Diary: October 2020

THURSDAY 1 The quest to become more proficient in Procreate continues with a disappointing illustration about the Great Outdoors.

The beauty of the great outdoors

The three elements – the main picture, the text and the collage additions – are simple enough. But the look on the sheep’s face is lost and the row of patio heaters on the hillside don’t look like patio heaters. Two things I like: look closely and The ‘trunks’ of the patio heaters have a ‘root system’ anchoring them, and the text is a massive blow-up of my handwriting in fountain pen. Enlarged, it looks brilliantly scraggy, which I like a lot.

Britons braced for Winter outdoors.
Daffodils, by William Wordsworth.
Frilutsliv is the new Hygge.

# Paul was first to arrive at Headway. I wanted to tell him that his portrait of Peggy Mitchell we bought keeps falling off its shelf, but decided against.

Paul gets comfortable

# The Headway thermometers are dicky again. I got two readings of 33 degrees. Chris was a bit cold, too. My temperature reading eventually settled at 35-point-something.

# Everyone in the studio has their own plastic work box with art materials. I’ve still got my old Norwegian gas-mask case, which ironically has been made Covid-safe.

Bag of tricks

# Nice to know others are dealing with the same issues.


# The first live face-to-face workshop at the Barbican was for Accumulate, an art school for the homeless. Around 15 attended and they all responded well and produced some good work inspired by images from the Barbican’s recent Masculinities exhibition. Staying 2m from the person you are trying to coach is difficult, but it’s an adjustment we should try to perfect. I’d rather do workshops at 2m than on Zoom.

Barbican monoprinting workshop

See the method.

# I’ve been digging through some old notebooks with the view to writing some travel memoir blog posts, starting with our big 1998 trip to the US. The first stop was in Boston.

Page from Boston travel journal, 1998
Where shall we go today?

# There’s a lazy messaging trend running around that replaces the letter N for the word AND. An ampersand (&) I can deal with, but an N is just plain irritating.

FRIDAY 2 It’s lashing with rain, so there’s no way I am venturing outdoors today, even if I had the desire. There are also a lot of tasks accumulating. I had totally forgotten I agreed to do a Zoom fundraising quiz for Headway. And two pieces of artwork for a project titled My Lockdown Diary, which I’m told will be exhibited in the Barbican Library.

# The Headway Open Studio today was hosted by Brian, who talked about his collection of cacti and succulents.

Then there was a sudden flurry of Zoomy artists fetching their cacti and succulents for everyone to see. This was my take on it.

Michelle said there’s a spiky plant called Mother-in-Law’s Tongue.

# The US president and his wife have tested positive for Covid.

# That giant couscous with tuna and tomato was superb.

# My cousin Kate says Liverpool have been drawn against a club called Midgetyland in the Champions League. It is not, as she hilariously presumed, a nation of small people but a region of Denmark.

# With some effort, I managed to get my Lockdown visual diaries done. One is about shopoing online and the stitchwork projects I have completed.

The other is about the wax monoprinting workshop I shot on video for the Barbican’s Masculinities exhibition.

# When the supermarket delivery arrived, this was where we were in the latest episode of Cardinal. We both guessed at Barry’s fate during the pause before restarting to discover him literally frozen to death in the back garden.

Scene from Cardinal, in Blue

SATURDAY 3 There’s an article in The Coversation that considers some of the small acts of ritual and expression during the pandemic that might end up as the folklore of the future.

They include things like Clapping for Carers and window displays. I would like to have seen witty shop signage and street art in the mix. These have been exceptional and our friend Gill made a great collection on her exhaustive strolls around London.

# In today’s coffee/chat Zoom with local friends, we all told a story about our favourite books. Mine was Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson.

# An article in the Guardian Weekly rambles on about how the City of London has been hollowed out by the pandemic. It goes on to speculate about the future and whether the virus, plus Brexit, will be the final straw for a white-collar business and financial square mile that has for many years been crammed daily with 250,000 wheeler-dealing workers. Brexit could end up being the more deadly. The City was collectively pro-European, and strongly against those arguing for an exit. But it was shrewd enough to initiate a Plan B. Culture Mile is a grand project aimed at remodelling part of the City as a hub for the arts and creative industries. It was already underway before the virus exhaled its breath of death. Will the new project now be accelerated? That is difficult to say. The creative industries have been hard hit by the pandemic. Many of our actors have fallen into poverty and had little support from the government. Museums and galleries have started to reopen, but theatres remain closed. It is hard to see a speedy return to business as usual. So as Brexit begins its downgrading of the City’s financial muscle worldwide, Coronavirus could simultaneously suffocate its arty successor. I want to be optimistic, but hard facts tell me not to.

