Diary: May 2020


This month includes… A growing irritation with ‘Normal People’, bread that looks better than it tastes, and the Cummings-Johnson anarchy plan

Friday 1, London The TUC has launched an online Mayday hashtag, #ThankAWorker.

📌 It was disturbing to discover a BBC podcast series called ‘Obsessed With Normal People’, as I felt I had become obsessed with disliking ‘Normal People’. I started to listen to the first one but grew as irritated with it as I am with the TV show. I learned also that ‘Obsessed With…’ is a BBC strand. There is an ‘Obsessed With Killing Eve’ podcast, too.

📌 The Barbican monoprinting workshop video is out. It looks good, thanks to Dave’s editing skills. It is in the May Guide.

Saturday 2, London Saturdays DO generally start with the Marina Hyde column in the Guardian, and today was no exception. It included this telling passage.

📌 My wife pointed to an ‘Ask the Expert’ column on the Guardian website which tackled one of the day’s most pressing issues.

One of the answers was superficially well-meaning.

But then its fault was revealed in a spiky riposte.

Only to be trumped by the original correspondent.

📌 The need to collect a prescription took us through the Barbican so I got some shots for an Instagram project I’ve been asked to do.

📌 The virus has probably made me more self-obsessive, or maybe self-preservative is a better description. Empathy is not easy, and others are coping in whatever way they can. Luke seems to have buried himself in booze, affluence and amateur electronics.

Sunday 3, London The Lockdown routines are turning into comfortable habits. Sunday starts with editing last week’s diary and posting it online.

📌 Agreed with a friend to share a glass of fizz next Thursday on Zoom to celebrate her 50th birthday. Then it was straight into making a new soda loaf. This one has no oats or bran and tastes a bit dull. It also doesn’t look too beautiful, which is because I just mix and pour. No handling, rolling, shaping, etc. I probably need to overcome my reluctance to get my fingers stuck into the dough.

📌 We watched a gripping 1970s psychological film called ‘The Conversation’, starring Gene Hackman as a security snoop who is driven to paranoia and ultimately insanity by his own guilt. It also features a very young Harrison Ford.

📌 There is something dodgy going on with the internet connection. Our friend in Brighton dropped off her network and couldn’t join our Zoom quiz. I have just spent 10 minutes watching a 2.5mb picture sending via email. Using any internet service while a catch-up TV app is running  is impossible.

📌 I’ve stopped hating ‘Normal People’ so much. It might be because we’re getting to the end of the 12 episodes, or maybe I have been blessed with some tolerance spirit I never had before. I still find Connell and Marianne’s obsessive introspection irritating, but I’ve softened, a bit.

📌 Andrew Rawnsley’s column in the Observer talks about the government’s precarious next steps towards rebooting “business as usual”. I read elsewhere that in other countries schoolchildren are returning to their classrooms, but enter school only after a temperature test. There is muttering in the UK media that “immunity passports” will be issued within months.

Monday 4, London There is a perception that the government’s political body language has given a drift “back to normal” the green light. We had sensed this already and agreed to stay put, that the risks were still high and that the government’s approach was a dangerous game of roulette with hundreds of thousands of lives. The government is so wedded to its libertarian ideology that it is prepared to force its citizens to make the “choice” between death and penury. It’s as disgraceful as its treatment of frontline nhs workers, who have carried on serving the sick without proper protective equipment. I hope they go on strike. I will be happy to support them.

📌 With a government itching to lift the Lockdown, the unions have now got a fight they can win. The old image of them as a ragtag wrecking crew is long gone. If they centre their case on the health service and “keyworkers”, they can mint a new image in the public mind. The TUC’s Frances O’Grady starts the fight today.

Tuesday 5, London The media is full of stories about how the government is pushing ahead with its evil plan to flog off the nhs despite the virus crisis. The contract for contact tracing has gone to cowboy security operator Serco. The app that is to be piloted on the Isle of Wight is said by experts to be an open door to hackers and cyber criminals. Trade talks with the US will quietly resume this week. Trump has made it clear he wants America to own the nhs.

📌 I’ve been mulling over what art road to go down next. Every time I start a drawing or painting a human face seems to pop out. Today I saw this picture on the 19-20th Century Russian Painters Facebook page.

It’s called ‘Ices Of The Kara sea’, by Borisov Alexander Alexeevich, and it reminds me of the fantasy landscapes we used to draw at school – me, Gary and Dennis, creating wacky worlds where people did the funniest things.

📌 At the beginning of the virus outbreak I dramatically labelled it a revolution, stating piously that we were on the threshold of a new way of living together. Today I can say I was wrong, but only a bit. I believed back in March that a ready-made, more collective and collaborative way of life was waiting in the wings. It’s not, and there are no big alternative solutions poised to step up to the plate. What there is, more than any clear idea of what to replace the old order with is a sense of what needs to be thrown away, what needs saying no to. No to ignoring your vulnerable neighbours. No to downgrading health and social care in your list of political priorities. No to crap, dangerous jobs at low pay. So the revolution will unfurl itself into our lives rather than crash through the door, shouting and waving its arms.

