SATURDAY HuffpostUK has a soft story to partner the Conservative Party’s arrival in Manchester for its annual conference. The author reflects on some of the modish looks Tories have embraced in years gone by. During David Cameron’s leadership, his lower ranking political bedfellows adopted his masculinist body language (wide stance, shirt sleeves rolled). Boris Johnson’s cabinet colleagues are tipped to be seen dressed in a variety of playful costumes (cosplay). Expect to see “top politicians dressed in camouflage, branded jumpers, hardhats, aprons, lab coats, police jackets, goggles and fishmonger hats.”
📌 The new character tasked with transforming the NHS is a former military man with the surname Messenger.
📌 Marina Hyde opens an epic attack on Britain’s culture of male violence with a slew of stats: “At least 80 women in the UK have been killed by men since [Sarah] Everard. Only 1.6% of rapes in England and Wales reported to police even result in a charge. Fifty-two per cent of police found guilty of sexual misconduct kept their jobs.”
📌 James Bond (aka Liverpool fan Daniel Craig) has said Jürgen Klopp will make a great James Bond. Hard to disagree, but the new 007 as seen in the latest film is a breath of fresh air. But a woman. And black. Which probably means an early death in the next film.
SUNDAY The next lesson in my writing non-fiction course is all about memoir. The set reading includes a book extract, which contains the following…
Of course since we’ve moved here I’ve been rereading Madame Bovary. I am Madame Bovary as I read Madame Bovary. Ennui, excess of emotions. C’est moi.
📌 Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer urges the Conservatives to avoid appearing too cocky as they gather in Manchester for their annual conference… “The fuel famine is being accompanied by surging energy prices and food shortages. The army has been put on standby. And they used to say that Labour would turn Britain into a version of Venezuela.”
📌 Our local allotments are welcoming more and more children, which is nice for them.
MONDAY The Prime Minister is stoking his own hostility towards business. The fuel shortages and the supply-chain fractures that have left supermarket shelves empty are not the government’s responsibility, he says. That is a problem for businesses to solve.
📌 Fascinating to see which news organisations have picked up on the latest data mega-leak, the Pandora Papers. The Guardian reports the contents of the 12m secret files as a portrait of how the rich and the powerful conduct their financial affairs in ways not open to ordinary citizens. The Mail fingers a number of world leaders as dodgy, as does the BBC. Other news outlets (eg, Mirror, Telegraph, HuffpostUK) have yet to use the day-old story.
📌 Twitter went on fire when Harry took two steps forward before remembering to hold Meghan’s hand.
📌 My wife predicted that the pregnant woman in Midsomer Murders would be revealed to have a cushion up her jumper. She also predicted that the crime was death by vaping (poison). She was right about that one.
📌 Boris says that the aggro we’re suffering (fuel and food shortages) are a temporary “blip” until Britain can bounce back. This is what “getting Brexit done” means in reality. And in any case, others (inc potential trading partners) see the UK’s plight differently…
📌 The New Statesman points out that unlike the rest of mainland Britain, Northern Ireland is not suffering a fuel famine or a food shortage. Which could mean that the government will stop ranting about the inadequacies of the Northern Ireland Protocol – for the time being – because technically Northern Ireland is still operating in the EU and to pick a fight now would risk an all-out trade war with the EU.
📌 When we told our sponsors that Project Cuba (an art collaboration based on postage stamps) was lost in the post (it went to Algeria), they were very understanding and happy to accept a composite film as proof that their money has been well spent. This was a big relief and a chance for Cristina to get excited about The Gibson Brothers’ video of their 1978 hit Cuba.
TUESDAY The national fuel shortage may be more complex than we think, says an article in the Conversation, which cites the new, greener E10 petrol as a factor.
📌 Last week’s homework in our writing class was to tell a travel story. I didn’t exactly take the easy route and tried to write a travel piece about not going anywhere. Here it is…
Global travel during a global pandemic wasn’t on the Prime Minister’s list of instructions. But Boris, we’ve got places to go! Italy, India, South America, Australia, Africa, then back to the UK maybe, via the USA.
Solution: a Lockdown World Tour! In stitches! That sounds like a way to go…
I bet Jules Verne didn’t spend his quiet moments sorting threads into compatible colour combinations. He hung out with some of the top creatives of his time, but still the picture seems somehow wrong.
The actor George Clooney is well known for his hand stitching and claims to have nailed the craft mending his children’s clothes. He heads up the hashtag #sewbro, for men who know what to do with the pointy end of a needle.
But even that revelation doesn’t help my imagination get to the sight of a 19th Century French homme de lettres such as Verne sitting in his study stitching the outline of a world map onto a plain white tablecloth while building a plotline for Phineas Fogg.