The City of London is morphing…

# Yay! In Cardinal, John and Lise finally got it together in her Toronto hotel room. Then they got up to start the finale chase for the psycho revenge killer.

SUNDAY 4 And so, my attempt to streamline the contents of the too-small new fridge ended unhappily when that blue thing we have for grating and storing parmesan cheese fell on the floor.


# The Morning Star had a story to build on the backlash against the Chancellor Rishi Sunak, so I made a News Wall out of it. The words are too hard to read.


# Some more posts pictures from last week’s workshop at the Barbican came through on Instagram, one of which really shows the process.

Wax monoprinting in action at the Barbican workshop

# Man Utd lost badly to Spurs at home (1-6). We switched over from the Liverpool game against Villa after 35 minutes. The embarrassment was mounting ominously. The final score was Aston Villa 7, Liverpool 2. A bit of a reality check, that, given that Liverpool had hoped to transplant Everton at the top of the table.

# Stuart has strayed into geriatric misogyny. During a reflection on Stu Sutcliffe’s girlfriend Astrid and how the Beatles changed when she appeared on the scene, he whinges about women who emasculate men, then dips into a story of self-pity about when his “psycho Irish girlfriend burned cigarette holes in my best leather strides, poured porridge in my suede boots and poured my Old Spice down the toilet”. All of this comes after a link to some old Beatles photographs he unearthed, shots taken in 1961 by a friend of his dad’s called Albert.

# Watching the TV adaptation of the David Nichols book Us, (starring Tom Hollander and Saskia Reeves) I wonder if it is through others that we best learn to appreciate those closest to us.

# I think a new volunteering role will be for marshalls who monitor safe-distancing at group events. Organisations will train and reward them.

MONDAY 5 There’s a story in the Hackney Citizen about a new film called Rocks, and a quote from one of its writers.


# Stuart writes to say “you have a way of extracting the most personal info out of me without even trying”. I took this as a compliment. He went on to confess that… “At birth, I was expected to be a girl. So for the first few years I slept in a bedroom surrounded by dolls, cuddly toys and female clobber.”

# Do parents who get fed up playing with their only child solve the problem by having another one?

# A review of two Brexit books puts some real context to what is often seen as a one-off political flashpoint in 2016, but was actually a national Euro-skeptic condition that had been festering for decades. And that when the 2016 referendum took place, different circumstances could easily have led to a very different outcome.

# In line with yesterday’s accidental spillage of grated parmesan cheese all over the kitchen floor, I opened the door of the too-small fridge and an egg crashed onto my shoe.

# The new stitchwork project is an image of Alex’s dog Nova, on a blank cotton tote bag.


TUESDAY 6 My wife swears that the government’s new oven-ready Covid app sucks the life out of your phone’s battery. In my case it also repeatedly plays an annoying pop-up ad telling me to download the app I already have installed.

# The pharmacist who gave me my flu jab asked if I was allergic to eggs. Apparently, the vaccine is made from something eggy.

# The City of London really is a creepy secretive place. It has the feel of a seedy enclave where dirty-money wrongdoing is unfolding behind every door.

# Stuart’s latest fascination is for Soviet and East European cars from the past. It started with the Trabant and a musical diversion into U2’s 1991 album Achtung Baby. Then he cruised on to the Russian Moskovitch, which was really quite a stylish vehicle IMO.

Cool Commie cars: from top, Trabant, Moskovitch

# A professor at Lancaster University has coined the term “Prozac Leaders” to describe excessively upbeat, self-trumpeting characters such as Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro.

WEDNESDAY 7 The 9.15 video call with my renal consultant was not greatly different from the real thing in that I sat in a waiting room waiting for someone to call my name.

# Quora does it again…


# Said hello to Bridget in Cafe Passione, but she didn’t know who I was.

# There are some neat planters alongside Speed House managed by the Barbican Horticultural Society.

# Global Citizen has a story with the headline “The NHS Just Became the World’s First Health System to Commit to Net Zero Emissions by 2040”. I wonder in Boris knows about that? Or whether he has read the academic report in The Conversation that says he is incapable of taking tough decisions because people might hate him for it.

# This story reads like one of those gripping TV docu-dramas with classy actors getting all the emotional and psychological nuances spot-on.

Read the full story…

# Newsbiscuit returns to form.

The old jokes are the best…

THURSDAY 8 The boss of the Geffreye Museum says they kept the statue of slaver Robert Geffreye because the government told them to. Sorry, the minister “reminded” them where their funding came from.

