Diary: September 2020

TUESDAY 1 There was a minister on the radio saying that from today workers will be ushered gently back to their workplaces. Then someone else came on saying they should be forced back because people working from home have “become lazy”.

# Just found an illustration I did at the weekend after reading a political article.


# I think Tax might be the next big protest moment.

From the Morning Star…

# The fig looks a bit sorry for itself. Now watered.


And I think I’ve killed the fuchsia.


# To Margaret’s birthday lunch in East Croydon. Train from Farringdon, then taxi to Coombe Lodge Harvester.


Calamari and Scampi, then into the massive garden where someone thought it was a good idea to torture a wasp.


WEDNESDAY 2 The Hackney Citizen reports on a crisis with “off-rolling” in schools.

# Walked to Headway along Hoxton Street. It was nice to see the market coming to life and the Monster Supplies Shop still in business.


It was nice also to see some old faces at Headway and the Timber Wharf centre readying to reopen.


I did an interview for a promo film and posed in the studio for a load of stills. It dragged on a bit but was no real sweat. I quite enjoyed being ‘directed’ to ‘stare thoughtfully’ at the canal. Thomas’s boat was a useful distraction.


In the studio I found some old paintings and gave one to the photographer. The buses are starting to fill up, and some passengers do not wear face coverings. The drivers have no authority so the only option is to get off.

Hen girls in ever-changing outfits…

# We met Jaq & Lynne in Covent Garden and had a disappointing meal at The Ivy. Then onto the Piazza for more drinks, outside, in the rain.

THURSDAY 3 Amanda is moaning on Twitter that the helicopters over the Barbican are causing so much rattle she’s scared her fillings might drop out.

# Larry Elliott in the Guardian ponders Britain’s economic future by taking a sober look back at the past…

‘A potted modern economic history of Britain goes like this. The country industrialises in the 18th century and becomes top dog in the decades after the Napoleonic wars. It’s already suffering from relative decline by the second half of the 19th century. It never really addresses problems of 20th-century industrial decay, because of smug complacency fostered by victories in two world wars. It has a touching belief in quick fixes to address poor skills, weak investment, rotten management, low levels of innovation and a short-termist financial system.’

# At Tate Modern to meet Jaq and Lynne – there to see the Warhol exhibition – I noticed for the first time how much I like artworks that use shadow. Not in the painting of shadow but by creating a piece that casts a shadow, with textiles for example.

FRIDAY 4 We have persisted with the entire box set of Spooks on the BBC iPlayer, despite its chronic descent into bad acting and the worst spy clichés of all time. We are now at Series 9, and in the latest episode China is cast as the Evil Empire with a mission to claim world domination by cornering the market in desalination technology. When their attempt to kidnap a key scientist is foiled by our intrepid Spooks, they threaten to detonate a Big Bomb in Borough Market, London. The possibility of body parts and blood being sploshed all over the London Bridge area is real, so one of the younger Spooks steals a motorbike (with helmet), hastens to the location of the bomb, crawls under the parked van in which it is housed and defuses it with the raw flame from a Zippo cigarette lighter. Phew!

# I missed the Headway Open Studio Zoom session this week, so Alex sent me this week’s study, based on an image currently showing in the Barbican exhibition by Toyin Ojih Odutola. This was my effort…


# Spooks took another turn down the dead-end-street of implausibility in the one about the Arab-Israeli conflict (Series 9). My wife got quite agitated about its ridiculousness and went to potter in the kitchen.

# On page 140 (Kindle) of George Orwell’s Coming Up For Air, the main character, George Bowling, announces, “Well, Hilda and I were married, and right from the start it was a flop.” George also uses the verb “glooming” to describe Hilda’s attitude towards money and the bills, etc.

SATURDAY 5 An e-shot from the London Mayor’s office (department of Culture) has news of a brilliant new project in Barking called A House for Artists, which offers homes to 12 artists and their families at below market rates, in return for delivering a year-round programme for the local community. This is what the Golden Lane Estate should be.

# My wife thinks Dermot O’Leary’s latest Mystery Voice is Sandra Oh.

# I’m still reeling from the humiliation of suggesting (prompted by a message from Netflix) a film to watch we’d already seen. It was called Room, and yes, it was very good.

