Diary: May 2021


SATURDAY 1 Ahead of tomorrow’s TV finale of the current series of Line of Duty, two real anti-corruption cops have given their verdict: “Having considered the evidence… we can conclude that Line of Dutyโ€™s AC-12 has crossed the line, breached the code of ethics and failed to diligently carry out their duties.”

๐Ÿ“Œ All bets were on Manchester, but Merseyside might yet become capital of the much-trumpeted Northern Powerhouse.

Read the full story here…

Ed McBainโ€™s Long Time No See, Chapter 12, in one paragraph… Carella toys with the conflicting accounts of the Roxanne “rape” story. Stanley the orphaned guide dog has still not found a new home. And forensics have matched the soil under Jimmy’s fingernails with that in his window box. Carella takes delivery of Jimmy’s Army file and starts to track down his closest colleagues. One of them was weirdly promoted in a very short time frame.

SUNDAY 2 Angela Merkelโ€™s successor in Germany is likely to be one of two coalition party leaders, from the Greens and/or the CDU. Both have differing views on foreign policy, and especially on relations with Russia and China. The Autumn election in Germany thus becomes a magnifying glass on Northern Hemisphere geopolitics, with different forms of autocracy (Russia, China) versus different forms of democracy (Europe, the USA).

๐Ÿ“Œ Chapter 13 of Ed McBainโ€™s Long Time No See provides the moment of breakthrough… Carella interviews Jimmyโ€™s commanding officer, who had for some reason been fast-tracked to Major shortly after the wartime incident in which Jimmy lost his eyesight. He appears to be quite dim on the facts. Meanwhile, detective Cotton Hawes interviews the rest of Jimmyโ€™s former Army colleagues, who all give a roughly consistent account of the mortar attack in which one of their officers was killed and Jimmy was blinded. Back in the city, an attempted assault on a blind person is thwarted by his guide dog, Ralph, biting the assailant. The victim also claims to have detected the smell of chloroform.

๐Ÿ“Œ Our first outing to a place peopled by strangers is a timed-visit to the flea market in Bethnal Green. It was full of well-behaved customers in search of midcentury bargains. My wife tells me there is a lot more wicker and rattan around these days.

Outside Bethnal Green flea market…

๐Ÿ“Œ Andrew Rawnsley will not be joining the effort to trivialise the interior redecoration of the Prime Ministerโ€™s office apartment. โ€œIf a man canโ€™t be straight about how he paid for his sofa, what else might he lie about?โ€

๐Ÿ“Œ Protesting football fans have again made an impact with a demonstration at Old Trafford that caused the scheduled game of Man Utd vs Liverpool to be postponed. Anyone plotting a real overthrow of power might reflect on the willingness of football fans to take collective action.

๐Ÿ“Œ The conclusion of Line of Duty saw the series pushing the idea of anti-corruption in a fascinating direction with quite strong political references and implications. The primacy of the ‘denial’ by those in high office, stated strongly as if it were undisputed fact was seen for the shady device that it is. The bent copper boasts under police caution that he is safe because “officially” there are no bent coppers. The Chief Constable claims victory in an organised-crime case cracked by the anti-corruption unit AC-12, but fails to state that it was a case of institutional police corruption.

๐Ÿ“Œ Must experiment with the scale/resolution settings on digital images. The photo above, from Bethnal Green, has gained a grainy, bad screen-printed look.

MONDAY 3 With any luck, the political shenanigans of David Cameron and Boris Johnson might just be the final nail in the coffin for government by a privileged elite. The public-school institutional right to rule appears to be drowning in its own conceit. It’s hard now, with Cameron’s demise and Johnson’s public exposure, to imagine its survival. Hard, but not impossible.

๐Ÿ“Œ Today marks 100 years since the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which partitioned Ireland, came into force. A series of essays in the Socialist Worker casts Ireland’s current predicament in a new light.

๐Ÿ“Œ Bev made a temporary stand for Faye’s memorial birdbath. I emphasise the word temporary.

Memorial bird bath…

๐Ÿ“Œ Ed McBain’s Long Time No See, Chapter 14, in prรฉcis… No one wants Stanley, the orphan guide dog, and Carella is drawing blanks in the murder investigations, but is convinced the truth lies somewhere among Jimmy’s Army colleagues. A police psychologist gives him a Freudian analysis of Jimmy’s nightmares and the penny drops. The nightmares are a transference of Jimmy’s combat experience, during which an officer is killed. But Carella still has very little evidence, so when he finds a safe-deposit-box key hanging from Stanley’s collar, the case takes a real turn.