📌 During an online coffee, Angela said she was unlikely to succumb to Covid because her immunity had been super-sharpened by years travelling on the Central Line.

📌 There’s a fabulous 15-minute lockdown drama strand on ITV called  ‘Isolation Stories’. Last night it was a single pregnant Sheridan Smith doing Zoom, and tonight it was Robert Glenister as a dying dad to his real actor son Tom.

Wednesday 6, London I woke up this morning in deep reflection on some gibberish I wrote yesterday about revolution. My conclusion was that I must now see myself as being part of a resistance movement to oppose the evil things the evil people in power are plotting to inflict on a gullible population. They say conflict makes for good drama, but I prefer friction. Friction is more subtle and has a greater versatility over time. I’m a frictionist from now on, a kind of low-alcohol antagonist.

📌 Some top government scientist has been forced to resign because he breached social-distancing guidelines. My wife had the details: “and all because he wanted a shag off his married girlfriend”. He said he thought he was immune because he’d been infected by and recovered from Covid-19. I repeat, TOP GOVERNMENT SCIENTIST!

📌 It was reported on the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show that Tom Hanks (or Tom Cruise?) is “in talks” to make an action movie in Space. That hasn’t been done before, so good luck with that, Tom, whichever Tom you are.

📌 It looks like the government is trying to pull a crafty stunt. “News” arrives that the way out of the Lockdown amounts to locking up the over 70s. The elderly and the vulnerable will be kept “shielded” while the younger generation get on with the business if rebuilding the economy. This is a sneaky move to super-marketise an ageing population, keep them quiet with cheap gin and free telly, and to kettle the rest of the population down the road to the sunny uplands of NeoNeoliberalism.

📌 There’s been a rush to defend the randy scientist. Other scientists are saying he is being fitted up for pointing out how crap the government has been at following “the science”.

📌 My cooking experiment got the look of disapproval. It was an attempt at a flat tray loaf of eggy bread with bacon bits. Two eggs, flour, sour milk (milk with lemon juice), salt, bicarb, bacon, whisked into a thick batter poured into a tray, sprinkled with dried chilli flakes and baked on a low light until risen and “bready”. I was winging it, and that makes my wife nervous that I’m wasting stuff on stupud ideas. I got defensive in an arsey way when she said so and angrily offered to “pay for the eggs, “with my own money, out of my pocket”. She rolled her eyes and went back to her Sudoku.

📌 Another great ‘Isolation Stories’ tonight, with Angela Griffin as a psychiatrist dealing with a dickhead hypochondriac.

Thursday 7, London As Boris gets ready to tell us to carry in sunbathing, I wonder if many people will remember how badly the government screwed up over this crisis. Even today we hear of a massive consignment of imported “safety” gowns that were not safe at all and lie abandoned in a warehouse with mice scampering all over them.

📌 Good news indicator: Halfords report a huge uplift in bike sales to people who are too scared to get on buses. British roads were never really built for mass cycling and cyclists routinely use the pavements, to the annoyance and safety concerns of pedestrians. Still, if we are genuinely seeing the decline of the motor car in cities, that is good. Adapting the highways and byways for cycling is a challenge. A green transport overhaul is overdue.

📌 Florence Pugh was good in ‘Midsommar’, but I remember having the impression all the way through that she wore the look of someone who thought they were experimenting in a new groundbreaking type of comedy, not in a bad horror film.

📌 It was a year ago that Liverpool turned over Barcelona 4-0. That Trent Alexander-Arnold corner lives in the memory, a golden moment in these bleak times.

📌 We did the Brighton Zoom quiz. Mia asked the questions and we all did very badly. The questions were very intelligent. We didn’t know that “ship” means “relationship” to young people and that Ship Names are ones where the names of the two partners are linguistically welded together. Thus: Brangelina and Shamy. We had a good laugh later creating ship names for members of the group.

Friday 8, London As the Prime Minister prepares to tell the nation that the Lockdown will be “eased” from Monday, news arrives that UK citizens believe the restrictions should stay for a while longer. Is this a genuine case of the population having more sense than its government, or maybe the crisis has pushed the reset button on an old way of doing things and the people are still in two minds about what the new way should look like.

📌 Interesting to see London issuing its own stay-at-home policy in defiance of the idea that a relaxation of the rules is on the way.

📌 Such a pleasure to rearrange the fridge magnets.