# Marina Hyde’s column contains another epic line skewering of the government: “I don’t mean to teach these geniuses how to suck eggs, but it does feel likely that at some point a lot of Britons will get pissed off at being continually told they’re not doing any work…”

# Stuart sent an account of his fall that included the rhyming of the words “just desserts” with “hurts”. I replied that yesterday we couldn’t have our usual Friday Night Angel Delight because we’d run out of milk waiting for the Sainsbury’s delivery.

# String is prattling on about porridge again. He’s starting to sound quite pompous about it.

# Another blogger said he was going to write about things slipping through the cracks, but ran over his 250-word limit before he got started. As usual he was complaining about the performance of the WordPress editor.

# Food sites are spamming my blog.

# We had a very snappy afternoon trying to switch broadband channels and getting the tellybox to talk to it. While all the bickering reached snarling point, Blackpool went two up against Liverpool. Final score: Liverpool 5-2 Blackpool.

SUNDAY 6 I got told off for buying an old overpriced rubbery cauliflower from the street stall instead of stepping into a Covid-infested supermarket.

# Our neighbour Dave came round with his theodolite to take a few measurements.

# The Wee Ginger Dug reports that Ruth Davidson is pissed off by people calling her “Baroness Davidson”. The Dug says she had a real pop at someone from the BBC about it.

# Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer, observes: “This is a government characterised even by its own supporters as one for whom a successful period is getting through a day without performing more than one Uturn.”

# Someone called Hugh wants me to sign his petition on Change.Org to force the government to build more hedgehog highways.

MONDAY 7 Stuart says Pam’s Dad once got shipwrecked in the Pacific and only survived by eating bananas for a week.

# Blog quotes like this one are worth preserving: “For a little light relief, I transported Jackie’s clippings to the compost bin and bagged up some of the woody material”. I instantly named it Carry On Clipping.

# In the series penultimate of Strike, Cormoran and Robin conveniently became single. Robin had a tricky moment with her gawpy fella after finding his floozy’s diamond earring on the rug next to the bed.

# I got told off again, for shaving too loudly. Shortly after my stroke, a friend recommended a whizzy Braun electric shaver you could use in the shower. It sits in its charging station on my bedside table, waiting to be lifted and carried to the bathroom. But sometimes I shave in bed. That’s when my wife complained it was too loud, during the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show.

# String has done a brilliant ranty blogpost about the state of Britain and its great new achievement – a record for creating the world’s biggest Wotsit at 10.66m.

# Brexit is back on the agenda. Boris is trying to punt a change to the Withdrawl Agreement signed in January that will unhinge Northern Ireland totally from the EU. The radio is replaying the interview in which he said the Deal was “oven ready”. All it needed was to go in the microwave. Jeremy Vine, the presenter, said if you put a ready meal in the microwave, you’ll probably start a fire.

# More young people are getting Covid, so health minister Hancock has issued a plea for them to act sensibly and show common sense. Good luck with that, Matt.

# In wondering why Spooks got so rubbish after Series 3, it crossed my mind that maybe MI5 complained to the BBC that it was too close to reality and a risk to national security. So the Beeb crapped it up to fool our enemies into thinking we really do defuse bombs with 850watt microwave ovens from Argos and fake Zippo lighters off that shifty-looking man at the market.

# Alex sent me an inverted version of my Toyin image (see above). I think it’s fab, so I’ll work on that some more.


TUESDAY 8 A piece in The Conversation tells of the EU’s dubious role in Bolivia’s drug-control efforts.


# I got told off again, this time for leaving the teabag in the tea cup. The story gets funnier, though, because my wife then put the empty tea cup with bag into the dishwasher. An hour later she opened up to find the bag still intact.

# I love getting pictures from Sam. Her personality is in all of them and I can always imagine her on the other side of the studio, deep in concentration. You don’t know what you miss until it’s not there anymore. This one is from a recent Open Studio session on Zoom.


And for comparison, here is what I managed from the same session.


# Stuart got Elmore James and Elmore Leonard mixed up.

# Stuart also took a brief step into Pseud’s Corner when referring to the Young Marble Giants album Colossal Youth as having “all the freshness and insouciance of a Picasso sketch as opposed to a heavy Rembrandt oil”.

