November 2021, as it happened…

MONDAY 1 The Connecting Conversations event at the Barbican is finally getting some publicity. I’ve agreed to float around the room connecting conversations about power within the arts.

📌 The Cheese Woman is threatening the French fishermen.

TUESDAY 2 The big fishing dispute with France is nothing new, says an article in the Conversation. Britain scrapping with other countries about fishing is a long-running story stretching back to a colossal fight with the Dutch in the 17th Century.

📌 I felt my eyes closing as I watched a video of the camping trip we took in Australia in 1997. Then I read that Joe Biden dropped off to sleep during a Cop26 climate meeting in Glasgow. HuffpostUK were quick to react with top tips on how to stay awake during boring meetings. Then the Mirror waded in with a picture of maskless Boris Johnson snoozing alongside the saintly David Attenborough.

📌 Prepped up the artwork for my Art Class project, which is my interpretation of the title ‘A Place Where All My Thoughts Are Frozen’. Just a few final touches to make.

📌 Simon Jenkins makes a valid distinction between Britain leaving the EU and Britain leaving the European single market and customs union. The first was political and decided by the 2016 referendum. The second is the personal preference of Boris Johnson.

WEDNESDAY 3 At Stitch & Bitch, one new member didn’t know how to thread a needle.

📌 The drip, drip, drip of sleaze has returned to haunt the PM. If his political opponents stay focused and keep stoking the fire for the next two years, they could strike lucky. It will be hard work, but it’s a real stain that could be made to stick.

THURSDAY 4 Looking forward to writing a memoir essay to go with a selection of works from the Muma collection.

📌 Just finished Episode 5 of Mare of Easttown and it looks like Kate Winslet might be dead. There are still two episodes remaining in Series 1, so my bet is that she pulls through and gets it together with Guy Pearce.

📌 John Crace minces no words in his report of the latest government attempt to pardon its sleaziest member Owen Patterson.

📌 The sleaze will soon engulf the government, argues Polly Toynbee.

FRIDAY 5 At Art Class earlier in the week the challenge was to create something based on the title of an existing artwork. The title I got was ‘A Place Where All My Thoughts Are Frozen’. It is a real work of art by the Dutch creative Mark Manders and looks like this…

‘Leg Bone Attached To Empty Coffee Cup By Sugar Cube’ is not the real title of this artwork…

It says in Wikipedia that Manders wanted to be a writer, but rather than use words, as is the convention, he chose to use sculpture. So I suppose it’s important to understand that ‘A Place Where All My Thoughts Are Frozen’ is probably sculpture’s equivalent of the cryptic crossword clue.

My own work of art with that title finished up like this…

It is meant to represent the mind of a footballer. The placeis the football pitch, where the player’s thoughts are frozen into the task of winning the game. Around the pitch is the crowd, which includes, on close inspection, a variety of embedded emoji faces, the modern pictograms with frozen expressions. Emojis are used on digital devices as a graphic shorthand for actual words, so I guess my piece and Mark Manders’ are not in essence that far apart. 

📌 Stuart messaged with his thoughts on the word “lolly” to describe money. I referred him to the old biddy in the comedy film The Ladykillers, who uses the term lolly to describe to robbers’ loot, whereupon Stuart got hooked on the origin of the word “biddy”.

📌 If you thought Greta Thunberg was the product of pushy political parents, with implausibly youthful looks for an adult, think again. According to the Conversation Sweden has a long record of teenage environmentalists. And the idea of the “autonomous and competent child” is a characteristic feature of the Nordic model of childhood, it states.

📌 Only just noticed how brilliant Steve Bell’s cartoon of Angela Rayner is. Those boots are epic.

SATURDAY 6 38 Degrees messaged to say that the campaign to re-wild Britain has been a great success so far. But they still haven’t persuaded the Royal Family to join in.

📌 There’s a weird alien presence lurking in our bedroom door.

📌 Tony Allan’s Submit to Love studio logo is a dream to remake in stitchwork.

📌 Project Cuba is finally out. All I have to do now is pay everyone.