๐Ÿ“Œ The rise of the Greens in Germany looks unstoppable. If they get a big majority in September, Brexit Britain might start to look like a pathetically shrivelled European state.

TUESDAY 4 Another Star Wars Day (May The 4th Be With You) arrives. There is a setting on our new oven called FORCE, which I intend to use today to cook a piece of fish.

๐Ÿ“Œ Long Time No See, Chapter 15, condensed… The safe deposit box contains a copy of a blackmail/extortion letter from Jimmy to the killer, Major Tatalgia, threatening to expose the murder of a fellow officer in the field of battle. Carella nails the case in an interview that ends with the revelation of an incriminating dog-bite wound on Tatalgia’s ankle and a subsequent confession.  The End.

๐Ÿ“Œ Bumped into Alain on Whitecross Street. He said that during the lockdown his weight dropped to under 70kg. He was looking slim but spirited. He said he rebuilt his strength with long power walks and at the outdoor gym at Spa Fields, Exmouth Market.

๐Ÿ“Œ In last week’s Headway Home Studio Alex posed as a harlequin as our model. Today I got a copy of Sam’s picture.

Harlequin Alex, by Sam Jevon

๐Ÿ“Œ A fascinating article in The Conversation describes a new craze among Chinese millennials called Sang Culture, in which despondency, self-deprecation, self-loathing and a loser mentality have grown into a political statement.

๐Ÿ“Œ I don’t believe we spent 5 minutes discussing the size, positioning and proportionality of Alexander Armstrong’s ears.

WEDNESDAY 5 According to an article in The Conversation, all the talk about Net Zero carbon emissions has lulled us into a “burn now, pay later” belief that technology will march to the rescue and suck all the bad emissions out of the atmosphere.

๐Ÿ“Œ The Guardian is 200 today. When I had my near-death experience I hoped I would survive to see this day. I gave 30 years of my life to it, and it paid me for 30 years, and still does.

Looking good at 200…

๐Ÿ“Œ Tomorrow’s nationwide elections will tell us whether Wales and Scotland want to stay friends with England. If friends is what you can call it. Both countries are well on their way to independence.

๐Ÿ“Œ The first big Brexit fight with France is not surprisingly all about fish.

๐Ÿ“Œ Chummy exploded when her chicken-and-mushroom pies got burned: “Bally botheration!”

THURSDAY 6 the latest space-junk story in The Conversation…

… has buried inside it reference to something called the Graveyard Orbit, which sounds like the basis of a macabre sci-fi TV comedy in which discount space-junk funerals are conducted by a motley crew of cosmic undertakers.

๐Ÿ“Œ The space-junk story also names Australia as the holder of the award for  โ€œwho can be hit by the biggest piece of space junkโ€, which happened in 1979 when a 77-tonne piece of the crumbling US space station Sky Lab landed uncomfortably on the Western Australian town of Esperance.

๐Ÿ“Œ The big Brexit Fight with France continues with gunboats and tit-for-tat threats. Turns out that Jersey is not attached to the UK National Grid and France can turn off the electricity off at any time.

๐Ÿ“Œ CNN says the big Brexit Fight with France is a declaration of war in all but name. It’s report states that what started as a protest has been twisted into a blockade and is now a standoff. It also suggests it was predictable: “When you reach a deal at the 11th hour and don’t adequately tell the affected parties what it means for them, issues like this are inevitable”… is the quote from Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King’s College London. 

๐Ÿ“Œ I thought my days of fishing other people’s rubbish out of recycling bins was over. Until I found an old guitar, which has now become a “project”. Watch this space.

Can you tell it used to be a guitar?

๐Ÿ“Œ If Labour Remainers donโ€™t get to grips with whatโ€™s to be salvaged from the Leave vote, the party will Remain out of power for decades… Another cold stare at reality from Larry Elliot.

FRIDAY 7 The repair and refinishing of the wooden parquet floor in our living room is not going well. The first coat of the stained finish was patchy โ€“ the right shade in some parts, very dark in others. Now re-stripped, the floor is ready for a fresh attempt.

๐Ÿ“Œ That’s that, then…

Read the full story here…

๐Ÿ“Œ Headway Home Studio was all about flowers, so I made a flower person.

Flower to the people…

๐Ÿ“Œ Marina Hyde is showing no mercy.

๐Ÿ“Œ My wife laughed at me for being shorter than Napoleon.