WEDNESDAY 9 You never know what’s in your Inbox until you look. Or in Stuart’s case until you find the thing you can’t even remember losing, whereupon you ping it over to Billy for a laugh.


# String tells us of his nocturnal spelunking activities. Spelunking wasn’t a word I was familiar with, but it all made sense when I looked it up and could see clearly its root in speleology.

# Government goons have announced another new set of Covid rules that no one understands and the PM announced in parliament that it’s important not the break the law. His statement is aimed at young people who have ditched all Covid caution, the outcome being a spike in infections among them. The PM gave his stern warning on the same day he announced that Britain would break its legal agreement with the EU, making a no-deal exit from Europe inevitable.

# In Spooks (Series 10), we weren’t certain Tariq was dead, but he is.

THURSDAY 10 The other day I sleep-walked into hosting a community art workshop on Zoom. The council organisers have unintentionally started to get bossy, which doesn’t put me in a good frame of mind.

# I’m in trouble if I spill any more coffee in bed. It costs a fortune to get a duvet cleaned!

# We had a post-Lockdown pilot day at Headway with 10 members to see if the new measures were fit for purpose.


It was great to seen people again and Chris and I got straight back into our Waldorf-Statler routine.

We nailed a few problems such as poor signage and whizzy digital thermometers that proved to be duds. And I walked back from Haggerston to Angel along the canal in half an hour.


# I reckon the building-site workers have been tampering with the birch tree because there is a flurry of activity on WhatsApp.


# Oddbox, our new veg supplier, is certainly living up to its name.


# Small mercies! We got to the end of Spooks. Final episode, Series 10. Ruth comes a cropper and Harry looks sad. Not surprising since he just discovered the long-lost love of his life was an evil Russian quadruple agent.

FRIDAY 11 Deliveroo couriers in York and Sheffield fight with he fight others fought all through the last century.


# We did a Zoom chat to pimp the City’s People Where I Live art project, discussing people and places and trying to encourage a few more contributions. I mentioned our postie, Eric, who has short, fat hairy legs decorated with tattoos. I know this because he always wears shorts, whatever the weather. I think I will make my own subject Ted Bolt, a character who moans a lot on the Barbican Talk message board.

# Found an illustration in an app I no longer use. It was marked simply “creepy”.


# Got a thankyou message from Steph for a very quick sketch I did of her in the Headway day room yesterday.


# I was interrogated during the family Zoom as to how I got to own Willie’s stamp album. And my sister never knew my mum had her picture taken with Kevin Keegan, which then appeared in the newspaper. She is now determined to find it. Or at least she said she was.

# Now we’re done with Spooks, Line of Duty is back in the frame. The Caddy is dead.

SATURDAY 12 on Dermot O’Leary’s Mystery Voice, someone guessed Kathy Bates. My wife is positive it is Sandra Oh.

# I’ve decided to try another type of graphic, the News Wall. It means I can go round photographing walls onto which I will paste headlines of all styles.


# It would certainly be a weird one if all the novichok in Russia had somehow fallen into the hands of a disgruntled sect of former KGB agents. Putin would love us to believe that. Or would he? I think I might have overdosed on Spooks.

# It’s really odd to see Michael Gove sucking up to the PM in such an enthusiastic way. You gotta wonder what he’s playing at.

# To see Tenet, a doomsday movie in which the world is about to end in a plot unleashed by sadistic baddy Kenneth Branagh. But it didn’t, and everything went backwards, occasionally. Useful, that. The too-fast dialogue carried too much of the over-complex plot (about time reversal and sequence). This irritation was compounded by a very noisy soundtrack. During drinks afterwards, a friend told us how one cowboy builder holds a monopoly at the Barbican and ritually rips out heritage interiors and refits apartments in a kind of bad-taste disco-pad design, at sky-high prices.

SUNDAY 13 We went a bit mad chopping back the tomatoes, but they look tidy, and good weather is forecast for next week, so those that haven’t fully ripened yet can get their skates on.

