Diary: Week 21


22-28 May...

SATURDAY The BBC has been exposed for its sloppy governance in the Princess Diana affair. That governance clearly needs greater vigilance, but a high level of institutional scrutiny is alien to Boris’s freewheeling libertarian philosophy.

📌 While watching a TV retrospective on Fleetwood Mac (which majored on the Rumours album), I got a message from Stuart about Stevie Nicks and cocaine. I didn’t reply immediately. I was too busy checking if the band deployed the English spelling of Rumours or the American Rumors on the album sleeve. On close inspection the typography looks seriously fiddled-with to minimise the the size of that controversial U. It is super-slender and barely noticeable.

📌 Quora has been dull recently, and then…

📌 Jeremy Hunt is at the centre of one of those stories in which a statement of the obvious is dressed up as revelation.

SUNDAY Boris has pulled off that trick where the stain of corruption is made to look  just like the pattern of life’s rich tapestry, says Nick Cohen.

📌 Is it a desire to witness the perfect con that allows a con-artist government to win votes?

📌 Another popular TV series we never saw when everyone else did is Happy Valley. The first three episodes are a convincing reminder of actor Sarah Lancashire’s outstanding contribution to the domestic drama strand.

📌 Met Chris for lunch at the Barbican. He was there to see a “niche” silent film about life inside a Carthusian monastery in France. We talked about the Dubuffet exhibition and agreed that Dubuffet, though fascinating, was no great artist himself. But as a merchant (in Dubuffet’s case a wine merchant, originally), he sure could spot the main chance – as he did when flogging booze to the Nazis during WW2, and in the outsider artists he chose to adopt/appropriate.

We made a soft spectacle of ourselves: two relics grappling with table 17’s QR-code ordering system in the Barbican Kitchen restaurant. And half way through his sandwich Chris claimed that the Barbican is a controversial inclusion in the ranks of Brutalist architecture because its concrete surfaces aren’t really smooth enough.

📌 The vaccination roll-out is throwing up some stark class divisions, according to an article in the Guardian… “Sefton council chose the Formby branch of Waitrose for a pop-up testing site. Bolton, meanwhile, parked its vaccine bus outside the Essa academy, where almost half of pupils qualify for free school meals…”

📌 The winners of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest (Italy) are to be drug tested. The UK once again failed to notice that this competition is a circus show, not about music, and duly scored 0 points.

📌 Liverpool beat Crystal Palace 2-0 to secure entry to next season’s Champions’ League. The miracle is that other results in the Premier League allowed them to finish in 3rd place.

MONDAY The message from Amazon says they have issued a refund for the box of craft beer I ordered and which presumably got smashed in transit. My wife remarked that the delivery person probably had my refund deducted from their pay. I’d like to think that wasn’t the case, but it probably was.

📌 The social-media comments about the Jean Dubuffet exhibition at the Barbican are of a stock that has become annoyingly common – the belief that a work of art is fraudulent if it “could have been done by a 5-year-old”. The same small view is being whipped up against David Hockney’s childlike reworking of the London Underground Piccadilly Circus roundel.

Mind the gap, Mr Hockney…

But as a stroppy piece on It’s Nice That asserts, these remarks only go to show how badly the British public understands art. And there’s a reason for that…

📌 Sniffer dogs can now detect Covid-19. Phew!

TUESDAY Straight stories that manage to cross over into comedy are always welcome…

📌 Hard-line proof of identity and settled status is creeping in, as seen in the case of GPs insisting on ID and address. I’m not sure any method of registration that doesn’t include proof of identity has yet been devised.

📌 More messing around with digital collage, inspired by a Polish designer who does old Soviet-style political pieces.

📌 In Do I Make Myself Clear the late great Harry Evans gives short shrift to sloppy prose. He wants us to write better English, but the problem as I see it is that good English is useless to bad readers. If a reader does not read a sentence with any care, all the care taken in writing it evaporates in a second. PLEASE READ THIS PARAGRAPH AGAIN IF YOU ARE IN ANY DOUBT ABOUT ITS MEANING!

This is especially annoying when someone replies to your email and has obviously only casually scanned your message.