📌 During a family Zoom, my sister recommended a new drama on Netflix called ‘The Eddy’. It’s about the complicated lives of the people who own and inhabit a jazz club in Paris (where my sister lives). The club isn’t doing well, the owner is an unexploded psychological bomb and his personal life is, natch, a disaster. His best mate gets his throat slit in the first episode and his busty blues singer has lost her voice. His estranged daughter arrives from New York to add even more baggage to his already overloaded life and he constantly puts on a face that simply looks doomed. Typical of my sister to enjoy this type of rubbish. She banged on about Spiral for about three years until I finally snapped and told her I thought it was crap because IT DOESN’T HAVE A SINGLE LIKEABLE CHARACTER. She tossed my thesis aside and carried on bigging it up. ‘The Eddy’ is black-hole TV. Its density and intensity is claustrophobic, suffocating. That could be seen as a good thing, of course. Except it’s a drama without a story. It’s an overlong character study. Nothing really happens. “Sweaty Parisian club owner feels the pinch professionally and privately” isn’t exactly come-hither viewing on a Friday night in Lockdown.

Saturday 9, London There’s a story in the paper saying 8,000 more people have died since the start of the virus than would have in normal times. The story goes on to suggest that rather than bother an overstretched nhs, people simply stayed at home, curled up and died. Or possibly in more distressing circumstances.

📌 There was a lone magpie hopping around on the grass outside. My wife said that magpies mate for life, so something tragic must have happened. I offered an acrimonious divorce as a possibility and she gave me a derisive look.

📌 The Barbican asked me for 100 words about my experience working with them for the ‘Masculinities’ video workshop. I did 97: “Working with the Barbican’s Creative Learning team has been a joy because collaborative work is not easy right now. Artists are often loners, but I get my artistic energy from others, and from looking out rather than looking in. Finding partners who share that outlook is exciting and inspiring. Finding one that sits at the heart of your local community is even better. Beyond the new skills I’ve picked up, my Barbican  experience has taught me above all else that the artist is a citizen, and a society that stands by its artists is a strong one.”

📌 When I heard this morning of the new 14-day quarantine policy for people entering Britain, the words horse and stable-door came to mind. Kevin Maguire sniffs another, more sinister motive to the initiative.

📌 At this week’s Zoom coffee, we all wore hats.

The conversation centred on the imminent so-called “easing” of the stay-at home rules. Already a type of DIY anarchy has broken out and distancing guidelines casually binned. Maybe this is a city thing only, but it is growing and will be hard to stop unless cities take the powers into their own hands and decree what acceptable behaviour looks like.

📌 Meanwhile, Richard Herring put on his Thinking Cap.

📌 The Norwegian TV series ‘State of Happiness’ threw up an interesting look at debt. The fishing industry magnate is in debt to the banks as his family business battles to survive in a world where Big Oil is showing some muscle. His ‘difficult’ son Christian, who has run off to a job on an oil rig, is in debt to the single mother whose father he killed while drunk driving. Christian’s debts are emotional and psychological (one if his friends died saving his life); his father’s are financial and material. The father ‘owes’ his depressed and drugged-up wife. He ‘owes’ Christian’s on-off fiancé for passing him insider tips from her admin job in the oil business.

Sunday 10, London Two 30ish people stood outside Great Arthur House, two metres apart, chatting in a relaxed way – a man and a woman doing something we understand as normal. It seemed slightly perverse to study them from a distance, speculating on whether this was an example of ‘Love in the Lockdown’. There’s been a lot written about such encounters. One article speculated on the “return of the Jane Austen romance”, in which love letters pass between would-be lovers long before even a handshake is exchanged. The letter has been replaced by the dating app and its capacity for video meetings. The benefits of the slow-burn date are sold as safer than the quick hook-up. The emphasis is on the relationship over the lusty encounter. Lockdown lovers even devise sneaky ways to meet physically. They synchronise their visits to supermarkets, which offers an early test of suitability.

📌 Nicola Sturgeon said she doesn’t know what Boris’s “stay alert” message means to people on the street. She has told Scots to get out and exercise a bit more but to keep your distance from others and wear face coverings when in shops. She says she is committed to a four-nation approach, but “What will make the approach harder is if the UK government takes decisions for the four nations without consultation.”

📌 The latest loaf was done with 5-year-old yeast, so I was quite pleased with the outcome. The sideline attempt to make a burger roll was not such a triumph. I overdid the slow-cook part of the exercise. Rock-hard exoskeleton; soft interior.

I’ve tasted worse…

📌 The PMs statement to the nation cements the belief that, as with Brexit, the Conservative Party acts first out of self interest. The need to satisfy his party comes before the PMs concern about people dying or facing death. England is on its own in this folly. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will follow their own policies.

📌 Hilda Ogden’s house coat is nearly finished after a short delay, and the new Van der Valk series starring Marc Warren finished with a typically suspenseful shoot-out. It ended happily so I’m guessing a new series will air next year.

Monday 11, London There’s a sense today that this week could be a tipping point. The government has staggered into a statement about the way out of lockdown. The media is full of ridicule. Three of the four nations do not support it. Will England follow them, in which case trust and credibility are lost.

The ridicule is mounting… Matt Lucas put this out on social media. The ‘Boris Johnson’ voice is really good.