# A kitchen accident last night saw a loose cupboard door, which I had perched above the new fridge, fall on my wife’s head. She went to bed with a cut on her forehead and the jolting after-effects of shock. Today she feels a bit spaced out, but found the lost tube of Savlon and is now keen to resume her battle with the council over our flood damage.

# I did another News Wall from a story in The Conversation.


# Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer observes that chancer-liar Boris Johnson’s political methods have drifted so far from right-wing orthodoxy and into kitchen-sink anarchy that the Conservative Party is no longer worthy of the name.

MONDAY 14 They’re all lining up to steer Boris down the road of proper politics. Keir Starmer is far more deliberate in his methods. Corbyn was tenacious in opposition, and that approach was so effective it saw the Conservatives steal several Labour policies. But Boris now faces his own party as his chief opponent. Even David Cameron has jumped into the ring. Will Boris change course? I’m not putting my pension pot on it, fascinating though it is to watch.


# Another stooge came round to inspect the dodgy tiling that caused the flood damage. Getting the council to see it that way will be a piece of work, but my wife is ready for it.

# David Tennant’s portrayal of serial killer Dennis Nilsen in Des was disturbingly psychological.

# Stuart made the preposterous claim that The Real Thing weren’t the real thing. He went on to claim that The Real Real Thing in fact came from Colwyn Bay. I think he says these things to be provocative, because he’s from Birkenhead.

TUESDAY 15 The bill to break the Brexit treaty with the EU passed by 77 votes, but even the Telegraph was not entirely convinced that this is the end of the matter.


# We went out for a stroll in the Barbican with Marge and Derek. I was shocked at the difficulty wheelchair users face having to worm their way around hidden lifts and makeshift ramps.

# Joined the Guardian online coffee and heard a lot about Covid testing fiascos and schools not knowing what the re-opening protocols were until the very last minute, if at all. I sent two online education ideas to Margaret and Jan (News Wall and My Life in a Headline).


# On reading my diary for 8-14 September, one blogger wrote to say she hoped my wife was OK.

# I selected two pictures to discuss at Alice’s art appreciation Zoom tomorrow. I went for women looking at the viewer – Mona Lisa and Afghan Girl. Both controversial in their own ways. I used Raphael’s Mona Lisa to practise Photoshop Express.


# The Prime Minister seems to think the main purpose of his job is to destroy his own party, not to build national prosperity. Maybe he believes the two go hand in hand.

# Dug out a story about weeds to make a News Wall out of.


WEDNESDAY 16 When home secretary Priti Patel spoke, an illustration featuring grass came to mind. Today, the commentators are wading in on her promise to dob in her neighbours if they break the government’s spurious ‘Rule of Six’. Does that promise extend to those who sit next to her in Cabinet?


# A fascinating new brain illustration has appeared on Twitter. Inevitably it has sparked an online debate about North versus South, as depicted on the map. What I find most fascinating about brain illustrations (including mine) are whether the viewpoint is on the left or the right side of the brain. Mine are nearly always a view of my injured left side. This new illustration is a righter.


# I wonder if it is common when witnessing an accident to fleetingly think it was your fault, for just being there.

# I sent a picture of what I think might be a wart to the doctor. You can hardly see it now. It no longer itches and I feel like a fraud bringing it to his attention.


# In re-hooking up with Adobe Lightroom I found an old yoga illustration.


# The so-called ‘Twiggy’ stitchwork project has been lying crumpled up in the corner for weeks. Now it is pressed and hung away from sight.


THURSDAY 17 We watch so many crime and detective series on TV that it’s inevitable I have picked up some new skills. When I saw this picture, my first deduction was that the pickler is a nurse.


# An email from Diego tells me that gangs of nasty Bolsonaroistas are torching the Amazon rainforest and killing villagers. He wants my signature to stop it.

# A mysterious blogger in the Far East uses the term Green Thumb to describe having a way with plants.

# From the Morning Star.


# String writes powerfully about how society has been taken over by the “earn-spend mantra”, which relies on people being rammed together into ever smaller spaces. Tackling the virus requires enforced separation, which destroys the economic model. No equilibrium equals collapse.

# Today’s Open Studio session was all about surrealism. The 5-minute warm-up was random word promp: an Elephant in a Wide-brimmed hat riding a Horse.