SUNDAY 7 The sleaze is starting to stick on the government. And the most potent accusations are coming from within its own ranks. John Major can always be relied upon for a grey-faced declaration about decency and shame. Some Tories simply don’t like Boris’s flavour of Tory. He doesn’t like theirs, either, but he is running out of friends. A time will come when getting behind Boris will be seen as a bad move.

📌 Labour MPs are notoriously earnest, so Jess Phillips’s incidental wit was a cheery sight

📌 My wife wants to know who on Earth is voting for Dan The Plank on Strictly Come Dancing. This characterless TV stooge has an unusual ability to survive when better dancers are eliminated.

MONDAY 8 Glasgow is the scene of some grubby old-fashioned industrial relations involving picket lines and scabs. The council tried to get parks-and-gardens workers to take over from striking cleaners.

📌 Glasgow is also the scene of a new discovery in climate change. Its cold-water coral reefs are in danger.

📌 Stephen Bush in the New Statesman says Boris’s downfall might ultimately be at the hands of his own people, especially those he has previously fired from their top jobs. These are the former ministers who now make up for their lost income doing dodgy side-hustle consultancy jobs. The Guardian has a useful list of who they are.

📌 Hardly anyone on the government side turned up for the sleaze debate.

TUESDAY 9 Sleaze and Northern Ireland are tipping points that look as if they are about to conjoin to become Boris’s Iraq. I wrote that sentence as a kind of puzzle. I imagine reading it many years from now and trying to work out what it means.

📌 Editing the video of our 1997 road trip in Australia has emerged as my chosen distraction/procrastination method from actually writing an essay about it, which I have pledged to deliver by Friday.

📌 Just as it looks like another perilous winter of virus imprisonment is upon us, the urge to travel is back. We’ve talked about sailing into New York next year aboard a cruise ship. It’s not quite the arrival my young mother, her sisters and parents would have made back in the 1930s, but an opportunity nevertheless to let your imagination rip on all the migrants who once made that journey and what became of them. Other countries beckon, too, and Sam only boosted the hunger by sending a Sphinx picture.

Sphinx by Sam Jevon...

📌 I wonder if years from now, voters will talk about Britain’s disintegration as a nation as “Boris’s Britain” in the same way they look back derogatorily on “Thatcher’s Britain”.

📌 I spent five minutes searching for my glasses. Only when I caught sight of myself in the mirror did I realise where they were.

WEDNESDAY 10 Hooked up with Chris last night at a “relaxed viewing” of the RA Summer Show, directed by Yinka Shonibare. Every room was so jam packed the idea of it being an exhibition was sometimes lost. Small paintings hung 15m above the ground is not what art exhibitors should be doing. The overall effect was claustrophobic.

The number of works might have been inflated because Covid prevented a show from taking place last year, but I pitied the artists who finally made it to the big prestigious space only to be shoved out of anyone’s eyeline.

Miranda Argyle stitchwork, top left…

I felt dizzy staring up at a version of the Last Supper with John Lennon presiding over a table full of dead pop stars (Amy Winehouse included) “Who’s that next to Elvis?” I heard someone ask. It was Michael Hutchence.

Having said all that, I loved every minute of it and argued on the bus home that such a fabulous collection of art in such a place should be permanent and free. I especially liked the work of Miranda Argyle.

📌 In Art Class today we did a still life involving shadows. Sara told us there was no such thing as a line, just a border between light and dark. In this sense, blurring the boundaries becomes a kind of philosophy.

A jar in various states of light and shade…

📌 Islands are the latest stitchwork obsession, starting with Tenerife.

Tenerife in stitches…

THURSDAY 11 I think I’ve successfully managed to dodge a radio interview about next week’s event at the Barbican.

📌 Kate sent a vintage photo of Bill Shankly helping to shovel snow off the Anfield pitch

Snow sweeping at Anfield…

📌 Rose on Strictly Come Dancing couldn’t rehearse today because the battery on her hearing aid conked out. Her partner, Giovanni, laughed at her.

FRIDAY 12 The Tortoise says it is Geoffrey Cox and his second jobs that will become the government’s running sore of sleaze. Unlike Owen Patterson, it says, Cox wasn’t caught bang to rights breaking the rules, he was simply too busy doing his second job to do his first job as an MP, paid for by the British taxpayer.