Sienna Rodgers in LabourList says this of the PM’s national address: “The [Johnson] statement was effectively a declaration of class war. Those who can work from home are more likely to be better paid, and they can protect themselves, whereas those in construction and manufacturing must put their lives on the line so that bosses can protect their profits.”

📌 Taz called to chat. She tells me that fasting at home is easier than at work. She said the tiredness is harder to deal with when you bundle in the daily challenge of the Central Line. I agreed to contact S because he has little in common with the people who live in his supported living place and he is probably terrified. I sent an email asking him a question about a pub in Matthew Street.

Tuesday 12, London The intention was to sit outside in the sunshine and work out what the hell was going on in ‘Killing Eve’. Every time we come back to this series I can’t remember where we got to. All I can be sure of is that Jodie Comer is an assassin with a twisted sense of humour and that Sandra Oh agonises about everything. I checked the internet to see if there was a handy summary, but they all seemed to start: “to understand where we are in ‘Killing Eve’, we need to go right back to Series 1 (we’re on Series 3)”. The confusion then gets multiplied out of all proportion as characters you can barely remember (and who are probably dead) are brought back to life. This is no help. I will ask my wife, “where are we?” before we start the next episode.

📌 The lone magpie is still wandering around the lawn, so yes, I guess something tragic must have happened.

📌 There’s a man in a high-viz tabbard pottering up on the roof of Bernard Morgan Penthouse (aka, The Denizen), but otherwise no building activity is visible. Just as I finished that last sentence, the crane started to move.

📌 Johnson has gone all Trump. It seems he didn’t check his Sunday address (“Stay Alert”) with the Chief Medical Officer beforehand. He has allowed 40,000 people to die so that he can follow his narrow political and economic fetishes. He is no longer “following the science”.

📌 I continued with Hilda Ogden’s curlers all the way through ‘The Darkest Hour’. The film came so highly recommended that it never crossed my mind that it could be a turkey. Maybe that’s unfair. Gary Oldman was rightly praised for slipping into Churchill’s skin. I also liked the performance by Kristin Scott-Thomas – maybe even above Oldman’s. But the story was stupidly jingoistic and very corny. There was a totally unconvincing young secretary character (the character, not the actor) who became Churchill’s moral compass, and the scene in which he got on a London tube train for the first time and asked “the people” whether he should negotiate with Hitler was 100% puke.

Wednesday 13, London This is the first day out of Lockdown, or at least the first day of the “easing” process. The PM’s new slogan, “Stay Alert”, has faced so much ridicule I felt it was improper not to join in. I have started to sign off my emails not with Stay Safe, but:

Stay Alert
Boo!! (just testing)
Billy

Lisa posted a funny clip on Twitter of her staying alert and hitting imaginary Covids with a wooden backscratcher.

📌 The Conversation has all the stories worth reading…

📌 The Chancellor of the Exchequer has extended the furlough scheme – a jobs-retention measure – until October. That seems like a good thing, but something tells me it’s actually a business subsidy that gives employers some time to decide the ways in which they’d like to exit the crisis. Many will choose to sack workers. In other words, it is a taxpayer-funded mini industrial massacre the government hopes it won’t get the blame for.

📌 Every day brings a new surprise delivery when the products I bought online after alcohol finally arrive. Today was especially exciting. I got a mixed set of Gütermann threads and a stainless steel knork.

The knork you’ve been waiting for…

📌 I gave myself a huge number of brownie points for solving the Kitchen Crisis. My wife noticed that when she opened the fridge door, the light did not come on. This probably meant the fridge was off. By a masterful stroke of deduction (prompted by my wife’s insistence that we needed to buy a new fridge), I urged a check of the main fuse box. The fuse had tripped. Reset switch, fridge light back on, and the characteristic whirring sound of an old fridge was music to our ears. The same problem had inflicted the cooker and a new fuse in the plug did a similar job in reviving a seemingly dead appliance. Working out what caused these electrical failures is still guesswork, which I will soon abandon until the next crisis.

📌 Keir Starmer apparently gave Bojo a right duffing up.

📌 My wife has never seen ‘Spooks’, so we went right back to Series 1 on iPlayer.

Thursday 14, London News arrives that Zoe Ball’s breakfast radio show has lost one million listeners. It is personally comforting to know that we are new additions to her cosy broadcasting parlour, bucking the trend and presumably making Zoe feel a micro-nano-teeny bit better about herself.

📌 I imagine a time in the near future when, despite the risks, to continue to opt out of or resist the drift “back to normal” will feel uncomfortable, and those who continue to protect their health will become outcasts by default. And they will see their tormentors as a self-selecting underclass.

📌 There’s a big ruck going on about excess mortality. April 2020 saw an increase of 50,000 deaths, but only a proportion of them because of Coronavirus. What the virus did do, however, is shape the way dying people shuffled off. The last moments and the funeral were dictated by the handling of the crisis. One man on Twitter reported “attending” his father’s death from his kitchen, alone on the phone.