Then we got a Six-eyed woman in a Patterned skirt holding a Bird.


# On page 183 (Kindle) of George Orwell’s Coming Up For Air, the chapter closes with the sentence “This was the idea which, in a dim sort of way, had begun to form itself in my mind the day I got my new false teeth.”

FRIDAY 18 The search for the screw-in legs we took off the cocktail bar ended in the discovery of everything but. A bag of retro electrical fittings and a bag of walking-stick ferrules didn’t quite amount to Mission Accomplished.

# Whitecross Street is buzzing again, like a stage set from EastEnders. It still feels let thee the last gasp of Summer on borrowed time.

# Steph says the unions are still in talks about talks at the Guardian.

# Sent Laura a bunch of workshop pictures for the ABI Week project and agreed to do a monoprint workshop with the Barbican for a homeless charity.


# Finally got the telephone banking thingy sorted and made a couple of transactions.

SATURDAY 19 Not sure if this happened today or yesterday, but “during the hours of darkness” I was snatched from the comfort of Classic FM in the foetal position by my wife midway into a panic attack. In her agitation she repeatedly repeated something about her eyes. My bet is that later I will be asked to dismantle the bathroom sink in search of a stray contact lens.

# Dominic Raab’s bodyguard has been sacked for leaving his loaded gun on a plane. Then it came out that David Cameron’s bodyguard also did it, leaving the weapon in the sick-bag pocket.

# Sierra Leone have introduced equal pay for women footballers.

# Floor 17 of Shakespeare Tower, Barbican, offers some stunning views of London. And it is served by 3 lifts.

# In an article in the LRB, Wynford Hicks tells of a relationship he had with Boris Johnson’s mum, Charlotte, set in the fevered world of the posh postwar British protest movement. That “restless night on the stony beach at Dieppe” stands out as a quote.

# A blogger I follow came up with a nice turn of phrase to describe a kingfisher she spotted at lunchtime. She was “mesmerised by its closeness and compact perfection”.

# In Line of Duty the OCG seem to have an awful lot of money. As soon as one of their black Range Rovers gets shot to bits, another shiny replacement is in place no sweat.

SUNDAY 20 Last night I dreamt I was back in my boyhood bedroom in Liverpool when a bossy young fashion stylist arrived and ordered me out so it could be used as a dressing room for one of their models. I told the stylist to effoff. She objected in the most arrogant way, whereupon I told her that this was MY bedroom. It was where I went to invent things that would change the world, to write bad poetry and to work out ways to spy on my sister’s courtship activities. One of these, I told the snotty young stylist, was to slowly lower a microphone I’d invented out of my bedroom window, down to a position just above where my sister and her boyfriend were doing courtship things on the doorstep. It worked a treat, blackmailing evidence was obtained and cash duly extorted from target sibling. The snotty stylist was not impressed with this declaration of human rights and told me again to get out so that her deathly thin model could get ready for the photographer. I told her to effoff again and sprayed antiperspirant in her face. She effed off and I woke from my dream feeling victorious.

# Our TV access to the football has conked out. My wife spent the afternoon reinstalling software but it appears the problem is bigger than we imagined.

# Finally finished the People Where I Live illustration.


# My wife still hasn’t given up the Sunday-night ritual of tuning into a TV programme featuring the day-to-day lives of spectacularly overweight Americans. I accidentally learned tonight that the big fold on unsightly surplus flesh that hangs from the midriff is called an “apron”.

# “Locktober” is looming.

# Stuart says he once had an Australian flatmate/lodger who came to London because she had a yearning to visit Cockney, believing it to be a place.

MONDAY 21 One or two areas of stress are starting to lift. The council has admitted it was their shoddy work that led to our flood; the footie TV connection is working again. All this raises the spirits. Fingers crossed that a new Lockdown doesn’t start before our wedding anniversary on Wednesday. We’d planned to go to a Grayson Perry exhibition, then out for a meal.

# I’ve decided that my daily News Wall illustrations will come from The Conversation. Today’s is a story about Poland having “LGBT-Free” zones.