๐Ÿ“Œ The new floor finish is a vast improvement…

Floor show…

SATURDAY 8 At 04.16 two separate scraps of conversations popped into my head.

The first was with Sarah at Headway, who told me her son ridiculed the cozy Parka she picked up on Freecycle. It turned out to be an exclusive brand item worth ยฃ900 and favoured by street-based drug dealers.

The second recollection was of a Zoom meeting in which one member told of the rigorous monitoring she endured while in quarantine after an overseas visit โ€“ persistent/insistent telephone calls mostly.

Another member of the group, who was still in quarantine after visiting her parents in Barcelona, said she’d had no contact from the Quarantine Cops.

๐Ÿ“Œ The media coverage of Keir Starmer’s shortcomings is starting to rival that of HRH Phil.

๐Ÿ“Œ Interesting to see some success for Labour. From all accounts, they do things differently in Wales, where Starmer et al are very much a side show.

๐Ÿ“Œ When you’ve cut your finger and it’s dripping blood, the last thing you need is a wrestling match with idiotic packaging.

๐Ÿ“Œ The new art blog has amassed 3 followers.

๐Ÿ“Œ Starmer is promising root-and-branch reform. He should start by trusting others to do the talking (Angela Rayner, Jess Phillips) and pledge to introduce proportional representation.

๐Ÿ“Œ Scapegoating always looks cowardly…

๐Ÿ“Œ No one believed me when I dressed up as the Prophet of Doom last week…

SUNDAY 9 Someone called Mike Baillie sent a ranty email with a petition to sign next to a picture of a forlorn-looking cow.

Gruesome factory farms are pumping animals full of powerful antibiotics, creating vicious new superbugs that could kill 10 million people a year by 2050. But if we push McDonald’s to slash antibiotics, its sheer size could shift the global industry to more sustainable farming โ€“ and help stop the superbugs. McDonald’s is deciding right nowโ€ฆ so let’s push them to stop the next pandemic and help millions of desperate animals.

๐Ÿ“Œ We’ve just hooked up with a streaming service called Dice and last night sat down with pizza and wine for a Dylan Moran gig from Melbourne before the pandemic struck.

Moran’s work is so poetic and deeply funny that it is hard to reconcile it with the drawn, rambling hobo character with an out-of-control beard who introduced the show.

Every time I see him perform I inch closer to seeing him as an acquired literary figure rather than a mass-market big-venue comedian.

๐Ÿ“Œ We joined the Zoominar for Chris’s Dundee exhibition. He said having his first solo exhibition during Covid was like losing your virginity but not being there.

๐Ÿ“Œ When I mentioned to my wife that the imminent completion of our home refurbishment will usher in a week of new bickering as we argue over which bit of furniture goes where, she remarked that New Bickering sounds like a town in West Sussex.

MONDAY 10 Keir Starmer has gone all kick-ass in the hope that it makes him look like a contender for PM. It has made him look weaker instead and his efforts could actually end up boosting the power of those he intended to neutralise. Angela Rayner is to be the new Michael Gove.

๐Ÿ“Œ The Morning Star reports a massive leap in support for the Communist Party in the local elections.

๐Ÿ“Œ Mooching around Clerkenwell I was glad to see that the old Ingersoll building has not been sacrificed to modernity. For some reason, I always thought Ingersoll was a Swiss company. Turns out it is 19th-century American. Wiki says the company was started by a 21-year-old who wanted to create the “dollar watch”.

Watch, this space…

๐Ÿ“Œ The Clerkenwell Mooch also confirmed that the outdoor gym equipment in Spa Fields was as good as Alain had told me last week.

Spa Fields, Clerkenwell…

๐Ÿ“Œ A big article in the London Review of Books by Ferdinand Mount and entitled Ruthless and Truthless digs deep into political liars, their skills and the philosophical roots of dishonesty. Much of the article links directly and indirectly to Boris Johnson. One passage that stood out for me was…

For Nietzsche, lying isn’t a desperate expedient, but one of the ways the Great Man demonstrates his indifference to conventional morality, and hence his superiority. Mendacity is a sign of greatness…

๐Ÿ“Œ There’s a lot of speculation whether the United Kingdom can stay united when its Prime Minister seems bent on cultivating so much disunity. He is not a consensus politician, so the presence of the SNP in Scotland, Labour in Wales and England’s big cities, and a noisy gang of “red Tories” in his own party, is unlikely to make him change his ways. He let his true character slip with his “let the bodies pile high, the shops are staying open” remark, so the only way forward for Labour is to PROVE they can unite a Disunited Kingdom. There’s a majority for that.

