One year ago: Week 19 2020


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

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

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

📌 Today I saw a picture on the 19-20th Century Russian Painters Facebook page called Ices Of The Kara Sea, by Borisov Alexandr Alekseevich, and it reminds me of the fantasy landscapes we used to draw at school – me, Gary and Dennis, creating wacky worlds where people did the funniest things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

📌 Such a pleasure to rearrange the fridge magnets.

Fridge-magnet frenzy…

📌 During a family Zoom, my sister recommended a new drama on Netflix called The Eddy. It’s about the complicated lives of the people who own and inhabit a jazz club in Paris (she lives there). The club isn’t doing well, the owner is an unexploded psychological bomb and his personal life is, natch, a disaster. His best mate gets his throat slit in the first episode and his busty blues singer girlfriend has lost her voice. His estranged daughter arrives from New York to add even more baggage to his already overloaded life and he constantly puts on a face that simply looks doomed. Typical of my sister to enjoy this type of rubbish. The Eddy is black-hole TV. Its density is suffocating. It’s a drama without a story. It’s an overlong character study. Nothing happens: “Sweaty Parisian club owner feels the pinch professionally and privately” – just what you don’t want on a Friday night in Lockdown.

Saturday There’s a story in the paper saying 8,000 more people have died since the start of the virus than would have in normal times.

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

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

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

📌 At this week’s Zoom coffee, we all wore hats. The conversation centred on the imminent so-called “easing” of the stay-at-home rules. Already a type of DIY anarchy has broken out and distancing guidelines casually binned.

Hats on for Zoom…

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

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

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

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

I’ve tasted worse…

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

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

Hilda Ogden in stitches

Read all of my scrapbook diaries…

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