# She sends them so regularly, I’m not sure why the arrival of a new picture from Sam surprises me. Perhaps the surprise is actually in the image and not in the receipt of the email.


# Iceland’s Grímsvötn volcano is getting ready to erupt. The big question is whether the eruption will be a small one with wet, sticky ash that doesn’t travel far, or a big eruption with masses of dense soft ash that drifts globally and shuts down air traffic.

# Cristina sent over the feedback from the Barbican workshop last week and it was all positive. It made me want to check out the Basquiat-style work of John, the old Irish fella who attended.

# My wife and I refer to the BBC TV programme Repair Shop as “the crying show” because lots of tears are shed when people see their treasured belongings restored. But it really is one of those special inventions that distinguishes the BBC as a world-beating broadcaster.

# Our pandemic TV diet is a rich one: Giri/Haji is superb both from a close-up British/Japanese angle and from a wider viewpoint looking at Japan from a distance and at Britain (London) from an equal distance. And Pamela Adlon’s Better Things takes the TV short story into places it never even knew existed.

# In the first Cormoran Strike book, the author describes security cameras as “malevolent shoeboxes”.

FRIDAY 9 There’s a plan unfolding in America to have President Trump removed from office for being unhinged, detached from reality, bonkers, etc. It sort of adds up


# Today’s Open Studio was hosted by abstract artist Katrina Russell-Adams, who talked to us about deconstructing what you see and looking at it differently. I did a digital painting of the view from our living-room window of the Barbican towers. I found the whole experience totally liberating.


# Concrete is one of the biggest sources of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Making the cement that goes into concrete creates so much that if the cement industry were a country, only China and the US would emit more carbon dioxide.

# If it wasn’t so serious, the Johnny Bananas story would be hilarious.

Read the full story…

# Once again I didn’t appear in The Queen’s birthday honours list. Marcus Rashford got an MBE.

SATURDAY 10 The Labour Party opposition seem baffled as to how to oppose the government. A story in the Morning Star says it is now complaining that the UK government’s does not protect employers as much as France, Germany and the Netherlands.


# Marina Hyde is gobsmacked at how little has been learned over the past six months.

Read the full story…

# The Conversation has a compelling essay about the Lennon-McCartney partnership. John would have been 80 yesterday. The essay doesn’t really say anything new, but it does establish that creative partnerships are a complex chemistry of unpredictable elements. Any attempt to simplify them will always miss the point.

# Positive News has a story saying teenagers are kinder than you think and have proved their selflessness throughout the trials and tribulations of the pandemic.

# Did my first phone check-in today at Barbican Kitchen for a coffee with Gill. You point your camera at a bar code on a coaster and the Benugo menu pops up, from which you order your drinks, etc. It knows your table number and in due course your stuff is delivered to your table. My wife says young people have been doing this for years, but I felt quite chuffed with myself. So chuffed that I downloaded the Kings College Covid research app and logged my symptoms (none).

SUNDAY 11 We’ve decided that Young Wallander is a massive con. I guess we expected something along the lines of Morse/Endeavour, but the only resemblance is the use of the name of the detective protagonist. Endeavour Morse was/is clever. Morse came first, then Endeavour, the young Morse 30 years earlier. Young Wallander is not the Kurt Wallander we already know as a rookie cop in an evolving social democracy (Sweden), but merely a young police officer with the name Kurt Wallander. The setting and themes are contemporary, not retro, so Young Wallander could easily just be Kurt Wallander Jnr, a twentysomething copy following in his dad’s footsteps. It’s hard not to think this is a wasted opportunity, until you remember that this is a Netflix production, a place where dumb-downery is entirely feasible.

# There’s a man on the roof of Great Arthur House talking on a mobile phone. Best guesses at the moment are that he is A. Removing the window-cleaning hoist, or B. Stealing the window-cleaning hoist.


# We picked the last of the tomatoes, cleared the plot and readied the soil for the nematodes.

# Put together a few abstract ideas for Katrina and the Hove Avenue project, mainly concentrating on the Walthamstow location.


# One of the internet’s biggest crimes is standing the news story on its head. The conventional way to tell readers something in the popular media is to say in the first sentence what happened and to whom. Eg, “Naga Munchetty and Charlie Stayt had a furious argument live on TV this morning”. The story then unfolds with the facts, explaining what happened, when, who was involved and the outcome. Then, if time and space permits, the story introduces some background, such as, “this is the fourth time this year Naga and Charlie have bitten each other’s heads off”, blah, bah, blah.

