SATURDAY Distressed to learn that my library book is due for renewal and someone else wants it. It is Zadie Smith’s essay collection Feel Free, and I’ve only read two so far.
📌 At first I read this sentence in HuffpostUK without the final comma, and burst out laughing. “Grant Shapps tried to explain the thinking behind his new HGV driving rules, which will allow EU lorry drivers unlimited pick-ups and drop-offs in the UK, during the Today programme on Friday.”
📌 Liverpool didn’t struggle to score goals today against Watford.
📌 I decided that our friend’s son, Séan, 11, needed some advice. I told him: “Séan, never trust atoms… They make up everything.”
📌 There’s a theory going round that the costume designers on Strictly Come Dancing are the key to success. Rose had a great costume tonight. Greg, Emma Thompson’s luvvie-hubbie, was done up in a ridiculous blouse and powder-blue billowing bags.
📌 The dining table at Paula’s put a shiver up the spine.
SUNDAY An overenthusiastic culture of competition can be very danaging. The comedy actor Robert Webb has quit Strictly Come Dancing citing health issues. It turns out he found the regime “brutal”.
📌 Men of a certain age in the UK are invited to perform a certain health check (bowel cancer). It will require some planning.
MONDAY “Cop 26” doesn’t sound like an international conference on the climate emergency. It sounds like an American TV detective show.
📌 Driving lorries could become the hot new career-change option for bored middle-class professionals. Upcycling old tat will obviously continue to be a primary ambition, but lorry driving is looking more and more attractive. The Unite union has won some big pay increases recently under its new leader Sharon Graham. And because of the national shortage of lorry drivers, their status has shifted upwards to that of keyworker. Think of the freedom of the road and the travel opportunity to visit the loading bays of Britain’s shelf-denuded supermarkets.
📌 The killing of the MP David Amess during a constituency surgery is a trigger for the Conversation to highlight the threats faced by politicians in other democracies and to reflect on the chronic breakdown in relations between public and public servant.
📌 The Mail headline says: “Kate Middleton recycles £4,290 Alexander McQueen dress”. Turns out all she did was wear the same dress twice.
📌 Cristina and I had an exuberant online meeting with the Cuban artists at Havana’s Riera Studio for them to show us the works they’d done for the Mail Bonding collaboration based on postage stamps and national identity. The pieces were unimaginably impressive. Standouts were a collection of A4 serrated portraits of celebrity British figures such as The Queen, Lady Diana and Elton John and a set of elongated panoramas of London vistas such as Parliament from the Thames, and other architectural skylines. You couldn’t move for red buses and phone boxes. It was a joyous collection and a fabulous exchange. Then one Cuban artist picked up a guitar to accompany another artist singing a gentle slow version of Guantanamera for us. The memory of the meeting, and the artists’ effusive gratitude at being involved will live for a long time, and if our sponsors, the British Council, had been there they would be proud of the support they’ve given us.
TUESDAY At night school the teacher said my “autofiction” essay magnified my tendency towards flippancy and that my use of bald, blunt words to describe people such as “idiot” and “tosser” risked alienating readers. Some of my classmates rallied to my defence, arguing that raw words were very Billy. Here is the essay…
When Billy, ie me, told me the title of his new artwork I tried to keep a straight face. Then he goaded me, pressing for an answer. What was with the funny look when he said it was called All The Boys I Ever Kissed? He kept at it, nag nag nag, right in my face until I spat it out: “People will think it’s about YOU!”
He hit back: “Don’t be ridiculous! Only an idiot would look at that and think it’s about me. Do I look like someone who’d kiss a guy called Bruce?”
Then he started telling the story all over again. He was listening to Grace Dent on the radio, plugging her upcoming appearance on Radio 4’s My Teenage Diaries. Grace finished the tease by saying her diaries contained the names of “all the boys I ever kissed”. This, Billy claims, was where he got the title. He said it got him thinking about kissing, like do we all experience kisses in different ways. Doh! And the difference between a lip kiss and a mouth kiss. This, he says, is how he came to ask dozens of women to write the names of three “boys” they’ve kissed onto a big pair of red lips. He even got quite theoretical about it, claiming that the names in the mouth cavity represented the “sexual” while those on a bit of plump red were “platonic”. He secretly inserted the word “Dad”, once in the cavity, once on the lips, to add a “sinister twist”. One woman wrote the names of her two dogs. Another one drew a stick figure called Twat.
Every time Billy tells this story he gives it a new spin. He even once spewed up the claim that every single name written into the artwork was “a story that will never be told, owned solely by the woman who wrote it” in a calligraphic pen designed to disguise her handwriting. He even went full-throttle tosser one day claiming it was piece of “feminist art”. One idiot bought into the idea and remarked: “I bet Pablo was a good kisser”.
When an artist needs to explain an artwork, they’ve probably failed. Billy doesn’t accept this and continually makes bigger and bigger claims for this very ordinary piece. He has even made it the core of his “feminist collection”. Other pieces include a painting of three drunk women staggering down West Street, Brighton, and a montage of Lautrec’s Woman Putting On Her Stocking cavorting through a field of oversized poppies.
I really don’t know why I stick with Billy. Something keeps me attached to his irritating pronouncements. When he had a stroke in 2012 I truly honestly kept my fingers crossed for a week. But he came back to life and to sack him now would be cruel. I just wish he’d listen when I tell him that there is a very good reason why All The Boys I Ever Kissed has never appeared in any gallery, anywhere.
One of my classmates wrote an absorbing autofiction essay about discovering they were a twin whose sibling did not survive the birth and how finding out about them later triggered an imagined shadow journey through life wondering all the what-ifs and facing up to the idea that they were incomplete in some way.
📌 It sometimes looks like businesses are ahead of governments in their adoption of progressive policy. The Timpson retail organisation has just been applauded for paying for staff prescriptions. This won’t surprise students of this company, which seems to cling to Victorian roots in benevolence and philanthropy. Wikipedia: “The company has a final salary pension scheme in place, owns holiday homes for workers, gives staff their birthdays off, and pays bonuses for exceeding targets. In 2007, to celebrate growing from £500,000 profit to £12m in 20 years of trading, Timpson’s launched the “Dream Come True” programme for staff, which over 12 months paid for eye operations, reunited families and sent staff on trips to Australia. The business has been in the top 10 of the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For every time it has entered. The company has a policy of employing ex-offenders across the group, over 10% of its workforce, and runs pre-release training in several prisons.”
WEDNESDAY In community art class we are playing a kind of artistic Blind Date. We pick the title of an existing work of art from a hat and interpret it in our own way without reference to the real artwork. My title is A Place Where My Thoughts Are Frozen Together. The temptation to google the artwork is immense, but I will not cheat. To prove it, this is my first sketch…
THURSDAY We started the Stitch & Bitch project yesterday and six people turned up, which was a surprise. The idea is to make tote bags we can sell at the Christmas market.
The group will take some time to become a functioning unit, but it was a good start with lots of enthusiasm and a willingness to be part of a collective project.
📌 Tim at Headway had a joke. Q: What is the closest thing to Silver? A: The Lone Ranger’s arse.
📌 Margi said I can help myself to her muffins anyday.
📌 James and Stuart made a Mariachi backing track for a group rendition of My Old Man’s A Dustman to be added to the film of Project Cuba.
FRIDAY Met Chris at Studio Voltaire in Clapham for the William Scott exhibition. The toilets were worth a picture…
…and the exhibition was fascinating, if a bit cultish. William Scott is presumably not known for his sense of humour, but when I said this to Chris he accused me of being WEIRD (white, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic), which I suppose I am.