📌 Hilda’s curlers were a pest, but, I’m quite enjoying the hair.

📌 Another day, another mystery delivery arrives, this time some T-shirts from Uniqlo.

📌 I didn’t make the Headway art session this morning, but Emily sent me the still life they did, and this was my belated effort. Very quick and very sloppy. That is NOT a baguette next to the bowl of things that hopefully look like lemons. It is some kind of grooved artisanal stick, or maybe an ethnic musical instrument.

📌 The Liftup (as opposed to Lockdown) is progressing.

📌 I’m now back in touch with Stuart, and understandably he’s been streamoftexting. The banter we used to do face to face is now done with our thumbs. He reminded me about a pub on Matthew Street, The Grapes, and reminisced about a night in the Everyman Bistro with Julian Cope. He said something I wrote reminded him of John Betjeman. I corrected his misspelling of the poet’s surname and said thank you.

Friday 15, London The Morning Star is not biting its tongue.

I stopped reading this article when I came across a sentence referencing the “Office of National Statistics”.

📌 Cristina sent me a picture of what a friend did with the ‘Masculinities’ tutorial thingy.

And one Michelle sent me by Dave.

📌 Andy has gone off on one about the new libertarian Liftup trend.

📌 It’s fun browsing Wish trying to work out what some of the products are.

📌 Some weird things on Twitter just tickle me.

📌 We did the monoprinting workshop on Zoom with some of the people from the Barbican Creative Learning team. It was a fun way for them to end the working week. ‘Masculinities’ assistant curator Chris Bayley joined us to talk about the images and themes of the exhibition. I never thought the social side of the workshop could work remotely, but it did. I watched their behaviour throughout. Beth and her sister Becky seemed well into it. Josie, too. The project was always meant to be a conversation springboard and a way to share different ways of seeing. It also works well as a fun and easy way to study art appreciation (history, theory, methods, aesthetics).

Saturday 16, London At the end of the Zoom coffee morning (theme = blue), Brian told us that Leila died in hospital yesterday, age 91.

📌 Dermot O’Leary is recommending a Netflix series called ‘White Lines’. Might give that a go tonight.

📌 How a new loaf looks has probably become just as important as its taste. Quite impressed with this one.

📌 We did the Headway fundraising Zoom quiz and watched ‘State of Happiness’, which I noticed is nudging into feminism by making the women the smartest and most skilful players in 1970s Norway.

Sunday 17, London Gill got me into the Acute Art app, which does the Augmented Reality (AR) thing. She has been wandering around London placing a constipated puffin in various locations. It starts to have a much-needed crap then thinks better of it and pulls out of the manoeuvre. I fiddled with the app and accidentally got a cartoon character dancing around our living room under the Northern Lights.

📌 There were two magpies on the lawn, but they each kept themselves to themselves.

📌 Just as I was starting to believe the country was in the grip of a new kind of authoritarian rule, Andrew Rawnsley claims the PM’s power is dissolving as the list of government screw-ups grows by the day, and loyalty with it.

📌 The experiment in oven-made flatbread was a failure. I think it’s time to stop experimenting and stick to the recipe.

📌 Beth’s sister Becky posted the picture she did at the Barbican Zoom print workshop.

📌 My wife has been watching a dubious TV programme on the sly. I caught her glued to a spectacle called ‘1000lb Sisters’, which details the ups and downs of two grossly overweight American women. The title of the programme is derived from the fact that one of the sisters weighs 600lb and the other, the skinny one, 400lb. The banality of their conversations is no different to anyone else’s banality. Their fatness is what gives them their edge. My wife’s quote is: “Behind every overweight person there is someone who assists and enables them. They’re too fat to shop for food, so someone does it for them. There’s always a husband or a boyfriend doing it. It’s a form of abuse.”

📌 In ‘Spooks’ Matthew Macfadyean is suffering the consequences of telling his girlfriend he is a spy. “I’m not Matthew, I’m Tom” was how he put it. She pissed off pronto with her daughter Maisie (who seemed OK with Matthew being Tom) and slammed the door in Tom’s face.

Monday 18, London The Labour party senses a weakness in the government and is turning up the antagonism dial. Keir Starmer has exposed the PM as a blustering arsehole and now Ed Miliband has picked up the soul of the Green New Deal pioneered previously by Rebecca Long Bailey and rebranded it as an Atlee style post-Covid initiative to create jobs and revive the economy.

📌 On a walk round the Barbican. The light shining through the narrow fort slits seemed symbolic 

📌 A Sketch from one of Beth’s Instagram pictures. I liked the shape. 

I called it ‘Razz Girls 2’ after the original ‘Razz Girls’ I did a few years ago.

📌 Pete posted a picture on Facebook of a sign at his local tennis court. Instruction number 3 is: “Avoid handling your opponent’s balls”.