The logic of this narrative structure is based on how you might tell the story to a stranger. But soon, if oral storytelling starts to mimic the written word, you’ll be hearing what Naga had for breakfast before you find out what nasty things she said to Charlie. Scrolling to the bottom of the text to find the nub of the story must rank as one of the internet’s worst innovations.

# The Winter clothes are out of storage, the Summer wardrobe is in.

# It says in the news that the government is preparing to hand Covid tracing powers to local authorities. Could this be the start of a new devolved dialogue?

MONDAY 12 My wife is on her way to Homerton hospital for a dermo appointment. Fingers crossed the PM doesn’t get a sudden attack of the tyrannicals and leave her quarantined there for two weeks.

# Scientists have discovered the longest ancient human footpath, and have unearthed from it a dramatic human-interest story about a mother and child struggling for survival in a hostile area of New Mexico.


# Sophie Ellis-Bextor, best known for her hit record Murder on the Dancefloor, has a new one out called Crying at the Discotheque.

# The baby fig tree is looking healthy, but I’m not sure the oak will survive the Winter.

Oak looking jaded…

# The TV adaptation of Us finished last night, and although the ending was a bit corny, it was nice to see Tom Hollander reunited with the nice woman from the Uffizi. Or was it the Prado?

# There’s a cracking piece in It’s Nice That about caricature and satire, pinned on the return of Spitting Image.

Jürgen Klopp…

# Hackney Council have an £80 fine for drivers sat parked in idling vehicles.

# Some dickhead brigadier Labour Lord has said asylum-seekers arriving in Britain should be put in concentration camps.

# Donald Trump has started a “masks are for wimps” culture in the White House.

TUESDAY 13 We finished Giri/Haji last night. It ended in a gripping chase and shoot-out sequence, which was concluded, surprisingly, by a beautiful Japanese ensemble ballet dance on the roof of a London warehouse.

# An article in the Conversation by a boffin at Lancaster University says Boris’s 3-tier system will only work if the 3 tiers are very different and that regulation is independent and non-political.

# Simon Jenkins’s tenacity in stating clearly the powers of localism and heritage is one of the few bright lights in otherwise dark times.

# Shawn wrote a funny story about a fella being held up in a bank robbery who recognises the two masked robbers as former school classmates.

# We’ve managed to decipher the complexities of the 3-tier system (now dubbed “tiers of a clown”) and it looks as if our weekend in Winchester could be a goer.

WEDNESDAY 14 I never expected to still be alive this morning. My supper last night was a eclectic stew of four portions of leftovers from previous days. It comprised soy-sauce quinoa, plus vegetable curry, plus tinned tomato soup with chorizo and stale-bread croutons. To this I added two chopped pork sausages (cooked) and a squirt of chipotle sauce.

# Every morning we exchange a subtle touching of the arms that tells us two things. One is that we are both officially awake, and the other is an implied question: whose turn is it to make the coffee?

# Earworm Radio2 song of the moment is Space, by someone called Biffy Clyro.

# I made an illustration from a Marina Hyde quote in the Guardian at the weekend. It left me trying to remember which of King Lear’s three daughters refused to suck up to him. It was Cordelia.


# The Magnum Photos emails always point to a gem. Today it is a collection called Tar Beach from a book by the photographer Susan Meiselas.

1968 rooftop Confirmation party, Little Italy, Manhattan…

# Great news! The Wildlife Photographer of the Year show opens at the Natural History Museum on Friday.

THURSDAY 15 Our postie Eric hasn’t worn trousers for 15 years. Always in shorts, rain or shine, his leg tattoos on proud display. He does have one pair of dress trousers, for weddings, funerals and rare outings to restaurants with his wife, who refuses to be accompanied by a “silly-looking” man in shorts.

# In one of the passages at Quaker Court there is a fabulous display of Whitecross Street residents dressed in historical costume. They all apparently depict real people from a block of flats that was razed in the Blitz bombing of 1941.

# Dear Boris, have you seen the big sign outside the Spoons on Old Street?

# I’d not thought about it much recently, but I do remember at the time thinking the same as the Quora correspondent who asked…

# At Headway I demonstrated the wax monoprinting method to Stuart and a new volunteer. The Nik Kershaw image is by Stuart, the one that looks like Maggie Thatcher on a bad day is by me.

Wax monoprinting…

# I fumed in silence when a man with no mask sat right next to me on the bus and started shouting to someone on his phone about getting evicted. I fumed even more when a uniformed police officer got on and walked straight past him.

# In the first Cormoran Strike book, the author says a dead model’s “extreme beauty was on the very edge of absurdity”.

FRIDAY 16 The Lockdown Diaries art project we did with Madhumita has appeared on the Barbican Library website. The best one IMO is by Barbican resident Bella.