TUESDAY 11 A man in Wiltshire put himself up for election as Police & Crime Commissioner, but failed to tell anyone of his drink-driving conviction.

๐Ÿ“Œ Sam sent her version of one of those Picasso paintings featuring a lute or a mandolin…

A Picasso, by Sam Jevon…

๐Ÿ“Œ On the mooch around Clerkenwell I found a studio that makes architectural models. There’s something weirdly fascinating about miniaturisation.

Architectural models in Clerkenwell…

๐Ÿ“Œ The last days of the restrictions were being utilised by a film crew at the Barbican.

๐Ÿ“Œ And it’s the last day of our home refurbishment. Tomorrow we will prepare to receive back our old furniture and stuff, wondering all the time where we shall put everything. Much of it will stay in boxes, I suspect.

๐Ÿ“Œ The chapter on Definition in my Writing Prose study book starts by saying it’s important in choosing your method of definition to decide whether it’s the THING you’re trying to define or the WORD that signifies the thing. The example is “apple”: pomme, apfel, mela, manzana, “the round fruit of a tree of the rose family, which typically has thin green or red skin and crisp flesh”, or the thing that looks a bit like a pomegranate but isn’t one.

๐Ÿ“Œ A Scottish blogger I follow has developed the habit of a) repeatedly declaring her vegan status, and b) posting the details of her TV dinners (with photos) on Twitter, food that looks to me like veganised junk food. Good job she’s funny.

๐Ÿ“Œ Israel has gone into another one of its killing frenzies in Gaza.

๐Ÿ“Œ You must have guessed it would come to this…

Read the full story here…

WEDNESDAY 12 The Queenโ€™s Speech has been filleted for whatโ€™s in it. One friend complained that her 90-year-old mother โ€œwonโ€™t be able to vote unless she pays ยฃ75.50 to renew her passportโ€. But Paul Waugh at Huffpost UK looks at the speechโ€™s omissions and asks what all the missing details add up to.

๐Ÿ“Œ St Lukeโ€™s has lined up an exciting project with the British Museum, in which we go in, snoop around, handle objects then workshop some ideas into a finished group artwork. Quite fancy the idea of remaking the Rosetta Stone with rubbish from a skip.

๐Ÿ“Œ My Diary for this week last year notes that the Prime Minister has just announced that the lockdown will be eased from next Monday.

๐Ÿ“Œ My wife sat down to show me some fabric samples. I looked interested and offered an opinion, hoping for a clue. But nothing could remind me what on earth this fabric was for.

๐Ÿ“Œ Keir Starmer as Labour’s answer to Iain Duncan Smith. Can’t decide who should be most offended by that.

๐Ÿ“Œ With Radovan Karadลพiฤ‡ about to arrive on those shores for a stay at HMP, Brexit Britainโ€™s is open for business โ€“ as a storage facility for genocidal killers.

THURSDAY 13 Northern Ireland still has the potential to become a very dangerous place…

Read the full story here…

๐Ÿ“Œ Paul Waugh in HuffPost UK senses Labour coming off the ropes in a speech by the new Shadow Chancellor.

๐Ÿ“Œ There’s an intriguing story knocking around about Boris being chased for an unpaid debt. As soon as Downing Street pushes out the “nothing to see here” response, you start to think there probably is.

๐Ÿ“Œ Jacob Rees-Mogg has defended government plans to require photographic identification to vote by comparing it with a ban on MPs wearing hats and overcoats to prevent evil impersonators voting in the House.

FRIDAY 14 The home refurb is finished, the furniture is back in place, the TV works and we have a table at which to eat our meals. Liverpool beat Manchester United at Old Trafford. Bliss.

๐Ÿ“Œ Stephen Mangan has a radio show in which he takes virtual Confession with invited comedians, an act that seems to encourage him to make his own confessions. Today he told the story of “a man” who was at a Catholic christening and when asked by the priest to renounce the Devil “and all his works”, replied meekly “I do.” Whereupon his 5-year-old daughter in the congregation stood up and shouted, “Liar!” The comedian Suzi Ruffell talked about walking around under a permanent “shame shadow” and the two of them agreed that all comedians can’t take a joke because they are the ones who are in charge of laughter and any attempt to disrupt that dictatorship is wrong.

๐Ÿ“Œ Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, mobs surrounding police vehicles is a worrying trend.

๐Ÿ“Œ The latest Stitchwork project is Westlands, my cousin Helen’s neighbourhood in Staffordshire.