The satirists are out…

📌 We could be seeing the start of a British withdrawal and abandonment of Northern Ireland today.

📌 The New Statesman reports that Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke, who told politically-active footballer Marcus Rashford to stick to his day job, has a second job that adds £36,000 a year to her £82,000 MP’s salary.

📌 At a family Zoom, I complained that no-one in the TV crime series Shetland smiles, and that Shetland cannot possibly be such bleak place that no-one has a laugh. I was told pointedly that Tosh’s boyfriend has a nice smile.

SATURDAY 13 Marina Hyde reckons MPs earn a good wage and do not deserve a pay rise.

Eighty-two grand basic is great money for serving as a combination of robotic lobby fodder and what you might call a glorified social worker…

Marina Hyde, the Guardian

📌 Zadie Smith really is a gifted essayist. I have been serial borrowing her Feel Free collection from our local library and consider it a stroke of luck that no one else wants to borrow it.

📌 My wife thinks that whoever is “head of trousers” on Strictly Come Dancing should be sacked.

SUNDAY 14 There is a sleep disorder called Exploding Head Syndrome.

📌 There is still plenty of evidence from around the world that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

📌 Rod Stewart has released two new songs recently that would have passed for OK but for their ridiculously bad choruses.

📌 The sleaze ball just keeps rolling.

Boris Johnson is not the only politician to think that an MP’s salary, though nearly triple that of the national average, is a poverty wage.

Andrew Rawnsley, the Observer

The article also points out a difference between Conservatives who made their money before entering Parliament – notably Rishi Sunak – and the ones who use their position as MPs and ministers to pimp their grubby services to the highest bidder.

📌 The story of the British woman held captive in Iran keeps coming back to the PM.

MONDAY 15 The taxi driver in Liverpool locked the passenger door and jumped out just in time.

📌 I thought this sketch was really bad when I first made it. Now it seems reasonably OK.

📌 Project Australia is moving along enjoyably, which probably means it’s about to fall flat on its face.

TUESDAY 16 The Guardian has a paramedic’s account of how the NHS has been driven to its knees.

📌 Project Australia (a digitally curated exhibition from the Monash University Museum of Art collection) has thrown up a challenge, which is to make browsing around 20 pictures feel like an epic journey of discovery.

📌 At an online forum on the future of social care held by the New Local think tank there was a general failure to distinguish between social care, which requires high-cost professional underpinning, and social support, which can be delivered in lots of different low-cost non-professional ways.

📌 In Ed McBain’s book Lightning he has a description of how a killer intends to dispatch his latest victim. “A modified arm drag, designed neither to take her down nor to bend her over at the waist but instead to force her body weight over to her left foot, exposing her side. With her left arm extended, he would move up under her armpit, and before she could turn her head, would clamp his hand at the back of her neck in a half nelson. Swinging around behind her, he would move his other hand up under her right armpit and clasp it at the back of her neck to complete a full nelson. Then he would press her head straight downward, forcing her chin onto her chest and, by exerting pressure, cracking her spine“. I’ve read this passage several times and still wouldn’t know what to do. I’m sure such “how to” guides are easy for those who can imagine disabling and snapping someone’s spine but I  think I’d be forced to stop mid-way into the killing and read the instructions once again – like they do on Taskmaster – and still get it wrong.

📌 Barbican Cinema allows people to take whole trays of food into a screening.

📌 The talk before our screening of Twelve Angry Men featured a presentation from Professor Lorna Dawson, Head of Forensic Soil Science at the James Hutton Institute, who gave us a Ladybird guide to matching the soil on someone’s shoes to a  crime.

WEDNESDAY 17 Apparently, Monday was national Clean Out Your Fridge Day, so in Art Class we were asked to bring in something from our fridge to draw. Marianne said Marge’s pepper looked like a chicken. I went for something less controversial.

It’s meant to be a half-used garlic bulb…

📌 There’s a real buzz at the Golden Lane Stitchers. The momentum of this speculative social-cohesion project is picking up fast. Dawn showed us pictures from her night at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, including the stunning dress she got from TK Maxx for £16.99.