‘Crispbread Sofa With Cushions And Rug’

# Sam sent her finished picture from Brian’s recent Zoom Studio session on his collection of cacti and succulents.

Cacti and succulents, by Sam Jevon…

Then today Alex talked us through her fascination with weird chickens (think cartoon characters and bizarre fashion styles) and we all had a go at drawing some.

Weird chickens, by Billy Mann

# We were worried that my Covid Compromise situation yesterday would scupper our trip to Winchester. But our hosts were still happy to have us.

# Our new best-friend trading partner (aka, William Shatner) is not happy.

# In one of his late-night messages, Stuart mentioned Loch Lomond, to which I replied, “Me and my sister once went swimming in Loch Lomond. We joked about possibly standing on one of Donald Campbell’s eyeballs.” I think he actually blew up somewhere in the Lake District. Stuart replied to my message by saying he once had a morbid fascination with the TV film of Campbell’s death.

SATURDAY 17, WINCHESTER According to someone on change.org MPs are planning to give themselves pay rise of £3,000 a year. And they reckon we should stop them, the greedy bunglers (my words), by signing a petition NOW.

# My wife tells me that if Boris steams ahead with his no-deal Brexit prank, there will be chaos. The example she cited was a company making wooden toys being unable to get the wood to make them. We speculated on whether they could use MDF from China instead, but concluded that China will eventually close the door to Britain along with the rest of the world. It will become a cold and gloomy place like those pictures of Russia during the purges. People with rotting teeth will stand shivering in long queues waiting to buy stale bread and tins of pressed rat-meat.

# Some people buy houses just to practise their interior-design fetishes, then sit there, alone, looking a how lovely everything is. Then they move a chair 3 inches to the left.

# We got some AAA batteries in Poundland then I headed back to Winnall Moors. I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface of this vast open space of wild beauty. And right in the heart of Winchester! One minute you’re in Poundland, the next you’re in a staring match with a toad.

Wild Winnall…

# The Everton v Liverpool game finished 2-2 after another controversial VAR decision.

# The new card game came in useful as darkness set in…


# Spotting a massive spider in your cookpot is the stuff of nightmares.


Except it’s just a reflection from this mid-century masterpiece.

# The costumes on Strictly are still brilliant, and Tess’s dress is awesome.


# Turns out Bill knows Dirk Maggs.

# Liz’s school pottery reminded me that children are the neglected masters of British Folk Art.

Made in 1966 by Elizabeth Lloyd…

SUNDAY 18, WINCHESTER Our host Liz has two shelves in the “entertainment alcove” on which an assortment of knick-knacks collected over the years sit alongside the TV, turntable, amp and speakers.

# If life these days seems like one long experiment in human endurance, any hope of a happy outcome should be quickly dismissed, if this Nick Cohen story is anything to go by.

# Stuart just brought up the subject of Peter Frampton’s hose pipe.

MONDAY 19, WINCHESTER & LONDON If there’s anything that can stop Biden winning the US Presidential election – other than Trump refusing to accept defeat – it is an international conflict that Trump engineers and uses to make himself look like the good guy.

Read the full story…

# A fantastic BBC radio programme from 2016 is being repeated. In Rumblings in the Rafters actors perform ‘animal’ monologues, as written by Lynne Truss. Last night Lee Mack was a fly and Pam Ferris a pipistrelle bat.

# Lakshmi says that toothbrush in Kannada is koorcha.

# Because I’ve never worked with her, I’d never noticed that my wife talks to herself. Suddenly she will say, “Oh no, I’m not agreeing to that!” and she is talking not to me but to an email on her screen.

# It was very sad to see that Wyvern Bindery on Clerkenwell Road has closed down. Then my heart jumped when I learned it had merely moved to Hoxton Street. It is a very special shop and now it is in the same street as another special shop, the Monster Supplies Shop.

Wyvern Bindery repair job on old, battered textbook…
Stock up for Halloween in Hoxton Street…

# The Conversation has a piece saying Hamlet was a baddy. It lists his crimes against others and depicts him as Ophelia’s evil gaslighter. I always thought he was OK.

TUESDAY 20 As if there aren’t enough tales of woe in the world at the moment, Luke writes another blogpost about the big old RV he bought some time ago with the intention of exploring America in it. This vehicle has been dismantled and reassembled at least twice by an expert called Jim and it still conks out every time its rubber reaches the open road.