Tuesday 19, London Got a message from Fiona. She is punting a study to adapt Bridges methods for post-Covid patients. She asked if I’d do a 200-word lay summary. I said yes.

📌 Hilda’s hair is thickening.

📌 I had intended to unearth some old pictures and write blog posts about them. I was going to start with this composite I did after listening to the IWM ‘Voices of the First World War’ series.

The picture imagined the eternal sleep of a dead WW1 soldier and his everlasting erotic fantasy of Lautrec’s ‘Woman Putting On Her Stocking’. I flipped the image and used a lot of smudge to try and make it dreamy. The luxuriance of the poppies in the child’s painting gives it a vast ocean-like feel.

📌 I spotted that some of my summer clothes were “missing”. My wife said she could remember a suitcase labelled “Billy’s Summer Archive”. She was right, sort of. There were two of them in the basement storage room.

📌 A huge question mark still hangs over pretty much everything. We had a conversation about living in London. I wondered whether the virus crisis would spawn a genuine widespread love of the Slow Movement and its emphasis on life lived gently. My wife thought not. We agreed that big cities are points of intensity and density, and that the busyness and the congestion are organic. Their economies also rely on them being naturally packed and a bit claustrophobic. But we also agreed that if the thing that makes London attractive for us is gone (the culture, the access to travel points, mainly), then we really don’t need to be here.

Wednesday 20, London I can’t be the only one who’s had the passing thought that at some point our prime minister calculated how many virus deaths could be parlayed into some sort of national sacrifice. It is a cynical view, but one obviously shared by others, as evidenced from this TV clip that appeared under the #WhereIsJohnson trending hashtag.

📌 Some things simply don’t change, virus or no virus. The woman with the frizzy hair and ridiculous pink shoes is standing in front of the estate office, clutching a document and talking into a mobile phone.

📌 We did a short still-life session on Zoom while an ITV crew filmed from Michelle’s place. Then one of them, Katie, interviewed me about the lockdown and how I was coping. It will be good publicity for the studio and Headway – if it appears. This is my go at the vase, bottle and fish with a hat on that Michelle found among her arty possessions.

📌 This news is no big surprise.

📌 My wife reckons the contestants on ‘Pointless’ have twigged to the persistent inclusion of a question about the ever-changing Periodic Table of Elements. They know to swot up.

📌 We finally watched the Gogglebox clip of the PM’s speech last week when he switched to the “stay alert” message that caused so much ridicule. It’s hilarious.

📌 Got a message from Angelina to say she saw me on the ITV news. She didn’t notice the Magnum PI shirt I was wearing.

Thursday 21, London My wife bought a David Shrigley face mask for £35. He is selling them to raise money for a fund for museums and galleries to buy art. There’s big concern at the moment as to how cultural enterprises and those who work in them will survive with their income cut off. Actors are screwed. Lots of galleries and music venues are doing stuff online, but no one knows how long it will be before audienced performances can restart.

📌 Kevin Maguire has been consistent in his skewering of the government over its viral failures and relishes the opportunity to shove the knife in a bit further.

📌 Stories about people flocking to the seaside and crowding the beaches have become the media’s sanctimonious standby. I rarely take part in blaming the messenger and often resist, so this picture of Paul’s from Brighton is here because it’s a good picture.

📌 Hilda Ogden is starting to look really scary.

📌 Did a Headway Open Studio Zoom session on life drawing, which I never expected to enjoy but did. First we did a 3-minute sketch of Alex, a hat and a fan.

Then it got complicated. Alex in a photo shoot, still featuring hat and fan but now with the addition of plants, colours, a chair and a rescue dog called Nova.

📌 Sarah hosted a Thursday Members Zoom meeting. It was Yoki’s birthday and Suzanne was chuffed because everyone’s name was written on the screen, so she never forgot who we were. Until Chris and I started a game of name tennis. When he renamed himself Donald Duck, I replied with Donald Trump. Suzanne was suffering from “no Scrabble” withdrawal symptoms. Michelle said she had spoken to Tony Brooks and that he missed everyone, “especially the women”.

📌 We won the Brighton Zoom quiz. I got synovial fluid right.

Friday 22, London The government have done a u-turn on charging immigrant health workers to use the nhs. John Crace has a pretty good summary of this fiasco in the Guardian.

📌 Michelle’s Community Creative Challenge today is all about birds, so I wrote this…

Lockdown Love Lives
There’s a lone magpie on the grass outside.
Jane says that’s a sign.
That something tragic’s happened.
There’s a lone boy blackbird stood on the roof opposite.
Singing his heart out.
I hope he gets a girlfriend soon.

📌 Then she sent me these images from the Barbican workshop thing.

Then another one turned up.

📌 Michelle asked for some Hilda pictures for Instagram.