📌 The Connecting Conversations event at the Barbican went off well. I did my chirpy continuity-announcer thing and the panel jibber-jabbered about art, what it’s for and who is in charge of it. Ali was the star performer, identifying the “inclusivity” cliques that operate on the fringes of the established art world but rarely get to touch real power.

At the Barbican…

THURSDAY 18 At last night’s Barbican event, Chris screwed a half-hearted agreement from Barbican director Will Gompertz to put on an exhibition of neurodiverse art. I decided to turn it into a work of art…

Hot off the press…

📌 The government is still trying to instal Paul Dacre as head of the media regulator Ofcom. And Marina Hyde is still trying to stop it.

No editor hated single mothers more than Dacre, and no politician has created more of them than Johnson. 

Marina Hyde, the Guardian

📌 At Headway we all sang Leaving on a Jet Plane to say goodbye to public-engagement officer Cristina, who is leaving after 8 years to join the Francis Crick Institute.

📌 Rose asked me to be a conduit between Toynbee Hall and Golden Lane. I said yes.

📌 Dinner with cousin Helen and Steve. They are on their way to New York where they will hook up with old pals from Malawi. We trawled through the latest updates in our crazy family and speculated on the craziness that is yet to come, which incidentally included the revelation that we have a vague and distant connection with Harold Shipman. This brought to mind one of our friends in Brighton who one day discovered she knew a man who chopped up the people he had killed and stored the body parts in a chest freezer in his garage.

FRIDAY 19 Stitching straight in to a canvas frame is not easy, but it would be a good skill to master.

📌 Not sure I can remember the last time I boiled a live lobster…

Read the full story here…

📌 The reluctance worldwide of some people to get vaccinated hints at a deep mistrust of governments and institutions.

📌 A criminal called Colin Pitchfork has been returned to prison two months after being released.

SATURDAY 20 The new set of images from the Muma collection for Project Australia are so reminiscent of our 1997 camping trip that it’s tempting to turn the digital curation into a personal travelogue. There is even a painting of a pair of flip-flops (“thongs” in Australia) outside a tent.

📌 Imagining people as stock-market commodities could be a new TV game show…

Read the full story here…

📌 I wasn’t paying attention and Steven Gerrard has been appointed manager of struggling Premier League team Aston Villa.

📌 Just as we were debating whether to watch Succession or The Sopranos my wife got an email from Warren Buffett saying he has $2.5m to give her.

SUNDAY 21 It has been routine for some time for news outlets to include quotes from social media to illustrate their reports. But you know you are in a strange place when the whole story is about what people on Twitter are saying about a subject. When last night Twitter users accused Strictly Come Dancing judges of rigging the scores to protect the daughter of a sweary TV chef, the Mirror did not attempt to verify or investigate the claims, it simply reported the outrage.

📌 Tank’s Christmas has been ruined by parcel-delivery firm Hermes.

📌 “Operation Rampdown” is the codename the government has attached to the job of dismantling their ridiculously inept coronavirus Test & Trace scheme, which is estimated to have cost the taxpayer £37bn.

📌 Kensington Palace could be up for grabs when Prince Charles becomes King. It was tarted up as a home for Harry and Meghan, but they’ve left Britain to live in America, and all of the lingering old folks in the Royal Family who might have taken up residence are nearing death’s door.

📌 The Red Corduroys are up in arms over the Prime Minister’s serial bungling. They are joined in a widespread disgruntlement with the PM by the ultra-Brexity Spartans.

“Boris doesn’t have a conviction in his body,” complains one veteran Thatcherite. “There’s a lot of us worrying: is this a Conservative government?”

MONDAY 22 The new stitchwork project is a sketch Sean did in the studio and was about to throw in the bin. It depicts a pair of art-deco women looking moodily into the distance. Michelle thought it was tailor made for my neurotic micro-stitch style.

Neurotic micro-stitch…

📌 The Prime Minister’s sanity is in question again…

Read the full story here…

📌 Sam’s ethnic jewellery picture has a fantastic blue background.

Anyone got a very small left ear?

TUESDAY 23 There’s a man who roams around London drawing pictures using old mechanical typewriters.

