Diary: October 2019

First published November 2019

Includes the never-ending saga of Brexit, a fun day pretending to be an archivist, plus trips to Spain, Bristol and Chichester

Friday 4, London
Once again Gary Younge captures my thoughts, saying if you want to remain in the EU, Corbyn’s Labour is the only option. I would add that if you want a non-catastrophic Brexit, the same vote applies.


Sunday 6, London
In the upper undercover concrete space between the Golden Lane Estate pool and the badminton court, a young couple stopped, put a bluetooth speaker on the ledge, turned on some music from a phone and started to practise their ballroom dancing steps.

Monday 7, London
There is a suggestion circulating that Jeremy Corbyn becomes temporary PM to resolve the Brexit blockage, followed quickly by a General Election?

A letter in this morning’s Guardian adds to the debate as to whether MPs should back a Corbyn-led emergency government (or GNUT, meaning Government of National Unity) for a short period only to implement a Brexit extension to sort out a General Election and/or a second EU referendum.

Gary Younge’s article (For those who want to stop no deal, Corbyn is the only hope, 4 October) made me rack my brains again to try to understand the consensus of aversion against Jeremy Corbyn. He is obviously not a very good leader and not very charismatic, but I can see nothing that justifies the volume of prejudice against him. The issue that makes him “unfit” to be prime minister seems to be that he is accused of promoting a “hard left” or “extreme left” agenda. When I look at the policies promoted by the Labour Party under his leadership (a party of which I am not a member, or even a voter), I am baffled by such a description.

For me, “hard left” or “extreme left” implies a rigid state authority imposing a universalist state economy and social levelling, with insufficient priority for values of democracy or tolerance or personal freedom. The Labour party under Corbyn is nothing of this kind, promoting, yes, greater state management and regulation of the economy and greater equality, but simply as a push towards a more mixed economy and a necessary rebalancing after 40 years of continuous rightwing neoliberal change. Little that they propose would have been out of place in a Liberal or Social Democratic party manifesto of former times. Nor do I detect any sympathy with undemocratic, intolerant or illiberal means to achieve these limited ends.

The leader of the Labour party has always suffered from the vilification and smears of the predominant rightwing press, but what has given this propaganda much greater traction with the public in Corbyn’s case is the support for this campaign by significant elements within the Labour party, including very many MPs, and their lack of any meaningful support for their elected leader. I am dismayed that, faced with the genuine unfitness of Boris Johnson and his odious team, the next election will be lost to progressives as a result.”

Stephen Smith

Tuesday 8, London
S sent news on WhatsApp that she had reported J as a missing person to the police. She had also contacted the GP surgery and UCLH.
More news from S that police had spoken to J, that she was alive, had not been well and did not want the police to inform anyone.
None of our local group has seen or heard from J in more than a month. She stopped posting her daily buddhist 🙏 messages on WhatsApp and did not come to the Sunday-night pub quiz in the Artillery Arms. She did not respond to any calls, emails or text messages and didn’t turn up to a screen showing of the play Fleabag, which we knew she had pre-booked and was looking forward to.

Wednesday 9, Stansted Airport
The Vegan Gourmet Burger in Wetherspoons is £11.99.
Some noisy pricks behind us on the plane just boarded and sat in the wrong seats. There then followed a stupid exchange in which staff were forced to move passengers around because these knobheads decided that the seat number on their boarding pass did not apply to them. 

Thursday 10, Calonge, Catalonia, Spain
Yesterday was a real bummer and sent me to bed feeling stupid and very down. As usual, air transport, in this case from London Stansted to Girona, took its toll on my spirit. Then later, when preparing for bed, I accidentally sat on my reading glasses (with expensive prismatic lenses for my double vision) and they snapped at the bridge.

Araldite and gaffatape, a lifesaving combo.

Saturday 12, Calonge, Catalonia, Spain
In the news… Puppet PM rolls up his strings.
I am reading in the Guardian that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has just entered 48 hours of “intense negotiations” with the EU on the stubborn issue of the Irish border, in the hope that this will seal a successful Brexit deal by 31 October.

I was reading yesterday an essay about former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who has recently published a memoir. I learned from the essay that Dominic Cummings, the man commonly described as Boris Johnson’s puppet master, has been pulling strings in the Conservative Party for some considerable time.

His handicraft even extends to the party’s very own Dr Evil, Michael Gove, so if by some grotesque error in public decision-making, the Conservative Party is re-installed as the party of Government in an upcoming General Election, steady nerves will be useful.

Cummings is quite obviously a seasoned operator among selected Tories, yet it’s been claimed he hates the Conservatives and that his sly manoeuverings are actually a twisted act of vengeance. 

This makes the Bond-movie story device in this saga even more alluring. Maybe next we will discover that this final push by Johnson to get a deal with both the EU and the UK Parliament, is in reality Cummings’ last-ditch attempt to turn his Tory puppet into a proper Prime Minister. That would make a good movie.

Tuesday 15, London
Some pictures from our visit to Spain.

Sunday 20, London

The government’s desperation to stampede parliament into signing off on the deal was further illustrated by its point-blank refusal to publish any analysis of its economic impact.