# The midday deadline came and went with no news of Manchester being sectioned by Boris. Then at 14.30…

# Angela knows a fella who has fraudulently downloaded a mask-exemption certificate.

# Some writer on a magazine in America thought he’d switched off the video during a Zoom meeting for work…

# There’s a scene in the first episode of Ozark in which the body of the protagonist’s unfaithful wife’s lover is thrown by gangsters from a tall building, landing with a characteristic splat in the street below. So there must be an expert job title to go with staging that shot and making a sack of potatoes sound convincingly human-on-concrete.

WEDNESDAY 21 After yesterday’s revelation about the New Yorker guy caught self-pleasuring on Zoom, Zoe writes from Holland to confess her Zoom sins, which include wearing a penguin onesie as standard home-office attire. She also has her Christmas tree up already.

# My Perpetual Disappointments Diary tells me that Jack Kerouac died on this day in 1969. It also offers a stupid motto for the week: “You can lead a horse to water, but that’s not really a LinkedIn skill.”

# It looks like the much-trumpeted contact- tracing apps have not delivered on their promise of a quick end to a life of hell without toilet paper. Download rates are too low for them to be effective. Not surprisingly, France is the most stubborn country in refusing to join the party.

# Another gem arrived from Sam, from last week’s Zoom Studio when we tucked into Alex’s chicken/hen specimens.

A Hen, by Sam Jevon…

# In the next five years, the first human settlement on the Moon could be up and running. But some (Russia and China among them) see what looks like a great leap forward as a sneaky land grab by the US.

Gratuitous republishing of ‘Spot the Astronaut’ artwork from 2019…

THURSDAY 22 It sounds like a comedy. A politician in Hackney has been found guilty of pretending to be from another party to fiddle votes. What’s funnier is that the criminal act was then described as “blatant skullduggery”, which makes it sound like it deserves heritage protection.

# The new Gmail logo sucks.

# I spent about two hours writing a piece I then discovered I had already written 3 months ago. Strangely, I wasn’t that bothered until I realised that the original was far superior to the rewrite.

# A mission to “improve” the organisation of the basement storage room was always likely to turn up some unhappy reminders.

The carpet cleaner bought just before the switch to parquet flooring
The skeleton of a dead mouse

I was surprisingly fascinated by the mouse skeleton, but later felt it was a bit creepy, the kind of thing you find out later about serial killers.

# The lead character (an actor) in Better Things bought a midlife-crisis car and was replaced in her job by a dead person.

# Pamela Adlon treasures relationships.

# In Ozark, the corrupt are becoming legitimate and the legitimate are becoming corrupt. The morality of individual behaviour is the star.

FRIDAY 23 An email from James at Full Fact would have been hilarious if it wasn’t so serious. It reports Andrew Marr telling Michael Gove on TV that an “Australian-style” post-Brexit deal could just as easily be called a “Mongolian or Afghan” style deal. Full-Fact James then points out that Mongolia and Afghanistan have better trading terms with the EU than Australia.

# The Headway Home Studio Zoom session today was themed on Halloween. Alex showed up some creepy pictures of ancient Celts in rag masks celebrating the end of the growing season. The masks looked like something from the wardrobe department of a zombie movie. Then Alex talked about Halloween in a modern context and its association with the horror genre and mass marketing (Trick or Treat?). Then we all did a picture of Connie in scary make-up.

Connie In Scary Make-up, by Billy Mann

# The possibility of U-Turn 2.0 on free school meals is hanging in the air. Will Marcus Rashford slip in a scissor kick before the weekend?

# At the Family Zoom I learned that all my immediate relatives have high blood pressure and one just suffered a TIA. No wonder I had a stroke. It’s in the family. Previous generations I had presumed simply died of old age actually had strokes and heart attacks. I really don’t know why I was surprised by this. Maybe I just feel foolish not joining up the dots of death.

# My wife made the most amazing soup with some old carrots and other stuff. Problem is: she can’t remember what she did.

# Rupert’s local chippy is offering free meals to hungry kids.

# In Better Things, Duke’s friend got the tip of her finger chopped off in a car door, and the dog ate it.

# The Line of Duty trio (Adrian Dunbar, Vicky McClure, Martin Compston) were on Gogglebox. Dunbar (Guv) sat there, the right arm of his glasses missing, like a moody Victorian Dad while McClure (Kate) and Compston (Steve) rolled around giggling at the ridiculous horror movie they’d been asked to watch.

SATURDAY 24 A politician has publicly implied that free school meal payments go straight to brothels and crack dens.