📌 Number One in a series of stitchwork projects on cotton bags depicting islands is Tenerife.

Tenerife in stitches…

📌 While working on Project Australia digital curation I dug out some memorabilia from our 1997 road trip. They included a pair of fridge magnets, from Pimba and Cooper Pedy.

Australian memorabilia…

📌 The Prime Minister’s office has issued a statement saying Boris is not off his rocker following a fruitcake speech he made to business people which included reference to Peppa Pig.

Read the full story here…

WEDNESDAY 24 Got an email from someone who’d allowed autofill to put words in their mouth. They thanked me for my kindness and “hostility” (hospitality?).

📌 The sleaze ball will keep rolling for a while yet…

📌 The art class subject was white on white and I managed to go mad in the pyramids with sugar, baby powder, cotton buds and lots of glue.

White on white pyramids…

📌 The man from the William Blake Society giving the talk at St Luke’s had a surprising number of tattoos.

William Blake artwork, not tattoos

📌 Marge said that her childhood home in Finsbury got so cold one Winter that the fish tank froze up, leaving the goldfish entombed in ice with their mouths open.

THURSDAY 25 Rosie asked if she could make a Headway blog post out of some words I wrote a while back. I’d jabbered about my love of the studio’s motto, “Discovery Through Art” and how it became an anchor for me during Lockdown. Looking at the piece now, I was tempted to make a few changes but decided against, even though it contains sentences and turns of phrase that make me cringe. Here it is…

By nature I always saw myself as more scientist than artist. Geology and chemistry were my chosen subjects at school. Later I was a journalist, a snooper who always had a question ready. Art was not part of the deal. In my work I mixed closely with photographers, picture editors and graphic designers, collaborations that gave me a type of visual literacy. But art was for other people, inward looking people not outward-looking explorers of life such as myself. So the idea of being part of an art studio, practising that thing I always saw as indulgent and self-centred, made me feel a bit creepy, like I was wearing someone else’s clothes. Until one day Submit to Love studio head Michelle asked me to do a bit of sign writing. Great, I thought, something I can actually do. And isn’t that how James Rosenquist started? In big black letters, using the Headway house font originally drawn by Paul Wright as my template, I painted the words she wanted…

…and it instantly felt like some sort of homecoming.

As soon as you walk through the sprung doors of Submit to Love Studios you know you are in a special place. Immediately to your left is a corner full of bubble-wrapped mosaic sculptures. On your right is a toilet, a crazy sculpture made from what looks like bits of a car engine and a kitchenette area infested with art materials waiting for a good wash. In front of you is a shangri-la in the form of a cave spilling over with visual treasure.

In 2019, Submit to Love started working on collaborative projects with London’s Autograph Gallery. One of them uncovered in our artists a previously hidden natural talent for needlework and textiles. Soon the studio was groaning with patchwork portraits based on Autograph’s Black Chronicles archive. I happily joined this orgy of originality and started scouring Amazon for needles, threads and thimbles.

Needlework brought me peace of mind during the lockdown days of the lengthy global pandemic that followed. The exhibition we had ready to open at Autograph was put on ice. Instead I carried on threading and renewed my appetite for travel by stitching maps onto tote bags.

South America in progress…

My stitchwork journeys so far include “trips” to Italy, South America, India and Australia. I have toured the UK and explored each of London’s 33 boroughs, including my adopted home in the old City of London. I get my patterns from Google Earth.

Discovery is the best description of what I am doing with this work. And it is the best description of my Submit to Love experience. For that reason, the studio’s motto is a constant reminder of what I have grown into. I am an artist.

📌 Jennifer said yes to my request to extend the Project Australia essay. I still want to keep it under 1,000 words but the search for some new topic sentences is on. I’m wrestling with verbs at the moment. I can’t decide whether, on setting foot in Australia in 1997, the “sensual and the logical” came “marching” towards me or “hurtling” at me.

📌 It’s a toss-up in our household as to which parcel-delivery firm is the worst, Hermes or DPD. Both are serial offenders.