๐Ÿ“Œ Someone on our local online forum is looking for “100-150” units of “fluffy pitta bread”.

๐Ÿ“Œ It seems wrong to press LIKE on a posting that brings sad or difficult news. You want to show acknowledgement, empathy, sometimes sympathy, but trying to do it online always feels inadequate.

๐Ÿ“Œ Nice to see Chris using the Picasso stitchwork tote bag based on his drawing.

Picasso, by Chris, via Billy

๐Ÿ“Œ I think our local takeaway might be trying too hard.

๐Ÿ“Œ My wife rolled her eyeballs when I said I intended to build a wall out of the mountain of books we have in storage.

SATURDAY 15 A 24-year-old Italian woman visiting her uncle in the UK got slammed into a detention centre.

๐Ÿ“Œ Having rerouted the mass of spaghetti wiring (phone, router, TV, Firestick, digibox, CD player) neatly inside a cupboard, I am now required to undo all of that and let the spaghetti drool all of over the floor.

๐Ÿ“Œ The retrospective FA Cup preview on TV threw up the nowadays rare sight of the balding footballer, plus the equally rare sight of team staff smoking on the sidelines.

๐Ÿ“Œ Engelbert Humperdinck used to play cards with Gary Lineker’s dad.

๐Ÿ“Œ Still not quite sure whether it’s the India variant or the Indian variant we need to be scared about.

๐Ÿ“Œ Paul Weller genteely live-streaming from the Barbican was joined by Boy George and Celeste, each for one song only and both looking uncomfortably like they’d walked into the wrong place. Boy George ended up dad dancing with a fixed grin.

๐Ÿ“Œ West Ham drew 1-1 with Brighton, so if Leicester beat Chelsea again on Tuesday the door is still open for Liverpool to make the top four.

SUNDAY 16 The messages from change.org always begin with the same words…

This petition is taking off , and we think you might be interested in adding your name. Sign now to help:

Beneath today’s is a picture of an unhappy-looking squinty-eyed elephant and the petition’s title…

Stop the slaughter of 287 elephants in Botswana

Trophy hunting has been given the green light in Botswana and someone called Lloyd Power thinks it should be stopped. I signed, but only because I honestly couldn’t imagine anyone NOT wanting to stop the slaughter of 287 elephants. Even the trophy hunters would probably rather be doing something else.

๐Ÿ“Œ CNN has some good stories today. There’s a chilling prรฉcis on Boris’s war on culture, and a transatlantic report that is worth watching…

๐Ÿ“Œ When this turned up on Facebook I was reminded of a play we once saw in Brighton written by Brendan Beehan’s brother Brian, about the last hours of Tony Hancock’s life.

๐Ÿ“Œ I wonder if all homes look like this…

๐Ÿ“Œ My wife fixed our TV streaming service so we were able to watch football. Whereupon my wife claimed that footballers feigning injury have “a new way of lying down”.

๐Ÿ“Œ Liverpool’s goalkeeper Alisson Becker scored the winning goal from a corner in the dying seconds of the game.

Read all about it here…

MONDAY 17 It’s such a shame that “median” has not yet transplanted the deeply unreliable “average” when reporting statistics.

๐Ÿ“Œ Facebook has started switching automatically to the annoying “watch” section. Must find a way to turn that off.

๐Ÿ“Œ The immediate Unlockdown starting this week includes two exhibitions and a conference. Today: Jean Dubuffet at the Barbican, Thursday: neuro rehab conference presentation for ABI solutions, then next week to see Rodin at the Tate. And I already submitted my “blank page” idea for the Headway Futures working group…

Five years’ time… The area currently occupied by St Leonard’s hospital, stretching west from its dusty frontage on Kingsland Road all the way down Nuttall Street to Hoxton Street is now named on Google Maps as “Hoxton-Headway”, a semi-autonomous neuro-rehabilitation village in the heart of London. The woman on the bus chirps, “The next stop is Hoxton-Headway“.

Hoxton-Headway is a centre of excellence in the understanding of all things neuro, where brain-injury survivors, neurology experts and all associated practitioners live together in a culturally open community. And it has become a surprise prototype for how future “micro-societies” can thrive.

The formation of small-group settlements surged in the immediate aftermath of the Great Disruption brought on by the 2020-21 coronavirus pandemic, but none has been as successful as Hoxton-Headway, where the word rehab has been remade. 