# The Wee Ginger Dug is irritated by a column in the Telegraph in which the writer urges the British public to man up to the virus, just like they did to Hitler in WW2. The Dug points out that the writer was two years old at the time of The Blitz, adding also that “the threat represented by coronavirus is not the same as that represented by the pissing LuftWaffe”.

# Another powerful statement by Simon Jenkins about Britain’s willingness to sell itself to the highest bidder.

# Kate & Pete are in Dundee today. It sounds really exciting.

# Our neighbour Yvonne knitted my wife a pair of socks. Socks must be difficult to knit because Yvonne swears they are the last pair she will ever knit.

Yvonne’s last ever pair

# Surprise of the week comes from Annie, an artist who works at Barbican Archive. Each week she draws a comic strip based the Barbican and its history. Her characters always have a telling look and the ‘story’ is always fascinating. This week it reveals that the Barbican’s lake is dyed green.

Comic strip by Annie Ward

SUNDAY 25 In his consideration of what will happen in Britain if Joe Biden wins the US Presidency in November, Andrew Rawnsley wittily describes Boris Johnson as being seen internationaly as the “Trump Whisperer”.

# We had a conversation about what liberties we might be entitled to at Christmas if we are still festering in Boris’s Tier 2. There are nice log cabins in the Lea Valley, but they are in Tier 1 (ie, out of bounds). Could we, I asked, invite Marge and Derek round for a business lunch? My wife thought not, but I protested that since our homes are now our workplaces, it should be possible to hold a lunchtime brainstorming session with colleagues, tax deductable. That way we could bypass Boris and his nasty stormtroopers and simply get permission from that nice Scottish woman at the Tax Office.

# The latest stitchwork (a dog on a cotton Tote bag) project is stuttering along.

This poor dog already has a deformed foot

# Stuart has been sending his ruminations on Elvis Costello lyrics. I told him I wished that I could push a button and talk in the past and not the present tense [Brilliant Mistake, King of America].

MONDAY 26 Zoe spotted a fella in something called a Pokémon Gym and tipped him the wink. To be continued…

From the scrapbook:  Pokémon Gym. I googled it, but I’m still clueless

# Our washing machine plays an irritating tune when it’s finished. And it goes on so long you start to wonder if maybe it’s your turn to do the hanging-up.

# My wife instructed me to go outside. Outside isn’t somewhere I’ve been for over a week.

# Stuart says he had a mate who stole a guitar from Stephen Stills. He claimed the guitar was demonically possessed. He also, Stuart says, smoked spliffs at 9am.

# Mendelssohn’s Tree is the dead stump of a 500-year-old Beech from Burnham Beeches. It is now a sculpture in the open gardens of the Barbican Estate. It remains from a day when a storm ravaged the Buckinghamshire woodland in 1990. It is said to be the great composer’s favourite tree, beneath which he penned some of his greatest works.

TUESDAY 27 There might be more water on the Moon than anyone first thought, which makes it a hidden treasure for human exploitation. Problem is that it might not be the “right type” of water.

# Two pictures completed today…

Aldwych abstract
Startled chimp. My wife says it’s more like that fella from The Prodigy

# Did a Boots online hearing test and it said I could have poor hearing. Might just stick with the TV subtitles on for the time being.

# Liverpool won 2-0 at home, but they still look out of sorts.

WEDNESDAY 28 Zoe said the Pokémon dude tipped her the wink, not the other way round. I started a stupid reply about tipping the wink being an look of intent rather than a statement of fact, but gave up and I just said sorry.

# This could be a moment… It’s one of those stories that hasn’t gone away in more than a week and it’s not hard to sense it lasting for many more yet.

# There’s a big queue outside the Italian Consulate on Farringdon Street. I wonder if something Brexity is going on. This is a very Italian area of Clerkenwell. Big showy weddings are a regular fixture at St Peter’s church, and the food shops Terroni and Gazzano sell spaghetti in sizes you can’t get elsewhere.

# It is weird listening to the organ and saxaphone parts on Bruce Springsteen’s new E-Street album, Letter To You. Danny Federici died in 2008 and Clarence Clemons in 2011.

# Walk 4 in the 12 Bridges book I just found via Instagram goes over Blackfriars Bridge from the south side to New Bridge Street where at No14 is the site of Bridewell Palace, one of Henry VIII’s hangouts during the smashing-up of the churches. It became a hospital and then a jail, and the word “Bridewell” was thereafter used in English-speaking territories to mean a prison.

14 New Bridge Steet

From there I drifted into St Brides church, which was allowing walk-ins. I hadn’t been back since Peter Preston‘s service in January 2018 and the photo “graveyard” of departed journalists has grown. Deborah (Orr) is there and of course the greatest of them all, Harry Evans.