📌 At the family Zoom, H&S told us about their day trip to Seacombe. They went into Morrison’s for a Meal Deal and witnessed an incident of “Coronarage” when one man brushed past another, made too much physical contact and was given a “keep your distance” reminder in return. There followed a nasty exchange of words and what H&S described as “distance glaring”.

📌 My cousins believe Boris will jack it in soon. Kate says he looks bored and knackered. I believe he is a coward, not up to  4 years of unglamorous, no fun responsibility.

Saturday 23, London My sister asked on WhatsApp whether “Domiic Twatface” was doomed. My answer was: “The narrative (‘different rules for different folks’) has overtaken the facts, so if he doesn’t go, the saloon doors to Wild West UK are officially open.”

📌 Shirley sent us a link to a blog she wrote for a carers’ group about caring during Ramadan. It told me a lot of things I never knew about Muslim culture, and about her own family life.

📌 Stuart has resurfaced via email. We lost contact because I used up the 100 monthly text-messages my phone contract allows. Nudging him on to email instead was not easy, but he twigged eventually and the streamofconfabulation resumed with a story about how he once had a job as a bingo caller in a home for deaf geriatrics on the Isle of Wight.

Sunday 24, London The “Save Dom” message put out by the government last night is getting ripped to shreds.

📌 I don’t think Boris is a wartime consiglieri. Andrew Rawnsley writes in the Observer: “Public confidence in the government’s handling of the epidemic is badly corroded when key figures behave as if the rules apply to everyone but themselves. When trust, so absolutely essential to the handling of this crisis, is abused and diminished, the public loses faith in the calibre and integrity of decision-makers.”

📌 Shirley’s prep for a family Eid looked like a lot of work.

She says it will be the first time all the family from across the globe will have been together. The irony of that is almost too beautiful.

📌 We had to initiate an investigation to work out who the celebrities were on ‘Celebrity Come Dine With Me’. There were two women, Dawn and Charlotte, with an age difference of about 25 years but a very similar relationship with plastic surgery, and a man with a neat beard who was described as a professional Instagrammer. There was another beardy fella, an actor from ‘The Office’, and that gormless character Ashley from Coronation Street. My wife managed to discover that Charlotte was from ‘Geordie Shore’ and that Dawn was from ‘Real Housewives of Cheshire’. She had servants and a glass floor in her living room.

📌 The Alfie stitchwork project is coming along nicely.

📌 The Prime Minister has made a speech in defence of his deviant aide Cummings. Twitter is on fire with indignation, and not just from the chatterati – mothers who could not visit their dying children. People who buried their parents “remotely”.

Monday 25, London In backing his closest advisor the PM has boxed himself in. He signalled in his speech that it’s OK to act on “instinct”. If the public applies that to themselves, the consequences will rest solely with Boris. Maybe this is what Cummings wanted.

📌 A community worker from Newham was on the radio saying that old residents believe that the government is trying to “bump them off”. Get rid of the old and needy, that is the message they are getting.

📌 Stuart is mildly obsessed with Wanda Ventham.

📌 The changes in society that many predict will arrive in the wake of the pandemic will be suffocated at birth, argues Nesrine Malik in the Guardian.

📌 Was it a deliberate intention to make the Barbican a cryptic puzzle? It is certainly a masterpiece of intrigue and discovery. A curiosity greets you at every turn. I leave always wanting to return.

Tuesday 26, London Mark Steel doesn’t need an invitation to wade on the gift that keeps giving.

📌 My calendar is so empty I don’t check it very often. Then I get the idea that I have something scheduled at some time or other and look at it.

📌 Dominic Cummings has now been accused of arriving back in London from his Coronatrip to Durham and promptly doctoring his blog to make out he prophesied the pandemic all along.

📌 There are no Lockdown rules, or even Lockdown etiquette. It’s a free-for-all out there, so I have a great excuse to stay in and watch the planned Cummings-Johnson anarchy unfold.

📌 Don’t mess with something that’s finished is a golden rule that always seems to slip my mind. So at the instigation of my wife, I finished ‘Alfie’ and bagged it in polythene.

📌 At the Open Studio session last week, we did life-drawing and Alex styled a brilliant shot of her in a hat, with some plants and her dog. My version looked like this…

…but Sam’s version just appeared and it is awesome…

📌 I hear that “bubbles” are the new way out of the virus crisis.

Wednesday 27, London I sent a link to this amusing Newsbiscuit story to Stuart and Chris.

Then I read another story saying we should all be ashamed of ourselves for laughing at Dominic Cummings, regardless of what an arsehole he is. Bullying is bullying, it said, and I had some sympathy with the argument. 

📌 I also sent photographs of my complete stitchwork collection to Michelle and Laura. I have a dodgy old hanging rail in the shed downstairs that will complete the presentation.

📌 Posted this snip from last week’s diary on Instagram.

📌 ‘Eggheads’ was fascinating because the contestants were deaf, some of them totally, and requiring signers to assist.

📌 There was a climber practising his moves scaling the knobbly wall of Basterfield rotunda.

