance wherever they go.

And since we are in Spain, I can listen to UK radio and stream music with abandon. Except I woke up this morning and couldn’t remember what my data allowance was. 

This came to me following a message today that I have hit 5GB. The EE website cannot help because the “myee” function (which would tell me the answer to my burning question) is not working. 

I am forced to wait until we return home and I can check the paperwork to find out my allowance, hoping in the meantime that I am not building a vast data debt.

A posting on FB tells us that T, who not long ago upped roots and moved from the UK to Calonges in Girona, has fallen and broken a shoulder in two places. This isn’t a very happy ending for her to a year of upheaval and challenge. It makes her situation quite precarious.

Sitting on a sofa in a shaded spot beside the Paloma Beach Apartments pool is the perfect place to read Alan Bennett’s recently published 2019 diary in the London Review of Books while listening to an Amazon compilation of popular film scores. 

In September 2019 Alan Bennett’s diary reports that Jimmy Clitheroe‘s spiral library steps were sold for £20. And that the singer Morrissey (“The Pope of Mope”) once turned up on the playwright’s doorstep asking, “Did you know Jimmy Clitheroe?”

Jimmy Clitheroe

I just spotted an old man riding a tricycle, so they must be available for hire somewhere around here.

I also noticed that the tall block of apartments across the road is called Costamar, which is very close to Customer. Deliberate?

The pedal tricycle seems like such a missed opportunity here in the quiet southern end of Cristianos. There are a lot of elderly people on mobility scooters, which they hire from around €70 per week. Tricycling instead would increase fitness levels for many of them.

I know this because since the stroke in 2012 that robbed me of my balance, tricycling is the only form if cycling I can do. 

In the UK, space and traffic congestion limit opportunities. But out here in the bum-end of Los Cristianos, the seafront and sidewalk pathways are wide and flat – ie, perfect for tryicycling. 

Think of the independence and self-reliance it could offer many of its normally needy visitors.

Lunch here:

They were playing very irritating Christmas songs in a Eurodisco reinvention. I never knew it could actually get cheesier than Boney M. Now I know better.

Later: spotted this on Twitter.

Later still: Now that the woman beater and his abused partner have left town we are safe to walk out without fear of recriminations. 

The pianist in the Arona Gran hotel is still reassuringly 1970s, but now has delusions of grandeur. 

As he effortlessly tinkled out  ‘Born Free’, he gave one seated guest an introduction to the life story of Schubert. Cheers.

Tuesday 31, Los Cristianos, Tenerife The temperatures here have been amazing. The bright, cloudless mornings build to clear sunshine, sometimes reaching 29C. It cools in the evenings, and long sleeves are required, but daytimes are blistering. Winds can be strong.

Later: on Celebrity Mastermind, when one contestant was asked which British artist created a piece of work called ‘My Bed’, they answered, “Camilla Parker Bowles”.

Later still:

Enjoyable as the last evening of the year was, it would have been helped if all of the world’s young people had been forced to grow up dancing to Earth Wind & Fire.