# I was forbidden from using half a courgette for my lunch.

# Chrissie Hynde’s melodic elongation of the first o in Hong Kong is a very American thing.

# My wife found a fish called Basa in Sainsbury’s. I’d never heard of it and discovered that it’s a southeast Asian catfish.

# There’s a story running around saying that the PM sneaked off to a friend’s castle in Italy to have his son Wilf baptised.

TUESDAY 22 A Simon Jenkins article in the Guardian argues that we need to learn to live with the virus rather than on the hope that it will go away soon. The massive changes that will come with that change can only start with an acceptance that the old world is gone.

# There’s an argument kicking off in Shoreditch that could become a national trend. Residents complain about businesses taking over public spaces to hawk their wares. There’s a delicate civic balance to be struck in this issue, but what is probably more important is the will to strike it. Conflict is the more likely outcome.


# In preparing a News wall on epidemiology, I learned the difference between epidemic and endemic, which I probably knew but had forgotten.

# Sienna Rodgers writes to say a new survey shows that a clear majority of Britons want an extension to the furlough scheme, guaranteed jobs for under 25s and help with housing costs for the poorest people. These are all Labour policies, she says, and yet the survey also shows that Britons prefer to have the Tories in charge.

# The Conversation has a story saying plug-in hybrid cars are not as green as we all thought they were. The makers have been measuring emissions in their own special way, so it turns out that the prevention of environmental Armageddon will have to wait a little longer.

# A free narrowboat trip from Islington Boat Club came in. It was one of the first post-Pandemic activities for the St Luke’s Men’s Shed. We started at the City Road Basin HQ and headed west for Camden. One narrowboat is allowed 4 passengers. That was Me, Emerson, Dave and Graham. The captain was a pot-bellied jovialist in a battered Panama hat. Welcome to Islington.


We’d made this trip before but it was still a pleasure. The scenery moves from affluent urban to bucolic unwashed as trees, wildlife, graffiti and the foot soldiers of the trusty canal path all rub along. At one point I was convinced our boat was being followed by a semi-submerged orange plastic traffic cone. Emerson told us that his job as a steward at Arsenal FC is almost certainly finished. Dave had a big plaster on his head that I lacked the courage to ask about. The Islington tunnel was as long and dark as ever, but not as fumey from longboat emissions. We passed through two locks then did a three-point turn to put us on our return from Kentish Town to City Road. Mothers with buggies jostled with militant cyclists. Idle students lolled on the grassy verges at St Pancras. We were in the heart of London, but somewhere else too, in space and in time.

# Our new TV fix is Better Things, a parent/children, work/life issue-based comedy, a sort of one-woman vehicle for an actress called Pamela Adlon.

WEDNESDAY 23 Isobel (and Cat) have pushed the boat out on their Coronavirus back-garden chip supper bubble gatherings. They’ve moved their custom from Best Kebab to the more upmarket Shishlique.

# Boris’s blame-game lecture last night sparked some interest on Twitter.


# In prepping a fundraising Brain Quiz for Headway East London, I discovered a part of the brain called the Circle of Willis.


# Our Anniversary was once again a special one. It was raining, as it was this time last year when we were in Brussels. First we went to the Victoria Miro gallery for a small exhibition of work by Grayson Perry, inspired by his recent exploration of America.

Then for a meal in Islington Green, the end of which came with a complimentary pair of lemon macaroons on a plate spelling the word Anniversary with an extra y on the end, in chocolate.

# Victoria Rose has written a long essay about the value and validity of the gap year. It is topical because anyone planning a gap year might now be forced to think harder. I’m surprised the gap year has not been repackaged and sold as a career springboard ‘experience’ rather than an extended holiday.

THURSDAY 24 Sam obviously got a taste for surrealism at last week’s Open Studio session. Look as closely as you can…


Then came a new version of Percy The Platypus.


# Harry Evans, 92, RIP. It was the readability of the Times under his brief editorship in the early 1980s that made me want to do it. I’d sit every day in the Picton Library marvelling at what simple words put together in the right way could do.


# Magnum Photos has a great collection of photographers’ stills from Hollywood movie sets. They’re currently showcasing the work of photojournalist Dennis Stock’s work on the 1956 film High Society with some telling images of Grace Kelly.