Gone is the association with the “treatment” of addiction. “Rehab” is now a new way of living together, in which each “member” โ€“ be they a car-crash survivor with massive frontal lobe damage, or a top brain surgeon โ€“ has equal rights and opportunities, and each is supported by their fellow members to flourish as an individual in a curiously diverse collective. 

The member-mantra of Hoxton-Headway has a utopian ring to it, like someone transplanted a Truman Show version of Queen Square (National Hospital of Neurology & Neurosurgery) into Brick Lane. So we sent our intrepid reporter to spend a week testing the highs and lows of life in NeuroLand.

๐Ÿ“Œ Only in Little England would a croquet match be the best way to solve a pronunciation dispute.

TUESDAY 18 None of Britain’s political parties has the BIG PLAN the nation needs to stem a crushing decline in living standards, says Larry Elliott.

๐Ÿ“Œ On BBC Radio 2 Clare Runacres says “This is Clare Runacres” as if she is announcing the untimely death of Clare Runacres.

๐Ÿ“Œ There are a lot of virus infections in Bolton. Most of them are in people who declined to be vaccinated. Andrew Lloyd Webber is quoted as saying people who refuse to be vaccinated are like drink-drivers.

๐Ÿ“Œ I always believed that the NHS would survive because it is run by citizens for citizens. Maybe I was wrong.

Read the full story…

๐Ÿ“Œ Nomadland is such a beautiful film and a welcome addition to the growing collection of movies in which the US takes a long hard look at itself.

It has a documentary feel to it in places, which makes you question what kind of truth it is telling, but Frances McDormand settles that with a totally saturated personal performance other actors would struggle to get close to.

๐Ÿ“Œ BBC Radio 4 Extra had a fascinating show about an area of Los Angeles known as Tehrangeles, where expat Iranians brandish their surprisingly strong dual-patriotism.

WEDNESDAY 19 It’s always the sign of a good piece of art when it lives with you for a little while after you first saw it. I expect the film Nomadland to live with me for a while yet: the purity of its simple storylines, skin textures amid vast, mesmeric landscapes, close-ups, panoramas. And above all Frances as Fern, every pixel of her existence a portrayal of something very big about the state of the world.

๐Ÿ“Œ My Diary from this week last year depicts a government swamped in confusion and erratic decision-making. And in Huffpost UK today, political expert Paul Waugh describes a situation not much changed in 12 months.

๐Ÿ“Œ The shambolic holiday traffic-light system has got citizens very angry all over again. You get the impression once again that Boris is refusing to legislate simply because if he did, holiday insurance policies would be required to reimburse customers who bought vacations in good faith.

๐Ÿ“Œ Inbreeding can have positive genetic effects, claim boffins in The Conversation

THURSDAY 20 The smattering of school pupils protesting for Palestine reported in the Socialist Worker might fizzle out. But schoolchildren engaging in political activism is a trend that seems to be growing, perhaps aligned to the work of Greta Thunberg.

๐Ÿ“Œ It’s starting to sound like some members of the Labour Party would welcome a defeat at the upcoming by-election in Batley & Spen, West Yorkshire. The leadership skills of Keir Starmer are in doubt. Manchester mayor Andy Burnham is seen as the kind of charismatic firebrand leader the party desperately needs.

๐Ÿ“Œ It’s Nice That has a story about a bunch of art students who are none too happy that their courses have been moved online. And they chose the protest poster to express their discontent, which I then used to make my own statement.

Art is all in the mind…

๐Ÿ“Œ Everywhere you go as the lockdown lifts expects you to log in using the government’s discredited coronavirus app. Otherwise you need to supply your name and contact details in case you need to be alerted. In an effort to be difficult, today I had a shot at making my own QR code. It’s hard to tell if it works until I try to use it.

Artwork: ‘Does This Bloody Thing Work, Yet? Probably Not’, by Billy Mann

๐Ÿ“Œ Got a lot of nice compliments about the Cognivate neurorehab conference I did with Nora.

๐Ÿ“Œ These are the kind of tweets I like to see.

FRIDAY 21 We finished The Pact, a TV thriller billed as the Welsh Big Little Lies. It was certainly compelling and twisty, which is about all you can ask these days.

๐Ÿ“Œ The Headway Home Studio today was a collage workshop inspired by the work of Eileen Agar.

The two keywords that sprang to mind were FLOW and HOLES. I think this was one of those occasions when thinking a bit harder might have helped.

I’m still learning digital collage, but it was nice to get the chance to practise on something totally unexpected. But it all felt quite clumsy, and that shows in my efforts. Fluidity was the aim.