Andrew Rawnsley, the Observer

Yesterday was the Barbican Archive Residency Weekend and I was given a table and a TV screen to display my Golden Lane Collection. I also featured on the Archive Jukebox talking about the Golden Lane Estate. The event was a good first step to opening an interest in the estate to the public. We had some enjoyable conversations and heard some fascinating recollections.

Barbara looks really excited
Me in the peasant’s hat I stole from the RSC, plus archive photo showing same

The icing on the cake came afterwards during a talk with a group of building workers who went on strike during the construction of the Barbican. A range of views came out, from the militancy of the unions and the corrosive bonus culture used by the bosses in a cynical way to the seeming absurdity of the job demarcation rules that meant simple tasks could not be performed by anyone from the ‘wrong’ union. One member of the audience (himself a lefty builder) argued in the QA afterwards that demarcation was an important way to safeguard solidarity among the workers.

The strange feeling was that although this all seemed part of a past that has long gone and of the prevalence of a mass-workforce industrial model, the issues are still alive and a generation of young workers are about to be pushed into re-enacting that battle for better conditions. I wonder how they will handle it since Britain now has a fragmented workforce. Can the unions pull them together in the fight?

Monday 21, London
I heard last night that Deborah had died. I hadn’t been in touch with her since Preston’s death in January last year, after which I wrote my own tribute to him. I had read that Deborah had been suffering a blood condition, but Libby reports in today’s Guardian that the cancer returned in August and that did her in. Lots of great memories. Thanks, Debs.

Deborah Orr: I used to call her The Mad Witch of Motherwell

To Barbican Cinema to see Joker, a overpoweringly gothic movie that lays out a theoretical backstory to the life of the famous enemy of Batman. 

Yes, very dark and edgy, uncomfortable in places, funny in others. There is a climactic incident in which Joker shoots a celebrity TV presenter live on screen. The timing is a perfect piece of movie manipulation. Joker’s tragedy had built to such an intense moment that the only release left available to those watching was laughter, and I duly burst one out as the slimy TV presenter’s head took Joker’s bullet. Great performance by Joaquin Phoenix as Joker, which for me echoed Robert de Niro in Taxi Driver. And De Niro played the cheesy TV presenter as a kind of extension to King of Comedy.

Wednesday 23, London

Parliament has a very great deal to be proud of in its stubborn, patient insistence on its rights in the Brexit debates. Those debates, including this week’s, have been of high quality.

Martin Kettle, the Guardian

Picture taken from the 56 bus stop on Goswell Road at the junction with Old Street, London.

Homeless is where the heart is

Thursday 24, Hackney
I have joined the studio’s preparations for an exhibition and workshops at the Autograph gallery in Shoreditch for March 2020. We are discovering stitchwork, fabrics and textiles. These are two monoprints on to fabric which I will complete with some stitching. They are copies of two photographs from Autograph’s archive collection,  ‘Missing Chapter: Black Chronicles’.

Plus some monoprint tests I did using cut-price materials from Poundland. The idea is to do a social workshop called the Poundland Masterpieces, in which a bunch of strangers sit around a big table with a beer and some Pringles and make great pictures. They use cheap tracing paper, coloured crayons and ballpoint pens.

I have quite a few if these prints in my studio scrapbook. The ones I like most are of footballers in action, including prints of these two sketches I did a while ago.

I’m really enjoying this process because I can scratch around and fiddle with images to my heart’s content. Not sure what will happen when I pick up a needle and thread, but, hey, what can possibly go wrong?

Friday 25, Bristol
As we neared Temple Meads station, our driver told us that the GWR train we were riding in was about to be renamed the Johnny Johnson and that Johnny himself, a now 93-year-old war veteran and legendary Dam Buster, would meet us off the train (Wiki says Johnny is in fact 97). Needless to say, Johnny was swamped by passengers and unable to tell me what he thought of the movie version of the Dam Busters story. Bristol is all Banksy and Brunel. And Wallace & Gromit.

To the Tobacco Factory Theatres to see Rachael and Lisa do Still No Idea at the Spielman Theatre. Much Ado is on at the Factory Theatre at the same time.

We met up with Lisa and Rachael for a drink after the show, during which Lisa told us a funny story from her childhood about how she would sit in a pram outside Safeway in Cherry Tree Walk pleading, “penny for the guy”. She said her mother would give her a smack and send her home to bed for the crime of begging. Then Rachael started to improvise a ‘Psycho’-style sketch in which Lisa was Norman Bates and Rachael his mother.

Nice hotel

Sunday 28, Bristol

In Millennium Square there is a ‘Solar Tree’ at which you can charge your phone
Ruth is impressed with the gift of Margaret’s dangly earrings
At Bristol Old Vic restaurant, 1776

Wiki says Bristol Old Vic is the oldest English-language speaking theatre in the world. The waiter told us that many of the restaurant’s staff are “frustrated creatives”. I liked the rhyme.


And the building opposite
Still shot of a feminist film playing in a room at the Arnolfini gallery

Monday 29, Bristol

Preparing to leave, I made a montage.

Thursday 31, Chichester
We are here to see Jane’s cousin Michael in a play called Sing Yer Hearts Out For The Lads, in which he plays Alan, a pub antagonist stirring up racial hatred and crude nationalism during the screening of an England vs Germany football match in the early Noughties.

Top theatre in a tent

Read September’s diary

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