WEDNESDAY The news does not inspire much. Maybe it’s a condition. Apathy’s not the right word, but it’s close. Not even the much-anticipated revelations from the rasputinesque Dominic Cummings stirs any interest. He is due to give evidence to a select committee on Boris’s failings in the early stages of the pandemic. He will allegedly sketch out what a toe-rag Boris and his bootboys are. That he was at the time Bootboy-in-Chief taints any evidence he might give, but I’m always happy to see those in power squirm, so fingers crossed.

📌 The Barbican’s teachers’ resources for the Jean Dubuffet/Brutal Beauty exhibition are a thing of beauty.

📌 At a Rich Mix Talkaoke on the arts and culture in the times of Covid, one speaker, said introverted students have found remote learning a way to sidestep shyness (headline = Introverts’ Time To Shine). Much of the conversation otherwise was about what schoolchildren missed out on and the long-term impact of the virus as a “return to normal” beckons (again).

📌 The studio‘s merchandise stand at the Barbican looked good.

Submit to Love merch at the Barbican’s Jean Dubuffet: Brutal Beauty exhibition.

📌 At the Jean Dubuffet exhibition at the Barbican, I wondered how Dubuffet, with his proclaimed “anti-cultural” stance, would have handled himself in conversation with Andy Warhol, who gobbled up every morsel of his surrounding culture and re-cooked it for modern consumption.

📌 For some organisations, “measuring outcomes” means counting how many retweets they get.

THURSDAY Forgot to check for the Super Blood Moon last night.

📌 The moratorium on rudeness has ended. Lots of stroppy barging has invaded the streets.

📌 Headway is starting to get back to normal. Saw people today I haven’t seen in over a year. Had a nice chat with Cecil and was able to resume the #katyasshoes tag on Instagram.

Kat’s shoes, the restart…

📌 Experimenting with a new app on the bus, I nearly missed my stop.

📌 Chris said that when a woman asked him recently if he’d like her to carry his shopping, he said yes, then noticed she was pregnant and felt guilty. He then tried to make up for it by asking when her baby was due and she answered: “Today.”

FRIDAY A story in the Guardian reminded me of the time I tried to write a play about a beautiful avenue of trees in West London, in which the trees talk to each other over hundreds of years about the stupid humans who scurry around down there and then die a lonely death.

📌 The Rodin exhibition at Tate Modern gave a fascinating insight into the processes and methods of the master sculptor.

There were moments of humour, too. There was apparently a controversy around his early sculpture The Age Of Bronze. Critics argued he had cast this magnificent piece from a real person rather than create it by hand. Rodin won the argument and proved the work’s handmade authenticity. My wife remarked on viewing it that one look at those buttocks would have told all but the sight-impaired that the sculpture was genuine.

We also had a laugh speculating on the number of academic essays that have probably been written about The Thinker’s thinking hand. In early models shown here he appears to be biting his knuckles with worry. But in the gigantic finished work his chin is resting thoughtfully on outstretched fingers.

And one sculpture, sans head, has an outstretched left arm that hooks into a shape that in one moment looks like ET and in the next could be a ridiculous attempt to pass for the Loch Ness monster.

The exhibition is stuffed with items no passing curiosity can ignore. Hands were a big deal for Rodin. Not surprising for a sculptor, I guess. Big is another big thing. There are some truly massive feet here, and one tortured soul even goes by the humiliating name of Colossal Head.

The one piece I most liked, though, was actually a cast of almost nothing. It depicts Balzac’s dressing gown/smoking jacket/bathrobe. Balzac is nowhere to be seen. It is a sculpture of emptiness, which makes you wonder if that’s what Rodin thought of Balzac.

Clockwise from top left: Balzac’s dressing gown, Rodin’s fascination with hands (2) and Colossal Head, bless him…

📌 Popped into Headway to collect a bag of clay I forgot to bring home yesterday. It’s for an online workshop I’m delivering on Tuesday, in which we add self-portraits to pinch pots.

Me as a pot…

The visit offered the chance to get another picture of Kat’s shoes for the #katyasshoes collection.

These are Kat’s “rubbish old” shoes…

Read all of my scrapbook diaries…

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