St Brides altar
Journalists’ “gravestones

Then it was down to the crypt, which houses a museum where you can see one of the metal coffins used  in the 19th Century to deter bodysnatchers who earned money supplying student anatomists with fresh meat. The only other source was the hangman.

St Brides crypt

# Rachael posted some good news on Twitter. This comes after the Arcola theatre announced a new outdoor Covid-safe project.

THURSDAY 29 In my Cormoran Strike book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, a short story, fully formed, appears in one poetic sentence. It goes something like this: “Tansy was swaddling the truth in an obvious lie, and Strike wanted to know why.”

# On the walk to Headway I listened to Elvis Costello’s King of America album and later me, Chris, Stuart and Bryn rehearsed the track Indoor Fireworks. The musicians in the quartet opted to do it in the key of D. I tapped my feet, mouthed the lyrics and did as little as possible. Later in the studio I did a picture of a horse from one of Derrick’s photographs.

A horse from Derrick’s vast photographic collection

# The findings of the investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party is finished. It is damning and former leader Jeremy Corbyn has been suspended.

# Oh, no, this is something I agreed to do that I secretly hoped would drop off the agenda, but it didn’t.

Donations to Headway East London, a charity supporting people affected by brain injury

# Lucy writes poetry I simply don’t understand. To be honest, I don’t understand most poetry, but I always try to find a line I like. Lucy is prolific, but I always feel her wordplay is beyond my reach. I did, however, like the line, “she nocturnes this feeling of death”, in The Sea Girls.

# We saw an online performance by Nubya Garcia from the Barbican, plugging her album Source. Nubya plays a moody tenor sax reminiscent of some of the deep prowling sounds on Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man. Loved it, but still don’t like that jazz thing where every member of the band gets to show off for 5 minutes. In this case, the drummer was particularly annoying, with the double bass a close 2nd.

# Pretty soon everyone will be in Tier 3 (Shut up, do as you’re told, go nowhere, suffer). Then the mass uprising begins.

# Keir Starmer is disappointed at what Jeremy Corbyn said.

FRIDAY 30 The elasticated arthritis compression gloves I bought off the internet for £4.39 work well but need regular washing.

# Keir Starmer looks like he’s having a Kinnock moment.

# Off to Bishopsgate Institute for the free Friday lunchtime musical recital. It was weird seeing the hall with spaced-out chairs.

Safe-distance seating at Bishopsgate Institute, London

Booking in advance is required and the correct number of seats laid out according to bubbles, so it was disappointing to notice that a bubble of four did not turn up, plus two single seats.

The performer, flautist Nina Robertson, has a way with the flute that on occasions made it sound like a reed instrument – the upper end of the clarinet or oboe. She played some properly serious pieces by Schubert and Debussy, but then struck out with some busky Irish stuff and finished with a fun piece based in a pair of bickering parakeets.

Nina Robertson at Bishopsgate Institute, London

The parakeet preamble included a story about Jimi Hendrix arriving in London with a pair of parakeets, which he released in Carnaby Street, thus starting a parakeet population explosion. This story was too good to check, so I didn’t.

# Michelle sent me today’s Home Studio project, a Spanish cowboy (vaquero). This is my effort.

Buckaroo, with what looks like a partially amputated right arm, riding a horse that could be a unicorn with two left feet

# I made a birthday card for my niece, who is a Halloween child, about to become 31 on 31, but didn’t send it because it was deemed too weird. Which is probably right.

SATURDAY 31 I tried another birthday card for my niece and settled on this one, which my sister thought appropriate for a Scorpio.

# We tried in vain to look Halloweeny for the Halloween coffee morning with the Barbican bunch.

Then we all told stories about food and dining establishments. Gill told one about being in Russia on Christmas Day and sitting with a friend drinking hot chocolate and eating Mars Bars and suddenly realising what day it was. There was a concentration of interest in chips, how they are cooked, size and the best local suppliers (Kennedy’s). There was also a grouping around crab and lobster eaten close to where it was caught (Dorset, Whitstable). I broke ranks and raved about the French crêpes galettes we used to eat at Cripes in Brighton shortly after we were first married.

# The annual gathering of estate residents for Halloween went off safely and smoothly. There were plenty of free cakes to eat, soup and other hot drinks. I was reprimanded by a 9-year-old for entering the Under-5s playground to take a picture of a rose bush I had mistaken from a distance to be a pumpkin tree.

# This was a stressful game to watch. It never looked good for Liverpool.

See all of my Diaries.

One thought on “Diary: October 2020

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