๐Ÿ“Œ The new word used by young people to describe marginally less young people perceived to be “trying too hard” is cheugy. Widely used by TikTokkers in a dismissive way, I’m told. FYI, it is pronounced chewgy.

๐Ÿ“Œ Marina Hyde puts in a few timely remarks on the slaughter of the BBC. They weren’t alone 26 years ago in that shameful pursuit of Princess Diana… “Millions bought insatiably into Dianaโ€™s pain, and newspaper sales spiked for all the most obviously intrusive stories. The pall of blameless sanctimony that descended after her death was a stunning exercise in mass hypocrisy.”

๐Ÿ“Œ Simon posted Mark’s obit. He taught me everything I know about horse racing.

SATURDAY 22 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.

๐Ÿ“Œ While watching a TV retrospective on Fleetwood Mac (which majored on the Rumours album), Stuart messaged with a story about Stevie Nicks and cocaine. I was too busy checking if the band deployed the English spelling of Rumours or the American Rumors on the album sleeve to pay any attention. 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.

๐Ÿ“Œ Quora has been dull recently, and then…

๐Ÿ“Œ Jeremy Hunt is at the centre of one of those stories in which a statement of the obvious is dressed up as revelation.

SUNDAY 23 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.

๐Ÿ“Œ Is it a desire to witness the perfect con that allows a con-artist government to win votes?

๐Ÿ“Œ 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.

๐Ÿ“Œ 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 โ€“ 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.

๐Ÿ“Œ 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…”

๐Ÿ“Œ 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.

๐Ÿ“Œ 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 24 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.

๐Ÿ“Œ The social-media comments about the Jean Dubuffet exhibition at the Barbican are of a stock that has become annoyingly common โ€“ 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 Thatasserts, these remarks only go to show how badly the British public understands art. And there’s a reason for that…

๐Ÿ“Œ Sniffer dogs can now detect Covid-19. Phew!

TUESDAY 25 Straight stories that manage to cross over into comedy are always welcome…

๐Ÿ“Œ 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.

๐Ÿ“Œ More messing around with digital collage, inspired by a Polish designer who does old Soviet-style political pieces.

๐Ÿ“Œ 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!

WEDNESDAY 26 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.

๐Ÿ“Œ The Barbican’s teachers’ resources for the Jean Dubuffet/Brutal Beauty exhibition are a thing of beauty.

๐Ÿ“Œ 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).

๐Ÿ“Œ The studio‘s merchandise stand at the Barbican looked good.

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

๐Ÿ“Œ 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.

๐Ÿ“Œ For some organisations, “measuring outcomes” means counting how many retweets they get.

THURSDAY 27 Forgot to check for the Super Blood Moon last night.

๐Ÿ“Œ The moratorium on rudeness has ended. Lots of stroppy barging has invaded the streets.

๐Ÿ“Œ 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…

๐Ÿ“Œ Experimenting with a new app on the bus, I nearly missed my stop.

๐Ÿ“Œ 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 28 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.

๐Ÿ“Œ 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 Balzacโ€™s dressing gown/smoking jacket/bathrobe. Balzac is nowhere to be seen. It is a sculpture of emptiness, which makes you wonder if thatโ€™s what Rodin thought of Balzac.

Clockwise from top left: Balzacโ€™s dressing gown, Rodinโ€™s fascination with hands (2) and Colossal Head, bless him…

๐Ÿ“Œ Popped into Headway to collect a bag of clay I forgot to bring home yesterday. Itโ€™s for an online workshop Iโ€™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 Katโ€™s shoes for the #katyasshoes collection.

These are Katโ€™s โ€œrubbish oldโ€ shoes…

SATURDAY 29 Just as I was about to set off on a trip to the outdoor gym in Spa Fieldsโ€ฆ

Read all about it hereโ€ฆ

๐Ÿ“Œ Marina Hyde places Boris alongside David Koresh and Charlie Manson in a list of cult leaders. It begs the question of how Borisโ€™s โ€œKing of the Worldโ€ story will end. Trump juiced up a murderous riot at the heart of government. Will Borisโ€™s followers yield so easily to violent action in defence of their cult leader, the Peopleโ€™s Toff? Will his cultists turn on him as being both incompetent and an embarrassnent? Netflix are probably ghosting the Original story right now. Executive Producer: Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

๐Ÿ“Œ A monied class of young professionals has adopted the area around Liverpool Street and Broadgate as a social hangout.