📌 The ‘Telegraph’ reports that the Queen has given Boris Johnson permission to exercise in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. He’s also been using Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s gaff. He’s scared of being attacked if he shows his face in a public place.

📌 The ‘Morning Star’ reports a 100,000 surge in union membership.

Thursday 28, London We recently signed up to get a weekly fruit & veg Oddbox. They delivered it overnight and left it outside the front door. This morning we opened it, marvelled at the size of the cabbage and jointly declared the whole experience to be just like Christmas.

📌 Gill posted this picture on Instagram with a question asking when hairdressers are likely to open.

📌 This is a bit of textwork I posted on Facebook one year ago.

📌 My wife justified herself to the postman, Eric. She was ashamed to be opening the door to him in her nightie at 9am, so this morning she got up, went for a run, came home and greeted Eric in her running gear. “You shamed me,” she told him. I really don’t think Eric gives a toss what people are wearing when they open the door to him.

📌 We did Frida Kahlo in the Open Studio Zoomer and got a chance to snoop around her house online with Alex. In the drawing session, I managed to make Frida look like a beaky Queen Victoria on the front of a ship.

📌 Newsnight presenter Emily Maitliss did not deliver the programme last night. She was pulled from the chair because she was deemed to have breached BBC impartiality rules in her introduction to the Dominic Cummings story. Social media went berserk and she thanked well-wishers for their support. The whole vibe of this event feels to me like she was told in advance to say what she wants, but would get a public ticking off.

📌 At the end of the Brighton Zoom quiz, Jaq exclaimed from her sunny garden, “Shit, there’s a fly in my chardonnay”. And Sue told us that Andy T had died of cancer.

Friday 29, London Full Fact reports that, contrary to stories circulating, Dominic Cummings’ sister is not in charge of the much-vaunted new track-and-trace app.

📌 It’s the beauty of people going about their ordinary lives that I miss most.

📌 Eli has been posting a brilliant series of pictures showing the ice-cream war that is unfolding on her doorstep. It’s soap-opera addictive.

📌 Just spotted this picture of “Henri and Margaux” in Brussels.

📌 Our new washing machine plays a ridiculous plinky-plonk tune when it’s finished.

📌 The other day I suggested to Michelle that Sam should do some more styled shots, or even classic poses. I suggested one, and look what just arrived…

📌 During the family Zoom, I got hooked by the picture on the wall behind my sister. It was a ‘Yoann’, and on close inspection it is even better than it appears in a Zoom box.

And my cousin Helen told us about a man named Bernard Castle who is being confused with Barnard Castle.

📌 It was revealed on HIGNFY that doing a “Barney Castle” is an old English expression for telling lies.

Saturday 30, London If your mind has been boggled by the multiple layers of government incompetence and stupidity, it can only have been further boggled by the anonymous writer spilling the beans on the new track-and-trace system.

📌 The theme for this week’s Covid Coffee & Chat was red. Gill’s wig won the show.

📌 We listened to the first airing of Culture Mile’s radio show. Brian was featured eating a burger and we sussed out the Local Legends slot, on which I am due to appear next week. The two presenters, Hunt & Darton, don’t seem too stupid for people who wear old BBC2 aerials on their heads. They are more like art-school situationists, so I think I can rely on a few prompts to keep talking. I tried to work out if they always stood like Ant & Dec do, with Jenny Hunt on our left and Holly Darton on our right. That test proved inconclusive. I am mildly dreading not being able to tell which one I’m talking to, as their voices are not drastically dissimilar. 

📌 In a bit of media bitchery, Emily Maitliss tweeted: “Just had disciplinary meeting with BBC bosses, following my little truth outburst & they’ve explained going forwards they expect me to be just like my friend & colleague Laura Kuenssberg, but I don’t think I have ‘gooey-eyed Johnson fan girl’ in me. I could vomit. Emily x”

Sunday, London The actor Ralf Little has told of his decision not to clap for the nhs every Thursday. On Twitter, he wrote: “I’ll continue to march for it, protest for it, advocate for it, stay at home for it, and most importantly, vote for those who actually support it.” 

📌 A new month means a new idea, so I’ve decided to restart this diary’s ‘Pullquote Pictures’.

📌 My cousin Kate had said at family Zooms how she really missed the football and how miserable it made her, but I never quite took it seriously. I finally understood today I heard the footie talk on 5Live. Looks like I’d been pining likewise but never noticed it. The Premier League is due to restart on 17 June.

📌 I wonder if the outfall from the pandemic will include ‘Covid Veterans’, just like war veterans who are permanently maladjusted and get no support for the state. Bruce Springsteen could do a whole album on that.

📌 The UK response to the George Floyd killing in Minnesota is surprising. The Black Lives Matter movement is moving.

Read my April 2020 diary.

This time last year: read my May 2019 Diary.

3 thoughts on “Diary: May 2020

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