# The Headway Open Studio today was in life-drawing. I especially enjoyed the timed quick-draws, as bad as the results turned out. The process is more interesting than the slow stuff, which I find hard to fully immerse myself in. I used Procreate on the iPad.


# Don’t you just love a good juxtaposition… courtesy of Sainsbury’s.

Have a beer with your instant lash lift…

# Doh! I’ve just realised that George Bowling’s false teeth are a metaphor for old/new, decay/renewal. The more you read into his reminiscences the more complex the metaphor gets, especially with the imminence of war.

FRIDAY 25 The #fret@4am is becoming habitual. Today it was a rather pathetic micro-worry about my hundreds of blog posts not being catalogued properly.

# In the Guardian, Simon Jenkins is gobsmacked that millions of students are about to mingle. This he says, is an open door to Covid superspreading: “This might be called a giant exercise in herd immunity, a national version of what used to be a children’s chickenpox party.”

# Stuart offered up a reminiscence of a New Brighton nightclub he used to frequent, and a description of what he wore on those special occasions.

Stuart wears: “Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot lookalike black beret circa 1986 glued in place with Studioline fixing spray.”

# Zuber and I will co-host the Headway fundraising quiz during the Action on Brain Injury (ABI) campaign. I am confident it will be a success, so long as I stick solely to begging for money and cracking the odd joke.

# This is an intriguing story.


SATURDAY 26 My wife correctly guessed the Mystery Voice on Dermot O’Leary’s radio show, currently guest hosted by Angela Scanlon. It was the boxer Anthony Joshua. This is a major triumph after the disappointment recently of mistaking Bette Midler for Sandra Oh.

# Stuart has been reminiscing about ABBA. We discovered that Frida’s post-ABBA activities include becoming a Princess. The exchange reminded Stuart that “as a lank, long-haired Birkonian lad I went with my similarly-attired best mate Mike to see ABBA: The Movie”. I replied: “Two Drooling Proggers Caught Watching Abba Movie, that is the headline.” I had to explain the term Progger being short for Prog-Rocker. This type of juvenile correspondence continued until we had exhausted every possible pun relating to ABBA, their music, their nationality and their names (Bjorn was especially tiresome).

# We had a massive techno fight again, this time about setting up a VPN. I came very close to throwing the TV remote at my wife. Instead I messaged my friend Keith and asked him what to do.

# Quora is still a great place to find a sarcastic put-down.


# On the BBC iPlayer Better Things, starring Pamela Adlon, is getting better and better. We got to the end of Series 1 and her best friend is now Lucy Davis, aka Dawn from The Office. And her mother, Celia Imrie, prunes the roses naked.

SUNDAY 27 The newspapers are saying the PM is under the cosh to back down on his dictatorial Covid regime.


And Marina Hyde is circulating the painful news that the PM can hardly afford to feed himself because his ex-wife is sucking off all his money.

# Sweden’s big epidemiology guru says that the country’s light-touch approach to the virus was not aimed at rapid herd-immunity but to slow the spread until the health services were geared up to cope.

# We’ve returned to Cardinal after a lapse into a prolonged period with Line of Duty. The background music still obscures the dialogue, so we’ve sunk to using subtitles, which seems like some sort of defeat. In common with Season 1, there is a weird Canadian death cult in operation that seems to have absolutely no connection with the main story. The sadist-in-chief, Mamma, does very nasty things with fish hooks, but her No1 adopted (ie, captive) ‘son’ is a quick learner and has already put a bullet through his brother’s head.

# We joined the online audience for a Zoom live concert by Modulus, a string quartet. But there were only three of them, neatly separated at 2m, in an underground gangster’s torture chamber somewhere in the bowels of a London warehouse. The music was good and the various composers turned up for a Q&A afterwards. Our friend Nick played the cello in a shirt my wife says was obviously chosen by his wife Sally.

Modulus cellist Nick in his stylish shirt…

MONDAY 28 Stuart apologised again. He wrote to say sorry if he saw me at the Headway Zoom meeting the other day, but he can’t remember whether he did, or didn’t. I told him he didn’t and told him not to apologise. I explained that I was at the Headway Open Studio art session instead trying to do life-drawing, from a model, on YouTube. I made the mistake of sending him a copy of my work.