๐Ÿ“Œ An Eataly has opened in Liverpool Street. It was rammed with the unvaccinated. We have good memories of the Eataly in Bologna and itโ€™s reverence for the Slow Food movement. I even found an app with lots of their recipes.

The London enterprise has a different vibe. It is a gigantic blingy shopping mall dressed up in expensively packaged Italian finery, as if Donatella Versace waved her wand over Selfridgeโ€™s Food Hall.

Eataly, City of Londonโ€ฆ

๐Ÿ“Œ Even though I had decided to support Manchester City in the Championsโ€™ League final, when Chelsea scored I was strangely delighted.

SUNDAY 30 Channel 4โ€™s Before We Die began as a mystery starring the ever-watchable Lesley Sharp, but by Ep3 it has turned badly into a stock gangster thriller with testosteronic gun-toting baddies and implausible plottery.

๐Ÿ“Œ A story in Socialist Worker claims that from July 1 the NHS will start selling patient data to commercial enterprises. This sounds like a scare story, but if true it makes for a fantastic TV serial-killer drama in which people who con citizens into handing over their data are viciously killed, one by one, in a sprawling year-long morality tale ending with the assassination of the Prime Minister.

๐Ÿ“Œ In a TV tribute to the brilliantly funny Friday Night Dinner, various actors, writers, producers, etc, talk about some of the showโ€™s magic ingredients. The tribute is a 10th anniversary celebration, but also a memorial to the actor Paul Ritter, who died recently aged 54. Ritterโ€™s character, Martin, had a catchphrase, โ€œShit on it!โ€ for when things went wrong and exasperation got the better of him.

The phrase gained an unlikely fan following among students locked down in their sweaty student bedsits during the pandemic. Theyโ€™d post signs in the window proclaiming โ€œShit on it!โ€ as a comment on how the authorities were handling their plight.

In short, this anecdote brought into the Friday Night Dinner conversation the beauty of the catchphrase and how it has become a tickbox essential for a successful TV comedy.

In Meet The Richardsons, Lucy Beaumont sees the catchphrase as a cornerstone of โ€œthe BBC sitcom Iโ€™m writingโ€, Wet Cloth Dry Cloth (Google it). The catchphrase she employs is โ€œSave it for bingo!โ€ (pronounced bingeaurr in Hull). It is a line I use in mock desperation when my wife refuses to put the subject of a sentence she is speaking near the front of it.

๐Ÿ“Œ The people who run my wifeโ€™s gym have turned into yoga Nazis. They have streamlined their classes into three types: Calm, Align and Flow. This has infuriated my wife because she cannot now attend an Ashtanga class with a dedicated tutor. All instruction must now fit one of the three types. This has resulted in some quiet insurrectionary action from the instructors. They sneak in some Ashtanga moves, for example, with the condition that should one of the gymโ€™s officials appear, students must switch instantly into Calm, Align or Flow positions.

๐Ÿ“Œ I suspect Iโ€™m the only person in the world who doesnโ€™t like the way Google automatically places an initial capital letter at the beginning of words it believes should have one. Google, for example. To search the web is such a generic activity that a lower-case g for Google is in my view suffice. Try typing google, though, and your writing is instantly modified to Google.

๐Ÿ“Œ News of a fatal shooting nearby, coming shortly after a fatal stabbing, fuels speculation that post-pandemic Britain could fall into the grip of a crime wave, as it did in the years following WW2.

๐Ÿ“Œ The new Stitchwork project is a tote bag featuring a map showing the simplified geology of the British Isles.

๐Ÿ“Œ A โ€œSpecial Thanksโ€ mention for the Barbicanโ€™s Dubuffet exhibition must be worth a place in the Scrapbook.

๐Ÿ“Œ Is there a condition called Avoidance Failure? Probably.

MONDAY 31 My wife instinctively believes that if Iโ€™m doing something on my mobile phone I am up to no good. She has a look that says Nothing Virtuous Can Be Accomplished With That Thing.

๐Ÿ“Œ The only surprise is that this has taken so longโ€ฆ

Read the full story hereโ€ฆ

๐Ÿ“Œ Has the stuffy traditional blue-stocking-chalk-stripe Conservative disappeared forever, or just been briefly dazzled speechless by the lies of their winning leader? Andrew Rawnsley sees more significance in the Cummings Testimony than many of them want to face up to.

๐Ÿ“Œ A dummy run for tomorrowโ€™s clay workshop โ€“ in more ways than one.

Self-portrait pinch potโ€ฆ

Read all of my scrapbook diaries…

One thought on “Diary: May 2021

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