📌 The bus driver was on his radio telling his line manager he was running 26 minutes late. He asked what was the maximum number of hours continuous driving permitted. His line manager couldn’t understand what he was saying. At the next traffic lights I told the driver the maximum single driving period for a London bus driver is 7 hours 51 minutes (according to the government web page). The driver laughed at that.

📌 A group of us from Headway wandered down to Hoxton Street to gather outside Hayes & English funeral parlour for Chelsea Martin’s final departure. The crowd was so big and the number of static funeral cars so great that a traffic jam resulted. Irritated motorists sounded their horns, which Martin would have seen as some kind of tribute, but they weren’t loud enough to drown out the sound of applause as the principal car moved off carrying Martin’s white casket and a white floral display saying “BROTHER”.

FRIDAY 26 Last night my phone conked out. It wouldn’t charge. My wife told me not to panic and to enjoy my crispy duck from Lidl. I did panic and bought a new phone immediately, which arrived first thing this morning and on which I’m now typing this banal entry to my diary.

📌 A massive ruck with France is on the cards. Boris is spoiling for a fight. He needs to show he has courage. The French are likely to throw him the Gallic Shrug and leave him to stew.

SATURDAY 27 Zadie Smith has updated Chaucer’s Wife of Bathand named it The Wife of Willesden.

📌 The Golden Lane Stitchers, a makeshift social needlework project we started three weeks ago, did well at the the local craft market, taking £105.

📌 The House of Gucci, a film that came highly recommended turned out to be a turkey. Yes, Lady Gaga obviously succeeds in the acting game where Madonna failed, but this film was far too long, tediously dragged out and lacking any real drama.

📌 My wife is seriously disenchanted by the Judges’ voting on Strictly Come Dancing. Marks for a dance being “joyous” particularly irritate her. I expect a similar tirade tomorrow when the voting intentions of the viewing public are included in tonight’s total.

SUNDAY 28 The pattern is now familiar: a new variant of the Covid virus is detected in a faraway place and very quickly crosses borders to infect the entire world.

Scientists can predict this easily, but what has also become familiar is our government’s failure to listen and act. In its rush to “get back to normal”, biosecurity has been ditched and is now presumed by most citizens to be a thing of the past.

The story of the latest “new variant” is that managing the spread is a never-ending global project from now till the end of time, and a failure to plan is a plan to fail. The vaccine preparations for the new variant have not even started, which puts Britain in a perilous place. 

Our government’s determination to stand alone economically, to put personal freedom above all else and to arrogantly shun cooperation with other nations might sound quaintly intrepid but it doesn’t sound like a viable option for getting “back to normal”. A new normal is waiting to be built out of our current perilous predicament and our leaders look ill equipped to do it.

📌 Captains don’t want their boats to capsize and sailors don’t like seeing people drown, says Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer. He cites this as a reason Boris and Priti’s tough-guy act on migrants crossing the Channel is doomed to fail. When there are dead people on your doorstep, the finger points at you.

📌 Sandra said that when Terry worked as a photographer in the music industry he got to play darts with Bruce Springsteen. 

📌 I never thought I’d ever hear my wife utter the words “praise the lord” and “hallelujah”. Both came out of her mouth during a concert at the Barbican this evening, in which she sang with the LSO Community Choir.

At the Barbican…

Our line of vision was obscured by the tubular bells that had been placed right at the front of the stage. The highs and lows of the evening thus became regulated by the anticipation of their use. Waiting for a cymbal crash was quite exciting.

MONDAY 29 BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme went silent just after 7.30am when an alarm was heard blasting around the studio.

📌 I have a first edit of 43 pictures assembled for the digital curation I’m doing with Art Et Al.

📌 There’s a crazy map website that looks at nations in a different, sometimes very funny, way.

📌 I’m currently working on a stitch work pattern for Sam’s legendary ‘Legs’ drawing.

Then I noticed in the studio that she is starting a collection. She’s called this one ‘Hairy Man’.

TUESDAY 30 Labour under Keir Starmer looks more and more like it wants to attract the softer red side of the Conservative Party, leaving Boris to bed down with what David Cameron called the party’s “mad swivel-eyed loons”. And sidelining anyone who might question this drift seems to be the force behind his latest shadow cabinet reshuffle.

Read all of my scrapbook diaries…

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