Maps make great stitchwork patterns. An artist told me: “Stitchwork is a fascinating way to explore line.” It sounded plausible, coming from an artist. And “drawing with thread”, he said, was a way to slow the process and to savour the moment of a path well taken.
Run your hands round the muscular shoulders of South America. Stroke your best fine needle down towards its waist at Latitude 38S then journey the full length of its scorpion’s tail and wrap your mouth around the words TIERRA DEL FUEGO.
Relief maps are a thing of beauty, as are soil maps, migration maps and geological maps. Roads, too. I once stitched a satnav map of Didcot, Oxfordshire, onto a blank cotton tote bag. Madrid is a glorious higgledy-piggledy starburst of roads. Huddersfield looks like a man with a big nose.
Stitchwork offers a variety of headspaces to inhabit. Just stop, sit and surrender to something slow and transcendent. Its allies in the spiritual world would be mindfulness, yoga or qigong. The difference is your head is never empty and the urge to drift into fantasy is to be encouraged. Combine it with the memory of places visited in a pattern that looks like the bones of art and stitchwork can take you to any place on earth called Tranquility.
Italy came first, and days loafing and reading and reading and loafing at the roadside bars of Sorrento and Amalfi. Then to Australia, and that camping trip when the frog jumped out of the bush toilet. South America and India were a challenge, total unknowns but for their triangular shape and complexity of colour. And the same things cropped up in every place – shape, line, colour…
“The imagination cannot help but pursue a line in the land…” Robert McFarlane, The Old Ways
Look carefully at these travelogues and you’ll spot some cheeky stitching tricks or the faint signs of an accident involving blood. Mistakes, bodged solutions, improvised routes. Where next?
I wasn’t entirely happy with the essay, but the class liked it and all rushed off to check out George Clooney’s hashtag.
📌 I still don’t know if the word “outage” is just another way to say “power cut” or if it means the service suffering the “outage” (in this case Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) simply broke down.
📌 A monoprinting workshop with a group of local seniors turned sour when one old grump started making silly demands. First they wanted a red pen, then they wanted a red paint brush. Then a green one. Each demand came with a loud bang on the table and the word “Oi!” directed at me. Some nice touches came out of the event, so I decided not to add any rat poison to the grump’s cup of tea.
WEDNESDAY The shattered remains of life-lessons casually discarded lie strewn across the lower floors of everyday existence. Last week, a studio job I was doing looked nearly finished… To me.
Then studio boss Michelle said No, that was just “layer one” finished. The next layers will deepen the tone at the bottom, lighten the tone at the top and turn the soft focus figures into HDR. In other words, because I had a finished image in my head, I fooled myself into believing the job was done.
📌 Perversely, I’d quite like to see NHS workers go on strike this Winter just to see whose side the media comes down on. In the past, firm action has fizzled out when the media has heaped on the guilt. I say this as someone who is relatively healthy and in no immediate need of emergency treatment. Things can change, so I intend to be careful what I wish for.
📌 Headway have been posting pictures on Twitter of the lunches members cook and serve at the Timber Wharf centre. One was of the kebab and tortilla plus salad we got for lunch last week.
Some members complain about the food served at lunchtime. I eat it and enjoy the company even if it is rubbish made from tube pasta or lentils. Or both. These meals cost £3.
📌 If Boris doesn’t find someone who has been “levelled up” soon he will have one huge albatross hanging round his neck. And no amount of mixing metaphors will rid him of it.
📌 We finished the Hockney module in art class today and when asked what I had learned I said steal, edit and please yourself.
THURSDAY Each week at night-school (course = Creative Non-fiction) we get homework. This week it’s to write a 500-word “memoir essay”, obeying all the principles of the form we learned in last week’s lesson. The problem is that at the same time we need to do the course reading for next week’s lesson, which is in something called “autofiction”. This means that my memoir essay homework is very likely to contain suggested elements of autofiction, if I can work out what it is. Apologies to all who get autofiction when they were expecting memoir.
📌 Larry Elliott makes Boris look like the most left-wing politician in Britain.
FRIDAY I’m still not sure I understand what autofiction is, so I’ll need to swot a bit more before Monday’s class. At the moment it sounds like the author and the narrator of a story are so intertwined as to be indistinguishable.
📌 The meeting with the Melburnians at Muma (Monash University Museum of Art) to discuss curating a collection from the museum was cancelled, so I checked out a video of Valerie, one of Jennifer’s clients who has a wicked sense of humour. She thinks God is a bit lazy.
📌 Sue has an idea to start a Stitch & Bitch afternoon. I said I’d be there, like a rat up the proverbial drainpipe.