The 2-minute sketch… Which was then transformed into…

Stuart replied with a humorous review by a fictitious art critic called Herbert Trimble. In it Trimble describes a visit to a Royal Academy Summer exhibition, at which he found a work of genius “nestling insouciantly” among a collection of also-rans. It was rare, Trimble waxed, to find such distinguished work as ‘Saskia Awaits Penetration’ so far from Turin. Trimble then allowed his pretentious scribbling to roam into a contemplation of “the fragility of Womankind versus the Taurean wilfulness of the Male”. In conclusion, he lazily renamed the artwork ‘The Billy Birthing Method’, which I took as a compliment.

# It looks like China has given itself the power to arrest any Chinese students anywhere in the world who might, as part of their studies, question the authority of the Beijing regime.


# Fake-news grannies storm the internet…

Source: The Conversation…

# My wife has been stockpiling foodstuffs and household essentials such as toilet rolls in preparation for Britain crashing out of the EU. It is all stored in a large plastic crate know as the Brexit Box. She says it is an “emergency standby” initiative, but as more and more items pile into the Brexit Box, I’m convinced it is a sign of paranoia. I accidentally revealed this to friends by email and my wife retaliated in a huffy tone with a qualifying memo: “Just to confirm, I HAVEN’T been stockpiling, but I do have an emergency crate in case all the lorries get stuck in Dover on 31 December.” The use of whole words in capital letters is always a worrying sign.

# There’s an addictive afternoon TV programme featuring Damon Grant from Brookside in a stylishly paint-spattered workman’s overshirt. He tarts up bits of decrepit junk, a miracle of DIY that makes the owners of the junk fall back in love with the rusty item they were about to take to the tip.

# I’ve half-heartedly started learning to use Procreate properly, by following a YouTube tutorial. I hope to make it whole-heartedly, but my track record with learning apps is that I will get to the point where it does what I want it to do in the moment, and leave it at that, often moving on to another app and learning one more thing I want to do in the moment. Procreate has, I have discovered, the potential to do practically all of the digital illustration I am ever likely to want.

Covid-mask illustration

TUESDAY 29 Turning serious news stories into tabloid nibs is my new fascination. Probably won’t last very long.

# Stuart has sent another review of my life-drawing efforts, by Germaine of Tunbridge Wells. It begins: “Having been subjected to no less then three of Billy Mann’s drawings of the female form I was alarmed to realise that in every one the subject is pictured in a subordinate pose.”

# Cliff Richard is on the radio, talking about a book he’s written. It’s embarrassing. I asked my wife if we should expect Cliff Richard to know better than to say things like “my secretary”, and she said, “No.”

# The drawbacks of some of the “Lockdown Innovations” are starting to emerge. People working from home are reluctant to “call in sick”, and changes to how the health service is delivered have their shortcomings, too.


# I was told bluntly that doing a Zoom meeting from the bath was inappropriate.

# Marge says she saw Carrie Symonds in Côte.

# Unlike the rest of Europe, Britons are not that keen on a return to the office-based, commuter-crammed working life. One report says only 34% of white-collar workers have gone back to their desks, as compared with 83% in France.

# Pete came up with a nice bit of alliteration, describing Steve’s knee replacement as “smooth as a cashmere codpiece”.

WEDNESDAY 30 The meaning of surnames just took on a new dimension.


# Will the Norwegian wellbeing trend of friluftsliv catch on here in Britain. I hope so, and with the sales of outdoor patio heaters getting hotter every day, all the signs are there.

# My second attempt at shakshuka was a lot better than the first. Added spicy tomato chutney this time rather than chipotle ketchup. Cold dry toast makes a brilliant scooper-upper.


# I think Alex’s dog Nova might become my next stitchwork project. I sent a crappy line drawing to her and she replied that I’d missed off Nova’s six-pack.

Line-ske tch-dog
Nova: work in progress…

# On this day last year…


# Lakshmi writes from India about the last days of the monsoon and the exploding number of virus cases. In one line, she says, “for so many the fear of unemployment and hunger is more real than the virus”.

Read more Diaries.

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